Category Archives: Books

The Bully and The Shrimp review

This post is written by Owl.

The Bully and the Shrimp

We have been sent a copy of The Bully and The Shrimp to review. It is quite interesting, and has a good plot. There are good descriptions of feelings, such as “Noah’s heart thumped in his chest.” It is about a boy called Noah who gets bullied when he goes to a new school. Although soon after he finds a friend who helps him to stand up to the bully. This is what Rabbit said: “It is awesome!” and Tiddler said: “It’s nice.” They both give it a 5/5 rating and I think I would too. Overall, it is a good story and there are also informative notes about bullying at the back. As I face some bullying problems, I find it useful. I recommend it if your child is being bullied.

Aveeno Skin Care Products Review

I was very happy to receive this parcel of goodies from Aveeno because I’m already a big fan of their products.  I discovered them in an earlier pregnancy when I had dry skin, and they are now a pregnancy essential for me.  They are also suitable for children because all the products are unfragranced and very mild.  I might consider sharing them with my children, but I think I won’t let them get their hands on them straight away!  The bath oil and the lotion are ideal for every day use whatever your skin type, and the cream is particularly good for dealing with dry skin.

aveeno skin care

The products are also perfect for those who may be prone to eczema, and this is the focus of Aveeno’s new campaign.  They have teamed up with acclaimed children’s author Penelope Harper to create a series of books following the adventures of Ellie (a little girl) and Eddie (a gecko) who both have dry skin.  It’s available as an eBook and can be downloaded here.  I was a little unsure about the idea of reviewing this book when it was discussed at Britmums Live in June.  I think it’s pretty hard to write an interesting children’s story on the subject of dry skin, but the author has done a reasonable job.  It’s a simple story, and though it’s not very exciting it reads quite well, and both Rabbit and Tiddler enjoyed it.  At the end of the book, there’s a colouring page which Rabbit had fun doing.

Aveeno colouring

I would recommend the book for children who have eczema, especially if they are reluctant to have cream put on when their skin is dry and painful.  The products are so versatile that I would recommend them for anyone.

Lionboy: The Chase review

This post is written by Owl.

lionboy the chase

This review is about Lionboy: The Chase, written by Zizou Corder (which is a name used by authors Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young, whose names were too long to fit on the book). This book continues the trilogy of the catspeaking boy, Charlie (see my review of the first book, Lionboy, here), whose parents get kidnapped. It starts with a micro-version of the last book, explaining briefly what happened before. It was chosen by the Blue Peter Book Club.

The story continues in the Orient Express, where Charlie takes his lions, whom he rescued from a circus, to meet King Boris, the friendly king of Bulgaria, in his carrige. Edward, who worked for King Boris, went to Venice with them. While they were there, Charlie and the lions, with the help of Claudio, the boatman,  overthrow the Doge, the evil ruler of Venice, and sail to Morroco, the lions’ home. Meanwhile, Charlie’s parents (who escaped) head to Morroco too.

This book is excellent, it uses powerful verbs, adverbs and adjectives to make the passages exciting to read. I will give this book a 5/5 rating and I highly recommend it.


Spot a Lot Animal Escape

Spot a Lot Animal Escape has been a huge hit with Tiddler – it’s probably our favourite Parragon book so far.  In fact, as soon as I sat down to try and write this review he saw the book and said “Now mum, I like this book, can you read it to me?”  So I’d better stop writing for a minute and do just that…

spot a lot 1

…I don’t think he’ll ever tire of it.  We’ve been reading it several times a day and he’s just asked “Can I take it into Preschool? It’s so good!”

spot a lot 2

In this story, the animals have escaped from the zoo and the reader follows the zookeeper as she searches for them all throughout the rest of the book.  On one level it is a simple counting book, with the main text line taking us from “1 very tall giraffe trying hard not to laugh” to “10 warthogs tapping feet dancing to a hip-hop beat!”  Within the illustrations, though, there is much more to find.  There is a tortoise to search for on every double page spread, and in addition there are instructions to look for extra animals, such as “Spot 3 green lizards” and “Where is the hippo hiding?”

We’ve had many counting books over the years, and plenty of books with hidden things to spot too, and I think this is one of the very best.  In some cases they can become a bit tedious, but not this one.  It has just the right number – and difficulty – of things to find, the text is fun to read aloud and the illustrations are excellent.  Having read it to Tiddler at least once a day for a couple of weeks, and sometimes to Rabbit separately, I’m happy to report that I haven’t got bored of it yet!

We received this book free of charge for the purpose of this review.




Nigelissima – Instant Italian Inspiration

This post was written by Paul who was also the chef.

Nigellissima most Nigella

The last cook book that came into our house, in March, was Jack Monroe’s “A Girl Called Jack”. At the time we’d been living off tinned tomatoes and lentils for weeks, and fell upon her recipes with the grateful desperation of a family ready to have their lives transformed by adding a beef stock cube and some shredded mushrooms to their terrible attempts at fake Bolognese.

Six months later, on the upward curve of the thriftspend cycle, enter Nigella. Nigella with her simplicity, her glamour, and her insistence on quality. Nigella with her mixture of the commonplace (tomatoes, semolina, lentils), and the expensive (sirloin steak, fresh figs, 70% cocoa chocolate). So, riding the fiscal upswing, we invited friends round and cooked loads of dishes. What’s the point of using a cookbook from a supreme entertainer if you don’t entertain with it?

Nigelissima 3

This was the menu, scaled up for four adults, two teenagers and five children aged 10 to 4:

  • Tagliata
  • Mock Mash
  • Italian Golden Lentils
  • Gnocchi Gratin
  • Meatzza
  • (Broccoli)
  • Instant chocolate mousse
  • Baked figs with honey and cream

Nigelissima 4

Tagliata is delicious. Buy the most expensive sirloin you can afford, make some vinaigrette with added chilli flakes and pour over cherry tomatoes chopped in half, cook the steak properly and slice it after resting, then arrange the whole lot on a plate topped with fresh oregano. Total cost of ingredients £25 – an easy party piece. None left over. Tomato and beef salad – who knew?

Nigelissima 2

Mock Mash was a surprise hit – also none left over. Take semolina and cook in milk, then add parmesan, seasoning and nutmeg. Total cost £5

Italian Golden Lentils was less popular, but probably because we’ve seen quite a lot of our little pulse friends recently. And it wasn’t a fair test as, with an hour to go before the guests arrived, I realised I’d forgotten to buy the necessary Castelluccio lentils and garlic oil, so substituted green lentils and olive oil with crushed garlic in it. But the dish itself was really nice – I’d never cooked lentils with leek and thyme before. Fry leeks, add lentils, thyme, bay leaves and water. Serve when cooked (fish out bay leaves). Total cost only £1.50

Gnocchi Gratin was easy to make and quickly eaten, the only leftovers caused by the abundance of other food on the table. Heat mascarpone and milk in a pan and dissolve parmesan in it. Cook gnocchi, put into oven dish and cover with a mixture of breadcrumbs and more parmesan, put into oven and take out when golden. Total cost £12

Meatzza was tasty but overshadowed by everything else. The concept is simple enough – take beef mince and add herbs and spices (a bit like making lamb kofte mix), then pat down into an oven dish before covering with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella slices to form something that looks like a pizza. We’ll try it again on its own later. Total cost £15

Broccoli was meant to have been Nigella’s lemon and parmesan version, but we ran out of time so it was just broccoli. Take broccoli, chop into florets, chuck into water then guess how long it takes to cook.

The instant chocolate mousse was fab, and easy to make. Instead of egg, use condensed milk to thicken and bind the mixture of melted luxury chocolate and partially whipped cream. Leave to chill in the fridge then top with more partially whipped cream. The recipe called for orange liqueur but I left the booze out because of the children. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 1

Baked figs with honey went down a storm with the grown-ups, less so with the children (although the kids were pretty full by then). Cut and split figs without severing them completely, and drizzle olive oil over them before baking for 10 minutes. Prepare mixture of warm cream and honey, and chop unsalted pistachios in mini chopper. Pour honeyed cream over hot figs, sprinkle chopped nuts and serve. Total cost £12

Nigelissima 5


None of the recipes were difficult to follow, although I do wish I’d got the herbs sorted out in advance instead of running around the garden in the dark trying to pick thyme and oregano. I started prepping an hour and a half before the meal by opening the first bottle of Bardolino and finding Don Giovanni on the ipod. Chocolate mousse was next (as it had to be chilled before serving), then the Meatzza (which could be baked at the same time as the gnocchi but I didn’t want to be handling raw beef whilst cooking everything else). Then the lentils were put on, then the gnocchi prepared. Finally the tagliata and mock mash happened simultaneously, and the figs were got ready for throwing in the oven after the main course.


Would we use Nigella’s book again? Yes! Could we regularly afford to buy premium cherry tomatoes, sirloin steak, decent mince, pounds of parmesan, mascarpone? No! We could save Nigella’s book for special occasions or we could experiment. Can the chocolate mousse survive the ignominy of Sainsbury’s basics dark chocolate? Can the mock mash be made with ‘Italian hard cheese’ rather than real indicazione geografica typica parmesan? Because given our recent experience you could survive at least a year with just two cook books – Nigella’s and Jack’s – and change the ingredients to suit your budget. Have these two passionate ladies met? Can someone arrange it, and send me a preview copy of the resulting hybrid cookbook? Thank you.



Parragon picture books, Maths and more

We have received some lovely items for review from Parragon recently, starting with two picture books which the children have really enjoyed.

Parragon Books 1

The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile, written by award winning author Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Henry Fisher, is the story of a family’s quest to find the fish with the deep sea smile.  They find all kinds of fish with different attributes – one with “blue-green eyes and whiskers three”, another “With electric lights up and down its tail” and even “a fish with a laughing eye.”  But can they find the fish with the deep sea smile?  With its poetic text and colourful illustrations, this is a great story to read aloud.

parragon books 2

Away in my Aeroplane, also by Margaret Wise Brown and Henry Fisher, is another story which was very popular with the children.  We liked the pictures of the little boy flying in his aeroplane, and enjoyed seeing everything he sees as he goes on an adventure through the skies.  The text is very satisfying to read aloud as you get carried along by the rhythm and rhyme: “Down below the people go, very small and very slow.  They look like bugs and ants and flies – I wonder if they realize what they look like to my eyes.”

parragon books 3

We have also taken up the Parragon #summerwithgoldstars challenge and Owl has worked his way steadily through the age 9-11 Maths workbook.  His confidence in Maths has improved so much this summer and I could not be more proud of him.

parragon stationery

And finally, something for me I think, though I haven’t yet come up with a suitable use for this pretty notebook with matching post-it notes.  Far too good for the to-do list, so I will have to think of something more interesting to use them for before the children get their hands on them.  We are very grateful for all the lovely things we have been sent – we love being a Parragon family!


Anthony and the Ants

Anthony and the Ants by Gemma Raynor is a picture book on the theme of sharing.

anthony and the ants 1

Anthony loves to eat but a horde of hungry ants keep carrying away his food.  He tries to escape from them and eat an apple in peace – with very surprising results.

anthony and the ants 2

I read the book at bedtime to the two little ones and they both enjoyed it.  Rabbit said she liked it because it is funny.  Tiddler just said “Again!” as soon as I finished reading it, which is the sign of a good book.

anthony and the ants 3

We were sent a copy of the book free for the purpose of this review.

Bunny Loves to Learn

It’s always a good sign for me if a book leads to an outbreak of creativity and that has certainly happened with our latest book from Parragon.

bunny loves to learn 1 one

Bunny Loves to Learn, by Peter Bently, is an appealing story about bunny and friends who are learning about various topics from knights to Ancient Egypt.  The younger children in particular enjoyed the story, but all four of them had fun using some of the ideas in the book to do some learning and creating of their own.

bunny loves to learn 2 two

Monkey made a pyramid out of chairs and blankets, while the other three made shields (I don’t seem to have a picture of Owl’s for some reason.)

bunny loves to learn  3 three

The next day some of our home educated friends came round and we had a history morning together.  We read some books about Ancient Egypt, and the children mummified soft toys and made death masks for them.

bunny loves to learn 4 four

Thank you Parragon for sending us this book which gave us the inspiration for a lot of creative fun.

We have been sent a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review.

Bunny Loves to Learn, written by Peter Bently, illustrated by Emma Foster and Deborah Melmon, Parragon, £5.99, paperback.



Hold That Thought Milton!

Hold That Thought Milton! is a humorous picture book written by award winning author Linda Ravin Lodding.

Milton 1 one

It is fun to read aloud to children of all ages, and the enjoyment of the comical story is enhanced by Ross Collins’ quirky illustrations.

milton 2 two

Milton is a young boy who has many things on his mind and a lot to say.  But everyone in his family is too busy to listen to him, and they just keep telling him to “Hold that thought!”  So he tries, but it’s not easy, and his thoughts begin to have a strange effect on him.  The story reaches a hilarious climax on his Aunt Lulu’s wedding day.

Milton 3 three

All the children liked the story and Tiddler asked for it again straight away.  Rabbit wanted to pose with the book, while Monkey had fun taking pictures of the illustrations – I am sure he and Owl will have their own blogs before too long!

We have been sent a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review.

Hold That Thought Milton!, Linda Raven Lodding and Ross Collins, Parragon, £5.99, paperback.


This post is written by Owl.


Lionboy is written by Zizou Corder.  (Zizou Corder is a name made up by the authors Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakah Young.)

Charlie Ashanti is a boy who can speak to cats.  When his parents are kidnapped, he goes after them and picks up six circus lions on the way.  I think it is very well written.  It has believable characters and a good plot.  I like the way they included sheet music so you can know how the songs sound.  Mummy and I think it deserves a 5/5 rating.  The Lionboy story does not end here.  It continues in two more books – Lionboy: The Chase, and Lionboy: The Truth.  I will review them when I have read them.

I very highly recommend this book.