Author Archives: jillrbennett

I am an Early Years teacher in a multicultural school in outer London and also act as a consultant for Early Years education/RE and literature/literacy. I have an MA in Education and my particular interests are picture books and poetry. I'm also the author of Learning to Read with Picture Books (Thimble Press).

Having spent all my time in education furthering the role of literature as a vehicle for literary (and literacy) development I have become increasingly concerned over the past few years with the narrowly conceived, prescriptive views of literacy being promoted to teachers and hence, to children. With this present pre-occupation in schools with a largely functional approach to, and the mechanistic aspects of literacy, it is all too easy to forget the unique and fundamental role literature has in developing the imagination – in children's meaning making.

Essentially I see a story as a kind of sacred space: a place from which to become aware, to contact the spirit – that essential spark within. However for literature to act as sacred space it must take centre stage in the curriculum and be viewed, not primarily as a way of doing but rather, as a way of being or of helping children to be and become.

Run, Elephant, Run

Run, Elephant Run
Patricia MacCarthy
Otter-Barry Books

As a storm gathers, lashing the vegetation of his Indonesian rainforest home and pelting down upon Little Elephant, he becomes separated from his mother.
The storm gets increasingly wild but there’s something even more fierce close by. It’s a tiger.
Little Elephant battles against the whirling, swirling elements, the creature hot on his trail. With no time to hide, Little Elephant has to run for his life through the slippery mud.

He slips and falls, whooshing pell-mell down a muddy slope right into his anxiously searching mother.
There’s only one thing to do: make as much noise as possible; so they trumpet and stamp till suddenly

the tiger turns tail and dashes away.
Eventually the storm blows itself out and with the change in the weather, the herd moves on. The weather isn’t all that’s different though: thanks to his adventure, one small pachyderm has changed on the inside. He now feels bigger and braver as he sploshes and splashes with the other elephants in the rain pool.

With its wealth of onomatopoeia this is a great book for adding sound effects during a story session. Children could use their voices, found objects or musical instruments – possibly ones they’ve made themselves – to orchestrate the reading.
First though, read the story, look closely at the superb visuals and then, using the final puzzle spread, go back through the book and search for the thirty odd rainforest creatures in the richly coloured illustrations.

Balthazar the Great

Balthazar the Great
Kirsten Sims
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Balthazar, the polar bear is a violin player, the only remaining one left in all the circuses of the world. Until that is, he’s set free by a group of animal rights activists who leave him in the middle of he knows not where, to find his way home – so long as he can discover where to go.

On his journey he bids farewell to old friends …

and endeavours to make new ones.

He meets some kind-hearted souls but for much of his travels Balthazar is entirely alone – lonely, lost and overwhelmed by the enormity of what he’s attempting.
He even starts thinking about returning from whence he came;

but then all of a sudden he sees something. Could it possibly be who he thinks it is? The giver of Balthazar’s very first violin? …

In this, Kirsten Sims’ debut picture book, her spare text allows her eloquent gouache and ink  illustrations to carry much of the story, a story of the strength of family bonds and of journeying. Her colour palette is somewhat dark which seems to reflect the loneliness of the traveller.

The book’s creator resides in South Africa and that is where Balthazar starts his journey as is evident from the design on one of the mugs featured on the endpapers.

Do take a look at them all though.

The Quiet Crocodile / Hey Willy, See the Pyramids

The Quiet Crocodile
Natacha Andriamirado and Delphine Renon
Princeton Architectural Press
Fossil the crocodile is a lover of peace and quiet, preferring to be alone and away from hustle and bustle. He has however, a ‘few friends’ so we’re told although the endpapers in particular, belie this: some two dozen named pals large and small, (each with a colour-coded dot so we can keep track of them) line up thereon, seemingly ready to move.
And move is just what they do, one by one, across the pages of the book and find a place upon Fossil’s back until he resembles first an outsized sofa and then a climbing frame or a circus balancing act as the animals pile precariously up on his length.

All the while Fossil has a large grin on his face and despite our being assured that ‘He’s afraid of scaring his friends’ sceptical readers may be beginning to doubt that.
Things take something of a turn textually however when our narrator informs, ‘… as everybody knows, they’re fierce. Even in books!’ Hmm!
Are all his friends right in issuing that “Come and play with us!” invitation? And did anything accompany that hat of Piggy’s into his grinning mouth?

Surely he’d never even consider eating any of his friends, or would he?
Irony and wry humour abound in Andriamirado’s text which, accompanied by Renon’s stylised illustrations of intricately detailed animal characters, is likely to please those with a penchant for the quirky and open-ended.

Hey Willy, See the Pyramids
Maira Kalman
New York Review of Books
This is a re-issue of an early Kalman book and quirky it surely is.
Young Alexander has trouble falling asleep and asks his elder sister Lulu to tell him stories: a million are requested but she agrees to five and ends up by telling eleven. They’re all very short – flash fiction really – and therein she mixes the familiar with the downright bizarre and surreal.
One tells of a dog that wants to live in Paris and be a poet; another features a green-faced scientist.

There are crazy parties and fish flying into the sky.
Punctuating the stories, in white lettering printed on black, are brief conversations between sister and brother further adding to the overall strangeness of the book.
Maira Kalman has, seemingly, plumbed the depths of her imagination for both narrative and illustrations of this far out offering. It’s not for the very young, certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but worth a look if you’re into the highly unusual in picture books.

You Choose in Space / Ludwig the Sea Dog

You Choose In Space
Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
Puffin Books

The You Choose series just gets better and better: now young children can whizz off on countless journeys of discovery in the pitch black of outer space. They can choose their jobs aboard the space-craft; select some snazzy gear to wear; there’s a weird and wonderful assortment of potential friends to get to know;

a whole different diet to sample and much more.
The great thing- or one of them –is, there’s a seemingly limitless choice of possibilities, so that with each blast off, a whole new out-of-this-world story can unfold in glorious technicolour.
The Sharratt/Goodhart team truly have conjured up an inclusive and wonderfully interactive, treat for young space enthusiasts, as well as those who like to be in the driving seat when it comes to a story.

Ludwig the Sea Dog
Henning Lōhlein
Templar Publishing

In this, the second adventure of Ludwig and his friends, the dog receives from his pal, Peter the penguin, whose submarine has broken down, a postcard requesting his assistance.
How on earth or under sea, for that’s where Peter is stuck – is a book-dwelling dog supposed to go to the aid of a friend beneath the ocean?
There are of course, plenty of books to tell him about marine life but these don’t prove as helpful as Ludwig anticipates.

He has to be rescued, and then discovers that water is not his favourite medium.
Perhaps he’ll have better luck with a spot of fairy tale magic, courtesy of the book he’s left in to dry out;

that and of course, some further assistance from his friends.
I’ll say no more other than to recommend that you open the envelope at the front of the book, put on those 3D sea goggles and prepare yourself for an amazing underwater experience. There’s even a fold out spread to explore.

The Marvellous Moon Map

The Marvellous Moon Map
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Red Fox

Mouse and Bear share a house in the big, dark woods, so when Mouse announces that he’s off to find the moon, accompanied only by a the Moon Map he’s in the process of making, Bear offers to accompany him.
Mouse turns him down: “I don’t need your help – I’m the Moon map inventor!” he tells his friend; and once the map is complete, off he goes.

He tunnels, climbs and clambers up into the blackness of the woods. Suddenly, as he’s urging himself forwards who should emerge from the shadows but his ursine pal. Once again his help is refused, although Mouse cannot, so he admits, see his map in the darkness: but Bear responds with “I know, Mouse, … But I’ve got you, and you’ve got me – so we’ll be all right.
The two proceed with Mouse leading the way, until they reach a stretch of water; a stretch far too wide for them to swim across.

Once again Bear is reassuring. He then takes the map and to Mouse’s consternation, starts folding it.

Eventually, after some manipulation, and the odd bit of grumbling from Mouse, there before them is …

But in such a tiny craft, against such high waves, will they ever manage to find the moon?
Teresa’s lovely story with its two endearing characters, the reassuring repetition of Bear’s words of encouragement and the delightful surprise finale find, combined with David Litchfield’s entrancing illustrations make for what I’m sure will become a storytime favourite.

The Creature

The Creature
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Cats have a habit of dragging things in from the outside; usually it’s a bird or small rodent.
Not so with marmalade cat, Alfie however. What he deposits on the mat is a strange little creature, bedraggled yes, but growly and frightening.

Once inside though, the creature seems to want to stay and when spring comes, smell not withstanding, it’s well and truly settled in and part of the family …

It certainly enjoys a rather strange diet; cardboard, banana skins, plastic and toast being its breakfast favourites.

Night is for roaming; that appears to be part of the creature’s nature, but come morning, it never fails to reappear.
Autumn turns to winter once more and there are clues that the Creature is up to something on the top bunk.

By Christmas however, everyone has forgotten all about it. Has that Creature perhaps got a very special seasonal gift tucked away up there?

With its quirky illustrations, surprise ending and rhyming text that echoes the rhythm pattern of “The Night Before Christmas’, this is a fun read aloud that leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill.

Hortense and the Shadow

Hortense and the Shadow
Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Puffin Books

Combining elements of dark and light, the O’Hara sisters’ debut picture book has a haunting, fairytale quality that will have a wide appeal.
A little girl Hortense, who lives in an ornate mansion deep in the woods, is a kind, brave, caring child. However there’s one thing she hates: her own shadow. It follows her no matter where she goes or what she does; and when night falls, it grows ‘tall and dark and crooked.’
She tries hiding her shadow … to no avail:

she and her shadow remain locked in mutual hatred.
Then one evening Hortense manages to escape from its clutches: she feels liberated, happy and safe; although just occasionally it feels like she’s being watched.

One black night some bandits arrive and it seems all is lost; but then Hortense’s shadow appears and saves her.

That’s when the girl realises that, rather than being something to hate, her shadow is a part of what she is, ‘sometimes dark, cross, strange, silly, jagged or blue,‘ – the perfect ending for this highly original, allegorical fairytale.
Natalia O’Hara’s lyrical prose and Lauren’s delicate, muted illustrations, sometimes ornate, sometimes stark and looming, together make for a multi-layered story to have you tingling with delight. Absolutely beautiful.

Oi Cat!

Oi Cat!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Frog is a stickler for the rules – his rules in particular – which is unfortunate for Cat whose turn it is to have his own book. Sadly though, for the feline at least, it’s been decreed that he, and all cats now ‘sit on gnats’.
Imagine the bites, imagine the itching, imagine the scratching of a very sensitive part of his anatomy. Ouch!
Inevitably Cat’s distress results in all kinds of possibilities being proffered by the other animals: were he a pony he could sit on macaroni, suggests Dog. This does not go down well with Cat who objects to his bottom being anyone’s business but his own.
Dog though is full of good ideas, all of which are rapidly negated by the frog on account of their not rhyming with cat.

And even when he does deliver the goods, that dastardly amphibian is quick to point out that bats – be they of the cricket, baseball or softball variety – are already allocated to, erm …

Still though, the dog keeps on trying and even changes tack, suggesting ‘mog’ as an alternative handle for the put upon cat. Now there’s a thought … Doesn’t that word rhyme with a certain extremely assertive creature beginning with f?
But that’s a no go area isn’t it? Surely there must be plenty of alternatives …

Someone’s going to regret that utterance.
I keep on thinking with every new addition to the Oi…! series that they can’t get any better, but then along comes another and I have to say, this one, with its splendid elevating finale, is as close to ‘purr-fect’ as you’re likely to get.
Top that, Kes and Jim …

Singing in the Rain / I Want Snow!

Singing in the Rain
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

A few years back I was in Udaipur, Rajasthan when the first monsoon rains of the season started to fall. Almost instantly, everyone around, the children certainly, all dashed outside and began celebrating – jumping for joy and playing in the rapidly forming, large puddles that soon became rushing torrents in the streets.
Tim Hopgood’s exuberant illustrations that accompany the words based on Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown’s song too, make rain a joyful experience.

Most adults in the UK certainly, especially teachers, find rainy days a nuisance at best, as they usually mean wet playtimes. Early years teachers though, like the children herein, embrace it as an opportunity to experience puddle jumping and splashing, and have a thoroughly good time – so long as everyone is suitably clad in waterproofs and wellies, that is.
Included with this uplifting book is a CD with the song performed by Doris Day followed by the story with page-turn signals.
So, as the book’s illustrator urges, no matter where you are, be it city or tropical rainforest,

Next time it rains, step outside, feel the rain on your face and give the clouds up above your biggest smile!

Just like the children here in Tim Hopgood’s bright alluring scenes.

I Want Snow!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

The Little Princess is well known for making demands.
In this, her latest story, prompted by a postcard from her mum in the South Pole, and in spite of it being summer, it’s snow she wants.
But what the Little Princess wants, she usually gets and so it is here – eventually.
First though she has everyone in the palace doing their best, building snowmen out of stones and sand and indulging her with mudball fights.

Is the little madam satisfied? Of course not; even the cook’s proffered glass snow globe fails to please and off she stomps to bed. Endless bed – or almost …

until finally she has something to lift her spirits.
I wonder what she thinks about the long-awaited, chilly precipitation.
The Little Princess does look slightly less little here but her charm shows no signs of wearing thin, and I’m sure she’s especially pleased to have a sparkly cover to her latest book.

A Home Full of Friends

A Home Full of Friends
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

Peter Bently does rhyming narrative with aplomb and it’s once again the case here.
Kind soul, badger Bramble doesn’t quite know what he’s letting himself in for when he offers Scuffle the dormouse, toad Tipper

and Boo the hedgehog a bed for the night when they’re made homeless by a storm. Rather that’s all he thinks he has to contend with as he hurries home concerned about his messy sett, stretching his supper to feed four and there only being one bed.
Bramble busies himself making preparations: makeshift they may be but entirely adequate for a badger and three pals.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at his door and the sight that meets his eyes is more than a little shocking. Three entire families are standing on his doorstep …

Fortunately though, they’ve brought with them everything they’ve managed to salvage from their wrecked homes and it’s not long before, with full bellies, they’re having a wonderful time playing games and sharing a bedtime story

before snuggling up for the night.

Warm-heartedness shines out of Charles Fuge’s beautifully detailed scenes which, together with Bently’s text, make a read aloud book with a compassionate message which is particularly pertinent given recent weather disasters and the ever increasing numbers of displaced people in various parts of the world.

Maurice the Unbeastly

Maurice the Unbeastly
Amy Dixon and Karl James Mountford
Sterling Children’s Books

Oh, I do love a divergent character and vegetarian beast Maurice, sweet of voice, gentle of nature and a delight to look upon, certainly fits the bill. In fact his parents are so despairing of his peaceable ways that they send him off to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts to learn to be more beastly.
Now although alfalfa fritters may be his favoured food, Maurice does not want to be a failure so off he goes, determined to do his best.

After just a few days though, the new pupil is close to being ejected from this educational establishment for singing instead of roaring, unsuitable eating habits in a disorderly dining hall;

dancing dashingly when he’s supposed to be havoc wreaking; and his school photo is positively glamorous despite his best efforts to be hideous.
When a strange creature invades the classroom causing teacher and Beastly students considerable consternation, Maurice steps in with his winsome ways and a timely offering, taming the animal …

and earning himself accolades and a new title from the Head.
That however is not the only new thing Maurice is responsible for at the Academy, but for the rest, you’ll have to get your hands on a copy of this enormously enticing offering.
Remain true to yourself Maurice; long may you prevail.
What a delicious cast of characters Mountford has conjured up using a colour palette of black, sage, olive, rust, mustard and coral tones. I’m sorely tempted to make a puppet or soft toy Maurice.
Meanwhile I’m going to be enthusiastically sharing his story with a whole lot more little beasties.

A Briefing of Board Books

Time to Go With Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ted, the wonderfully imaginative toddler is back and he’s ready to go.
Whether it be to the park, the shops, the pool or the playground swings …

he’s always sure to have the appropriate gear with him.
And being such a friendly little boy, he’s bound to make friends wherever he goes; so come teatime he’s got plenty of guests to share with.
Lift-the-flap pages hide a host of animals as well as opportunities for some noisy roaring, shivering, sploshing and making monkey sounds.

Listen to the Dance Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Just in time for ‘Strictly’ here’s an opportunity to brush up on your dance moves with the animal movers and shakers. You can waltz with the wolves, tango with the horses, practise some Charleston swivels with the bears, salsa with the flamingos, rock n’ roll along with the cats and hip-hop with the frogs. And, to get you and your little ones going, there’s a sound button at the back of the book, so as well as enjoying the dancers visually, you can listen to the various types of music. What are you waiting for: let’s dance.

I Thought I Saw a Lion!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing
Using the sliders on every spread, toddlers can develop their manipulative skills while enjoying playing hide-and-seek with a mischievous lion that invades a variety of venues. Is he somewhere in the restaurant? Or perhaps he’s visiting the fancy dress shop or the bookshop maybe.

Surely he can’t be getting his mane trimmed at the hairdresser’s, so where is he?
Built-in repetition and bold, stylish illustrations enhance the game.

Colours/ Opposites
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Two popular topics feature in stylish look and find presentations by Britta Teckentrup.
In addition to the colour element of the first, there are opportunities for counting and developing talk on each spread.

Opposites here entails essentially, finding the odd one out, be that outside, above, fast, short, heavy, white, closed or small. Some concepts such as tall/short or heavy/ light are relative and thus not so clear-cut, but the rhyming text ensures that answering the questions asked is not an issue. Here: for instance,

‘Some animals plod / with a slow heavy pace, / but who is so fast she’s / winning the race?’

Opposites/ Colours
Nosy Crow and The British Museum
The two new Early Learning at the Museum titles contain around thirty fascinating objects from the museum collections per book.
Apart from the basic concepts presented in the two books, each fascinating image offers opportunities for developing open-ended conversations with young children.
You can look into recent history and go back over 2000 years with intriguing artefacts from a variety of cultures in Opposites. Or in Colours go back even further to 2600BC or be bang up to date with a Grayson Perry vase from 2011.
These chunky books will be of interest to children long after they’ve acquired the basic concepts related to opposites and colours.
Adults can scan the QR code in each book to find out more about the featured objects and there is a full key at the back.

The Marine Team / The Forest Folk / The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here are three new additions to the Mibo board books series featuring five animals, apiece, two spreads being given to each one.
Once again in each book, superb graphics are accompanied by fact-filled rhymes and there is a final fact page that tells you a little bit about each animal presented, their habitats and what we can do to help protect them.
The Marine Team comprises the green turtle, the great white shark, which is actually only white on its lower part, the seal, the blue whale and seahorses.
Did you know that it’s the male that carries the eggs from which the babies are born?
In The Forest Folk we meet temperate forest dwellers, brown bears, grey wolves, red squirrels, otters and deer, both male and female.
The Sky Guys features five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican and the tiny hummingbird.
The rhyming texts will help young children absorb the information as an adult reads it aloud; and each book offers plenty of talking points.

Amazing Information Books

Bees
Toni Yuly
Walker Books
For the very youngest is this beautifully simple book of gratitude that demonstrates our connectedness to the natural world: it’s narrated by a small boy, who we see interacting with the things he mentions.
‘Sun gives us light. // Thank you, sun. // Bees give us honey. // Thank you, bees.’ Thus begins the concatenation of connections: from sheep we have wool. From clouds comes the rain, trees provide wood

and thanks to dirt, there are plants.
Appropriately, bold, bright collage illustrations combine fabric, paper, wood, ink and tissue, re-enforcing the biological bounties of the natural world.
Perfect for an end of the day sharing, be it with a single child, or nursery group; and equally with its minimal patterned text, it’s ideal for those just starting to read.

The Story of Snow
Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson
Chronicle Books
In this narrative non-fiction book we begin high up in the clouds with an explanation of how a tiny speck of earthly matter becomes a snow crystal (each crystal requires a single particle to start growing); and then we zoom right into a crystal.

Did you know that its shape depends on the wetness of the cloud and how cold it is? Or, that a single crystal is rarely perfect.
We learn that there are in fact, three main types of snow crystal – star-shaped, plate and column-shaped; and are told something about each kind including the different conditions under which the three kinds form.

With its succinct text, diagrams and amazing photographs of each kind of crystal, this is an excellent starting point for those who want to discover more about snow and can be used across a wide age range. There’s even an instruction spread on how to catch and observe snow crystals; and I love the final quote from Japanese scientist, Ukichiro Nakaya, ‘A snow crystal is a letter from the sky.’ – a perfect ending to a fascinating book.

Bugs
Simon Tyler
Pavilion Books
This large format book is packed with bright, bold illustrations and is designed to draw readers into the fascinating world of insects, the title word being used as an alternative generic term for this entire class of animal.
The first third is devoted to their general characteristics including anatomy, life cycle, eyes …

and other senses, and how and what they eat. Also included is an explanation of taxonomy.
The remaining 60 or so pages cover the nine main insect orders including beetles,

true bugs,

dragonflies, flies, cockroaches and termites. There’s also a double spread each, covering the most dangerous bugs, and some beneficial ones at the end.
The larger than life illustrations of representatives of each order are drawn from all parts of the world and each is captioned with its own common and scientific names, its size, its geographic range and a short factoid of additional information. The detailed scientific information together with the superb illustrations make it appropriate for a wide readership.

13 ½ Incredible Things You Need to Know about Everything
DK
Dorling Kindersley do non-fiction books really well and this one is amazing.
The title of this large volume makes you stop in your tracks and wonder what on earth could be inside.
Prepare to be impressed at the superb exploded illustrations you’ll encounter at every turn of the page, be they of Fantastic Fungi, Super Seeds or any other of the biological topics explored.

Biology isn’t the only subject herein though. The book also covers medicine, space, geology, history, technology, music and more, such is its diversity.
With over a thousand facts (not to mention those myth-busting halves, one per topic) you’re guaranteed a fascinating read. And if you don’t come away from the book knowing a whole lot more than before you started reading it, then your knowledge must have been truly encyclopaedic.

Luna Loves Library Day

Luna Loves Library Day
Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers
Andersen Press

As a young child, Saturdays were always my favourite days; they were the days my Dad would take me to the local library to choose a bagful of books that we’d share together during the week. Much has changed since then; there certainly weren’t comfy chairs to relax in, nor were books checked in and out electronically; but libraries were still exciting places to visit and it’s thanks in no small way to those visits, that I have become a life-long reader.

Poet Joseph Coehlo has penned a wonderful picture book text – his first – extolling the virtues of libraries; magical places that he has described as ‘gateways into reading, into writing, into discovering a world beyond that in which we find ourselves.’
For Luna, library day is special; it’s the day she spends with her dad sharing in the delights their library offers. There are books of all kinds – mysteries,

magic, minibeasts and history …

several of which find their way into Luna’s book bag.
There’s one very special book though, one that seems as though it’s been written just for Luna and her Dad.

This is a fairytale for children whose parents, like Luna’s, have divorced or separated. It’s inherent message is that although family situations change, the parents’ love for their child remains the same.
Fiona Lumbers too has done a terrific job. Right from the cover picture, you’re drawn into Luna’s world and Luna herself is a delight. So too are the other characters who frequent the library, not least the little girl who pops into several spreads – peering round bookshelves or sprawling slantwise across an armchair.

Fiona’s illustrations really do complement the text and every spread is a joy with much to make you smile: you know just how the characters are feeling as you turn the pages.

Emmanuelle immersed in the story

From cover to cover, a winsome enterprise. Don’t miss the end-papers!

Looking for Yesterday / Oh No! Where did Walter Go?

Looking for Yesterday
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books

It’s most often children who live their lives forward, eagerly anticipating what might come next, whereas adults tend to reminisce about what has already past.
In this story though, it’s the little boy narrator who is eager to turn the clock back: thinking nothing can ever be as good, he wants yesterday all over again.
Employing all his knowledge of science, he searches for a way to travel backwards in time …

and eventually turns to his grandad for help.
Instead, Grandad shares his own treasured memories of things he’s done;

but also shows the lad that there is much to look forward to, for every new day brings the possibility of exciting new adventures.
Although comparatively brief, Alison Jay’s text embraces notions of time and space, of hopes and memories, and of happiness.
Her illustrations add a surreal fantasy element to the story encouraging readers and listeners to embark upon their own flights of fancy. The whole book offers plenty to think about and discuss, especially to those teachers who have community of enquiry sessions with their children.

Oh No! Where Did Walter Go?
Joanna Boyle
Templar Publishing

Meet best friends and partners in crime, Olive aka Master of Mystery,  and the Duke of Daring, Walter her parakeet.
One day Walter goes missing and immediately Olive goes into detective mode following footprints, amassing evidence, interviewing the local residents and sticking up ‘Missing’ posters all over town.
Just when the whole search is becoming a tad overwhelming she receives a helpful pointer and off she speeds to the park: a very green place indeed.

How on earth is she to find her friend there among all those trees and bushes?
Undaunted Olive looks high and low but her search is fruitless: Walter is nowhere to be found and now she too is lost.

Will the two friends ever find one another again and if so, how will they manage to find the way back home?
Unless you look at the final page before embarking on the story, it’s not apparent that Walter is also searching for Olive and puts in an appearance on every spread; (although observant readers will probably spot him lurking somewhere as the narrative progresses). This adds a fun search and find element to the whole book and ensures that once the two characters are reunited, children will immediately want to go back and enjoy hunting for Walter all over again in Joanna Boyle’s stylish illustrations be they multi-framed strip sequences or expansive single scene spreads.

The Grotlyn

The Grotlyn
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

What or who on earth is a Grotlyn?
Well,  it’s certainly the subject of the organ grinder’s song in this story set in a murky Victorian town; and it’s something that keeps young Rubi from sleep as she lies alone in her room one night – the song in her head, and the possibility there’s one around. Or was that scuttling sound merely a mouse?

Others too are not yet slumbering. There’s Sam, perched high among the rooftops, tucking into his supper: he’s disturbed by a rustling sound as something is taken.

Policeman Vickers too is wide awake and in the process of hanging out his washing when …

We have clues now as to the identity of the mysterious Grotlyn; but it’s way too fast for the policeman as it vanishes once more into the shadows with its haul – an odd assortment of bits and pieces. What on earth or in sky could all those things be for?
With its strange noises in the night, Benji Davies compelling rhyming narrative is full of suspense and imbued with a gentle humour and his illustrations are absolutely stupendous. No matter where Davies takes us, be it Sudden Hill, Grandpa’s Island or onto a beach with Noi, we’re always right there with his characters, totally immersed in the story, living each and every moment of the action too; and so it is here, one hundred per cent.

This Zoo is Not for You

This Zoo is Not for You
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

A misunderstanding is at the heart of Ross Collins’ latest picture book.
It stars a bus-driving platypus who arrives at the zoo on a day when interviews for new admissions are in progress.
He’s duly made to put up with a series of scrutinies by some very self-important residents.
First off is panda, Chi Chi an enormous creature propped up by a large heap of self-promotional items, who disdainfully utters, ‘To get me here / was quite a coup. But you don’t even / eat bamboo. I think this zoo / is not for you.

All the other animals are in agreement. The flamingos liken him to a ‘worn-out shoe’; the monkeys bombard him with poo;

his lack of colour displeases the chameleons and elephant instantly fails him on account of his diminutive stature.
Off goes platypus; the interviewers confer and eventually a monkey actually bothers to open and read platypus’s dropped communication.

Is it too late to make amends?
This playful tale, told in jaunty rhyming couplets accompanied by splendidly eloquent illustrations is a delight to read aloud and destined to become a storytime favourite. With its inherent themes of difference, understanding and acceptance, there is so much food for thought and discussion.

Unplugged

Unplugged
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Steve Antony has departed from his usual illustrative style for this new book, a book with a vital message, very cleverly constructed and beautifully portrayed.
We first meet Blip in her plugged in black and white world, a world where yes, she learns new things, has fun, dances, travels even, albeit virtually, all day and every day.

Then one day there’s a power cut, disconnecting Blip from all of that, plunging her world into darkness and causing her to trip and go hurtling into the great outdoors.

There, Blip discovers are new things to learn, fun games to play, music to dance to and faraway places to visit, all day long and in the company of some wonderful new friends.
Inevitably though, the time comes for her to bid her friends farewell and return from this world of soft colours and joyful exuberance,

to go back to her plugged in existence. Now though, she knows at least something of the delights the real world has to offer.

Yes, we’ve heard the message before but never conveyed with such finesse as here. Steve has already set the bar extremely high with his Mr Panda stories and The Queen’s … sequence: now he’s reached new heights with this modern day parable.

Little Adventurers: What Bear? Where? / Autumn

Little Adventurers: What Bear? Where?
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books
Peanut, Floss, her little brother, Sprat and Finnegan, the four little adventurers who hold weekly club meetings in their very own shed HQ are back. Now they’re on the trail of animals in the garden where they head with collecting jars, magnifying glass and binoculars at the ready.
Inevitably, there are misidentifications: Peanut’s snake turns out to be a hosepipe …

and Peanut’s giant egg is in fact Sprat’s long-lost ball; and Peanut forgets that things look much bigger when viewed through a magnifying glass.
The creepy crawlies search however is more fruitful with several minibeasts being found;

but the most important find of all is that of a furry animal – a very special one indeed. In fact that’s the only one that doesn’t get released back into the wild at the end of the day.
As well as the entertaining story, there is a whole lot to see and enjoy by way of visual detail: posters, signs, speech bubbles and occasional font changes, all of which are embedded within Elissa Elwick’s zany illustrations.
Another Little Adventurers story that will, one hopes, spark the imaginations of curious adventurers around the ages of Peanut et al.
More of the natural world in:

Autumn
David A.Carter
Abrams Appleseed
This is the third of the author’s seasonal pop-up books and as always Carter’s paper-engineering is amazing.
We start at ground level with a variety of squashes bursting forth from the centre-fold surrounded by a scattering of other flora and fauna and there’s ‘a chill in the air’.
Turn over and clever cutting allows you to make some of the leaves appear to be falling from the oak tree …

behind which wild turkeys roam and a river winds, providing a home for some otters. On winds the river through fields, ‘full of life’ widening out to a place where beavers have built a dam and lodge.
Next stop is a wheat field, ripe and ready for cutting for, as the final spread informs, ‘Winter is coming: it’s time to harvest.’
Full of mellow fruitfulness this lovely book certainly is, albeit USA style, but that can be an interesting talking point as well as an opportunity for widening horizons.

Classic Characters Return

The Hundred and One Dalmatians
Dodie Smith, Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Egmont Publishing
Peter Bently has adapted the original Dodie Smith text for this first ever picture book take on the perennially popular story with absolutely spotalicious illustrations by Steven Lenton; and right from that ritzy cover it’s an altogether classy double act.
Peter Bently’s text is a great read aloud; it’s direct, zesty and spot on for a much younger audience that the original, yet he’s managed to retain the spirit of the Smith classic I remember from my childhood.
Steven Lenton’s illustrations are simply magnificent in every way. Somehow he’s made real characters out of every one of those Dalmatian pups …

as well as the other pooches – no mean feat; and as for the humans, Cruella is evil incarnate; Sal and Jasper suitably roguish and the Dearlys, charming.

From the joyful opening London-based Dearly scenes, to the murky, sombre Hell Hall of Cruella and her dastardly crew, right through to the joyful seasonal finale, every spread is a visual extravaganza.
Superb!

Meg and the Romans
Jan Pienkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books
There’s a touch of history, thanks to an encounter with an ancient Roman in the latest Meg and Mog adventure, as well as an opportunity to learn a few words of Latin unless, like this reviewer, you managed to bag yourself an O-level in the language back in the day.
As always the humour is there right from the start when Meg, Mog and Owl’s excursion to the seaside finds them face to face with the captain of a boat who introduces himself thus, “Julius Romanus sum”.
Meg invites Julius to share their picnic but an accidental injury to Julius’s foot means that getting to Londinium is going to require something other than pedestrian means.

Fortunately a trusty, but very lively steed, Dobbin, is available to transport Julius all the way there at, thanks to a spot of magic from Meg, breakneck speed, albeit with the odd mishap en route.

Meg and friends, despite having been around for nigh on forty five years, show no signs of losing their popularity with young children; they will I’m sure lap this one up.

A Snoring Giant, A Favourite Witch & Knights Galore

The Giant Who Snored
Mike Nicholson and Amy Lewis
Little Door Books
In the hills close by a town lives a gentle giant. He’s a great favourite of the townsfolk especially the children who look forward to his daily visit and the fun it offers …

Everything is tickety boo until the day the giant, suddenly overcome by tiredness, falls asleep during his visit. The loud snores he emits rock the whole town causing absolute chaos on land and sea and driving the residents absolutely crazy.
The hullabaloo must be stopped, announces the mayor offering a reward to anyone who can wake the slumberer. However, despite the best efforts of the blacksmith, the tailor and the chemist, the giant remains sound asleep. Is there anybody who can rouse the snorer? And if so, how?
Here’s a clue as to the who …

As for the how, suffice it to say, it’s pretty disgusting and likely to cause young listeners to emit delighted ‘eeuugh!’s in response; and everything ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
Apart from the very occasional slight creak, Mike Nicholson’s rhyming text slips nicely off the tongue -read it through to get the phrasing right before sharing it though. In combination with Amy Lewis’ digital scenes of the stentorian snores of the giant and their effects, you have the makings of a lively, enjoyable story time session.

Winnie and Wilbur The Naughty Knight
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
In their latest magical escapade Winnie transports Wilbur and herself back in time into a medieval castle where, for a change, her faithful moggie takes the starring role in the grand tournament, with Winnie as a lady-in-waiting.
Can the gallant knight, Sir Wilbur outshoot the famous Sir Roderick in the archery contest? And what happens when the two come face to face in the jousting?

Let’s just say that Winnie has her magic wand neatly stowed away about her person and thanks to a few deft flourishes of her arm, Sir Wilbur cuts Sir Roderick down to size in spectacular fashion, just in time to attend the magnificent banquet in the Great Hall. No need for magic there surely? …
Even after 30 years, Winnie and Wilbur’s magical charm never seems to wear off and it’s especially good to see Wilbur as the star of the show; love those split page layouts especially.
This one brims over with zany humour and is full of potential for primary classroom themes.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: The Dinosaur’s Return
Kristina Stephenson
Egmont
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks is back to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first adventure in what I think is story number nine.
When Charlie’s pet cat Envelope unknowingly hatches a dinosaur’s egg, the young knight together with his faithful friends, set out on a quest to return the ‘little something’ to Thunder Mountain.
A quest that sees them sucked into a swirling watery tunnel, diving into the vent of a volcano and more, before landing up on an island and in so doing, precipitating a dinosaur stampede.

All ends happily however with grateful dinosaurs and a spectacular display of fireworks.
Fast moving, fun, full of action and with dino.-sized flaps to explore, Sir Charlie and friends continue to delight.

Transport, Words and Numbers

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Trains and Boats and Planes
William Bee
Pavilion Books

William Bee showcases an amazing array of vehicles from early steam engines to high-speed super-sleek electric trains,

biplanes, to vertical take-off jump jets,

submarines to speed boats. There’s even a space rocket.
Every brightly coloured spread offers plenty to explore. There’s the featured vehicle of course but also a plethora of signs, logos (Elephant brand reigns supreme), and traffic cones getting up to all sorts of things and seemingly having a great time. William’s dog, Sparky, is there for the ride and so too is a tiny white rabbit.
All of that is accompanied by an interesting, on-going narrative from Bee himself that includes some occasional tongue-twisting alliteration; and the final spread is given over to some playful ‘Elephant’ brand advertising.
Totally immersive and certain to delight all mechanically minded young children and a fair few adults too, I suspect.

Big Words for Little Geniuses
Susan & James Patterson and Hsinping Pan
Penguin Random House Young Arrow

For sure there are lots – 52 in all – delicious words in this zany compilation for youngsters to get their tongues around; 26 illustrated – one for each letter of the alphabet – and the others in a kind of addendum.

I have issues with the pronunciation guide in a couple of places though, one being Magnanimous (mag-NA-nih-mus) which I suspect is the American way of saying the word; ditto Onomatopoeia (AH-noh-ma-toe-PEE-ya).
Nevertheless, I’m all for children expanding their vocabularies and this fun picture book certainly should, in the right hands, help them do just that.
A number of primary schools I know of (and I’m sure it’s quite common), have a ‘word of the day’ or a ‘word of the week’ – here’s a rich source to mine.

And, very young children really do love exciting-sounding words, repeating them for the sheer enjoyment of hearing them spoken aloud. Add to that Hsinping Pan’s bold, bright visuals and you have an alphabet book unlike any other.

I Know Numbers
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

This is an exploration of numbers and the various roles they play in everyday life. ‘Numbers are everywhere’ we’re told at the outset and we’re then show various examples from clocks and calendars, thermometers and weighing scales. These still hold true although this is a re-issue of a book first published in Japan in 1985. The next spread though shows out-dated technology

although it’s the only one and it offers an interesting talking point when sharing the book.
The upbeat text and bold, bright images certainly do put the case for the importance of numbers,

and their multi-functional nature, in an appealing way for those just getting to grips with number learning / number recognition skills.

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming
Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Two Hoots

Television writer/producer Chris Harris teams up with Greeenaway medal winner, Lane Smith in this riotous book of nonsense verse.
The first thing I should say, actually, it’s the second, is, take no notice of the title: Harris is telling enormous porkies; the only non-rhyming offerings are those made deliberately so.
In all there are over one hundred zany compositions, most of which will make you want to laugh out loud; almost all of which are illustrated; and every one of which is imbued with a sense of playfulness.

There’s wordplay in abundance: here’s the briefest entitled The Gecko, ‘If ever I find myself holding a gecko … / I’ll lecko.

Typography is used to effect, for instance when ‘d’ and ‘b’ have a showdown in The Duel ending up as ‘p’ and ‘q’. There are riddles, parodies of nursery rhymes, and, perhaps surprisingly – but then everything is pretty surprising in this book – some introspective verses: ‘I’m shy on the outside, but inside my head? / I’m not at all shy – I’m outgoing instead.’ …

The downright irreverent appears too: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by … / Since then I’ve been completely lost. / Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost!

Author and illustrator even have a go at one another (possibly on account of Smith’s Alphabet Book visuals)

‘I must confess I don’t like my poems’ illustrator. They told me, “Lane is great!” but man, I really think I hate her!’ Harris rails (he can’t even get Smith’s gender right). But Smith counters with this portrait …

One poem that particularly spoke to the teacher part of me was The Secret of My Art reminding us of all the dangers of appearing to know about, or judge, children’s art. Here it is:

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my teacher declared.
“This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my father declared.
“Your talents will carry you far!’

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my mother declared.
“What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well maybe it is a beautiful whale …
But I was trying to draw a guitar.

A brilliant collaboration and definitely a sure-fire winner for those who already love poetry, but perhaps more importantly, for those who claim to hate it. A sterling successor to the likes of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Dr Seuss.Every classroom and home needs a copy.

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter  

Two Dragon Tales

Dragons: Father and Son
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures
Young dragon Drake, a chunky little charmer, lives with his pot-bellied father, a traditionalist, who decrees that the time has come for his son to start behaving like a real dragon; and that means burning down a few houses in the village over the mountain. Poor Drake. He seldom emits a plume of smoke and setting fire to houses is something he does not want to do at all.
Next morning though he does as he’s ordered and finds himself a likely target. Just as he’s stoking himself up to commence his flame throwing, out rushes a little boy who offers a larger alternative, the village school.
Here however, as he’s about to disgorge his destructive breath, the teacher and pupils disarm him completely with their appreciation …

and Drake finds himself heading for a third target. Yet again though, he is diverted.

What is his father going to say when Drake returns home and reports on his activities?
Needless to say, he’s more a than a little displeased; so it’s just as well that young Drake has, in the course of his travels, ‘learned a lot from the humans about being smart.’
Thereafter, we leave both father and son satisfied in the knowledge that there is, after all, more than one way to be a respected dragon.

Lacroix debut picture book text, although longish, is mostly in dialogue and has a droll humour that, with its themes of divergence and tolerance, will give it a wide age range appeal.
Badel’s watercolour and ink illustrations show Drake’s appearance in the village striking fear and consternation among the adult population but only excitement and adulation in the children he encounters. Perusal of the pictures also reveals an intriguing bit part player in the form of Drake’s pet bird which accompanies him on his adventure, appearing in both the large coloured scenes and the line drawn vignettes that punctuate the text.

Sir Scaly Pants: The Dragon Thief
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Sir Scaly Pants, the one and only Dragon Knight returns for his second adventure.
It all begins when a fire-breathing dragon kidnaps the King right from his saddle while he and the Queen are enjoying a paddle in the river. The Queen is distraught and of course, Sir Scaly Pants, furious at the behaviour of a fellow dragon, resolves to do his bounden duty and rescue his Highness from the kidnapper’s clutches.
He leaps on his trusty steed, Guinevere, and gallops off eventually discovering the King’s whereabouts in a dark tower.

A tower guarded by the fearsome king-napper demanding gold in return for releasing his captive.
It certainly seems as though Sir Scaly has bitten off more than he can chew when he charges right at the open jaws of his adversary.

However, thanks to Gwinny, not to mention his own fireproof shield, Sir Scaly finally releases the King, removes his helmet and gives the king-napper the surprise of his life. It turns out that he’s not so wicked as Sir Scaly first thought: let a new friendship commence …

Striking, melodramatic illustrations with eloquently humorous expressions on the characters’ faces and in their body language, should ensure that this rhyming tale is set fair to captivate young audiences and win Sir Scaly more fans than just Flame.

Hibernation Hotel / Still Stuck

Hibernation Hotel
John Kelly and Laura Brenlla
Little Tiger Press

This book really made me think of winter, starring as it does, a bear, who despite it being past hibernation time, is still wide awake.
Bear’s sleeplessness is all down to his over-crowded cave but it looks like he’s thought of a solution.
A phone call later, followed by a drive in his jalopy and he’s checking in at a smart hotel in the mountains. The perfect place for some uninterrupted shut-eye, especially as he’s asked the receptionist for a March 1st wake-up call.

How wrong could Bear be? Noisy, partying guests, an over-soft bed, and heavy bedding are far from sleep-inducing, and the TV shows just upset him.
Perhaps an empty tummy is the cause of his insomnia; room service should soon fix things …

And fix things it does, entirely satisfactorily; only not quite in the way Bear anticipated.
Kelly & Brenlla’s enormous ursine character with his fascination for hotel freebies, fixtures and fittings, is a peevish delight.

In that luxurious alien environment he discovers that creature comforts can come in unexpected forms.
Just right for a pre-bedtime giggle with little ones, especially those who need a bit of help dropping off.

More bedtime shenanigans in:

Still Stuck
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s time for a bath and the independent-minded toddler protagonist refuses help with getting undressed. Good on you, little one. But then, almost inevitably thinks the experienced nursery teacher part of me, his shirt gets stuck – well and truly so.
This sets the infant off on a surprisingly upbeat contemplation of the challenges of ‘stuckness’ and their problem-solving solutions – being thirsty for example …

Then there are the possibilities of friendship with other similarly stuck individuals: that could be lots of fun …

Coldness starts to invade his thoughts so the lad has another go at extricating himself, starting with his trousers – a valiant effort but definitely not a success.

Eventually Mum appears, disrobes the boy and lugs him off (wait for giggles at the bum views) to the bathroom.
But then, come the pyjamas – hmmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Yoshitake’s dead-pan text combined with wonderfully observed, cartoon comic, digitally rendered visuals make for a chucklesome pre-bedtime share for adults and infants.

Things to Do with Dad / You Can Never Run Out of Love

Things To Do With Dad
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books

Dad and a small boy make and consume breakfast pancakes together. A promising and joyful start to the day but then Dad turns his attention to the ‘Things To Do’ list tacked to the fridge door – not so joyful.

Dad makes a start with the chores with his son playing alongside. Washing up and bookcase building go smoothly enough but after a vacuuming incident,

the boy seizes the to-do list and his green crayon, and amends the list, starting with the title.

From then on imaginative play rules: ‘Make the beds’ becomes ‘Sail a pirate ship; ‘Hang out the laundry’ is changed to ‘Join the Circus’ and best of all methinks, ‘Water the garden’ morphs into a fantastic jungle adventure.

Good old Dad; he enters into the spirit of things heart and soul, so much so that at the end of the day, an exhausted but happy father and son snuggle together for a well-earned rest under a tree.

With only the list for text, Sam Zuppardi lets his own inventiveness flow in superb scenes of playfulness and the power of the imagination: the characters’ expressions say so much without a single word being spoken between the two.

The ideal way to turn boring chores into a fun-filled day: bring it on. We’re even supplied with a list of further ideas on the final page. I wonder which chores might generate these items.

You Can Never Run Out of Love
Helen Docherty and Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster

‘You can run out of time. / You can run out of money. / You can run out of patience, / when things don’t seem funny. BUT …// You can never (not ever), / you can never / run out of LOVE.’

That’s part of Helen Docherty’s tender, gently humorous rhyming text celebrating love- giving and accepting – and its inexhaustibility. Other things might be in short supply, but never love.

We see, in Ali Pye’s warm-hearted illustrations love in many forms – love between family members; love between friends, love for animals, love between a boy and girl next door …

Affectionate? Yes. Joyful? Certainly. Slushily sentimental? No; but it’s inclusive and perfect for bedtime sharing with young children.

I’ve signed the charter  

Beep, Beep, Maisy / Flora and the Ostrich / BuildaBlock

Beep, Beep, Maisy
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
With petrol tank duly filled, Maisy sets off through the countryside and it seems all her pals are out and about too.
Dotty drives her tractor, Peacock pedals his bike, Ostrich is in charge of a train …

Eddie has taken to air in his helicopter, Tallulah has received a fire-engine call out and Cyril is driving a bus.
There’s one more vehicle none of them will be pleased to see though, and that’s the one digging up the road. Uh-oh! I hope they’ll let that fire engine through.
A large sized board book with Maisy and friends, lots of vehicles and associated sounds to join in with, and over 50 flaps to explore: that surely adds up to toddler delight.

Flora and the Ostrich
Molly Idle
Chronicle Books
Flora is back to perform with yet another bird and enchant us with her dancing once again. This time however it’s a dance of contrasts: Flora holds a yellow sunshade – her prop throughout the performance, – so, for example, her front is revealed while the ostrich shows its back.
The pair’s dance of opposites continues as they present hello/goodbye, hide/seek, under/over, give/take,

stop/go, near/far, sad/happy, apart and …

What a beautifully playful way to demonstrate some basic concepts and a great starting point for an early years movement session on the same theme, with children working in pairs in Flora/ostrich fashion.
A lovely addition to Molly Idle’s Flora board book sequence.

BuildaBlock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed
Twenty four construction vehicles, are sandwiched between the sturdy covers of the latest ‘Block’ board book,
A team of building workers – it’s good to see both males and females – talk us through the whole process from demolition of the old …

right through to the almost finished redevelopment. We see every truck as it plays its vital part be that clearing, levelling, excavating, shifting loads, tunnelling, road making, bridge building, lifting loads skywards, pile driving, cutting trenches. There’s even a sky crane involved.

A straightforward sentence describes each part of the operation and the visuals, with fold-outs and die-cut pages, fill in the details of what I envisage becoming, like others in the series, a firm favourite with mechanically-minded pre-schoolers. Another winner for the Franceschelli/Peskimo team.

Lines

Lines
Suzy Lee
Chronicle Books

This truly is a wordless wonder.
A skater whizzes across the white page etching swirls and whirls onto the surface of the ice in a glorious solo dance – a veritable symphony of graceful motion, dizzying sometimes even.

But then she takes one pirouette too many, loses her balance and crashes to the ground losing her hat in the process.
Turn over and you see a crumpled sheet of paper, a pencil and an eraser indicative perhaps of frustration on behalf both of the skater and the artist.
Turn over again and there’s the skater, alone and gazing at her hat on a wrinkly background. But then, enter left another skater and then another and … before long there are several others tumbling clumsily, but joyfully, around her.

Suddenly the whole of the ice is alive with skaters; one of them helps the girl to her feet and …

There’s joy in abundance as readers see the wintry wonderland that is the iced-over pond and the surrounding countryside.
Essentially the book can be viewed as an exploration of the notion that making mistakes is a vital part of the learning process be you a skater, an artist or any other kind of learner. This is something all children need to learn early on, and that some teachers would do well to remind themselves of from time to time.
Equally it’s a superb, thought-provoking picture book that transports us into unexpected places pushing at the boundaries of creativity.

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Hurrah! Nibbles the book-eating monster returns in a new story and once again the help of readers is enlisted to try and catch him; this time because the little monster is in danger of becoming a dinosaur’s next meal.

First he invades the Triceratops chapter from where he beats a hasty retreat when hotly pursued by not one but ten ‘hot-headed’, big bummed, stompy-footed creatures.

From there he moves to Diplodocus territory wherein the danger is from accidental consumption by the residents whose herby treat he sinks his gnashers in to.

Watch out for super-powerful Diplodocus parps, Nibbles!

The little monster’s definitely not out of danger yet: intruding upon dozing velociraptors is tantamount to suicidal.

However a hole in the page indicates Nibbles has made it out alive; but there’s worse to come.

So is that the end of our favourite book monster? Errm – let’s just say, it’s fortunate that, despite first appearances, a certain T.Rex is not totally omnivorous …

Goodness, gracious – great balls of fire!

Like Nibbles’ debut picture book, this one is totally engrossing and given the topic, the dinosaur details, the flaps to explore, the plethora of jokes and speech bubbles scattered throughout the illustrations, it’s likely to appeal across a wide age range.
I’ve had to read it dozens of times already to satisfy the demands of ‘Again!’ by enthusiastic listeners whose ages range from two to seven.

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
Old Barn Books

A mother and baby, a little boy and a dog are fleeing for their lives. They board a small boat and set sail across the vast ocean.

Soon after, they’re joined by a bird.
Some days later, they espy a polar bear adrift on what appears to be a fridge-freezer. The huge bear clambers aboard their small boat and after their initial apprehension, the passengers make him welcome,

sharing what little they have with the creature as they journey onwards through wind and rain.
Their ursine passenger disembarks upon an ice floe where three cubs are waiting; and the boat sails on through night and day until wind-borne leaves herald their own landfall.

King’s eloquent watercolour and ink tapestry-like strip sequences punctuated by large, full-page spreads chronicle a journey from danger to safety. In combination with Glenda Millard’s prayerful poem (the two worked in close collaboration throughout on an art gallery wall project), the result is a powerfully affecting, deeply moving book that speaks to people of all ages.
It’s a poem for survival: survival of the homeless and displaced, for refugees especially (and sadly there are ever increasing numbers seeking safety in countries other than their own); for the survival of endangered animals too.
This sublime picture book offers a heartfelt message of caring, connectedness, love and hope; it’s one to treasure.

Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World

Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the World
Mo Willems
Walker Books

It’s over a decade since we first met Mo Willems’ Leonardo the Terrible Monster along with Sam, the boy who is terrified of everything other than Leo. Now they’re back with Sam, (just as scared as before), being in the limelight until he encounters these two .

Seemingly Sam has a rival in Kerry, for immediately both humans, terrified of one another, start screaming uncontrollably.
Irked by their behaviour, the monsters decide to leave the children to ‘Figure it out’ and wander off the page together.
Having explored their similarities …

and differences, the humans eventually do just that and they too come to a decision, a wise and slightly mischievous one. And the two monsters are certainly in for something of a surprise when they return.

If you’re familiar with the first Sam and Leonardo story, then you’ll love this as a companion volume; if not it stands alone as a wonderfully funny account of forging a new and unlikely friendship.
Willems’ sombre colour palette, stand-out capitalised fonts and comic-style characters serve as well here as they did before, making this another monstrous winner for the USA’s master of drollery.

I’ve signed the charter  

Focus on Animals

Animalkind
Pablo Salvaje
Prestel
Spanish illustrator Pablo Salvaje pays homage to the animal kingdom in this visually stunning picture book that serves as a potent reminder that we are not the sole inhabitants of the earth. Rather we’re members of a vast ecosystem that includes countless numbers of other living things.
Herein we encounter a wide variety of creatures great and small from penguins to peacocks, snakes to spiders and crocodiles to chameleons. Each of these and many others are portrayed in Salvaje’s hand-printed spreads that form the greater part of this book.
By means of its division into sections: Love, Rhythms, Survival, Transformation,

Habitat, Water, Treasures, and there’s a final epilogue, we visit various parts of the planet and discover how like humans, animals too, such as penguins, may form bonds; have their own rhythms; form communities; need food for survival and may fight or co-operate to survive; undergo changes – temporary or permanent and go to great lengths to protect their young.

Compassionate and with a spiritual underpinning, this is a book for all ages and for those of both an artistic and a scientific bent.

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals
DK
How on earth does one decide what to include in a chunky book such as this? I guess cherry-picking is the answer and this really is a dipping-into book.
It’s divided into four sections: All About Animals, Amazing Animals, Animal Antics and More Very Important Animals and there’s a handy ribbon to mark your place, a glossary of animal words and an index.
There’s a wealth of information attractively presented in easily digestible bite sizes – even the odd fable – and a good balance between text and visuals;

the latter being predominantly, superb photographic images.
A worthwhile addition to a KS1 collection, or for families with young children to enjoy together.

Baby Dolphin’s First Swim
Sterling Children’s Books
From the American Museum of Natural History comes a sequence of photographs and accompanying narrative about the very first day in life of a baby dolphin.
We see the new-born close by his mother’s side as she nudges him to the surface of the ocean to take his first breath (through a hole on the top of his head), called a blowhole, so the straightforward narrative says.
Communication, feeding …

and being a new addition to the pod that serves to protect the infant are all part of the first day’s learning documented in the simple text and photographic sequence.
Neil Duncan, a biologist with the museum is featured in two final ‘Meet the expert’ paragraphs although whether he supplied the narrative or beautiful photos is not made clear. Nonetheless it’s an engaging book for young natural history enthusiasts or for a primary school topic box.

The Children Who Loved Books

The Children Who Loved Books
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

The title alone made my heart sing: a story about book-loving children. What more can a book-mad reviewer of children’s books ask? Perhaps just that the book is as good as one hopes, and this one definitely lives up to my expectations.
It features a family of book lovers that have replaced almost everything else with books. There’s no car, no television, and they live in a caravan: no matter: everything they really need can be supplied by books.

There comes a day however, that their home just can’t accommodate any more books: it’s time to take things in hand …

Needless to say, things are NOT the same thereafter: the table is a tad unbalanced; Angus can’t see out of the window and the family, with so much space between them, begin to grow apart.
One day Lucy brings home a library book in her school bag and the magical experience of reading, with its power to enrich and unite, is rekindled, and with it comes a realisation that although it is wonderful to own books – lots of them – libraries have much to offer too.

The undisguised message at the heart of this is two-fold: the first concerns the powerful effects books and reading can have on a family; the second – one we adults need to keep reminding ourselves – is that a lot of material things are unnecessary for happiness.
With visual touches of Bob Graham, and a nod to Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room …

Peter Carnavas has created a wonderful celebration of the power of sharing books and of libraries with plenty to think about and discuss with both children and adults.
I’m delighted to see New Frontier Publishing making his enchanting picture books available in the UK.

I’ve signed the charter  

Clumpety Bump / Barnyard Boogie!

Clumpety Bump
Phil Alcock and Richard Watson
Maverick Arts Publishing
Wally Wobblebottom is a kind-hearted soul; he has a horse named Clumpety Bump, a very lazy animal indeed. So lazy that when Wally sets out to deliver goodies to his various friends and neighbours, the horse’s response to his master’s words of encouragement on each occasion is “I can’t be bothered!” which leaves Wally more than a little frustrated, especially as the items he intends to deliver all go to waste.

By Thursday Wally has had enough; he decides to use his tractor when he goes, bearing flowers, to visit his lady-friend. However it seems machines can be just as unreliable as horses …

and in the end it’s Clumpety that takes Wally, at full speed this time, all the way to Ann Kacheef’s house. There disaster strikes … but all ends happily for everyone.
With its playful phrases and refrains to join in with, this story, with its themes of thankfulness and friendship, is one to encourage audience participation and promote the message that language can be fun.

More playful language in:

Barnyard Boogie!
Tim McCanna and Allison Black
Abrams Appleseed
Be prepared for a noisy storytime if you share this one: it’s a riotous read aloud thanks to the musicians of the Barnyard Animal Band.
All the animals have their instruments poised: Horse has a tuba, Goat plays a sax, Cat fiddles, Pig is a pianist, Sheep blows a trumpet and Dog bangs the drums. But what can Cow do? …

The crowd’s assembled ready to hear the performance; but how will the show start and who will lead the band?

Crazy rhyming onomatopoeic instrumental sounds, and a repeat refrain that young children will love to join in with, are part and parcel of the brief text that scans beautifully. Put together with bright, zany illustrations, the whole thing makes for a fun session with young children actively involved both vocally and physically.

I Want To Go First!

I Want To Go First!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

I’ve never quite understood the obsession with being first in a line but it’s something that seems to take hold of children almost from the minute they start school – that’s if they’re made to line up anyway – a teachers’ obsession, often fuelled by parents, and one I dislike intensely.
The whole ‘going first’ thing can make for a fun story though and Richard Byrne exploits its potential for creating humour in his latest interactive picture book.
We join five funkily attired elephants, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Elton, Elgar and Elphie as they’re about to embark on ‘the long march to the watering hole at the back of the book’.
Elphie, the smallest of their number, is always the one that brings up the rear.
On this occasion however, he’s had enough of being last and asks to go in the front of the line. As usual though the response comes, ‘ … the littlest always goes last’.
Elphie isn’t prepared to walk at the back and instead he enlists the help of readers to help him with his plan of action. Help that involves first, shouting …

followed by hissing,

wobbling the book, squeaking and other noise making; all of which serve to get him to second place in the line right behind Elgar, just as they reach their destination where it looks as though we’re about to be rumbled …

Oops! The water hole is already occupied. Now what? Perhaps that squeak-squeak noise might come in useful after all … Could it even make the other elephants rethink their first in line criterion.
Enthusiastic orchestration and demands of ‘again’ were my listeners’ responses to this sizeist tale with its playful attempt to alter the status quo.

Last Tree in the City / Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Last Tree in the City
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Edward lives in a city, one that appears totally devoid of beauty or colour. However, he knows of a tiny oasis in this concrete jungle.
At the end of his street stands one last tree and for the little boy (and his companion duck) it’s a place of joy; a place surrounded by nature where the two would spend many a happy time.

One day however disaster strikes: Edward’s tree has gone.

He’s devastated; but then he makes a discovery that brings hope to his heart, a tiny glimmer of hope that just might alter the city’s future in the very best way possible …

With minimal words and superbly eloquent watercolour and ink illustrations, Peter Carnavas has created a modern fable that has much to say to all of us; not only with its subtle ecological message but also with the empowering thought that one person really can make a difference.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Lisa Papp
Old Barn Books

Madeline Finn, the story’s narrator, is a reluctant reader: she really does NOT like to read anything at all, not even the menu on the ice cream van. The trouble is that she finds the whole reading thing very hard work and sometimes her classmates make fun of her attempts at reading aloud. “Keep trying,” her teacher tells her giving her ‘Keep Trying’ hearts for her efforts.

Madeline though is desperate for a star sticker but those are only given to ‘good readers’: that teacher really needs to think about what she’s doing there.
On Saturday, Madeline’s mum takes her to the library where the girl reminds the librarian of her dislike of reading.

Miss Dimple however shows her a room where children are reading to dogs and offers her the opportunity to do likewise, introducing her to Bonnie, a large white dog.
Bonnie is a great listener; she ‘s non-judgemental, forgiving and patient; and week by week Madeline gains the confidence to make mistakes, to go at her own pace, and to take risks as she continues to read to the dog.

After many weeks, she is ready to read out loud at school. She starts out a bit wobbly but imagines herself reading to Bonnie and suddenly she’s done it.
Lisa Papp’s gentle watercolour illustrations capture the little girl’s feelings so beautifully in this encouraging story, which has a lovely surprise ending, both for the main protagonist and for readers.

I’ve signed the charter  

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story
Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts
Walker Books

I think I’ve just found my favourite ever picture book take on a new sibling. This one had me spluttering at every turn of the page; both words and pictures are utterly priceless.
Let’s meet the Happy Family: there’s a mum, a dad and a little princess: ‘the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long flowing wondrous hair’ is how the young miss describes herself. (“That’s her tights,” one of my listeners was quick to point out.) Oh! and there’s a gerbil too.
All is peace and harmony in the kingdom aka The Land until one fateful day, a new ruler is born: His Royal Highness, King Baby. Let right royal disaster commence for, from that day forth for a whole year thereafter, the increasingly chubby babe rules The Land, not to mention the household. A certain young Princess’s nose is well and truly out of joint, but come infant’s first birthday, things get even worse.
Relations gather from far and wide to celebrate, fawning and fussing over the infant, and totally ignoring big sis. Seemingly the prince has cast a spell over The Whole Land.
Time for some drastic action: our innocent Princess knows just what to do – a disguise and a cunning plan are called for.

Before she’s barely even begun however, the sight of birthday cake and the sound of singing …

spark off horrendous screams, drooling dribbles and a tremendous tantrum from young King Billy.

Can anyone console the poor little chap?
Surprisingly, yes. But to find out exactly who and how, you’ll need to read the story for yourself …
Let’s just say that peace and harmony are finally restored and from a most unexpected quarter.
David Roberts must surely be king when it comes to pen and watercolour illustrations. Herein his distinctive illustrative style is retro 1970s (mum with frizzy permed hair and dad wearing bell-bottoms) ; but running in tandem with that are crayoned images showing the Princess’s version of events taken from Princess Marigold’s Drawing Book– a brilliant comic counterpoint if ever there was one. All this, alongside Sally Lloyd-Jones’ terrific fairytale pastiche and the result? A new dream team is launched.

Here’s one little princess totally loving the story.

World Pizza / The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza

World Pizza
Cece Meng and Ellen Shi
Sterling
Who would have thought that pizza could become a peace-maker but you never know.
The vast majority of us wish for world peace and the mum in this story does just that one night when a wishing star appears in the sky. But as she speaks her wish a sneeze comes upon her and her children are convinced her wish is for pizza. Suddenly a large pizza falls from the sky and truly delicious it turns out to be.
Soon yummy pizzas of every kind imaginable are raining down all over the world making people happy and content.

Even bullies become kindly and pirates cease their plundering; everywhere differences are forgotten and unlikely friendships forged and all in the name of pizza. Peace and love fills the world and all unbeknown to the instigator of the whole process.
Interesting and thought-provoking: would that it were that simple though.

More about the power of pizza in:

The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza
Jennie Palmer
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The Wompananny witches, Anita and Winnifred are sisters who like nothing better that preparing a delicious pizza in their kitchen. In fact they seldom set foot outside on account of the local, so they think, wild children. So when three of them come a-calling the two sisters are quite overcome with terror and decide to give vent to their feelings by pounding a new batch of dough.
Before you can say ‘baked pizza’, the dough has morphed into ‘one mean pizza’ that in true ‘runaway pancake style’, has upped and flopped its way out of the oven, through the front door and out into the street, hotly pursued by Anita and Winnifred.

Soon the entire child population of the neighbourhood, hungry and desperate for a nibble of pizza, is chasing after the yummy thing, all the way to the park where something very unexpected happens. Yes, the children are still wild decide the witches, only now witches and children are actually a very tasty combination and all thanks to pizza.

Full of humorous touches, Jennie Palmer’s ink, watercolour and photoshop illustrations for her whimsical tale bring to mind James Stevenson’s art.

A Trio of Search-and-Find Books

Where’s Bernard?
Katja Spitzer
Prestel
Bernard the bat is preparing for his night-time birthday celebrations but he wants help to find everything he needs for the party he’s throwing for his friends. His search involves nine items …

and takes him hunting in all manner of fascinating places: a greenhouse, an underground cavern, an ice-rink, a garden,

the woods, beneath the ocean and even in outer space, each one being populated by weird and wonderful creatures.
With its ‘glow-in-the-dark’ cover and quirky, vibrantly coloured, magical scenes that are not too busy for the youngest seekers, this is a good place to start on the whole ‘search and find’ genre.

A Thousand Billion Things (and some sheep)
Loic Clement and Anne Montel
Words & Pictures
A small girl takes us through a variety of everyday happenings – having breakfast, taking a bath, getting dressed, exploring the garden, going to market, helping dad prepare the dinner and more, asking us to locate items hidden in spreads brimming over with food, clothes, vegetables, …

fish and more. Each of these events offers plenty of choices and entices readers to linger over the delicately drawn flora, toys, clothes, delicious pastries etc –which almost prove too much for the young protagonist while also locating such items as 4 hedgehogs, a frog mask, a spotty green sweater, or a pyramid of cream cakes.
Then comes bedtime, which, so the young narrator tells us on the first page, is the one time she dislikes: instead of a multitude of choices, bedtime offers nothing but sheep, endless sheep and ‘it’s a complete nightmare!’
Accompanying Clement’s quirky textual narrative, Montel’s slightly whimsical images provide a visual feast; and it’s as well, in case one gets too carried away over the details, that a visual key with the answers is provided at the back of the book.
Absorbing, fun and rewarding.

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books
Children can join with two friends as they engage in a game of hide-and-seek from opposite ends of this book.

Two large pairs of eyes peer through the die-cut holes in the front and back covers, forewarning that child participants are going to need to keep their eyes peeled to spot the protagonists in their play.
Arhoj teases with his own game of give and take: if you look at the endpapers you’ll also be forewarned that the playmates sport differently shaped hats – that should make the whole thing easier surely. But then to make the spotting considerably more difficult, he makes the two slightly foxy characters change colour; not only once but on every spread, as they move through the book and their world of hustle and bustle.
It’s a world populated by all kinds of strange and cute creatures going about their daily lives and its these, as much as the main protagonists, that provide a lot of the intrigue. I found myself distracted in every setting, just exploring all the quirky goings-on, before even starting to discover the whereabouts of the foxy friends. Every location be it shop, office, park, hospital

or elsewhere, has potential for stories aplenty.
With minimal text Arhoj has created an engrossing story-cum game picture book that will enthral and gently challenge young readers.

The Snow Lion / Toby and Tabitha

The Snow Lion
Jim Helmore and Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster
Caro and her mum move to a new house in a new neighbourhood. Then, into the whiteness of everything comes a snowy lion inviting Caro to play hide-and-seek. Their play fills her day bringing cheer instead of loneliness; but can this new animal friend encourage her to venture outside and have fun with the local children?
That proves something of a challenge but little by little, with the lion’s help, Caro starts to find her inner courage and joins in with the other children.

When mum suggests adding colour to their new abode, and invites her new friends round for a ‘painting party’, Caro is concerned that the lack of white will mean no more visits from her wildcat pal.

He no longer appears anywhere inside her brightly painted house, but surely he can’t have deserted her altogether, can he?
A lovely, gentle, reassuring tale about moving and finding new friends.
Richard Jones’s mixed media, warm-hearted scenes of friends real and imaginary are enchanting.

Toby and Tabitha
Alexander Bar and Emma Proctor
Walker Books
Have you ever heard of dancing tortoises? No? Me neither. I suspect nobody has other than young Lucy, whose grandfather owns, the pet shop, Animal Palace. This establishment is full of all manner of desirable pets and one of Lucy’s favourite places. She loves to help with the animals whenever she can, her favourites being two tortoises, Tabitha and Toby.
Lucy has a secret though: when the shop is closed and darkness falls, the two creatures respond to her singing by leaving their beds and dancing together in the moonlight, with Lucy joining them in a ‘Tea for One’ rendition of her own.
Then one day, disaster strikes: Lucy arrives at the shop to find Toby alone: Tabitha has a new home with a little boy, so her Grandpa tells her.

When the boy returns with a question, “what do tortoises like to do?” Lucy has a dilemma. Should she share her secret with Tabitha’s new owner, or keep it to herself?
Who would have thought that a couple of dancing tortoises could be the catalyst for a burgeoning friendship between two children?

This debut picture book written by Mike the Knight creator, Alexander Bar and illustrated by Emma Proctor is a delight.
Bar uses a child-friendly, chatty narrative style with playful language and opportunities to join in and Emma Proctor brings out the humour of the story. Her exuberant, mixed media visuals are such that you want to stop and explore the plethora of whimsical details in every spread.

Look for Ladybird in Plant City

Look for Ladybird in Plant City
Katherina Manolessou
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There seems to be an ever-increasing number of ‘search-and-find books’ of late: here’s one from rising star, Katherina Manolessou that really caught my eye for its zany, action-packed illustrations.
When Daisy’s pet ladybird – a rather cheeky little creature – goes missing, she enlists the help of Basil, Plant City’s best detective.
Then with notes duly written by Basil, and appropriate tools in hand, the two begin a frantic search for the lost minibeast.
It’s a search that takes them through the entire city starting at Big Bones School, then moving on to the station, the museum,

the funfair, restaurants, the plant nursery. That would seem a likely place with its abundance of insect life; but there’s no sign of Ladybird. Actually, there is, but Basil and Daisy fail to find him, as they do in all the other locations; though that is part of what makes the book such fun.

Readers however, will eventually discover Ladybird’s whereabouts on every spread; or if not, they can always look at the answers inside the back cover.
In addition to the missing pet, there are five bees, five grey mice, someone crying and someone sleeping, all of which are waiting to be discovered at each place the detectives search, plus all the items printed in capital letters in the narrative for each venue.
I say ‘detectives’ in the plural because, as well as recovering Ladybird at the end of the search, Basil makes Daisy an offer she can’t refuse and that, I suspect, means more cases are to follow.
I spent ages poring over the wealth of details in each of the ten locations: every one has signs to read, visual jokes

and a plethora of diverting happenings which I’m sure, young readers will enjoy as much as this reviewer did.
Between the covers of this book lies rich potential for language development, but more important, it’s enormous fun.

It’s Raining and I’m Okay / Remembering Lucy

It’s Raining and I’m Okay
Adele Devine and Quentin Devine
Jessica Kingsley Publishing

Children with autism frequently show distress when unexpected changes are made to their routines. Now here’s a little book with bold, uncluttered illustrations to help such youngsters feel less anxious particularly when out and about.
The text takes the form of a little girl’s first person rhyming narrative wherein she tells how she uses focused breathing and other techniques to help her through such experiences as waiting in a long queue, going into a crowded café with challenges including spilling her drink and worrying about the consequences, an over-chatty adult and a noisy hand-dryer.

At the back of the book are details of additional resources that can be downloaded to further support emotional literacy.
Particularly useful with ASD children; but the focused breathing technique is helpful for all anxiety-prone youngsters.

Remembering Lucy
Sarah Helton and Anna Novy
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Coping with the death of a classmate is extremely difficult whether or not a child has special needs, but often children attending a SEND school find a bereavement can be confusing and sometimes, overwhelming.
In this story young Joe talks about his particular school and friends; and in particular the death of his friend Lucy: what it meant for him and his classmates and how he coped.
Remembering is his key, for Joe tells how photographs and talking help him bring to mind the good times especially; times shared in messy painting or dressing up for instance. ‘As time goes by’ he says, ‘you will be able to think of the fun and happy times … rather than just feeling sad they are no longer there. … remembering her makes me smile.

The final seven pages are a user’s guide aimed at adults and contain lots of helpful suggestions for what to do whilst reading the book and afterwards, not only immediately afterwards but in the longer term for as the authors remind us ‘… supporting children with loss and grief isn’t a one-off event… children will re-grieve at different points in their lives … Our support needs to be ongoing.’
A down-to-earth, sensitively written and illustrated book to have on the shelves of any school where there are SEND pupils.

Imagine

Imagine
John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this illustrated version of Lennon’s 1971 anthem to peace, published in partnership with Amnesty International, (royalties from the sale of the book go to the charity) illustrator Jean Jullien uses a pigeon instead of the usual peace dove to carry its message around the globe, asking readers to imagine a world without possessions, without greed or hunger a world where everyone is part of a universal brotherhood, sharing and caring for all; without countries or religion, with nothing to kill or die for.
We first see this feathered ambassador of peace emerging from the underground train, bag slung around its neck and then he takes off on his mission over land and sea …

The pigeon’s focus as it wings its way around the earth distributing olive branches to its fellow feathered friends, is on fairness and sharing …

and culminates in an uplifting embrace for all the birds seen on his flight. (They too have become peace messengers.)

The artist’s boldly outlined images, digitally coloured and set against backgrounds of eggshell blue, white, purple or orange have a simple, heartfelt poignancy that make this beautiful book the perfect starting point for introducing Lennon’s message of tolerance, understanding, inclusiveness, unity and peace to today’s children. It’s certainly as relevant as when it was written over 45 years ago: indeed, we desperately need it now even more than ever.
Published on 21st September, International Day of Peace, let’s all pause and … Imagine.

I Want to be in a Scary Story

I Want to be in a Scary Story
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

From the dream team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, here’s a story told entirely in dialogue: black type for the external narrator and purple – aptly – for chief protagonist, Little Monster.
Eager to be in a story, the totally endearing little enthusiast turns down the suggestion that a funny story might be preferable, assuring the narrator that a scary story it must be.
Talk about dropping you in it, but that’s exactly what the narrator does by placing the monster right outside a haunted house.

‘Spooky’, seems preferable, and that’s no walk in the park either, as the house might be inhabited by a scary witch, or a ghastly ghost just waiting to jump out; at least the narrator forewarns our Little Monster though. But there seems to have been something of a misunderstanding.
Little Monster wants to do the scaring, not be scared silly. Here goes …

But then comes another thought: what lies behind that door? The witch?
Much too scary; so what about ‘just a teeny weeny monkey and his friend’? Surely scaring them should prove suitably funny …

Sean Taylor knows just how much scariness little monsters, purple or otherwise, can take, and his clever scaling back of the terror as the tale proceeds, is spot on for keeping young listeners on the edge of their seats. Equally Jean Jullien’s creepy scenes have a sufficient degree of zaniness to grip but not unduly alarm; and that final twist really hits the spot.
Can I be in a story again tomorrow?’ asks Little Monster on the final page: I suspect young audiences, thrilled rather than chilled, will want it to be more immediate than that.

Kevin

Kevin
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins

Sid Gibbons and trouble seem to go hand in hand: first it’s smashing the birdbath with his ball; then forgetting to put the tops back on his pens; his bedroom resembles a ‘pigsty’ and now his dinner is all over the floor. Needless to say, his mum is less than happy. But, none of this is Sid’s fault: no it’s Kevin’s.
And who is Kevin you might be thinking; he’s Sid’s friend. The pink spotted, vanilla furred pal with a single tooth and a tendency for clumsiness who comes through a hatch in his bedroom ceiling when Sid feels lonely, so he tells his mum, who naturally is having none of this ‘make-believe friend.’
Make-believe? Through that ceiling hatch there shines a light – a light of vanilla and pink striped rays: up the stairs goes Sid to be confronted by a truly amazing sight – a magical world filled with strange beasties…

Now though, the boot is on the other foot, so to speak: Sid is the invisible being here and this gives him an idea. Uh-oh!

As a result however, it also gives him an opportunity to question his actions: is it fair to blame your misdemeanours on a friend, albeit an imaginary one?
Time to make reparation – first to Kevin and then to his very own Mum …

All this and more is delivered through Rob Biddulph’s faultless rhyming narrative – a longish one – and his equally superb visuals. For the latter he moves from the monochromes of Sid’s reality to the glorious rainbow hues of Kevin’s kingdom. Fans of the author’s previous works will delight in guest appearances from Fred, the bear from Grrrrr!; Blown Away’s Blue and the occasional Odd Dog dachshund.

And, those beastie inhabitants of Kevin’s world, be they hairy, slimy, leggy or frilly, are splendid. As for Sid, he’s a totally believable character, full of mischief and absolutely adorable – I’m pretty sure I’ve taught him somewhere along the line; many times over in fact.
All this while exploring ideas about imaginary friends and the notion of facing up to the consequences of our own actions, which is so subtly embedded into the tale – genius!

Mrs Noah’s Pockets

Mrs Noah’s Pockets
Jackie Morris and James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

This totally fresh and original take on the Noah’s Ark story is an absolute bobby-dazzler and what an inspired author/artist pairing.
Jackie Morris’ s powerful prose is honed to perfection so that not a single word is superfluous: here’s a taste:
This rain came from a sky
dark as a bruise,
falling hard and fast,
beating the earth,
washing down tracks,
making streams of pathways
and rivers of roads.

I love that Mrs Noah is portrayed as a subversive character who, instead of snipping, threading, tacking, tucking and stitching what her husband assumes are curtains for his ark windows, is in fact fashioning herself a multi- pocketed cape within which to stash all the ‘troublesome creatures’ that Mr Noah has on his list to leave behind when they set sail on their voyage. Genuis!

James Mayhew has used a strikingly brilliant, new style for his atmospheric illustrations – a mix of collage and print-making …

The design too is superb and those vignettes are little beauties.

This, I think, is destined to become a classic: it deserves a place on every family bookshelf and would make a great addition to any primary classroom collection.

Toad has Talent

Toad has Talent
Richard Smythe
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Frozen ponds in the moonlit would, I suspect, normally have more allure for humans than forest animals; but not so in this story. Even those one might expect to be hibernating are willing to risk freezing paws, or tingling noses and toes, in the hope of winning the Moonlight Pond talent contest.
Not Toad however; he’s absolutely convinced he has nothing to offer this extravaganza. “It’s best if I keep myself out of sight,” he decides lest the other animals think he’s useless.
As he watches the glittering performances of the contestants …

further self-deprecatory comments pour forth from the amphibian, until, the competition draws to a close.
However, just as a winner is about to be announced, a snail halts the proceedings declaring, much to Toad’s displeasure, that one of their number is yet to perform.
Fully intending to resist, the hapless creature steps from the shadows and slips, trips, swirls, twirls and cartwheels across the ice, landing right in front of the judges.

Such a glittering ice-skating performance by a toad has never before been seen and so, by a unanimous decision, and to great applause, Toad is declared the winner. After all, to use Toad’s final words, “You never know what you can do until you try!
Hugely entertaining scenes are the real strength of the far-fetched tale so far as I’m concerned; and yes Toad (despite looking like a frog) may have won the prize; but for me, that yogic snake …

and the duckling troupe are the real show-stoppers.

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)
David Elliott and Lori Nichols
Troika Books

Orq back in new book; me happy; me love Orq.
Orq and best friend Woma play happily together …

but despite this, life is hard. The family cave is cold and dark, they dine on raw bison meat and worst of all, Orq is being bullied.
The bully, Dorq, is big, much bigger than Orq; he’s hairy, thoroughly mean, and has a nasty-looking pet named Caba.
The fearsome duo like nothing better than taunting Orq and Woma.
One day Orq and Woma are out hunting when suddenly, Dorq hurls a missile at Woma’s head

causing Orq to see red – literally.
In fury Orq grabs two rocks and bashes them together over and over, causing sparks to fly. The sparks ignite a pile of sticks at his feet: Orq has made a surprising discovery …

Orq is a hero; everybody’s hero: no more cold dark cave, no more raw meat: warm cave, night light, hot bison burgers. Mmm!
Like This Orq (he cave boy) Elliott’s deliciously droll text is written in clipped prehistoric cave-boy speak, which, in combination with Lori Nichols’ wonderfully funny, digitally coloured pencil illustrations, make for another great storytime read aloud.
Individual readers can also enjoy taking ‘The Turtle Challenge’ to discover how many turtles the artist painted for the story; it’s quite tricky.

Minnie & Max are OK! / Florence Frizzball

Minnie & Max are OK!
Chris Calland, Nicky Hutchinson and Emmi Smid
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Minnie has had a bad day at school having been teased and shunned by two girls, and now she wishes she looked more like them.
When her grandma meets her at the end of the day, she notices than Minnie is upset and decides that a trip to the park might help. On the way both Minnie and her dog Max peer at their reflections in a shop window and soon both of them are full of doubts about their appearance.
As they sit together in the café, Minnie tells her gran how she feels and Gran’ responds calmly, lovingly and reassuringly. “I love you just the way you are!” she says, “I think it’s wonderful that we all look so different … Just look around us.” And Minnie does …

Max sees a great variety of dogs too and before long both child and dog are playing happily with friends.

With its gentle humour, and Emmi Smid’s captivating ilustrations, this is a good book to read with any young child struggling with self-esteem be it related to body image or any other perceived ‘difference’. Equally if shared with a class or group, it should make potential negative commenters stop and think about how much better our world is for its rich diversity.
There is a final spread aimed at adults wherein the authors, both education consultants, offer ideas for discussion on the themes of teasing, self-image and diversity.
All in all, a valuable tool in the fight for embracing and celebrating difference and diversity.

Florence Frizzball
Claire Freedman and Jane Massey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Florence the small girl narrator of this story has hair issues; her curly frizz is thick and unruly. Her little brother’s sleek, flat hair is altogether more preferable, so she thinks. It doesn’t tickle or prickle …

or obscure anyone’s view on windy days, nor when watching television; and no one else in the family is similarly troubled other than the dog, Scuff.
Can a visit to the hairdressers be the answer perhaps?

It certainly results in a transformation; but is straight hair really so desirable …
With its cute characters, this sweet rhyming tale presents themes of individuality, self-image and self-acceptance in an accessible story for the very young.