Broken Silence by Helen Vivienne Fletcher

I’ve read my fair share of adult thrillers.  Authors like Dean Koontz and Stieg Larsson have had me on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I can to find out who did it and why.  I haven’t seen many YA thrillers though, especially not a New Zealand thriller for teens.  When Helen Vivienne Fletcher, a New Zealand author from Wellington, contacted me about reviewing her book I read the blurb and was immediately intrigued.  I needed to read this book about a teenage girl, coping with an abusive boyfriend (among other things) and the stranger on the end of the phone who offers to help.  Helen’s story absolutely lived up to the intriguing blurb and she had me hooked from the very first page.

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A stranger just put Kelsey’s boyfriend in a coma. The worst part? She asked him to do it.

Seventeen-year-old Kelsey is dealing with a lot – an abusive boyfriend, a gravely ill mother, an absent father, and a confusing new love interest.

After her boyfriend attacks her in public, a stranger on the end of the phone line offers to help. Kelsey pays little attention to his words, but the caller is deadly serious. Suddenly the people Kelsey loves are in danger, and only Kelsey knows it.

Will Kelsey discover the identity of the caller before it’s too late?

Broken Silence is a pulse-pounding thriller, full of twists that keep you guessing.  Helen makes you second-guess yourself as you try to figure out who the mysterious caller is.  I can’t think of another book recently that has had me thinking about the story and the characters constantly.  When I wasn’t reading it I was worrying about Kelsey and what would happen next.

Kelsey doesn’t have an easy life.  Her dad walked out on the family, her mum is in a care home with dementia and her boyfriend, Mike, is abusive.  He talks down to her and can turn violent quickly, but will then come back apologising the next day.  He has the worst role model in a violent father who is most often drunk.  Kelsey lives with her brother, Pete, and his flat mates, Aiden and Ben.  One day Kelsey starts getting prank calls, with the person breathing heavily and not saying anything.  The calls escalate to the stage that it’s not just on the home phone and her cell phone, but also on the phone at Mike’s place.  When Mike gets violent after a party the person on the end of the phone offers to help Kelsey.  She tries to break up with Mike but he won’t let this happen and so he attacks Kelsey, leaving her with multiple injuries and unconscious.  When she wakes up in the hospital she learns that someone else attacked Mike and he is in a coma.  Things get even worse for Kelsey as the phone calls keep coming and she tries to figure out the identity of the caller.  As she found out with Mike, those closest to her are in danger unless she keeps quiet.  But how do you keep quiet when you just want the violence to stop and your life back?

Helen really knows how to build the tension and keep you guessing.  There are so many different possibilities of who the mysterious caller could be and I think this is because of the skillful way that Helen builds the characters.  As the story progresses we get to know more and more about the people in Kelsey’s life and this leads you to suspect that it could be this person or it could be that person.  Helen would make me think the caller was one particular character just by something they said or did, but then I would think it couldn’t possibly be them. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t see the ending coming.  The ending is pretty traumatic but there is still a touch of hope that things will get better.

Broken Silence is not the sort of story we see much of in YA fiction but I’d certainly like to see more.  It’s perfect for teens who want a gritty, edge-of-your-seat story but I also know that adults will love it too.  I’d love to see Broken Silence on book awards lists next year as it is certainly a winner with me.  I can’t wait to see what Helen Vivienne Fletcher writes next!

To find out more about Broken Silence or to purchase the book check out Helen’s website – helenvfletcher.com

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There Is No Dragon In This Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright

Like wolves, dragons get a pretty back rap in stories.  They guard castles, hoard gold and are generally just a menace.  Did you ever think that maybe the dragon might like to have their own story where they do something good?  In Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright’s wonderful new picture book, There Is No Dragon In This Story, Dragon sets off to find his own story in which he can be the hero.

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This story was supposed to be a story about a dragon who captured a princess and was defeated by a brave knight.  However, Dragon refuses to capture ‘any icky, frilly princess’ and sets off to be the hero of his own story.  Dragon walks in to the stories of several fairy tale characters, including the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs and Jack, but they all tell him ‘No. There is NO DRAGON in this story!’ When the giant sneezes and blows out the sun, there is only one character who can save the day and become the hero.

There Is No Dragon In This Story is a wonderful fairy tale mix-up about a classic villain who just wants to be a hero.  The reader follows Dragon through stories they are familiar with, all the while hoping that Dragon will find his place in a story.  Dragon starts off feeling quite hopeful that he could just slot in to someone else’s story but ends up despondent because nobody wants a dragon in their story.  I love the boost of confidence that he gets when he realises that he is the only one that can help and he knows that he can do it.  It shows kids that when they put their mind to it they can achieve what they set out to do.

Lou Carter’s story is wonderful to read aloud.  There are plenty of different characters so there are lots of opportunities to try different voices.  The story would work well with children acting out the different parts.  Deborah Allwright’s illustrations are full of colour and humour.  She really brings out the joy and confidence of Dragon and portrays the fairy tale characters we love in a new light.  Even when the characters are left in the dark she still manages to make the characters shine.

There are so many ways you could extend the fun of this story.  You could get children to recreate Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs with Dragon in the story.  Get them thinking about how you could make Dragon the hero in each of these fairy tales.  Children could write their own stories where Dragon is the hero and even think about other villains that they could turn in to heroes, like the Wicked Witch or The Big Bad Wolf.

Grab a copy of There Is No Dragon In This Story now and help Dragon become the hero.

 

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My Top September Kids & YA Releases – Part 2

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The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away? Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. Their only communication is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone.

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Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

“Don’t you wish,” said the small rhinoceros, “that you could see the world?” And so begins this delightful picture book by award-winning creators Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge.

Once, there was a small rhinoceros who wanted to see the big world. So she built a boat. And sailed away … From the duo behind award-winning picture book No Bears comes a simple yet inspirational tale about challenging the norm, pushing boundaries and being true to oneself.

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I Want to be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien

Monster wants to be in a scary story – but is he brave enough? Scary stories have creepy witches and creaky stairs and dark hallways and spooky shadows… Oh my goodness me! That is very scary. Maybe, a funny story would be better after all?

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Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott and Melissa Sweet

Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. Then, quite unexpectedly, a third sheep shows up. A funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance: the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

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On the Night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond

Bunny and Dog live on opposite sides of the fence. No one says hello. Or hi. But on the night of the shooting star, two doors open… From bestselling author Amy Hest and illustrator Jenni Desmond comes a charming picture book about loneliness and making friends.

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His Royal Tinyness by Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts

Marianna, the most beautiful, ever so kindest princess, lives happily with her mum, dad and gerbil. Happy, that is, until the new baby comes along. His Royal Highness King Baby is so smelly. He’s so noisy. And all the talk in the Land is about him – non-stop, All the time! Has there everbeen such a time of wicked rule?!

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Crazy About Cats by Owen Davey

Did you know that the fishing cat has partially webbed paws for catching fish? Or that pumas can leap up over 5 metres into trees? There are roughly 38 species of cats today, each one superbly adapted to their environment – whether that be in the rainforest or the desert!

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The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson

The cold bites and the sea lashes in this adventure on the ice seas. Ten-year-old Siri must counter the treachery of sailors, hungry wolves, frozen landscapes and a mine where children are enslaved, to save her younger sister from the dreaded ice sea pirates.

 

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My Top September Kids & YA Releases – Part 1

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The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

After crashing hundreds of miles from civilisation in the Amazon rainforest, Fred, Con, Lila and Max are utterly alone and in grave danger. They have no food, no water and no chance of being rescued. But they are alive and they have hope. As they negotiate the wild jungle they begin to find signs that something – someone – has been there before them. Could there possibly be a way out after all?

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Because You Love to Hate Me edited by Ameriie

This unique YA anthology presents classic and original fairy tales from the villain’s point of view. The book’s unconventional structure–thirteen of the most influential booktubers on YouTube join forces (writing-prompt style) with thirteen acclaimed and bestselling authors–gives these mysterious, oft-misunderstood individuals characters a chance to tell their stories, their way.

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Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Cos people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.

Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think.

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What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

A very special, spooky story from Dr. Seuss – with glow-in-the-dark ink!

Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
Wth nobody inside them!

Turn out the lights and say hello to Dr. Seuss’s spookiest character… the pair of empty trousers, with nobody inside them!
First published as part of The Sneetches and Other Stories collection, this all-time favourite story of Dr. Seuss’s is now published on its own in this very special edition with a glow-in-the-dark finale!

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Birthday Boy by David Baddiel

This is the story of Sam Green, who really, really, really loves birthdays. He loves the special breakfasts in bed. The presents. The themed parties. Blowing out the candles on his cake. Everything. He is so excited about his 11th birthday, in fact, that he wishes it was his birthday every day.

So, at first, it’s quite exciting when his birthday happens again the next morning. And again. And again. And again…

But it’s not long before things start to go wrong. Soon, disaster strikes, threatening something Sam loves even more than birthdays. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

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The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald

This is a book about a bad seed. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad Do you really want to know

He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself, and decides that he wants to be-happy.

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Whimsy & Woe by Rebecca McRitchie and Sonia Kretschmar

After being abandoned by their thespian parents one afternoon while playing their weekly family game of hide-and-seek, Whimsy and Woe Mordaunt are left in the care of their austere Aunt Apoline.

Forced to work in her boarding house, looking after the guests, sharpening the thorns of every plant in the poisonous plant garden and listening to off-key renditions of ‘Fish Are Friends Too’ – an aria made famous by the legendary Magnus Montgomery – Whimsy and Woe lose all hope that their parents will someday return. Until one day, quite by accident, the siblings stumble upon a half-charred letter that sets them on a course to freedom and finding their parents.

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A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying refugees. Her people. Fourteen years on she’s a member of Mama Rose’s unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them: A bamboo flute. A golden band. A ripening mango which must not fall . . . if Sante is to tell their story and her own.

 

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The Prince and the Pee by Greg Gormley and Chris Mould

Everyone can relate to needing to pee in the middle of an important quest, whether you were out doing some shopping that took longer than expected or you were on a long journey.  Greg Gormley and Chris Mould tell the story of a brave prince, who really should have gone before he set off on his quest, in their new book, The Prince and the Pee.

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Prince Freddie is relaxing on his holiday when his horse, Sir Rushington, turns up to take him to save the people in a burning castle from the dragon. Being on holiday, Freddie has been drinking lots of lemonade, but he knows that his quest is urgent and so he jumps on Sir Rushington and gallops off.  It’s not long before he realises he needs to pee.  The waterfall they gallop past and the rain that falls on his armour just makes Freddie need to go even more.  He jumps off his horse and goes to pee behind a rock, only to be startled by an ogre.  Freddie continues to try and find somewhere to pee but keeps getting interrupted, until he finally gets his chance and saves the day at the same time.

Make sure you pee before reading The Prince and the Pee otherwise you might find yourself peeing your pants with laughter.  Everyone can relate to Freddie and his dire situation so you really feel for him.  You understand the look of anguish on his face because you know the need to pee just gets worse and worse the longer you have to hold on.  You can feel his pain when he sees and hears running water and you know it would be horrible to be bouncing up and down, up and down on a horse.  Just when you think poor Freddie might finally get some release he is interrupted by ogres, wolves and even Puss in Boots.

Greg Gormley’s text will have you laughing out loud.  As you read you can hear Freddie getting increasingly desperate and Sir Rushington trying to find suitable places to pee while still keeping Freddie on track to get to the castle.  I’ve always loved Chris Mould’s illustrations and his illustrations for this story are wonderful.  He really shows the desperation on Freddie’s face.  I also love his illustrations of the other fairy tale creatures throughout the story.

The Prince and the Pee is a great story to read aloud (especially for Year 3 and 4 children) and children could even act it out.  It’s another great picture book from one of my favourite publishers, Nosy Crow.

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I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon

Some picture books you know are going to be brilliant even before you open the covers.  As soon as I saw the front cover of Heidi McKinnon’s new picture book, I Just Ate My Friend, with the startled monster staring out at the reader, I knew it was going to be a winner.  It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it and I can’t wait to share it with kids!

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I Just Ate My Friend is one of those fantastic picture books that invites the reader to be a part of story.  The main character, a yellow monster with bulbous eyes, addresses the reader saying ‘I just ate my friend.  He was a good friend, but now he’s gone.’  The monster then sets off to find a new friend, only to find that he’s too small, too big or too scary to be anyone’s friend.  Just when he thinks he has found a new friend disaster strikes.

I love, love, love this book!  Kids will beg I Just Ate My Friend to be read again and again.  Heidi’s text and illustrations are simple but they combine to tell a very funny story.  Rather than a lot of white space behind the monsters in the story Heidi has made it night time so the background is a night sky covered with stars.  This makes the reader focus on the big, colourful monsters that take up most of the page.  The yellow monster has large, expressive eyes, so you can tell how he feels.  Understandably the yellow monster is rather distraught that he has eaten his friend and he gets increasingly worried that he won’t find a new friend.  You see how happy the monster is when he does find a friend, only for this to be horribly ripped from his grasp.

If you love the dark humour of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat you’ll love I Just Ate My Friend.

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I Can’t Sleep! by Stephanie Blake

I’m Simon the rabbit’s biggest fan.  I fell in love with this naughty little rabbit with the story that introduced him to readers in New Zealand, Poo Bum.  I haven’t met a kid yet who doesn’t love Poo Bum and kids ask me about it at least once a week.  Gecko Press have made me incredibly happy by continuing to publish the English language editions of Stephanie Blake’s other Simon the rabbit stories.  The latest in the series, I Can’t Sleep, is another hilarious Simon the rabbit story that shows us the more caring side of Simon.

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Simon loves playing with his little brother Casper (even though he once thought of him as a ‘stupid baby’).  One day they decide to build a mega giga-normous hut.  While they play Casper forgets about his blanky.  That night when they go to bed Casper suddenly remembers that his blanky is still outside in the dark garden.  Simon dons his cape, becoming Super Mega Rabbit, and rescues Casper’s blanky for him. As they snuggle back in bed, Simon tells his brother of his adventures.

I Can’t Sleep will be a favourite with children and parents alike.  Children will love the bright, bold illustrations and the adventures that Simon and Casper get up to.  Parents will be able to relate to Casper’s dilemma and they will enjoy the humour.  As a long-time Simon the rabbit fan I love seeing how Simon has changed throughout the different books.  Simon has grown from the naughty little rabbit in Poo Bum and Stupid Baby to a brave and responsible older brother in this story.

One of my favourite aspects of the Simon the rabbit books is the design.  Gecko Press have thought very carefully about the placement of text, giving it plenty of room to spread out on the page.  The size of the text also varies which helps the reader to emphasize certain words or phrases.  I also really love the inside covers of I Can’t Sleep which feature Simon with various expressions and in different poses.  I’d love to have a whole wall in my library covered with these images.

Grab a copy of I Can’t Sleep from your library or bookshop now.

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Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection by Derek Landy

I’ve stuck with Skulduggery and Valkyrie through all their battles, near-death experiences and the countless times they have saved the world.  Like many Skulduggery fans I thought I’d seen the last of these characters that I had come to love, but Derek Landy is always full of surprises.  He has brought Skulduggery and Valkyrie back again, with new characters to welcome as friends.  Resurrection is the latest book in the series and I was so excited to return to this world and these characters that Derek created.

y648A lot has changed. Roarhaven is now a magical city, where sorcerers can live openly. Valkyrie Cain has been out of action for years, recovering from the war against her alter-ego Darquesse, which nearly destroyed her and everyone else.

Some things never change though: bad people still want to do bad things, and Skulduggery Pleasant is still there to stop them.

When Skulduggery learns of a plot to resurrect a terrifying evil, he persuades Valkyrie to join him for just 24 hours. But they need someone else on their team, someone inconspicuous, someone who can go undercover.

Enter Omen Darkly. Student at the new Corrival Academy. Overlooked. Unremarkable in every way.

24 hours to save the world. One sharply-dressed skeleton. One grief-stricken young woman. One teenage boy who can’t remember which class he’s supposed to be in.

This cannot end well.

Resurrection is a return to classic Skulduggery Pleasant.  All the things that I loved about the early books are here in Resurrection – the witty banter, great villains and humour.  The humour especially was lacking in the last few books because of the whole end of the world thing that was happening.  The relationship between Skulduggery and Valkyrie is never going to be the same as what it was at the start of the series but you can see their relationship strengthening again.  Resurrection is a return to the good old days of Skulduggery and Valkyrie, even though so much has changed in their world.

Valkyrie has been out of Ireland for 5 years, hiding away in a cabin in the wilds of America.  She had a lot to deal with after Darquesse took her over and she killed hundreds of people in Roarhaven.  At the start of the book she has moved back to Ireland and is living in Uncle Gordon’s old house.  As she is settling in her old pal Skulduggery turns up and asks her to come back into the fold and join him, just for 24 hours.  Valkyrie doesn’t feel that she is ready, mentally or physically, to be back doing Sanctuary business again but she reluctantly agrees.  It’s not long before she finds herself back in trouble again, with people who want to hurt and kill her.  Into the picture comes Omen Darkly, the brother of The Chosen One, Auger Darkly.  Omen is a kid who fades into the background, not just at school but also at home, as his parents give all their attention to Auger.  When Omen gets the chance to join his idols, Skulduggery and Valkyrie, he thinks all his dreams have come true.  Omen soon finds himself deep in trouble with some very bad people and it’s up to Valkyrie to get him out safely.  After a run in with a nasty piece of work called Smoke, Skulduggery has been corrupted and will do anything he can to kill Valkyrie.  This is one action-packed story!

I really enjoyed this introduction of Omen Darkly. He is going to play an important part in the coming books and you know that he will grow up fast, just as Valkyrie had to do.  A lot of my favourite characters from the series have been killed off but I’m sure there will be some great new characters to come.

Resurrection made me want to go right back to the start of the series and enjoy them all over again.  I feel like you would still have to have read the other books in the series to fully understand what is happening in Resurrection.  I’ll certainly be promoting the first few books in my library.

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Ngā Atua: Maori Gods by Robyn Kahukiwa

There are some fantastic books of Maori myths that have been published.  Authors and illustrators like Gavin Bishop, Ron Bacon and Peter Gossage have brought these stories to generations of New Zealand children.  The Moana movie has recently brought Maori and Pacific mythology in to the spotlight, with children showing extra interest in these stories.  Renowned New Zealand artist, Robyn Kahukiwa has just published a fantastic book with Oratia Books that focuses on the gods from Maori mythology, called Ngā Atua: Maori Gods.

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Ngā Atua is the perfect book to introduce young children to the Maori gods.  It’s the sort of book that preschool teachers have been crying out for, as it is a picture book that introduces Maori gods with a simple text and bold illustrations.  The book introduces children to Tāne, Hine-te-iwaiwa, Tangaroa, Mahuika, Māui and many others.  Robyn Kahukiwa tells the stories of the gods and what they are responsible for.  Each of the illustrations that accompany the text perfectly capture the gods and their power.

Ngā Atua: Maori Gods is a beautiful book that will be loved by children across New Zealand.  It will be a book that will be read and enjoyed again and again and will be an invaluable resource for teachers.  I’m sure it will spark an interest in Maori mythology and encourage children to seek out the myths that have been brought to life by other authors and illustrators.

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Feel A Little: Little poems about big feelings by Jenny Palmer and Evie Kemp

There are lots of picture books around that deal with feelings.  They help young children to understand their feelings and relate them to different situations.  I recently discovered a New Zealand book that I think is one of the best for helping explain feelings to children.  It is called Feel A Little: Little poems about big feelings, written by Jenny Palmer and illustrated by Evie Kemp.

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Feel A Little is a book full of poems for children that help to explain different emotions.  There are poems about Happy and Sad, Angry and Confused, but also poems about Silly, Nervous, Curious and Shy.  Each emotion has a double page spread and is explained in a short poem on one page and an illustration on the other.  Confident, for example has a poem that starts, ‘Sometimes you feel small inside, too awkward to be you.  But other days you strut, you smile, you let the you shine through,’ and is accompanied by a colourful, smiling blob shape that shines bright.

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I love, love, LOVE this book!  It is a wonderful little book that I think all parents and teachers need to own and should be in all school libraries.  It’s a great book to have on hand whenever you need to help a child understand how they are feeling.  Each of the poems and illustrations perfectly captures the emotions and explains them in a way that children will be able to understand.  The poems are a joy to read aloud and the illustrations are fun.  It’s the sort of book that I could see teachers using with young children, getting the children to create their own pictures of emotions or even act out the emotions.

Go out and get a copy of Feel A Little and tell any parents, teachers and librarians you know about it.

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