Saturday, 25 October 2014

Claude in the Country by Alex T Smith - Review

Claude is an adorable young fiction character created by talented author/illustrator, Alex T Smith. Claude is a dog or more precisely, as we are told in the book, 'a small, plump dog who wears a beret and a very dashing jumper.'

Claude in the Country is the 4th in the series. However, it can be read as a stand alone book. The stories do not have to be read in order.

Claude and his trusty companion Sir Bobblysock (who is of course a sock) decide to spend the day in the countryside to try and overcome Claude's boredom. It's not long before they stumble across a farm and meet a charming farmer. Young children will love the fact that she is called 'Mrs Cowpat'.  There is a country fair taking place on her farm that afternoon and Mrs Cowpat has a lot to do. Claude and Sir Bobblysock help. They collect eggs; round up sheep; exercise the horses; and wash the pigs. Then the fair starts. However, one of the judges is chased by a very angry bull. Claude saves the day by lassoing the bull and capturing it. After all the excitement, Claude and Sir Bobblysock return home for a well-earned snooze.

The series is brilliant for reading aloud to younger children in foundation stage and Key Stage 1. It is also ideal for those children who are beginning to read independently and gaining their reading stamina and confidence. It provides an answer to the much needed step from picture books to longer reads.

Children will laugh out loud at Claude's antics and roll their eyes at Sir Bobblysock's feeble excuses for not doing things, such as having a stiff knee.

The illustrations are fresh and funny, with a retro feel. Alex T Smith uses a strict palette of black, grey, white, red and pink. The text and illustrations work perfectly together, and there's a great sense of comic timing. The visual humour, which is sophisticated, is particularly appealing to the adults who are sharing these stories with children.

Claude in the Country was published in 2012 by Hodder Children's books ISBN 978-1-444-90928-9

Claude in the City was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2012 and the Richard and Judy Book Club 2011.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyne - Review

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is a story set during World War I told from the point of view of Alfie, a 9 year old boy. It's not a story about the violence of war but of the everyday travails of those left behind. Set in London, the novel opens on Alfie's 5th birthday: the day war broke out. It tells the tale of his father, mother, grandmother and friends and how the war impacted on them as they struggled to live their lives. It is an historical novel which makes several references to historical fact. Readers learn not only about the events of the time but also about 'life' at the time. On the whole details, such as the fact that Alfie's home has an outdoor privy, the principle of make do and mend and darning along with others are interwoven into the story. However, there are occasions, especially at the beginning of the novel where it feels as though some of this detail is being taught rather than revealed.

All of the characters in the story are believable. Alfie, the young boy is smart, intelligent and caring. Margie, his loving mother, is a stoic.Whilst  Joe, a family friend, is a conscientious objector. As the war develops and the story unfolds we are taken on an emotional journey with Alfie in a quest to find the truth;one that uncovers secrets and deals with the effects of the war on the lives of everyday people and communities.

The descriptions are vivid and the text is accessible for upper Key Stage 2. The scenes in the hospital are honest, compassionate and at the same time harrowing. Teachers need to be aware of this,
as children younger than year 6 (11 year olds) might find it too distressing. Students in Key Stage 3 though would find it an engaging read, one that would provide a wealth of discussion material for both English and history lessons.

The plot itself does rely heavily on a number of coincidences but despite this Boyne once again manages to produce a compassionate, thought-provoking, page turning read.