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.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Have you ever wondered about the origins of the playground game? Now thanks to a rib-tickling collaboration between author Daywalt (of The Day the Crayons Quit fame) and illustrator, Adam Rex you can find out.
Daywalt’s telling demands much of the reader aloud in the way of performance power, as he tells in true legend style, of fearsome heroes; first of Rock, invincible champion warrior of the ancient realm of the Kingdom of Backgarden. Dissatisfied by the lack of worthy challengers, Rock travels far and wide in search of an equal in battle: His first adversary is Peg atop a washing line; his second comes in fruit form: he insults a juicy apricot and is immediately challenged to a duel…

but flattening the fruit, brings him no joy.
Meanwhile, in the Empire of Mum’s Study, and in Kitchen Realm, two other warriors, Paper and Scissors are equally at odds with themselves over lack of sufficiently challenging opponents. “Taste my fury, giant box-monster!” Paper yells at Computer Printer before completely jamming up its works …

Scissors at the same time, puts paid to a ‘strange and sticky circle-man, aka tape dispenser, as well as ‘dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets’.

Finally the three warriors make their way to a garage and after three eye-popping rounds, they come to the conclusion that there is an endless circularity to their battles and become fast friends. But we all know the perils of triangular friendships …
Fiercely fast, furious and funny, this will have your audiences crying out for instant re-reads, not least on account of such giggle-inducing cries as, “You Sir look like a fuzzy little fruit bum” – that’s to the apricot; and “drop that underwear” (to clothes peg); as well as Rock’s talk of “no pants” in response to Scissors’ mention of “battle pants”.
The high drama of Daywalt’s text is made even more verbally viciously confrontational by the use of all manner of graphic exuberances and is further heightened by Rex’s superb, action-packed scenes of the battlers set against backdrops of raging thunderstorms, volcanic eruptions and missile firings.
What really makes the whole confrontational epic so engaging for me though, is that in the end, co-operation RULES …

I’ve signed the charter  

Big Tree is Sick

Big Tree is Sick
Nathalie Slosse and Rocio Del Moral
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Meet close friends, Snibbles and Big Tree; they’re accustomed to spending a lot of time together and Snibbles loves Big Tree very much.
One day though, Big Tree is sick: the doctor diagnoses woodworm; and Snibbles is devastated. Feelings of frustration and anger start to overwhelm him …

and he feels very scared.

Other creatures offer support: Bessie the Sheep brings a lovely, warm woollen scarf to wrap around the sick tree which gives him some comfort; not so Snibbles though. But then, having made himself a crown from Big Tree’s fallen leaves, he starts to feel a bit more upbeat. Thereafter, the focus is on helping Big Tree get through his treatment and happily for all, he does eventually make a good recovery.
With delightful illustrations and some extremely useful suggestions for activities and strategies at the end of the story, this book portrays the powerful feelings and emotions that children are likely to exhibit when a family member or a close friend is diagnosed with a serious, debilitating illness, cancer for instance.
There is also a link to the website of a Belgian non-profit organisation that adult users of the book might find useful.

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All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

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Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep / Pete With No Pants

Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
Leslie Helakoski
Sterling
A storm tosses two eggs from their nests precipitating a parental mix-up.
Hoot hatches in one nest: sometime later, Honk hatches in another. Straightaway there are problems with diet and the sleep-cycles of the hatchlings.

Their surroundings seem rather alien too and that is despite the accepting manner in which the parent birds deal with their offspring.
All ends happily however with both fledglings eventually being reunited with their own families, and adults of each are shown similarly enfolding their respective young in a tender embrace, just like a warm cosy duvet.

Helakoski’s delightfully whimsical tale told through a fusion of gentle staccato, rhyming text that has a pleasing pattern to it, and superbly expressive pastel illustrations is perfect for sharing with the very young at bedtime (or anytime). Ahhh!
In addition, the book offers a lovely gentle introduction to the fact that some birds are diurnal, others nocturnal.

Pete With No Pants
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books
Seemingly pants and imaginative play don’t go together, or do they?
This book cracked me up from the opening line: ‘Shortly after breakfast, Pete decided he was a boulder.’ It’s the conclusion the young elephant, knock-knock joke lover, reaches having given it due consideration: after all he’s big, he’s grey; he’s not wearing pants. QED. But then as he basks in a kind of self-glory, his thoughts are interrupted by a knock-knock joke: result – a plummeting of his enthusiasm for boulderness.
So what about a squirrel? He definitely fits the essential critera for colour, an acorn predilection, non wearing of pants but …

And one far-from happy Mum.
Next day it’s a case of cloud contemplation, squirrel mockery and further knock-knock jokery failures with owls for Pete.

Then Mum, who appears to have undergone something of a change of heart, shows up to play. Whoppee!

Deliciously quirky, crazily anarchic and you need to read the muted pictures very carefully to keep abreast of the happenings. Share with one child, or for individuals to enjoy in ones or twos.

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Mine! / Thousand Star Hotel

Mine!
Jeff Mack
Chronicle Books
It’s amazing how by using the same word 27 times, Mack can concoct a hilarious tale on ownership with a terrific final twist to boot.
Two mice in turn stake a claim for a substantial-looking rock and then a battle of brain and brawn involving a chunk of cheese, a gift-wrapped parcel,

a pile of rocks and a couple of vehicles ensues over which of them it belongs to. Seemingly this isn’t a conflict easily settled: things escalate …

until with both mice on the point of self-combustion the rock makes a startling revelation and the pals realise what a massive mistake they’ve made.
Wrapped up in this hilarious encounter are important messages about acquisitiveness and possibilities of sharing. Seemingly though as the story concludes, these lessons are yet to be learned by the protagonists herein.
Mack uses lettering the colour of which matches that of the mouse making the utterance to help orchestrate his parable and in addition to being a perfect book for beginner readers (preferably after a demonstration) this is a gift for anyone wanting to demonstrate how to tell a story to a group: inflection and intonation rule!

Thousand Star Hotel
The Okee Dokee Brothers and Brandon Reese
Sterling Children’s Books
The award winning musical duo give a new slant to the Fisherman and His Wife folktale using two riverside dwellers, Mr and Mrs Muskrat. Their life is simple: their dwelling a far from perfect cabin; their diet largely fish in one form or another. One day while out in their boat, Mr Muskrat feels an enormous pull on his line and after a considerable amount of STRUGGLIN’, TUGGLIN’, YANKIN’, and CRANKIN’, they successfully haul out a massive golden catfish. This is no ordinary fish: it’s a magical wish-giving one, and offers the couple a wish in exchange for its life.
Therein lies the rub: Mrs Muskrat is all for simple creature comforts – a hammer and nails to fix the roof, a new soup kettle, or perhaps, a cosy warm quilt. Mr Muskrat in contrast sets his sights rather higher; he wants a life of luxury.

And, he certainly expresses himself in no uncertain terms, getting a whole double spread to call each of his wishes to a halt midstream …

In fact all the dialogue and the rest of the telling is wonderful; and the final fun twist offers an important message. Brandon Reese’s exuberant illustrations of the characters in their wild woods setting have a cinematic quality.
Starlit filled dreams are assured if you share this one at bedtime. There’s a delightful CD with an audio telling and eleven funky songs tucked inside the front cover too.

I’ve signed the charter  

King of the Sky

King of the Sky
Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin
Walker Books
Peter is starting a new life in a new country and what he feels overwhelmingly is a sense of disorientation and disconnection. Only old Mr Evans’ pigeons bring him any reminders of his former, Italian home.

Those pigeons are Mr Evans’ pride and joy, his raison d’être almost, after a life spent underground in the mines, a life that has left him with a manner of speaking sufficiently soft and slow for the boy narrator to comprehend.
There is one pigeon in particular, so Mr Evans says, that he’s training to be a champ. This pigeon he gives to Peter who names him “Re del cielo! King of the Sky!” Together the two share in the training, not only of Peter’s bird, but the entire flock; but after each flight, Peter’s bird with its milk-white head, is always the last to return. Nevertheless the old man continues to assure the lad of its winning potential. “Just you wait and see!” he’d say.
As the old man weakens, Peter takes over the whole training regime and eventually Mr Evans gives him an entry form for a race – a race of over a thousand miles back home from Rome where his pigeon is sent by train.
With the bird duly dispatched and with it Peter thinks, a part of his own heart, the wait is on.

For two days and nights Peter worries and waits, but of his special bird there is no sign. Could the aroma of vanilla ice-cream, and those sunlit squares with fountains playing have made him stay? From his bed, Mr Evans is reassuring, sending Peter straight back outside; and eventually through clouds …

Not only is the pigeon home at last, but Peter too, finally knows something very important …
Drawing on the history of South Wales, when large numbers of immigrants came from Italy early in the last century, Nicola Davies tells a poignant tale of friendship and love, of displacement and loss, of hope and home. Powerfully affecting, eloquent and ultimately elevating, her compelling text has, as with The Promise, its perfect illustrator in Laura Carlin. She is as softly spoken as Mr Evans, her pictures beautifully evoking the smoky, mining community setting. The skyscapes of pit-head chimneys, smoke and surrounding hills, and the pigeons in flight have a mesmeric haunting quality.
A truly wonderful book that will appeal to all ages.

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Hello, Mr World

Hello, Mr World
Michael Foreman
Walker Books
Two small children dress up and play doctors. Their patient is Mr World and he’s not feeling good. In true GP fashion the children ask, “Now what seems to be the matter?
As the doctors go about making their diagnosis, taking his temperature, listening to his chest and running him through the X-ray machine, Mr World talks of raised temperature and breathing problems and we are shown in Foreman’s telling watercolours the consequences of his malaise. Habitats are under threat;

towns and cities choking with filthy, toxic fumes …

drastic consequences of climate change are evident everywhere and, as the doctors decree, “You must look to the future or things will just get worse …
The solution is in the hands of Mr World’s human inhabitants; and, to the joy of the doctors, and the threatened animals,
the young children acknowledge that they have a huge responsibility; but it’s a challenge well worth taking up.

If only it were that simple. Fortunately, the final three pages offer a brief real world diagnosis and some small but important actions that children themselves can take to help with the crisis.
Foreman’s treatment of a red-hot topic is powerfully affecting. Almost every day one hears on the news or reads of the adverse effects of climate change: only recently we heard that many children playing outside in their school breaks are breathing toxic fumes for instance, so his book is all the more timely. Likening the world to a patient subject to the diagnosis of two small children at play is a stroke of genius, and makes what is a global issue comprehensible to early years listeners

who are likely to inherit the problems we’ve all helped to create. Seize the day!

I’ve signed the charter 

My New Room / Time for a Nap

My New Room
Lisa Stickley
Pavilion Books
Edith, the young girl narrator shares with readers the process of moving into a new room and making it her own. We share too, the comments of other inhabitants of the room starting with Edith’s toy soldier guard, Gary.

As head of moving and room safety, I have been keeping everyone in check to ensure a smooth and safe move, “ he announces.
Next to speak is dog, Albert, who deems the place “usually OK smelly wise”on account of Edith’s almost daily baths. Other toys include the softly spoken, Osbert T. Octopus, Timothy Sloth and Reginald Rabbit, occupants of the spare bed (unless Grandma comes for a sleep-over) and a host of others. Those perching atop the wardrobe have a wonderful view of the garden – perfect for “plane spotting” says Susan hippo, whereas Breton Mouse has found the perfect trampolining spot …

while poor Sebastian Snake has the chilliest spot of all and is thinking of applying “for a promotion.” It looks as though they might all settle happily in their new abode; it looks too as though they’ve been pretty busy creating something special for Edith.

I absolutely loved Lisa Stickley’s Handstand debut; this is even better I think. The text, presented as in a child’s writing book, is deliciously witty and the patterned illustrations adorable. I’d certainly recommend putting this in pride of place on Edith’s bookshelf along side Gary Guardsman, as well as adding it to a family, nursery or early years classroom collection.

Time for a Nap
Phillis Gershator and David Walker
Sterling
Through a gentle rhyming text and delightful, soft-focus pencil and acrylic scenes of a little rabbit and parent, human toddlers can share in their week. Starting with Monday, shopping day,

Gershator and Walker take us through their weekday activities, shopping, playing, a visit to the library for storytime (hooray!), clothes washing and gardening and on Saturday and Sunday, relaxing together.
A crucial part of every one of those days is nap time – not always readily embarked on by little rabbit.

Short and sweet, and ideal for participatory reading with littles: try reading it with a nursery group and then leaving the book with appropriate props or small world toys for children to interact with.

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Poor Louie / Raymond

Poor Louie
Tony Fucile
Walker Books
Louie the Chihuahua narrator of this story leads a life of contented predictability with Mum and Dad until things start to change. Mum still meets up with friends, which was fine but now there are other small creatures at those get-togethers, meaning Louie is no longer the centre of attention.

Then Mum’s tummy gets visibly larger … and larger …

Lots of new things are delivered; but why two beds, two carriers, two sets of clothes and a double buggy. The prospect of two ‘of those creatures’ is just too much for Louie: he waits for an opportunity, grabs his belongings and attempts a runaway. It’s thwarted by a well-intentioned neighbour however and Louie feels his life is over.

You can close the book now” he tells readers.
We don’t of course, for that is not the end of the story …
Dry humour, a restricted colour palette which gives the whole thing a subtle air of retro sophistication, constantly changing and sometimes, unusual perspectives, and some laugh-out-loud spreads make the whole thing a delight from cover to cover. Fucile’s delicious comedy will appeal to dog lovers and families adjusting to a new sibling in particular; but neither of those are applicable to this reviewer who loved it nonetheless.
Here’s another tale of a canine accustomed to leading a pampered pooch life:

Raymond
Yann and Gwendal Le Bec
Walker Books
Meet Raymond, used to having his own special spot by the sofa, scratchings behind the ears in ‘just the right place’ and a surprise birthday party every year. What more could a canine want? If you’re Raymond, a considerable amount it appears and thus commences his being more like a human behaviour. Sitting at the table for meals; ‘cappuccino-and-cupcake Saturdays at the café and cinema trips’ become part and parcel of his life. but Raymond is not alone; seemingly the whole doggy world wants to act human.
Raymond’s four-footed gait becomes two and naturally the world now looks very different. Big thoughts invade his head and before you can say DOGUE, Raymond has landed himself a job as rover-ing reporter on the up-market magazine and spends all hours working to meet deadlines.

Soon though, Raymond embarks on a new role: he becomes newscaster on the TV channel, Dog News. Eventually however, an excess of pampered fame means that he’s in dire need of a break away from it all. Could it be that the canine celebrity is about to undergo a light-bulb moment …

This funny, ‘be careful what you wish for’,‘ don’t bite off more than you can chew’ tale, with its New York setting, will resonate with adults as much as children, or perhaps more. The trouble is though, it’s not necessarily all that easy to step off that workaholic, achievement treadmill, which seems always to be driving us onwards towards greater heights …
There’s plenty to make readers – be they or be they not dog lovers – smile in the comic style scenes of a life as a top dog.

I’ve signed the charter  

Never Take a Bear to School

Never Take a Bear to School
Mark Sperring and Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books
The creators of the gorgeous Your Hand in My Hand have teamed up again for this starting school or nursery story; and according to the two of them, there is only one rule: ‘you just cannot take your bear into school.’ As if!
After all he’d scare everyone silly with that huge bulk and gigantic paws;

he’d sabotage the child-sized furniture and fill the room with ill-timed growls and grizzles. Then, come lunchtime, nobody else would get a look in …

Imagine his crushing capacity in a PE session; and he’d completely trash your role-play area: his havoc wreaking potential just makes the whole idea a complete no-no. And anyhow you’ll be far too busy getting to know the ropes, making friends, even making a picture of your favourite thing …

Much better then, to have that ursine pal waiting by the school gates at the end of the day, when he’ll welcome you with open arms; and you can walk home together talking about that important first day. Then once at home well, you can do whatever you want – just you and YOUR BEAR!
The possibilities entertained in Mark Sperring’s funny rhyming narrative lend themselves so beautifully to Britta’s picture making. Her scenes of chaos and consternation among the children are a treat for those around the age of the little boy and his classmates; equally so, the fun times boy and bear have together at the end of that first school day. Yes it’s a lovely starting school story but too much fun to keep just for those run up to it days, or those in the little boy’s situation: it’s a wonderful ‘what if ’ story for foundation stage audiences no matter when or who.

I’ve signed the charter  

Little Wolf’s First Howling

Little Wolf’s First Howling
Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
Walker Books
Little Wolf accompanies Big Wolf to the top of the hill, both father and son eagerly anticipating the wolf pup’s first howling. The full moon appears above the hill top and Little Wolf can hardly hold on to that first howl of his but first he must let his father demonstrate “proper howling form.” Then comes the turn of the beginner: he starts conventionally but then adds a little bit extra of his own.
Not wanting to dent the cub’s confidence, Big Wolf performs another howl, then off goes the cub again with a superbly creative version of his own – love you little fella!

‘aaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo dignity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo’

Unsurprisingly, he’s told gently but emphatically, it doesn’t pass muster. No matter how many times Big Wolf demonstrates what he’s waiting to hear from his little one, what comes from the cub is increasingly elaborate verbal creativity.
Then suddenly, Little Wolf’s joyful wild abandon starts to have a different effect on his parent: instead of admonishing his offspring’s outpouring, he joins him, becoming co-creator of an extremely unauthentic duet performed at uninhibited full volume right across the countryside.

After which the two head home “to “tell the others” – just in case they hadn’t heard it.
Kvasnosky and McGee together have produced a superb picture book celebration of the creativity of young children.
Little Wolf’s spirited renderings are a perfect example of the kind of uninhibited imaginative responses of those in the early years, so long as well-intentioned adults don’t step in, take over and try to show them the one ‘right’ way to do something. Long live all the little wolves everywhere (especially those of the divergent kind), and those adults who, like Big Wolf have the good sense to step back and look at things from behind the heads of the very young.
The digitally coloured, gouache resist scenes wonderfully evoke the inky night setting in which wolves might wander, the telling is a delight and the dialogue spot-on. A word of warning to readers aloud though: you may well find yourself completely hoarse after being called upon for immediate re-readings of this wonderful book – happy howling.

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Towering Tree Puzzle / Lift-the-Flap and Colour:Jungle & Ocean

The Towering Tree Puzzle
illustrated by Teagan White
Chronicle Books
Essentially this is a sturdy box containing 17 large, easily manipulated, double-sided pieces depicting Spring/Summer scenes on one side and Autumn/Winter ones on the reverse. Each piece shows various woodland animals playing and working together; a whole tree community indeed and the puzzle when complete is over 130 centimetres long. Nothing special about that, you might be thinking but, the language potential is enormous, especially as there is no one right way of fitting the pieces together: this open-endedness also means that if more than one child plays with the pieces, there is a co-operative element too.

The artwork is splendid: each detailed piece, a delight.
Every branch of the tree generates a different story, or rather, many possibilities; ditto the completed tree. Some children like to story about the pieces as they put them into place, others prefer to complete the puzzle and then tell one or several stories which may or may not be connected. You could try a completely open-ended ‘take it in turns tell me about’ game with children sitting in a circle for starters, or perhaps choose a focus, say animals, plants or perhaps, events: the possibilities are many.
I’ve used this marvellous resource in several different settings and each time it’s been received with enormous enthusiasm and the users have shown great reluctance to part with it afterwards.

Lift-the-Flap and Colour Jungle
Lift-the-Flap and Colour Ocean

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/ Natural History Museum
In this collaborative publishing enterprise, children can choose from one of two locations to start their colouring in experience. The first is the South American Amazon jungle wherein jaguars hunt, slow sloths dangle, alligators lie in wait for a tasty meal, stick insects and parrots share the lush foliage, and swinging monkeys abound.
In the Ocean they can encounter diving dolphins, and shoals of fish, visit a coral reef with its abundance of sea creatures, notice the seaweed fronds that provide a safe hiding place for fish; and dive right down to the deepest dark depths.
A brief, rhyming text accompanies each adventure gently informing and guiding the young user as s/he explores the location, lifts the flaps and adds colour to the black and white pages – five spreads per book. And the final page of each book has an information paragraph that focuses on the importance of protecting the specific environment.
These will I’m sure be seized on by young enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in wild life and will one hopes, leave them wanting to discover more about the inhabitants of each location.

If I Were a Whale
Shelley Gill and Erik Brooks
Little Bigfoot
This contemplative, charmer of a board book successfully mixes rhyme and science facts. It imagines the possibilities of being a minke, a beluga playing with icebergs, a pilot whale and then these beauties …

If those don’t suit there’s a tusked narwhal, a blue whale, or a humpback perhaps? There are eleven possibilities in all, each one beautifully illustrated by Erik Brooks who manages to capture the essence of each one in those watery worlds of his.
Yes, it’s a small introduction to a huge topic but this is a pleasure to read aloud, is likely to be demanded over and over, and to inspire tinies to want to know more about these amazing mammals.

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Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day / Papasaurus

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Meet Kiki and Bobo. They’re super excited on account of a trip to the seaside; the perfect place to spend a sunny day they think. Off they go in the bus where Kiki eagerly anticipates a swim in the sea: Bobo, in contrast does not.
He doesn’t want the ice-cream Kiki buys either, despite his friend’s best efforts.
Undaunted, she suggests that dip in the sea. This is greeted by a series of stalling activities: rubbing on sun cream,

collecting seashells and sandcastle constructing, until finally the indulgent Kiki is rewarded, not by an enthusiastic change of heart on Bobo’s part: rather he tearfully admits that he’s scared of sea swimming.
Three cheers for Kiki: she has just the thing for reluctant swimmers and she’s ready to let Bobo have that, and equally important, to take hold of his hand as they enter the water.

So, overcoming the fear of water – tick; being a super-duper friend and helping a pal in his hour of need – tick. Those are the important outcomes of a seaside sortie so delightfully orchestrated through Yasmeen Ishmail’s characteristically adorable illustrations – littered in this instance with flaps to open – and a straightforward text that in the main, comprises the dialogue between Bobo and Kiki.
Another winner for Yasmeen Ismail.

Papasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books
Using a similar question and answer style employed in Mamasaurus, Lomp has Babysaurus participating in a game of hide-and-seek with his Papasaurus. When it’s Babysaurus’s turn to be the seeker, he can’t find his Papa. His “Have you seen my papa?” is directed to first Stego, and subsequently Anky, Mosa, Velo and Edmont,

all of whom respond by referring to attributes of their own papas. None though can match up to Papasaurus in the eyes of his little one and eventually he pauses his search on top of a large hump in the landscape to consider where his father might be;

and lo and behold …
The dinosaur characters are rendered in bright colours making them stand out starkly against the sombre shades of the prehistoric landscapes they inhabit and it’s thus that Lomp creates the possibility of hidden danger as the infant dinosaur forays into the unknown perhaps for the first time.
Lots of fun to share with young dino. fans, in particular those youngsters who with a parent fairly near at hand are beginning to make those first forays into the wider world.

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The Snugglewump / Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day

The Snugglewump
Lou Treleaven and Kate Chappell
Maverick Arts Publishing
Molly has a host of toys and sitting side-by side awaiting her arrival one day, each claims to have pride of place in her affections. There’s Ted, an antique doll, Alien, Robot and Action Andy …

all strutting their stuff so to speak. It’s no wonder that Snugglewump lies forgotten on the floor feeling less than confident about his lot. But then, having seen and heard the others showing off, it ups and snugglewumps away through the catflap and off down the road.
Thanks to a free ride on a postman’s shoe, it ends up spending the night, damp and virtually shapeless contemplating the possibilities offered by having limbs and a countenance, or batteries, and generally rueing its lot.
Is it Snugglewump’s fate to be cast so it thinks, into the dump or could there perhaps be an alternative ending for this brightly coloured, albeit amorphous thing which, thanks to a couple of pigeons is, as the sun rises, hanging across the branch of a tree in the park?

Told through Lou Treleaven’s jaunty rhyming text with its fun descriptive phrases, and Kate Chappell’s beautifully expressive, quirky illustrations (she even manages to imbue that Snugglewump with a personality) this is great fun to share with young listeners either at home or in an early years setting.

Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day
Rochel Lieberman and Lloyd Jones
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Ten year old Pearla likes nothing better on Sundays than to help her father in his bakery. She’s something of an expert herself, cooking up perfect cupcakes and cookies that people come from far and wide to buy.
One Sunday however, having so she thinks whisked up the usual perfect mix for her cookies and cupcakes, and put them into the oven to bake, she realises that she’s left out a vital ingredient. Disaster for one used to a perfect baking outcome.

But then as she paces up and down, Pearla starts out on what is to be a huge learning curve: “I’m a person, People are not perfect. I did my best. I know I will be helped with the rest,” she tells herself.
Out come the far from perfect confections some time later and rather than throwing the whole lot in the bin, Pearla decides to sell them at half-price.
What happens thereafter is a big surprise for the girl and after the odd sales setback, every single item is sold. Thank goodness Pearla managed to stay calm and turn her mistake into something positive. Even more important she learned the crucial life-lesson: that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process; something all teachers worth their salt would agree with, and that all youngsters need to take on board early on in their education. That way lies success.
Full of important and empowering lessons. Written by a speech and language specialist, this is a book to share with all young learners, especially those who, for whatever reason, are averse to risk-taking. Lloyd Jones’ illustrations add gentle humour to Pearla’s plight.

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The Cave

The Cave
Rob Hodgson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Inside a cave there is a ‘little creature’: the cave is his home. Outside the cave is another creature: the cave is not his home, but his heart is set on getting the troglodyte to come out and join him. “I’m sure we’d be VERY good friends.” he says encouragingly. The little creature refuses to budge.
This goes on day after day, after day. Boredom isn’t an issue for the little creature despite what the lupine outsider says. “Only boring creatures get bored” is the response of the cave-dweller. Time passes and with neither animal giving way…

come wind or rain … it’s situation impasse.

Then one day in desperation, the creature without lets slip the words, “I’m getting hungry now!” then quickly amends the ‘I’m’ to ‘YOU’. This results in an admission of slight hunger from the little creature within, whereupon a deliciously tempting doughnut, complete with sprinkles, is proffered. This confection proves irresistible and the ‘Little Creature’ emerges. To say what happens next would make me a story spoiler but I can reveal that the doughnut disappears and there’s a new resident in the cave.
An absolutely splendid debut for Rob Hodgson. There is just SO much to love about this book.
The illustrations are scrumptious with delectable details chronicling, in addition to the main action or rather lack of it for the most part, Wolf’s total disregard for little creatures such as worm, snail and slug, that play silent bit parts throughout.

Hodgson’s text in contrast, is spare, and plays in perfect harmony with his visuals. A super read aloud: you’ll have children squirming in eager anticipation throughout and they’re sure to demand at least one encore performance.

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All Aboard the London Bus / No, Nancy, No!

All Aboard the London Bus
Patricia Toht and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s hard to resist the opening invitation of this book:
Come! / Board the double-decker bus / and see the London sights with us. / Any time, hop off. /Explore! / Then climb back on and ride some more.’ With its welcome aboard greeting in five languages, we’re off and heading for Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.
From there, it’s on to Westminster Abbey with its amazing ceilings and tombstones and statues galore.

Big Ben is the next stop and then comes the London Eye so beautifully described as ‘A bracelet that hangs off the Arm of the Thames, / its pods filled with people, all dangle like gems.’ Then after pausing to look at the river itself snaking through a host of landmarks, the family heads for Trafalgar Square. Here readers are offered a busy ‘Seek and Find’ spread while they too pause for breath,

before heading via Speaker’s Corner down onto the tube and thence to Piccadilly Circus where they emerge into a sudden downpour. Seemingly there’s only one thing to do: stop for tea and a browse in a famous toyshop for a while.
The British Museum, Tate Modern and the Globe are some of the other destinations once family members have dried off; and no London visit would be complete without seeing Tower Bridge and the Tower itself so that is their final stop. Phew! It’s certainly been an exhausting day especially for the little ones. The adults are very brave to undertake such a huge itinerary in a single outing and still leave the bus with smiles on their faces.
Essentially a sequence of poems in celebration of London: you can either take the whole tour in one sitting or, take things more slowly just dipping into or revisiting favourite landmarks. No matter which way, Sam Usher’s gently humorous illustrations, whether the focus be a famous London site or its visitors,

are sheer delight.
It’s clear from this celebratory book that London means a lot to both author and artist.

No, Nancy, No!
Alice Tait
Walker Books
Join Nancy and best friend Roger for an exciting, action-packed visit to London. First stop is Buckingham Palace where Nancy is hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. Her dog however has his eyes on two children, one of whom drops a teddybear. Rather than remain at the palace, Nancy and Roger set off hot on the trail of the bear’s owners. A bus ride takes them to St Paul’s Cathedral

and thereafter various other famous London landmarks. Every time it seems they’re about to catch the teddy losers, Nancy’s proclivity for mischief diverts her attention.
Will they ever catch up with the children they’re chasing; and will Nancy ever get to see the Queen?
There are flaps on every detailed spread helping to move the action forwards as well as a surprise Nelson’s Column pop-up; and guess who cannot resist climbing right up to the top. Fun, fast and with its repeat “No, Nancy, No!” from Roger, fun to share, especially before a visit to London.

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That Bear Can’t Babysit / Brobot Bedtime

That Bear Can’t Babysit
Ruth Quayle and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow
Little did Mr and Mrs Burrow know when they had to resort to hiring Bear as babysitter for their night out, leaving their seven bunny offspring in his charge while they went off to a party, what those young rabbits or indeed Bear, might get up to.
The junior Burrows certainly seem to have Bear wrapped around their little paws from the start – or some of them do at least. They choose inappropriate reading material; cause chaos, and worse when it comes to supper;

create mayhem with the hosepipe and then embark on a moonlit adventure with Bear at the helm.

Finally our ursine child-minder seems to have the upper paw, all the more so when out comes the perfect bedtime storybook.

Which is just as well because before you can say ‘goodnight little bunnies’ back come Mr and Mrs B to find a scene of serenity and shut-eye; accompanied by some rather surprising words from their babysitter. Shame that counting isn’t one of his better skills.
Author, Ruth Quayle’s debut picture book is a charmer through and through. It’s full of lively, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, scattered throughout with join-in-able repeat phrases, not the least of which is the title of this book, and there’s a lovely final twist in its tail.
Alison Friend’s scenes fizzle with fun. Her portrayal of frolicsome mischief, furry friend style, is full of amusing detail and her characters are adorably impish.

Brobot Bedtime
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Scott Campbell
Abrams
The only words of this pre bedtime story are speech bubbles – one colour per character – and encased within outlines that approximately correspond with different shapes of the speakers’ heads. The dialogue, which is liberally sprinkled with wordplay, opens with the mother robot sending her three offspring to bed. A seemingly straightforward “time to enter sleep mode” instruction however, is anything but that. Beep can’t possibly sleep; he has “the flick-ups” and needs help. His brothers Crash and Buzz offer assistance in the form of a “nice cup of oil”,

to no avail. Then Buzz leaps into action with a spot of diverting impersonation …

And so it goes on with all manner of supposedly helpful shenanigans until, with Beep on the point of insomniac self-destruction, mum robot calls out, expressing extreme displeasure demanding to know “Why are there still gears turning up there?” and threatening “a hard reboot”.
A plan is hatched but will those little bots ever settle down and drop off to sleep? Well, um yes – and no!
The crazy, occasionally slightly confusing, visuals of the romp, in tandem with those colour-coded speech bubbles, offer a wonderful opportunity for readers aloud (and young listeners), to engage in robot-speak. A word of warning though: if you share this as a bedtime book, it might well lead to rather too much child-robot talk and as a result, insufficient infant wind-down.

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Grumpy Frog

Grumpy Frog
Ed Vere
Puffin Books
Grumpy Frog wasn’t the only character to be leaping around when I opened his book parcel: I started leaping round the kitchen waving the book in delight especially as its arrival coincided with Earth Day and there on the first double spread is a more upbeat version of the amphibian proclaiming thus:

He then proceeds to blow it though by damming every other colour, he can think of: “Uh oh!” to pinch his words, “Grumpy Frog alert!“.
Better organise a hopping contest with some pals ASAP, but make sure he crosses the line first or else …

Don’t think of suggesting a swim – that involves blue; or a bounce, which, so Grumpy Frog decrees, is yellow.
It looks as though isolation is the best thing; after all, aloneness he absolutely adores. It gives him time to contemplate colour, diet, annual events and err … loneliness.

Not such a good idea after all then, this setting oneself apart.
Enter stage left another kind of jumper but as you might expect, a pink rabbit gets a huge thumbs down from our frog who manages to make the poor unsuspecting creature cry for its trouble. What about this large snuggle toothed croc. then? He’s definitely making friendly overtures towards GF and SNAP! Oh no! surely Grumpy Frog hasn’t met his demise; has he?
Actually no: a spot of self-reflection appears to have saved his skin so …

Furthermore it looks as though some apologies are on the cards too; though that is not quite the end of this corker of a book: this is …

and, to discover what happens in the interim, I urge you to hot foot it, or rather hop foot it immediately to your nearest bookshop and bag yourself a copy.
It’s an utter triumph for Ed Vere and maybe even for Grumpy Frog, just so long as he gets there first. This reviewer found herself snortling at every turn of the page: it’s the perfect antidote to grumpiness (and election blues).

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Ice Boy / Stack the Cats

Ice Boy
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
Meet Ice Boy, the hero of Stein’s latest book. Rather than being restrained by his freezer existence and frequent “Never go outside” parental warnings, the young ice-cube leaves the safe enclosed environment and ventures down to the ocean’s edge and thence discovers a whole new world of exciting adventures is to be had.
His first incarnation is ‘Water Boy …

and thereafter Vapour Boy; after which, having tap-danced upon a thunderstorm and freezing …

a tiny pellet of summer hail.
In solid form once again, he hurtles off a roof-top and ‘BLOOP’ –is reunited with his parents who just happen to be chilling someone’s drink.

Suddenly it looks as though extermination is to be the outcome for all three cubes but fortunately, the thirsty human’s first taste is of the little lad who, after all his adventures has become a taste-bud disaster; and Ice Boy and parents are summarily tossed from the tumbler onto the grass.
Then, with an infusion of worldly knowledge, Ice Boy leads the trio off on a new water-cycle adventure …
This clever tale of risk-taking, transformation and re-incarnation is such a fun way to introduce a sclence lesson on the water-cycle. Stein’s mixed media, largely blue and grey illustrations are littered throughout with witty speech bubbles (‘Oh, Ice Boy! You’re a sight for sore ice.‘ Or, ‘Am I dense or did I just become a liquid again?‘and peppered with POPs, PUFFs, BLOOPs and other appropriate noises off.

Stack the Cats
Susie Ghahremani
Abrams Appleseed
Much more than a mere counting activity, this playful picture book offers opportunities for youngsters to expand their mathematical thinking to embrace simple division and multiplication; and a spot of height comparison. We start with ‘One cat sleeps.’ // Two cats play. // Three cats?/ STACK!’ Followed by …

After which the pattern alters thus:

Clearly the six have found this process a little wearying so ‘Seven cats nap.’
Then, the revived felines plus another try their paws at a spot to towering , which rapidly turns to a tumble. It’s as well cat nine is there to even things out and for the first and only time, numerals make their appearance …

What happens thereafter is that Ghahremi decides that ten cats are ‘just too many’, dispersing the gathering to hide, sleep, climb and generally have a playful time (a subtraction discussion opportunity) and finishing with an open-ended, ‘How will you stack the cats?’
The eye-catching cats are given the opportunity to show their playful personalities while youngsters are offered a plethora of mathematical possibilities. A purrfect prelude to some mathematical activities: fun and educative and also, great for beginning readers.

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A Home for Gully / Through the Gate

A Home for Gully
Jo Clegg and Lalalimola
Oxford University Press
Gully is a long-suffering resident of the park; long-suffering because every morning his makeshift home is swept away by the keeper. This should no longer be tolerated, decides the scruffy dog that happens along one morning, introduces himself as Fetch and claims to be returning Gully’s stick. Fetch calls a meeting of his 412 resident fleas and thereupon they decide to assist the seagull in a search for a more satisfactory place of residence: one “that doesn’t get swept away, where my feet are warm and dry, and my tummy is full” is the bird’s desire.
They leave the relative peace and quiet of the park …

and head into the city where, after being shown the door of a smart hotel, they come upon the seemingly stuck-up Madison who offers her assistance as city guide. The three circumambulate the whole city before ending up at the library for some R and R. Make that R, R and R for therein they meet rat, Zachary.

On learning it’s a home rather than a book they’re seeking, Zachary leads them out and eventually, to a likely spot. Then with Gully safely installed, the other three head off into the darkness leaving their pal to his new warm, dry abode.
Next morning however, all is not quite hunky-dory with Gully. What good is a home if he doesn’t have others to share it with thinks our feathered friend …

There is a wonderful vintage look to Jo Clegg’s warm-hearted, funny story, thanks to Lalalimola’s delectably droll illustrations. These she packs with diverting visual (and verbal) asides that cause the reader to pause for a while and spend time exploring every spread. This is an artist I shall watch with interest, as I will the author.

Through the Gate
Sally Fawcett
EK
A little girl narrator, unhappy about a move to a new house, shares her step-by- step transformation from feelings of sadness and loss, to those of joy and satisfaction. The process is recounted as she travels with initially, downcast eyes, in a plodding manner to and from her new school; then after a week, the plod gives way to a mooch and the sighting of wild flowers growing through cracks in the pavement. Another week passes and she changes to an eyes-forward wander and hence, more awareness of the positives the environment offers …

The following week our narrator is ready to look all around her as she walks and thus, one becomes two walkers to school; and thereafter, things are altogether different.
Concurrent with the little girl’s changing feelings as new opportunities manifest, we see the new house gradually becoming a wonderful new home; but those aren’t the only changes: a lone bird on a bare tree builds a nest, finds a mate, eggs are laid, and life begins anew as three fledglings appear, just in time for blossom to burst forth on the tree.

Look closely at the spreads and you’ll notice a cat that plays a bit part in the whole transformation; delicate details of plants which, like the rest of the girl’s surroundings, change from shades of grey to full colour.
Sally Fawcett orchestrates this lovely story of change, hope and resilience superbly using a patterned text in tandem with subtly changing scenes of the girl’s actual and metaphorical journey.

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Three Pirate Tales

There appears to be a plethora of pirate picture books at present: these three arrived in a single postal delivery:

The Treasure of Pirate Frank
Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow
Taking the rhythmic pattern of the nursery rhyme The House that Jack Built, the authors have woven a lovely lilting tale of a young boy set on discovering the hiding place of Pirate Frank’s treasure.
He has a map so show him the way, a trusty ship in which to sail,
To the island with spices and gold and tall mountains all snowy and cold,
On which is a forest with monkeys bold, and a swamp with lilypads topped with frogs.

He must beware of the volcano, spitting out fire,
As he ascends the steps going higher and higher;
then crosses the bridge to the tall palm tree; there to behold – my goodness me!
Who’s this standing atop that chest?

It seems there’s only one thing to do. What would that be if the boy was you?
Jez Tuya’s imaginative perspectives and creature crammed spreads are worth revisiting once the treasure has been found and the tale completed.

Pirates in the Supermarket
Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton
Scholastic Children’s Books
First there were Dinosaurs in the Supermarket; now the place is beset with pirates hell-bent on creating mischief and mayhem among the groceries as unsuspecting shoppers go about the task of filling their trolleys with goodies. They leave plenty of clues but nobody save one small boy is aware of the piles of rubble appearing in the aisles,

the cannon-wielding gang on the rampage, or the piratical accoutrements appearing around the store. Fortunately for all concerned just when it seems things might be getting somewhat out of hand, the aforementioned boy springs into action and before you can say, ‘shiver me timbers’ he has things under control – well and truly so methinks …

Which all goes to show that you need to keep your eyes wide open whenever you embark on a supermarket shop; you never know who might be lurking …
Fun, fast and full of crazy characters, oh and the odd observant one too.; and they’re all colourfully portrayed in Sarah Warburton’s comedic supermarket scenes. What more can a swashbuckling child ask?

Pete’s Magic Pants: Pirate Peril
Paddy Kempshall and Chris Chatterton
Egmont
Another pair of Pete’s snazzy magic pants come out of the suitcase for a wearing – pirate’s stripy ones in this instance – and before you can say ‘Avast’, with a wiggle and a wobble, the lad is off on the high seas aboard the Flying Fowl with Cap’n Ted and his trusty, clucking crew. They’re on the trail of Long John Silverside the most feared buccaneer on the high seas; he who has seized the treasure rightfully belonging, so we’re told to Cap’n Ted and his pals.
Can they escape the jaws of the sharks and the clutches of the soggy-suckered octopus, find their way to where the treasure is stashed and then get past the loutish-looking Long John himself?

Perhaps – with the help of Pete’s brain and the odd touch of brawn thereafter.
Fans of Pete’s previous adventure will welcome this second tale, which is pacey, pant-revealing and full of high drama and I suspect it will capture some new pants followers too.

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Alfie and Dad

Alfie and Dad
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
This book comprises three short stories wherein Alfie’s dad, Simon, so we’re told on the introductory page, plays a significant part.
In the first, a disturbed night, on account of relatively new friend Neal’s mention of a possible visit from the “Flying Loobies”, when he visits for a sleepover, calls for reassurance from Dad …

before Alfie can finally settle down for some shut-eye.
This is followed by the temporary loss of Alfie’s beloved soft toy, Flumbo when he, Mum and Annie Rose take a shopping trip by bus. Here again, Alfie’s Dad sorts out the problem. He takes Alfie, the following morning, to the main Lost Property Office

where they retrieve Flumbo

and end up taking home some other ‘unclaimed’ toys to add to Alfie’s collection.
Loss is the theme of the third story too: it’s a in the form of a little marmalade cat that despite misgivings from Dad, not to mention their own cat, Chessie, takes up temporary residence in Alfie’s home.

Dilys, as they call her, doesn’t overstay her welcome though; and after a few days, she disappears again. Not long after, while out walking with Dad, Alfie spies Dilys outside another house and discovers that she, or more accurately Tibbles, has, like many cats, a habit of going missing temporarily from her true place of residence.
As always, Shirley Hughes’ portrayal of Alfie and his family and friends is wonderfully affecting. The temporary setbacks and problems that beset young children, lead to outcomes that are, thanks here to Dad’s timely words of wisdom, satisfyingly resolved.
Alfie will always have a very special place in the affections of those who grew up with his early stories; but thanks to Shirley’s artistic genius with both words and pictures, he will continue to captivate new generations of readers and listeners, who will also take him into their homes and their hearts.

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Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children

Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children
Maria-Christina Sayn-Wittgenstein Nottebohm
Pimpernel Press
There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to looking at art. We all respond differently to paintings: our response depends on what we bring to a work of art; it’s not fixed and likely to change as we change.
Curiosity, the author tells us is the starting point; and everyone –child or adult has that. Whether or not one is able to visit galleries and museums in person, doesn’t stop anyone from experiencing and enjoying works of art through books or via the internet. An important point to remember, says the author, is not to try and see too much in a single visit. She suggests that choosing several focuses of attention will prove much more satisfying than dashing round endeavouring to see every single exhibit. That way lies frustration and, or, boredom. In fact the whole introduction is full of wise and helpful suggestions for any adult contemplating an art gallery visit with one or more children.
‘Puppa’ then goes on to introduce a variety of Old Masters, grouped together thematically. So we have Animals, the Natural World, Families, At Home, Fabulous Faces, Action and Heroes,

Science and Technology to name just some of the thirteen sections.

The Railway, 1873 (Édouard Manet) Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In total there are some fifty paintings of a variety of styles from Early Renaissance to Impressionist; some of the works are from famous artists such as Constable, Degas and Leonardo da Vinci; others will be less familiar ( a few were new to me) but equally worthy of attention.
Each painting is given a whole page illustration opposite which is a page containing factual information about the artist, the background to the work, and pointers, including questions, to focus on when viewing the particular picture. The whole emphasis is on opening up, rather than closing down on, an individual’s response and there is plenty to satisfy those who enjoy stories.
In short, it’s an excellent resource for families or for primary school teachers.

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Spot the Mistake : Lands of Long Ago

Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago
Amanda Wood, Mike Jolley and Frances Castle
Wide Eyed Editions
Many children love to point out the mistakes made by adults. This large book capitalises on this, giving them the opportunity to search Frances Castle’s ten historic scenes to identify the 20 impossible elements that have found their way into each one, as they accompany two young detectives who are on the hunt for those visual errors.
Their first visit is right back to the Stone Age or more precisely around 12,000 years back to the Late Stone Age when humans started living in communities, building permanent homes, growing crops and keeping animals.
From there the questers move forward to 5,000 years back and the Land of the Pharaohs.

The double page scene is followed by another about the same location and provides reasons for the 20 visual anomalies as well as facts about what the ancient Egyptians would have had instead. This pattern, spot the mistakes followed by information spread, is used for each stop throughout the entire time travelling adventure.
Other scenarios are ‘An Outing to the Acropolis’, ‘The Emperor’s Palace’ in ancient China; ‘Life in Ancient Rome’; ‘At the Temple of the Sun’ – the Mayan Empire;

Sailing with the Vikings’; ‘Jousting with the Knights’; ‘The (Mughal) Emperor’s Parade’; and finally, there’s a beach location for ‘Pirates Ahoy!’.
Frances Castle’s aptly bordered, alluring scenes have an ironical, lightheartedness about them that is just right for this time-travelling investigation. I envisage groups of children captivated as they play visual detective together.

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A Story Like the Wind

A Story Like the Wind
Gill Lewis and Jo Weaver
Oxford University Press
Gill Lewis has woven a wonderful novella with an up-to-the-minute feel to it. Stories of the refugee crisis continue to feature in the news with desperate people continuing to attempt seemingly impossible journeys in inflatable boats: this fable is such a one and this particular boat is filled with hopeful passengers young and old, ‘clutching the remains of their lives in small bags of belongings.’ The boat’s engine has failed and the boat is adrift on the Mediterranean; but the passengers, their resources dwindling minute by minute, are alive. Even so, they are willing to share what they have. Among them is fourteen year old Rami: he has no food to share so he refuses what the others offer him. What he does have though, is his precious violin: fragile; intricate; beautiful.

I took the only thing I could not leave behind,” he tells the others when asked why he refuses their offers.
Tell us a story to see us through the night,” requests mother of two young children, Nor.
What Rami performs for those beleaguered passengers is, so he tells them a story of Freedom, a story like the wind, a story that begins on the highest plains of the Mongolian desert, known as the ‘land of a million horses’. His story – essentially a Mongolian folktale about a young shepherd and a white stallion that he rescues as a foal, – is powerful, drawing in each and every listener (and readers) and as it progresses part by part, the passengers make connections with their own lives. Carpet seller, Mohammad tells of trying to sell a flying carpet to the woman who is now his wife. Others too have stories to tell but eventually, Rafi’s magical telling is done. It’s brought his audience together in a shared bond of happy memories, of sadness for those they’ve loved and lost, but most of all, of freedom and hope.

With what I fear is an increase in overt racism, in hate crimes and fascism, not only here in the UK, but also in many other parts of the world, this affecting book deserves, (I’d like to say needs), to be shared widely and discussed anywhere people come together in groups.
Music has the power to transform – that is clear from the story;

and it’s something many of us know from experience: so too do words. Let’s hope Gill Lewis’s poignant words here can work the same magic as those of Rami. They certainly moved me to tears several times as I read. But let’s not forget the power of pictures: they too can bring us together, sometimes in shared understanding, sometimes, shared appreciation or awe. Seamlessly integrated into the story, and adding to the sense of connectedness, Jo Weaver’s illustrations rendered in blue-grey shades are at once atmospheric, evocative and intensely moving, as befits the telling.

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The Tickle Test / Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit

The Tickle Test
Kathryn White and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
Tickling has been the topic of picture books on previous occasions but there’s never been one wherein a tiny mouse is being tested for a job in the ‘Tickle Squad’. The little animal is charged with test tickling all kinds of creatures, great and small, while established members of the squad look on and comment on each and every ticklish encounter.

Did I say ‘creatures great and small?’ Maybe I should add here that each one is a pretty formidable proposition be it the jiggling, wriggling bear; the stinky gorilla, the parping pachyderm,

or even the sniggering snake.
I’d rather he than me when it comes to tackling the jaggy-toothed croc. and I’d beat a hasty retreat when it comes to the final challenge – that’s if you aren’t partial to a spot of tickling particularly from an enthusiastic mouse anyhow.
Kathryn White’s rhyming narrative in combination with Adrian Reynolds’ rib-tickling visuals make for a fun read aloud. Love the endpapers too!

Beware though of finger-fidgets on behalf of your listeners as they try hard to resist testing their own tickling skill on those around them during the story.

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit
Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer
Five Quills
Sky Private Eye has another case to solve when she answers the call of the Little Old Man who reports anxiously, “Our Gingerbread Boy is missing!” Before you can say ‘biscuit’, Sky and her trusty companion, Snuffle are off on the scooter to the source of the call. There they learn that gingerbread lover, Foxy Loxy is in the vicinity and are given permission to search the Boy’s bedroom. It’s there Snuffle discovers a crucial clue concerning new running shoes, which Sky immediately links to the forthcoming Fairytale Olympics.
The race is on: can they track down Gingerbread Boy before Foxy Loxy gets to him?

Furthermore will the sudden shower of rain reduce the runner in training to a soggy heap?
The recipe is akin to the previous case: cupcake baking, a deft move on Sky’s part …

and a thoroughly satisfying finale. Whether or not you met Sky in Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma, then do so now. The chief ingredients: Jane Clarke’s toothsome telling and Loretta Schauer’s appetising artwork, wield their magic again.

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Quality From The Start

Park
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow
It’s never too soon to introduce babies to books: this ‘Tiny Little Story’ is a delight. We accompany Mum and Baby Boo on a walk in the park where they see a dog, a squirrel – squeeze the page and the leaves rustle – and a snail.

It rains, they feed the ducks and then the infant bids farewell to a bird and the park. That’s it; but with its squidgy fabric pages, simple, bright, attractive illustrations and brief text, it’s perfect for a first book. The whole thing comes in a presentation box and there’s a velcro strap to attach the book to a buggy.
With its soft pages, this would make a super present for a mum and new baby.

So Many Feet
Nichole Mara and Alexander Vidal
Abrams Appleseed
HIGH FEET, SLOW FEET; FAST FEET: SNOW FEET; DANCING FEET, HANGING FEET – these are just some of the many different kinds to be found in this largish board book that introduces toddlers to the diverse forms and functions of animal feet be they toed, clawed, webbed, sticky, hoofed, padded or other. Each animal’s feet are adapted for its life style whether it’s  mountain climbing, slow plodding, jumping, swimming, digging,

or perhaps, wall scaling.
Interesting, informative and alluringly illustrated, and with its final spread, which concludes with a parting question, ‘What can YOUR FEET do?’ an open invitation for youngsters to try some experimental movements with their own feet. In fact, nursery practitioners might make it the starting point for some playful group movement activities.

123
ABC

Nosy Crow
Nosy Crow has embarked on a new collaboration with The British Museum and these two board books are some of the first of a new joint non-fiction list.
Each one contains photographic images of objects found in the museum and thus give very young learners an opportunity to see and celebrate some of the wonderfully rich cultural collections while at the same time re-enforcing alphabetic and numerical concepts.
I randomly opened 123 at the first spread and was surprised to see a pair of what look like almost identical Indian shoes to a pair I have that I bought in Rajasthan, India a few years back, and where there are a fair number of makers/sellers of these jooties or mojaris as they are called. Those illustrated here are given in the index as ‘shoes: date unknown’ so I have no idea how old they might be, but it just shows how certain things remain almost unchanged over time.
In fact the whole book starting with 1 llama (a gold figure from Peru); and ending with 20 coins, is full of fascinating objects to look at and talk about.

There is a mix of photos of illustrations (paintings, etching, drawing) and 3D objects including drums, bowls, kites, beads, bags and spoons from the collection.
A similar mix of illustration and 3D items graces the pages of ABC. This spread shows a Japanese woodblock print of a snail, a porcelain teapot from the UK and an ivory figure from Sri Lanka.

Think of the rich vocabulary you might help your child develop by focussing on any of the objects shown: there’s certainly no talking down to toddlers here.
In addition to the index each book has, there is a QR code that if scanned on a smart phone supplies further information about the objects depicted. So, share these exciting little books and then if possible pay a visit to the British Museum and try to find the objects on display there.

I’ve signed the charter  

Our Kid

Our Kid
Tony Ross
Andersen Press
What an intolerant teacher ‘Our Kid’ has, responding to his lateness by sending him to the ‘Naughty Corner.’ (I have strong feelings about naughty corners/steps but won’t pursue the topic here). The Kid has an enormously fertile imagination and so, following his dad’s “Go straightly to school, Our Kid. Don’t be late again.” he tells how he took the shortcut along the beach, which led to hoof dunkling,

an encounter with a dinosaur pirate-chasing submarine driven by fish …

which resulted in the loss of his homework-containing schoolbag and trousers; followed by a rendezvous with an enormously helpful elephant who eventually dropped him at the school before he ‘kerlumped’ off: hence the kid’s tardy arrival.
However, just as the errant pupil has finished his tale and been admonished for his making up of “total and utter nonsense” the classroom tenor takes a sudden unexpected turn. The school, after a considerable degree of turbulence, is invaded by three creatures asking for “Our Kid” and proffering some objects …

To relate what ensues thereafter would spoil this fantastic story so let’s just say, the teacher has something of a change of heart, which leaves our protagonist bounding home joyfully after a thoroughly uneventful day at school. Did I say at the start Our Kid has an enormously fertile imagination? Actually, I may have been just a teensy bit wrong on that score.
This cracking tale put me in mind somewhat, of Cali and Chaud’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School but its manner of telling is completely different. Ross’s off-beat use of language is both inspired and playful: I absolutely loved ‘shoffled’ ‘bumpeeded’ ‘felumpingly’, ‘boomdered’ and ‘glumbtious’ to mention just some of the wonderful words he sprinkles throughout the kid’s saga. Equally brilliant are each and every one of his watercolours. The expression of utter joie-de-vivre the narrator shows as he dunkles his hooves in the seawater; the way he clambers up the elephant’s trunk to reach the howdah on its back;

and the nonchalance of the teacher as he hands back Our Kid’s unread homework are beyond brilliant; which in fact, applies to the whole book.

I’ve signed the charter  

When We Go Camping/ Skyfishing


Who is the narrator of this lively celebration of family camping? Could it be one of the children? A parent? Or perhaps, the eponymous dog that gets into each and every scene? I doubt it’s one of the grandparents; all they seem to do is sit around or participate in some form of spectator sport, with the odd pause for a spot of insect swatting on occasion.
Meanwhile, other family members make friends, play, cook, fish, swim, shiver thereafter: beg your pardon Gramps: there you are boiling up the billy can for a warm-up drink for the chilly swimmers.

Naturally taking a pee involves a bit of inconvenience and perhaps it might be advisable to take a clothes peg along.

Perhaps the highlight of the day is a spot of ‘Hummetty strummetty squeak-io’ singing around the fire before finally repairing to the tent for some dream-filled slumbers.
Sally Sutton’s rhythmic, rhyming narrative is irresistible, especially so those playful refrains that accompany every scenario so beautifully portrayed in Cat Chapman’s watercolours: there’s a ‘Smacketty tappetty bopp-io‘; a ‘Zippetty zappetty flopp-io’ and a ‘Snuffletty wuffletty roar-io’ to name a few: I’ll leave readers to guess what actions they orchestrate.
My memories of camping are of endeavouring to bash pegs into sloping, rock-hard ground, lumpy porridge and noisy sleep-intruding voices in the night. This book in contrast makes the whole experience – well maybe not the loo visits or the odd trip-up – a pleasure, full of simple, fun-filled delight.

Skyfishing
Gideon Sterer and Poly Bernatene
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The young girl narrator’s grandfather loves to fish; so when he moves from his rural idyll to live in the big city with his family, he greatly misses his passion. The child is determined to find a way to engage him, but through autumn and winter, nothing catches his interest.
Come spring, the girl has an inspiration: she initiates a game of ‘let’s pretend’ fishing over the balcony edge and …

The possibilities escalate until they cast their lines deep into the rumbling tumbling ‘ocean’ below: an ocean full of wonderful adventures to last for months and months …

As the narrative unfolds, Bernatene’s vibrant, whimsical paintings show the chaotic city transformed into an ocean teeming with amazing sea creatures.
A warm-hearted story of the special relationship between the young and old, and the power of the imagination.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mouse’s Big Day / All Birds Have Anxiety / Mouse and the Storm

Mouse’s Big Day
Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Mouse is going to school for the very first time and even before leaving home, she’s decided it’s not for her. Her dawdling tactics don’t work, nor does her “I don’t want to” response to all Mummy mouse’s encouraging remarks; finally she’s left at Twit Twoo School in the safe hands of teacher, Miss Hoot.

She has an exciting project for her class: “… go out and find something. Something special. Maybe something only you can find.
Mouse reluctantly joins her classmates all of whom thoroughly enjoy rummaging, upturning rocks, digging and pond peering, although she’s too shy to be anything but an onlooker. While the others are busy contemplating their findings …

Mouse vanishes. Miss Hoot knows just where to look for her though, and eventually a kindly paw proffered by Mole encourages Mouse to emerge from her hiding place and follow the others back indoors.
There she makes a series of discoveries that ultimately lead her to a very important realisation. School is an exciting place after all and she cannot wait for tomorrow.
Populated by adorable animal characters, Mouse’s school is an inviting place and Lydia Monks’ heart-warming story of her first day gets right to the heart of how the less outgoing among 4 year olds are likely to feel on their ‘Big Day’. This is just right to share with a nursery and preschool groups, or individuals, in the lead up to starting school.
Further reassurance about coping with tricky situations comes in:

All Birds Have Anxiety
Kathy Hoopman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Statistics show that more and more children have anxiety problems, often starting at a young age. I’ve talked about educational issues that I feel are to a large degree responsible in other reviews so will just say that here is a photographic picture book that will help children of all ages better understand the condition.
By populating it with birds of all kinds with appealing faces,

and in amusing poses,

the author gives a serious topic just the right degree of lightness and gentle humour.
Anxiety in all its forms is discussed including how stress can effect everyday activities – ‘Everyday jobs, like combing hair, changing clothes or making decisions are too much to think about ’; its possible causes – ‘it often runs in families’; how to deal with it: ‘Being with those who listen to us and accept us makes a world of difference.’ and ‘Exercise, plenty of sunshine and a healthy diet are all a huge help.’ for instance.
Unthreatening, fun and enormously helpful for children of all ages, whether they suffer from anxiety or just want to understand it better in others.
For educators and those they have dealings with, be that in school, at home or in another setting.
Anxiety prone youngsters will benefit from some therapeutic reflexology as in:

Mouse and the Storm
Susan Quayle, illustrated by Melissa Muldoon
Singing Dragon
Reflexologist, complementary therapist and developer of The Children’s Reflexology Programme follows The Mouse’s House with a third story intended, this time for reflexology on a child’s hands.
Using Mouse and the five other animal characters to represent reflex areas of the hand, Quayle weaves a charming rhyming story to accompany the sessions of hand reflexology. It’s especially designed for use with young children, in particular those who have anxieties be they associated with ASD, new experiences, or another condition where calming treatments are required.
With hand instructions at the top of each left hand page and a charmingly quirky illustration on the right, adults can read the story of what happens when the animals awake to discover a storm scattered them far from the comfort of their own homes

while applying the gentle movements to the young recipient’s hands.
Since no prior reflexology experience is needed, this is a book for any parent of an anxious young child to add to the family bookshelf.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Walk in the Forest

A Walk in the Forest
Maria Dek
Princeton Architectural Press
In the forest, wonders await’. Thus begins what feels like a truly heartfelt advocacy of the joys to be discovered by taking up the author’s invitation to leave behind the civilised world and join the child narrator in an exploration of a magical place. What actually happens is that readers, immediately engaged, find themselves standing behind the boy’s head, or even in his shoes, as he becomes ensphered by the greens and browns of a jungly canopy; drags a stick behind him, chases dragonflies and goes down on his knees to observe some things he’s found (vignettes show these); runs wild amid brightly coloured birds and tree-coiling snakes.

Then gives full throttle to his vocal chords: and who can ignore the pull to ‘Follow footprints. See where they lead you.’ and even more important, ‘Look! Find treasure.’ Here Dek focuses our attention on the textures and shapes of those treasures – flowers, feathers, fir cones, stones and the tail of a lizard.

The contrasts are stark: ‘All is small in the forest. All is big. And deep.’ Who can resist the unspoken invitation to shed footwear and ‘Wade in’ feeling the cool of the pond and the tickle of those water plants and fishes?
Secrets surround: birds have them; trees have them – if you listen; and patience might result in an encounter with a fox
and perhaps one of the many forest burrowing animals that tend to keep themselves out of sight.
A treasure of a book; and with its constantly shifting perspectives …

an eloquent, visual and verbal evocation of nature: especially, it’s one to visit whenever you’re feeling a bit down. It will surely help lift your spirits and after re-reading, send you out in search of a wooded place where further joys await.
Dek’s watercolours do the flora and fauna of the natural world proud with her lush scenes and surprise, sometimes stunningly stark, discoveries.

Like those of Frost, her ‘woods are lovely, dark and deep’. But I too have promises to keep and so reluctantly, must leave the meditational peace and tranquillity of this debut children’s book creator’s verdant world and just say, you need this picture book gem; everybody does.

I’e signed the charter 

Six Blind Mice and An Elephant

Six Blind Mice and an Elephant
Jude Daly
Otter-Barry Books
So often in my teaching career have I used Six Blind Men and an Elephant that despite having the book beside me, I instinctively mistyped the title of Jude Daly’s rendition of the Indian fable at the start of this review.
Daly sets her story somewhere in rural South Africa and begins with a somewhat sleepy elephant wandering from its forest habitat into a farmer’s barn and there falling fast asleep in the straw. On discovering it and excited by his find, the farmer rounds up his family and neighbours to view the creature and its wonders.

Meanwhile six blind mice nesting in a tree nearby are aroused from their slumbers by a strange aroma. Eager to discover the source of this new sensation, they follow their noses, encounter a cat and take refuge in a hole where they hear the humans chatting about the visitor asleep in the farmer’s barn. Search over they decide, and once the crowd has dispersed off they go to the barn.
Suddenly “Ouch!” that’s the oldest mouse coming up rather hard against the elephant’s side and declaring the beast to be “like a – wall”.

The second mouse disagrees likening the animal to a spear as she almost nose dives from the end of a tusk. And so it goes on with the other four mice giving their opinions based on partial evidence until as the youngest completes its simile, the somnolent pachyderm gives a flap of its enormous ears and expostulates so loudly that the rodents run for cover. The elephant then delivers a piece-by-piece description of himself (love those palm fan-like ears)

before finally, likening himself to … (readers aloud might want to pause at that point and give listeners an opportunity to complete the sentence) and crashing out once more exhausted by laughter.
Exit six fully satisfied mice …
Daly’s playful take on the fable still leaves plenty of food for thought and is perfect for a community of enquiry style discussion with early years or primary children.
Glowing African light radiates from every one of her illustrations; the golden straw-strewn barn floor is for me, reminiscent of some of the fractured swirls of Hockney’s pool painting.

I’ve signed the charter  

Rockabye Pirate / The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit

Rockabye Pirate
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Don’t expect loud shouts of ‘Avast me ‘arties’ and similar in this pirate tale; far from it, for Knapman’s text is a lilting, under the covers-luring, lullaby for mummy pirates or daddies for that matter, to share with their pirate offspring at bedtime.
Yes, it’s full of freebooters, the likes of Black Bearded Brewster, Sea Dog McPhail and Freddy the Fright, but they’re not doing the wicked deeds upon the seas, rather they’re performing their ablutions

albeit with some maternal assistance in preparation for the most important part of their daily ritual …

After all, their day has been packed with mischief and mayhem, so now it’s time for some tucked-up-cosily-under-the-duvet dreams. I wonder what those might feature …

Ada Grey’s piratical characters, far from alarming, are portrayed as an endearing bunch of marauders as befits the inhabitants of a gentle bedtime story. Having said ‘bedtime’, this fun picture book could equally be shared with an early years group especially if they’re engaged in a pirate theme.

The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit
Peter Bently and Gerry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
The Tooth Fairy returns for another adventure, this time responding to a missive from Her Majesty the Queen informing of the loss of her great grandson’s first tooth. Come nightfall, the little fairy is palace bound but has a few obstacles in her path

before she finds a way in.
Once inside there are still further hazards – corgis, a cloth-wielding maid and some undies …

Finding the little prince’s bedroom is none too easy and the Tooth Fairy finds herself assisting in another ‘toothy’ search before receiving assistance for her troubles.

Will she ever make that all-important coin/tooth exchange and get home for some shut-eye?
Bently’s rhyming text is full of read-aloud fun with some unexpected encounters and, some expected ones: the corgis seem to find their way into every Royals’ picture book as do members of the Queen’s Guard. Garry Parsons’ exuberant illustrations provide gigglesome details at every turn of the page. All in all, a right royal chuckle.

I’ve signed the charter  

Ella Queen of Jazz / The School of Music

Ella Queen of Jazz
Helen Hancocks
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A super-stylish biographical story of the friendship between two iconic women: Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. It tells how rising star, Ella and her ‘Fellas’ experienced racial prejudice on the part of some club owners.

This treatment dented her confidence, but only temporarily, thanks to the magic of her music and the intervention of one very special woman who secretly used her powers of persuasion to get Ella an invitation to perform at the ‘biggest joint in town’, (The Mocambo,) the very same nightclub that had turned her away before.
And so it was that, just as her secret friend had predicted, Ella Fitzgerald became a huge hit with the audience

and subsequent shows drew in enormous, enthusiastic crowds for every performance, in part thanks to Marilyn Monroe’s presence. Like all good things though, this show had to come to an end; but Ella’s sadness was more than compensated for by the lasting friendship between herself and Marilyn .

Thanks to Marilyn too, Ella became a great film singer and even sang for the US president, eventually earning the name of ‘First Lady of Song – the Queen of Jazz’ and winning thirteen Grammys and many other awards.
Enormously empowering and pitch perfect for KS1 readers is this slice of 1950’s Hollywood razzle-dazzle.

Jazz is just one of the many music genres featured in another stylish presentation:

The School of Music
Meurig & Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost
Wide Eyed Editions
Readers are invited to enrol in the School of Music for a course of 40 lessons, presented over three terms. First we meet ‘The Boss’ aka Sergio Trunk aka, The Maestro, convincingly putting the case for having music in your life and explaining his role as Head of School. Next we meet other faculty members, six talented professors including the percussionist, Roxy Moto …

Now let lessons commence:
During the first term, there’s an introduction to a variety of musical instruments and a wide range of music.
Term two comprises a look at the essentials of melody, harmony, pitch and rhythm; and musical notation is explained in terms understandable to anyone, even those without any musical knowledge.

Students who make it through to Term 3 – and one hopes that’s everyone (no exams here), the final nine lessons encompass ways to enjoy the practical aspects of music. There’s a lesson on making music at home, another on singing and its benefits, and a brief consideration of which instrument to learn. Then comes the nitty gritty ‘Why do we have to practise?, followed by helpful ideas for combatting nerves and more. Many of the lessons have a practical activity for additional enrichment and enjoyment. There is even a QR code at the back of the book with which to stream  samples  of music to your phone or tablet.
I learned more from reading this, than I did during all my music lessons at grammar school (albeit only taken for the first four years and during which I spent a lot of time mucking around as the teacher was so boring). Meuirig and Rachel Bowen are infinitely better teachers and their lessons are made more accessible and further enlivened through Daniel Frost’s witty, contemporary illustrations.
Thoroughly recommended for KS2 readers at home or school.

I’ve signed the charter 

My Hand to Hold / How Do I Love You?

My Hand to Hold
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Alison Friend
Hodder Children’s Books
Love shines through no matter what, is the message in this sweet rhyming book.
Through the seasons and through the highs and lows of everyday life, we follow an adult and infant as they interact with each other;

with the natural world they inhabit and occasionally, with others …

Smriti’s heartfelt verbal evocation of unconditional love is made all the more enchanting by Alison Friend’s pastel and watercolour illustrations.

I think this is their first picture book collaboration; it’s certainly a harmonious one.

How Do I Love You?
Marion Dane Bauer and Caroline Jayne Church
Hodder Children’s Books
Using the well-known line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning as a starting point, Bauer uses comparisons with aspects of the natural world to show that parental love is ever present. ‘I love you as the thirsty duck loves a sudden shower.

Or, ‘I love you as the waking bear loves the smell of spring.
The small girl, the only human shown throughout, is clearly the centre of a parent’s world; this also suggests an ‘at oneness’ of child and nature no matter the landscape she happens to be in.

Caroline Church’s mixed media style collages have a pleasing texture: the duck’s wings bear a floral pattern, the bear’s fur has a hatched appearance not unlike parquet flooring; the cat’s fur is gently brushed with a darker shade contrasting beautifully with the child’s madly wavy tangled tresses.
The final spread fuses present and future with ‘And as our friendly Earth/ loves to spin around. / I love you as the moon / loves each shining star. // I love all that you will be / and everything you are.’ So be it.
An enchanting interplay of words and pictures for adult and child to savour together.

I’ve signed the charter  

Just Like Me! & A Handful of Playful Board Books

Just Like Me!
Joshua Seigal and Amélie Falière
Flying Eye Books
A joyful spin off from the favourite nursery game ‘Everybody Do This’ populated by adorably playful animals, a hairy, sluggy-looking quadruped, and one small girl, that simply cries out to be joined in with. There are instructions to ‘suck your thumbs’; ‘rub your tums’; ‘lick your lips’;

‘shake your hips’, ‘spin around’; ‘touch the ground’

and ‘stretch up high’.
I’m pretty sure your ‘littles’ still have plenty of oomph left to enjoy flapping their arms and trying to fly, tapping their toes, nose picking – not much energy required for that but the instruction will be greeted with relish; and then comes a final leap before snuggling down for a little nap zzzz …
If this book doesn’t fill your nursery group with exhilaration, then nothing will.
Perfect for letting off steam; but equally so for beginning readers.

Peek-a-Boo What?
Elliot Kreloff
Sterling Children’s Books
This title from the ‘Begin Smart’ series is just right for a game of peek-a-boo with a baby. Its rhyming text, bold, bright collage style, patterned artwork and die-cut peep holes, introduce in a playful manner some animals, a chain of rhyming words – boo, two, blue, shoe, moo, zoo and who’. Irresistible delight; and there’s even a ‘Dear Parents’ introduction explaining the rationale behind the game/book’s design.

What Do You Wear?
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
Taro Gomi takes a playful look at the outermost layer of various animals including penguin’s classic suit, snake’s snug stocking – striped in this instance, and goldfish’s patterned ‘skirt’ …

Although perhaps the metaphors will go over the heads of toddlers, they will delight in the sheer silliness of animals supposedly wearing clothes; and sight of the small boy in his nuddies. Slightly older, beginning reader siblings can enjoy sharing the book with their younger brothers or sisters too and share in the whole joke.

Welcome to Pat-a-Cake Books, a new Hachette Children’s Group imprint focusing on the years from babyhood to preschool. Here are two of its first titles, both board books:

On the Move
illustrated by Mojca Dolinar
This is one of the ‘First Baby Days’ series and aims to stimulate a baby’s vision ‘with pull-tabs to help … focus’. With a carefully chosen, high contrast, colour palette, a sequence of animals – using different modes of transport – cars, a train, a space rocket, an air balloon, and a boat is illustrated. Every spread is beautifully patterned; the illustrations stand out clearly; there are transport sounds to encourage baby participation and of course, the sturdy pull-outs to enjoy.

Colours
illustrated by Villie Karabatzia
This title introduces the ‘Toddler’s World’ Talkative Toddler series with colour spreads for red, blue, orange, yellow, green, pink, brown, purple, grey, black and white; and then finally comes a multi-coloured fold-out spread with an invitation to name all the colours thereon. Each colour spread has at least nine labelled items and patterned side borders.
Each book is sturdily constructed to stand up to the enthusiastic handling it’s likely to get.

Bedtime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is one of a pair of enchanting, lift-the-flap board books from the amazing Sophy Henn. Herein the utterly adorable toddler fends off shouts of “Bedtime, Ted!” with a chain of wonderful deferral tactics: sploshing in the bath with flappy penguins; brushing “teeth with a snappy crocodile”; slurping milk with a big, stripy tiger; jumping “out the fidgets like a bouncy kangaroo”. Then it seems, young Ted is finally ready to bed down – along with a few snuggly pals of course.
Perfect bedtime sharing; make sure your toddler is already in bed first though …
Ted himself is a tiny tour-de-force.
The companion book is:
Playtime with Ted
Herein the little lad uses a cardboard box for all kinds of creative uses: racing car, digger, submarine, train; and space rocket bound for the moon – whoosh! And after all this imaginative play, he’ll make sure he’s back in time for his tea. Play is hard, appetite-stimulating work after all. Two must haves for your toddler’s collection.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Covers of My Book Are Too Far Apart / Harvey the Hero

The Covers of My Book Are Too Far Apart
Vivian French and Nigel Baines
Picture Squirrels
Huh! Reading’s rubbish!” So says the angry-looking boy on the first page of this lively, enormously engaging, cartoon-style book. It tackles the ‘reluctant reader’ issues precisely and wittily; and the anti-reading comments will most likely be familiar to those of us who are teachers, as well as a fair number of parents.
Each ‘grumble’ is allocated a spread with a host of pro-reading people countering the moan with their own positive idea. Thus, the ”I don’t have time to read. I’m too busy!” guy is offered: on the bus, just before sleep, in the bath, instead of tidying a room, as an accompaniment to doing something boring such as shopping, and while the dinner’s cooking as possibilities.
The most important thing that Vivian French and Nigel Baines do is to make this a truly inclusive book with an extremely wide range of characters being featured: there are those who want to read but don’t find it at all easy …

but possibly my favourite spread starts with the opener “Pictures are for little kids” …

It’s great too that reading is interpreted broadly to include comics (love the superhero advocate who puts in an appearance at every possible opportunity); audio books, eBooks, picture books (at any age or stage) but most important of all is – and it’s the reason that every primary classroom should have at least one copy of this –

‘Reading isn’t a competition! It’s FUN!’

that and another fact many teachers tend to forget – that reading, at any stage, is a highly personal process: one size DOES NOT fit all. Inspired and inspiring both.

Harvey the Hero
Hrefna Bragadottir
Nosy Crow
Would-be superhero, Harvey is thrilled to be attending a book signing of Superhero Steve. But after the event, Steve drives off leaving his cape behind: Harvey resolves to follow him to the Big City and return the cape.
The Big City though is a bustling place and Harvey needs help – a map perhaps …
Seemingly he’s inadvertently helped in the apprehending of a thief …

In fact, during his search for Steve’s house, Harvey is responsible, unwittingly, for extinguishing a fire; and rescuing a little bunny.

Then, having returned the cape to his hero, Harvey returns home and gets the surprise of his life: could his dream of superherodom really be coming true?
Young superheroes and would-be superheroes of the human variety will delight in this tale of misadventure and applaud Harvey’s final rise to hero fame. Like Baxter’s Book, Hrefna Bragadottir populates her second story with a host of whimsical animal characters whose activities make both children and adults chuckle.

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Labyrinth / Amazed / Pierre the Maze Detective Sticker Book

Labyrinth
Théo Guignard
Wide Eyed Editions
All manner of unlikely mazes – 14 in all – and each more challenging than the one before, are found in this vibrantly coloured book. Within each of the digitally designed spreads are things to search for, hiding in full sight, among the busy graphics. You can discover a smiling crocodile, a flying carpet, a bowler-hatted worm (not on the worm page), dark waters containing crabs in all the colours of the rainbow, cityscapes, a dragon’s lair,

mind-boggling geometry and a beach littered with sunbathers and much more as your fingers are drawn to follow the tracks across the spreads. This is just the thing to bridge the books and on-screen games divide.
as is:

Amazed
Aleksandra Artymowska
Laurence King Publishing
Herein the aim is to help a lost boy navigate ten mazes to reach his waiting friends.
He sets off through pouring rain, down into a strange cavern full of origami fish, stars, birds and other creatures, fossils, gemstones and ladders towards a door into a world of trees. The trees too are bedecked with origami birds and there are planks, ladders and bridges to negotiate.

The exit door leads into a labyrinth world of pipes and machinery and yet more origami birds. Mesa-like rock formations are his next playground and from there another door takes him to a sculptured rock world with paper darts and whizzing birds once more present.
Next comes a boat-filled lake; then a world of rocks and ladders from where he enters cliff-like terraces festooned with prickly cacti. The next challenge is to cross a stepping-stone strewn desert.
A precarious, sky-high wooden scaffolded structure seemingly supporting chunks of rock needs to be navigated next,

from which the only escape is via a long, long ladder on which to descend. Happily, there at the bottom his friends are waiting and we discover that they are, seemingly, the source of all those origami creations that have festooned the landscapes of his travels.

Aleksandra Artymowska’s colour palette of pale greens, blues, purples and greys give the whole thing an other-worldly feel. A magical experience for all ages.

Pierre The Maze Detective: The Sticker Book
Hiro Kamigaki & IC4 Design
Laurence King Publishing
This is based on The Search for the Stolen Maze Stone book. Herein Pierre has a picture wall and he needs help from his readers to fill it.
With more than 800 stickers, and five scenes there is plenty to keep maze lovers engaged for hours.

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Edgar and the Sausage Inspector

Edgar and the Sausage Inspector
Jan Fearnley
Nosy Crow
Edgar and Edith are brother and sister and there’s nothing Edward likes more than to make Edith happy. Determined to provide a tasty treat for his sibling, he sets out into town to buy something really tasty for dinner. Sure enough, very soon he spies the ideal treat: her very favourite food – sausages. Feeling extremely pleased with his purchase Edward heads home. Suddenly though, he’s apprehended by a hat-wearing rat blocking his path, claiming to be “The Inspector” and demanding a look in Edgar’s bag. Duped by the creature’s appearance, Edgar shows the inspector his purchase and immediately has it confiscated “for further inspection”. Consequently it’s a very dull dinner for the cat duo that evening as poor Edgar explains about the rat.
Next day however, Edgar’s off again determined to make up for his previous loss and this time his purchase is some delicious cakes from the patisserie.

Off he sets home clutching his basket when who should appear again but The Inspector –sporting not only a hat but also a large badge this time. Once more it’s the rat who enters his hole in the wall with his paws full and Edgar who heads home empty handed.

Day three dawns with both brother and sister’s tummies exceedingly rumbly. Off goes Edgar, loads up his shopper with yummy treats and …

Will Edith ever get that scrumptious repast her brother so longs to provide for her? And will that significantly more rotund, dastardly rat ‘Inspector’ get his just desserts?
Jan Fearnley exploits the inverted slang use of the word ‘bad’ (popular with teenagers) cleverly in her amusing story, which is based on a feline member of her own household. The text, with its rogue inspector and his repeated “Hold it right there!” refrain is enormous fun to read aloud and cries out for audience participation. The variety of perspective and depth of field in Jan’s illustrations draws the eye into the action, and helps focus attention on the wealth of detail in every one, be it double spread, single page or vignette.
Altogether a scrumptious feast for ear and eye.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday / Travel Activity Book

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday
Marianne Dubuc
Book Island
Mr Postmouse is back – or rather, he isn’t: he’s off on a holiday trip with his family and like many of us, is taking some work to finish. First stop is the forest where they set up camp, oh! and there just happens to be a parcel to drop off for forest resident, Aunt Maisy.

The mice then head to the seaside for some relaxation before boarding a cruise ship, which stops off at a volcanic island for another parcel delivery and for Pipsqueak, provides an opportunity to toast some marshmallows – yummy!

A camel ride in the desert, a jungle safari, a hasty, town stopover, a mountain sortie, a polar stop-off, an air-balloon flight all follow; and as you might expect, Mr P. has parcels to drop off at all the locations.

Eventually though, the globe trotting is over and the mouse family return home where unsurprisingly there’s a whole pile of letters needing to be delivered by Mr Postmouse.
This sequel is every bit as full of delicious details as Here Comes Mr Postmouse. It’s hard to show these on photos; but for instance, the forest scene has elements of a Hansel and Gretel type story being acted out by various characters. A mouse is picking up the pebbles that a small boy is using to leave a trail and hand-in-hand, two small children are heading towards a gingerbread house, there are boy scout bunnies and a whole host of minibeasts –

one toasting what looks like a sausage, over a bonfire.
If you share this with a group of youngsters – and I hope you will, as it offers so much to discuss, then ensure you build in lots of time to peruse each spread.

No matter where your holiday destination is, this might well be a worthwhile book to take along:

Travel Activity Book
illustrated by Charlie Brandon-King
Button Books
Starting with, on the inside front cover, a host of ideas for games to play on the journey, youngsters are offered a wealth of removable sheets of things to do from ‘Get Packed’ with its empty case, ticket and blank passport waiting to be filled; airport related activities, to a spot the clouds page, followed by a world map page. This just covers the first half dozen pages. There follow: all kinds of puzzles, problems to solve, drawing, writing and other creative activities and more.
No matter if you’re travelling to a jungly location or island far away, or somewhere much closer to home, there should be something to keep children from around 4 to 10 involved.

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Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt / Goldilocks and the Three Potties

Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt
Giles Andreae
Egmont
My initial thought on opening the parcel containing this book was ‘Oh no! Messing around with Pooh Bear!’ But then I read the rhyming story aloud all the way through and was utterly enchanted: it is Giles Andreae after all and he knows how to write a rhymer if anyone does.

The story simply trips off the tongue rather like that delicious honey that Pooh just cannot resist consuming; even when it’s his very last jar: and it’s supposed to be Heffalump-catching bait in the pit that Piglet has dug in the hope that it, rather than ‘Fresh Piglet(s)’ will become the creature’s next feast.
That jar of honey in our trap.” / groaned Pooh, “it was my last. Oh bother! Double bother! / And if no-one’s listening, / BLAST!

So saying, off goes Pooh, leaving Piglet all alone in bed, pondering on the “horrid, hairy Heffalump” and whether it will indeed, prefer the sweet sticky stuff or “juicy piglets in his tummy.” But then before you can say ‘Heffalump’ it’s time for Piglet to foray into the forest and see what, it anything is in that pit.

Delicious! It certainly left me, and my listeners, hungry for more …

Goldilocks and the Three Potties
Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow
Even fairy tale characters have to learn about using a potty; young Goldilocks is no exception. Fed up with soggy nappies, she decides it’s about time she began wearing “Big girl pants’ instead. – so long as she has the perfect pair _

Of course, though, wearing pants means remembering to use a potty when you need a wee: that too has to be just right. Then there’s the question of timing: there are occasions when it seems you really need to go but it turns out to be a false alarm; other times you might leave it a little too late …

Sure enough though, Goldilocks soon gets the hang of things making her mum and dad very proud parents indeed.
Just the book to share at home or in a nursery setting, with toddlers embarking on potty training; and equally those just past that stage who will delight in Goldilocks’s toileting activities from their own slightly superior, ‘been there’ standpoint.
There is plenty to amuse in Leigh Hodgkinson’s scenes be they indoors or out in the woods. The infant Goldilocks is an adorable character and that final spread will surely make readers aloud chuckle as much as their young audiences.

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For Your Information Shelf: Books Books Books / Taking Flight

Books Books Books
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books
Award-winning team, Mick Manning and Brita Grandström takes readers on an exploratory journey around London’s British Library, a library that holds over 150 million items in all, going right back to the earliest printed books and coming bang up to date with some printed this year.
First stop is the St Cuthbert Gospel, an ancient hand-made volume that was found in the saint’s coffin at Lindisfarne Priory some time after he died in the 7th century and which was sold to the British Library in 2011 for £9,000,000.
We’re also shown the Lindisfarne Gospels; a copy of Beowulf written in Old English …

and eighteen other landmark publications from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Alice in Wonderland, including the gigantic Klencke Atlas, dating back to the time of Charles 11, that needs six people to lift it …

handwritten sheet music and newspapers.
Mick makes the whole place sound absolutely fascinating and Brita’s visuals really bring each and every entry to life. I haven’t visited this enormous library for many years but reading their book sent me first to its website, http://www.bl.uk and from there to planning my next visit in the near future.

Taking Flight
Adam Hancher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Adam Hancher tells in words and pictures , the amazing story of the Wright Brothers and how through determination and fearlessness, they brought their childhood dream to fruition.
From humble beginnings in Ohio, the boys, inspired by the gift of a toy helicopter from their father, worked tirelessly on project glider. Starting with observations of birds in flight, then working on designing and making, they built their first glider, which they then tested in one of the wildest parts of the US. The machine was a failure, so it was back to the drawing board to work on Mark 2.
Finally a powered machine was ready for testing and … yes, the first journey of a Wright flying machine took place.

It still needed perfecting however and patience was needed until in 1908, everything was ready but …

‘ … something was wrong.’

Fortunately the brothers had kept the promise they’d made to their sister never to fly together, so although Orville was badly injured, he recovered and meanwhile Wilbur had been hard at work flying and breaking records. Fame at last for the Wright Brothers and thoroughly deserved it was.
A mix of superb double page spreads of key scenes, single pages and small scenarios, Hancher’s illustrations really do evoke a sense of their late 19th century settings.
An inspiring, beautiful book for KS1/2 readers at school or at home.

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Emma Jane’s Aeroplane / Ellie’s Magic Wellies

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane
Katie Howarth and Daniel Rieley
Templar Publisihng
We meet young aviator Emma Jane as she takes off into the night sky heading so it appears for a distant city with its shining lights. London is her first stop-off and approaching the London Eye in the rain, she spots a fox and takes it aboard.

Before long. ‘Up ahead is something bright – it’s a city’s shining lights …’ Paris is the next stop where having looped around the Eiffel Tower, Emma Jane spies on Notre Dame, a rooster and …’So Emma Jane in her aeroplane, / a fox who doesn’t like the rain, / and a rooster who crows wherever he goes / fly on.’ … towards Venice and thence New York, Beijing and Sydney.

By now the plane looks pretty full and it’s heading straight into a storm; a storm that pitches them right into the churning sea. Are the plane and its passengers, not to mention Emma Jane, destined to be lost at sea or do all those animals possess skills that can be called upon in their hour of need?
Let’s just say that all ends happily, with fond farewells as our pilot drops each of her new friends off in their home city before whizzing off once again …
Katie Howarth’s peppy rhyming tale of travel, significant sights, and friendship without boundaries zips along nicely and is fun to share, all the more so if time is given to linger over Daniel Rieley’s delectably droll illustrations be they spread, single page, double spread or vignette.

Ellie’s Magic Wellies
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing
I’ve yet to meet a young child who doesn’t love to splosh around in puddles; it’s certainly so with Ellie Pengelly who has just been given a shiny new pair of wellies by her Auntie Flo who has come to do a spot of child-minding while Ellie’s mum visits the dentist. Having donned her polka-dot winged wonders, off heads Ellie in search of some lovely splash-about in puddles. Having located a particularly large one she leaps in and as she does, gets the surprise of her life. What should appear, courtesy of Ellie’s new ‘magical wellies, but a creature introducing itself as a “Flibberty-Gibberty” – a Flipperty Gibberty out of its puddle just waiting to play.
And play they do; the F.G. seemingly having boundless energy.

(Not sure the creature should be encouraging young Ellie to do headstands though, thinks the yoga teacher in me).
Play over, the two go indoors for a spot of something to eat, or rather, that’s the intention but what happens is something quite different and extremely chaos making.
Can they get the house back to its former tidy state before mum’s return? That is the crucial question…

Perhaps so with a little help from those magical wellies of Ellie’s.
Amy Sparkes’ sparkling rhyming text combines beautifully with Nick East’s equally sparky illustrations to produce a lively read aloud that is likely to induce a whole lot of puddle jumping – ready steady SPLOSH!

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Sprinkle with Kisses / I Love My Grandad

Sprinkle with Kisses: A Spoonful for Bunny
Sprinkle with Kisses: Sweet Dreams, Baby

Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
Two board book recipes, full of love: one for a tasty cookie mixture comprising tickles, giggles, smiles, cuddles, sighs,

snuggles, hugs and kisses; the other a formula for a peaceful, good night’s sleep. For this you need a cosy bed, a warm hug, a favourite teddy, a soothing lullaby, not forgetting that ‘sweet kiss goodnight.

With super-cute illustrations of adorable infants and gentle rhyming texts, what more can any baby ask, other than a loving adult to read these enchanting books?

I Love My Grandad
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
The toddler narrator of this celebration of the love between a grandfather and grandchild clearly demonstrates how much the youngster relishes the time he spends with his own special Grandad: an amazing assembler and supplier of explanations; full of wisdom; adventure loving; a fun-fan; up for anything, even when it’s exhausting. This grandad is ready to play whatever the weather; loves to reminisce and is the perfect person for a prolonged chat. Seemingly too, he is able to pack a great deal into a single day demonstrating his love in so many different ways.

Celebrating another special relationship, this new addition to the ‘I Love’ series exudes warmth and tenderness with every turn of the page and is just right for sharing with that very special grandad.

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Big Hid

Big Hid
Roisin Swales
Flying Eye Books
Do you have days when you feel unaccountably sad? I know I do from time to time. It’s the same for one of the characters in this, Roisin Swales’ sweetly beautiful debut picture book.
Little and Big together are a terrific team so what is Little to do when Big doesn’t want to do any of the usual friends-together things?  It’s no to climbing trees,

chewing stuff, dressing up, and having races.
In fact all Big wants to do is hide away: Little is at a loss to know how to help.
Perhaps a slice of Big’s favourite cake might do the trick: Little duly bakes and delivers a large piece but Big stays firmly tucked in.

He consults his other friends but to no avail: Big remains hidden no matter what; and Little misses his pal SO much.

Suddenly out go his arms and around Big they go (as far as possible) into a great big hug and guess what …
So simple yet so utterly affecting: everybody needs a Little on hand to work some hugging magic at those hide-away times. If you’re not fortunate enough to have one such, then try giving someone in need a hug and see what happens.
The mostly warm earthy tones of Roisin Swales visuals are just perfect for this revivifying story; and those Testudinean eyes have just a touch of Klassen about them.
Perfect for sharing; and equally perfect for beginning readers: it knocks the rubbish they dish out in the name of teaching children in the early stages right out of the water.

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The Leaky Story / The Pirate Craft Book

The Leaky Story
Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop
EK Books
On a shelf sits a row of books; books waiting to be read, not left untouched gathering dust and feeling unloved. One particular book though has a mind of its own. So powerful is its longing to attract attention that it starts to swell,

and drip. The drips become a trickle, then a series of plops until it spills down into wonderfully sploshy puddles on J.J’s living room floor. And thus begins an amazing adventure populated by J.J., his sceptical parents,

sea creatures and a dastardly pirate crew. The battle, both verbal and physical, between the Blossoms and the pirates is wonderfully funny; and, when a kraken appears, woefully waterlogged and a tad uproarious.
Finally though, the whole crazy episode appears to have run its course: the creatures shrink and the water begins to recede.

As J.J.’s world becomes increasingly saturated with salty brine, Anil Tortop’s scenes offer all manner of highly colourful perspectives on Sillett’s surreal story.
What a wonderful way to engender an enthusiasm for books in young listeners, as well as to further the development of their imagination.

On the topic of pirates is:

The Pirate Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Books
Subtitled ’15 things a pirate can’t do without’, this contains piratical projects aplenty for would-be sea dogs. There are clothes – the full gear including eye-patch and hat complete with monogram, buccaneer boots based on a pair of old wellies, a waistcoat, (best worn with stripy T-shirt) and a belt and cutlass to make.
All self-respecting pirates have a parrot on their shoulder, so there are step-by-step instructions to make a felt one, either stitching it together by hand or by machine. A chest in which to stash all the treasure is another requirement and the one herein is made using an old shoe-box; and to find the treasure, a map is most likely needed; so here we have instructions to make one from felt.
Once you’ve got all these things, a pirate party might be fun so there’s a page of ideas for that, and another giving a recipe for a yummy chocolate treasure chest cake. Basic templates for many of the items are provided on the final three pages. None of the projects is particularly difficult, though many would require supervision. Avast me’arties: what are you waiting for?

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Trees / We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My First Adventure Field Guide

Trees
Lemniscates
Walker Books
Published under the Walker Studio imprint, this is a gorgeously textured, digitally worked, tribute to trees. Through elegant illustrations and a succinctly worded text, homage is paid to trees. We see them in all their changing seasonal glory;

trees with ‘their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground.

And we learn something of the functions of their roots; their various locations and something of the important environmental roles they play: homes for a plethora of birds and other creatures, providing shade for humans and other animals, cleansers of the air we breathe; and providers of a bounty of fruits. In the last few spreads we are in the company of a child in various tree interactions both rural and urban.

Share this lovely book with young children and then go outside and start to observe, enjoy and appreciate the wonderful trees around.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My Adventure Field Guide
text by Hannah Peng/Walker Books
Walker Entertainment
Somebody somewhere has had the clever idea of capitalising on the popularity of the original Rosen/Oxenbury We’re Going on a Bear Hunt picture book and the more recent success of the animation of the same and come up with this natural history adventure guide using some stills of scenes from the latter.
Like all good adventures, it takes a bit of planning and making sure one takes the appropriate things along in the way of clothing and protection, together with a handy notebook. Then it’s off into the big wide world of explorations, be they at home, school, countryside or seaside, by day or perhaps, night, always accompanied of course, by a responsible adult.
High in the Sky’, ‘Down in the Ground’ in that ‘thick oozy mud’; Further Afield to caves, through woodlands and forest (stumble trip) and onto the shore are other possible places for spotting a plethora of flora and fauna, large and small. Doing weather observations, making mud bricks, collecting fruits for scrumptious baked apples, creating a special plant habitat at home and measuring the heights of trees are just some of the numerous possibilities included; and I’m sure children will relish the idea of a poo hunt.
With its wipe-clean cover, this backpack-sized beauty concludes with some important words about the impact of certain kinds of human activity on the natural world, ways to help combat these and a final glossary.
For any child with a taste for adventure, either at home or in school.

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A Nest is Noisy / Secrets of Our Earth / Secrets of Animal Camouflage

A Nest is Noisy
Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books
Full of fascinating information, poetically presented, (like its companion titles from this super-talented duo) is this rivetingly illustrated look at the irresistible world of nests. Who could resist Dianna Hutts Aston’s opening ‘ … it’s a nursery of chirp-chirping … (Ruby-throated Hummingbird) buzzing … (honeybees) squeaking … (American Alligator) peep-peeping … (Fox Squirrel) bubbling babies (Gourami)’ …

Did you know for instance that the world’s smallest nest – that of the bee hummingbird – is golf-ball sized and normally wrapped in spider’s silk, the stretchiness of which allows the nest to expand as the babies increase in size?
Or, that orang-utans braid beds of strong branches high up in the rainforest canopy and on rainy nights a woven umbrella of leaves keeps them dry? I certainly didn’t, nor was I aware that lampreys make underwater nests from pebbles varying in size from a pea to a base-ball; and that the temperature of an alligator’s nest determines the sex of the baby alligators.
A splendid introduction to a captivating topic, this is sure to inspire awe and wonder at nature’s creativity while at the same time prompting children to revisit its contents over and over.

Secrets of Our Earth
Carron Brown and Wesley Robins
Ivy Kids
A recent addition to the cleverly conceived Shine-a-Light series of non-fiction titles that makes reading all the more exciting as you need a torch or flashlight, in this instance, to reveal the secrets of our earth from the outside in.
Readers are shown topographical features such as mountains …

and volcanoes, rivers and oceans, deserts and grasslands, rainforests and even cities: Holding the light behind the page gives a behind-the-scenes look at each destination.
Just the thing for Early Years and KS1 topic boxes and ideal for those youngsters who prefer to read information books. Build your topical role play area, then place the book strategically inside with a large torch and see what happens.
Other titles in the series include:
Secrets of Animal Camouflage
Carron Brown and Wesley Robins
Ivy Kids
This is another one of the series. Here you need your torch or flashlight to reveal the hidden world of arachnids, stick insects, Bengal tigers, tree-trunk hiding owls, amazingly camouflaged butterflies and more. Each of these creatures and others are hiding in plain sight in its natural habitat and by holding a light behind the page the camouflaged animal is revealed.

A clever and fascinating, interactive introduction to the vital topic of adaptation made all the more so by Robins’ alluring art work.

On the Plane
Carron Brown and Bee Johnson
This one features everything airport-related from the airline staff at the check-in desk to the pilots who, with the help of a computer, fly the planes.
This is one to read just before that first flight, or next trip.
The Human Body
Carron Brown and Rachael Saunders
This takes readers below the skin to see the skeleton and muscles, and then resurfaces to look at skin patterns, before going internal again to find out about the respiratory system, the nervous system, digestion, excretion, teeth, reproduction and more.
It’s almost a case of whatever topic happens to be your focus, there’s one of these books to illuminate it. Perfect for inquiring minds and show me a young child that doesn’t have one of those.

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Grandad’s Secret Giant

Grandad’s Secret Giant
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Imagine having a giant in your town, one with “hands the size of tables, legs as long as drainpipes, and feet as big as rowing boats.” There is such a one residing where young Billy lives, or so his Grandad tells him: Billy however doesn’t believe it. Especially when Grandad claims he can fix anything such as mend the broken town clock; push the boat stranded in a storm to safety on the shore; and even help cars cross a bridge that’s partly fallen down.

Moreover, the reason Billy can’t see this wonderful being is, so Grandad says, that the giant keeps himself secret “because people are scared of things that are different”.
The trouble is that if nobody can reach to the top of the wall upon which the townsfolk are painting a mural, it will remain unfinished. So, Billy has a dilemma: should he get up at dawn, go to the mural, hope to see the giant and enlist his help, or continue in his disbelief and leave the wall as it is? The former wins out but only so the lad can prove Grandad wrong about the whole giant business. Off Billy goes accompanied by his dog, Murphy.
Who should be waiting right beside the mural but the …

real … HUMUNGOUS and … TERRIFYING!
Billy beats a hasty retreat but then, having put a considerable distance between himself and the giant, pauses for thought. Could Grandpa be right about people being scared of difference? Back he goes to tell Grandad about his experience. Was it a mistake to run away, he wonders?
Perhaps; but perhaps too, there is a way for Billy, with Grandad’s help, to show the giant he’s sorry. A plan is conceived and executed; then comes the waiting …

Will the giant accept the apologetic offering? Will he rescue Murphy for a second time, and … ?
I got home from a few days in London to find this book waiting for me. After the tragedy that had just happened there, its messages concerning reaching out, embracing difference and friendship resonated all the more.
Heart-wrenchingly beautiful and ultimately, uplifting, this stunning book for me, out- plays even The Bear and the Piano.

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Sleep Well Siba & Saba / The Frog in the Well

Sleep Well, Siba & Saba
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing
Sisters, Siba and Saba are inveterate losers of things, be it sweaters – seven of them; silver sandals ‘on sandy beaches at Ssese islands’ ; even their bedroom slippers go missing.
Strangely though, they never manage to lose one another; and when their papa had sung them to off sleep, “Sula bulungi, Siba and Saba,”, the sisters would find their lost possessions in their dreams.

One night though, their dreams are of things not lost – a silver shilling for Siba and a ‘stiffly starched school uniform’ for Saba.

Sisters as close as these two share everything, so when they wake from their slumbers, Siba and Saba share their dreamtime sorties. The following day two very unexpected things happen: I expect you can guess what they are: rather than be a story-spoiler though I’ll just say that from that day forward, those sisters always set their sights firmly on the future and what it might bring …

Such eloquence of words and pictures; this simply sparkles with brilliance.
Isdahl’s sibilant text combines with stunningly beautiful scenes of the sisters both inside and outdoors in the African landscapes.

The Frog in the Well
Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin
New York Review Books
An oldie but goodie: I think I may somewhere have a very old edition of this enchanting book from way back when I used to visit the USA fairly frequently. Now it’s been given a new lease of life by the New York Review. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it centres on a well-residing frog who leads a contented life thinking his well is the whole world; “The world is nothing but moss-covered rocks … with a pool of water at the bottom.” is what he tells himself. But then the well-water dries up and the frog is forced to emerge into “the end of the world”

Deciding to take a look around, he discovers all kinds of ‘end-of-the-world’ creatures, learns a few things and eventually becomes a very wise, wide world-loving frog ready to take the longest leap he’s ever made …

For, “A foolish frog can be happy all alone at the bottom of a well, but a clever frog can be much happier out here.”
With its supremely brilliant visual perspectives and thought-provoking words, this still has much to offer 21st century readers and listeners, who will bring to the story an entirely different perspective from that of audiences when it was published in 1958.
More classic Duvoisin comes in:

The House of Four Seasons
Roger Duvoisin
New York Review Books
A wonderful celebration of colour, the seasons and endeavour: and built into this uplifting story are lessons on colour mixing, and a demonstration of how to create a colour wheel.
Both books offer a great opportunity to discover or re-discover some vintage gems from over 60 years ago.

I’ve signed the charter