Friday, December 23, 2016

Introducing Phaidon Books



Reviews by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Recently I was introduced to publisher, Phaidon, which has its headquarters in New York and London. It has a huge list of creative arts titles, and many exciting children’s books. Earlier this month, I reviewed the first Phaidon book, Undercover, in my list of Books, Apps and Gift Ideas for Kids and Other People, 2016.

Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie, published by Phaidon, (2016.) RRP: $Au29.95

From the publisher:

Creativity and perseverance lead to unexpected success for a little worm who goes after an apple high up in a tree

The apple is up high. Toto is down low.
A bird flies by. Toto has an idea.

And so this hilariously expressive little worm gets busy creating plan after plan to reach his desired meal. His crafty strategies are successfully executed but miserably unproductive... until the opportunity presents itself and Toto seizes the moment without foresight. With just the perfect balance of predictability and surprise, this tale reads like an animated short that the reader will want to see again and again.

I loved the minimalist text in this charming children’s picture book. It just begs to be read aloud in a deadpan voice, but with lots of meaningful pauses and plenty of room for eyebrow lifts! The narrative arc is reminiscent of the game “Fortunately…Unfortunately”, with twists and turns as we see little Toto’s creative problem solving lead to even more problems. The simple text also means that Toto’s Apple will make a great choice for beginning readers. I know children 2+ will respond enthusiastically to both the vivid artwork and the playful text.

Hug This Book! by Barney Saltzberg, illustrated by Fred Benaglia, published by Phaidon (2016.) RRP: $Au24.95

From the publisher:


You can spin and twirl and dance with this book.
You can listen while someone else reads it.
You can take your book to lunch.
Just do not try to feed it.

Hug This Book! won my heart instantly. I adore the idea of a book that invites kids to share the love that books and reading can bring. Don’t we all know youngsters who obsess over a certain book and want it read aloud every night? Hug This Book! is written in an energetic and rhythmic way that has kids giggling from the get-go. Benaglia’s illustrations are reminiscent of comic book art, with lots of enthusiastic splotches of colour and flowing ink sketches that add even more energy and fun to each page.

Below is a wonderful trailer for Hug This Book! It turns the text into a song, showing just how well the rhythm and rhyme make it flow as a read-aloud. Do seek out this charming children’s picture book for your collection!



Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books by Tomi Ungerer, published by Phaidon (2016.) RRP: $Au75.00

From the publisher:

Eight classic picture books by the legendary author, brought together in one lavish slipcased volume

This glorious treasury brings together eight iconic tales by Tomi Ungerer, featuring well-known classics (The Three Robbers, Moon Man, Otto), acclaimed recent works (Fog Island), and lost gems (Zeralda's Ogre, Flix, The Hat, and Emile), some of which are being published for the first time in 50 years! Special features include a personal letter from Tomi, new quotes and anecdotes about each story, an exclusive interview, photos and previously unpublished materials from the making of some of his most celebrated works, such as storyboards, sketches, photographs, and images that inspired him.

If you’d like your kids to meet the iconic Tomi Ungerer, and you can’t make it to the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg, this would be doing it in style! 320 pages of hardcover book means it’s not light bedtime reading, but what a wonderful keepsake it would make for the whole family! “The book includes never-before-seen content: an introductory letter, anecdotes and quotes throughout from Tomi himself, an exclusive interview with photographs, sketches, storyboards, and other behind-the-scenes material.” Ungerer influenced names like Sendak, Carle and Silverstein, but it's his influence on children that matters to me. Both his art work and prose give you pause for thought and may well influence further generations to create - what a legacy!

Growing Together: 4 Stories to Share by Taro Gomi, published by Phaidon (2016.) RRP: $Au29.95

From the publisher:

A little boy imagines the journeys that he and his father go on together; a little girl speculates about her mother's life before she became a mom; an older brother thinks back to when he was the baby; and sisters attempt to halve and share everything in their path. Each humorously narrated story is as messy, unpredictable, and endearing as everyday life with a child!
This is a set of books aimed specifically at toddlers and babies. There are four books in the set: Exploring, Imagining, Growing, and Sharing. Each one shows some aspect of family life, with minimal text and large clear and colourful illustrations. Gomi’s art work is unusual and very appealing.

Blue and Other Colours with Henri Matisse by Phaidon Editors (2106.) RRP: $Au14.99

From the publisher:

Henri Matisse's abstract cut-outs are used to teach colours in this polished read-aloud board book. Blue and Other colours takes children through Matisse's colour palette, one artwork per page, beginning with blue and returning to it as a familiar refrain throughout. The variance of shapes, depth, and scale will keep readers engaged, while the text enriches the reading experience with relatable and humorous commentary. Readers will not only learn their colours, but also grow familiar with fine art in this relevant and relatable first title in this series of concept books featuring the most innovative and influential artists. Includes a read-aloud "about the artist" at the end.

Matisse’s art work is, I believe, highly accessible to children because of its emphasis on bright colours and simple design. Even children who have not learned to walk, will grasp the strong, glossy boards/pages in their chubby and focus on the colourful shapes, reinforced by someone’s voice reading aloud the simple text. Great for libraries!

Squares and Other Shapes: with Josef Albers by Phaidon Editors (2016.) RRP: $Au14.95.

From the publisher:

An introduction to shapes through the acclaimed art of Josef Albers.

The influential art of Josef Albers is used to teach shapes in this stylish read-aloud board book, which takes children through Albers' range of geometrics, one artwork per page, beginning with squares and returning to them as a familiar refrain throughout. The variance of colour, scale, and quantity adds to the richness of the visual arc, and the accompanying text provides a humorous and engaging commentary.

Here’s the second book in the series that began with Blue and Other Colours, reviewed just above. Parents and librarians who are keen to introduce kids to elements of art will also embrace this robust board book aimed at kids 1+. Apart from being a beautiful and visually appealing book, it introduces kids to shapes and colours as used by Albers in his art work.

Pancakes: An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen, published by Phaidon (2016.) RRP: $Au19.95.

Here’s a novelty book that encourages kids to interact with it by pouring flour, whisking ingredients, ladling batter and flipping pancakes, all via cunningly designed tabs and clever book construction. This is the first in a series of interactive recipe books from Phaidon, and sure to be a hit with young Master Chefs everywhere. An ideal follow up would be to use the recipe and suggestions to make your own pancakes after reading. It seems to be a very strong and durable book, but particularly because one pancake can actually be wholly removed to manipulate, I think it would be best kept for a special non-borrowing section of the library, or of course for respectful home use.

If you’d like the opportunity to introduce your kids to top-notch art and graphic design from around the world, do take a look at Phaidon. While I adore many many books published in Australia, I love that we can expose our kids to different viewpoints and styles by finding books from other countries too. With its emphasis on visual arts from all over the world, and books of undoubtable physical quality, Phaidon is worthy of your earnest consideration.

This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien, published by Phaidon (2016.) RRP: $Au14.95.

From the publisher:

A playfully deceptive format that encourages young readers to see things differently.

This is not a book - it's a laptop, a pair of hands to clap, a toolbox! Each spread of this book is actually something else entirely, challenging young readers to see things quite differently!

Turning the page and finding a full-sized image of piano keys will invite children to swing the book on its side for imaginative play; turning the page again to find a monster with its mouth wide open will prompt children to use the book to chomp everything around them! The result stretches beyond the pages of this book, prompting readers to think creatively about other objects in their daily lives.

It can be difficult to find board books that are different to the run of the mill single image and single word to a page. Here's a beautifully made board book for kids 2+ that encourages youngsters to ponder, play and have fun. There's even a section at the end that folds out to make a house. I can see this wordless picture book becoming part of imaginary play with toys, and love that children will thus learn to associate books with enjoyment.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

NB: The Book Chook will be taking a break now until later in January 2017. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Children’s Book Review, Radio Rescue


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Radio Rescue was written by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, and published by National Library of Australia, 2016. RRP: $Au24.99

From the publisher:

Jim and his family live happily on their remote outback station. Yet, sometimes Jim feels lonely. Then a strange new radio with pedals arrives and Jim's Mum and Dad can send messages to their neighbours. Jim wants to have a go! 'When you're older,' says Dad. Then something happens that only Jim can deal with. Will he learn how to use the radio in time to save Dad?

'Radio Rescue!' is a beautifully illustrated flap book that takes us back to the origins of communication in the outback, with fascinating factual information at the back of the book. A sister book to the award-winning 'Tea and Sugar Christmas', with the same author and illustrator.

Jolly’s text is simple and uncomplicated, making Radio Rescue accessible to young kids as a book to read, but nevertheless it packs an emotional punch. We read about Jim, Dad and Mum living on a remote Australian sheep station in the 1920s. Life is difficult, not least because of the loneliness and worry about possible accidents or illness, with no way of urgent communication. When the family finally gets a pedal radio, their world bursts open with possibilities. Then Dad is thrown from his horse, and Jim must step up and use the radio to save his dad’s life.

I always love Ingpen’s art work and it definitely enhances Radio Rescue. There are very detailed black and white pencil sketches and full colour pages, both authenticating this period of time and place in Australia’s past. In typical Ingpen style, he captures action, mood and character in a seemingly effortless way. Some of the pages unfold, displaying that illustration to great effect.

Radio Rescue makes a very special read-aloud, but I think schools will grab it as a resource to enhance the Australian Curriculum. Apart from the fact-based story, there’s an addendum that includes images from NLA, and text explaining the facts about radios in the Outback. Radio Rescue is an excellent book worthy of collections everywhere.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, December 16, 2016

My Top Children’s Picture Books Reviewed in 2016

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



It is truly torture for me to have to choose the top ten picture books I’ve reviewed this or any year. I start out strongly, typing my list with enthusiasm and the joy of sharing what I love. But then….I realise I quickly have ten books. Maybe I could add one more, no two, no ten, no thirty more? How can I stop at ten? Is the list balanced? Have I included a more factual book, a hilarious book, a tug-at-your-heartstrings book, a picture book for older kids? In the end, after much scribbling out, re-reading, and re-writing, I force myself to draw a line in the sand and add my usual caveat: these are my ten top picture books for 2016 TODAY! Things may change tomorrow, and of course, many other children’s book lovers will have different viewpoints. But if you are looking for a starting list of top recently published children’s picture books, then these come highly recommended. I have also embedded the list far below.

Rockhopping
From my review:

This is a wonderful book for children 7+ . Of course, any age child can get lots from a picture book but this particular picture book is intriguing for independent readers. It is in a graphic novel or comic style, mostly with lots of panels to a page but with some larger and/or very detailed panels. The drawings are lovely, softly coloured cartoon-style pencil sketches I think, and occasional panels also introduce the fauna and flora encountered. There’s a mud map of Uncle Egg and Clance’s journey and so much detail and fascinating stuff for children to pore over.

Molly and Mae
From my review:

Molly and Mae are friends who are going on a long train journey. We are caught up in the joy of being a child about to start an exciting journey - running around, playing hide-and-seek, exploring all the vending machines, and other giggly, giddy fun. Once the journey starts, we see Molly and Mae’s antics begin to pall on other passengers, until finally, like over-wrought kids everywhere, they get annoyed with each other and slump into boredom. The sullen sky and rain make the outside world echo their inner world. At last, they find a way back to each other and their friendship becomes strong again. The train journey’s stages become a metaphor for the children’s fluctuating friendship, and I know both kids and adults will recognise moments in their own lives when words can harm or heal.

Incredibilia
From my review:

Such a deceptively simple yet profound story! There is nothing there to tell children explicitly of the benefits of sharing, or of collaboration. Nonetheless, children may well think about the power of imagination, playing together, and acceptance of each other after reading it. Hathorn has gifted us with a picture book that children will delight in listening to, and poring over each page as they read it to themselves.

Twig
From my review:

Twig really tugged at my heart strings. Anyone who has known an invisible child whom people tend to ignore will rejoice in the eventual positive outcomes for Heidi, the stick insect who goes to Bug School. The illustrations are simply gorgeous, and kids are encouraged to find various creatures in the end papers. Highly recommended!

The Storm Whale in Winter
From my review:

In The Storm Whale in Winter, we meet Noi again, only this time the Storm Whale and his family come to help Noi. With a few carefully chosen words Davies’ helps us see the world through Noi’s eyes and feel his worry, fear and relief. Kids will put themselves in the young hero’s shoes, and enjoy the different perspectives in each scene. A truly beautiful story and illustrations that stay with us long after the book is closed.


Bear Make Den
From my review:

The partnership of Godwin, Wagner and Joyner is inspired. The story is deceptively simple, but Bear’s enthusiasm and can-do attitude come through clearly. Joyner’s illustrations zing with cartoon-style humour and show us the details of all Bear’s projects. Lots to discuss with kids!

Cyclone
From my review:

It’s amazing that something as devastating as a cyclone can be so beautifully and clearly depicted by both writer and illustrator. French’s lyrical language brings the reality of Cyclone Tracy’s effect on Darwin to life for children. We read of wind that snarls but is pretty much ignored as the kids dream of Santa’s arrival and Christmas day. Snarls turn to groans and growls, shrieks and howls, then when their house is destroyed and the small family tries to flee, they are “Slashed and bitten by debris” while the world around them is only storm. Whatley chose a toned-down palette to reflect the old photographs he used while researching Cyclone Tracy - graphite pencil and acrylic wash set the mood perfectly for both the cyclone and its aftermath.

Penguin Problems
From my review:

Penguins must be one of the most loved animals on Earth, so penguins are not rare in children’s books. But choosing a penguin with attitude as the main character is brilliant - this little guy is determined to let us know how difficult his life is. Kids will not only love the penguin but ruefully recognise his complaints and determination to be miserable. And they’ll laugh! First at the penguin, but perhaps at themselves too. The art work is superb. Smith cleverly uses a range of page presentations, each of them perfect for that page’s contents, plus lots of variety in texture and colour despite what is mainly a symphony in black and white.

This and That
From my review:

What a charming gift this would make for a baby and its young parents! Fox’s picture books are always special. This one has a rhythm perfect for gentle bouncing on a lap, but slows down and ends with love and a kiss goodnight. Horacek gifts us with cartoon-style illustrations against a simple background, but then we come to a colourful and more detailed market and two giraffes in a tangle, and later a hospitable king welcoming an array of characters to his castle. The whole is just a little piece of perfection and one I think is destined to become a classic.

My First Day at School
From my review:

The combination of genuinely funny illustrations and very simple text will appeal to kids 2+. Apart from showing us a range of cute animals participating in everyday school and home-related activities, it provides an opportunity for kids to celebrate their achievements - like being able to dress themselves, finger paint, count to ten and handle their lunch. There’s also a lovely understated reassurance at the end when home time comes and we see a duckling and Mother Duck re-united.


Or find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Recommended Books for Older Readers 2016 (3)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Earlier I brought you Recommended Books for Older Readers 2016, and Recommended Books for Older Readers 2016 (2). Here is the third instalment. All would make great gift ideas for a reader near you!


The Unforgettable What’s His Name by Paul Jennings, illustrated by Craig Smith, published by Allen and Unwin (2016.) RRP: $Au14.99.

From the publisher:

Now you see him, now you don't - an action-packed adventure about a boy who just wants to blend in, from a bestselling author/illustrator team.

Even before all this happened I had never been like the other kids. I tried not to be seen. If I climbed a tree or hid among the bins, no one could find me. 'Where's What's His Name?' they'd say.

Then, one weekend, I got what I wanted. First, I blended in with things. But on the second day I changed.

I mean, really changed.

When you’re really really shy, you just don’t want people to notice you. Our young hero is desperately lonely but also desperate not to be seen. Then he sets a chain of events into action that makes for an amazing adventure kids will love. They will also relish the plot twists and turns, and enjoy the humour and awkward moments. Jennings has the ability to write uncomplicated text so it’s easy to read, without dumbing down. Smith’s illustrations are lots of fun, and his skill at showing a boy who blends in with the background is remarkable. I know young readers will have a ball trying to locate What’s His Name in many of the illustrations.

Recommended for kids 7+, particularly those who are not yet sold on reading and who want a chapter book where the text is in large font and is broken up with pictures, both black and white and coloured.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis, published by Walker Books 2013. RRP: $Au17.95

From the publisher:

Take eleven-year-old Timmy Failure - the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of the best detective agency in town, perhaps even the nation. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Throw in the Failuremobile - Timmy's mom's Segway - and what you have is Total Failure, Inc., a global enterprise destined to make Timmy so rich his mother won't have to stress out about the bills anymore.

Of course, Timmy's plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered. And it doesn't include Rollo Tookus, who is so obsessed with getting into "Stanfurd" that he can t carry out a no-brain spy mission.

This one will appeal to kids 8+ who want a book that has them rolling on the floor with laughter. Pastis’s comic timing is excellent and he presents us with a hero whose mistakes make him very endearing. The cartoon-style sketches are frequent and serve to break up the text as well as add another layer of humour. Best of all, for those kids who love a series, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is only the first book of five so far.

There are classroom notes to support the book, and you can get more of an idea of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by checking out the video below.



Six by M.M.Vaughan, published by Alma Books (Bloomsbury) 2016. RRP: $Au 15.99.

From the publisher:

When Parker Banks moves with his family from London to New York, he struggles to adapt to his new school and environment. His scientist dad is constantly at work on a top-secret technological venture for a major corporation, when one day he is kidnapped. It is up to Parker, along with his deaf sister Emma, their friend Michael and the pet pig their father left behind, to find and rescue him. They have at their disposal the E.F.E. device that their dad has invented to allow the family members to communicate with one another through telepathy.

As their search progresses, it becomes clear that Six, the project that Parker's father has been involved in against his will, is a sinister enterprise that poses a threat not only to the Banks family, but to the world at large.

This is a 300+ page solid middle-grade chapter book of thrilling science fiction for kids 10+. Lots of real science and gadgets will hook kids with a yen in those directions; others will enjoy following clues and solving the mystery. The highlights of Six, for me, were the strong family bond between Parker, Emma and their parents, the flashes of humour throughout and the way the plot twists kept me guessing.

Middle School: Going Bush by James Patterson and Martin Chatterton, published by Penguin Random House Australia (2016). RRP: $Au15.99

From the publisher:

Rafe’s been to the beach and now he’s headed to the bush – watch out Australia!

It’s fair to say that Rafe’s recent trip Down Under could not easily be called a success: in Australia he and his Mom were forced to flee a pack of bloodthirsty zombies after the ‘performance piece’ by Rafe and The Outsiders traumatised Shark Bay (aka ‘Australia’s Bravest Town’). Yet, when Rafe receives an offer to attend an all-expenses paid ‘Cultural Campout’ in the Northern Territory, Australia, he takes precisely six seconds to say ‘yes’.

What happens next is full-throttle outback adventure in which Rafe will have to draw on every bit of his new-found ‘Man of Experience’ persona to make it out alive.

If you know kids who love humour, snappy dialogue, humour, outrageous adventures, humour and characters so believable you feel they live next-door, do introduce them to this series, and Middle School: Going Bush in particular. Aussie kids will alternate between groaning and guffawing over camp life, and relish all the gags, jokes and goofy sketches that bring the book to life.

School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Iain Macintosh, published by BC Books (NewSouthBooks) (2015). RRP: $Au22.99

From the publisher:

Follow the exploits of the children who go to a most unusual school – the sail-powered training ship Tobermory. When a film crew arrives in Tobermory Bay, Ben and Fee are invited to be extras. But their suspicions are soon aroused – is the film crew genuine, or are they up to something sinister? Ben and Fee soon discover the truth when they uncover a dastardly plan masterminded by a South American businessman.

Books about kids who go to boarding school always seem exciting to those of us who’ve never been through such adventures and hardships! Tobermory is even more unusual because it’s a boarding school on a sailing ship - lots of scope for adventure there. I think School Ship Tobermory will appeal to kids who enjoy chapter books set in a richly detailed school-type world, with believable child characters and quirky teacher characters, and a good dash of fun and frolic thrown in.

(I have previously reviewed McCall Smith’s Precious and the Zebra Necklace. Readers may also know the author for his very well-known Ladies Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency books for adults.)

The Twins of Tintarfell by James O’Loghlin, published by Pan Macmillan Australia (2016.) RRP: $Au16.99.

From the publisher:

Orphaned twins Dani and Bart have lived and worked at Tintarfell Castle for as long as they can remember.

Nothing remarkable has ever happened to them - until the day Bart is kidnapped.

As Dani and the devious Prince Edward try to find him, strange becomes even stranger when they encounter a sarcastic giant, a mysterious sorcerer, a retired witch and a warthog named Flango.

Dani and Bart must decide how far they will go to save themselves, the kingdom, and each other.

The Twins of Tintarfell is just the sort of fast-paced adventure kids love. Add to that a very detailed and magical medieval world, special powers like speech with animals, lots of tension and plot twists, and O’Loghlin seems to me to have honed in accurately on what makes a book a real page-turner. Dani and Bart are main characters we can both relate to, and like - another very important book ingredient. Recommended as a middle-grade chapter book for kids 10+.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 2 The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan, published by Penguin Random House Australia. RRP: $Au18.99.

From the publisher:

When Baron Morgarath escaped to avoid punishment for treason, an uneasy peace fell on Araluen. But the Rangers know Morgarath will be planning his next move. King Duncan must prepare for war.

Halt volunteers for a seemingly impossible task – climbing the deadly cliffs of the Mountains of Rain and Night and venturing deep into enemy territory to spy on Morgarath. Meanwhile, Crowley must ensure the Queen’s safety as she undertakes her own perilous journey for the sake of her unborn child.

Morgarath’s force of savage, inhuman Wargals seems unstoppable against Duncan’s depleted army. One wrong move could mean defeat. At the Battle of Hackham Heath, the fate of a Kingdom will be decided.

Ranger's Apprentice The Early Years 2: The Battle of Hackham Heath is a prequel, an explanation of how Halt came to be Araluen’s most renowned Ranger. It’s a chapter book that takes its place amongst 12 others of the Ranger’s Apprentice main series, and is the second after The Tournament at Gorlan in the Early Years series. So many kids love to read a series - they like to know what they are getting in a new book, feel familiar with the characters and trust the author to deliver an entertaining book.

Flanagan definitely has the knack of knowing what kids want to read: the Ranger’s Apprentice books are tightly written, fast-paced adventures, full of action, humour and intrigue. Although this book could certainly stand alone, I think it will be gleefully grabbed by kids 10+ who are already caught up in the Ranger’s Apprentice series.

You can also read lots of reviews of recently published books for children in my HUGE list of Books, Apps and Gift Ideas for Kids and Other People, 2016.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with a Toy

by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Here’s a new prompt in my series, Creative Prompts for Kids. Sometimes children need a gentle nudge to spark their creativity. Whether they go on to choreograph a dance, create a sculpture from junk or write a play, the most important thing is to encourage them to create something in response to a prompt. Sometimes kids will start with one of these prompts but then go on and make up a much better idea. Underneath the prompt ideas you’ll find a list of all my Creative Prompts to date.

Today my challenge for kids is to start with a toy. The toy might be a real one of your own, or be one you want or imagine.

* Draw a plan for a toy you wish existed. Label it and explain how it works.

* One of your toys could be the main character in a play. What is your play about? Does your toy character have a problem to solve? Where and when will the action take place?

* Choose any three old toys you no longer want - might be best to check with an adult first - and create something with them. You might pull them apart and reassemble them to create a whole new toy. You might glue them together to make an interesting sculpture and paint it in amazing colours. You might invent something entirely new, based on those old toys, or their shapes.

* Think of a simple five scene story you would like to tell using some toys, LEGO or models. Draw up a storyboard with one simple sentence per scene. Make sure your story has a beginning, a middle and an end. If you’re stuck for ideas, try re-telling a nursery rhyme or a joke. Set up scenes using your chosen toys, adding detail with any other props you like. Photograph your five scenes. Add a sentence to each image that helps explain the story, using picture software like PicMonkey, or simply write the bottom of a printed out image. You can read more about this process in my article, Visual Story Telling.

* Choose two toys and imagine a conversation they might have. Write the conversation down, or record it as an audio/video recording. Try reading the dialogue aloud until you’re sure it doesn’t stumble. Practise using a different voice for each toy, then record your conversation again. You could use a microphone, a phone, an iPad or other device and some apps to keep a permanent record of what you created.

* Design the biggest toy in the world. What might go wrong if such a toy came to life?

* Design a very small toy. Can you create a model of it from LEGO, play-dough, cardboard, something else?

* Create a toy via a new method you’ve never tried. You might decide to knit or crochet a toy, cook a toy, invent a toy with circuits, code a toy, or some other way. Who might the toy be for? What will you name it?

* What’s the scariest toy you can imagine? If you’re brave enough, think about what might go wrong in people’s lives if such a toy existed. Create some way of communicating this idea to an audience.

* Write a letter to someone in your family, explaining what toys you need and persuading them to get the toys for you.

* Design a toy with wheels.

* Design a toy made from breakfast cereal.

* Explore using a toy to create a simple stop motion video. You could use an app like LEGO Movie Maker to try this. Once you’re comfortable with the process consider creating something a little more complicated. What story would you like to tell?

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