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.

Floss the Playground Boss

Floss the Playground Boss
Corrinne Averiss and Sam Usher
Egmont
Meet Floss, the playground boss; she claims this supremacy on account of residing right next to the playground, but also she remains unchallenged because nobody has the nerve to challenge her.

Thus, she rules the roost issuing orders to all and sundry until a new kid arrives on the block – on the other side of the playground actually. His name’s Peter and he knows nothing of Floss and her bossiness and so he does this …

Guess where it lands: right at Floss’s feet and she’s far from happy about it.

Pete is unmoved by her tirade: all he does after she’s finished her rant, is to laugh. Good on you Peter. Seems he knows just how to deal with tyrannical behaviour “PP2 has been cleared for take-off,” he responds, thus leaving the plane on her runway, so to speak.
What ensues is a simply wonderful little drama with an avid audience chipping in, as, after due consideration, a paper plane is whizzed skywards by a certain female; it loops and swoops, and Floss laughs and whoops; and in the time you can say ‘paper planes’, the sky is full of same …

and the whole tenor of the playground has changed for the better – once and for all. And Floss has dropped her ‘Boss’ handle with a resounding silence …
What a wonderful way of handling tyrannical behaviour and so brilliantly presented through Corrine’s cracking story and Sam’s superb visuals. The child dialogue is so well observed and I love the occasional forays into rhyme Floss employs. Sam’s illustrations too are beautifully observed and full of energy. A real winner of a book that should be read and discussed widely in early years settings and primary classes, as well as shared with individuals at home.

I’ve signed the charter 

Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg

 

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Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg
Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin
Puffin Books
Little Chicken Nugget seems to have a slight complex about being the smallest member of the family but is soon to lose this position in the family pecking order: a new baby, Benedict, is being hatched as Mum keeps on reminding her offspring Moreover, the soon-to-be infant ‘can hear every word’ its brothers and sisters unenthusiastically utter.
Our narrator however, vows to be the ideal older sibling,

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so obviously when Mama suggests taking the ‘eggling’ outside to play, warning that special care needs to be taken of the creature, Nugget duly obliges. A game of footie – solo style – ensues but then who should pop her head over the fence but neighbour, Mrs Kiev. I don’t know; Nugget complains about Benedict not listening but somebody should be admonishing Nugget for not looking …

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There follows a crazy ‘Red Riding Hood episode’: “Why, Mrs Kiev, what furry arms you have today.
All the better to warm you with, … Why don’t you let me look after the baby while you play?
We all know where this is going, or rather WE do; seemingly not Nugget though who scoots off to take a break from being kind. Uh-oh!
But then a wild kick from an older sibling send their ball right over fence into Mrs Kiev’s back yard and Nugget goes off to retrieve it. What is lying trussed up on the barbecue brings the ball rescuer up short. And as for Benedict, it looks as though he is about to become the chief ingredient for a lip-smacking meal.

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And, as we know already, he can hear every word; but maybe that is the key to an escape. …
This cheepy chirpy twist on the fox and chickens tales we all know and love, really tickled the imagination of my audiences. Nugget’s naivety and Michelle Robinson’s frequent cracking of eggy jokes really appealed, as did the final twist in the tale – just the thing to ruffle their feathers and keep them engrossed in Tom McLaughlin’s pun-filled, fun-filled illustrations.

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Henry and Boo!

Henry and Boo!
Megan Brewis
Child’s Play
When Boo intrudes upon Henry’s peaceful tea break one day, the floppy-eared character is far from pleased; even less so when Boo resists Henry’s instructions to leave. The only response issuing from the little rabbit is “Boo!” Now that’s no way to win friends surely, but there you are; it’s what the pesky bun. insists on doing over and over. What’s a chap to do when Boo follows him everywhere …

and does everything he does – even headstands? Not a good idea for a little bunny, nor is intruding on the cake making, washing up (think I’d allow that one) and vacuuming – ditto, so long as Boo took a share of driving the machine …

Ignoring just has no effect: Boo pops up everywhere you can imagine, and everywhere you probably can’t and try as he might, all he gets is the cold shoulder.
Hello, what’s  peeping out from behind the tree, right by that sign?

Eventually Henry runs out of Boo-avoiding strategies; even hiding in a box doesn’t do the Boo-banishing trick: the ‘boos’ merely increase. Then as a last desperate measure Henry is about to despatch the intruder when events take a dramatic turn …
Perhaps Boo has some uses after all (that’s in addition to giving audiences irresistible Boo’ opportunities) Could what began as a total no-go situation, perhaps be the start of a wonderful new friendship? …
You’ll certainly have your audiences eagerly joining in with that irresistible oft repeated ‘Boo’ as they relish this super story with its enchantingly quirky characters, so deliciously illustrated and with important themes of understanding and friendship.

I’ve signed the charter 

Over and Under the Pond

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Over and Under the Pond
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
Chronicle Books
In this follow-up to Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt we join a mother and child as they take an evening row across the pond :‘Over the pond we slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.’ The boy narrates using a beautifully attentive, almost meditative voice that immediately connects us to the watery setting: ‘The water’s a mirror, reflecting the sky, /Sunshine and clouds – then a shadow below.
Unhurriedly, the pond reveals its riches, both hidden and more clearly visible, as the two people in their craft skim, ‘lift and dart and pull past a row of painted turtles on a waterlogged tree‘ …

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On they go, with occasional help from the wind, passing a great blue heron about to dive for minnows, a woodpecker clinging to a ‘teetering pine, digging for ants.’;

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dragonflies skim the water’s surface below which dragonfly larvae seize passing minnows in their jaws. How skilfully, occasionally using onomatopoeic phrases such as ‘splash – gurgle – splosh!’ ‘to heighten the dramatic effect, author, Kate Messner, reflects that way young children can be ‘in the moment’ excluding all else as they immerse themselves in the here and now.

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Gradually the shadows engulf the scene as dusky darkness falls over the pond and it’s time to return ‘swish – bump!’ to the shore and home, leaving nature still watching and waiting …
Neal’s richly hued, mixed media illustrations show us the pond from every possible perspective both above and below causing readers, like the rowers, to pause and linger over every scene, taking in its stark beauty.
In the final spreads, the author provides notes about some of the fauna inhabiting the pond, especially useful for readers in the UK who may not be familiar with all of them. A book to inspire, enthuse and send readers (accompanied by an adult) out into the wonderful natural world to find out for themselves what lies Over and Under the Pond.

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I Lost My Sock! / Fruits in Suits

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I Lost My Sock!
P.J.Roberts and Elio
Abrams Appleseed
Subtitled ‘A Matching Mystery’ this begins with Fox’s declaration, “I lost my sock!” Ox, despite the fact his pal is sporting its pair, asks what it’s like. The dopey-seeming Ox then goes on to produce several unmatching sockish articles of a variety of patterns and sizes for the increasingly frustrated Fox.

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A parcel and a rock are then proffered and rejected before a totally undaunted Ox comes up with a lorry load of socks, tips the entire contents out and proceeds to hunt for the match, without success.
Eventually Ox gives up and is about to depart when BINGO! Fox spots the sock …

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There then ensues a dispute over the ownership of the blue-dotted article. Ox maintains it’s his brand new, perfectly fitting hat with a special handy place to keep his supply of oranges; oranges he cannot keep in his pocket because he doesn’t have one on account of not wearing any pants (trousers). PARDON!

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Ox’s crazy response educes a crazily considerate response from Fox who generously hands over his one remaining sock/hat: but that is not quite the end of this wonderfully foolish tale.
Crazy as it may be, this tale of misunderstanding and mismatching offers much to learn about friendship, and also about pattern, shape, size and colour, comparison and contrast. Elio’s exuberant, cartoon-like illustrations, with their geometric shapes, are terrific fun and Roberts’ equally amusing text, all in dialogue, is hugely enjoyable to read aloud. (The exchanges reminded me somewhat of Mo Willems’ heroes, Elephant and Piggie). It’s also ideal for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves; share it first though.

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Fruits in Suits
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed
It’s time for a swim, fruit style. First changed into appropriate gear is Strawberry, the narrator, in snazzy polka dot trunks, who then endeavours to persuade the business suited Grapefruit that what he’s wearing – suit though it may be – is totally inappropriate for taking a dip in the pool. Other fruits duly dress suitably – pardon the pun – in one- or two-piece bathing attire (although the word swimsuit’ is never mentioned). After a ridiculous exchange culminating in “BUT I’M WEARING A SUIT!” the near-exasperated Strawberry eventually produces a pair of large trunks and finally …

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whereupon the infant Pomegranate throws caution to the wind and takes a leap in the buff …
This final action caused a giggle on behalf of my young reader who also enjoyed the whole nonsensical scenario.

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We’re All Wonders

We’re All Wonders
R.J.Palacio
Puffin Books
This awe-inspiring picture book is narrated by the hero character of Palacio’s incredibly moving novel, Wonder. I was totally knocked out by this new Auggie book. Here, in relatively few, perfectly chosen words, the boy narrator tells us what it’s like to be him – an extraordinary boy who, like other children, does ordinary, everyday things. Things that are discounted by others because of how he looks. His mum calls him ‘a wonder’; his dog is in agreement but, so he says, “ … some people don’t see that I’m a wonder. All they see is how different I look. Sometimes they stare at me. They point or laugh. They even say mean things behind my back. But I can hear them.”

Most children have ways of transcending difficulties: Auggie’s manner of so doing is supremely brilliant. He dons his helmet and together with his dog, Daisy, blasts off through the clouds, traversing the galaxy to land on Pluto. It’s there after an encounter with old friends, that he is able to see things from a different perspective. “Earth is big enough for all kinds of people” he says, Such wise words, which he follows with a hope that people can change the way they see him and themselves.

His concluding “Look with kindness and you will always find wonder” are words that each and every one of us would do well to keep at the forefront of everything we do and every encounter we have.

Then, who knows, with passion and courage, perhaps we can change the world … It’s definitely worth trying.

I’ve signed the charter

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf
Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
Book Island
Author, Kyo Maclear (The Listzs) and Isabelle Arsenhault, illustrator (Cloth Lullaby) have together invented an episode from the youth of Virginia Wolf, narrated by her sister Vanessa when the former was overcome by depression: ‘She made wolf sounds and did strange things … ‘ Unsurprisingly, her actions affected the entire household –

‘She was a very bossy wolf. The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.’
Vanessa is a very understanding and supportive sister and does her upmost to cheer up her sibling. Eventually she responds to Virginia’s wish to fly to a perfect place … with “ABSOLUTELY NO DOLDRUMS”, a place called Bloomsberry, by creating, as Virginia sleeps …

a glorious ‘Bloomsberry’ garden.
This has the effect of lifting the gloom that has engulfed her sister– for the time being at least.

Strong emotions are part and parcel of childhood but comparatively few children go on to develop the dark melancholic, depressive feelings that would frequently engulf Virginia in her adult life. Not everyone, however hard they try will be able to help a depressed family member, but this is no detraction from what is undoubtedly a beautiful picture book.
Arsenault’s eloquent illustrations capture superbly the whole gamut of emotions of Maclear’s text: the graceful beauty of the pictures Vanessa creates would surely bring solace to almost anyone. The use of a hand-lettered text that sometimes almost explodes off the page, further adds to the impact of what is an immensely powerful and intensely personal tale of love and hope.
This is a book to share and discuss with older children (from around ten, and into early secondary school). I hope teachers have the insightfulness and perhaps courage to do so: its potential is rich.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Street Beneath My Feet

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The Street Beneath My Feet
Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures
This large format volume takes the form of a concertina book that invites readers to stop and look down, posing the question, ‘What’s going on deep in the ground under your feet?’ and then takes them, layer by layer down, down through the earth’s structure to its core, and back again.
Through Charlotte Guillain’s accessible narrative style text and Yuval Zommer’s super-stylish illustrations the whole experience encompasses aspects of biology, archaeology, geology and civil engineering …

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There are questions such as ‘Who do you think wore this helmet on their head?’ to ponder and perhaps research,

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as well as less satisfying ones like ‘What’s that loud rumbling noise making the ground shake?’ that are immediately answered by the next sentence. In fact, any small paragraph or picture might generate some research if it catches the interest of a young reader and that, must surely be part of the intention of the joint enterprise.
Those same readers may well find themselves getting a little dizzy at the point the pace accelerates with ‘Let’s pick up speed as we delve down deeper. Hold on tight because things are about to get shaky. We’re deep in the Earth’s crust now and things are moving!’ and there follows talk of an earthquake and how it happens.

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If you can’t experience the real things, this book is a stimulating substitute; alternatively and better, read the book and then, enthused by what is between its covers, get out into the world and discover first hand, what lies under the ground beneath your feet in your particular part of the world.

Museums and Machines

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The terrific twosome of The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School fame have combined forces in another zany Henry adventure; and as always he is accompanied by his dachshund pal. This time the protagonist is put on the spot by a question about the class trip to a museum. The lad seems to have been rather tardy in his arrival at said museum and consequently undertaken his own explorations therein. Whether he, or the exhibits were more entertained, one can only imagine. He supposedly got up to all manner of unlikely activities: balloon sculpting for the Neanderthals,

and there was certainly plenty to feast his eyes on. A T.Rex for instance, sculptures, a great whale and a woolly mammoth, lots of paintings –

some abstract art requiring the odd finishing touch here and there, and the museum’s storage facilities needing a bit of reorganisation.
See how many art references you can spot …that dachshund portrait does appear to bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa. And yes, Henry does eventually catch up with the rest of his class, albeit by some rather risky means.
Pretty off-the-wall stuff; but those who have enjoyed the previous flights of fancy delivered by Cali and Chaud will certainly find plenty to amuse herein.

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper book of three, re-named, previously published titles featuring the much-loved duo, Winnie and Wilbur in Space, Winnie’s New Computer and Winnie and the Big Bad Robot will surely appeal to those of a mechanical bent.
The first sees the pair hurtling skywards in a rocket and discovering the ‘Purrfect” picnic spot, then having their picnic invaded by a horde of hungry space rabbits. The odd swish of her magic wand produces the ideal fare for the bouncing bunnies; but the voracious consumption of their favourite metallic meal leads to the visitors being without any means of getting back home. Can Winnie’s wand save the day once again?
You’d think after all that excitement in previous adventures involving machines, now renamed for this compilation, Winnie would have learned to stay clear; but her first foray, that involving a misunderstanding on Wilbur’s part, the scanning of her spell books into her computer and a mal-functioning mouse – Wilbur’s doing; and the second, an extremely unfortunate experience with the robot constructed by Winnie in her weekly creativity class at the local library, didn’t deter her at all. Hence her ‘big adventure’ in space.
The magic still holds good, no matter how the stories are packaged.

I’ve signed the charter 

Lots

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Lots
Marc Martin
Big Picture Press
Prepare for a visual tour that takes in places as different as Delhi and Antarctica, Alice Springs and the Amazon rainforest,

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Tokyo and the Galapagos Islands and the wonderful and exciting things to be found at each destination. There’s a plethora of people to meet, amazing and common or garden animals to encounter – the inevitable abundance of dogs in Paris, and the elephant shrews of Cape Town. Tokyo seems almost over-run with vending machines and Kawaii (cute things), whereas cats are curiously common in Cairo;

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and Delhi is replete with rickshaws of various kinds; and chai wallahs are always on hand to provide you with a cuppa.

chai wallhas at work

All this and much more, is contained within Marc Martin’s vibrant, jam-packed illustrations printed on beautifully matt spreads – one per location.
There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to his choice or arrangement of destinations: Ulaanbaatar with its ubiquity of yaks and Reykjavik, home to lots of Annas and Jóns clearly interested him so there we are.
Amusing snippets of information are scattered over the large pages, some such as Lenin almost ‘accidentally’ being an honorary member of the Beatles are funny, or that New York is sometimes called ‘The City that Never Sleeps’ (probably on account of the coffee!) Martin suggests.
So, if you want to be an ‘armchair traveller’, this is for you; better still, get hold of the book, be inspired by one of the destinations herein and then pay it a visit, to learn more about its people, wildlife, buildings, food, transport and landmarks for real.

For Your Fiction Shelf

The Cherry Pie Princess
Vivian French (illustrated by Marta Kissi)
Walker Books
Vivian French is a cracking storyteller. Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables have been perennial favourites with many, many infant classes I’ve taught; ditto Yucky Worms. Here though she is writing for a slightly older audience and immediately I was drawn into her story – partly because when it begins, the setting is a library. Grating Public Library to be more precise, and the staff (Miss Denzil at least) are eagerly anticipating a visit from seven princesses. Much more circumspect though is the chief librarian, a rather crusty old dwarf by the name of Lionel Longbeard.

When the party duly arrives, it turns out that only one princess has any interest in books and she is Princess Peony. The book she takes, or rather later, sends a pageboy for, is A Thousand Simple Recipes for Pies, Puddings and Pastries and, she holds on to it for a very long time. The king though, has the librarian arrested for breaking the rules, on account of his kindness in speaking to the princess, and locked up in his dungeons. The princess meanwhile, takes to baking until her overbearing father puts a stop to it.
Years pass, a new royal baby is born …

and a christening party duly announced and invitations sent out – with one notable omission.
Now that sounds like there could be trouble on the horizon. What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of rule breaking, a rescue and a host of exciting twists and turns, The story moves along at a fast pace and is made all the more enjoyable by Marta Kissi’s pen and ink illustrations, which are liberally scattered throughout the book adding to the slightly zany tone of the whole thing.

Spy Toys
Mark Powers (illustrated by Tim Wesson)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine a totally weird bunch of superheroes and you’d probably never quite come up with such an unlikely crew as those in Mark Powers’ book. So let’s meet Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear, Dan, made by accident 1000 times stronger than was intended;

rag doll, Arabella, a far-from friendly character; a soldier with an eyesight issue (which can sometimes be a hinderance) … and a foot where his head ought to be; and Flax the rabbit, a policebot on the run and more.
All have computerised brains and are recruited by the Department of Secret Affairs for a mission to protect the prime minister’s son from one Rusty Flumptrunk – a half-human, half-elephant breakfast cereal promotion gone wrong. What follows is a cracking, crazy, fast-moving, action-packed yarn full of slapstick and witticisms: lots of fun and made all the more so by Tim Wesson’s zany illustrations.

Louie in a Spin
Rachel Hamilton (illustrated by Oscar Armelles)
Oxford University Press
Louie is enjoying life in New York at the School for Performing Arts and is determined to remain upbeat despite the efforts of Arnie and grumpy dance teacher, Madame Swirler. Here though, it looks as if he might be losing the battle: in error, he’s been signed up to represent his dance school in the ballet category at a national dance competition. With the school’s reputation at stake, can Louie, with an enormous amount of self-belief to make up for what he lacks in skill, save the day?
It’s all beautifully funny and one cannot but admire Louie’s inexhaustible supply of inner strength and positivism. Long live Louie who is made all the more adorable through Oscar Armelles funky line drawings

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern
Roland Chambers (illustrated by Ella Okstad)
Oxford University Press
If you’ve enjoyed Pippi Longstocking – or even if you haven’t, you really should meet Nelly Peabody in her second splendid story. Here, on returning from her first adventure, Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody, the fearless explorer discovers that her mother has mysteriously vanished and nothing will stop the young redhead from tracking her down. This entails a flight in a laundry basket, high above the clouds, not to mention a deep-sea dive courtesy of a tin can contraption. As ever, of course she’s accompanied by her best friend, Columbus the turtle.
It’s quirky, full of deliciously off-beat characters and most important, superbly written, with wonderful illustrations by Ella Okstad in black and white with touches of red.

I’ve signed 

Adelaide’s Secret World

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Adelaide’s Secret World
Elise Hurst
Murdoch Books
Adelaide’s life has become a solitary one: her once busy world of wonders now shrunk to a behind the red-curtain, glass-jar-filled existence. From the window she observes the sunrise, the ships entering the port and the loners in the city below. In the evenings, she uses her art to re-create what she’s seen by day; but there always seems to be something lacking.

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Then one day, feeling restless Adelaide heads out, despite the gathering clouds into the hustling, bustling city. As the storm gathers apace, she notices by chance a fox dropping his book as he dashes through the crowds. Without a moment’s thought, Adelaide retrieves the book – a sketch book – and follows its owner back to his home; and through the window the sight that meets her eyes is one of recognition. ‘And she knew them all – the dancers, the lost ones, the midnight cat and herself, Adelaide.

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Then the door is opened and ‘though her heart called out she could make no sound.’ – Such a beautiful portrayal of coming face to face with your true soul mate.
Having handed over the book and dashed home, Adelaide’s world spins in turmoil

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and a change happens: the seemingly impossible becomes the possible. It’s not only her world that changes though: things in the city will never again be the same: there’s laughter and music … ‘And those who had once been lonely and silent … found their voices.’
To read this is to step onto a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s just SO breathtakingly moving and ultimately, uplifting. I particularly love the way that red curtain behind which Adelaide has retreated, and its unravelling, by and by becomes the means through which she and other lonely residents of the locality reach out and become linked to one another.

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Books such as this are so important at the present when there’s so much talk of building walls, with countries breaking away from one another, looking inwards rather than outwards: it’s a timely and potent reminder that open-heartedness and the courage to reach out, to speak out against xenophobia, racism and the like can, little by little, bring change for the better.
There’s a near sublime quality about Elise Hurst’s oil-paintings and the way in which these, interwoven with her equally poetic words, create a synergy that moved this particular reviewer to tears and at the same time, fuelled a determination to continue working as a bridge builder in the spirit of Adelaide. What a gamut of emotions her colour palette arouses too: the contrasting greys and deep greeny-blues and browns of the storm both external and within the main character; and the contrasting orange and especially, red that is ever present representing a spark of spirit, warmth and the power of the imagination.

That’s Not a Daffodil!

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That’s Not a Daffodil
Elizabeth Honey
Allen & Unwin
When Tom’s next-door neighbour, Mr Yilmaz,  calls with a crumpled bag containing what looks somewhat like an onion, but Mr Yilmaz assures him is a daffodil, the boy is more than a little sceptical. “Let’s plant it and see,” Mr Yilmaz suggests, so they do, in a large pot. Tom waits and waits but nothing much happens; He calls it a desert so Mr Y. suggests making it rain and he does …

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Still, nothing seems to be happening, but they keep watching until Tom declares “a green beak” is peeping through. Inevitably, – as beaks do – it opens up; and becomes a green- fingered hand.

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Mr Yilmaz continues visiting, bearing gifts of various fruits and vegetables, Tom’s curiosity growing along with the plant all the while as it becomes “Grandpa’s hairs in the wind”, “a wet rocket”, needs the assistance of “the plant ambulance” when Mr Yilmaz’s grandchildren accidentally knock over the pot in play; and then after some TLC, shines forth as a “street light”, heralding spring.

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What though, does young Tom see when the bud finally bursts forth in bloom …
Wonderfully playful, uplifting and full of hope, this beautiful story introduces so much – notions of good neighbourliness, diversity, respectfulness and a whole lot of learning about gardening, and growth – not only of the flower but also of a special friendship. At the same time it interweaves imaginative notions in the form of metaphor and all this through the eyes of a young child.
The author’s gorgeously warm, soft-focus illustrations in, I think, watercolour and oil pastel, exude warmth and a joie-de-vivre.
A perfect springtime share for early years teachers and parents of pre-schoolers.

Poetry Parade

Silver
Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
‘ …
It’s lovely to see Carolina Rabei’s enchanting visual interpretation of a de la Mare poem that was a childhood favourite of mine. I still have all the words in my head and often used to visualise a moon wandering silently in those ‘silver shoon’.

The illustrator imbues the whole thing with dreamy magic as she portrays the moon as feline, tiptoeing among the silver fruited tree branches, and then across the ground pursued by two small children and a host of faery folk, past the log-like sleeping dog …

and watched by all manner of nocturnal creatures that all gather in a clearing …

before some of them take a small boat and glide across the water while ‘moveless fish in the water gleam’ and the two children fall fast asleep. AAAHHH! Gorgeous.

Little Lemur Laughing
Joshua Seigal
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I’m always excited to discover new poets and was delighted to receive a collection from rising star, Joshua Seigal. Playful is the name of the game where these poems are concerned: they cover all manner of topics from food (for instance Johnny and The MANGO wherein a boy retires to a warm tub to consume his favourite tea) to Fireworks; Seagulls to Stickers and Conkers to Colours and Chat. Alliteration abounds – indeed there is a page at the back of the book in which Seigal talks about his use of this in the title poem; there’s a generous sprinkling of concrete poems –

and some, such as Turvy & Topsy are completely bonkers, but went down well with my listeners.
In fact there isn’t a single one that isn’t lots of fun to read aloud to younger primary children. I’d certainly recommend adding this to a KS1 or early years teacher’s collection and buy it for any youngster whom you want to turn on to poetry.

The Fire Horse
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam & Daniil Kharms
The New York Review Children’s Collection
This contains three longish poems, one from each of the authors, all being translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and each having a different illustrator. The title poem has wonderful art by Lydia Popova; Mandelastam’s Two Trams artist, Boris Ender, used a limited (almost exclusively, black, grey and red) colour palette for his superbly stylish portrayal of the two tramcars. The final work, Play portrays verbally and visually three boys absorbed in their imaginary play worlds, the illustrations being done by Vladimir Konashevich.
For me, the book’s illustrations make it worthwhile, showing as they do, Soviet book illustrations from almost a century ago.
For book collectors/art connoisseurs rather than general readers, I’d suggest.

I’ve signed the charter 

Pigeon P.I.

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Pigeon P.I.
Meg McLaren
Andersen Press
Murray is a private investigator of the pigeon kind. Of late, since the departure of his fellow operative, Stanley, Murray has been taking life rather easy. Then out of the blue – or rather, the rain – who should show up but the Kid, aka Vee, with a mission: to locate her missing friends.

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Intrigued, but not yet ready to take on another case, our narrator Murray asks her to come back the following day. She doesn’t show up and, with the police busy on a ‘big case’, he realises this will have to be a ‘do it yourself’ crime investigation.

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Seemingly there’s a feather thief at large in the town. Who or what is responsible for the dastardly scene that meets his eyes once inside the Red Herring Bar and Grill;

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and why does the voice emanating from the depths of the place sound oddly familiar? Even more importantly, is Investigator Murray ‘s goose well and truly cooked; or will the town’s streets again become safe for his fellow avians of every hue, once and for all?
Meg McLaren’s (Life is Magic) winning piece of detective fiction is bound to make you cackle. Take a look at those end papers for starters, especially if you want to do a spot of detecting yourself. Full of visual and verbal puns, witty details, speech bubbles and delivered in the manner of the best crime writers, this will appeal particularly, to anyone with a passion for setting things to rights. For sure, it’s a case of the more you look, the more you discover …

The Butterfly Dance

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The Butterfly Dance
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The butterflies weren’t the only ones dancing: I joined them as I opened the parcel containing this alluring book. My dance though, fell far short of the dazzling show of the exquisitely patterned, winged creatures herein. It’s good to see Susanne Barton adding a book starring ‘flyers’ different from those in The Dawn Chorus and Robin’s Winter Song to her repertoire.
Two caterpillars, Dotty and Stripe share everything. Then Stripe pupates leaving Dotty feeling lonely, but soon she too makes a cosy bed and falls asleep. Dotty is first to emerge and cannot wait to show her wonderful wings to Stripe. He however, is already flying towards her, resplendent with his outstretched wings.
Then begins a dazzling gliding, looping, soaring, whirling, fluttering and chasing dance, which is interrupted by an untimely rain shower. Taking cover, the butterflies encounter a bee that tells them of a meadow full of flowers, and sends them on their way. Their route takes them through the woods where dragonflies dip and dart around a puddle

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and there they learn of other butterflies the colour of Stripe. Further on though, Dotty discovers that there are also butterflies of her own blue colour and the two wonder if they should be playing with those that look like they do.
The best friends have a dilemma: should they seek their fellow look-alikes or stay together? They decide to part: Stripe plays with red butterflies, Dotty with blue. They miss each other. Can they remain friends but stay true to themselves at the same time? And, equally important, can they find one another again?

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Inherent in this enchanting rendition are themes of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, friendship, reaching out to others, similarities and differences, and change. Every spread, be it a single scene stretching across the whole double page, one page, or a sequence of small vignettes,

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is made visually captivating by Suzanne Barton’s kaleidoscopically coloured, signature mixed media, collage style art.

Let’s Go to Nursery! / Will You Be My Friend?

Let’s Go to Nursery!
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
We join Bee and Billy (and their mums) at the door of a nursery. The session is already in full swing with all kinds of exciting activities taking place. The children give their mums a farewell hug and Bee eagerly begins to join in. Billy however, is more reluctant and a tad clingy. He soon gets drawn in though, thanks to a ‘message’ full of kindness …

Happy noisy play ensues until there’s a dispute over ownership of a large toy; but Billy, surely a fast learner, comes to the rescue and all is well once more.
There’s so much fun to be had, so many things to share and so much playful learning – just how it should be.

All too soon though, it’s time to help tidy up; the mums are back and it’s farewell until tomorrow: a happy, exhausting day spent and the prospect of many more to come.
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia paint a lively portrait of nursery life without the intrusion of the nursery staff: they, one hopes, are observing and sometimes, gently encouraging and perhaps guiding, unobtrusively from the side-lines.
The first of the First Experiences series for ‘a new generation of little readers’ the publishers say. Perhaps ‘little listeners’ would be more accurate, but no matter which, its intended young audience will find plenty to enjoy; it’s as well that the book is sturdily made with wipe-clean pages as I foresee a lot of enthusiastic handling.

Will You Be My Friend?
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is a title from Bloomsbury’s Featherstone imprint and has something of an educational slant: There’s plenty to think about and discuss; and the whole thing is invitingly illustrated with a sequence of vignettes. These are captioned and each spread opens with a question on an aspect of friendship: ‘What do you do when a friend upsets you?’ and ‘What do your friends think of you?’ for instance. Notes from a friendly puggish pup offer further food for thought at the bottom of each right hand page.

A final spread is aimed at parents, although I see this book being used in preschool and KS1 sessions on ‘What makes a good friend?’ too. It’s all very nicely and inclusively done though personally, I prefer emotional and social learning to be part and parcel of picture books’ stories rather than books specially created for the purpose.

I’ve signed the charter  

When Grandad was a Penguin / Snip Snap Croc

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When Grandad Was a Penguin
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
When is a Grandad not a Grandad? That’s the dilemma facing a little girl when she goes to visit her Grandad. His behaviour seems somewhat out of character, he looks a trifle different, he keeps talking about fishing, his clothes are ill fitting and he keeps turning up in unlikely places such as …

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Could it perhaps be his age? Fishy indeed.
Can a timely phone call, followed by a trip to the zoo, sort things out? Grandad certainly looks at home in his icy surroundings, so will he agree to another change of environment?

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Unlike the child protagonist in this latest Morag Hood delight, young readers and listeners will happily go along with the whole crazy situation, aware that they’re being taken for a ride, so to speak; and they’ll certainly have a good giggle over the silly scenarios. Best shared with a Grandad, but shared it needs to be. The restricted colour palette, controlled ink and lino print scenes and a simple direct text delivered by the child narrator combine to make a delectably droll drama …

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and that final twist is inspired.

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Snip Snap Croc
Caroline Castle and Claire Shorrock
QED
This tale takes us to the River Nile, where, should you happen to be wandering along its banks, you might encounter Snip Snap Croc. If so beware: this creature boasts of sixty snip snipping teeth just waiting to ‘nip, nip, nip’. Mama Baboon, Mama Meerkat,

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and Mama Lion, whose homes are along the river all urge their little ones to stay close to their sides.
On the bank meanwhile Snip Snap Croc is busily engaged digging and very soon TAP! TAP TAP! and out come …

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Soon she has twenty three new born baby crocs to take care of; but it looks as though she’s gobbling them up – at least, that’s what the other baby animals think …

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Mama Croc – the newest mama on the riverbank has a secret though – a protective one; and once she has moved her offspring to a suitable spot, she opens her enormous jaws and plop, plop, plop: out come the twenty three babes, with a word of warning from their mama, “Stay close by me and / no harm you’ll meet./ For I love you more/ than the river is deep.” As it is with the other mothers, so it is with Snip Snap Croc. Now, as day gives way to evening, all the animals know they can rest content that night.
The text moves in and out of rhyme as the story flows merrily along and Claire Shorrock’s illustrations have a droll humour about them, which adds to the enjoyment of the shared joke between author and readers.

Charter logo FINAL.indd

Can I Join Your Club?

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this cleverly inclusive book

Can I Join Your Club?
John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Little Tiger Press
Children are inveterate club creators (often calling them gangs); and club joiners. There’s the book club, the gym club, dance club, drama club, art club and so on: after- school clubs are numerous and in my experience, extremely popular. Adults too are big club joiners. The trouble is, the issue of insiders and outsiders often rears its ugly head causing upsets, resentment and sometimes, worse: discrimination and prejudice for example.
John Kelly’s wonderful story of Duck’s efforts to become a member of a club – any club – be it Lion Club, Snake Club or Club Elephant find him wanting: he receives a resounding ‘Application DENIED!’ in each case.
Down, but definitely not out, Duck knows just what he must do. He sets up his very own club: one where every single applicant is welcome – Good on you Duck. And best of all, he calls it, eventually, OUR CLUB.

Drum roll for Duck. Acceptance and friendship rule.
How beautifully Kelly takes the issues of inclusivity and the vital importance of embracing diversity and weaves them into this funny book. As someone who is in despair about current issues such as BREXIT, the treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, not to mention Trump’s wall, this is truly a timely parable. This could be seen as a wake-up call for one and all.
Steph Laberis’ animal characters are a treat to behold: the specs they sport in this scene are so ridiculously spectacular.

Almost every scene simply crackles with energy; there is deliberately, the odd exception though – not a lot of dynamism here …

I now hand over to the book’s author to talk about the way he works:

Where do I work? And how do I work? With John Kelly author of Can I Join Your Club?

I work from home.
But the truth is that I work in lots of different places.

I work sat bolt upright in front of my desktop computer, but also slouched on the sofa with my laptop. I draw with big pencils on a drawing board perched on my dining room table, yet I scribble tiny doodles with my favourite fountain pen in a Moleskine sketchbook. I write leaning against the kitchen worktop, hunched over a cup of coffee in a cafe, wrapped up warmly on a park bench. I construct plots, characters and rhymes best in a hot bath, in the shower, laid flat out on the floor with my eyes closed, or walking a friend’s tiny Jack Russell (called Luna) round the park.

My writing work falls roughly into two modes of working.
Rhyming books and Non-rhyming books.

Rhyming books tend to start with a general idea: i.e. ‘What if a dragon was raised as a knight in armour?’
I then just begin jotting down random rhyming couplets that make me laugh or, by a bizarre combination of words, spark some other silly idea.
When I’ve got enough of those (about 40-50) I’ll see if it’s possible to roughly cut them into some kind of order. That order will then (fingers crossed) suggest some kind of story. I then start filling in the gaps with more new couplets. This will then suggest even more silly ideas which, in turn, suggests more stupid plot ideas. I then need new couplets, and the process goes on, and on, and on…

After an indeterminate time (anything from three weeks to two years) I end up with a working story outline. So then I go through it doing everything to make the rhymes as amusing as possible. Then I polish it over and over until I’m not clever enough to make it any better and send it to my agent.
She emails me back saying, “That’s great!” or “That’s awful!” In which case I start again.

Non-rhyming books are a bit different.
They still start with a general idea: i.e.‘What would happen if a Bear checked into a 5 star hotel to hibernate?’
But then I’ll just jump straight into writing in my sketchbook, trying to work out what the story is actually about. I often do drawings as I go along – not because I’m intending to illustrate it myself – but because it helps me find the meaning of certain scenes. It’s like having my own pet actors who can act out scenes to see if they work or not. Sometimes the actors are much cleverer than me and they’ll come up with something I would never have thought on my own.
Eventually I have enough to attempt a rough draft. Then it becomes very similar to the previous method of working. The big difference with non-rhyming books is that I act them out in my kitchen, which I’m sure is enormously amusing/irritating to my neighbours.

I do school visits and have learnt that what works on paper doesn’t always translate out loud. So I’m now a big believer in performing each draft of my texts. I don’t think it’s until I’ve read something out loud, in a silly voice, that I get a sense of whether it works – or not. It’s got to the point now where when I’m writing I’m always thinking, ‘How this will sound?’ in front of a hall full of 150 kids.

(I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall when John is acting out some of those drafts of his.)

I’ve signed the charter

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books
Mr and Mrs Tati live together in a little yellow house, but one thing is missing from their otherwise happy life: Mrs Tati longs for a “sweet little baby”.
Mr T. visits the Baby Shop asking for a “fat, happy baby” for his wife but all they can offer are all the things that, without a baby, she has no use for at all. On his way home however, he encounters a man offering baby pigs for sale. Could one of those be the answer to Mrs Tati’s dreams?

For a while the Tatis are blissfully happy with the new addition to their family and eventually Potter is old enough to start school and that is when the trouble starts …

Potter’s parents decide their attempts to turn him into a little boy were a mistake and he’s allowed to be messy with mud and sleep outdoors instead of going to school.

Weekends though are inside times; and it’s on one such occasion that Mrs Tati makes another wish. A wish that leads to a whole chain of further wishes culminating in Mr Tata’s wish upon a falling star. “I wish, I wish, I wish, that when we wake up in the morning … we will all look the same.” …
Do you think his wish came true?
This corker – or should it be porker? – twist-in-the-tail story is an absolute delight. With themes of family love, acceptance and diversity, this is perfect for sharing both at home or school. Niki Daly imbues every illustration, large or small, with his wonderful wit and joie de vivre.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Naughty Naughty Baddies

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The Naughty Naughty Baddies
Mark Sperring and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
One baddie’s bad enough but four ‘Naughty Naughty’ ones is something else, especially if it’s this particular quartet – a motley bunch if ever there was one.

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These NNBs especially enjoy creeping and they excel in same: sometimes, or rather, this time, their creeping leads to a big fat nothing: they simply can’t find a single naughty thing to do no matter how hard they try, or where they look.
So, ideas are discussed and Four’s plan is the favourite. It entails bouncing from their trampoline to their Badmobile and thence into a helicopter, then parachuting over a certain palace and there doing a spot of ‘spotnicking’ which will leave her royal highness’s pooch, er, spotless.
They have plans for putting to use their swag bag of spotty spoils too …

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Can those dastardly deed doers execute their mischief though; or might there be a chance that they’ll be spotted and apprehended in the act of thievery?

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If so, can they talk their way out of trouble and who will get the last chuckle? Um, that one’s easily answered: it’s anyone who is lucky enough to read or hear this wickedly funny book read aloud.
The combination of Sperring’s super-silly story that is brimming over with word-play, and Tazzyman’s terrific, rib-tickling visuals is a fabulous treat for all who encounter the outrageous shenanigans of the awesomely awful foursome. Bring it on baddies!

Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

Counting with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Tiny Cat is an energetic bundle of mischief with a particular penchant for red wool. At the outset there isn’t any but then yippee! A ball of the red stuff rolls right along. That quickly becomes TWO! THREE! FOUR! Which is all the creature can really juggle; but still they keep coming.

Clearly Tiny Cat’s counting skills have yet to develop further, though oddly the feline’s vocabulary encompasses ‘ABOUT A DOZEN– emphasis on the about here I should add.

Still though, the creature’s appetite for the red stuff isn’t satisfied: ‘LOTS’ leads to a very greedy ‘AS MANY AS YOU CAN GET’ but even that isn’t sufficient. SOME EXTRA gives way to …

Will the frisky thing ever realise that enough is enough?
A wonderful visual comedy with a delightfully playful star: Tiny Cat most definitely commands the performance, and viewers will definitely demand instant encores.

The Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books
A small girl – the narrator – and her younger brother return to the playground in search of the skipping rope left behind earlier. There’s no sign of their rope but they follow some sounds of laughter and in the clearing, come upon, not the friends they’d anticipated. but a group of foxes enjoying a skipping game.

Doxy, foxy, / touch the ground. / Doxy, foxy, / turn around. / Turn to the east, / and turn to the west, / and choose the one that / you like best.
The children decide the foxes are less adept skippers than they on account of their tails and Luke lets out a giggle. Fortunately the foxes aren’t offended: instead they approach the children and ask for some coaching. Soon animals and humans are playing together happily, taking turns to hold the rope ends. When the little girl’s turn comes to do so, she notices the name, painted on the handle.

It’s her name, but also happens to be that of one of the foxes; and, the little creature has assumed it now belongs to her because of a wish she’d made.
Does the little fox’s wish come true: what does the little girl decide to do?
A wonderful, slightly whimsical tale of empathy, altruism and kindness, and a delightful portrayal of the way young children so easily slip between fantasy and reality, told with sensitivity that is captured equally in Sakai’s glowing illustrations and Aman’s words, which in their direct simplicity, echo the voice of a child. Such exquisite observation.

I’ve signed the charter 

Triangle

Triangle
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books
Knowledge of a friend’s ophidiophobia is in part, the driving force behind Triangle’s foray from his home in his triangular neighbourhood, across a barren place of rocky humps ‘They were shapes with no names’ Barnett informs us; and on through the place of squares –

big, medium and small ones – to Square’s abode. All the while he’s been plotting the sneaky trick he’s about to play.
He walks right up Square’s door, whereupon he delivers a round of snake-like “HISS” sounds.
Square is momentarily petrified: Snake dissolves into paroxysms of laughter. A pregnant pause follows,

rapidly replaced on Square’s part by incandescent rage.
Thereupon the four-sided being chases the three-sider all the way back to his home. His shape however, prevents him from entering and there he stands stuck in the doorway and thus accidentally discovers Triangle’s nyctophobia.

I know you’re afraid of the dark. Now I have played a sneaky trick on you! You see, Triangle, this was my plan all along.” Hmm! I’m not so sure about that.
Klassen’s restrained earthy palette and minimalist scenes (those eloquent eyes again), are in perfect harmony with Barnett’s even sparer, deadpan text allowing readers to step into the narrative landscape and fill for themselves, the host of gaps left by the book’s genius creators.
Prankish play or something more sinister? I come down on the side of the former.
This book is the first of a planned trilogy from this formidable team: I eagerly anticipate the next one … and the next.

I’ve signed the charter 

Town Mouse, Country Mouse

Town Mouse, Country Mouse
Richard Jones and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books
There are numerous versions of the Aesop classic tale to be had; I have a fair few myself, but this has now become my favourite. Libby Walden renders the story in a measured, beautifully readaloudable rhyming text telling of the house swap between the mouse cousins: the ideal solution to Town Mouse’s hectic bustling life fatigue and Country Mouse’s yen to become ‘a mouse about the town!
Invitations are sent, received – love the postie frog –

and responded to, bags packed (don’t you love Town Mouse’s roller-wheels and little black bag); with high expectations the two sally forth …

and the swap begins.
Less than twenty-four hours later though, all is not well: Town Mouse is disturbed by the dawn chorus, and the never-ending ‘beeps and creaks and clinks’ result in a sleepless night for Country Mouse. Food is problematic too: Town Mouse almost breakfasts on poisonous berries;

and the tasty chunk of cheese Country Mouse has set his sights on for his morning meal, is in a trap.

Their walks are equally stressful: Town Mouse is totally unenthusiastic about country rambles in the rain: Country Mouse finds the whizzing wheels and lurking cats downright alarming. It’s time to return: farewells are said and with heads whirling with unforgettable memories, the cousins head for home. Assuredly it’s a case of ‘thank you’ but ‘no thank-you’ to one another’s ways of life.
This particularly resonated with me and my present struggles with having moved out of London to the country a few years ago, and now feeling the call of London life pulling strongly at my heartstrings. Richard Jones’ truly beautiful artwork makes both town and country look wonderful places to live. I love the cleverly conceived, strategically placed die cuts and the cutaway page, making the reading experience all the more pleasurable. A totally gorgeous fable reimagining to share and discuss, over and over.

Caterpillar Dreams

Caterpillar Dreams
Clive McFarland
Harper Collins Children’s Books
What a wonderfully positive message concludes Clive McFarland’s superbly uplifting tale of having the courage to believe in yourself and follow your dreams. That is just what Henri the Caterpillar does as he first dreams some big dreams, and then determines to follow his dream to see the world beyond his garden home. His minibeast friends do their best to discourage him: “Seriously, Henri, an adventure? Sounds exhausting.” is Slug’s comment but happily, Toad is on hand to offer encouragement: “Here’s the thing with dreams, Henri. If you don’t chase them, they always get away.” Wise words indeed. Thus it is that our stripy creature, aided and abetted by Bird, Mole and Fish starts out on his ‘amazing, incredible, impossible-seeming adventures.‘ Having crossed a wall, a road and a lake,

Henri discovers a giant hot-air balloon; but before he can climb to the top, he starts to become encased in a cocoon. Surely his dreams aren’t about to be thwarted before lift off? Young audiences familiar with Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, will know the seeming setback is only temporary. Far from being robbed of his dream, his metamorphosis allows Henri to take flight and travel anywhere he wants; and what he wants is to go to “The most amazing, incredible, impossibly possible place of all.” …

Inspiring, – don’t you love Henri’s politely determined help-seeking persistence as he appeals to Bird, Mole and Fish? What dauntlessness: what a journey; this scene reveals the scale of same, and allows audiences to enjoy the sight of those facilitators again.

Clive’s crisp, mixed media, digitally assembled collage pictures, with those wonderful characters and delectable details, make the whole thing a complete charmer of a book that quietly packs a powerful punch.

I’ve signed the charter 

Superbat / A Good Day for a Hat

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Superbat
Matt Carr
Scholastic Children’s Books
There’s a new superhero on the block – or should that be a would-be one? Meet Pat the bat. Sleepless and bored with inverted hanging, one day, he longs to be special like those superheroes in his comics. Suddenly ‘POW!’ Light bulb moment; straightway it’s out with Mum’s sewing machine and he sets to work …

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Hours later, Pat is ready to hit the high spots, but persuading his fellow bats of his super powers is going to take some doing. After all, super-hearing, flying and echolocation don’t count: all bats have those capacities; and he certainly can’t lift cars or shoot laserbeams from his eyes.

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Pat is disheartened. “I’m just a normal bat in a silly outfit,” he says holding back his tears. Is he though? Suddenly, his super ears pick up a distant cry …

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Could this be his big chance?
Matt Carr’s debut picture book is slightly crazy –or rather, batty – and none the worse for that. I suspect Pat the Bat, with his stitched-on-star suit, will win the hearts of young human would-be superheroes. The yesteryear colour palette is perfect for portraying his antics be they by day or by night.

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A Good Day for a Hat
T. Nat Fuller and Rob Hodgson
Abrams Appleseed
Donning a smart titfa, Mr Brown is ready to sally forth and he has a destination in mind. Try as he might though, he just can’t get beyond his own front path. First it’s the weather, then all kinds of unexpected, unlikely events unfold: a band marches by, magical bunnies are leaping all over his lawn,

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a rodeo gallops along; there’s even a huge fire-breathing dragon …

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and that is followed by a pirate ship. But, with no time for further dallying Mr Brown steps out again and this time, he’s well prepared.

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Will he ever make it to Miss Plum’s house though? And what is the purpose of his visit?
Oodles of fun, with clever use of repetition, making its patterned text easy to read, and a super surprise ending, this jolly picture book is a treat for sharing and individual reading.
Early years teachers, think of all the hatty fun you could have with this playful book.

Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas / Be Brave Little Penguin – Stepping out of your Comfort Zone

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Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Children’s Books
Brian is anything but your normal piranha; Brian feeds on fruit and veg. – bananas, silverbeet, (the Australian word for chard) peas,

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and plums; and he’s on a mission to convert his fellow piranhas to a similar diet. They instead gorge themselves on feet, knees and bums! They’ll need to nibble through those boxers first though …

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Despite their fervent declaration “We don’t eat apples! We don’t eat beans! We don’t eat veggies! We don’t eat greens! We don’t eat melons! We don’t eat bananas! … “ can he persuade them to sample something from his tempting-looking fruit platter?

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Perhaps; but the allure of bum consumption will surely reign supreme.
Brian’s dietary requests will undoubtedly resound with many adults trying to persuade their offspring, or others to eat more healthily; young children will definitely laugh uproariously over the use of ‘bum’ and both will appreciate the subtle visual differences between Brian (no warts, no red tinges to the sclera of the eyes, even perhaps a slightly healthier-looking green hue about his skin) and his fellow piranhas. They’ll also love Brian’s wonderful facial expressions.
Flesh-eating, fruit eating, rhyming hilarity but with an important message too. Sample and see!

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Be Brave Little Penguin
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books
Pip-Pip is a tiny penguin, smaller than all the other penguins and he has a problem: he’s too scared to go in the water. He gets taunted by his fellow penguins which makes him sad and sometimes, lonely. His dad insists he should be brave; but mummy penguin takes over with a more gentle approach leading him by the wing towards the icy-looking water.

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Brrr! It looks freezing and there might be monsters waiting to eat him. He clearly has a fertile imagination so his mum capitalizes on this, suggesting an alternative for him to imagine;

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and step-by-step they go till Pip-Pip’s right at the water’s edge. He just needs to take that final plunge …
A gentle rhyming story with important messages about risk-taking for both children and adults. Parker-Rees’ icy-fresh illustrations convey the Antarctic chill but there’s also a warm glow to the sky making it less threatening for Pip-Pip and his young audiences alike.

Mostly Mary & All Mary

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Mostly Mary / All Mary
Gwynedd Rae and Clara Vulliamy
Egmont Publishing
Oh joy; two books I loved as a child, borrowing them frequently from the library, now reissued; and re-imagined by the wonderful Clara Vulliamy: I can think of no better person to bring fresh zest to these timeless beauties than Clara with her gently humorous touch.

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For those who have yet to make the acquaintance of Mary, ( or Mary Plain, which she discovers is her full name early in the book), she’s an orphan bear cub, resident of Nursery Pit, Berne Zoo, who, in the first story is attempting to find her place in the pecking order of her extended family. She finds school lessons a bothersome experience and is much happier sallying forth with her friend, Sir Robin who provides some shrinking powder so that Mary can adjust her size and take a moonlit ride on his back and have a wonderful, rather crazy adventure.

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Then there are the St Bruin’s Day celebrations when best behaviour is the order of the day, and Mary is in trouble, over a suitable gift before she’s even set out for the festivities.
Having re-read the ten episodes in the first volume they’ve lost none of their appeal: a spirited bundle of mischief, at once ursine-like and child-like, Mary is still a charmer.
Equally funny and fresh-seeming is Mary’s second set of adventures. It begins with Mary receiving an invitation to pay a visit to ‘the Lady in the Fancy Coat’ and having to consult – or more accurately ‘ask a private ask’ of her friend and designated chauffeur, Owl Man, on the meaning of luggage before they set off to the residence of Fancy-Coat-Lady.

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What happens thereafter I won’t reveal; but rest assured it’s more than worth getting hold of a copy of the book and discovering for yourself. There’ll certainly be plenty of laughs provided by the trouble-prone young bear.
I do hope other titles from the series are to follow.

Henry and the Yeti

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Henry and the Yeti
Russell Ayto
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine loving a yeti. A yeti? We don’t actually think they exist, do we? That’s not the case for the young Henry however: he’s an adoring fan of the creatures and is determined to undertake an expedition to find one. First though he needs permission from his headteacher, who, surprisingly, authorises his absence, asking only for some evidence on his return –should he find one, that is.
Thus, with bags duly packed with vital equipment, Henry sets off with his father’s “no staying up late” instruction ringing in his ears.
It’s a long way to his Himalayan destination, although finding the way over seas and rivers, through forests and up mountains is, let’s say exciting.
Finding yeti traces though, is challenging, and Henry begins to lose heart when what should appear but …

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It turns out that when it comes to size and friendliness, the yeti more than meets Henry’s expectations. Soon though, with evidence photos duly taken, and a quick game of hide and seek over,

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it’s time for Henry, trusty compass at the ready, to head home.
Now to produce that evidence; but where on earth is Henry’s camera?

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No camera, no evidence,” his father tells him: ditto his headteacher. Will the lad have to write the ten million lines for making things up that the latter orders; after all he really did see a yeti didn’t he? We know, his father knows but …
And, who gets the last laugh?
Henry’s self-belief is utterly awesome and entirely commendable; so too is this laugh out-loud creation from Russell Ayto. I’ve loved all his books, but this one surely tops the lot.

Under the Love Umbrella

Under the Love Umbrella
Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
Scribble
One of my closest friends lives in India and when his two daughters were much younger, we took some holidays in Goa together. The elder girl, Triambika had recently started at boarding school and was not at all happy during her first term. One evening after dinner near the beach we stood together in the dark, looking up at the sky, where the moon had formed a smile shape. I recall saying to her, “Whenever you are feeling sad or alone, look up at that smile in the sky and know I’m there for you, thinking of you and sending my love.” This beautiful picture book brought this right back to me, using as it does an umbrella as the symbol of love and protection. ‘Over your head and just above / There’s an umbrella of my love. / To show it’s you I’m thinking of / Wherever you might be.
It then goes on to explore various situations when a child might feel frightened, upset, shy or sad

reminding him/her that a loving parent with the love umbrella is always there to comfort, reassure and embrace.
Moving home is particularly challenging for many children; another situation that calls for the umbrella and its loving care …

As do wet pants accidents, breakfast disasters, camping trips in maybe scary woods and more; whatever the weather, out comes that umbrella.

Indeed there isn’t a single instance when that all embracing cover cannot offer succour.
Delivered through Davina Bell’s gentle soothing rhyming words and Allison Colpoys’ striking, stand-out scenes rendered in neon shades: this creative partnership goes from strength to strength. A MUST buy book for families especially.
I’ve signed the charter … 

Here Comes the Sun

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Here Comes the Sun
Karl Newson and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow
In a treetop way up high, / Little Owl blinks / and rubs an eye.’ So begins an entrancing tale of one small nocturnal bird, who spreads her wings and flies forth with a mission: to extinguish each and every star in the night sky. As she goes, she passes all kinds of snoozing creatures both great and small: there’s Mouse and Squirrel, Giraffe and Elephant,

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Bear curled up in his cave and Tiger atop a cliff, ‘Swooping, looping, left and right, / wishing every star/ goodnight.’ Then on past Whale and Penguin, now in pursuit of an elusive shooting star

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that leads her over woods and waterfalls, seas and sands, jungles and swamps to that very last shining star.
With a final puff, the job is done, every star has gone: just in time for the sun to rise. Then all those sleeping animals begin to stir, stretch, yawn, wash and feed.

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A new day is dawning but for Little Owl, it’s time for a much-deserved sleep.
Superbly somnolent sounding, Karl Newson’s gentle tale has just the right ingredients for a bedtime read aloud: a languid rhyme with repeated refrains, and a hypnotic rhythm; and I love the whole notion of blowing out the stars.
Migy Blanco’s captivating animal characters stand out beautifully against the inky night skies and the landscapes.

The Everywhere Bear

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The Everywhere Bear
Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Those of us who work with young children have probably had at some time, a travelling ted or other soft toy that either went home in a storysack, with each child in turn, together with a book for drawing/writing their experiences; or one that accompanied individual pupils when they went away on holiday, again accompanied by a diary or similar for photos/notes, tickets and other things of interest to be added, and shared on their return. I recall a lurid pink one named Roamin’ Ted that went to places as varied as rural Punjab, Dubai, Disney Land Florida and Canada. (Yes, in term time; but that was the whole point of the book.)
This story, penned by Julia Donaldson, is one of the former kind and he belongs to the pupils of Class One. Their arrangement is that each child in turn takes him home on a Friday and brings him back on the following Monday, regaling his experiences to the rest of the class.

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He certainly has all manner of adventures – bus rides, horse riding, tasting lots of new foods; he becomes a pirate, a king and tries some active pursuits such as soccer, handstands and den making. In fact there aren’t many things he doesn’t experience, hence his name.
One rainy day though, while in Matt’s care, The Everywhere Bear accidentally escapes into the wide world …

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is washed down a drain and ends up on the high seas.

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Will Class One ever see their favourite roving bear again? And, if so, where will he turn up?
This is a thoroughly engaging book for a multitude of reasons; not least Rebecca Cobb’s wonderfully warm illustrations. Packed with so many captivating details to pore over, adult readers will want to give listeners plenty of opportunities to explore each spread after they’ve heard the story all through; and, as one would expect, Julia Donaldson’s rhyming tale is sheer pleasure to read aloud; and it pays homage to a very important place which is sadly under threat throughout the country.

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Wanted The Chocolate Monster

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Wanted The Chocolate Monster
Pip Jones and Laura Hughes
Faber & Faber
Hide all your yummy confections, there’s a ‘mighty, sticky thief’ aprowl in the neighbourhood. How do we know? A public announcement has just been aired on the opening page of this book. Moreover, this creature, aptly named The Chunk, is a silent beast with a bulbous nose, eight feet tall and a master of disguise. Hmm!

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Nothing with a tiny hint of chocolate is safe, not your pudding, your flan, that mousse, eclairs or cakes will escape his clutches and he has, reputedly, a special penchant for pricey truffles (he can have those any day so far as I’m concerned); and the cheeky beast will then have the audacity to plant the wrappers in your mum’s bag.
Worse than that; he’ll snatch your favourite cookie and plaster your face so you get the blame for over consumption …

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It just isn’t fair but does he care? Oh dear no; he’ll just make a silent dash for another home to raid. Surely there couldn’t be anything worse; or did I just hear he was heading for a wedding party where there happens to be a certain kind of fountain ?
Will he ever be caught? What do you think?

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Not only will I be hiding my chocolate; but after sharing this delectable rhyming treat with young listeners, I’m going to be hiding my copy of that too, for fear one of the eager story consumers decides to emulate The Chunk and snatch the book.
Mind you, Laura Hughes’ deliciously mock scary, sometimes brilliantly funny (as in the rollers-wearing scene)  portraits of same beastie might deter them doing that; but one never knows. All I can say is, I hope he gets terrible toothache soon and has to have lots of fillings.

Last Stop on Market Street

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Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Puffin Books
A little boy, CJ, waits for the Market Street bus in the rain one Sunday after church. “How come we don’t got a car?” he asks his Nana; and this isn’t the only thing he shows dissatisfaction over. Nana however, has a wonderfully playful imagination: “We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” (Mr Dennis, the driver obligingly produces a coin from behind CJ’s ear and hands it to him.)
As their journey progresses Nana helps her grandson to start seeing things differently – more as opportunities for delight: a big tree drinks rain through a straw; a man who cannot see with his eyes, watches the world with his ears.

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A real live guitarist passenger playing is far better than using a mobile to listen to music as the two older boys do, and when the man starts singing, CJ too closes his eyes and is transported:.‘He saw sunset colours swirling over crashing waves … He saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon … He was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.

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Later as they walk back through their neighbourhood towards the soup kitchen,
Nana gently offers another reminder in response to his comment about everything being dirty: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then notices a ‘perfect rainbow arching over their soup kitchen’ and it causes him to wonder how his nana always finds beauty in places he’d never even think to look.

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So much in this uplifting book is about connectedness: connectedness between a young child and a much older adult; between – thanks to Nana – all the passengers on the bus, between the city and both CJ and Nana, between the city’s dirt and its beauty be it fleeting or long lasting; and between both main characters and their surroundings. All of this comes through in de la Peña’s superb text that enables readers and listeners to immerse themselves in the multi-sensory experience of the shared journey. In total harmony, Robinson’s energetic illustrations, executed in a warm palette, capture the poetry of the text perfectly.
A quietly beautiful book with a very potent message relating to acceptance, finding joy in the simple things of life with all its diversities, and the possibilities this brings. I hope it gets the large audience in the UK it deserves: I intend to share it widely.

Board Book Shelf 2

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Mix & Match Animal Homes
Mix & Match Colours

Lo Cole
Walker Books
Innovative design – a tiny book within a small one – is key to these two board books for the very youngest. In Animal Homes, six habitats the (African) plains, the desert, the jungle,

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the sea, the forest and the Arctic are visited with four animals per spread and a fifth is waiting to be discovered in the inset smaller book.
Colours has a spread for each of the primary colours plus green, pink and orange each of which has eight or nine brightly coloured objects both large and small (although relative sizes aren’t explored) and the inset book has the pages of the six colours which children need to match to the colours of the objects on the surrounding larger pages.

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Vocabulary development and colour concepts are the main learning opportunities offered in these playful little books.

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Where’s Mr Lion?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
A handful of wild animals – Mrs Giraffe, Mr Crocodile, Mrs Elephant and Mr Lion are the subjects to search for in this board book. With its felt flap hiding places and a final hidden mirror, toddlers will have lots of fun manipulating the flaps to reveal and missing animals which have in fact only partially managed to conceal themselves behind the various brightly coloured objects. This of course adds to the enjoyment, as does the repetitive patterned nature of the text.

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Cheep! Cheep!
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
In the latest addition to the Can You Say It Too? series Sebastien Braun involves readers in a trip around the farm and surrounding area where five animals have hidden themselves behind a clump of flowers, a gate, a basket, a stable door and a clump of reeds.. Once located, toddlers can emulate the ‘Cheep! Cheep!’, ‘Baah! Baah!’ ‘Meew! Meew!’, ‘Hee-haw! Hee-haw!’ and ‘Quack! Quack!’

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of the baby animals. Involving, noisy fun made all the more so by Braun’s gently humorous visuals.

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Flora and the Chicks
Molly Idle
Chronicle Books
Flora, the balletic star from Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguins and Flora and the Peacocks now performs in an almost wordless counting book for a younger audience. The young miss, suitably clad in her red jump suit, more than has her hands full with the nest of hatching chicks emerging one after the other. As each new chick breaks out, the book counts, the numeral being revealed when the page-sized folds are opened out, or as one turns to the next spread to follow the action,

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until finally all 10 chicks have hatched, the mother hen has her full brood and Flora sits for a well-earned rest. Then come the only words ‘The End’ aptly heralding the show is over. The tottering first steps of the chicks provide a nice contrast to Flora’s graceful swoops, lunges and stretches as she attempts to round up the fluffy yellow hatchlings. Lots of fun and deliciously re-readable.

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Board Book Shelf 1

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Flip Flap Dogs
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow
There’s a newcomer to the Flip Flap series in Nikki Dyson who introduces readers to eleven breeds of dog in this split page pooch-lovers delight. In all though you can make 121 different combinations by manipulating the bissected cardboard pages..
There’s a descriptive, two verse rhyme for each breed in which, for example the Terrier, introduces itself
opposite a portrait of same, and a characteristic ‘Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!’ or whatever. And then, that might become with a deft flick of the flaps, say, a ‘Terrihuahua’ …

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or all manner of other crazy crossbreeds. Splendid stuff especially, if you’re canine crazy.

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Pairs! in the garden
Pairs! underwater

Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Pairs! is a new series which provides young children with an interactive information book, a memory game (via the flaps and a straightforward instruction such as ‘Find each matching pair of snails’, and an inviting, brightly illustrated board book all between the same two covers. In the Garden penned by Smriti, introduces, with a series of jolly rhymes, including some nice alliteration ‘swirly, sparkly silver trails’, all kinds of minibeasts scattered among a plethora of flowers.
One of my preschool testers has a great time ascribing names to the various creatures Lorna Scobie has illustrated: ‘buzzy fat bee’, ‘cuddly bee’, ‘grumpy bee’ ‘but this cross skinny bee doesn’t have a friend’.

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The grasshoppers became ‘dotty’, ‘spotty’ ‘stripey’ and ‘skinny striped’ while among the caterpillars were ‘hairy, scary blue’ and ‘red spotalot’. My favourite though I think, was ‘pinky purply underpants’ beetle’.
Underwater looks at marine life both on the shore (despite the title) and under the sea …

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and is equally attractive and involving.

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Baby Dinosaurs
Minibeasts

DK
These two larger than usual board books ask users to ‘Follow the Trail’ or trails, as there are several offered on some spreads to interact with Baby Dinosaurs or a variety of Minibeasts. The trails are glittery embossed lines that readers can trace across the pages with their fingers and at the same time find out something about the Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Styracosaurus and Tuojiangosaurus or alternatively butterflies, honeybees, ladybirds and dragonflies.
Digital illustrations of the baby dinosaurs are set against clean white backgrounds on which are digitally drawn flora to give a idea of their environments. Interactive instructions (‘Loop around’ or ‘Make an oval shape as you go round the dinosaur egg’), brief facts about the animals (‘Allosaurus walked on two legs’. ‘Mummy Allosaurus was about as tall as a giraffe‘),

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and die-cut holes through which to peep at what dinosaur is coming next add up to a playful, multilayered reading experience.
Similarly with the minibeasts (all four are winged insects), there are glittery trails – looping or zigzagging, going straight or curving up and down, to take the insects to the flowers containing nectar, honeycombs,

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aphids on a leaf, or a pond. All are illustrated by Charlotte Milner and the inclusion of a snail with its spiral shell to trace as the ladybird travels over a flowerpot, justifies the Minibeasts title.
One of my preschool testers seized on these and, after spending a considerable time enjoying sharing them, wanted to keep them; this had to be put on hold until I’d had a chance to reflect and write however. Beautifully done and certain to be read over and over.

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Wild Animals of the South

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Wild Animals of the South
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books
This companion volume to Braun’s Wild Animals of the North takes readers to Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica: it’s equally stunningly beautifully illustrated and almost every page would make a wonderful poster. How does a reviewer choose just a few pictures to show; a pretty impossible choice in this case as every one is magnificent in its own way. I’m starting in Africa with these beauties …

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and I was surprised to discover that despite their necks being over two metres long, they have, like humans, only seven vertebrae. What a wonderful dusty, colour palette Braun has used here. Indeed each and every one of his poster-like images is strikingly composed of elegant, naturalistic detail and textural artistry.
Moving on to South America, this little Two-toed sloth is perfectly constructed …

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to allow rain water to run off it more easily.’ I was surprised once again here, to learn its fur hosts algal growth, which has a double use – as a food source and as camouflage.
Cubism is, I think, the influence for this magnificent Llama portrait–

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Indeed one can detect many artists styles herein. These incredible Indian peafowl (representing Asia)

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have a definite Art Deco look about them
From Australia we have among others, the Common spotted cuscus and the Echidna: I love the way the curved shaped backs are juxtaposed on this page, as well as the use of geometric shapes. …

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As with the ‘North’ volume, Braun allows his visuals of some of the animals to stand alone, such as this Kelp gull from Antarctica …

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the region from which unsurprisingly, fewest animals are portrayed.
This is a book to keep, to give, to share and to inspire.

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Cats, Dogs, Baby Animals and Their Parents

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The Cat Book
Silvia Borando
The Dog Book
Lorenzo Clerici
Walker Books
These two small pet manual Minibombo books, along with The Guinea Pig Book, now have a category all of their own ‘Paper Pets’. I’m no lover of furry creatures, especially cats and dogs, but I am an enthusiast where the Minibombo series is concerned and these two are full of interactive fun.
The former is all about keeping your cat ‘purrfectly’ happy from the moment he wakes up until he beds down for the night. That entails some flea squishing, behaving like a mini brolly when it rains, fluffing up – no not ruffling – and then smoothing, his fur; a spot of cheek squeezing bird releasing…

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followed by a gentle behind-the-ears scratching; then Shhh! Sleep time.
Canine care is pretty much taped in The Dog Book. All that entails is a little back scratching (while he performs his down dog asana),

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a spot of rebel rousing when he dozes off again, a belly rub, and  some rather intensive getting active training. Learning to respond appropriately to commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘fetch’ might well cause the odd challenge – to the trainer that is, but it’s all part and parcel of a dog’s day. Lorenzo Clerici adds his own brand of mischievous illustrative humour – including a blank page – to the series.

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Fly!
Xavier Deneux
Chronicle Books
This wonderfully playful, chunky board book is the latest addition to the Touch, Think Learn series. Two cute-looking birds meet, nest, mate and raise a family together. The fledglings eat, grow, and fly –eventually, to find their own tree…
Immersive fun with thick card removable pieces that can be taken from their places and moved to the recessed space on the opposite page to act out the narrative as an adult reads. (Or, a learner reader could enjoy its straightforward text as a solo experience). Either way, they’ll have lots of fun.

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Baby Goz
Steve Weatherill
Steve Weatherill Books
If you’re looking for an ideal picture book for a beginning reader, then look no further, Goz, with its playful patterned language, is your ‘gosling’ so to speak. It’s great to see the little character has re-incubated; he’s certainly lost none of his charm. I’d actually forgotten his wonderful ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’ entry into the world; that made me smile all over again, as it has the countless beginner readers I’ve taught since Goz burst onto the scene over 25 years ago, and set off around the countryside …

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in search of his mummy.

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Safe & Sound
Jean Roussen and Loris Lora
Flying Eye Books
Many baby animals, (many, but not all) … / whether very, very big or very, very small … / would not be safe all on their own and need some help unil they’re grown.’ So begins this classy picture book account from a father and mother’s perspective, as they tuck their child safely into bed for the night. They talk of the ways numerous animals  mothers especially, protect their offspring, whether it be in an underground burrow like the little chipmunks, a nest like the bluebird, snuggled at the side of a mother lion, close to a rhino, grizzly cubs huddled in a warm den,

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hiding inside their mother’s mouth as the crocodile hatchlings do, or …

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riding between fluffy wings …

Reassuring, informative and told through Jean Roussen’s gentle rhyming text and stylishly snugglesome retro illustrations from Loris Lora, this is a winner as a bedtime book or in an early years setting.

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A Perfect Day

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A Perfect Day
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
What makes a perfect day? Seemingly it depends on your perspective: for the animals in young Bert’s care, that’s certainly the case. For Cat it’s basking in the daffodil bed feeling the warmth of the sun on your back; for Dog it’s sitting in a cool paddling pool. Bird’s perfect day is a feeder full of birdseed and for Squirrel, there’s nothing better than a tasty corncob to nibble on.

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Life is pretty peachy in Bert’s garden on this day.
Enter stage left, Bear, an enormous hulk of a beast that comes lumbering across the garden (and the page) …

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totally sabotaging their idyll, and entirely unaware of so doing. It WAS a perfect day for Cat, Dog, Bird, and Squirrel: but now who is having the perfect day, full, after devouring the food of others, cooled by the water from the pool and dozing in the warm sunshine?

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And the perfect picture book? This one is surely a contender, (as was the author’s There is a Tribe of Kids). Lane Smith’s glorious textural illustrations are masterful in so many ways. They’re imbued with that sardonic wit of his; then there’s the way his ursine character takes centre stage, filling the spreads as he pursues his own pleasures, pleasures so satisfyingly portrayed through those blissful expressions; and the beautiful pastel colour palette. Added to all this, is the simplicity of the playful text with its equally satisfying repetition that is so perfect for reading aloud and for learner readers.
Yes, for me, this IS certainly a perfect picture book.

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The Perfect Guest

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The Perfect Guest
Paula Metcalf
Walker Books
Meet Walter, a rather persnickety pooch; he’s extremely house proud and exceedingly enamoured of his brand new teapot. Enter squirrel, Pansy, Walter’s friend; he’s not seen her in a while so is delighted when she calls and announces she’s coming for a visit. Now Pansy is something of an enthusiast – can you see where this might be going?
Even before Walter has finished smartening himself up for his guest, there she is ringing his doorbell.

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Oh dearie me! He’s not even finished some running repairs to his trousers, no matter though; his pal is an expert when it comes to sewing. But that will have to wait because first a catch-up cuppa is called for – the perfect opportunity for Walter to show off his precious possession.
Tea over, she gets to work whipping up her celebrated lemon cake, followed by wielding her needle on Walter’s torn trousers. Oh no! looks like she’s got a little carried away with her hole sewing: Oopsie! Those really big ones were the legholes.
Never mind; Pansy can demonstrate her tailoring skills by making him a brand new pair – in some very jazzy material. Now where could that have come from? Walter’s soon to find out … OMG!

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No matter: Walter, like many of us, reaches for the chocolate at times of extreme stress, but it appears Pansy’s sharing skills seem to leave a little to be desired …

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In fact, it’s starting to appear that Miss P. is something of a nuisance.
However, things are only just starting to go pear-shaped: the inevitable happens when she offers to do the washing up. After which, long-suffering Walter comes up with a damage limitation – so he thinks – plan.. He sends her outside to water his veggies while he attempts to restore his home to its former state of spotlessness.
The whole thing unfolds like a delicious sitcom culminating in a wonderful and altogether unexpected finale …

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The lengths some people (or animals) go to in the cause of friendship …
Joking apart, Paula Metcalf’s dramatic rendition is a wonderful demonstration of how, when it comes to special friends, one is willing to look beyond their imperfections and love them for what they are. Her illustrations are deliciously droll, her characterisation and dialogue truly brilliant. Encores will certainly be the order of the day.

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I Don’t Want Curly Hair / My Tail’s Not Tired

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I Don’t Want Curly Hair
Laura Ellen Anderson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
We all have bad hair days but the small curl girl narrator of this hair-raising story really has my sympathies. While I don’t have madly curly, well nigh uncontrollable hair like hers, mine does have a wave and try as I might, I can never get it to go straight in the right places. I certainly wouldn’t however, go to the lengths she does to get it super straight and smooth.No matter what though, that deliciously red mop does as it will.

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But then along comes somebody else; and things start to look altogether better: friendship and a spot of hair styling wins the day.

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The rhyme moves along apace rising to a glorious pinnacle in its final stages.
All that angst and anguish is wonderfully portrayed in appropriately fiery hues and all members of the supporting cast are a delight.

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My Tail’s Not Tired!
Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles
Child’s Play
Like most infants, Little Monster is reluctant to begin his bedtime routine. He’s far from tired: his knees still have plenty of bounce in them,

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his bottom has lots of wiggle-jiggles left, and even after a demonstration of same, his tail is still full of swing and his back ready for more roly polys. Any excuse is worth a try; but Big Monster knows all the tricks too: she counters each lively action with a gentle sleep-inducing one of her own.

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Will Little Monster ever run out of steam; and who is going to be the first to succumb to complete exhaustion?
Billed as a bedtime story, I suggest NOT reading it at bedtime, or at least, not until your own little monster is well and truly under the duvet, otherwise you could be in for a dose of action-packed delaying tactics – bouncing, dancing, acrobatics, roly-polying, roaring, jumping and jet plane-like zooming before that shut-eye stage finally sets in, just like the little charmer in this amusing, time-for-bed tale.
Perhaps it would be better to share it during the day when there’s plenty of time for being energetic, and, if you’re sharing it with an early years group, then it’s a splendid opportunity for some very active participation. Just ask the children to ‘SHOW ME!

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling
Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books
Full of heart and wonderfully quirky is Ering’s lastest tale. Herein we meet Captain Alfred on board his little sailing boat on his way home to his wife. On board with him are a whole lot of ducks for his farmyard, his dog and, nestling inside his violin case, an almost ready to hatch, duck egg for his wife. The Captain has already decided upon a name for the soon to be born duckling: Alfred Fiddleduckling.

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As Capt. Alfred fiddles, a storm is blowing up unexpectedly – a big one and such is its might that for hours the boat is tossed and buffeted and engulfed by a silent blanket of fog. Captain Alfred, his ducks and his violin are cast overboard and all that appears drifting far offshore towards an anxiously awaiting Captain’s wife fretting on the porch, is the just hatching Alfred Fiddleduckling in the fiddle case.
The newborn creature emerges into a solitary, mist-swirling world and his first quack is directed towards an inanimate object floating close by. And ‘Alfred embraced the object with all of his heart. And he caressed it so it would not feel lonely as he did..
Albert’s caresses are rewarded by another unexpected happening: the object makes the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard: the sound of friendship – sweet solace for his solitude.

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Alfred loved the object! And, by the sound of its beautiful music, the object loved Alfred, too.
And as the sounds continue to drift and waft through the swirling fog and duckling and violin drift likewise, they come to ground in a mysterious place and those sounds drifted on until they reach the ears of a lonely beast. It’s Captain Alfred’s dog and soon he too is swept up in the music and ‘in just a twinkle of an eye, the duckling and the dog were best of buddies.
Eventually, thanks to the music, duckling and dog and the Captain’s wife are drawn together.

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We’re not told though, of the Captain’s safe return home; rather we’re led to believe in it through both the final words ‘And you can guess what will happen if Alfred Puddleduck just keeps on playing!’ and the final scene wherein music and the missing are drifting closer together.

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Such are the quality of Ering’s prose and his paintings with their thick brush-strokes and delicate pen/ink lines, that one can almost hear the sounds of the beautiful, swirling music and feel the eddying fog.
An enchantingly lovely, life-affirming book that resonates long after its covers have been closed, and even those with that tactile spine and embossed lettering and images, are alluring.

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Where Zebras Go / How to be a Tiger

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Where Zebras Go
Sue Hardy-Dawson
Otter-Barry Books
Let The Weaver of Words, the subject of the opening poem, capture you in her threads and take you on an amazing journey past ghosts, through the fog and out across the plains, embracing en route wildlife in many forms and then leading you towards enchanted fairytale worlds where mermaids sing silent songs, magical boxes wait to be opened and tales you thought familiar are cast anew: ‘So what if he did find my golden ball, I didn’t once mention a kiss. More like I put him gently over the wall. Oh well then – maybe as you suggest, it was the teeniest little kick. Then naturally, I ran and ran, as only really a true princess can, in silly shoes and a dress. I never once dreamed he would follow me – No, Dad.’ (That’s from The Frog Princess, one of a sprinkling of deliciously playful shape poems.)

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Wonderfully inventive, or occasionally re-inventive – Motorway Poem after Night Mail by WH Auden and Ugly Sister Sonnet
Many things will look a little different – ‘I’m the flame in the nettles sting / the fleet snow of goose’s wing. / I’m the feather in grass’s seed / wheaten waves in meadow’s sea.’ – after a few excursions into this amazingly diverse, and surprisingly, Sue Hardy-Dawson’s debut, solo poetry book.
Some cry out to be read aloud – performed perhaps – such as Sludge-Bog Stew and how many times have the teachers among us heard the words of this, which has a title longer than the poem itself …

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Talking of school – think of the visual (2D and 3D) potential of the ‘spiky salamander,’ ‘slithering, skinny snake’, ‘cranky crocodile’ and ‘flippy, floppy frog’ from that swampy, glue-like sludge-bog, or indeed, many of the other poems. Sue herself has illustrated almost all of her poems.
A must get for primary classes and individuals in particular with a taste for the slightly quirky – the latter will, after dipping into this treat of a book, surely become poetry lovers.
For somewhat younger audiences is:
How to be a Tiger
George Szirtes
Otter-Barry Books
Award winning poet Szirtes also takes his readers foraying into fairy tales with a belching princess in The Princess and the Bad King and the tongue-twistingly superb Rumpelstiltskin. Now who knew he has brothers the likes of Dumplingstiltskin, Crumpetstiltskin, Stumblingstiltskin, Jumperstiltskin, Plumplipstiltskin, Crumpledstiltskin, Grumpystiltskin, Chumptripstiltskin, Mumppillstiltskinm Gazumpstiltskin; oh and Billy-ho! Mustn’t overlook him!

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(Think of what you might do with that one in the classroom … )
In addition there are seasonal poems, poems such as You Have a Body and The Leaping Hare that cry out to be dramatised,; and Spelling Your Name: ‘Here’s your name and how to spell it. See it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it! – a gift for creative early years teachers, and much much more. And, Tim Archbold’s delightfully scribble-style, smudgy illustrations further add to the delights herein.
In fact, the whole thing is packed with learning adventures just waiting to be embarked upon … What are you waiting for?

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Jellicle Cats

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Jellicle Cats
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber
In the fourth of his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats visual interpretations, Arthur Robins renders the jellicle Cats as total pleasure-loving felines cavorting ‘neath the Jellicle Moon, clad in all their jazzy gear, having first had a sneaky practice of their ‘airs and graces’ while waiting for that lunar object to illuminate their revels.

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These black and white beauties take their preparations seriously for: ‘Until the Jellicle Moon appears/ They make their toilette and take their repose:

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Note the Parisian perfume – just one of the numerous enchanting details that make Arthur Robins’ illustrations such tremendous fun.
Mornings and afternoons are mostly for repose and ‘Reserving their terpsichorean powers’ for the much-anticipated moonlight dancing, adverse weather permitting, that is …

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Every one of Robins’ spreads will surely bring a smile to readers and listeners who will delight in the revelry and the action inherent in each scene be it indoors or out.
If you want to encourage young children to become poetry lovers, then share this with them and then cavort like those Jellicle Cats.

Quiet! / The Unexpected Visitor

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Quiet!
Kate Alizadeh
Child’s Play
We join a small girl on an exciting auditory exploration of her (seemingly single-parent) family home. ‘Ssssh! Listen, what’s that noise?’ is her invitation as we follow her from room to room. Staring in the kitchen there’s the bubble bubble of the pan rattling on the cooker, the hummmmmmmm of the fridge, the click of the toaster, the whizz whoosh of the mixer, the kettle rumbles and burbles, the microwave beeps and pings, the pedal bin clanks and Dad at the sink washing up, sloshes and clatters.
Mealtimes are equally noisy with four residents creating all manner of eating-related sounds …

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But there’s more to hear, so our guide repeats her invitation and leads us into the next room where I counted at least thirteen sounds in Kate Laizadeh’s living- room illustration, and that’s without baby brother’s giggles and rattles; even turning the pages of a book causes a swish and rustle

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There’s plenty to listen out for at bath-time and as bedtime preparations are under way, with hair drying and teeth brushing and finally comes one more ‘Ssssh! …’ as it’s time to get into bed ready for Dad’s bedtime story told in suitably hushed tones, and a goodnight lullaby. Those however, are not the last sounds we hear …

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One of the learning experiences most early years teachers do is to take their class or nursery group on a listening walk either indoors or out. (I’ve done it on many occasions). This onomatopoeic celebration of a book is a wonderful introduction or follow-up to such an activity.

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The Unexpected Visitor
J. Courtney-Tickle
Egmont Publishing
A little fisherman lives alone on a rocky island. Each day he takes his boat out, casts his fishing net and waits. His haul is usually plentiful and at night he has plenty to cook for supper. Far too much in fact, but the fisherman always hopes that others will visit, although they never do.
Then one morning he does receive a visitor, a big friendly whale. Although the visitor is far too huge to get inside the fisherman’s home, the two become friends …

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and even go on a fishing expedition together. That’s when the whale needs to teach his new friend a lesson, for the sea is decidedly empty of fish: not a single one is to be found. ”You took far more fish than you needed. That was greedy,” the whale tells him and the fisherman knows it’s so.
A promise is made and in return, the whale takes the fisherman and his boat to another island whereon he can start afresh, with a new home …

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a new fair fishing regime and a whole host of new friends, both human and marine-dwelling.

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With its important themes of sustainability, friendship and sharing, this thoughtful and thought-provoking picture book puts its message across in a manner that, like the whale, packs a powerful punch.
Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s stippled spray effect and the swirls add a touch of maritime depth and magic to the otherwise flat style of her illustrations.

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Knock Knock Dinosaur / If I Had a Dinosaur

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Knock Knock Dinosaur
Caryl Heart and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books
Following a delivery to a small boy’s house, in his mum’s absence, a host of dinosaurs invade every room starting with the T-rex that proceeds to consume the freshly baked apple pie standing on the table, followed immediately by two triceratops, three stegosauruses, four velociraptors …

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five allosauruses, six apatosauruses, seven iguanodons – small ones – one of which takes liberties with an item of mum’s underwear. ‘Bras are to put on your boobies, not your ears,’ remarked Ellena, giggling.

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Then come eight gigantosauruses (sporting knickers on their heads), nine oviraptors and finally ten pterodactyls.
The outcomes of all this rampaging is bathwater sploshing everywhere, a smashed mirror, broken bed springs and a smashed vase. By now our young boy narrator has had enough. “Everybody stop!” he yells which prompts the T.Rex to draw the lad’s attention to two important words at the bottom of the delivery note.

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The penny drops which just goes to show that you should always read the small print carefully before clicking ORDER when buying things on the internet. That however is not quite the end of the story. Can they get rid of the chaos and get everything back as it should be before Mum returns? It’ll certainly take some doing … Let operation clean up commence.
Caryl Hart’s rhyming riotous romp is a fun read aloud, but make sure you give your audience – if it’s a largish one – opportunities to explore Nick East’s rainbow-hued illustrations; they’re full of chuckle-worthy details.

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If I Had a Dinosaur
Alex Barrow and Gabby Dawnay
Thames & Hudson
A small girl, would-be pet owner longs for a pet – not a small cat though, she already has one of those. No, something more house sized, something like a DINOSAUR. She then goes on to entertain all manner of possibilities relating to diplodocus ownership. Walks in the park could be just a little embarrassing …

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Her school pals would be mightily impressed, as would her teachers. Providing sufficient drinking water, not to mention a place to swim, might prove a little tricky and he’d definitely need a vegetarian diet.
Dinosaurs certainly do make smashing pets – in more ways than one; walks would be great fun …

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although there would be the question of POOH avoidance …

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The house might need a few minor adjustments – a dino-flap, for instance but the family sofa is plenty big enough for one more, although Dad might get the odd surprise from time to time.

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Not convinced? Then you could try acting on the young narrator’s suggestion, ‘ … just get one and you’ll see!
Dinosaurs are an unfailing source of delight where young children are concerned: Gabby Dawnay’s rhyming contemplation will doubtless provide both fun and opportunities for listeners’ own imaginative musings. They might well, inspired by Alex Barrow’s charmingly witty illustrations, try to create their own If I Had a Dinosaur visuals.

Let’s Find Fred

 

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Steven Lenton
Scholastic
It’s early evening in Garden City Zoo; all the animals are snuggled up ready for sleep, all that is except one. Fred is anything but ready for his bedtime story; in fact he’s off on an adventure … albeit with zookeeper Fred on his trusty old motor scooter, in hot pursuit. The latter’s view is more than a little impeded by a large bus allowing the escapee to have a whole lot of fun making new friends, enjoying a musical interlude and sampling some yummy ice cream while his pursuer makes himself look somewhat silly with a spot of mistaken identity at the market.

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Next stop for Stanley is the park where his requests for help in his search for Fred result in his having to negotiate the complex Pand-a-Maze.
Fred’s thirst for fun isn’t yet sated so he heads for the dizzying delights of the Funfair – from which he suddenly needs to make a hasty exit.

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There follows a frantic chase through the Art Gallery and out towards a panda party. But is Fred there? That is the question. …

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With plenty of Panda-puns and other word play scattered throughout the action-packed scenes; and visual references to famous paintings including a Warhol and the Mona Lisa; as well as the Fab. Four …

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there’s plenty to absorb and delight both child audiences and adult readers aloud.
PAN-TAS-TIC fun from start to finish.

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Monkey’s Sandwich

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Monkey’s Sandwich
Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox
Harper Collins Children’s Books
What is your favourite kind of sandwich? I think mine would have to be roast vegetables and hummus, or maybe goat’s cheese and tomato; it all depends in part on how I’m feeling. I certainly wouldn’t relish the crisps, Nutella, bhuja and banana variety one of my teenage friends loves to make for breakfast when home on holiday from her boarding school. Nor would I bother with butter, which is the first thing Monkey helps himself to when he visits still-sleeping Yak’s abode in search of something to fill his rumbling tum very early one morning before the shops are open.
Almost inevitably though, he deems plain old bread and butter boring so off he goes again, helping himself this time to a wedge of slumbering Mouse’s cheese – he does have the courtesy to leave him a “Thank You” note though.

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Monkey cannot quite stop himself from adding cucumber, custard and a whole lot of other tasty items to his stack

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Jellybeans, chocolate spread and mustard from Flamingo …

until his sandwich is positively towering but even then he just doesn’t seem satisfied. Who actually eats this monstrous repast though? That is the all-important question …

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Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox have assuredly concocted an offering to be relished with their toothsome tale of monkey’s mischievous marauding. Michelle’s text is a treat to get your tongue around and Emily’s comical scenes of the cheeky creature helping himself to all those tidbits are to be sure, saporous.
I suspect, like me, you’ll have your audience calling for second and third helpings after a sharing of this one.

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Neon Leon

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Neon Leon
Jane Clarke and Britta Teckentrup
Nosy Crow
If you want a fun, maximum audience participation story to share with your early years listeners then look no further; Jane Clarke’s tale of chameleon, Leon, is all that and more. You might need to put on your sunglasses though for Leon is, shall we say a chameleon that stands out from the crowd. No matter where he goes with his companions, be it the green leafy jungle, the sandy yellow desert …

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or the ‘big, grey, rocky mountains, no matter how hard he tries, even with the help of listeners instructions, he stays very visibly, Day-Glo orange.
Come nightfall, Leon returns, with the other chameleons, to the jungle. Dark it may be but there’s no chance of sleep for any of them with that brightness emanating from Leon. Feeling very sad, he sets forth in search of somewhere he can fit in. His first spot looks promising but then hunger calls the birds …

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so the dejected-looking creature hurries off once more, to …

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This certainly looks the perfect place but there’s something missing, something that can make Leon even happier …
Colours, camouflage, counting, different environments, and above all a thoroughly enjoyable story, make this a great read aloud especially if you have dealings with fives and under. Britta’s Leon really does stand out from the crowd and from her wonderful collage style, patterned backgrounds. I love those differing designs on Leon’s fellow chameleons too.

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Edie

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Edie
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
Who could wish for a more utterly enchanting helper than Edie, the young narrator of Sophy Henn’s wonderful new book?
She’s an inveterate helper of pretty much anybody and everybody, from the moment she gets up. Having woken her parents – now wouldn’t you like a nice rousing guitar solo first thing in the morning? – she dresses herself …

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In between there’s breakfast to prepare followed by a walk to the supermarket where she’s amazingly helpful – really truly – finding SO many things for the shopping trolley; and in the park on the way home she finds lots of pals to help.
Helping is an exhausting occupation though; so once home a short rest is called for but then with energy restored, there’s Mum’s office in need of a spot of organisation; dad needs help tidying up and little brother has lessons he just has to be helped with. As for her grandparents, during their naps when they come to visit is the best time to provide them with ever so helpful makeovers …

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and Dad’s shoes will never look quite the same again after the addition of some snazzy adornments, helpful? Errrm?

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Ditto the walls; whereon her wonderful artistic mural just might be a step too far … ‘Sometimes I have to remember NOT to be quite so helpful,’ she tells us.
She’s soon back to her normal ‘best’ helpful self once more …

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After all, this adorably little character does have a special skill that’s pretty much indispensable, and she’ll undoubtedly make all who encounter her laugh in delight. Sophy Henn’s neo retro illustrations, executed in delectable hues, are just SO perfect for the story. It’s not just Edie though who is so special; Sophy makes every one of the characters somebody you’d love to meet. Don your pompom hat and go help somebody and let’s have more of Edie, PLEASE …