Author Archives: leepeckover

Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

Bottled GoodsThis is a brilliantly written little wonder of a book.

Some of this was published as flash fiction pieces previously but the story as a whole works as a novel through a finely woven narrative told in slightly differing styles.

Every chapter of this feels like it could be a short story itself. This should be seen as a strength providing that the sum remains equal to its parts. In the case of ‘Bottled Goods’ this is very much the case.

On the face of it, a story centering around a couple escaping from the East to the West seems like one that is on the verge of being overdone now. However, this can still be done well and maintain interest if the writer is skilled and can offer a new take on things, ‘Exit West’ did this brilliantly with its use of unusual magical mysticism with doors to other worlds while ‘Bottled Goods’ similarly brings its own fresh twist on it with the magic of old folk tale based magic and mysticism.

This is a uniquely fast paced, quick read that somehow maintains the style and poetry of short fiction across a novella length piece.

Snapshot Grammar – What is an Expanded Noun Phrase?

Every expanded noun phrase is a noun phrase but not all noun phrases are expanded noun phrases.

Most teachers lead with the explanation that a noun phrase is a determiner + a noun. In order to make an expanded noun phrase, children are usually taught that you add an adjective to a noun and a determiner. This would make an expanded noun phrase, but this is not the only way to make an expanded noun phrase and as such it is not really correct to teach this as the only way. It’s also quite stilted. First off, there are other ways to make expanded noun phrases.

I’ll use the noun ‘bowl’ as my example (as in the type you eat from).

Expanding with an adjective…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls

any determiner + any adjective + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. a big bowl

It’s worth noting here that you can of course add more than one adjective (please don’t call these ‘two a sentences’, it’s a noun phrase expanded by two adjectives).

It doesn’t have to be an adjective that expands the noun phrase though. Another exemplar method of expansion would be expanding with a noun adjunct…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls
any determiner + any attributive noun(s) + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. a soup bowl, a chicken soup bowl – these expand our understanding of the detail of the bowl being described, so they are an expanded noun phrase, but they do not feature an adjective, only a noun adjunct serving the purpose of attributing further detail to the noun in the noun phrase.
The last example I will list here is expanding with deverbals and verbal noun phrases, both of which are a type of noun phrase that has been expanded…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls
any determiner + deverbal or verbal adjunct + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. an uneaten bowl, a bowl to eat
You can use any of these expanded noun phrases in sentences but they would all generally need another verb to make it a sentence. For example, ‘a bowl to eat’ seems like it has a verb ‘to eat’ but being such an infinitive makes it function differently. In a sentence you could use it as follows:’A cruel guard passed me a bowl to eat.’

That sentence includes two expanded noun phrases and the functioning verb ‘passed’.


Now I’m not suggesting we teach children about noun adjuncts or about deverbals and all the rest, but I’d also argue that there is little value in teaching them the vocabulary of ‘expanded noun phrases’ – most people can write perfectly well never knowing that term.

Instead, wouldn’t it be nice to just show great examples by reading fantastic texts with children or by encouraging them to read as much as possible. That way, they’ll see expanded noun phrases, noun adjuncts and deverbals being used with purpose and they can see how useful they’d be as a tool in their own writing.

Dolly Parton (Little People, Big Dreams) -Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara

cover166916-mediumAnother excellent addition to the Little People, Big Dream series. Dolly Parton is a huge star not only for her music, charisma and the extravagances (like owning her own theme park) but also because of things like her charitable efforts in spreading literature and a love of books to children all over the world. If you are not already familiar with Dolly Parton’s work in gifting books to children all over the world I strongly recommend looking into it.

This book itself is a nice short and oddly illustrated look at her life. A good introduction for young readers and possibly a useful way to introduce the concept of her ‘Imagination Library’ too.

tempsnipAnd the odd illustrations, see the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers image here, weird but wonderful.

David Bowie – Isabel Sanchez Vegara

cover163909-mediumAnother addition to the Little People, Big Dream series, and one I could not turn down. I mean, it’s Ziggy Stardust, but for kids, with amazing illustrations. You’re not going to turn down the chance to read that book, right?

This is a lovely quick read to share with a class that would be excellent to use alongside music or art lessons. The illustrations combined with the (often space related) text are a perfect combination. Another stellar outing in this already excellent little series of picture books.


Leonard and Hungry Paul – Ronan Hession (Due to be published 20.3.19)

43525053It will take something incredible to top this as my book of 2019.

Flitting throughout from poignant, heartbreaking quietness to the most delicately insightful moments of joyful humour this is a book that should not be categorised. It does not need to fit in to any regular literary category, much like the two main characters throughout, this is a book which knows itself better than any outsider ever could.

Beautiful, sweet, and wholesome beyond words. Hession has delicately crafted a subtle little masterpiece.


The People Awards -Lilly Murray (Due to be published 7.8.18)

people awardsThis is a really interesting look at an incredibly wide range of historical figures from wide variety of backgrounds.

This would be an excellent starting point to looking at all kinds of historical topics or as a way of inspiring children by taking a look at some unusual choices of people they could aspire to be like themselves.

The list of people detailed here really is huge and ranges from the more obvious figures such as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and Isaac Newton to people I had never even heard of myself such as Wangari Maathai, Valentina Tereshkova and Ana Nzinga (a 16th century warrior queen from Angola – how awesome is it to be able to share a figure like that with young readers?)

There is no doubting that some of the figures here can be used to inspire children in their own school learning.

Want to inspire young writers? Have a look at J K Rowling and Hans Christien Anderson, or something a little different like Gabriel Garcia Marquez or even a writer who was closer to their own age and an important historical diarist in Anne Frank.

Got some budding young artists or possible future architects? How about introducing them to Leonardo Da Vinci, Erno Rubik, Antoni Gaudi or Pablo Picasso?

Or, if you’re wanting to help inspire young scientific thinkers then besides those already mentioned, there’s Tim Berners-Lee, Louis Pasteur and Alfred Nobel or female greats from the scientific sphere such as Marie Curie, Valentina Tereshkova and Katherine Johnson (great for helping show girls that science isn’t a subject for boys!).

Young musicians could be inspired by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, David Bowie while for athletes there’s Rudolf Nereyev, Pele and Muhammed Ali.

Then there’s people who have had an enormous impact on world history such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Eva Peron, Jan Amos Komensky, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Rosa Parks, Sejong The Great Confucius or even a modern day global figure such as Malala Yousafzai.

And finally, most interestingly for me, there were a remaining list of figures covered who, to my shame, I was either not aware of or had forgotten entirely but who were worthy of mention and could just well be the figures set to inspire the young minds introduced to them through this book. In the interest of fairness to them, and honesty in showing up my own ignorance, the list of people in this book I did not recognise follows thus…
Trischa Zorn, Hanae Mori, Roald Amundsen, Vincent Lingiari, Mary Anning, Sappho, Frida Kahlo, Olaudah Equiano, Antonio Rodrigues, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Simon Bolivar, Maria Montessori and Tegla Loroupe.

Never before has a book for children made me feel so ignorant to world history as this!

I would definitely recommend this as a must have book for school or classroom libraries – It’s just so full of great starting points that it’s hard not to love it.

People Awards

If You Give the Puffin a Muffin – Timothy Young (Due to be published 28.9.18)

PuffinMuffinWhat an odd and surprising little children’s book this is.

On the surface this is not the usual classroom friendly book with a moral or an underlying lesson. We have a main character with a bit of an edge and a narrative that breaks the fourth wall by including the author as he is writing the book. Which is all a little odd. However, this isn’t a complete exception in children’s picture books as titles like ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ subvert the usual norm of a lovable lead character and the regular form of story writing as well.

I think the lesson children can take from this book is to just love reading. This is a book made to be read for fun and one which lends itself to further reading too. The Puffin finds a box of magic crayons and uses them to create a door to another world as is seen in ‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker (a beautifully illustrated book I would urge you to check out!), and his use of living crayons naturally allows fora link to be drawn to books by Drew Daywalt. For any grown up s reading this book with children there is also the fact that the puffin is sat reading ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ by Douglas Adams, a nice subtle bit of humour to add to a book which is already funny for children.

As far as the text is concerned, the story arc is very unusual but could be used as a writing prompt to celebrate creativity and possibly to encourage children to write themselves into their own story. There is also some rhyme throughout which can be a handy tool for teaching. It isn’t the greatest or most powerful children’s story you’ll ever read, but it’s fun, and sometimes that’s all a book needs to be.

Overall, I liked this book mainly for the fact that it is just a fun read for children that is perfect for helping to encourage further reading. That can only be a good thing.

The Lost Race Car/The Missing Bouncy Ball (Fox and Goat Mysteries) – Misti Kenison (Due to be Published 28.9.18)

I feel like I need to review both of these books together as they are so similar. That isn’t a criticism as it means that they do feel like the beginnings of a nice little series for little ones. These are certainly pitched at a very young audience as a nice way to introduce reading as early as possible.

The text throughout is pitched in a way that means the adult reading is forced to ask a lot of questions to engage the child they are reading with. As a teacher it feels like a lot of the questions are the sort we might ask anyway to ensure engagement of the child but these books might be useful for new parents to give their children a good start with reading.

What I like about both the titles here is that they manage to tell a little story while staying focused on vocabulary that would be useful for children to have before starting school. There is a lot of language of comparison, colours, shapes and sizes which is all very helpful for children to have firmly in place before they start formal education.

The only real criticism I have of these titles, and this is a very personal thing, is that I really struggled to look past these being a bit like ‘South Park’ in illustration style. Detective Goat looks he could be a South Park character and it makes the experience a little odd. This wouldn’t put me off using these to read with pre-school age children, if anything it would just make me want to giggle a little, but it’s just a little odd note.

Idle Days – Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau (Due to be published 14.8.18)

Idle DaysI love the cover art for this book. It sets up for a dark graphic novel perfectly. It is also interesting to have a world war piece set in Canada rather than the more common European settings.

Unfortunately, that is about all that I liked about this book. The art work throughout feels lazy and muddies the clarity of the narrative to a point where it becomes difficult to maintain interest. A lot of the story is told through pictures alone, in some graphic novels this can be really powerful, but when the artwork isn’t clear enough to carry a story, it just becomes a jumpy mess. What actual dialogue there is in this book is often unrealistic and frequently slows the pace of the story to a complete halt.
In case anyone doubts the slow pace of story telling here, there are whole pages like this…CaptureAnd that isn’t even an unusual extract. In some places four or five pages can go by in that same manner.

Overall,this feels slow, dull and never lives up to the heights set by the cover art. A real shame.

Rusty the Squeaky Robot – Neil Clark

RustyThis is a fun, quick read which is brightly coloured and lovingly illustrated.

The depth to be found in this book is in its celebration of what makes us all unique. Rusty doesn’t like the way he sounds but he comes to realise how great the little things that make us all different can be. This is an obvious and nice teaching point. I’d recommend using this book with children in KS1 or early years. I can already think of a few children I have taught in the past who would have loved reading about a robot in space if nothing else!

A real bonus here is the use of geometric shapes in the illustrations. This book could lend itself to crossing over into the teaching of shape in mathematics lessons as well. This use adds to he usefulness of the book and the style suits the characters perfectly.

A solid book for ages 4-7.