Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns to Ride a Bike – Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Frank and Bert’s friendship is everything! I first met these best friends when they were playing hide-and-seek. Bert wasn’t brilliant at it but he sure was enthusiastic. 

In this new adventure, Frank and Bert trade in their scarves for bike helmets. Bert wants to be as good at bike riding as Frank but he “wibble-wobbles all over the place.”

This series is teamwork, perseverance and friendship goals. In this story, it becomes clear how important it is to have each other’s backs. A friend who is supportive and encouraging can give us the confidence we need to keep trying.

I absolutely love the illustrations in this series. All of the animals are very expressive, which adds to the humour of Bert’s oops moments. Bert’s wobbly tire tracks brought to mind the windy path his scarf’s loose thread weaved through the first book.

Some details are consistent in both books. Frank wears blue. Bert wears pink. The hills and trees are the same. This familiarity allowed me to focus more on what the characters were doing and feeling throughout this book. 

Be on the lookout for the character who’s fishing. Handy hint: see if you notice anything relevant to the first time you see them when they show up later in the story.

I’ve read this book three times already and plan to buy a copy when it’s released. Naturally I had reread the first book and am delighted to report that I loved it just as much as I did when I first met Frank and Bert.

I need Frank and Bert to keep sharing their adventures with me. I adore these friends!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to fall in love with this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The hilarious fox and bear double act from bestseller Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is back for a second adventure.

Bert is CERTAIN he can ride his bike as well as Frank, but he is very wobbly! And even when they BOTH try riding Frank’s bike … it still goes very wrong! Will the best friends make it all the way down from the big hill? Of course! All they need is a little bit of confidence and trust in each other!

This warm and entertaining story about friendship is guaranteed to get children giggling!

Frank and Bert – Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

You know when you’re so excited about a book that you accidentally preorder it twice? I did the advanced copy equivalent of that with this book; I requested ARC’s from two publishers because I just knew I was going to love it. Then I got approvals from both publishers, so I got to enjoy both the electronic and physical copies of this book. 

So, does that mean I loved it twice as much? You bet I did!

Frank the fox and Bert the bear are best friends who love playing hide-and-seek. Frank always finds Bert though because, well, Bert isn’t the best at hiding.

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Bert’s hiding skills reminded me of those of another bear, Fergus from Mike Boldt’s Find Fergus.

Frank loves to win but he also loves his best friend. Frank’s competitive nature goes up against his desire to make his friend happy in the most adorable way.

Bert, to his credit, isn’t quite as oblivious as he first appears. The way the story resolves gave me the biggest smile (and there were many) of the book.

The illustrations are so much fun. My eyes were continually drawn to Bert’s hot pink scarf, an important part of the story that really pops in the physical copy of the book. Both animals are quite expressive, adding to the humour.

Bonus points for the accidental learning. One of the games of hide-and-seek requires readers to count to one hundred. I’d definitely be encouraging kids I was reading with to count along with me.

This story seems so simple at first but there’s such a great message about the value of friendship. 

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I can’t get enough of this book! I really hope Frank and Bert secure starring roles in future books.

If you finish this book and you’re looking for another picture book that weighs the value of friendship against winning, I’d recommend Katy Hudson’s The Golden Acorn.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to fall in love with this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A hilarious new picture book from author of The Suitcase, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros – with neon ink throughout!

Frank and Bert are the best of friends and they LOVE to play hide and seek. But Bert the bear isn’t quite as good at hiding as he thinks he is … and Frank ALWAYS wins! Every. Single. Time. But when it’s Bert’s turn to hide, and Frank has to decide between winning again OR making his friend happy, Frank learns that friendship is always the true winner.

This interactive and entertaining story about friendship is guaranteed to get children giggling!

Escape Room – Christopher Edge

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Find the Answer. Save the world. 

I love the idea of escape rooms, a group of people working together to find clues that will enable them to solve a series of puzzles. Ami loves solving puzzles and is excited by the challenge The Escape presents. 

Ami is joined by four other participants. There’s enthusiastic Adjoa – “Think Lara Croft meets Indiana Jones, but with a better sense of style.” There’s Ibrahaim, who notices things other miss, and Min, the smart one. Then there’s obnoxious Oscar, the one I really, really wanted to vote off the island. And Ami? She’s the all-rounder.

There’s plenty of action in this book, with a need to not only solve each individual room but the overall puzzle. I consistently felt the characters were facing impending danger. This all made for a compulsive read.

The rooms the group explores included one where “old computers come to die” and an abandoned mall. I loved trying to figure the rooms out alongside the kids. Had I been invited to play, though, I would have been eliminated very early on. 

Even if I somehow managed to survive the first room, the library (of all places) would have taken me out. While all of the connections that were needed to level up made sense, I don’t think there will be too many readers who will be able to confidently say they would have made it through the entire game.

The message, which quickly became obvious to me as Ami and her team moved through each room, was a really good one but it came across pretty heavy handed. Granted, subtle probably wouldn’t be the best approach given the gravity of the situation, but the twist that accompanied its reveal felt so jarring that it lessened the impact for me. I’m hoping the target audience will just go with it and find the message empowering.

When the kids were explaining things like the Mayan calendar and space dust, they sounded suspiciously like walking encyclopaedias. This will make sense by the end of the book.

I couldn’t figure out why Ami didn’t immediately recognise the Host’s voice. I absolutely adored the literal firewall.

I haven’t managed to find the correct alphabet to decipher the symbols on Ami’s library card. Yet.

I loved David Dean’s cover image and the illustration that accompanied the beginning of each chapter. 

“Do you still think it’s a game?” 

Content warnings include the death of an animal.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When twelve-year-old Ami arrives at The Escape, she thinks it’s just a game – the ultimate escape room with puzzles and challenges to beat before time runs out. Meeting her teammates, Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min, Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer. But as he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game.

From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by extinct animals to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. Can Ami and her friends find the Answer before it’s too late?

The latest mind-blowing novel from award-winning author Christopher Edge, Escape Room is a thrilling adventure that challenges readers to think about what they’ve done to save the world today.

The Invincibles #2: The Hamster Rescue – Caryl Hart

Illustrations – Sarah Warburton

Nell is looking forward to attending her best friend’s first ever birthday party on Friday and while Freddie Spoon is trying to downplay his excitement he can’t wait, especially as his father (who’s been away for work for months) will be coming home in time to celebrate with him.

Meanwhile, Nell’s older brother Lucas is practising for his band’s first gig (if you can call that noise music!). When Nell is invited to Lucy Perkins’ birthday party on the same day, Nell agrees to go, forgetting all about her best friend. (Hint: we don’t like Lucy Perkins.) Upon realising her mistake Nell has a choice to make. Freddie Spoon is also disappointed because it turns out his father is unable to leave work after all.

And what about the school hamster, Hamish? In a way, he saves the day.

In this book Nell learns a valuable lesson about friendship and loyalty, and that bigger and shinier isn’t always better than simplicity.

Freddie Spoon is still only ever called Freddie Spoon in this second book in the series and again, Nell’s baby sibling, Baby, still has no name. We find out about Freddie Spoon’s family in this book and we learn some more about Nell’s, along with finding out why Freddie Spoon and Nell are The Invincibles.

The illustrations are fun and I really like the colour scheme used in this series, grayscale and one other colour per book. In the first book it was green and in this book it was yellow. It’s surprisingly effective and eye catching.

I accidentally came into this series via the third book but didn’t think to review it at the time. It’s now back on order from the library and I look forward to reading it again, this time in the context of now having read and loved the first two.

I stand by thinking this is a lovely series for younger children. I’d happily reread them all. Now, to wait for the long weekend to be over so I can collect the third book from the library! 😃

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In Nell and Freddie’s second adventure, it’s Hamish the hamster to the rescue! Freddie Spoon is having a birthday party for the FIRST TIME EVER. Nell can’t wait to go, until she realises that she’s also supposed to be going to super-popular Lucy Perkins’ party on the very same afternoon! Disaster! But luckily Nell is looking after Hamish the school hamster, and Hamish is a very smart hamster. He makes a surprise appearance at Lucy’s snooty party and saves the day, then they all have LOADS OF CAKE! Hooray!

The Invincibles #1: The Piglet Pickle – Caryl Hart

Illustrations – Sarah Warburton

The Piglet Pickle is the first in an adorable series for younger readers called The Invincibles, which follows the friendship of Antonella Henry and Freddie Spoon, otherwise known as Nell and Freddie Spoon. For some (probably cute) reason, Freddie Spoon is always called by his full name.

We don’t learn about Freddie Spoon’s family in this book but we learn that Nell lives with her parents, an older brother, Lucas, a younger sibling only called Baby (babies not having names seems to be a newish pattern in children’s fiction), and her granny.

During a school field trip to a farm, Nell takes a liking to the smallest piglet and becomes afraid it will be turned into sausage, thanks to Freddie Spoon. At the end of the field trip Freddie Spoon surprises Nell with something in his backpack that is going to cause “Really BIG Trouble”.

There’s a lot of action to keep young readers entertained and the illustrations are a lot of fun. There’s a sweet quirkiness about them and I particularly loved all of the insects with big googly eyes, all of whom seemed very interested in what these best friends were getting up to.

There’s a realistic dynamic between Nell and Lucas, yelling at each other for invading the privacy of their respective rooms and generally being irritating and embarrassing to each other, but able to come together for the common good when the situation calls for it. I’m interested to see how their relationship changes in future books.

I loved when Nell recounts what her brother said to her, replacing the swear word with beep, because she’s not allowed to tell or she’d be swearing as well.

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a kid and am interested in continuing to follow the story. If I had children I’d definitely be buying the series for them. It’s cute and fun and I’d be happy to go straight back to the beginning and read it again.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A single story in two colour printing this is a lovely beginner-reader series for 5 to 6 year olds which is hilarious and, just about, true to life. In this first story, troublesome twosome Nell and Freddie go on a school trip to a farm, where they pet the animals and learn about how they live, and Freddie smuggles a piglet out in his backpack. He thinks he’s saving it from becoming sausages. So Nell keeps it in her bedroom, gives it a bath and gets it involved in bringing a local crime wave to an end …

The Invincibles #3: The Beast of Bramble Woods – Caryl Hart

Illustrations – Sarah Warburton

In The Beast of Bramble Woods our Invincibles, Freddie Spoon and Nell, are working their Pester Power to try to join Nell’s brother and his two nerdy friends, William and Joe, on an overnight camping adventure.

Nell’s brother Lucas is your typical teenage boy, with some sort of fungus growing out of a coffee cup on his bedroom floor. Lucas spends a fair potion of his time asleep with headphones attached to his head during the day and has a game controller attached to his hands at 3am. In his most likely smelly room he has a doona cover I need because it has sharks all over it!

Nell’s best friend, Freddie Spoon, shows her a newspaper clipping with a photograph of a Mysterious Beast in their neighbourhood. Because they’re going to be wildlife experts when they grow up Freddie Spoon and Nell try to work out what type of animal the Mysterious Beast could be.

Naturally the five kids wind up allowed to join the boys camping – but only until 8:30pm! Once the five start hanging out they tell ghost 👻 stories around the campfire 🔥 which leads to Freddie Spoon showing the older boys the newspaper article about the Mysterious Beast. The night turns into one of dares and scares before we finally uncover the mystery of the Mysterious Beast.

I really enjoy this sweet series. I accidentally read this book first and then followed it up with books 1 and 2, so this is a reread for me now that I know how the story starts. I love the friendship between Nell and Freddie Spoon and also the relationship between Nell and Lucas. As the older brother Lucas is naturally annoyed by his little sister at times but he looks out for her as well. These books have a bit of mystery, a bit of adventure, some humour and a whole pile of feel good loveliness. I smile through these books and feel better about the world when I finish reading each story.

Once again I loved the illustrations by Sarah Warburton. Each book in the series has its own colour and this book is various shades of orange. Keep an eye out for sneak peeks of the beast throughout the book! My favourite illustration is the goofy looking snake in the sewer pipe on its way to bite some unsuspecting toilet user on the bum.

I really hope there’s going to be a book 4!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nell’s big brother Lucas and his nerdy friends are camping out in the garden. They’ve got a fire and marshmallows and everything! Nell and Freddie Spoon are desperate to join in but they have to go to bed at eight-thirty. Eight-thirty! So they come up with a plan to sneak back out and play some tricks … They steal the marshmallows, and put a frog in a sleeping bag, but their best prank is to pretend to be The Beast of Bramble Woods! But Lucas catches them and they run off into the woods so they don’t get told off. And then they get lost. And then they hear the noises. But it’s just Lucas, isn’t it?