Princesses Wear Sneakers – Sam Squiers

Illustrations – Annabel Cutler

I absolutely love stories where it’s the princess who saves the day. Princesses no longer have to suffer the indignity of being cast as damsels in distress, waiting for someone else to rescue them. While I’ve read about princesses who have outsmarted villains I’ve never watched a princess use her athletic ability to outmanoeuvre a baddie the way Princess Ellie does.

Princess Ellie’s love of sports is not encouraged in the kingdom. She dreams of being an Olympic sprinter and playing in the World Cup, but no one understands her passion. Instead she’s expected to adhere to the kingdom’s expectations of how a princess should behave, someone who attends balls and wears uncomfortable glass slippers.

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It isn’t until Ellie saves the kingdom using the skills she’s learned playing various sports that the king and queen realise there’s more than one way to be a princess.

I love that Ellie stays true to herself, continuing to play the sports she enjoys, even though she’s defying the expectations of everyone around her by doing so. She’s confident in her abilities and is able to apply her skillset to a new situation.

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When I was growing up there was a sporting gender divide. Girls played netball, learned gymnastics and danced; some played basketball but that was about as adventurous as we were allowed to be. I remember strangers trying to shame me for enjoying skateboarding when I was a kid because it wasn’t considered feminine.

It wasn’t lost on me that the sports Ellie enjoys include those I didn’t get the opportunity to play as a kid, including football, cricket and rugby. I love that sport is so much more inclusive now!

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Annabel Cutler’s illustrations highlight Ellie’s strength and agility. All of the characters are expressive but it was Ellie’s determination that really stood out to me.

Thank you so much to the author and Little Steps Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Princess Ellie loves playing sports, but she has a little problem … nobody seems to think that her sporty interests are very princess-like!

When disaster strikes the kingdom, Princess Ellie sets out to prove that princesses definitely wear sneakers.

The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep – Adam Gustavson

I love the concept of this book: a group of frogs who try to get out of going to bed using increasingly imaginative excuses. Parents are already well versed in the usual suspects: another story, another glass of water… The froggies come up with much more interesting scenarios to postpone their bedtime.

Kids will love seeing these realistic frogs acting out a series of unrealistic froggish activities, from shooting themselves out of cannons while singing opera to flying spaceships.

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The illustrations are very detailed, with some fun things to discover, like a frog who’s been drinking a bottle of Croak. Kids will enjoy the humour of the illustrations and may be inspired to come up with some better excuses themselves for why they can’t possibly go to sleep yet.

This book is marketed as a bedtime story and given it’s about frogs at bedtime, that should make sense. My reservation is that it’s not a soothing bedtime story. I’d expect kids to be more hyped up after having this book read to them, which defeats the purpose. I’d be testing this one out well before bedtime first to see how the kidlets respond.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Prepare for a different kind of bedtime book – a zany, imaginative adventure to send your little froggies off to dreamland. Not since David Weisner’s Tuesday have frogs had so much fun!

Why go to bed when you can play the accordion, dance underwater ballet, and hold burping contests with strange alien lifeforms? For every kid who ever came up with an outlandish excuse for why it can’t be bedtime yet, these froggies’ antics will delight and entertain. Acclaimed illustrator Adam Gustavson’s raucous authorial debut shows parents there’s more than one way to do bedtime.

So You Want to Build a Library – Lindsay Leslie

Illustrations – Aviel Basil

I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember. They provide access to books that you’re allowed to take home with you for free (!), whose pages allow you to explore infinite worlds, learn and escape from reality for a while. Any building whose primary purpose is to help facilitate reading is already a magical place, so what could possibly make it better? If a child had the opportunity to build the library of their dreams.

One young reader shows us how they would go about creating the “most MIRACULOUS library ever!” From the location to the types of books that would fill the shelves and the inclusion of pretty much everything you’d need so you’ll never have to leave, including a sundae bar and trampolines, this book encourages you to let your imagination go wild.

I loved the dragons and pie-baking snail but my favourite illustrations included the roller-skating sloth, who seemed to be having the time of their life.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is no better place in the world than a library. Especially a library that kids create! A million stories high? Sure. Bathtubs? Absolutely. A full-service sundae bar? Of course. Everything is possible in this library – just like in books! 

The Eyeball Alphabet Book – Jerry Pallotta

Illustrations – Shennen Bersani

Jerry Pallotta takes readers on an A to Z tour of eyes, providing fun facts about a variety of animals, both those you will already know well and others you may not have heard of before. The facts that I found particularly interesting were:

  • A giant squid has the honour of seeing with the world’s largest eyes; they’re the size of a basketball.
  • Horses have oval-shaped pupils.
  • Tarsier’s eyes are larger than its brain.
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In addition, an explanation of how eyes work is accompanied by an illustration with labels for the different parts of your eyes, including the retina, cornea and lens. Each page also explains what different eye idioms mean, from “a sight for sore eyes” to “without batting an eye”.

Another pair of eyes means help from someone else.

I never would have thought a book about eyes would be so beautiful. Shennen Bersani’s illustrations truly are eye-catching. They’re so realistic that if I didn’t know otherwise I would have told you that some of the images in this book were photos.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Best-selling author Jerry Pallotta takes a peek at eyes from across the animal kingdom in this hilarious and fact-packed alphabet book.

The eyes have it! Laugh as you learn by staring right into the eyes of familiar animals (is for alligator eye) and not-so-familiar ones (is for zebu eye!). Readers of all ages will be entertained with every page turn. Language learning bonus: each page defines an idiom that includes the word “eye”!

Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle – Cathy Ballou Mealey

Illustrations – Kelly Collier

Sloth and Squirrel are in a bit of a pickle. 677.5 jars of pickles, to be exact.

They decide to work as pickle packers to earn the money to buy the bike they want but things don’t quite go to plan. Teamwork can be a bit tricky when one member of your team is super speedy and the other is s-l-o-w.

This is a cute picture book with two very different friends. This story shows our new friends working together towards a common goal, using initiative and thinking outside the box to solve a problem.

The illustrations highlight how fast Squirrel is, how slow Sloth is and how expressive both friends are.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two loveable, but unlikely, friends.Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things – and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome, and before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 1/2 jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think – until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

This delightful story from Cathy Ballou Mealey is a celebration of friendships of all kinds and a testament to ingenuity and hard work. Packed with funny details that aren’t in the text, Kelly Collier’s engaging illustrations are full of personality and silly, emotionally expressive humour. Together they create a hilarious picture book that’s perfect for a fun and lively read-aloud. At the same time, the positive themes in the book highlight a growth mindset and character education lessons on teamwork, perseverance and initiative.

How Big is Love? – Emma Dodd

Love never, ever changes,

no matter what life brings.

Love lifts you up when you are down.

It helps you find your wings.

Okay, so if you wanted to make my heart go all squishy and get my brain stuck on ‘Aww!’, this book is probably how you’d go about it. A duck explains unconditional love to their five ducklings and they’re all so adorable! It kinda feels like cheating to use ducks to increase the cute factor but it works.

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It doesn’t hurt that you’re greeted by shiny gold embellishes every second time you turn the page, giving the sun, stars and water the shimmery treatment. I may have read this book more than five times already…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“Before you came I did not know

just how big love can be.

Love’s wider than the ocean,

it’s deeper than the sea.” 

Does love have a size? A family of ducks celebrates the boundless affection between them in Emma Dodd’s gentle rhyming ode to unconditional love.

Walking Your Human – Liz Ledden

Illustrations – Gabriella Petruso

If you’ve ever had the honour of being owned by a dog, you will find every page of this book relatable. There’s so much we can learn from our canine fur babies, like taking the time to slow down to appreciate the little things and learning how to relax.

Whether your arm has been permanently lengthened from one too many vigorous leash yanks or you’ve been protected from a horde of dangerous pigeons, you’ll find it here.

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Gabriella Petruso’s illustrations feature a diverse range of dogs and humans. They highlight the loveable quirkiness of dogs and how expressive they are in communicating exactly what they want.

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Kids will love this book but adults are the ones who will truly appreciate all of the ways dogs take care of us. It’s probably not what the author and illustrator had in mind but I’m all for the unconventional; I’d buy this book for anyone who’s recently been adopted by a dog.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking? It turns out they know just what humans want – to be walked! And once they’re on their way, these dogs will share exactly how to do it.

Walking Your Human is a light-hearted look at the very different ideas dogs and humans have about what makes for a good walk. A picture book for dog lovers everywhere! 

Find Fergus – Mike Boldt

Fergus the brown bear is learning how to hide, only he’s not very good at it. Yet.

When we first meet Fergus, his attempts at hiding are pretty much equivalent to a child putting their hands over their eyes and assuming that means you can’t see them anymore. Or hiding behind the curtains but forgetting that their feet are still visible. Actually, maybe Fergus hasn’t quite reached that level yet.

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You’ve got to give him credit though. Fergus listens to instructions and applies what he’s learned to his next attempt. With perseverance, he gradually gets better at hiding until he finally masters it.

This book would not be nearly as entertaining if the animals weren’t so expressive. Fergus is absolutely adorable but you’ll also meet a duck and a fox, and a whole bunch of rabbits, squirrels, elephants, moose and bears (of course).

My favourite finds included a polar bear who’s just heard a joke, a bear hug and “an elephant with a squirrel problem”.

After you finish reading you can go back to the fold-out pages to search for the things (other than Fergus) that there are to find.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The hilarious mind behind I Don’t Want to Be a Frog and Bad Dog brings picture book fans the super-funny, interactive story of Fergus the bear, who loves to play hide-and-seek with the reader … but can’t really seem to get the hang of it. 

Children will giggle from start to finish as they follow huge, loveable Fergus and see all the silly ways in which he is TERRIBLE at playing hide-and-seek such as hiding behind a VERY tiny tree (“Found you, Fergus! That was too easy!”) or hiding in a giant crowd of bunnies and squirrels (“Try bears, Fergus. Bears!”). 

But wait the game isn’t over yet! The last two pages fold out into a giant panoramic look-and-find scene, where Fergus is well and truly hidden, and young readers can have fun looking for him and lots of other silly details in the the crowd.

Oliver the Curious Owl – Chad Otis

Oliver’s family are quite happy staying very close to the big tree they call their home. They’re also only concerned with “Who?” questions. But Oliver is different. Not satisfied with knowing “Who?”, he also wants to know “What?”, “When?”, “Where?” and “Why?”. His quest for answers leads him to wonder about “life outside the big tree”.

Fortunately, Oliver meets a bug called Bug, who shares his curiosity. Although he’s worried about getting lost if they were to go on an adventure, something unforeseen happens and soon Oliver and Bug are exploring a whole new world. Along the way they meet new friends and enjoy new experiences.

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Oliver’s family are a lot more cautious than he is and I expect parents reading this book to their own owlets will probably want to make it clear that it’s not okay to wander off without their family knowing where they are. Having said that, this is an adorable book that encourages kids to be open to new who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s and why’s.

I’m not sure how well this book would go down with family members who already hear “But why?” several hundred times each day but I love Oliver and Bug and their boundless curiosity about the world around them. The illustrations are full of personality and Bug, in particular, is really cute.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Oliver the owl questions anything and everything!

The only question Oliver’s family ever asks is “Who? Who? Who?” But he wants to know more:

WHO lives in those faraway woods?
WHERE does the river go?
WHY can’t I leave our tree?

When his curiosity gets the better of him, Oliver – and his best buddy, Bug — travel far from the safety of home to get answers about the wonderful world they live in. But after a day of exploration, how will the friends find their way back?

In this charming story of discovery, an inquisitive owl inspires those around him to let their curiosity take flight! 

Santa Jaws – Mark Sperring

Illustrations – Sophie Corrigan

“Merry Fishmas!”

Shelly the shark has something special planned this Christmas. She makes a sign for her front door welcoming everyone to Santa’s Grotto. The only problem is that none of the other fish trust her, so they quickly make themselves scarce. Fair enough, too. I’m pretty sure I’d be questioning Jaws’ motives before willingly stepping foot inside their home.

The exception is one inquisitive squid named Sid. Maybe Sid doesn’t know who lives behind this driftwood door or maybe they’re just so excited about meeting Santa Claus… Soon Sid finds himself face to face with Santa Jaws, not Santa Claus.

This book is so cute! The rhymes flow well and the repetition isn’t overused. The highlight of this book for me, though, were Sophie Corrigan’s illustrations. They use bright colours, the fish are all quite expressive and there are plenty of details to enjoy.

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I particularly loved the coral Christmas trees with shell decorations, the snowman made of sand, the angler fish finding love beneath the mistletoe and the stingray wearing a Santa hat.

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I hereby decree that stingrays must wear Santa hats at all times from this day forth, so we may never forget how adorable they make them look.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Today’s my LUCKY, LUCKY day.

Golly, whizz and gee!

For GUESS WHO’s meeting Santa Claus …

Yes, me! Yes, me! YES, ME!

Ho-ho-ho! It’s Christmas Eve and Sid the squid is SUPER-excited. He’s going to meet Santa Claus AT LAST!

But as he enters the dark underwater grotto, all is not as it seems …

Will there be a happy ending? Let’s hope so. It IS Christmas, after all!