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.

Little Red

Little Red
David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion
The Roberts siblings have well and truly fractured the Little Red Riding Hood tale with their version that puts a male (aka Thomas) as the chief protagonist and yes he does sport a red coat and go visiting his Grandma. She isn’t poorly though: he pays her a visit with a basket of tasty treats and a week’s supply of her favourite tipple, ginger beer.. I should mention here that Little Red’s parents are the owners of an inn with ginger beer its speciality.
As he sets out on his weekly visit he receives the customary warning about staying on the path for fear of encountering the hungry wolf that lurks in the forest.
Completely oblivious to the lip-licking lupine lurking in the shadows, Little Red stops, removes his coat and sets about picking some rosy apples to add to Grandma’s basket of goodies, happening to utter his intentions out loud: two mistakes that give the wolf an advantage and off he bounds to Granny’s house.
Clad in the red coat, he gains entrance and in an instant gulps Granny down, bloomers, belle of the ball dress and all;

then, suitably attired waits for the arrival of his “dessert”.
The usual exchange follows about the size of eyes and ears, but when teeth are mentioned, it’s time for Little Red to do some quick thinking: and the wolf some quick drinking …

I say no more …
Setting this bubblesome tale in what looks like late 18th century America, but could equally be France at around the same time, gives David Roberts scope to include such period detail as heavily made-up faces, enormous wigs and beauty spots in his ink and watercolour illustrations.
Certainly not a first Little Red Riding Hood; rather it’s a deliciously quirky one to add to a collection or study of the favourite fairy tale.

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Woolf

Woolf
Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books
The trials and tribulations of pretending to be something you aren’t are sensitively and humorously explored in this collaboration between Alex Latimer and his illustrator brother, Patrick.
Part wolf, part sheep, Woolf is the offspring of an unlikely and much frowned upon marriage between a sheep and a she-wolf.

Woolf has both sheep and wolfish characteristics but as he grows older, he experiences an identity crisis. Out exploring one day, he encounters a pack of wolves and as a result decides to rid himself of his woolly coat.
Thus the pretence begins; but inevitably as the wool starts sprouting again, maintaining the disguise becomes tedious and Woolf leaves for pastures new.

Over the hill he comes upon a flock of sheep: again Woolf isn’t true to himself, lying about his wolfish characteristics and then adopting a new ovine look …

Once again, pretence proves unsatisfactory for Woolf and his stay with the flock short-lived.
Convinced he doesn’t belong anywhere, the little creature is distraught and that’s when his parents step in with some timely words of wisdom, pointing out that trying to be something other than your real self can never make you truly happy. Much better to accept and celebrate all that makes you truly special and unique.
Patrick Latimer’s illustrations executed in an unusual colour palette of black, greys, browns, greens, teal, cream and biscuit with occasional pops of purple, blue and pink are delectably droll.
Like me you may well find yourself howling with laughter at Woolf’s attempts to fit in but there is a serious and important life-lesson at the heart of the book: true friends accept and love you for being you.

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Sun

Sun
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
First came Snow, then Rain and now we have the third of Sam Usher’s enchanting days with Grandad and small boy narrator. Herein, what starts out as a fairly normal day, albeit the hottest of the year: “hotter than broccoli soup“, hotter even than “the surface of the sun“, Grandad deems it perfect for an adventure; and so having collected the necessary items for their foray, the two venture forth in search of the perfect spot for a picnic.
The sun blazes down and pretty soon, Grandad needs a rest, while his designated ‘lookout’ does just that …

You can almost feel the sun scorching them as they trudge on and pause for another rest. Shade becomes the second ‘must’ for their picnic spot, which is hardly surprising, as the landscape has now become incandescent.

Grandpa has added a cool breeze to his list of requirements by the time they reach what looks a likely place.
However, it appears that their perfect picnic spot is already in use.

So it’s a case of all hands on deck; let’s share resources and party …
Once again Sam Usher captures to perfection the closeness of the bond between Grandad and boy, while at the same time portraying the spirit of adventure and utter exhilaration that is brought on by being in the great outdoors, even on such a scorching day.
A sure-fire winner this.

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Everybody’s Welcome

Everybody’s Welcome
Patricia Hegarty and Greg Abbott
Caterpillar Books
In our increasingly troubled times, picture books such as this, with its strong inclusivity message, are more important than ever.
It came about as the result of a strong desire on the part of Tom Truong of Caterpillar Books in reaction to the shattering news that the UK had voted to leave the EU, to produce a book for parents like himself to share with young children that embodied ‘ideals of refuge, inclusivity and friendship’.
Currently living in Stroud, a town that since the Syrian crisis, has adopted the catchphrase ‘Everyone welcome in Stroud’ I felt immediately drawn to this poignant, political tale of empathy, acceptance and collaboration.
We start the story with mouse standing in a forest clearing, dreaming of building ‘a great big happy house’.

It’s not long before mouse is joined by a frog who has lost his pond and has nowhere to go. Together they start constructing and before long are joined by some runaway rabbits fleeing from an eagle; they are only too willing to help with the project. Next to come is a misunderstood brown bear; he has much to offer the enterprise and is welcomed with open arms.

Building continues apace with more and more animals coming to join in and a spirit of co-operation rules throughout.
What this allegorical rhyming story shows so clearly is that despite superficial differences, we all have much to offer one another. With open arms, open minds and open hearts we can embrace our fellow humans in a spirit of co-operation and unity.

Greg Abbott’s animal illustrations, with his use of cut down pages, really do bring out both the woefulness of the displaced animals, and the spirit of collaborative bonhomie as each one is welcomed, accepted and a new open community is formed.

A thoughtful Emmanuelle whose final comment on Everybody’s Welcome was  “We all need to be kind.”

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Rapunzel

Rapunzel
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
The witch in Bethan Woollvin’s alternative version of Rapunzel has a good little business going: she snips off lengths of the girl’s golden tresses and sells them.

Keeping Rapunzel locked up in the high tower she threatens her with a curse should she dare to attempt an escape.
With Rapunzel however, the evil woman has more than met her match. Far from being fazed by such threats she’s positively emboldened.
If the witch can ascend using her captive’s hair, then the girl can descend by the same means; and so she does.
Once free Rapunzel explores the forest, forms a friendship and hatches a plan.

No it isn’t with a handsome prince: this wily young miss is more than capable of managing her own fate. She’s determined to get the better of the old hag. Thus it’s Rapunzel, not the witch who wields the tonsorial scissors and sacrifices her flowing locks ridding herself of her jailor once and for all.

Then with the aid of her forest friend, she embarks upon her very own witch hunt.
Again Bethan Woollvin uses a limited colour palette – black, grey and yellow on an expansive white background to dramatic effect for her fairy tale rendition. Her assured lines and minimalist shapes are rendered in gouache and she injects subtle humour into every scene: the flies bothering the frog, the abandoned sock on the floor, and more darkly, her subversive heroine continuing to show no fear in the face of her captor’s threats, standing meekly before her with her intended weapon of witch destruction hidden behind her back.
Make sure you check out the endpapers too: the hunted of the front ones becomes the hunter at the back.

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Leaf

Leaf
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books
Sandra Dieckmann’s love of the natural world shines right out at you from the arresting cover of her debut picture book.
It opens with a ‘strange white creature’ on an ice floe drifting shoreward upon dark and brooding waters, watched by a large black crow. Once ashore, the polar bear makes its home in a deserted hillside cave: an outsider watched and distrusted by the forest animals. It forages for leaves, watchful, wary; and the residents bestow upon it the name Leaf on account of its strange behaviour, but equally because they want rid of him. They all talk about Leaf but none dares talk to him.

And so it goes on until one day leaf- clad, the bear charges through the forest astonishing all that see, and launches himself, from the hillside and plunges into the lake below.
While the soaking creature hides once more in his cave, the other animals meet to discuss what to do. Conflicting opinions emerge, (only the crows speak for him) with the result that they do nothing.
Leaf meanwhile renews his determination to take flight, this time from a cliff …

and once he’s safely back on shore, the crows – intelligent beings that they are – finally allow him to speak. And speak he does – to them all – about melting ice and his desire to return to his family.
As conveyors of mood and movement, Sandra Dieckmann’s illustrations are impressive.

Executed in black, white, greys, blues and teals with occasional stand out splashes of red, orange, rust, yellow and the greens of the patterned leaves and flowering plants, the landscape portrayed is at once beautiful and at times, hostile.
It’s said in folklore that crows are harbingers of change: I’d like to think that those in Leaf’s story might act as symbols of a positive change in the way outsiders are viewed by too many of us. With themes that include global warming, outsiders, prejudice, loneliness and reaching out to others, this poignantly beautiful book is both topical and timely.

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Very Little Rapunzel / Big Little Hippo

Very Little Rapunzel
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
Picture Corgi
Meet Very Little Rapunzel, star of the fourth of the Very Little fairy tale series. She is, so her mum insists in need of a haircut but refuses to visit the hairdresser’s. New hairstyles are tried but none can curb the abundance of her unruly tresses and in a paddy, the little miss hurls her Big Box of Hair Things out of the tower right down to where a Very Little Prince happens to be standing.
Rapunzel lowers her hair at his request and up climbs the prince to play with her. Before you can say itch, both Prince and Rapunzel are scratching furiously and are discovered to have nits.
Treatment ensues with lots and lots … of combing …

complaining, washing and sploshing …

until a certain Very Little miss wilful has a change of heart. She grabs the scissors and …

which leaves her playmate rather stranded, but not for too long. Thanks to some imaginative hair styling, an escape route and more is fashioned by the teasy weezy trio culminating in fun and games for all.
With that disarming smile and spirit of independence, Very Little Rapunzel is set to charm her way into the affections of a whole host of very little listeners.

Big Little Hippo
Valeri Gorbachev
Sterling
The smallest of his family and much smaller than big old Crocodile, very tall Giraffe and giant Elephant,

Little Hippo is far from happy with his lack of stature. His mother’s assurances that he’ll eventually be big like his parents offer no comfort as he wanders among huge trees and tall grasses feeling like the smallest creature in the entire world. Until that is he comes upon a tiny beetle struggling to turn itself the right way up. Little Hippo rescues the creature …

and the words of thanks from its family, “Thank you, Big Hippo!” truly make his day and more importantly change the way he sees himself. “I’m big now!” he announces as he rushes, full of new-found confidence, to tell his mother, passing on the way, all those animals whose largeness had previously made him feel so insignificant.
Proud of his deed of kindness, she renames him “Big Little Hippo”, which is just perfect.
Perspective and scale are effectively and playfully used in Gorbachev’s ink and watercolour scenes of Little Hippo and the other jungle animals in this sweet tale of finding where you fit in the world.

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Barkus / Lulu Gets a Cat

Barkus
Patricia Maclachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books
Meet large brown dog, Barkus, “Smartest dog in the whole world.” So says globetrotting Uncle Everton when he arrives on the doorstep one day with what he calls “a present” for the young narrator, his niece Nicky. Nicky is reassured to learn that Barkus doesn’t bite and thus begins a beautiful friendship.
Over the next four short chapters we learn how Barkus follows Nicky to school and is adopted as the class dog; celebrates his birthday in a very noisy manner;

discovers a kitten and is allowed to keep it, naming it Baby; and finally, camps out for the night and enjoys an autobiographical story by torchlight.

The five amusing episodes are linked but the separate events provide suitable stopping points for readers just embarking on early chapter books.
Marc Boutavant provides appropriately cheery, retro style illustrations that range from full page to vignette.
All in all an upbeat, engaging read about family, friendship and the benefits of having a winningly positive attitude to life and its possibilities.

Lulu Gets a Cat
Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
Alanna Books
In her latest story Lulu wants a cat and sets about showing her mum that she’s ready to have one by doing some research on their care and putting in some practice on her cat toy. Eventually Mum is persuaded and off they go together to the cat shelter.

There, Lulu doesn’t so much choose a cat, but is chosen by one of those she’s shown.
Cat shelter worker, Jeremy provides some helpful advice; they go home and make preparations; and return next day to collect the new pet. Lulu gives her cat the beautiful name, of Makeda, which means African Queen and after a period of adjustment, it’s not long before Makeda is well and truly settled into her new home.

Lulu never fails to delight: this new story, endorsed by the National Cats Adoption Centre, ticks all the boxes for showing the very young that becoming a pet owner involves considerable responsibility, as well as introducing the basics of adopting a cat.

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The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat / Happily Ever After: Little Red Riding Hood

The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat
Becky Davies and Caroline Attia
Little Tiger Press
Move over Big Bad Wolf, you have a rival. A favourite traditional tale is given a contemporary spin with the pigs being replaced by pugs and the big bad wolf by a much less threatening creature, unless of course you are a member of the canine species; in which case it’s your arch enemy, a Big Bad Cat.
The young pugs go by the names of Bubbles, Bandit and Beauty and when the space in the kennel they share with Mother Pug becomes a tad inadequate, they’re dispatched into the big wide world and there to build homes of their own. Their mother fills their rucksacks with snacks, warns them to watch out for the rampaging cat; ensure their houses are sufficiently strong to withstand any moggy onslaughts; and off they go.
It’s not long before Bubbles has stopped, built a flimsy straw house and had it whirred and whooshed to the ground by a certain feline character.
Bandit too builds an insubstantial house: his stick construction soon meets a fate similar to that of his brother. This time however, the weapon of house destruction is, wait for it … a leaf blower.
That leaves Beauty, who has the sense to engage a team to assist in her house construction …

and it’s completed just as her brothers appear warning of the imminent arrival of the fearsome Big Bad Cat.
Unperturbed, Beauty decides it’s time to put plan B into action …
What happens thereafter sees the frustrated house destroyer finally gain entry to Beauty’s brick house …

only to have her victory turn sour in more ways than one. It’s great to see female Pug, Beauty with the brains to be the saviour of her brothers despite her silly pink attire.
Caroline Attia sprinkles her mixed media scenes with much that will make readers smile: photographed pugs digitally adorned with bows, bags, bandanas and blouses populate an animation world of mischief and mayhem.

Happily Ever After: Little Red Riding Hood
Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Illustrator Celeste Hulme gives the classic fairy tale a modern twist in her rendition of a favourite tale. Herein Little Red Riding Hood cycles to the shops with her mother and wears her little red coat to school to keep her warm: a coat that she’s been sent as a birthday present by her Grandma. The little girl doesn’t ride her bike through the woods to visit her sick grandma though; she walks alone, meets the wolf and willingly reveals to him her destination. The wolf duly runs to Grandma’s, gains entry, pushes the old lady into a cupboard …

and takes her place in bed.
The traditional exchange about big eyes, big ears and big teeth takes place with the addition of ‘what big arms’ and ‘what big legs you have’ and it’s with those that the wolf leaps from his sick bed intending to dig his claws into the child. Red Riding Hood however is too quick for the beast; she crawls under the bed, dashes to the cupboard and releases her grandmother. In so doing she releases so we’re told, ‘the avalanche’.

This particular lupine creature is something of a coward for he howls, turns tail and beats a hasty retreat, never to be seen again.
If this sounds totally un-scary – there’s certainly no gobbling of gran, nor the need for a woodcutter – some of the illustrations show the wolf as a huge menacing beast, particularly this one of his shadow looming threateningly as he enters Grandma’s house…

In fact lupine shadows are used to great effect in several scenes; there’s one in the woods where Red Riding Hood is completely overshadowed by the beast.
Certainly a book to add to a Red Riding Hood collection in the primary school, as well as one to share at home.

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The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show

The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show
Mini Grey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
The lengths performers will go to in order to be in the limelight is beautifully played out in Mini Grey’s latest extravaganza. It stars – or rather should have starred, the Great Hypno himself but he is currently unavailable, so we learn. A new act has taken his place featuring two mischievous rabbits, Mr Abra and Mr Cadabra. Be warned though, this act is full of dangerous sleights of paw and wand-waving, not to mention outrageously difficult knife-throwing.

Oh and there’s a spot of saw-wielding too …

but those bunnies are not the only ones up to a spot of trickery.
The lovely Brenda is now free, and her upper portion is presently performing a feat of padlock-picking while the roguish rabbits are otherwise engaged attempting to persuade their audience to part with their precious items.

So fixated on their grand finale are the pair that they fail to notice that the show’s rightful star is now on the loose, ready to step in and ensure that the show comes to a conclusion with an ear-splitting BOOM! Although that’s not quite the end of the story …
As always, Mini Grey delivers a top class, show-stopping performance, full of surprises, larger-than-life characters and laugh-inducing scenes. Her comic timing is supreme, herein aided and abetted by strategically placed flaps, cutaway pages and a fold-out.

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The Cow Who Fell to Earth

The Cow Who Fell to Earth
Nadia Shireen
Jonathan Cape
If you happen to be a sheep, you might want to watch out for stars and other falling objects.
It’s night; sheep huddle together beneath the stars when suddenly a mysterious body plummets earthwards, landing with a resounding BOOM!
What the sheep are confronted with is something altogether unexpected: a jetpack and a small cow. It’s communication skills are apparently restricted to a single utterance: “WOOO” is the response the sheep receive to their ministrations and their questions about its name and place of origin. Indeed that’s the manner in which the cow transmits its entire story …

a story none of the sheep understands. Nevertheless they decide to call their visitor Dave.
Dave is faced with a communication problem: surely someone must be able to understand her: Bertha the cow perhaps? But no. The other animals are equally mystified.
Poor Dave is distraught; how on earth is she to get back from whence she came?

Could it be that the chickens are going to save the day? And if so, how?

All IS finally revealed in this splendidly silly book but you’ll need to get yourself a copy to discover how the bonkers finale unfolds.
Nadia Shireen’s beautifully bulky beasts are a hoot; and to share this crazy tale is to invite a whole lot of noisy participation of the “wooo” kind.
It was extremely difficult prising my copy back from one three year old I shared it with, who declared, ‘I really, really LOVE that book’ and I had to promise that like Dave, it would be returned to her at a later date.

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I Wrote You A Note / Mr Darcy

I Wrote You A Note
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books
Herein we follow the journey of a note written by a little girl sitting beside a stream, as it travels from her hands until it finally finds its way to the intended recipient.
During its journey the note becomes briefly, a sail for Turtle’s raft; a resting place for some baby ducklings; a bridge for Spider.

Bird then uses it as nesting material; it’s discovered by a restless squirrel; Snail mistakes it for a house; Mouse fashions it into a sunhat;

Rabbit makes a basket from it; Dragonfly rests beneath it; Goat – well he can’t read so abandons it in favour of grass.
Finally the wind whisks the paper skywards dropping it in just the right place for a friend to find. But what does the note say? Aah! You’ll need to get hold of a copy of this enchanting book to discover that.
This is a lovely, rhythmic read aloud with some natural sounding repetition and gentle humour throughout. Lizi Boyd’s gouache illustrations are enchanting. They, along with the stream, seem to flow across the pages as the note makes it journey; and the sender is, all the while, exploring and interacting with the natural world around her. It’s absolute delight from cover to cover, with text and illustrations working so perfectly together.

Mr Darcy
Alex Field and Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing
Meet Mr Darcy, a genteel, refined and shy character living alone on the edge of Pemberley Park. One day he receives an invitation to tea from Lizzy and her sisters who live in an ordinary park. Seemingly considering himself a cut above such creatures, Mr D. tosses the invitation aside

and goes on his way, cutting short the sisters as he passes by.
The following day, Mr Darcy embarrasses himself by crashing right into a tree while endeavouring to ignore Lizzy, and then suffers another disaster of a very messy kind.

Once again its Lizzy together with several others, including Mr Bingley who, despite Mr Darcy’s rudeness, come to his aid.
Grateful for his assistance, Mr Darcy decides after all to accept the invitation to tea and once there, he feels ‘quite loved and not alone at all.’
If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s because the author, a Jane Austen lover, chose to create this rather softer character in her reimagined Pride and Prejudice for young children with its basic plot, main characters and settings remaining intact. Alex Field’s charming tale about shyness, encouragement and the joys of friendship, demonstrates beautifully how easy it is for shyness to come across as rudeness. It’s made all the more enjoyable by Peter Carnavas’s gently humorous, painterly portrayal of the characters.

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Daisy Doodles / Ella Who?

Daisy Doodles
Michelle Robinson, Irene Dickson & Tom Weller
Oxford University Press
Get ready to go doodle crazy with Daisy.
One rainy day the little girl is stuck indoors and almost before she can say ‘Pipsqueak’ her drawing has upped off the page and is helping the child adorn the entire house with doodles of all shapes and sizes.
The rain stops but that is not the end of the adventure; in fact it’s the beginning of a whole exciting experience,

as dragons and dragonflies, castles and carousels, mermaids and much more are conjured into being, which culminates in the claw-wielding, jaw-snapping Battle of Crayon Creek.
All good things have to end though and end they do when the tickly octopus chases everyone back home and mum appears on the scene …

although that is not quite the end of the story …
In this lovely celebration of children’s creativity and imagination, the book’s creators cleverly use the device of a mirror to transport the little girl and her companion into their fantasy world of make-believe and back again: a world created by a variety of doodle-appropriate media.
With all the exciting visuals, it would be easy to overlook Michelle’s manner of telling, which, with its sprinklings of alliteration, and interjections of dialogue, is also a delight and allows plenty of space for Irene Dickson’s illustrations to create their magic.

Ella Who?
Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez
Sterling
There’s a touch or two of the Not Now Bernard’s about this story of a family moving day. The parents of the young narrator are far too busy to take notice of their daughter’s talk of the presence of an elephant in the living room of the home they’re moving in to.
While mum, dad …

and grandma are engaged in getting their new abode into some kind of order, the little girl, having ensured that her baby brother is soundly asleep, engages in some elephant-shared activities, first in her new bedroom and then, outside in the garden. And that is where our narrator notices a man coming to the front door: a man inquiring about a missing baby elephant going by the name of Fiona and having – so it says in the flier he leaves – a particular penchant for apples, . Surely it couldn’t be … could it?

Much of the humour of this book is in the interplay of words and pictures: It’s the little elephant that hands dad a tool as he struggles to fix the shower – a fact he’s completely oblivious to as he utters the story’s “Ella WHO?” catch phrase. As are the other family members, throughout the book: even on the penultimate spread, having told her mum she’s just been bidding the elephant farewell, she gets this same “Ella WHO?” response from her dad.
An extended joke that works well enough to engage young children who will be amused at the adults who don’t listen and delight in joining in with the repeat question.

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Origami, Poems and Pictures

Origami, Poems and Pictures
Nosy Crow
This truly beautiful book is published in collaboration with the British Museum and its publication coincides with the Museum’s Hokusai exhibition, Beyond the Great Wave. That picture is just one of the thirteen (all belonging to The British Museum) featured in this celebration of three Japanese arts and crafts: origami, haiku poetry and painting (all but one are woodblock prints) and with it the delights begin. Making the paper boat (after reading the associated haiku and pondering upon The Great Wave picture, I’d suggest) is one of the easier (1st level) projects. I already knew how to make that so passed on to something else at the same level to get my hand in: I chose the frog …

really because I already love the accompanying Bashō haiku:
the old pond,
a frog jumps in –
the sound of water.

before proceeding to something challenging. For my origami frog I used ordinary paper cut to a square and on the thick side;

but included at the back of the book is a pad of 50 sheets patterned on one side, plain on the other, which are the ideal size and weight for the projects.
Each of the projects is graded and there is a mix of each of the three levels of difficulty, the third level requiring considerable dexterity, not to mention patience. I absolutely loved the graceful crane and the dragonfly.
You’re guaranteed many hours of pleasure from this absorbing and stunning book; and should you require some further instruction with the origami, there’s a QR code on the index page which provides a link to step-by-step ‘How to’ videos.

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Sam and Jump

Sam and Jump
Jennifer K.Mann
Walker Books
Many young children form a special bond with one of their soft toys. Sam’s very best friend is Jump, his soft toy rabbit; they’re pretty much inseparable.
One day they go to the beach where they meet Thomas. Sam and Thomas spend the whole day playing together …

and have such a great time that Sam leaves Jump behind, forgotten on the beach.
When he reaches home, Sam realises Jump isn’t with him. It’s too late to go back but his mum promises they’ll go and search for him the following morning. Sam passes a miserable evening and a worried night and early next day, Mum drives him back. But there’s no sign of Jump anywhere. Nothing is fun without him. But then suddenly, standing right there on the beach is …

A gentle tale of abandonment, loss, friendship and love is simply and tenderly told and illustrated with great sensitivity in watercolour and pencil. By leaving plenty of white space around her images, Mann focuses the audience’s attention on the interactions between characters, and on the feelings of each individual; and the use of blue-grey backgrounds after Jump is left behind underline Sam’s feelings of distress.

A small book that offers much to think about and discuss.

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Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs
Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey
Two Hoots
Matty’s Dad drives him to nursery; that’s what he always does; but on this particular morning their old green car has had starting problems. So, when Dad drops the boy off, young Matty is more than a little troubled. “What if the car doesn’t start again?” he wants to know. Dad’s response is that he’ll borrow their neighbour’s red tractor. Now most youngsters would, I suspect, be thrilled at this idea but not Matty. He comes back with another what if … ? Seems this little guy is something of a worrier; either that or he enjoys exploring ‘what if’ possibilities for pretty soon, Dad has had his alternative modes of transport – a ride on the back of Matty’s old teddy; an airlift by the garden birds; a sailing boat with water supplied by a neighbour’s garden hose …

hopping rabbits under his feet and a dragon flight all countered by further ‘what ifs’ on his son’s part.
Matty seems determined to have the last words. Has his Dad finally run out of ideas?

Is he stuck at nursery trying to reassure his child until it’s time to go home? Or is there perhaps one particular personal attribute that he can always depend on, and thus finally allay Matty’s fears.
With its echoes of Hush Little Baby (the Mocking Bird Song) this reassuring tale is perfect for sharing with young children, particularly those of an anxious disposition. Having taught both nursery and reception age classes I am aware that there are always fears lurking in the minds of a few individuals; so this is a book to have on hand in any early years setting to allay any doubts that niggle: no matter what, Dad, (or Mum, or another special person) will always come for them.
All children will enjoy the give and take with its escalating chain of fanciful notions; and be amused by Guillerey’s wonderful retro illustrations of Dad’s responses.
A good one to give Dads on their special day.

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Ellie and Lump’s Very Busy Day / Monster Party

Ellie and Lump’s Very Busy Day
Dorothy Clark and Becky Palmer
Walker Books
Exuberant is the word that immediately came to mind as I read this action-packed story.
Two young elephants, Ellie and Lump instantly spring to life  on receiving Mum’s wake-up call.

Then it’s a dash downstairs to receive a pile of parcels from the postman. This is followed by a ‘Split splat!’ eggs-cracking, toast soldiers-dipping breakfast. After which it’s jackets zipped and off into town, there to buy decorations, balloons and most important, cake.
They take a quick stop to gaze in the pet shop window before heading home to get busy decorating the room and donning fancy dress costumes.

PHEW! Just in time for the arrival of the guests. But what is all this rushing around and secrecy in aid of? Shhh!
In walks the special birthday guest himself – Dad; and then it’s party time.

The whole joyful thing effervesces and sparkles with joie de vie: Lump and Ellie are an adorable duo especially in their party gear.
Dorothy Clark’s text takes the form of a running commentary from the young pachyderms as they dash through their day; and is full of delicious noises and action words for young listeners to join in with. They’ll surely love ‘split splat’ting, ‘dip’, dipping, ‘rustle’ rustling, ‘zzzzip’ zzzipping, popping, crunching, wriggling, stomping, skipping, puffing and such like along with you as you read. All this and more is illustrated in Becky Palmer’s scenes of those frenzied preparations for dad’s surprise party. Every one of them is full of wonderful details that will delight toddlers; and many will cause adults with young children to smile in recognition.

Monster Party!
Annie Bach
Sterling
Young monster is excited to receive an invitation to a party, so much so that he even spends time selecting his most jazzy underpants. Once at the party, its full on fun with disco dancing, games, scrummy pizza. Then it’s time for a spot of candle blowing out which precipitates the toppling of a cupcake tower resulting in pink goo adhering to all the guests.

No matter; it tastes good and birthday monster is thrilled with all his presents. Less so, our main character who kicks off when it’s time for him to leave; never mind though; there’ll be another exciting event soon …
A brief rhyming text accompanies Anne Bach’s animated scenes of young monsters partying; despite the shaggy appearance of the guests, their actions bear a striking resemblance to young children engaged in the same activity. A high energy board book; best not shared at bedtime though, I’d suggest.

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The Big Bad Mood / Everyone …

The Big Bad Mood
Tom Jamieson and Olga Demidova
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Beware the Big Bad Mood; he’s always lurking somewhere around on the off-chance that you’ll be having one of those days when everything in the world seems to be conspiring to ruffle your feathers and make you feel thoroughly bad tempered. It’s such a day for young George – total tantrums are the order of his day. “There’s a big bad mood hanging around you today” says his mum.
George isn’t convinced: he can’t see the thing anywhere, which only makes him feel …

Then, seemingly out of nowhere there appears right before him a large blobby being announcing itself as “the Big Bad Mood”. His sole purpose, he informs George is to make everyone just like him – big, bad and moody; and he wants the boy’s help.
Off they go on their mischief-making mission and before long rather a lot of people are in big bad moods, including a fair number of George’s friends.
All this behaviour is pretty exhausting though, and after a while, George at least is starting to think constant big bad moodiness is not his thing; it’s silly, noisy, and upsetting for his friends.

Consequently, he bids farewell to his erstwhile companion who stomps off to find another partner in crime. And George? Maybe you can imagine what he did thereafter; let’s just say that he does apologise to all concerned; and he’s changed – somewhat!
A cleverly constructed, fun story to share and open up discussions about bad moods and anger-related feelings. Olga Demidova’s scenes of domestic moodiness, and the mayhem George causes out and about, will bring on giggles aplenty.

Everyone
Christopher Silas Neal
Walker Books
Emotions are at the heart of Christopher Silas Neal’s debut as author/illustrator. I’m familiar with his wonderful artwork in Over and Under the Pond and this is somewhat sparer, or rather, for this feelings-centred book, the artist has chosen to use a restricted colour palette.
Herein, by means of a small boy character he explores the power of human emotions, demonstrating that they are perfectly normal. All of us experience them: all of us need to accept them for their universality. Neal’s focus is on the way in which as humans, our emotions are drawn into a relationship with the natural world – the birds, the sky, flowers.

His prose is simple, yet lyrical; his voice authentic sounding. “Sometimes, you just need to cry, and that’s OK,” he says as the boy’s tears become birds flying into the grey sky.

With Personal, Social and Emotional Development being one of the prime areas in the EYFS, books such as this one are just right for encouraging young children to talk about how they and others show their feelings.

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Edward and the Great Discovery / Diggersaurs

Edward and the Great Discovery
Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Young Edward comes from a long line of archaeologists but, despite determined efforts, is yet to make his first discovery. Then one wet night, the lad unearths, or rather falls over something that looks promising; it’s a strange egg.
Edward takes it indoors for investigation and a spot of TLC …

When the egg eventually hatches, Edward is more than a little disappointed to discover that it’s nothing more exciting than a bird; albeit a very helpful, loving one. Disappointment number two comes when Edward realises his bird is unable to fly.

To cheer himself up, the boy takes himself off to his favourite place, The Museum of Ancient Things and it’s there he learns that after all, his find is indeed a momentous one– a Dodo no less.

Now Edward has, not one but two great finds: an extraordinary friend and companion and a rarity from ancient times. He has also earned himself a place on the wall of fame alongside the other esteemed members of his family.
With its scientific underpinning, this is an unusual and enormously engaging tale of friendship and self-discovery. The gentle humour of the text is brought out beautifully in Celeste Hulme’s avant-garde, detailed illustrations: every turn of the page brings visual delight and much to chuckle over.

Diggersaurs
Michael Whaite
Puffin Books
If you want a book for pre-schoolers that rhymes, is full of delicious words for developing sound/symbol awareness, is great fun to use for a noisy movement session and is characterised by creatures that are a fusion of two things young children most love, then Diggersaurs is for you.
A dozen of the mechanical beasts are to be found strutting their stuff between the covers of animator Whaite’s debut picture book; and what’s more they’re all working together in a enormous construction enterprise.

In addition to the huge monsters, there are some hard-hat wearing humans; but you’ll need to look closely to discover exactly what they’re doing and saying. That site certainly appears to be something of a hazardous place to be working alongside those earth-shaking, smashing, crashing, crunching and munching …

pushing and shoving, stacking, spinning, deep hole drilling, moving, sweeping mechanised giants.

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Me and My Dad

Me and My Dad
Robin Shaw
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s small wonder that the little girl narrator of this wonderful book has such a powerful imagination: it’s due in no small measure to the fact that, ‘the best bit’s at the end’ Not the end of the book although that is also true; the end referred to in the story is at the end of the road, the end of their journey; the place where a father and daughter are heading when they set out together. That though is getting ahead of the story.
To reach their destination, they walk through an alleyway with a puddle that might well have crocodiles in; then continue beneath the brick viaduct carrying the railway line with its rumbling, roaring trains; past the castle-like house wherein dwells a sleeping princess just waiting for her prince to come.

Mrs Pot’s plant shop causes the walkers to halt briefly for a sneaky peep inside …

and then come the pet shop and the ironmongers with its old metal bins on sale – perfect for blasting off into space … In fact every single place father and daughter pass sends the little girl off on another flight of fancy until at last, the end IS in sight – Buntings Bookshop and Café awaits. Hurray! Now it’s time for a delicious hot chocolate and a snuggle-up read together: what better way to end a walk.

With it’s irresistible join in phrase this is an utterly enchanting read and one of the very best father and child books I’ve seen in a long time. Animator, Robin Shaw’s detailed scenes have a soft luminescence about them, which is perfect for the fusion of the real and the imagined he conjures up.

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Paws Off My Book

Paws Off My Book
Fabi Santiago
Scholastic
Giraffe, Olaf is something of a bibliophile and so is delighted to discover a new book. Enter Wilbur, (who appears to be a Rockhopper penguin,) all of a bluster and determined to demonstrate the ‘right’ way to read.

He however, is not the only one who thinks they have the monopoly on the right way to read; for he’s closely followed by first, Matilda, then Vincent – he knows ‘ALL about reading’ – really?
Then come Felicia flamingo,, and finally, banana- wielding Eduardo. His demonstration results in a resounding …

After which, the long suffering Olaf has had enough and trots off for a spot of reading alone … “Do not follow me. Do not even think about it.” he warns his would-be teachers.
Before long though, apologies have been made, and accepted and Olaf has a splendid idea concerning the best way to read.
Now if you’ve looked at the title page of this wonderful book, you might guess the nature of the punch line that is concealed beneath the flap in the right hand corner here …

We all have our favourite places to read and favourite ways of being when we read; comfort being an essential element and of course, a book worth reading. What Fabi Santiago so amusingly shows is that there is no one right way: what feels right for a giraffe will not feel right for say, a kangaroo or a crocodile or a monkey, let alone a flamingo. They all bring different things to the reading experience and each is so busy being right that the importance of the book itself is lost. And so it is with humans..
I come to this book with particularly strong feelings about the way in which children are now being taught to read with a narrow, one size fits all approach from the outset. And what they are being offered by way of early reading material quite frankly appals me. Consequently this is the message I’m finding in Fabi’s hilarious, luminously coloured tale. Other readers will likely make something completely different from it. However I’m sure everybody will agree that the final scene showing the enjoyment of a shared reading experience, with or without its final throwaway line, is what we should all be striving for.

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Tiny Dinosaurs / Dance Is for Everyone

Tiny Dinosaurs
Joel Stewart
Oxford University Press
Daisy is dinosaur mad: so says Rex, the canine narrator of this enchanting picture book. Such is her passion that Rex has to endure all kinds of adornments …

and engage in all manner of dinosaur-like behaviour.

Daisy’s mind is filled with dinosaurs: wherever she and Rex go they keep their eyes peeled for the creatures until one day, right in their very own garden they discover … dinosaurs.
These dinosaurs, Rex informs us, are not large but perfect Daisy-sized creatures. The trouble is, they seem to be all that Daisy is interested in and so …

Everywhere he goes, reminds Rex of his pal: but Daisy won’t even notice I’m missing, thinks Rex.
To say what happens thereafter would be to reveal too much; let me just say that the story reminds me of the opening lines of a song, a Dutch teacher friend of mine once taught one of my nursery classes: ‘Make new friends but keep the old/ Some are silver but the others are gold.’

Dance Is for Everyone
Andrea Zuill
Sterling
There’s a new member in Mrs Iraina’s ballet class: a rather large one with a very long tail. Language is an issue, but she’s a hard worker and able to follow the others so she’s allowed to stay. She does have a tail issue too,

though that is less easy to cope with, on account of that language issue; and the class members are wary of upsetting the newcomer.
Teacher and class together come up with a plan: they create and learn a new dance called “The Legend of the Swamp Queen” starring Tanya, as she’s now called: a role that requires a spot of cummerbund wrapping to keep that errant tail in check …

The audience are enchanted; but the following day, the star is nowhere to be seen …
After some time however, the class receive an invitation to a very special performance …
Droll visuals and a deadpan text combine to make a delicious demonstration of the ‘no holds barred’ idiom.

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Rainbow & Opposites / Little Mouse’s Big Secret

Rainbow
Opposites

Jane Cabrera
Templar Publishing
Pleasing design and adorable illustrations are the hallmark of Jane Cabrera’s books for the very young. Her two latest offerings have both those qualities.
Rainbow has die-cut arched pages that build up to form a rainbow.
It’s a fun board book to enjoy together and each colour spread, with its named items …

could make a great starting point for adult and child to participate in some shared storying.
Opposites uses flaps and while young children acquire concepts such as slow/fast and wet/dry from real life experiences, books such as these can facilitate this development in an interactive, playful way, helping to reinforce the vocabulary.

Here you can play a game with your child or children by asking them to guess what is hidden behind each interesting shaped flap before being allowed to open it. This game also introduces the idea of predicting as an important reading strategy.

Little Mouse’s Big Secret
Éric Battut
Sterling
Little Mouse finds a yummy red apple on the ground and decides to keep it a secret. He buries it. Shhhh! Don’t tell. Friends pass by and each wants to know what Mouse is hiding. “It’s my secret, and I’ll never tell,” is Mouse’s reply to Bird, Turtle, Hedgehog,

Rabbit and Frog.
Nature takes its course and eventually, Mouse’s secret’s out – well and truly. Mouse takes a big decision; he shares and all his friends reap the rewards.

The spare, repetitive text and cute yet subtle illustrations make this best for sharing one-to-one or with a very small group of pre-school children. Equally, it’s ideal for beginning readers who are likely to be sufficiently savvy to realise what mouse doesn’t: that right behind his back, a tree is growing …

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Welcome to London / Jane Foster’s London & Jane Foster’s New York

Welcome to London
Marcos Farina
Button Books
London seems to be a very popular picture book destination at present and Marcos Farina’s quirky, retro style illustrations certainly make it look an exciting one.
Surrealism abounds right from the arrival at a station whose platform will be familiar to fans of Harry Potter. From then on it’s a case of spot the literary references; chortle at the crazy cast of characters or giggle over the multitude of other visual anomalies scattered throughout as we visit the various famous London landmarks and encounter the multitude of characters that make it such a dynamic and vibrant city.

If like me, you know London, you’ll likely never look at it in quite the same way again: you’ll always be on the lookout for a storybook character lurking somewhere, or an animal emerging from the next taxi that stops close by one of its famous stores.

Marcos Farina’s London encompasses parks, sporting venues, bridges,

palaces, galleries, shopping venues, iconic buildings and much more. His clear, graphic, design led illustrations make almost every page a potential poster for the city.

Jane Foster’s London
Jane Foster’s New York

Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
In bold bright colours, designer Jane Foster introduces the very youngest children to two of the world’s most popular tourist cities.
Set against vibrant, sometimes patterned backgrounds, she places famous landmarks, objects and occasional less likely images such as the red squirrel (I wish there were more of those in London), although New York includes a grey squirrel.

Her intricately patterned imagery is sure to engage both toddlers and adults as they enjoy such iconic London sights as the red bus, Big Ben, the London Eye and Tower Bridge but also fish and chips and a pair of wellington boots. New York boasts the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park as well as Broadway theatre and Staten Island ferry. Interestingly both cities have pigeons.
Foster’s characteristic eye-catching mix of strong colour, pattern and retro-styling do these famous cities proud.

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Cinnamon

Cinnamon
Neil Gaiman and Divya Srinivasan
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Prepare to be transported to another time and a faraway place in this beautiful picture book fable.
Cinnamon is a princess with pearls for eyes, which make her very beautiful, but also, blind. ‘Her world was the colour of pearls: pale white and pink, and softly glowing.’ For some reason, Cinnamon does not speak. Her parents, the Rajah and Rani offer magnificent rewards for anyone who is able to get their daughter to talk. Many come and many go but none succeeds until a talking tiger appears – ‘huge and fierce, a nightmare in black and orange, and he moved like a god through the world, which is how tigers move.
Despite their initial reluctance, Cinnamon’s parents give him leave to remain with their daughter, alone. One by one, the magnificent beast awakens in the princess, the emotions of pain (with his claw),

fear (with his roar), and love (with his tongue).
He also talks to the girl about the riches of the world he inhabits with its chattering monkeys, ‘the smell of the dawn and the taste of the moonlight and the noise a lakeful of flamingos makes when it takes to the air’.
All of this can be hers too, but only if she uses words to describe it; and describe it she does.

And thus she sets herself free.
With touches of surrealism, humour and occasional frissons of fear, Gaiman’s tale wields its power in a ‘just-so’ manner leaving Divya Srinivasan plenty of space to fill her matt spreads with rich details of the tropical flora and fauna, and the Mogul palace and its inhabitants.
First written over ten years ago but only available in audio form or from the author’s website, it’s wonderful to see this magical tale now available in book form. Yes, it is a tale of ‘a long time ago’ but some of Srinivasan’s scenes took me to the ancient palaces of a Rajasthan that still exists in parts to this day.

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Crazy About Cats

Crazy About Cats
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books
Owen Davey can make any subject a delight; even cats to this ailurophobic reviewer – actually though my phobia only applies to the domestic or the feral kind.
Following on from his magnificent Mad About Monkeys and superb Smart About Sharks, Davey delivers a third ace.
His fifteen spreads are again, cleverly named and playfully subtitled; so after the introductory, ‘What Are Cats?’ with its ‘Nom Nom’ consideration of diet, and ‘Hard Cat to Follow’ lines concerning locations, readers are asked to “Paws for Thought’ and focus for a while on felid evolution.

We then move on to food and the catching thereof, which looks at adaptations or what the author terms ‘super powers’ using as an example, the Asiatic golden cat.
Wildcat coat patterns and camouflage is the next topic; (the latter crops up again in ‘Making a Meal of Things’) and here Davey’s central band of patterned beasts is particularly striking in its effect.

Trees and other plants play an important role for some cat creatures such as the nocturnal Margays that lurk among their foliage, using their ‘super-powered eyes’ when hunting …

and leaping through the treetops and sprinting head first down tree trunks.
Territory, shape and size, mythology and weird features or characteristics are some of the other topics explored and the final index pages look at the lineage of eight cat families.
Another class act from Owen Davey and Flying Eye Books; awesome art, amazing design, and wonderful word wizardry; but then one has come to expect nothing less.

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / My Dad is a Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
Puffin Books
With a CD read by Eric Carle, this is a 50th anniversary edition of a truly golden picture book. Yes, as it says on the blurb, it can ‘teach children about colours’ but it does so much more. It’s an iconic ‘learning to read’ book and one I included in a Signal publication I wrote early in my teaching career when I talked about the importance of using visual context cues. This is now something that most teachers who use phonics as the basis of the way they teach beginning readers insist children should not do. How ridiculous! Any book worth offering to learner readers and I stress ‘worth’ has pictures and words working hand in hand, as does this simple, singsong question and answer book wherein you have to read ahead ie turn the page,

in order to get the visual context cue offered by the bright tissue-paper collage picture of each animal being questioned.
A classic; and one all children should encounter in the early stages of becoming a reader.

Also good for beginning readers is:

My Dad is a Bear
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing
What is ‘tall and round like a bear; soft and furry like a bear’; can climb trees and gather in a bear-like manner?

And what has big paws and enjoys a spot of back scratching, not to mention possessing an enormous growl, having a penchant for fishing and a very bear-like way of sleeping?

Why a bear of course. And what is it about young Charlie’s dad that brings the most pleasure of all? What do you think? …
Using ursine characteristics to point up the numerous ways in which a dad is special, debut picture book author, Nicola Connelly paints a pen portrait of a much-loved character.
What an engaging book this is with its lovable characters, two bears plus bit part players, blue bird and rabbit. All are so adorably portrayed in Annie White’s uncluttered paintings that beautifully orchestrate the simple storyline making every page turn a fresh delight. Beautifully simple and full of warmth, it’s just right for sharing with a pre-schooler or with an early years group.

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The Thing

The Thing
Simon Puttock and Daniel Egnéus
Egmont
Among the picture books I like most are those that leave me with unanswered questions: this is such a one.
A Thing falls from the sky causing passers by to stop and puzzle over it: one asks, “What is it?” Another, “What does it do?” while a third merely suggests, “Maybe it just is.” A fourth thinks it beautiful.
Investigations as to whether or not it’s alive ensue. Tummler is unsure; Hummly – the third of the creatures wonders if it might be lonely and Roop, the fourth of their number, suggests they stay and keep it company. All four lie beside the Thing and fall asleep.

Next morning nothing has changed; various greetings are proffered, and the appropriateness of each commented upon; and all the while, the Thing remains, silent and unmoving. A shelter is planned and duly built for the four, but also for the visitor.

People come to view; and to question; some want one like it.
Before long, the Thing has become a visitor attraction and a theme park springs up; its fame goes worldwide and viral.

But then, almost inevitably, its presence proves controversial and divisive; some deem it ‘too strange’, others ‘worrisome’; some suspect it could be dangerous: it doesn’t belong so, they want it gone …
Then one day, gone it is – ‘un-fallen’ – completely vanished. Again opinions are split – some are sad, others pleased to see the back of it. Without the Thing, everything goes back to how it was; or rather, not quite everything.
Hummly never did identify it; Cobbler remains puzzled: Tummler and Roop are more upbeat and focus on the friendship that has formed between the four of them. The sun sets, the friends go their separate ways – albeit with promises to get together again soon; and that’s it.
Themes of caring for strangers and friendship emerge; but this multi-layered, enigmatic, thought-provoking picture book poses rather than answers questions. It is perfect for a community of enquiry style discussion with any age group from nursery up. Daniel Egnéus’ slightly Miróesque illustrations of a fantasy world, populated by whimsical, almost recognisable creatures leave further space for free thinking and speculation.
One to add to any book collection, I suggest.

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Muffins for Mummies

Muffins for Mummies
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish
Egmont
All the cakes have mysteriously disappeared from the museum café but never fear: George is on the case with Trixie, his dog; and the lad has stuffed his bag full of yummy-looking chocolate muffins.
Once at the museum, there’s a trail of cake-crumbs for the would-be thief catchers to follow through the shadowy interior and before long they find themselves face to face with a possible suspect, a very angry-looking one at that.
Fortunately for the detectives, said suspect gets stuck and can only watch as they make a hasty escape on a fortuitously placed exhibit …

Suspect number one – ruled out on account of his girth.
Could it instead be the fearsome, net-wielding Roman? He’s definitely not happy about being accused of cake thieving. The cake crumb trail however, leads past him on into the gloom from which lurches suspect number three.

He too is furious at the young detective’s accusation and the latter is forced to make a hasty exit right into the Ancient Egyptian room wherein there stands wide open, a large sarcophagus. A sarcophagus containing …

Oh dear me! It looks as though George is going to be the next one accused of being a cake thief …
Who could that stash have been collected by? THAT is the question …
The answer lies in the title of the Guillains’ fast-moving, action-packed rhyming tale of detective derring-do; the reason for so doing is one you can only discover by getting hold of a copy of same for yourself. George’s amazing museum adventures are deliciously and dramatically depicted in Lee Wildish’s gigglesome visuals.

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Once Upon a Jungle

Once Upon a Jungle
Laura Knowles and James Boast
words & pictures
James Boast’s vibrant floral images of the jungle setting that provides a home for myriads of creatures, almost leap out at you  off the pages of this book that focuses on a small number of those creatures, a few of which are just visible on the opening spread …

The straightforward, patterned text then introduces ants, a preying mantis, a lizard, a monkey, a panther that ages and is eventually broken down by roaming beetles.

Thus the soil is enriched, new seedlings thrive and eventually, become part of the jungle habitat: home to …

Simply, and highly effectively, Laura Knowles has demonstrated a food chain within this jungle ecosystem; a food chain that is further elucidated on the final fold-out spread wherein information is given about the various roles played by the sun, producers, consumers and decomposers, along with a final challenge to re-read this alluring book and identify which flora and fauna are performing each role.
As well as being an eye-wateringly beautiful book in its own right, this is an excellent way to introduce the concept of food chains to young children; in addition, it’s a book that children would (once it’s been shared with them) be able to read for themselves. They can along the way, also see how many of the jungle fauna they can spot.

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The Nut Stayed Shut

The Nut Stayed Shut
Mike Henson
Templar Publishing
Squirrel Rodney, the world’s best cracker of nuts, has a problem: a confounding nut-shaped one. He’s succeeded in cracking nut number 1 and nut number 2; but nut number 3 stays firmly and unequivocally shut. Brute force doesn’t do the trick, so maybe a spot of tickling, or perhaps whopping it with a fish, scaring it maybe? None of these have the slightest effect – on the nut at least: nor do chainsawing, door dropping or even this …

Clearly something larger is needed …

No? Then a big bang maybe?

No matter what Rodney does all through the day and all through the night, not a chink of an opening appears in that nut shell. Is it perhaps time to admit defeat and walk away: it certainly appears as though poor Rodney is cracking under all the strain. Or is there something else he can do? …
With its rhyming narrative and over-the-top notions, this superb piece of slapstick is satisfyingly silly. The staccato rhythm of Henson’s delivery is comic timing of the first order, and leaves just the right amount of space for his visuals to have maximum impact. Rodney’s side-kick, complete with camera to film the champ in action, further adds to the delights of this whole smashing experience.

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My Sister is Bigger than Me

My Sister is Bigger than Me
Kate Maryon and Lisa Stubbs
Jonathan Cape
In Kate Maryon’s bouncy, rhyming narrative, three-year old Ava tells what it’s like being little sister to Gracie who is almost three years older. Being the elder sibling, gives, Gracie, so she thinks, the upper hand when it comes to deciding what to play, choosing roles and directing the action.

Poor Ava always ends up as the underdog being bossed around; she’s only in charge in her imaginary games, until suddenly, she decides enough is enough. Off she storms, up to her room where as a witch, she begins mixing up some magic; but before long who should burst in and take over once again.
Poor Ava, it’s back to in-her-mind games to get the upper hand.

In an instant though, events take a turn as the two spy a pack of hungry wolves lurking, and it’s time for them to make a dash for safety together …

Lisa Stubbs beautifully captures the changing dynamics of the children’s play as sibling rivalry is acted out through their games of make-believe; but most important, and over-riding all their actions, is that bond of sisterly love.
Her wonderfully patterned scenes of young children at play speak volumes.
Just the thing to share within families where there are two young sisters; or for early years story sessions after which I suspect there will some earnest sisterly discussions.

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9 Months

9 months
Courtney Adamo, Esther van de Paal & Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Designed for sharing between adult and child/children, this is a month-by-month explanatory account of the development of a human embryo from fertilisation until the delivery of the baby and just after. It draws on the experiences of the two authors who have between them, nine children.
Each month is given a double spread: the verso provides general information in the form of a factual ‘Did you know’ about animal baby development; two questions and answers about human foetal development and a comparison with a fruit or vegetable of similar size. For instance, ‘The baby is the size of a blueberry’ – that’s month 2 when, we’re told, the human baby still has a tail.
Or as here …

Small vignettes illustrate the facts beautifully.
Opposite, the recto relates how the mother is feeling, with a full page illustration by Lizzy Stewart …

So, sensitively written, packed with fascinating facts, diagrams and illustrations, (the final spreads provide additional information) this is an excellent book for any family preparing for a new baby; and for anyone wanting an accurate, euphemism-free starting point for discussions relating to pregnancy.

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Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
I have to admit that I’m a great fan of the Mango & Bambang series, this being the fourth book; and they seem to go on getting better and better.
What is the snowiest meal you can think of: whatever it is I’ll bet it’s not half as delicious as that consumed by the little girl and her best friend and tapir, Bambang in the first of these four linked, although separate, stories. It happens because, Mango is trying to provide the best possible experience of snow for her pal without there actually being any likelihood of the chilly precipitation in their neck of the woods, especially as it’s summer. Instead she decides to ‘bring snow to the tapir’; and they end up breakfasting on lemon sorbet, cream soda, crushed ice topped with whipped cream plus meringue chunks and marshmallows – white ones naturally. That of course is only part of their snowy Saturday outing, which does get more than a little hairy at times …

The whole episode is sheer delight though, especially the finale that you’ll have to discover for yourself by getting your hands on a copy of this enchanting book.
In the other three stories, they spend a night at the fair and poor Bambang ends up with Bambang sustaining a rather nasty injury, inflicted by one of the duo’s arch enemies when Bambang puts his own safety second in order to protect Mango.
Being quick to recover though, its only a few days before the two are ready for their next two adventures, the final one of which sees them reunited with Bambang’s somewhat sassy, diminutive young cousin Gunter at the international premiere of his new film.

I absolutely love Bambang’s assessment of the canapés offered as ‘just normal food, made too small.
Charm simply oozes from these wonderfully uplifting, fun-filled tales; but what over-arches everything is the bond of affection between the two main protagonists, one of which has an unfailing capacity for innocent havoc wreaking.
As always, Clara’s delectable, retro-style illustrations – this time with touches of orange – add visual charm to Polly’s stories; the combination once again creating the perfect book for newly independent readers, or for sharing with those not yet ready to fly solo.
If you’ve yet to be delighted by this team, get a copy of this book right away; I suspect you’ll then want to read their previous stories too.

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The Dressing-Up Dad / Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad

The Dressing-Up Dad
Maudie Smith and Paul Howard
Oxford University Press
I’m sure most children are embarrassed by their parents from time to time: I suspect the boy in this funny story with its being yourself no matter what theme, feels increasingly that way as he gets older.
Danny’s Dad, like his son just loves to dress-up: I don’t mean in his favourite gear say, his best jeans and T-shirt. Oh no! Danny’s Dad really gets into the swing of the young lad’s fantasy play, donning whatever costume he deems appropriate for the situation in hand. He might become a space rocket, a fearsome dragon;

a wizard at the library, or a snow bear; and at Danny’s themed birthday parties, you can guess who was the most dreadful dinosaur or the dastardliest of pirates …

As Danny’s next birthday approaches, Dad contemplates his attire: should he perhaps be a ladybird, a dragonfly; there are plenty of bugs to choose from. Danny however, has other ideas for his Dad this year. And yes, he does look pretty cool as an ‘ordinary everyday’ dad but can he resist the invitation of Danny’s pals who have decided they want to be chased by a giant caterpillar. I wonder …

There’s a dilemma at the heart of this story and it’s evident in the body language and facial expressions of Danny’s Dad at the party. He’s doing his level best to enjoy being the perfect ordinary father when inside he’s torn: what he really wants is to don a costume and be a bug too; but how can he please himself and at the same time please his son? Paul Howard portrays all this and much more so adeptly in his enchanting illustrations. The presence of Danny’s lively dog wanting in on all the action and managing to creep in to almost every scene adds to the visual enjoyment of Maudie Smith’s captivating story.

Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad
Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt
Egmont
Little Monster is excited at the prospect of a day trip to the fair with his dad, despite the fact that they’re going by car rather than train: that at least is the intention. No sooner on the road though than they’re held up in a traffic jam; when the car breaks down en route, after which the rescue truck gets a flat tyre, one begins to wonder whether they’ll ever reach their destination at all. Thank goodness then, for the bus: and there’s room for all aboard.

Finally they arrive at the fair ground and it seems as though Little Monster might be going to get his longed-for train ride after all …

With its funny, suitably garish Sharratt scenes with their plethora of flaps to lift, large print and sturdy pages, this will please most little monsters about the age of the chief protagonist herein.

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My Daddy is a Silly Monkey / The Dictionary of Dads

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books
A little girl shares with readers, the characteristics of her dad, likening him first thing in the morning, to a huge, yawning, grizzly, grouchy bear. Then as he performs his ablutions, a toothily grinning crocodile …

He becomes octopus-like as he texts, brushes her hair, overturns a chair, burns the toast, spills the milk, ties shoelaces and prepares her lunch. PHEW!
His chitter-chatter monkeying around makes our narrator late for school too.
Afterwards though at the pool, he’s a …

And then after a spot of kangaroo bouncing, he turns into a ravenous, tooth-gnashing tiger; after which he still manages to summon the energy to morph into a monster ready to boss, chase, catch and …

Unsurprisingly after all those energetic activities, there is only one thing to do: snuggle up for some well-earned rest having earned the final “just my lovely daddy”.
This adorable, sometimes rhyming, portrait of a single dad is a delight and perfect for sharing with young children, no matter what their family situation.
Carol Thompson’s exuberant, mixed media scenes are at once funny, full of love and at the same time, show a father struggling to cope with the frenetic life of being a single parent of an energetic youngster and managing to stay upbeat and entirely lovable.

The Dictionary of Dads
Justin Coe illustrated by Steve Wells
Otter-Barry Books
Dads come in all shapes and sizes: in this, his debut collection, performance poet, Justin Coe introduces a veritable alphabetic assortment. From Abracadabra Dad to Zen Dad we meet over fifty of the paternal species, the least energetic of whom, surprisingly, is Sportsman Dad: ‘Dad’s favourite sport / On the couch with the baby / Synchronised snoring.

For the most part the mood is upbeat but there are also plenty of reflective, sometimes sad poems too, such as Prison Dad which takes the form of an apologetic letter from a dad to his children. Having acknowledged that he let them down, he says this … ‘Despite my bravado I’m no macho man. // How can I act hard when these guards have got me sewing? / And sitting in my cell, I’ve even started writing poems! / Days go by slowly. I’m lonely and the only times / That I can find to be close to you are in these rhymes.
Totally different, but equally poignant, is Old Dad wherein a snow-haired man and his brown-eyed boy take a walk in the park in late autumn and the man is mistaken for the child’s grandpa. The two collect seasonal souvenirs and as they leave; ‘the boy picks up one last leaf/ a gift for his father. // “Is it mine to keep forever?” / the old man asks. / And this time it is his boy’s turn to nod and smile. // The old man beams with pride, / holds the leaf gently to his lips / and kisses it, / as if this gift were some kind of / golden ticket.
There’s a poem about having Two Daddies and we also meet Mum-Dad – a mum who plays both the maternal and paternal role and as the child tells readers, ‘However wild the weather / She’s got a way to get it done / And I could not have asked for / A better dad than Mum.
My favourite I think though is Storytelling Dad (there are seven S dads) wherein we hear that this particular father actually seems to undergo a metamorphosis to become various characters from The Wind in the Willows, ‘ … But best of all / was when Dad turned into a Toad, / a horn hooting, / toot- tooting, poop-pooping Toad, / Motor-Car Maniac, / menace of the Road.

It’s impossible to mention all the dads that feature in this collection but it’s certainly one I’d want to add to any primary class collection, or to a family bookshelf. Steve Wells’ visual pen-and-ink embellishments are numerous – at least one per spread – and add to the individual reader’s enjoyment.

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The Birthday Invitation / Wishker

The Birthday Invitation
Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes.
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
That the author of this book is a speech therapist is evident in the abundance of verbs in her enormously engaging story.
We meet Ellen on the eve of her birthday excitedly writing and posting off invitations to her party. On her way though, she drops one: it’s picked up by a wizard while out collecting herbs, and into a bottle he pops it.

Some while later though, it finds its way into the hands of a pirate captain out at sea where it is then seized by his parrot which flies off and drops it into the hands of a princess and thereafter, it passes to several other unsuspecting characters before ending up in the pocket of its originator.
The day of the party dawns and there’s considerable hustle and bustle as Emma makes the final preparations for her birthday party and then comes a loud knock on her door …
Has there been a mistake or could it be that the wizard had worked some rather extraordinary magic? Certainly not the former, and maybe a sprinkling of sorcery went into the making of that wonderful celebratory cake …

There certainly is a kind of magic fizzle to Laura Hughes’ captivating illustrations: every scene sparkles with vivacity and her attention to detail further adds to the enjoyment of her spreads.
Just right for pre-birthday sharing with those around the age of the birthday girl herein, or for a foundation stage story session at any time.

Wishker
Heather Pindar and Sarah Jennings
Maverick Arts Publishing
Be careful what you wish for is the moral of Heather Pindar’s deliciously crazy cautionary tale.
Meet Mirabel who it seems never gets what she asks for be it a sleepover with her friends or a pet monkey; “It’s not fair! Everyone always says NO” she complains as she sits outside in her garden. Her comments are heard by a cat that introduces itself as Wishker, claims to posses magical powers and offers her three wishing whiskers.
Mirabel uses her first wish on ice-cream for every meal and her second for having her friends to stay – forever. The third wish involves a phone call to the circus and results in the arrival of clowns, fire-eaters, acrobats and a whole host of animals. The result? Total pandemonium in one small house: things are well nigh impossible.

Another wish is uttered and ‘Whoosh’. Normality reigns once more. But that’s not quite the end of the tale – or the whiskery wishing: Mirabel has a brother and there just happens to be a whisker going begging …
Sarah Jennings bright, action-packed scenes are full of amusing details and endearing characters human and animal.

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Under the Same Sky / This Is How We Do It!

Under the Same Sky
Britta Teckentrup
Caterpillar Books
I’m a big fan of Britta Teckentrup’s work especially her books with cut out pages so I eagerly anticipated this one. With its theme of connectedness, it’s absolutely beautiful.
We live under / the same sky … / … in lands / near and far.’ So begins the lyrical text, which accompanies superb, soft-focus animal images set against natural backgrounds.
Hugely impactful with its spare narrative and its strategically placed die-cuts on alternate recto pages, through which we see  elements of scenes of universally shared games, feelings,

hopes and dreams, this is uplifting and full of hope. Timely, and exactly what is needed when our world seems to be growing increasingly intolerant, fractured, and with too many people focusing on differences rather than what binds us all together – our common humanity.

Fuelled by this powerful and lovely book, let’s seize every opportunity, transcend those differences and come together for the ultimate good of everyone.
Share, ponder upon, delight in and discuss: it’s a must for every family, early years setting and KS1 classroom collection.

This is How We Do It
Matt Lamothe
Chronicle Books
Children are the focus of this fascinating book, children whose ages range between seven and eleven; children from seven different families, backgrounds and diverse situations tell their own stories. Let’s meet, Romeo (Meo) from Italy; Kei from Japan; Daphine from Uganda; Oleg from Russia; Ananya (Anu) from India, Kian from Iran and the eldest, Peruvian, Pirineo.
These narrators share information about their particular homes, their families, their clothes – in particular what they wear to school; breakfasts, lunches and evening meals (each meal has a separate spread); mode of travel to school.

We meet their various teachers and see how they learn (almost all classrooms looks very formal). Each child shows how his/her name is written …

We also see the children at play, helping at home and finally, sleeping.
Yes, there are differences, each country, each family is unique; but the most important message is that no matter where we are from, we all have similarities: we eat meals, we play and we go to school (at least those children we meet do) and all under the same sky.
At the end of the book we meet all seven families in photographs; and there is a final glossary, an author’s note on how he came to create the book and the endpapers have a world map showing where the children (and author) live.
This predominantly pictorial presentation celebrates our commonalities and our uniqueness. With world travel a commonplace nowadays, the book offers a great way to expand children’s horizons giving them insights into particular ways of life in addition to those in countries they might themselves visit.

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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 …

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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.

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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!

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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.

I’ve signed the charter  

 

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.

I’ve signed the charter