Category Archives: Picture Books

The Hat that Zack Loves

The Hat that Zack Loves
Michelle Robinson and Robert Reader
Puffin Books

There’s a satisfying circularity about Michelle Robinson’s new spin on the traditional The House that Jack Built.
It features Zack who buys the hat, a dog that snatches same and leads Zack in a merry dance down onto the subway; then into the park precipitating a frenetic concatenation of events wherein a host of other characters get involved.
There’s a cat, the wind, a grey goose and a policeman on horseback.
The whole chase is exhaustingly riotous, not least for Zack who falls from a tree;

then leaps into a boat in pursuit of his titfa.

But suddenly the wind takes over whisking it from the goose’s head, out of the park and up atop a statue, atop a column.

Will Zack ever get that elusive hat back? Or the whole thing just a wild goose chase?
Thanks to some nifty teamwork and precarious balancing, the hat is finally retrieved and then it’s hats all round.
This is a fun read aloud that, with its repeat refrain, ‘the hat that Zack loves’, cries out for audience participation.
Robert Reader debuts as a picture book artist with this rhythmic tale, gracing each spread with retro style scenes, every one of which has deliciously droll happenings that make you want to slow the pace and revel in the details.

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Say Zoop!

Say Zoop!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Before you’ve finished reading this latest offering from the inimitable Tullet you and your listeners will have said a whole lot more than ‘Zoop’ and had an absolutely brilliant time to boot. Herein the artist takes pointillism and imbues it with his puckish genius.
It begins with a simple blue dot and an invitation to say ‘OH!’ A bigger dot appears demanding an appropriately ‘HUGE OH!’ and so on … Whoppee! We’re starting to make music – soft soft loud soft soft loud and so on; but that’s not all – how about a crescendo or the reverse …
We can also do a spot of dot counting or try some beats in dots and … wait for it, dive in dot sounds, rising up and … down;

then swim dot style, shiver and even cry.
Enter red dot – say ‘AH!’ And off we go again – double the possibilities: a dot dialogue or better still a robot dot dialogue – amazing! Then a spot of tickle induced laughter, dot style of course; or maybe a song and even a walk.
Oh no! Now there’s a very noisy argument … Phew! They’ve made up.
Oh my goodness, now there’s a sunny looking yellow dot WAAHOO! And off we go again, trampolining, zooming car style or singing like birds …

A whole new language perhaps?

Superbly creative: this absolutely cries out for performance over and over – first vocal, then perhaps with paint and after that, what about both together: WAAHOOAHTCHONKOHPLUCKZIKZOOPWHISHHH!! What are you waiting for?
The possibilities are endless and no reading will be the same as any other.
Zooper-dooper fun!

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Izzy Gizmo

Izzy Gizmo
Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster

Izzy Gizmo is full of go and seldom without her large bag of tools, after all one never knows when there might be an opportunity for mending, tweaking or inventing. She makes some pretty marvellous machines but the trouble is there do seem to be a fair few glitches along the way and often at the most inopportune moments.
It’s then that Izzy’s temper gets the better of her and she wants to give up.
Grandpa however, has other ideas: “Now, trust me, young lady. Sometimes you need to try again and again if you want to succeed,” he tells her.
After one such paddy, Izzy storms outside and all of a sudden a crow crash lands right in her path breaking his wings beyond repair.

Now the feisty young miss has a new challenge. First she tries to rehabilitate the crow but all the creature wants is to be able to soar with his feathered friends again. Despondent, she’s near to giving up but again Grandpa steps in with some timely moral support and that bag of gadgety things of Izzy’s.
Then it’s operation ‘new wings’ as books are consulted, components collected …

and assembled ready for the launch; but it’s a case of the best laid plans …
Can Izzy, not to mention her injured friend finally rise to the occasion or is the creature destined to stay forever grounded ?
Let’s put it like this: ‘where there’s a will, there has to be a way’

no matter the consequences …
I doubt many will fail to fall for Izzy and her mechanical mind.
Pip Jones’ rhyming narrative is a cracker to read aloud and Sara Ogilvie’s imagination must be almost as fertile as young Izzy’s. Her intricately detailed scenes of mechanical mayhem are simply magnificent.
A real riot.

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Boo Who?

Boo Who?
Ben Clanton
Walker Books

The pals from Ben Clanton’s Rex Wrecks It! – dinosaur Rex, robot, Gizmo, Sprinkles the unicorn-rabbit, and furry monster, Wild return; but there’s a new kid on the block and he wants to play.

The others are accommodating and try their level best to include him in their games; but for a ghostly apparition, bounce-ball is a non starter (the ball bounces right through him); ditto ‘pick-up twigs’ (Boo has no hands); and his would-be friends can’t feel a thing when Boo tags them.

Enough is enough: the four run off to play another game leaving Boo all alone and sad – ‘Boo-hoo’. Would anyone even care if he just disappeared, Boo wonders.
Meanwhile a game of hide-and-seek has started. Now that’s surely THE perfect game for a little ghost.

Three cheers for the established group and their patience and perseverance. It pays off in the end: and what a great example to young audiences, especially those just starting nursery or school.
Clanton’s artfully drawn characters portray the sensitive and empathetic way the friends treat the newcomer. Their changes of expression speak volumes about their feelings, as do those of Boo and his uncertainty about being accepted by the others, about fitting in and discovering his own strength.
Share and discuss with early years listeners.

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Sofa Dog

Sofa Dog
Leonie Lord
Alison Green Books
When it comes to the sofa, the canine narrator of this book reigns supreme: the only person he’ll allow to share it is the aptly named, young Sophie, his ‘human’. Hence his name, Sofa Dog.

Seemingly others, be they animal or human are unaware of the territorial rule; they too want to share the springy seat. And it seems the doorbell is never going to stop ringing.
Before you can say, “Budge up, Sofa Dog!” there are a couple of cats from next door, three aunties – all avid knitters,

friend Polly plus pony, a host of rabbits, Grandpa (from Bavaria) with his orangutan oompah band, and a panda; and they’ve all piled onto the sofa.
Hang on though, there’s an additional guest, a very tiny one that’s managed to sneak in unnoticed. Now what could that be? And why has everyone suddenly started scratching?
Is this perhaps an opportunity for Sofa Dog to regain his rightful place on the sofa? It can’t be much fun sitting outside all on his own, now can it?

Utterly crazy, and bursting with zany characters to delight both readers aloud and listeners. Leonie Lord portrays every one of them, and the chaos they create, with great panache.
Who can resist falling for the charms of the exuberant Sofa Dog in particular, though I did rather fall for the drum-playing member of Grandpa’s Bavarian band too.

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They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Sean Taylor does crazy stories supremely well and this one surely tops the pops for craziness.
Three aliens, inhabitants of the planet Zabalooloo head to earth in their spaceship and they have a mission. There’s the brainy one, that’s Zoron our narrator; Bazoo, the strong one and Zob, prone to hyper-exuberance and crazy wiggle-woggle dancing.
Their aim is to be the first to capture a “BIG-SIZE thing” by means of their supersonic-sucker with special shrinker nozzle and take it back to their own planet. Quite a challenge judging by the relative size of the aliens and their prey, Undaunted and with supersonic sucker at the ready, the three creep up behind the creature ready to strike.

But then Bazoo wants to stop for a photo shoot. PHOOAH! Big mistake! Followed by rapid retreat back to spaceship.
Maybe they’ll have more success with MEDIUM-SIZED thing. Or maybe not …

Surely nothing can go wrong capturing a SMALL-SIZED thing; after all it would still be a first for their planet.
But even aliens from Zabalooloo cannot resist feeding our earthly ducks and it’s a case of love at first sight for both Zoron their intrepid leader and the target duck.

So is their mission doomed to failure or could there perhaps be another way of capturing their prey?
Sean Taylor’s deliciously zany text, some of which is rendered through colour-coded speech bubbles, is full of utterances guaranteed to make you splutter with laughter. Take this one for instance ‘I am COMPLETE BIG-GOB NINCOMPOOP WITH PANTS ON INSIDE OUT!
Perfectly complementing Taylor’s words are Kate Hindley’s sublimely silly, intricately detailed visuals of the diminutive Zabaloolooian explorers and their tin can craft complete with steering wheel and party area, going about their mission.
Human explorers of the pages will find many more small-sized things including a wealth of insects hovering on, and buzzing around, the various kinds of plants liberally scattered throughout the terrain of the aliens’ hunting ground.
Epic!

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10 Reasons to Love: an Elephant / a Turtle & Dolphin Baby

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant
10 Reasons to Love a Turtle

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Two titles published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum focus on what makes the particular animal special.
Each is sandwiched between two sturdy covers with a die cut of the animal through the front one and a double spread is devoted to each reason.
I didn’t need any persuasion to love elephants mainly because of frequent encounters with the Asian variety on my numerous visits to India. (I’ve never seen any with googly eyes however.) In addition to the reason that gives each spread its title, there is plenty more to enjoy. I was fascinated to learn that elephants ‘wrap their trucks around each other in warm greetings’ and that ‘they understand how other elephants feel.’ Here for example one can see a beautiful Indian swallowtail butterfly, a common rose butterfly and a common bluebottle butterfly among the flora.

Children will I’m sure be amused to learn that forest elephants eat seeds that pass through their bodies and out in their poo, and then the seeds start growing in their dung making them “good gardeners’ for their role in seed dispersal. Equally they might, having read the ‘Show You Love an Elephant’ badge, want to look online and find how to buy some paper made from recycled elephant poo.
Ecologist, Catherine Barr’s text is very reader friendly and Hanako Clulow’s illustrations offer plenty to observe and discuss.
10 Reasons to love a Turtle features the seven different sea turtle species and interestingly, ‘gardening’ features herein too,

with sea turtles acting like ‘underwater lawn movers’ grazing on the seagrass and keeping it the appropriate length for fish, crabs and seahorses to make their homes in.
At the end of the book, readers are reminded of the threat that pollution, fishing and hunting pose to these gentle animals.
With their environmental focus, these would be worthwhile additions to classroom libraries; as well as for interested individuals, who it is hoped, might turn into conservationists.

Dolphin Baby
Nicola Davies and Brita Granström
Walker Books
‘Tail first, head last, Dolphin POPS out into the blue.’ What could be a more engaging way to start a book of narrative non-fiction? But then this is zoologist Nicola Davies writing and she knows just how to grab the attention of young readers and listeners and keep them entranced throughout.
Here, through the story of Dolphin and Mum, she describes the first six months of a baby calf’s life as it learns to feed, to acquaint itself with and respond to her call, and to explore its world playing, making friends …

and all the while he’s growing and developing his very own whistle to communicate that he has at six months old, caught his very first fish.
The text uses two fonts: the large provides the narrative with additional facts given in smaller italics; and the final spread reminds readers that dolphins need protecting from pollution, from over-fishing and from the careless use of fishing nets.
Brita Granström’s superb acrylic illustrations grace every spread helping to make the book a winner for both early years and primary school audiences.

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Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

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Tug of War

Tug of War
Naomi Howarth
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Naomi Howarth has chosen to retell a West African myth for her follow up to The Crow’s Tale and once again it’s a visual stunner from beginning to end.
It recounts how Tortoise, having received rebuffs and insults from pompous Elephant and Hippo in his search for a friend, unleashes a battle of forces between the two large animals.
Encouraged by Bird, he racks his brains before coming up with his tricky plan.

Tortoise challenges both large beasts to hold onto the end of a vine and engage with him in a tug of war.
Unsurprisingly neither Elephant nor Hippo can turn down a dare, so the two find themselves unwittingly pitting their strength against one another until …

Upon realising that they’ve both been well and truly duped by such a small creature as Tortoise, the two pachyderms acknowledge their foolishness and make amends to their trickster by inviting him to become their friend.

With minute attention to detail, Naomi Howarth’s outstandingly beautiful illustrations (a combination of lithography and watercolour), executed in exquisite jewel colours on every page, underline the inherent mind over might, and the importance of friendship messages of the traditional tale.

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The Secret Life of a Tiger

The Secret Life of a Tiger
Przemystaw Wechterowicz and Emilia Dziubak
Words & Pictures

Tigers aren’t necessarily all that they seem. Most certainly that is the case with the particular big cat who acts as narrator herein.
Yes, he’s a jungle dweller, brave and cheerful, wandering around his leafy abode, gossiping with friends, taking an occasional power nap and partaking of the odd morsel to keep his tummy rumbles at bay. A pretty peaceable life all told.
That of course, is contrary to all the rumours circulating about his dangerous nature.
However, our friendly narrator has, what he calls, his secret life, and that’s when his do-gooding persona emerges.
In fact, the creature has a multitude of nocturnal occupations.
He rustles up a yummy fruit salad for baby elephant,

acts as coiffeur for some orang-utans,

becomes a surrogate parent for some parrot’s eggs, an architect for some ants and much more.
Are we readers to be beguiled by all this altruistic behaviour? Hmmm!
As the narrator himself says, “ … don’t forget – you can’t believe all the stories you hear in the jungle.
Wecherowic’s tongue-in-cheek, chatty telling sits so well with Emilia Dziubak’s fantastically funny illustrations. Don’t miss the balloon-twisting antics performed on cobra …

that’s a real rib-tickler – not least for that cobra!

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Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Norman begins life as a normal boy but then something unimaginable happens: he suddenly finds himself with wings.
Wowee! What fun he has soaring and swooping with the birds all day until dinner is called.

Now a lad with extraordinary wings is going to look more than a tad strange sitting at the table with his very ordinary family, so Norman decides a cover-up is necessary. It works as a wing concealer but nonetheless his parents are a trifle bemused when their son wears his parka at dinnertime.

Further challenges come at bath time, and at bedtime he’s positively roasting.
The great cover-up continues; but nothing is fun when you’re wrapped up and hiding your greatest asset. Normal Norman feels normal no more, other than on rainy days, that is.
Things come to a head when another boy attempts to remove his security cover leaving Norman to ponder on what it is that’s making him feel so bad.
Light bulb moment!
Time for a revelation and …

freedom.
Tom Percival documents Norman’s mundane, wing-covered existence, in black and white and shades of grey with only minimal colour, whilst his extraordinary gift is spotlighted in full colour – a nifty device which heightens the impact of the whole thing.
An elevating tale of finding the courage to be true to yourself no matter what.

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Rhyme Crime

Rhyme Crime
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

Beware the googly eyes staring out through the cover of Jon Burgerman’s follow up to Splat!. It’s another chortle inducer starring a thief, albeit one whose light-fingered habit leaves a rhyming replacement item for every one stolen. In fact the whole thing is a veritable rhyming extravaganza.
First to fall victim to those thieving fingers is Hammy; his brand new hat is swapped for a c– .
I’m sure Gumpop is none too pleased to lose his head, only to have it replaced by a slice of …

And so it goes on: Arney loses his chair; Tootle – his dog; Moomoo – a pair of clogs;

Gertie’s house is swapped for a giant m —- .
Tumble’s orange however proves the thief’s undoing.
As he ponders upon a suitable rhyming object with which to replace the juicy item he’s apprehended by a couple of police officers

and marched off to jail.
Not for long though: seemingly our light-fingered jail bird is an expert lock-picker …
This hilarious romp is absolutely brilliant for developing rhyming skills and encouraging prediction, a vital skill in reading for meaning.
Burgerman’s bold, bright, matt illustrations are attention grabbing and deliciously zany.

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Fergal is Fuming!

Fergal is Fuming!
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Fergal the dragon is a pleasant, friendly enough little fellow when he’s getting his own way, but he’s a hot-tempered creature when things aren’t quite to his liking. That’s when his fieriness gets the upper hand; like the occasion when he’s told by dad to eat all his veggies or forego his pudding. Guess who stays hungry that teatime …

Then there’s the time on the soccer field when he’s asked to play in goal: another fiery situation.

In fact, Fergal’s blazing temper seems to get him into bothersome situations wherever he goes; and before long, his friends are having no more to do with him.
Time for the little dragon to start learning some anger management techniques it appears.
We all get fiery,” his mum tells him “but we find a way to cool down.” Counting to ten is her trick and that’s what Fergus does the following day when he feels that inner fire starting to get the better of him.
Other animals employ different calming down methods and pretty soon, Fergal has a range of techniques at his disposal.

A really good stretch

This turns out to be a pretty good thing, not least because he can expend his energy on exciting pastimes with his friends.
In addition to being sheer fun, Robert Starling’s debut picture book offers youngsters a host of possibilities for taking the heat out of potentially tricky situations.
I take myself off somewhere quiet, sit still and do some deep breathing or a bit of yoga if I feel myself getting over-heated. What about you?

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Professional Crocodile

Professional Crocodile
Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Chronicle Books

Now here’s a wordless picture book that is simply bursting with wit, and full of wonderful details to tickle your fancy.
Meet Mr Crocodile, an extremely dapper gent if ever there was one.
Every morning he rises with his alarm, performs his ablutions, breakfasts (on toast and jam), dons his business attire, including matching tie, and heads off to work.

But precisely how does this croc-about-town earn his livelihood? That is the question.
As you turn the pages you’ll find yourself pausing to pore over the wealth of interesting and absorbing happenings on each and every spread.

So many questions, so many possible stories wherever you rest your eyes.

The surprise final twist will leave you open-mouthed, I suspect. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
(Perhaps if you take off the dust jacket before reading it, you’ll be less surprised; but hey, why spoil the fun?)
Captivating, clever and totally immersive.

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Fluffywuffy

Fluffywuffy
Simon Puttock and Matt Robertson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Mr Moot and his much loved pet, Fluffywuffy live a happy, peaceful existence until Cousin Clarence arrives unexpectedly for a visit – a visit of indeterminate length, so he says.
Quick to make himself feel at home, the visitor takes over the sofa and falls fast asleep. “I don’t suppose he’ll be much bother,” Mr Moot says. His pet stays silent.

Little do they know how wrong that utterance will turn out to be, for, concealed within his cousin’s innocuous-looking luggage are some unlikely items destined to test the long-suffering Mr Moot to his accommodating limits.
The first night he’s subjected to a musical rendition; the second night it’s a chainsaw and the third – a Friday – is Cousin Clarence’s night to relax, and all the while Fluffywuffy remains shtum.

The following night it’s not a terrible noise that keeps Mr Moot from his slumbers, rather it’s the anticipation of one. When a noise does eventually come though, Mr M. feels compelled to go downstairs and investigate …

Hilariously anarchic, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek; and the final twist will leave you and your audience, (like a certain hairy pet), utterly speechless.
Puttock’s light-hearted text and Robertson’s jokey illustrative style, not to mention the cuddlesome appearance of the bow-sporting Fluffywuffy are deliciously at odds with what turns out to be a modern gothic horror story .
Not a book to be read at bedtime I would suggest.

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Mouse House

Mouse House
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape

John Burningham returns to the theme of mice for the first time since his 1964 classic, Troubloff: the mouse who wanted to play the balalaika.
The mouse, or rather family of mice in this story has no musical inclinations; rather they desire only to live peaceably alongside the human family whose house they share.
The mice are fully aware of the humans, keeping well out of their way and only emerging at night once the humans have retired to bed.
The humans in contrast, are completely ignorant of their co-residents.
One evening though, on his way to bed, the boy spies a small furry creature …

Before you can say, “Look, there is a mouse,” his father has called the rodent exterminator.
The children are firmly on the side of the mice insisting they’re harmless. They have just until morning to alert them; so they write a note warning them of the imminent danger.
Exit one mouse family …

The following morning the mouse catcher comes: job done, so he says.
The children know otherwise and watch the mice at play from their bedroom window, even making things for them to play on.

But, with the coming of winter, their playthings and the mice are nowhere to be seen. Where can they have gone, without even leaving a note, the children want to know.
I wonder …
In this exploration of the secret world of mice and children, Burningham’s work is as fresh as ever, yet has that enduring, timeless appeal for both youngsters and adults. The former will revel in sharing the children’s secret and the artist’s delicate touch; the latter will delight in the detail, including the copy of Borka, (an early Burningham classic), being clutched by the boy on his way to bed. And who wouldn’t be charmed by the sight of the mouse child holding his cuddly toy …

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Poppy and the Blooms

Poppy and the Blooms
Fiona Woodcock
Simon & Schuster

Meet Poppy, Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup the four enchanting, skateboarding characters that star in Fiona Woodcock’s captivating new picture book. They roam free spreading joy and sunshine wherever they go. Now who wouldn’t welcome a visit from the Blooms?
One day, at Poppy’s behest they zoom off to the city where they discover that its one remaining park is to be closed.
Immediately galvanised into action to save the park off they go, dashing hither and thither, up and down at a frantic pace, leaving trails of colour behind them.

After a somewhat perilous journey they finally sight the park but it’s far below them.
Then it’s a case of grab any opportunity to reach where you need to be.
Down they sail ready to run with abandon, scattering colour and spreading their own special brand of sunshine.

By the time they return home, that sparky quartet has left behind them a park, nay an entire city, absolutely bursting with bright new, happiness-bringing blooms. An absolute transformation.

What a gloriously uplifting finale!
And there’s a gentle reminder from the book’s creator how ‘even something very small, can make a BIG difference.’
Blooming wonderful!

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Tiny Tantrum

Tiny Tantrum
Caroline Crowe and Ella Okstad
Little Tiger Press

Temper tantrums are part and parcel of being a toddler and the little girl in this story is no exception.

Indeed she seems to have got the whole tantrum thing down to a fine art causing windows to wobble, jelly to shake and birds to fall from trees and all because mum has requested that she put on her coat.
Enter one purple hairy monster with talk of a freezing bottom and hence no fun and before you can say ‘chilly bum’, the little miss has donned her coat and is meekly following her mum.
All is fun and cuddles until back home at lunchtime. Then comes tantrum number two: it’s broccoli induced. Fortunately there just happens to be an apron- wearing monster to advise on improving the taste of veggies too; and it works like magic.

Those are not the only tantrums Tiny throws during the course of her busy day, but each time it happens there’s a monster on hand with timely advice.
Come bedtime though, Tiny has four very lively monsters to put to bed. Can she gain the upper hand and get them to take one final bounce, right into bed and stay there?

She’s certainly had some good training.
Ella Okstad’s portrayal of the capricious infant shows her ticklish temperament to great effect in an offbeat colour palette, and Caroline Crow’s rhyming narrative is just right for sharing with tinies especially those of a tantrum-prone nature.

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Stick! / That is Actually MY Blanket, Baby!

Stick!
Irene Dickson
Nosy Crow
The joys of finding and playing with a stick are explored in an unassuming tale of a small boy and his dog as they take a walk together. There are so many pleasures such a simple, natural object can yield including a game of throwing, retrieving, use as a tapping instrument, an aid to balancing, a corn swisher, a drawing implement …

a mud stirrer, or a floater. Such a versatile find.

All in all a delightful celebration of playing in the great outdoors told through a brief, straightforward text and rendered in vibrant scenes that have a slightly retro feel.
Quite simply, a breath of fresh air and a reminder of the importance of free play with natural objects.
With its minimal text closely matched to the illustrations, it’s great for those just starting to read as well as for sharing with the very young.

That is Actually MY Blanket, Baby!
Angie Morgan and Kate Alizadeh
Little Tiger Press
Many young children form an attachment to a blanket or other soft toy from which they become virtually inseparable; so it is with Bella the small female protagonist in this story. Her ‘Blanket’ has been everywhere Bella has and absorbed a good few spills, smells and a whole lot of dirt in the course of their adventures together.
Then along comes a new baby brother, an adorable creature but what a crier. Bella tries all kinds of diversion tactics but suddenly something catches New Baby’s attention. New Baby has a lovely new blanket of his own, a cosy stripy one that should do the trick as a pacifier but no: he prefers Bella’s muddy, painty, stinky one and doesn’t want to let go.
Bella doesn’t act in haste though, snatching her blanket back as many youngsters probably would; rather she encourages her tiny brother to use his own pristine blanket in all kinds of messy activities in the hope it might in time become as much loved as her own.

Until then, who knows: perhaps her patience, loving words and sharing compromise will do the trick?

Endearing characters steal the show in this unusual take on a new sibling.

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One Button Benny

One Button Benny
Alan Windram and Chloe Holwill-Hunter
Little Door Books

Benny’s planet is populated by robots; robots of all shapes and sizes, and each with an array of multi-functional buttons. Benny though is different: he has just a single, central button, a large one bearing a warning that it’s only to be used in an emergency,
The little robot is taunted by his fellow robots who love to show off their button-activated skills.

Longing to press that button of his, Benny looks everywhere for emergency opportunities, but without success.
Then one morning, while pondering his button’s possibilities, he glances outside and sees something is amiss.
In the street it’s panic stations: overnight there’s been an invasion of collectors.
These are small, green aliens that travel the galaxy in search of shiny metal to toss into their massive crunching machine and fashion it into teapots – yes teapots! And it looks as though this is to be the fate of the entire population of Benny’s planet.

Emergency!
There’s only one thing to do in an emergency …

Now it’s Benny’s chance to save the situation. Can he do it? Can he prevent the threatened mechanical mayhem?
Robots, aliens and space are amusingly combined in this sc-fi. tale for early years audiences who will enjoy the metallic characters and have a good laugh at the unlikely teapot fetish of the alien invaders.
Chloe Holwill-Hunter portrayal of a metallic world populated by anthropomorphic robots executed predominantly in burnished shades of greys, black, blue and tan are distinctly otherworldly and have a strangely fascinating appeal.

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Information Briefing:Bees, Gardening & Cities

What on Earth? Bees
Andrea Quigley and Paulina Morgan
QED
The author and illustrator of the latest in the ‘What On Earth?’ series offer a cross-curricular approach to a fascinating and vitally important insect, the bee.
It’s packed with fascinating information, interesting things to investigate, art and craft activities, poems, stories – I had a good laugh over the folk tale from Thailand telling ‘When bees were friends with elephants’; there’s even a recipe for delicious honey flapjacks – mmm!
Most pertinent though, since our native bees are under threat, are the projects which aim to increase potential nesting spots: for bumble bees ‘Make a bumble bee ‘n’ bee’; and ‘Build a solitary bee home’ for bees such as the leafcutter and mason bees to nest in.
Although each spread is chock full of information, the presentation with copious bright, attractive and sometimes amusing, illustrations, speech bubbles and factual snippets on bold colour blocks is never overwhelming.

This stylish book is certainly worth adding to a family book collection or primary school topic box.

The Children’s Garden
Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan
Little Bigfoot
This appealing story inspired by a real community garden for children in Seattle is a debut book for both author and illustrator.
A sign on the gate welcomes readers in to ‘listen, see, smell, touch – even taste’
and to read this book really does feel like a multi-sensory experience.
We start with the deep, dark soil, ‘rich with rotted grass, apple peels and onion skins,’ into which the children dig and then scatter their seeds. They pat, water …

and weed and soon are rewarded by the appearance of tiny sprouting plants.
It’s not long before the whole space is filled with a profusion of ‘tomato clusters’, ‘sunflower stands’, ‘green bean tents’, ‘strawberry clusters’ and more.

Peppermint to smell and chew.

A rich reward for their labours but also a place to have fun and to relax.

Imaginative language and bold, bright illustrations and splendid seed packet endpapers make this portrait of a bountiful co-operative gardening project a delight.
I’d like to think it will inspire adults to help youngsters seek out similar local projects or failing that, contemplate starting such an enterprise for children in their own neighbourhood.

In Focus: Cities
Libby Walden et al.
360 Degrees
You can be a globetrotter without moving from your sofa in what is very much a bits and pieces look at ten of the world’s most iconic cities – their culture, their character and their civilisations – landmarks and artefacts of cultures ancient and modern (largely hidden beneath the gate fold flaps).
Starting with New York, and encompassing Tokyo,



Paris, Rome, Moscow, Istanbul, Sydney, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro and London, each of the destinations has a different illustrator, ensuring that the diversity of the cities is heightened.
The author manages to pack a great deal of information into each fold-out spread so that readers will find themselves becoming engrossed in such unlikely topics as tulips and Turkish delight (Istanbul), or catacombs and cancan dancing (Paris).
An appetite whetter and an engrossing one at that!

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This is NOT a Fairy Tale

This is NOT a Fairy Tale
Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books

Dad and his story sabotaging daughter, Sophie, return in a sequel to This is NOT a Bedtime Story; now though, the time honoured fairy tale is under attack and all because Grandad couldn’t keep his eyes open long enough to finish the story.
No matter, Dad is on hand to take over, or rather attempt to; but he’s reckoned without the creative interjections of the opinionated subverter of narratives sitting right beside him.
Let the imagination roll… and roll it surely does.
Sophie’s having none of your pathetic princess stuff: her young royal female is the one wearing the armour and she’s all for using the latest mod cons – a combine harvester transformer for instance – to save time and perform heroic deeds involving dragons.

Fast paced, metafictive mayhem is the order of the day in this deliciously bonkers book.
Yes there IS a prince – a slumbering bald one whose fate it is to be rescued …

(although he does inadvertently have moments of less inert, even momentarily useful and agonisingly ROAR worthy activity, where dragon’s bums are concerned). YEOWCH!

Giggles aplenty guaranteed. The super-crazy team of Mabbitt and Blunt have scored another ace with this one.

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Fairy Tale Pets

Fairy Tale Pets
Tracey Corderoy and Jorge Martin
Little Tiger Press

Bob and his dog Rex live a happy life in their neat abode but Bob needs a job. Being an animal lover he decides pet-sitting is just the ticket and advertises his services all over town.
The following day business is booming but not with the cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters Bob had been anticipating. Oh dear no!
First comes a golden-haired young miss with a baby bear that needs minding while she’s on her hols.

Next to call is Jack (who insists on paying with beans) and his goose Gabby. Not the comparatively easy task Bob anticipated and before long eggs are flying around all over his once tidy home. That however is actually after the arrival of client number three with her billy goats, and you certainly don’t say no to someone looking like that.

Just when it looks as though matters can’t get any worse, along come three little pigs with their oh so ‘friendly’ um, ‘puppy’. Who are they fooling?
Certainly not young listeners, who by now will be positively squealing with delight.
It’s not difficult to guess what that so called puppy does, which leaves an exasperated Bob without a home or job: he quits pet-sitting and who can blame him; it’s far too hazardous.

That just leaves those beans …
Talk about fairy tale frenzy; Tracey Corderoy’s text is a treat for both listeners (who will enjoy spotting all their favourite characters) and readers aloud.
Laughs aplenty are assured in Jorge Martin’s zesty, slapstick depictions of the mayhem caused by the stream of outlandish animal arrivals at Bob’s residence.
Full of potential following a classroom sharing; but most important, a thoroughly fun-filled picture book.

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Troll Stroll

Troll Stroll
Elli Woollard and David Barrow
Nosy Crow
Having grown tired of an unrelenting diet of billy goat, the large lumbering troll in this tasty tale goes lumbering off in search of something different to tickle his palate. Off he heads through the town, stopping at the bridge – after all that’s where trolls hang out, isn’t it? Seems as though he’s about to strike lucky for what should come pedalling into view but a lad out for a spin. “Mmm” says the Troll. “There is nothing I like quite as much as a nice juicy boy on his bike.
The lad however, despite his relatively diminutive stature, shows a decided lack of fear.

Clearly he is familiar with the Three Billy Goats Gruff story for he responds thus: “Please don’t eat me just yet! There is something much better behind me, I bet!
Sure enough almost instantly, along comes an infinitely more tempting possibility.

And so it goes on, with first a school bus and then a digger full of mucky young passengers coming along to tempt the troll with even better, more substantial sounding treats.
Has the Troll finally met his match with that digger, or are those ‘scrumptious young morsels” aboard about to become his next tasty repast?

This is a lip-smacking offering from the toothsome new twosome, Woollard and Barrow. Elli Woollard’s rhyming text simply slips off the tongue – a veritable treat if ever; and David Barrow’s soft-focus, splodgy illustrations are deliciously diverting.

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The Best Chip

The Best Chip
Kate Leake
Alison Green Books

Chubble – what a lovely word; apparently it’s urban slang for ‘to move or be like a mass of fat’. Mmm; maybe I don’t like it quite so much now.
In fact, I’m not a big fan of chips although I’m not averse to pinching a few from my partner’s plate when he indulges himself.
In this veritable ode to chips, our narrator is so she says, “the world’s Chip-Chubbling Champ!” Now there’s a claim to fame; and throughout this rhyming chip extravaganza, she extols the virtues of the humble chip in all its shapes and sizes. Well perhaps not Granny’s frazzled ones, nor those black-eyes ones.
Apparently she comes from a family of chip lovers; Dad too is a huge fan although he’s rather a messy eater.

It’s our narrator’s largest and ‘bestest’ chip though which gives rise to enormous anticipatory excitement and all manner of flights of fancy …

not to mention crazy a song and dance act, all hilariously visualised in lip-smacking scenes.
But will that much -lauded titbit ever actually pass through the lips of its owner?
I’ll say no more on that matter but just add, there’s a spot of fickleness in the finale.

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The Only Lonely Panda

The Only Lonely Panda
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

Deep in the forest, a lonely panda sits among the bamboos longing for a friend. He sets his sights on another panda; but how to go about making friends with her, that is the thorny question.
He spends time observing his fellow forest animals: first the flamingos who befriend one another through a graceful dance. Panda’s efforts at fluffy flamingo dancing however don’t quite pass muster; in fact they’re a total flop.
So what about emulating those bouncing sifakas? Surely being springy like those bouncy creatures can’t be difficult and it’s bound to impress the other panda …

Well, maybe not!
Nor can he manage that majestic booby walk like the strutting blue-footed birds, without losing sight of the object of his desire.

And that peacock is in no hurry to part with any of his tail feathers; so Panda will just have to make do …

until the rain comes that is.
It’s a very despondent panda that plods off to eat his dinner all by himself. But then … Perhaps this is the opportunity he’s been looking for: carpe diem, lonely Panda …
What a gorgeous production this is. Its metallic silver ink finish really makes the gorgeous glowing colours of the forest animals stand out.
Jonny Lambert uses the space on the page with supreme artistry: every spread is skilfully choreographed in what seems like a virtuoso performance of an animal ballet.
Moreover, thanks to Jonny, I’ve now made the acquaintance of two animals new to me – the blue-footed booby and the sifaka. His story, with its important message, reads aloud beautifully but it’s those visual sequences that linger long in the mind.

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Have You Heard?

Have You Heard?
Hannah Dale
Words & Pictures

With echoes of the traditional Chicken Licken and the falling sky, Hannah Dale has cooked up a rhyming beauty.
A fox – a big red one – is on the prowl; that’s what Mouse decides when he’s awoken from his slumbers one night.
He tells the ‘sleepy, slimy’ frog who passes the news to sparrow, who informs squirrel, who tells owl and owl tells hedgehog

and so on …

until,  so rooster cautions goose, “His claws are like needles, his eyes shine like lights And he’ll eat you up in THREE BIG BITES!
This well-constructed dialogue poem wherein the fox’s fearsome nature is elaborated upon by each woodland creature in turn, demonstrates the consequences of such speculative chitchat.
Hannah Dale’s beautiful and realistic watercolour paintings capture so well the growing alarm that seizes the animals until all is finally revealed (to readers, though perhaps not the panic-stricken characters herein) in a glorious culmination that will melt your heart.
A captivating read aloud treat.

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Maisy Goes to the Bookshop / Kiki and Bobo’s Super Surprise

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
A book that promotes the idea of reading and bookshops for the very young – what’s not to love? And when it’s a child-friendly establishment (or in this case Maisy friendly) with a kindly bookseller on hand to help you make a choice once you’ve had a good browse, as is so at  ‘We Love Books’, you know you’re in one of the best possible places.
Then when you happen to bump into your friends, all enthusing about their choice of reading matter things get even better. There’s even a story time session …

and a café to complete the delights, before you head off to give another friend a very special present.
Lucy Cousins captures the magic of books and bookshops for pre-schoolers in her bright, engaging scenes of budding bibliophiles. Hurray for Maisy and friends, and child-friendly bookshops everywhere.

Kiki and Bobo’s Super Surprise
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Two friends return in another lift-the-flap fun story.
It’s a special day in Kiki and Bobo’s house, so they both think; far more special than waffle day, Bobo tells his friend as he departs to market.
Kiki meanwhile decides it must be her best friend’s birthday and sets about preparing for a surprise party. She bakes a cake, blows up balloons, hangs bunting and dons her best party clothes.
She of course, is not the only one preparing for a surprise party.
Bobo’s shopping includes lots of yummy food …

and a special present; and on his way home, he stops to pick a birthday bouquet for Kiki, who back  indoors, seems totally unaware that it’s actually her birthday that is being celebrated.
Let the merriment begin …

Gentle offbeat humour for the very youngest: it’s brimming over with flaps to explore, labels to read and yummy things to tingle the taste buds, not forgetting that BIG SURPRISE for one of the main characters that will be eagerly anticipated by knowing toddlers.

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You Can Do Anything (Hip and Hop)

You Can Do Anything (Hip and Hop)
Akala and Sav Akyüz
Oxford University Press

Rhythm, rhyme and repetition, the 3 Rs of reading come together in a book with an important theme from award winning hip hop artist Akala and illustrator Sav Akyüz.
It features in particular pals, Hip the wise, top hat sporting, rapping hippo and his friend, Hop.
Everyone is preparing for the Blueberry Hill bike race.

For Hip and the Cheeky Monkeys, bike riding is a piece of cake; not so for Hop.
You can do anything if you try,
You can do anything, ride or fly.
Don’t let anybody tell you no.
Focus on your dreams and go!

Hip encourages him and Hop desperately wants to learn to ride his bike but can’t stay upright.

Riding a bike is all about balance. / Letting go of your fear is the greatest challenge.” is the advice from the Cheeky Monkeys. But despite all these encouraging words, Hop still keeps falling off. His morale is at rock bottom.
Time for a story from Hip.

Will this be enough to convince his feathered friend that practice, perseverance and determination will eventually pay dividends?
Can Hop become proficient in time for the event and who will emerge as the final winner? What do you think?
Definitely a winning formula from Akala – love his positivity mantra – and Akyüz, whose funky illustrations add street cred to a powerful self-belief message for all young learners.
Let friendship and inner confidence rule. Just focus on your dreams and go.

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Dino (A pet unlike any other)

Dino (A pet unlike any other)
Diego Vaisberg
Templar Publishing

Recently there’s been a spate of picture books featuring large and unlikely animals as pets.
What makes this one stand out though, is that it’s screen-printed solely in striking red and blue Pantone colours. The author/artist is graphic designer, Diego Vaisberg whose superbly inventive debut picture book this is.
It begins with the arrival of an egg, albeit a pretty large one, about the size to encase a giant canary, a big lizard or even a huge tortoise; but no: out hatches …

Who wouldn’t want to keep such a cute looking little creature?
The trouble though is that the thing doesn’t stay little for long: it keeps on growing and growing and before long, Dino (a pet unlike any other) has become …

Owning a pet of Dino’s dimensions certainly isn’t without challenges whether inside –
or out. He’s certainly a voracious eater …

So be warned, it might be best to steer clear of any other eggs you may come across.
An ultra-stylish offering from Vaisberg, – an exciting illustrator to watch with interest; and a high quality production from Templar.

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Big Brown Bear’s Cave

Big Brown Bear’s Cave
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing

What is more important to you: friends or ‘stuff’? I know which I’d prefer any day.
Could it be though that Yuval Zommer secretly visited our home before writing this story: I certainly wish Big Brown Bear, star of his latest picture book would drop in on our human cave (garage): he’d have a field day surrounded by stuff, stuff and more stuff; and he’d be able to fill his new abode with all manner of goodies.
The ursine collector definitely goes overboard on acquiring creature comforts for his empty cave, so much so that its fame spreads far and wide, attracting the attention of all his pals who are eager to see inside his residence.

Lack of room prevents their entry however, and off they go leaving Big Brown Bear to continue filling the space.
Alone with his boxes, Bear begins to be overwhelmed by lack of wiggle room, so much so that when his three friends return with an invitation, he’s well and truly hemmed in …

Then there’s only one thing to do and our hero does it: wise move, Big Brown Bear.
Zommer’s portrayal of the acquisitive trait, and the accumulative chaos it can cause, is a rib-tickling treat. There’s Bear pondering over the sheer variety of ‘stuff’; and his obvious delight over the selection of his favourites – ‘stuff that came with wheels, stuff that came with handles and stuff that came in boxes.’ He almost looks as though he’s dancing with joy despite the precarious balancing act required to carry that stack of boxes.

This is very much a fable of our time and will, I suspect strike a chord with readers of all ages.

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Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

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I am Actually a Penguin

I am Actually a Penguin
Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek
Templar Publishing

I once had a little girl in one of my reception classes who insisted for the first week that she was a dog, crawling around the place, drinking her milk on all fours, clutching the carton in her ‘paws’ and barking at her classmates. We all played along and soon the novelty wore off.
The small girl narrator of this book is equally cute and equally determined; but having received a penguin suit from her Uncle Pat in Patagonia, she goes into full on, ‘actually a penguin’ mode right away.
This involves all sorts of crazy activities such as festooning the living room with loo paper to create snow in which to keep cool.

Such behaviour definitely doesn’t go down well with a certain older brother although he does approve of the additional penguin at a family wedding …

and is willing to play along at meal times, especially when fish fingers are involved.

All good things do have to come to an end however. Apart from anything else there’s the question of school, not to mention as Dad rightly says, “Your penguin suit needs a wash.
Time for a change perhaps …
Sean Taylor’s zany sense of humour shines through in this narrative providing Kasia Matyjaszek with a hilarious sequence of events to wield her illustrative magic on and she does it brilliantly making every spread a small piece of theatre.

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Look, Look and Look Again

Where’s the Baby?
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
Baby animals are the objects of the search in Britta Teckentrup’s latest ‘spotting’ book, which, once again is intended to develop visual perception in the very young.
A rhyming text accompanies each digitally composed spread and the challenge is satisfyingly demanding for youngsters: I had to search for a while to locate the gosling on the pond.
With their matt colours and wallpaper style patterns, the artist’s visuals really demand that you look closely savouring the pleasing design of each one be it the vibrant parrots,

the farmyard hens, the kangaroos, the zebras or the seahorses to name just some of the fourteen creatures featured.
The final challenge in the book is different asking, ‘can you see the mother/ whose babies are TWINS?’
Alluring, absorbing and enjoyable.

Have You Seen My Lunch Box?
Steve Light
Walker Books
Morning chaos reigns as a small boy gets ready for school: the clock is ticking but he wants help locating all the things he needs: his socks, his pencil case, a crayon, his book,

a ball, marbles and particularly important, his lunch box. Mum and Dad are on hand to hunt but essentially it’s down to the reader to save the day and ensure he boards the bus on time.
The text, delivered as a first person narrative, appears on each verso, set against the same colour as the missing item to be located on the recto among the plethora of items inked in detail against a predominantly white background. This pattern continues throughout until the last object is safely in the hands of its owner. The final page shows all eight things.
Essentially this is a game for adult and toddler to play together: there’s plenty to talk about in addition to those misplaced items, and that’s in the hands of the adult sharer; in fact every spread is a possible starting point for some adult/child storying.

Double Take!
Susan Hood and Jay Fleck,
Walker Books
We’re in the company of a little boy, his cat and a friendly elephant being asked not to take things at first sight. Assuredly, we’re told, some opposites – in/out, asleep/ awake for instance, are pretty straightforward, albeit orchestrated herein; but others are totally dependent on one’s frame of reference.

Subtitled ‘A New Look at Opposites’ and published under the imprint Walker Studio, this rhyming invitation certainly demands that readers think about opposites with regard to perspective.

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I Love You / The Chalk Rainbow

I Love You
Xiao Mao and Tang Yun
New Frontier Publishing
The complete title of this warm-hearted picture book is Ti amo, Ich liebe dich, Wo ai ni, Te quiero, Je t’aime. It tells how a pupil in Ms Giraffe’s class learns her teacher’s favourite words. Ms Giraffe writes them on the whiteboard one morning and asks her pupils what they might mean.

Little Badger’s response is just what she was hoping for: “when you say it out loud, the most wonderful things can happen,” she tells her.
Like all enthusiastic learners, Little Badger practises her new vocabulary, addressing the school, plants,

the weather, a bird, her home and practically everything in it, even a new pair of pants, and most importantly, her Mum and Dad.
It’s a wonderful way of showing young children how much pleasure they can get from showing and sharing love, and by appreciating what they have. Little Badger is one cute character and she gets this straightaway, as well as the fact that to make new words your own you need to use them often. All this is shown in Tang Yun’s wonderfully whimsical scenes wherein perspective is employed to great effect.

The Chalk Rainbow
Deborah Kelly and Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
Teachers and other professionals who work with children who have ASD constantly have to think outside the box. So it is here with Zane’s elder sister.
Young Zane isn’t like other children. So says the girl narrator of this story: he has a made-up language, likes to line things up and really hates the colour black. You’ve probably guessed by now that Zane is on the autism spectrum.
His family find life can be challenging, especially because Ollie won’t walk across anything black: that means the pedestrian crossing and the family’s driveway. His parents, in particular Dad, are seemingly unaware of the cause of Ollie’s differences and the result is Ollie goes into melt down.

His sister however is more understanding and comes up with a wonderfully imaginative way of helping her younger brother. She starts by drawing a chalk rainbow on the front steps and with his help, extends it right down the drive. The chalk runs out but his sister comes up with a clever way to extend their creative bridge building …

wherever it’s needed and before long ‘there are rainbows everywhere.’

One hopes this story with its themes of accepting difference, trust and unconditional love, will help readers and listeners to try and see things from behind the head of a child with ASD.

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Cat In A Box

Cat in a Box
Jo Williamson
Scholastic

The joys of being a family cat are chronicled through the eyes and voice of one particular black and white moggy.
She starts by waking the household – a gentle walk over the twins, a more vigorous pushing and miaowing for the grownups.
As the family day unfolds, our narrator pretty much pleases herself despite assertions that she’s indispensible.
Jo Williamson shows her sitting about, chasing a ball of wool, clawing the curtains,

fishing with her pals, climbing and hunting outside …

and in.
She has to be in on the action no matter what or where; and all, or almost all, in the name of necessity. Who’s kidding whom?
There are one or two activities that don’t offer such delights even if they are self-induced …

but that’s the penalty for wanting to be a part of everything, no matter what!
Who wouldn’t fall under the charms of such a creature: even this cat-phobic reviewer was totally beguiled; but then Jo Williamson’s portrayal of this particular feline’s antics are so delectably insouciant and the feline narration so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.

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There Is No Dragon In This Story

There Is No Dragon In This Story
Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

There’s nothing better than a good dragon story, but what about one whose narrator insists it doesn’t have one when it’s patently obvious it does. The would-be (anti) hero of this particular story is fed up with the dragon stereotype: cave dwelling, fire breathing, princess devouring monster waiting to be vanquished by a brave knight. He yearns to be a real hero and has plenty of ideas of how he could help out in fairy tales for instance: save the Gingerbread Man from the fox or the Three Little Pigs from the big bad wolf, Goldilocks might appreciate a helping paw, or Hansel and Gretel directions. His approaches though are met with the same response, “There is NO DRAGON in this story.
Red Riding Hood …

and Jack are similarly dismissive: not so the giant atop the beanstalk though …

and this leads to unexpected consequences …

and a total blackout in fairy tale land.
Can Dragon have accidentally stumbled into the opportunity he’s been waiting for? Could our hero in waiting rescue the situation despite his crisis of confidence?
Lou Carter’s tongue-in-cheek metafictive romp has much to tickle the fancy of listeners who will delight in the craziness of the storyline, empathise with the anti-hero, and enjoy encountering some of their favourite nursery characters, especially when they’re misbehaving in Deborah Allwright’s hilarious spreads of giant-induced darkness. In fact every spread is worth lingering over, not least for the antics of that dragon, a captivating creature.

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Baby Goes to Market

Baby Goes To Market
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

I love a good market and this one, located somewhere in West Africa, absolutely exudes atmosphere immersing readers in a multi-sensory experience so you can almost feel the heat and dust, smell the roasting sweetcorn and taste the juicy tomatoes.
We accompany a totally adorable baby and his mother as they wander through the hustle and bustle with Baby charming every stallholder they stop by. So much so that none can resist giving the lively little chap something.
From Mrs Ade it’s six bananas: one goes in Baby’s mouth, five in Mama’s large basket along with the yam she purchased.

Mr Femi offers juicy oranges: one Baby sucks on; four go into the basket. And so it goes on and all the while the cheerful little fellow is receiving bounties from the vendors: four biscuits, three roasted sweetcorn and two pieces of coconut.
Purchases complete, Mama hails a taxi; after all, she thinks, Baby must be a tad hungry after all that shopping. Putting down her basket to wait, she gets a very big surprise …

Then, reassured by the traders, Mama gets on the taxi and away it goes: Baby slumbering replete with goodies. “Poor Baby!” says Mama. “He’s not had a single thing to eat!

Essentially Atinuke’s zingy, patterned text is a shared joke between author and audience. The latter will relish the antics of Baby and savour Mama’s total unawareness of what is going on behind her back.
Angela Brooksbank captures all the vibrancy and excitement of a crowded tropical market: the rich, bright colours and patterns, the dusty byways, the goods for sale and those wonderfully observed characters.

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I Dare You

I Dare You
Reece Wykes
Andersen Press

This book is certainly not for the faint hearted. It’s Reece Wykes’ debut picture book and assuredly, he has a very wicked sense of humour.
The story – a extremely short one – revolves around two bored gorillas lounging languidly in the forest.

They dare one another in turn to consume something that happens to be in close proximity.
With each dare the item to be swallowed gets larger – a bug, a bird,

a huge rock;

but how long can the crazy game continue before one or other of the contestants disgorges the entire contents of its stomach?
Actually that’s not what happens: it’s something entirely other and totally unexpected, certainly for one of the participants involved in this dog eat dog contest.
With every spread, Wykes offers at least one laugh-out-loud moment (the expressions and body language of the gorillas are priceless), although the penultimate one stops you dead in your tracks.
Deliciously, anarchically ridiculous, but choose your audience with care …

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Have You Seen My Giraffe?

Have You Seen My Giraffe?
Michelle Robinson and Claire Powell
Simon & Schuster
Did you know that large animals have replaced goldfish as fairground prizes? No? Me neither, but it’s so according to the purveyor of this tall tale, so it’s definitely worth being forewarned– just in case you too happen to win a giraffe.
The crux of the matter is keeping one’s parents on board; but if you can’t manage that, you’ll just have to hide the thing – somehow or other.
So, let’s consider the possibilities: a forest would be ideal but since that’s not going to grow up overnight, a temporary expedient will be needed; or camouflage perhaps.

If you are to keep this giraffe, then a name is desirable – even if it is one that’s acquired in less than favourable circumstances …

Could it be however that there might be a solution that would make everyone happy, after all forests can prove pretty hospitable environments for both humans and a certain species of African even-toed ungulates to reside in and they’re great places for the occasional game of hide and seek too.

Gloriously silly scenes of consternation, chaos, catastrophe and clever thinking show just how preposterous the whole idea is: but then, that’s what makes it such a rib-tickler.

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Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver
Claire Freedman and Carrie May
Templar Publishing

Claire Freedman (of Aliens Love Underpants fame) has created a lilting lullaby telling how as night falls the flowing-haired weaver of dreams spreads her wings, fashions from nature and stows in her sack magical fantasies for soon to be slumbering young creatures.

For her first recipient, Little Bear …

it’s mountain flowers and snowflakes that will create a dream of playful mountain slope sliding with snow bears as companions.
Upon Little Tiger she bestows a dream of flying in space; Little Monkey’s dream is woven from: ‘Grains of sand on a distant shore/ Pink pearly shells from the ocean floor./ Long-lost treasure, a mermaid’s kiss, The shimmering scales from a rainbow fish.’ and will take him to swim with dolphins and dance to the tune of a mermaid’s song.

Her final dream is soft, white and full of love: this will be for the young child just on the edge of sleep; the child who has shared in the magical experiences of the baby jungle animals and is now, lulled by the sibilance of the rhyming text, ready for his or her own nocturnal adventure.
Debut artist Carrie May conjures up a lush nocturnal forest setting for the ethereal dreamweaver to scatter her dreams. The star-spangled dream scenes have for the most part, a somewhat softer palette of predominantly pinks, corals, turquoise, aquamarine, lemon yellow and white.
Just right for bedtime sharing or for other times when a spell of calm is required.

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Play

Play
Jez Alborough
Walker Books
The adorable Bobo is back and he’s in defiant mood. Mummy chimp declares it’s bedtime and the little chimp is far from ready to settle down for the night. The sun’s still bright, his friends are still up and ready to play; and play is exactly what Bobo wants to do.

Being Bobo he does …

Until Mummy discovers what he’s up to, and back into bed goes Bobo. Not for long however: there’s plenty of go in the young chimp yet and Turtle is on hand for some watery fun. But as the sun sinks over the hill, Turtle decides it’s time to sleep, which leaves Bobo alone and facing …

He does what most infants would in that situation: hollers ‘Mummy’ for all he’s worth.
Fortunately another of his pals is still around and willing to deliver the little chimp safely home to an extremely anxious parent. There’s no argument about ‘bed time’ now. In fact it’s Bobo himself who says the words and in no time at all they’re both snuggled up for the night.
Next morning at sunrise, who should be ready and waiting for another day’s fun and games but all his jungle pals..
Following on from Hug, Tall and Yes, Jez Alborough has created a celebration of play and friendship. Once again, with very few words, he fashions a wonderful drama that will not only be a winner with existing Bobo fans, but will gain him a host of new would-be playmates.
Brilliant for developing visual literacy, encouraging talk, and perfect for beginning readers; but most important, it’s enormous fun.

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Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day / Take Ted Instead

Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Swish is a mouse with super-efficient ears that she puts into action from those first waking moments of the cacophonous day described in Birgitta’s Sif’s sweet tale.
The CRUNCH CRUNCH sounds she hears coming from downstairs aren’t as she first thinks, a crocodile consuming the kitchen table; rather it’s Squeak, her younger sibling, enthusiastically munching breakfast cereal. And so it goes on with some gentle noises of preparations for school and some not so gentle …

The walk to school and lessons therein are equally full of eeeeks, munches, squeaks, toots, pump ums and bah bas – it’s small wonder Swish’s head is in a spin …

but those ears really come into their own in the melee of the playground at home time.
All this invitingly join-in-able onomatopoeia (great for developing sound/symbol relationships) and more, forms an integral part of Sif’s captivatingly whimsical scenes of sibling affection executed in predominantly soft pinks, rose, purple and teal hues.
A lovely celebration of the sibling bond and incidentally …

of the peace and quiet of libraries.

Take Ted Instead
Cassandra Webb and Amanda Francey
New Frontier Publishing
The 3Rs of reading – rhyme, rhythm and repetition – rule in this tale of a mother trying to coax her reluctant toddler up to bed. The little lad tries putting forward a host of alternatives: the dog, the baby his cat, his older brother, a toy robot, a neighbour and even his goldfish (each has a name rhyming with ‘sleepy head’) …

but Mum is having none of it. In fact she uses Ted and a spot of reverse psychology to get the resister where she wants him.
A fun read aloud for adult and child to share at bedtime. Equally, with the key ingredients for beginning reading integral to the story, and playful illustrations that work with the text, this is an ideal book for children just starting out as readers to try for themselves.

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The Prince and the Pee

The Prince and the Pee
Greg Gormley and Chris Mould
Nosy Crow

Deeds of derring-do really cannot be done if you’re crossing your legs.
When you’ve got to go, you’ve just gotta go – right? Not so in this hilarious tale of holding on against the odds.
Prince Freddie is summoned from his holiday by his trusty steed, Sir Rushington. Crumbly Castle is under attack from a dragon and there’s no time to lose.
Off they go and before long, Freddie gets that tingly “I need to pee” feeling which is made decidedly worse by the rhythmic ‘Up and down’ motion of the horse’s gait. Distractions fail to distract from the constant urge and suddenly, down comes the rain

and inevitably its plinkety plink serves to exacerbate the need.
Several stops later, all abortive on account of an ogre, then a princess in a tower and finally a long queue at the loo …

they reach their destination with the prince now absolutely desperate.
There before him stands a very large, very fearsome dragon; but there’s no stopping the young prince who charges forward completely surprising the dragon, over the drawbridge, through the castle gates to find the privy.

His long-delayed micturition not only brings relief to the prince, but saves the day by extinguishing an unexpected conflagration.
Gormley’s deliciously suspenseful telling is guaranteed to have audiences in fits of laughter and Chris Mould’s illustrations are utterly brilliant. He captures to perfection the diminutive prince’s journey and his ever-increasing discomfiture.
There’s the sight and sound of water, the up and down motion in the saddle while riding Sir Rushington and the false hopes of some relief every time he thinks he’s found a likely spot to go; all ratchet up the pressure on the poor prince’s bladder.
Priceless!

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Mr Tweed and the Band in Need / The Case of the Stinky Stench

Mr Tweed and the Band in Need
Jim Stoten
Flying Eye Books
Prepare for a musical magical mystery tour.
The dapper dog with the super tall top hat returns to carry out further public-spirited acts. Now it’s the members of a band – the very one Mr T. has come to the zoo to hear perform – that have, so their leader Wollo walrus informs him, dispersed around the gardens.
The two begin their search with Pinky Jackson, the guitar playing flamingo; not an easy task on account to the large number of the species; but that of course is where readers come in. Once he’s been located, Pinky …

is more than willing to join the hunt and has an idea where trumpet player, toucan Jimmy Toots might be.

He in turn suggests a possible location for sax. player Mary Lou Lemur; so off they go to the Lost Forest. And so it goes on until Otis O’Rangutan trombonist, iguana, Cool Jules drummer and only reptile (he’s pretty tricky to spot), banjo strummer Jellyfish Jack and four other musicians have been found – just in time for the show. The location of the final missing performer happens conveniently, to be in the busy gift shop, which is also the space wherein the stage is set for the concert.
There the entire ensemble comes together to entertain the crowd and thereafter to bid Mr Tweed a rousing farewell.
There’s an interesting mix of human and animal visitors to the zoo, some scenes of which are presented in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colours absolutely bursting with activity, while others, such as the arctic pool, are rather more restful on the eye, although equally intricate. Every one though, is absolutely brimming over with talk potential and storytelling material.

The Case of the Stinky Stench
Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney
Sterling
Hold your noses; something malodorous is emanating from a certain fridge, but worry not; Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have been called back while holidaying on Marshmallow Coast at the request of Inspector Croissant, Sir French Toast’s nephew. They’re on the case right away searching for what it is that’s causing shelves of food to turn bad and pong alarmingly.
Following clues, the three of them set about searching the fridge’s inner landscape: across Salsa Ravine, around smoggy Mount Everbean and through Applesauce River, but still all they discover are false alarms and red herrings. Will they ever get to the bottom of the mysterious stench: perhaps Casserole Cliff might yield the answer …

and if so, how will Inspector Croissant deal with the culprit?

Replete with a culinary vocabulary and served up in a saucy rhyming text and deliciously funny foody scenes, this tale of stinky sleuthing is satisfyingly silly, not least in its final resolution. There’s even a foldout map of the whole search at the end to feast your eyes on.

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How To Look After Your Dinosaur / Caring For Your Lion

How To Look After Your Dinosaur
Jason Cockroft
Nosy Crow
The outsized creature herein simply bursts into the life of a small boy when the postman makes a special delivery one day.
Just in case the same thing happens to you, it’s advisable to be in the know. Best then to take it from one who’s learnt from experience: get it right and you’ve got a friend for life.
The day needs to get off to a good start so a nutritional breakfast will give your new pet the energy required for the day: through trial and error you’ll find out what appeals.
Next on the agenda should be a spot of outdoor exercise. The park is a suitable place to head for and inevitably, the animal will need to take a dump at some time so it’s best to take a large container.

Dressing for the occasion, the rules of friendship, regular meals and knowing when to head for home are other important considerations.
Once back indoors, establishing a proper bedtime routine from the outset will make life a lot easier and after a good scrub you can settle down with your pet for a soothing bedtime story …

Essentially this is a giant leg-pull of a book that works on the witty interplay between words and pictures.

More on unusual pet care in:

Caring For Your Lion
Tammi Sauer and Troy Cummings
Sterling
It’s the big day; the day a boy’s kitten will finally arrive. Apparently however, the company ran out of kittens and so have sent a lion instead. ‘Luckily, a lion is practically the same thing!’ says the label on the crate and ‘caring for your lion is easy.’ All one has to do is to follow the step-by-step instructions set out in the handy guide provided. Step 1 is to open the crate to reveal the new pet and Step 2, to locate the enclosed feather (to be kept for emergencies) – such as the one referred to in Steps 4 and 5.

Back to Step 3 though lest we get ahead of ourselves; this urges the owner to avoid looking like a zebra, a gazelle or a bunny for obvious reasons. This is where the feather might come in handy; ditto if the ravenous creature accidentally consumes the deliveryman, along with the assorted pizzas you’ve ordered.
Potty Training (with the help of the enclosed deluxe lion potty pack), setting up an appropriate play space, sleeping arrangements, rewards for good behaviour, the bath time ritual …

and the bedtime routine are all covered. And naturally after all this the final ‘purrrrr-fect pet’ step will speak for itself.
Completely antithetical to Tammi Sauer’s deadpan ‘how to’ style’ text are Troy Cummings’ laugh out loud artistic interpretations of the instructions: an altogether uproarious combination.

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My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree / Ollie’s Treasure

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Maura Finn and Aura Parker
New Frontier Publishing
Get ready for a spot of taste bud tingling when you read this enchanting tale.
It’s told by a young boy narrator who ponders the mouth-watering possibilities of planting and nurturing a single jelly bean till it grows into a fine fruit-bearing tree. Not possible say some, but this lad knows better.

Such care does he lavish on his tiny bean that not only does he have a ‘slurping, dribbly goo’ inducing crop of plump juicy beans, but the tree is sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a tree house built in its branches; one with a twisty twirling slide for rapid descent.

All kinds of creatures, both feathered and furry, will naturally be attracted to the fruits of his labours, but the lad can deal with those and then crown himself jelly Bean King: a sovereign who can dance naked in the rain,

shampoo himself with bean juice and even find time to invite family members to come and visit.
Having the imagination to entertain possibilities, a strong determination to succeed and a caring nature are the requirements for making the bean dream come true: so it is with one small child.
Those are some of the dispositions we need to foster in all children. This mouth-watering debut picture book from Finn and Parker can help spark that imagination. Rhyming text and whimsical, patterned illustrations together weave a lovely read aloud.

Ollie’s Treasure
Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan
EKBooks
Young Ollie loves treasure hunts, something his grandma is well aware of, so she sends him a map. Thrilled to bits, Ollie embarks on discovering what the treasure might be. He follows each of the instructions ‘… Skip to the tree with the biggest green leaves … wriggle your toes and feel the grass under your feet … ‘ and so on.

When he reaches the end of the trail he’s more than a little disappointed to discover not the truck or the game he’d eagerly anticipated but a piece of card.

He tosses the card away but as it falls he sees the side he’d not bothered to read. It reminds him of his senses and ends by asking ‘How did you feel?’
Only then does Ollie stop to reflect on the sensory delights of the rose’s fragrance, the tickliness of the grass and more; and in so doing, realises that within himself is the capacity for happiness.
Wise gran: she’s enabled her grandson to begin to appreciate that there’s more to life than material rewards.
Essentially this is mindfulness for young children, the book’s author Lynn Jenkins, being a clinical psychologist. Illustrator Kirrili Lonergan characterises Ollie – a young mouse – as full of energy and thoroughly enjoying his engagement with the natural world. Yes, with its focus on attention, attitude and gratitude, it is a touch didactic but as part of a programme for young children’s mental health and well-being, it offers a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

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Old Hat

Old Hat
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots
There’s certainly nothing old hat about Emily Gravett: her latest offering simply brims over with that droll sense of humour she has.
Are you a slavish follower of fashion, no matter whether or not the latest styles are right for you? Do you use clothes to express your personality or are they a means of hiding that true self? This is the question explored herein.
Harbet has a practical hat, a warm cosy, much loved one, knitted by his Nana; but teased by his so-called friends, he discards what they tell him is ‘OLD HAT’ and sets about becoming a follower of fashion.
The problem so splendidly examined has him sporting ever more outrageous styles of titfer. There are some absolutely amazing styles to feast your eyes on: the vitamin-loaded, high fibre fruity kinds are most tasteful …

and the intricately drawn, elaborate nautical styles are truly mind blowing.

The trouble is once he’s left the hat shop, his particular model is already so OLD HAT!

What is a chap to do? There’s only one thing for it: Harbet must eschew all forms of headwear and set his own trend.
Hats off to Harbet for learning a crucial lesson about celebrating one’s own uniqueness rather than trying to be like others, a dedicated follower of fashion.
This is one that will be appreciated by adults as much as young readers, and might well spark off some millinery manipulation in the nursery or classroom.

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What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
The ladybird is holidaying in London and doing a spot of sightseeing, visiting the usual tourist destinations. One place of particular interest is the zoo which is full of noisy animals, and it’s as well the little creature isn’t giving her sense organs a holiday for there, she spies two familiar faces, those of Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh. As usual they’re up to no good: she overhears their conversation about kidnapping Monkey Joe and then using him to scale the palace wall and steal the royal crown while the Queen is fast asleep.

The other animals are informed of the dastardly plot and are fearful of the safety of their monkey friend.
Before you can say up and away, the ladybird has done just that and flown off to communicate her idea to Willow and Holly, the Queen’s two corgis.

Come nightfall, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len put their plan into action: they release Monkey, give him a swag bag and lead him to carry out the robbery.

Little do they know though, that another plan has already been set in motion: a plan hatched between the ladybird and the two corgis; a plan involving a very large number of bones from the royal coffers …
The winning Donaldson/Monks team does it again: like its predecessors, the ladybird’s third adventure is certain to be a crowd pleaser. Donaldson’s sure-footed rhyming narrative in combination with Monks’ sparkle-spangled spreads is a recipe for success. The dastardly twosome, Len and Hugh, look about as wonderfully un-roguish as ever they could in her bold, engaging collage-style scenes.

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The Night Box

The Night Box
Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay
Egmont Publishing
With his own special key, young Max is custodian of the night and having watched the sleepy day departing and bid his mother goodnight, he approaches The Night Box. It’s right there among his toys waiting for him to turn the key, lift the lid and let day slip inside. In its place comes darkness, tumbling, dancing and whirling around his room. It’s full of mischief as it chases all the colours out from every corner and away.

Then for a time all that’s left is the sounds: a plink, a tap, a tinkle and a purr, each one exaggerated by the darkness. After which Max becomes aware of the enormity of the night and all it holds.

Night is many things: the keeper of the stars that guide a lone swan to her home; the gentle protection of the sleeping fawn beside its mother; the caller out to play of the woodland creatures: badger, mole, owl and fox. It’s also the bestower of gifts: a moon to the pond, a mole to a goose; a fox to the rose; milk to the kitten; for the branch there’s an owl; for the wall a tree and for Max, a cosy bed and a bear to snuggle by.
Benevolent night remains but that too needs rest, so once it’s fast asleep it’s time for Max to wake, open the box once more and allow another exchange to happen …

What a beautiful evocation of the coming of night, its magical effects and its dawn departure, poet and debut picture book author Louise Greig and illustrator Ashling Lindsay have together created. Text and pictures work in perfect harmony. That Louise is a poet is clear from the way she weaves words together, creating cadences that are a delight to read aloud at any time; but as a bedtime story, have a gently soporific lilt. The unusual and shifting perspectives of Ashling Lindsay add to the allure of her scenes.

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