Category Archives: Picture Books

The Dog that Ate the World

The Dog that Ate the World
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books

Down in the valley the various animals live alongside each other peaceably, birds with birds, bears fishing with bears and fox playing his fiddle to other foxes.

Then, one fateful day across the pastures comes an unwanted canine intruder, large and greedy. He helps himself to whatever he wants in the way of food and drink, growing ever larger.
In an attempt to assuage the hunger of the beastly dog, the fox with his fiddle approaches him and plays a song.

He’s rewarded for his efforts by being consumed by the dog, but despite this the fox continues playing his song from within.

It’s heard without by a trio of brave bunnies that resolve to rescue the fox,

but they too end up inside the dog.

Peace-makers attempt to talk, trick and tire the beast, all to no avail; the dog swallows the lot.
Trapped within, the animals light a fire, talk and work, until eventually as life continues to flourish, so too does hope.

Nonetheless the gluttonous and now prodigious, dog continues stuffing himself until finally, down too, goes the sun and the entire sky. The beast has eaten his entire world.

And what of the other animals? Let’s just say that brightness surrounds them. In their world, there’s no place for such an animal as that voracious dog and all is peace, harmony and togetherness.

The forest animals in Sandra Dieckmann’s second picture book demonstrate so well to us humans, the importance of friendship and community when disaster strikes. Her striking colour palette, mixed-media, richly detailed scenes of flora and fauna, and slightly mystical landscapes draw one in and hold you while you ponder both composition and meaning.

Surely an allegory of our times and one that is open to many interpretations. However one sees that all consuming metaphorical dog, be it as consumerism, capitalism, or evil itself, this book is sure to engender discussion no matter the age of the audience.

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …

Baby on Board

Baby on Board
Allan Ahlberg and Emma Chichester Clark
Puffin Books

Storyteller extraordinaire, Allan Ahlberg, has teamed up with some wonderful illustrators over the years and here he is partnered by another; Emma Chichester Clark, who provided the pictures for his Mrs Vole the Vet, one of the Happy Families series.

This is a story – an epic adventure – that has its origins in the author’s infancy when two girls used to call at his home in the Black Country, asking to take baby Allan out for a walk in his pram.
It begins thus:
‘Once, many years ago,
there was a baby,
in his pram,
with his sisters
and their sandwiches and lemonade
and toys,
and their friends
and a kite,
and a dog or two … ‘

From there it takes off into a lilting tale wherein baby and minders are separated on account of a kite, and the infant in its pram sails off, along with a trio of toys, into the open seas.
Fortunately the toys are able to make the babe warm and comfy; but coping with the sudden storm that blows up is much more of a challenge, though it’s one the three are up to.

Unexpectedly however, three becomes two thanks to an inquisitive puffin, the arrival of which precipitates a fall overboard by panda. Happily the other two are able to perform a timely rescue and the pram sails on into the setting sun, with its complete crew and a somewhat whiffy baby.

Eventually the baby carriage drifts to shore once more with its four passengers safe and sound, albeit pretty exhausted; and all ends happily thanks to terrific toy teamwork.

Stunning artwork by Emma Chichester Clark – love the 1930s pram and children’s attire –  transforms Allan Ahlberg’s super story into a super, super story. It’s perfect as a bedtime book, or equally as a shared read at any time of the day.

Lunch on a Pirate Ship

Lunch on a Pirate Ship
Caryl Hart and Kristina Stephenson
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Pirates rule yet again, or is it young Jack, in this lipsmacking adventure that rollicks and rolls along apace in Caryl Hart’s seemingly effortless, rhyming narrative.

Let’s meet Jack then: he’s something of a fussy eater – I’m sure we all know a few of those – and one day, a fine one perhaps like today, he decides that cold chips and crunchy baked beans do nothing to tempt his taste buds.

Instead he fantasises about the possibilities of lunch aboard a pirate ship. Now what might those salty souls sink their gnashers into by way of a lunchtime treat, he wonders – pongy pickled crabs and rancid rotten fish maybe?

Rejecting this unappetising dish, both pirates and Jack set off in search of other more promising fare.

What the giant offers is little better …

so he too joins the hunt – as passenger carrier – and off they all go following a sweet-smelling scent, eventually coming upon a fantastic feast laid out in a field.
Uh-oh! First they must cross a bridge and we all, children in particular, know what might be lurking somewhere in the vicinity of one of those.

What takes place thereafter, I won’t reveal for fear of spoiling your appetite for the remainder of the tale, but let’s just say, they do all, or almost all, get home in time to appreciate their tea that includes some pretty delectable offerings, so long as they eat their greens, that is.

Kristina Stephenson eschews her ‘stinky socks’ for a sojourn on the high seas doing it with absolute appetising aplomb as befits this truly tasty story that so brilliantly mixes food and fairy tale.

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger
Patricia Cleveland Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

After their successful collaboration with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus, team Cleveland-Peck and Tazzyman return to entertain readers with another selection of silly scenarios involving an array of unlikely creatures all endeavouring to lend a hand, a tusk, paws or perhaps fins, flippers or some other part of their anatomy, all with gigglesome outcomes.

Patricia’s rhyming possibilities or should I say, impossibilities, will surely deter even the bravest of readers from say, letting a polar bear anywhere near their hair with a pair of scissors, engaging an octopus as a dressing assistant,

attempting tooth cleaning in the vicinity of a crocodile, particularly of the hungry kind, or allowing a wolf to read the bedtime story,

while David Tazzyman’s portrayals of the creatures carrying out their self-set tasks are a scribblesome treat of the disastrous – sometimes life-threatening – consequences of ignoring the author’s advice.

Maybe the rejected animals are right – if you can’t join ’em then beat ’em and party instead!

Spencer age 5, who thoroughly enjoyed the book, has come up with two playful ideas of his own.

Joy

Joy
Corrinne Averiss and Isabelle Follath
Words & Pictures

Where can you find joy, and once found, how can you capture it? That’s the conundrum young Fern sets herself in this gorgeous story.
Fern’s Nanna has not been her usual self recently; her sparkle’s gone and with it her love of cake baking and even worse, her smile. That’s what upsets Fern most.
It’s like the joy has gone out of her life.” is what her Mum says when Fern asks what’s wrong with Nanna.
Once she’s understood that joy involves experiences that generate a ‘whooosh!’ factor, Fern packs her catching kit into her bag

and sets out for the park to catch some and bring them back for her Nanna.

Sure enough, the park is brimming with joyful moments, but try as she might, those whooshes refuse to be caught in her various receptacles …

and she trudges sadly home.

Now it’s Nanna’s turn to notice how sad her granddaughter is. As Fern recounts her abortive attempts to bring home some joy for her, lo and behold, Nanna’s face breaks into the ‘BIGGEST, WIDEST WHOOOSH! of a smile’ and next day they’re off to the park together.

Corrine Averiss’s empathetic tale showing that unique bond between grandparent and child, is in itself elevating and a gentle demonstration that love is the true generator of joy however manifested: coupled with debut picture book illustrator Isabelle Follath’s tender, mixed media scenes of both sadness and jubilation, this very special book makes one want to break into WHOOOSH-induced handsprings of delight.

The Princess and the Pitstop / Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee

The Princess and the Pit Stop
Tom Angleberger and Dan Santat
Abrams

A princess racing car driver – Yeah! We first meet her as she makes a pit stop with one lap of the race left and is told by her Fairy Godmother that she’s in last place. ‘She might as well give up!’ is the suggestion from our narrator.
This particular princess is not however, a quitter: she’s one determined young woman and so it’s time to hit that accelerator – HARD!

Off she zooms, outstripping various opponents so the cleverly punning commentator tells us, leaving a trail of rainbow coloured exhaust in her wake.

Before long she’s whizzed past scores of nursery rhyme characters, and pretty much every fairy tale character you can think of, (‘She spun out Rumpelstiltskin and butted in front of the The Three Billy Goats Gruff!’ we hear) as well as Beatrix Potter’s Flopsy, Mopsy and Peter Rabbit (what happened to Cottontail one wonders), until the only cars still in front are those belonging to the two ugly stepsisters ( I guess Cinderella’s elsewhere engaged) and after a lot of bumping and blocking on the sisters’ part, whoppee! – our princess, who isn’t at all alarmed by a bit of biffing and bashing, is declared the winner.

That however isn’t quite the end of the tale: there’s another competition still to be won and that involves taking a partner.
I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have had her perform solo again, but still, this telling, coupled with Dan Santat’s computer game animation style art work will surely give you an adrenalin rush.
Reading the break-neck speed narration of royalty and racing aloud left this adult reviewer more than a little breathless.
Long live girl power!
There’s another race in:

Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee
Jonathan Emmett and Ed Eaves
Oxford University Press

When news of the location of a priceless statue, The Golden Chimpanzee breaks, the race is on to get to the spot in the Jungle of Junoo on the shore of Lake Lazoo and secure the treasure.
Can canine explorer Cleopatra Bones, finder of the treasure map showing exactly where the statue is to be found, beat the opposition, in particular the dastardly driver of an armoured aqua-car, Al McNasty, and discover the hidden gold?

Cleo. spies something interesting, a monkey statue assuredly but it’s not a golden one and then suddenly Al McNasty skids to a halt at the base of the statue. He’s convinced the place to look is underground.
Al however isn’t prepared to pick up a spade and dig down deep in the hope of booty: instead he has another plan up his sleeve, one that entails creating a blast.

But when his ruse backfires in no uncertain terms, he inadvertently precipitates a rather exciting waterfall …

A fun, fast moving, rollicking rhyme from Jonathan Emmett accompanied by Ed Eaves’ detailed scenes of zany vehicles that travel over land, through water and air, driven by an array of funky animals is just the thing to keep youngsters on the edge of their seats as they root for Cleopatra and her pals, all of whom, along with the evil-intentioned reptile are catalogued inside the front and back covers.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby’s Worry
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

All children have worries from time to time and so it is with young Ruby.
She’s always felt upbeat doing the things she loves until the fateful day she discovers, uh oh! a Worry.

At first the worry is tiny, barely noticeable in fact, but the trouble is it begins to grow … and grow, day by day until it seems to be there all the time no matter what she does or where she goes.

Nobody else can see the thing and Ruby tries to stay positive but the Worry gets in the way of her doing her favourite things. Suppose it never goes away, she worries. Oops! Big mistake – the thing expands,

until it’s completely filling her every waking moment.

Then one day as Ruby is walking in the park she comes across a sad-looking boy and, something else is lurking beside him. A worry perhaps?

What happens thereafter is of enormous benefit to both the boy and Ruby herself.

Yes of course, she still does have the occasional worry but now Ruby has a coping strategy so that she’ll never feel so overwhelmed again.

Tom Percival is such an empathetic story maker. Once again he explores a subject that affects so many young children through an empowering, book that all can relate to.

I love the way he adjusts the colour balance of his illustrations so that as Ruby’s worry grows, the pictures take on an increasingly grayscale appearance, with full colour returning when the two children’s worries are banished in an exuberant rainbow of joy.

A perfect book for stimulating discussion about worry sharing.

The Station Mouse

The Station Mouse
Meg McLaren
Andersen Press

Maurice is a Station Mouse bound by the rules in the Station Mouse Handbook. The first rule states ‘A Station Mouse must remain unseen.’ The second is, ‘A Station Mouse must never go out in the daytime.’ Rule number three says, ‘A Station Mouse must never approach passengers.’
Clearly these rules are there for the benefit of humans, particularly that large majority who DO NOT like mice.

Now Maurice being a rule-abiding, recent employee of the railway spends his days (after sleeping late) hiding away and, it’s a pretty solitary life that gives him opportunities to contemplate such things as why nobody ever comes back to enquire about their lost things.

His nights in contrast, when nobody is about, are busy times when the mouse is occupied collecting all the items that have been left behind during the day.

One day Maurice spots a small child dropping a comforter; but what about that third and most important rule? Perhaps, if he values his life it would be safer to remain out of sight like the handbook says.

What about though, if you are absolutely sure that the lost thing IS a wanted thing? Maybe after all, it’s right to break the rule just occasionally whatever the consequences …

Seems there’s a price to pay for so doing which makes Maurice decide to keep to himself henceforward.

But then we are met with rule number four:’ If the bell rings, pull the alarm and return to your duties.’ That’s because a station mouse must not under any circumstances answer the bell – or should this rule too be ignored for it appears that the business about passengers not liking mice might just have some exceptions.

Time for a new rule and perhaps a different modus operandi …

Make sure you peruse both endpapers; they’re an important part of this cracking book. Its story really resonated with me as someone, who as an educator, is frequently accused of being a rule breaker or subverter. Good on Maurice for following his heart rather than sticking to the rule book.
Knowing when so to do is a vital lesson for children and one I believe they need to start thinking about right from their early days in nursery or even before.

Meg McLaren just keeps on getting better and better; this is my favourite of her stories so far. There are quirky little jokes, both visual and verbal wherever you look – even on the back cover. As well as creating superb characters, there’s an impressive sensitivity about everything she draws and she has an amazing eye for detail.

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw / Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw
Elli Woodward and Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

‘Of course they don’t’, children will be thinking in response to hearing the title of this book, but they’re in for a surprise thanks to Picassaur and his strange find. Said find is a white object and it’s not long before the young dinosaur has transformed his surroundings.

His mother is less than impressed: “We’re fighters and biters, as fierce as can be!” is what she tells her dino. infant.

Far from being put off, Picassaur continues with his creative endeavours, in glorious technicolour this time, but his father’s reaction is the same as his mother’s.

Despite his amazing third artistic effort, Picassaur’s cousins too respond negatively, telling him to forget his drawing and do battle instead.

Then all of a sudden they get the surprise of their lives …

Is that the end for all the little dinosaurs?

It certainly seems likely they’ll be the next meal for that T-rex; but something even scarier than himself meets his eye when he turns around …

Whoever thought pictures could be that powerful … Three cheers for peaceful solutions rather than conflict and another three for Picassaur who dared to be different.

Elli Woodward’s zippy rhyming text flows nicely inviting audience participation and in tandem with Steven Lenton’s spirited scenes of dinosaurs and the artistic outpourings of one of their number, makes for a fun story-time read aloud.

A rather different dino. character stars in:

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Zachariah OHora
Abrams Appleseed

We all know that tyrannosaurs are renowned for their destructive ways and so it is for young Tyrannosaurus rex here. This young terror is not intentionally bad but his lack of awareness and over-exuberance results in a pre-school setting of angry-faced characters whose creative activities are ruined,

and whose quiet endeavours are disturbed.

Eventually thoroughly infuriated by all this wrecking, his classmates have had enough. “Tyrannosaurus – go!” comes the cry.

This causes contrition on the part of the antihero but even then his attempts to make amends flounder due to his ungainliness, at which point his fellow dinos. muck in, overseeing and facilitating the reparation.

However, just when harmony seems about to be restored we see that the little Tyro.dino. isn’t the only one capable of precipitating a disaster …

Zachariah OHora’s stand-out bright scenes of the classroom will attract pre-school humans but also include the occasional visual joke such as the Styracosaurus writing ‘climate change’ over and over on the chalk board to amuse adult readers aloud.
With its fun rhythm and rhyme, this stomping romp invites noisy audience participation.

Belinda Brown

Belinda Brown
David McKee
Andersen Press

Belinda Brown is fanatical about bananas, insisting on dining upon them at every meal and in-between times too, even going to the lengths of keeping a spare in her sock should she feel peckish. None of her family or friends shares her ultra-enthusiasm for the fruit; in fact her friendship with best pal, Felicity Jones is terminated thanks to the curvy fruit.

So convinced are her parents that the child is merely going through a faddy phase that they aren’t troubled by this over-indulgence:

it’s left to her Grandma to worry about Belinda’s obsession.
She becomes increasingly troubled until eventually on a walk together, she begs her granddaughter to cut down on the bananas for fear her body should start to mimic the form of same.

Belinda has no wish for her back-bone to take on a banana-shape and so, rather than give up what she loves so much, the girl tries her own method of offsetting any possible curvature that might occur.

The results however, are not quite what she’s hoping for …

Rhyming nonsense from McKee to tickle the taste buds and bring on the giggles. Belinda’s a totally zany character but you’ll also love her small brother Bryan, the balletic, skinny Aunt Sally and the banana-sharing toddler twins, all portrayed in McKee’s signature style.

World of Birds / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals

World of Birds
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions
This is the first of a new Sounds of Nature series, which has ten 10-second natural soundscapes available at the touch of a button.
Herein readers can visit and explore ten diverse habitats—from the Himalayan Mountains

to the wetlands of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru, and the tropical rainforest of New Guinea to an English forest

and listen to birds in the wild with this exciting book, strikingly illustrated by Robert Frank Hunter.
There’s a brief paragraph of facts about each bird species included and their respective numbers relate to the order in which the sounds they make can be heard.
An interactive book for young, and not so young nature lovers that called to mind an alarm, sounded by ecologist and musician, Bernie Krause in his recent book: ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening.’
Let’s hope that it doesn’t spread over the wonderful habitats featured by Hunter.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals
Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Walker Books

There’s a range of activities to engage young children in this woodland setting book. Readers can enjoy dot to dots,

colour in some of the creatures including completing and ensuring the symmetry of the peacock and red admiral butterflies (they’d have to check elsewhere for the colours of the latter), add stickers to scenes (in some cases completing a puzzle), hunt for partially hidden nocturnal animals, complete a maze and spot differences.

The semi-matt finish and reproductive quality of the stickers, along with the illustrator’s attractive collage style art work and the factual information integrated into the various scenes make this a book to keep and return to after the tasks have been completed.

The Secret Sky Garden

The Secret Sky Garden
Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers
Simon & Schuster

Funni loves to visit the disused rooftop airport cark park, coming almost every Saturday to fly her kite or play her recorder but always she feels a lack of something.

She can imitate the notes from the airport tannoy, the whine from the engines of landing planes and the music of the bells in City Square, but something else is needed. Something visual perhaps?

Funni decides on operation transformation and each week for the next three months she brings a sack of soil and collects up all the litter until eventually, the entire surface is covered with soil.

Then it’s time to plant seeds and wait …

Now in addition to flying her kite and making her music, Funni has the flowers to tend but even so, still she feels something is missing.

Then the very first visitor arrives …

What happens thereafter will make your heart sing: I won’t reveal what that is, but suffice it to say it involves a flourishing of flowers aplenty, and friendship, a city soundscape with beautiful music, kite flying and thanks to Fiona Lumbers’ glorious floral scenes, the most gorgeous colours you can imagine.

Linda Sarah’s Funni is an enchanting child and her story, although sparely told is pitch perfect for her themes and has touches of poetry.

With its inherent creativity motif this is altogether an uplifting book that will delight both children and adults alike.

Picking Pickle

Picking Pickle
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Pavilion Children’s Books

Here’s a story from the dream team, Faber and Vulliamy, creators of the Mango & Bambang series who now take us to a dogs’ home and, courtesy of longest term resident canine narrator, help us find just the right dog. But which one will it be? There are just so many potential companions to choose from it’s a veritable canine conundrum.

Who better though to introduce fellow residents; our narrator knows the ins and outs of them all so let’s meet some.

There’s incredible handsome, silky-haired, prize winning Geraldo; what about him? Or he of the voracious appetite, Harvey?
Perhaps we might prefer Dumpling, a clever pooch, chewer of news, views and crosswords at super fast speed as well as being multi-lingual.

Maybe Matilda – she of the perfect teeth – and an excellent guard dog; or super-cute Boo-Boo, bouncy as a ball.

Then again, there’s Poochy Petunia Wuffles-Winstanley, undoubtedly the poshest pet of the lot, although on occasion her manners leave something to be desired.

Oh what a dilemma, a real pickle indeed. Perhaps it’s easily sorted; I know which I’d choose. The one that bears a close resemblance to the canine, Chester, my best friend is currently caring for, the one  that I sometimes accompany on walks in Bushy Park:

I wonder; might it be our faithful narrator himself …
Full of fun and heart, Polly’s laugh-out loud text combined with Clara’s cracking, brilliantly observed, canine portraits make for a deliciously silly pooch-filled romp that ends just perfectly.
Make sure you check out the end papers, they’re a delight too.

Steve, Terror of the Seas

Steve, Terror of the Seas
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

Steve is not a very big fish, his teeth aren’t really razor sharp,

he’s no angelfish certainly, but why, he wonders, is it that the very sight of him sends not only all the fishes large and small, but other sea creatures too, and even humans, into a terrified tizzy.

Let me introduce some of the most alarming varieties of the fish Steve shares the ocean with: here they are, each one appearing decidedly more likely to have you for breakfast than Steve;

but I’ll leave him to do the honours when it comes to an introduction to his best pal, George. “We go EVERYWHERE together” Steve tells us “And George doesn’t think I’m scary at all!’ Now why would that be?

This is just a made up tale, you’re probably thinking but actually it is and it isn’t. Steve is a Pilot fish for George; and they share a symbiotic relationship. He keeps George free from harmful parasites and is even allowed to clean his teeth. Ooooh!

Essentially this is an extended joke of a story with a factual sting in its tail. It’s amusingly illustrated with interestingly textured, sub-aquatic scenes by relative newcomer to the picture book scene, Megan Brewis.

Raj and the Best Day Ever!

Raj and the Best Day Ever!
Sebastien Braun
Templar Publishing

Meet young and entirely lovable tiger, Raj and his cool Dad.

They’ve drawn up a plan of the adventure they’re about to embark upon and are super-excited about the whole enterprise. Then it’s a case of back-pack packed and they sally forth.

First stop the library and book chosen, it’s time to show your library card. Oh NO! Disaster! Dad hasn’t brought his wallet. Without that all the things on that list have just flown out of the window so to speak.

Raj is convinced that their perfect day is ruined before it even begins., especially as down comes the rain.
Time to get those imaginations powered up …

Off they go and before long, it looks as though the day might just be rescued,

but then the wind whisks their list up and away and in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad style, Raj fears that without their list, they won’t know what to do.

Good old Dad! Imagination rules again and off they go once more.

With a wonderful twist in its tale, Sebastien Braun’s story is an absolute winner. Sadly my copy arrived too late for Father’s Day but this is a perfect share on any day: a Dad who’s willing to pitch in and enjoy life no matter what; a book enthusiast offspring equally willing to look on the bright side – two colourful characters superbly portrayed by Seb Braun whose books just keep on getting better.

This one could be the perfect distraction from that seemingly wall to wall soccer and it’s a cracking demonstration that companionship and imagination are all that’s needed for the very best day ever: no money, no technology, just free-flowing fun.

Ta-Da!

Ta-Da!
Kathy Ellen Davis and Kaylani Juanita
Chronicle Books

Once upon a time a little girl was playing happily with her animal friends in a homemade castle until DUN DUN DUH! there appears at her door, a wizard accompanied by his ‘dragon’.

So begins an action and reaction concatenation with boy wizard attempting to subvert the girl’s peaceable play with his roistering, wrecking actions. She counters these with her wand ‘Ta-Dah!’ and magic spells.

This to and fro of ‘Dun Dun Duhs and Ta-Dahs continues apace until the dragon, having imbibed rather too much water, needs an urgent visit to the bathroom, and the boy exits stage right …

leaving girl and dragon to live happily ever after.

Well, perhaps not quite ever after, for after an uneventful interval, the two decide to pay the boy a visit to see how things are going. And going they certainly are: the boy has become a magician and is about to perform before a decidedly small audience.

Small that is, until girl and dragon pitch in providing more watchers and a co-performer.
Show over, it’s time for a snack providing more happily ever afters … whoops! Not EVER, after all: there’s still time for one final, sub-aquatic adventure together.

DUN DUN DUH! … Ta-Da!’

Conflict and resolution done with panache in this debut for both author, Davis and illustrator, Juanita. It’s a wonderful portrayal of children’s imaginative play with its give and take and boundless possibilities.

A House That Once Was

A House That Once Was
Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith
Two Hoots

Quiet in its impact, this is one of those slow burn books that carry on working inside you long after you’ve closed it.
Immediately I started reading it, I was taken back to one of my childhood walks along a road close to where I lived, not in a wood atop a hill like the one Julie Fogliano describes, but a suburban one. There was surprisingly, a ramshackle-looking house overgrown with thick foliage, empty, but some said a witch woman lived within.

Unlike the two children in this contemplative lyrical story, neither I, nor any of my friends dared venture inside although, as the children here, we did speculate and make up stories about possible previous occupants, albeit from the safety of the rackety gate. That house has long gone, replaced by a new development, but its memory remains to this day.

‘Deep in the woods/ is a house/ just a house/ that once was / but now isn’t/ a home.’ In fact it’s derelict and totally uninhabited save for the intruding textured foliage Lane Smith has woven between its cracks and in and out of its broken doors, roof and windows.

It’s one of these windows through which the boy and girl climb to explore.

Within, they discover the ephemera of a life that once was: a shelf of books, old toys, art materials, old photographs.

‘Who was this someone who ate beans for dinner/ who sat by this fire/ who looked in this mirror?’ ask the narrators, ‘Who was this someone / whose books have been waiting / whose bed is still made / whose pictures are fading? … Who was this someone / who left without packing / someone who’s gone but is still everywhere?’

Ghostly echoes there, until the children begin to ponder upon who the residents might have been, becoming increasingly playful in their imaginings, Lane Smith’s scenes growing brighter as they do so.
(At the back of the book is a note explaining the two different techniques employed to create the ‘present day’ and ‘imagined scenes”’)

Still wondering, the two eventually return to their own home where warmth and dinner await.

Full of mystery, intensely beautiful, is this entrancing story of what is, what was, and what might have been, all seamlessly melded together through Folgiano’s telling and Smith’s showing.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel & Gretel
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

Most children are familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel wherein the siblings are cast out from their home into the forest where they encounter a wicked witch; but in her latest fairytale reworking, Bethan Woollvin mischievously turns the tale completely on its head.
Here it’s Willow, a very good witch, who follows a trail of breadcrumbs dropped by the brother and sister.

She sees those breadcrumbs as messy and likely to lead vermin to her gingerbread home. Her request that they tidy up is ignored and she’s left to do the job herself, but- ‘Willow did not get angry, because Willow was a good witch.’

On returning home she finds Hansel and Gretel tucking into her house, literally, but despite their appalling behaviour, instead of being angry she invites them into her home for dinner; they must be very hungry she tells herself .

Rather than being grateful for her hospitality, the gluttonous children continue pushing Willow to the limits of her patience until finally, she does get angry.

The totally unexpected and wonderfully dark and humorous finale is spl-utterly delicious.

In her striking signature graphic style and limited colour palette, Bethan Woollvin has again produced a wonderfully witty visual narrative from simple shapes and textures. I love the scattering of birds and tiny animals watching the events from the vegetation that somehow make you pay attention to those stark shapes both large and small. Love the clever endpapers too.

Perhaps not for the most faint-hearted, but I can’t imagine many listeners not devouring this one and asking for more.

Stonkingly brilliant!

Albie Newton

Albie Newton
Josh Funk and Ester Garay
Sterling

Albie Newton is a thinker, a ‘child genius’ so we’re told, learning a new language almost every week and he also loves to tinker.
The lad starts school mid term and in the hope of making some friends, decides to build a special surprise gift for his new classmates.

It doesn’t take long for the newcomer to start rubbing the others up the wrong way. In addition to shining in all areas of the curriculum,

his behaviour is more than a little disruptive, particularly when he appropriates items from the classroom; and the noises he makes are nothing short of ear shattering.

Albie however, is completely oblivious to the effect of his actions; his social skills are clearly nothing like as developed as his intellectual and inventive ones.

Fortunately for Albie though, one of his classmates, Shirley by name, has been keeping an eye on his secret activities and seems willing to give him a chance. She thinks that perhaps Albie is well intentioned. Can she convince the others to give him the benefit of the doubt?

Perhaps, when they see that special gift he’s constructed …

It will be pretty obvious to adults, especially teacher readers of Funk’s seemingly light-hearted rhyming story, that Albie is wired differently from the other children.

With in-built messages about accepting difference and building empathy emerging, it offers plenty to discuss; and illustrator, Ester Garay ‘s bold bright illustrations have plenty of details to amuse, as well as effectively conveying Albie’s abundance of mental and physical energy.

Something Fishy

Something Fishy
Polly Dunbar
Two Hoots

There are undoubtedly fishy goings on in the moggy narrator’s house, however, not the kind of fishiness appreciated by the normally, extremely well fed cat.

Despite polite requests for fishy offerings the other family members merely look blissed out and produce such items as tiny suits and soft toys. Hmm!

By this time listeners will have figured out what’s imminent even if the ever- grouchier narrator hasn’t. Now this really isn’t funny; well, not if your desire for all things fishy isn’t being satisfied, however nicely you ask.

Then suddenly the cat is left alone in the house: of course they must have gone fishing: oh, the eager anticipation!

What comes back home though is certainly not fish but something that changes Cat’s expectant smile into first a look of bewilderment, and then extreme disappointment.
Altogether a charmer, Polly Dunbar’s new book is purrfect for families where the arrival of a new brother or sister sibling is fast approaching, especially as there seems to be enough love to go round for everyone …

Polly’s illustrations are so brilliantly expressive, funny, and occasional jealous cat countenance notwithstanding, full of her characteristic joie de vivre.
An absolute winner.

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

‘This book is for those who daydream, and those who think for themselves’.
I love that. It’s written in Ed Vere’s inspiring ‘letter’ that accompanied my review copy; it’s also printed on the final page of his eloquent story: I hope it applies to myself, make that, to everyone. I wish everybody could read the entire letter, but instead I urge you to get yourself a copy of the book and share it widely.

It starts philosophically: ‘The world is full of ideas. /Big ones,/ small ones. / Good ones,/ bad ones. / Some think this … / others think that.’ before bringing us back to earth and in particular, lion territory on the African plains where the norm is to be FIERCE! But is that the only way to be?
Enter Leonard: thoughtful, prone to daydreams, something of a poet and above all, gentle.

Enter shortly after, a duck, Marianne by name. Being Leonard, it isn’t a case of ‘Crunch, crunch, CHOMP!’ Instead our lion, polite introductions over, requests her assistance and as luck would have it, Marianne is able to assist in freeing Leonard’s stuck muse and before long a firm friendship has been forged; one that involves stargazing, philosophical musings and above all, contentment and happiness.

Into their peaceable existence comes a pack of ferocious lions demanding to know why the duck has not met its demise.
True to himself, Leonard explains about their friendship and resists their loud growly admonishments.

Their instructions about becoming fierce make him pause and question however, but Marianne suggests a trip to their thinking hill to mull things over. Lo and behold, serious hums and serious quacks together are turned into an idea, and then, poetry that is finally ready to be presented to those fierce lions.

What Leonard says to them is heartfelt, provocative – “Why don’t you be you … And I will be I.” – and one hopes, a game changer.

Ed Vere’s timely fable is profound and intensely moving in the gentle way it offers words as tools of bridge building and change, as well as showing a different male role model. Don’t be pressurised into conforming, be yourself is what shines through both his words and oh, so eloquent, humorous illustrations.

A perfect read aloud with oodles of food for thought, and talk.

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride
Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

What can you do on a dull, stay- indoors kind of a day that’s already become boring? You might perhaps, like the small child narrator of this story, venture outside and see what unfolds.

Into view comes a large furry shape riding a tiny bike and sporting a luminous pink hat. They make eye contact and the boy hops on his own bike and off they go.

It isn’t long before the human is wanting rid of his stabilisers, which his new friend helpfully consumes leaving the lad struggling to cope with trying to ride his ‘big boy’s’ bike.

The learning curve is steep with the usual frights, falls and rallying,

along with the odd spot of relaxation,

until finally come success, speed and some over-confidence.

All the while though, the silent, white lumpy creature is there ready to offer succour and the occasional bit of provocation: then suddenly he’s gone.

Perhaps he was never there at all except in the boy’s mind.

Back home goes one small child, proud of himself and eager to tell his mum and dad about his adventure but when a “What did you do?’ comes from Mum his answer is let’s say, understated.

You can succeed so long as you show resilience, is what comes through in Pelon’s picture book.

Its graphic format is such that it works best as a one-to-one share and with that blank ‘Super Cyclist’ certificate on the back endpapers, is certainly one to offer a child at that same stage of readiness to fly solo on two wheels. I love the colour palette and the plethora of humorous details.

The Day War Came

The Day War Came
Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb
Walker Books

I came back home after a few days away to find this book waiting; it was the day we heard about the egregious separation of children from their parents at the US border, so it was especially moving. It is also Refugee Week as I read/write this – even more timely and heartbreakingly pertinent, especially as I think of my Syrian friends who fled their home country from war a couple of years ago and are now happy and their two children loving their primary school in Stroud. No lack of chairs there.

Nicola Davies wrote the text, a poem, as a response to her anger at our government’s refusal to allow 3000 refugee children to enter the UK in 2016. A poem that began the 3000 chairs campaign for which artists contributed pictures of chairs, symbolic of a seat in a classroom, education, kindness and the hope of a future.

For those who didn’t read the poem when it was published in the Guardian, it’s a spare text narrated by a little girl from a country, perhaps Syria, blighted by war whose day starts normally – breakfast with her family and then school where in the morning, she learns about volcanoes, draws a picture of a bird and sings a song of tadpoles.

After lunch though comes war, destroying her school, her home, her town,

leaving her alone, bloody and tattered.

Somehow she makes it to a boat and thence to a beach and then to a camp. “But war had followed me. / it was underneath my skin, / behind my eyes, / and in my dreams. / It had taken possession of my heart,” she says.

Nicola Davies is a fine weaver of words; her text is heart-wrenchingly powerful and ultimately, redemptive – having initially been turned away from a school classroom because there was no chair for her, one is supplied by a little boy,

whose friends do likewise … as the children walk together, “Pushing / back the war / with every step.”

Rebecca Cobb has done an outstanding job with the illustrations. Her watercolour, crayon and pastel pictures – scenes of destruction, flight and desolation, all too familiar to us from TV news bulletins, have a heightened poignancy so rendered, and are all the more powerful viewed together with her images of normal life in home, street and classroom.
All her characters are incredibly expressive both facially and in their body language, and the little girl is the very embodiment of the poem’s narrator.

A must read book for anyone who values humanity.

£1 from every copy of the book sold will go to the HelpRefugees charity.

Grandad Mandela

Grandad Mandela
Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela and Sean Qualls
Lincoln Children’s Books

Nelson Mandela is my all time hero and I was thrilled to see this picture book published in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth (July 18th 1918).

It takes the form of a dialogue between Mandela’s great grandchildren Zazi and Ziwelene and their Grandma Zindzi – his daughter, after the children discover a photograph of Grandad Mandela.
Can you tell us about him again?” they ask and a discussion ensues with Zindzi Mandela answering the children’s questions.

It’s an earnest discussion during which we, and the children, learn of South Africa’s recent history, about what it was like to be a child of apartheid (“But why did the white people start making everybody’s lives sad?” … “Did they make your lives sad too?”)

and about the role the family and in particular Mandela played in ending the apartheid regime. “Grandad was fighting for us all to be equal.” she says in response to Zazi’s “Why did Grandad go to jail?

The fight was one that continued throughout the 27 long years Mandela was a prisoner, both by himself and others who carried on the fight for the equality he believed in, and for freedom.

The penultimate question “Do you know what ubuntu means?” comes from Grandma Zindzi who goes on to explain “It means ‘I am because we all are’.
A powerful unifying thought that encapsulates Mandela’s legacy to us all wherever we are, a legacy that embodies service to his people and forgiveness.

Qualls’ illustrations rendered in acrylics, collage and pencil are absolutely superb embodying in turn, love,

hope, brutality (by the police), protest, joy,

family pride, diplomacy and more.

Powerful, inspiring, intensely moving and a wonderful tribute to an amazing man; (it brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer), this is a book for everyone who wants to pay tribute to the icon of equality and peace that is Nelson Mandela and surely that is all of us, young and not so young.

Magna Cow / A Campfire Tale

Magna Cow
Barry Hutchison and Cate James
Little Door Books

Brisket is a cow, an unusual one with especially curly horns, a particularly frizzy tail and, when it’s dark a faint glow emanates from her. Odd though these features might be, there is one that makes her even more extraordinary, she’s magnetic.

It’s this magnetism that causes Magna to create havoc at the cows’ camping trips,

bring about the dismantling of their treehouse and appropriate the cutlery at a party.

Consequently when the big day of the Moove to the Music dance competition comes around, Brisket is banished to the top of the hill while the other bovine beauties strut their stuff.

Suddenly disaster, in the form of a trundling tractor moving downhill, is about to strike. The dancing cows are too busy prancing and pirouetting to notice what’s happening. Only Brisket from her hilltop vantage point sees the danger: can she save the day?

Cate James daftly depicts this bonkers, but fun tale, about mooving metal, bovine bother and friendship from Barry Hutchison, with appropriately crazy-looking cattle and their shenanigans.

Specially written songs can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

A Campfire Tale
Sarah Glenn Marsh and Ana Gómez
Sterling

The first night away from home, be it a sleep over or as in this story, a camping trip, can be a scary thought for some children and it appears so with Dragon too.

The child narrator though offers to act as his buddy. Assuming he’ll be a great companion, she takes him swimming, sailing and involves him in the whole gamut of camp-related activities,

even a puppet show; but all go pretty badly to say the least.

Perhaps it was a big mistake to take on the Dragon as her buddy especially as the other campers now seem to be avoiding them.

Come the evening, Dragon is a disaster when he attempts to help with the tent pitching and insists on listening to ghost stories, despite being scared stiff of same, but the last straw is his effort to get rid of a spider, which only serves to inflame the situation.

The narrator sends him packing and in the morning, there’s no sign of the scaly character.
The campers search for him in the woods but quickly get lost; what’s more they hear something growly in the distance.

Could this be an opportunity for Dragon to redeem himself perhaps?

The bold, bright illustrations by Ana Gómez are comical and engaging, showing the feelings of both Dragon and narrator.

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

Come with me to Coral Reef City, home to the most flashy, dashy array of fish you could imagine. It’s also home to Terry. Terry has no dazzling scales or funky fins to flaunt. He does however have two good friends, Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail with whom he lives and plays.

The three and their games of Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish are shunned by the tropical fish on account of their drabness. Terry’s pals try to cheer him up but he still hankers after that dashing, flashing life.

A plan is needed and next day, with the help of his friends, operation transformation Terry is put into action.

Now he verily outshines everything else in Tropical City.
At last he’s one of the fishy dazzlers and much too busy with his new acquaintances to bother with Steve and Cilla.

One day however, Eddie the Eel arrives on the scene and Terry’s life in is great danger. What can he do to escape becoming an eel’s next meal?

There’s only one way to find out: get your fins on a copy of Jarvis’ tale of friendship and sea changes and read the rest of this piscine picture book.

Jarvis never fails to delight: his deep-sea adventure is certainly one to dive into.

Mixed

Mixed
Arree Chung
Macmillan Children’s Books

In the beginning there were three colours: Reds – the loud ones; Yellows – the bright ones and Blues – the laid-back ones, and they lived in harmony.
One afternoon though, the Reds took it upon themselves to declare that they were the best colour and that was the start of disharmony

resulting in the erection of fences, tall brick walls and separatism. Does that sound familiar?
However, one day a Yellow and a Blue notice one another and realise that their distinctive characteristics are of mutual benefit:

in short they become best buddies and more, to the alarm of the others of the three hues.
Love prevails, the two MIX and it’s not long before they’ve created a new colour they name Green. She has elements of both parents but is unique and, all the others love her.
So much so that they too begin to mix … and mix …

gradually transforming the entire neighbourhood into a harmonious, multi-coloured environment.
My immediate response to this straightforward story was ‘If only it were that simple.‘ That said the book contains powerful messages about the importance of diversity, acceptance and respect for others, as well as celebrating how  people’s differences can be tools for transformation.

Skyward: The Story of female Pilots in WW11

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WW11
Sally Deng
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a beautifully produced, exciting book, based on real events, telling of three young women, Hazel, Marlene and Lilya, who pursue their dreams to become pilots and, countering gender stereotypes, go on to fly for their countries – the USA, England and Russia, in the Second World War.

First though they had to overcome, not only family ridicule but that of their governments and the armed forces.

“You’re taking all the jobs from our men!” Hazel was told by prejudiced people in powerful positions.

Even once they’d graduated it wasn’t all thrills; there were spills too …

and enormous risks.

But the three and the other female pilots did their utmost with little recognition and paltry pay, and in so doing paved the way for generations of young women.

Sally Deng, whose debut book this is, has, like her subjects herein, set the bar high for herself. Her carefully considered, inspiring telling coupled with her charismatic art style make for a powerful read.

A ‘must include’ for any World War Two topic in schools and a book I’d hope will be shared and celebrated, along with its subjects, by all who want to fly the flag for women’s achievements and for following your dreams.

Audrey the Amazing Inventor

Audrey the Amazing Inventor
Rachel Valentine and Katie Weymouth
Words & Pictures

Hot on the heels of Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer comes another young girl character with a passion.
Meet Audrey, inquisitive and an inveterate fiddler with things, who, having declared to her teacher, her intention to be an inventor, sets about achieving her ambition.

She starts with items to make life better for her dad and Happy Cat but after a very rocky start

and even more disastrous next efforts, Audrey miserably declares herself “the world’s worst inventor!

Luckily for her, her dad, far from making disparaging remarks, encourages his daughter to learn from her mistakes and carry on trying. Wise advice.

It works too, for it isn’t long before Audrey is inventing again, but this time she’s extra careful at the planning stage, the constructing stage and the testing stage. Dad cannot wait to see the new invention.

Will it work to the satisfaction of all though? It’s certainly wildly inventive, and sophisticated; but will it deliver?
Crazy, but enormously enjoyable and an inspiration to young female would-be scientists, technologists and engineers: Audrey demonstrates just how much enjoyment the STEM curriculum offers and Rachel Valentine’s narrative reminds children of the importance of persevering, and of following your dreams.

There’s a slight touch of the Heath Robinsons about some of Katie Weymouth’s zany scenes of Audrey at work on her inventions, and she also adroitly captures the close and supportive relationship between father and daughter.

Don’t Feed the Bear

Don’t Feed the Bear
Kathleen Doherty and Chip Wass
Sterling Children’s Books

Teachers of young children know what appeals when it comes to story time; they certainly ought to or they shouldn’t be in the job. Not all of us though can use that knowledge to produce super book texts that make great read alouds like Kathleen Doherty has in this, her debut picture book.

There’s been a plethora of picture books featuring beary characters this year, in fact I’ve featured quite a few on this blog, but none with such wonderful endpapers as this one.

Now what about the story? First there’s that Bear, resident of a forest frequented by campers, a large creature that particularly relishes the tasty offerings left by same. There’s also a ranger, short of stature, seemingly a jobsworth kind of character, equally keen on the food left behind and partial to erecting signs such as the one that gives the book its title.

When she does just that, she triggers a veritable sign-writing skirmish …

lasting much of the day …

until a détente is reached and the signs are amended one last time.

Will those signs have the desired affect now? Here’s a clue …

However, if you want to know who has the final word, then get your paws on a copy of the book and find out for yourself. It’s brimming over with wonderfully join-in-able onomatopoeia – here’s a taster : ‘SMACKITY! SMACK! WHOMP! CLOMP … CLOMP … CLOMP’, there’s the occasional rhyme and a thoroughly satisfying finale, not to mention the understated message that two heads, or rather pens, are better than one.

Then of course there are Chip Wass’s funky, bold scenes of the arboreal antics that are guaranteed to delight.

This is a sure fire story time winner: Kathleen’s short sentences allow the reader aloud to create maximum impact with each one and the illustrations are delectably droll.
Having said all that, the nature of the text is such that after a couple of sharings, children may well feel they’d like to try the book themselves.

We’re Getting a Cat!

We’re Getting a Cat!
Vivian French and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

Vivian French does narrative non-fiction beautifully and so it is in this book about a family that have recently moved into a flat in an old house. A flat that’s overrun with mice.

Dad is no cat enthusiast but he likes small furry rodents even less, so a decision is made. It’s off to the cat rescue centre and that’s where they meet big, strong Kevin. His skills as a mouse-catcher seem certain and so a week later, the girl narrator and her sister are thrilled by Kevin’s arrival at their home.

With the help of cat-owning neighbour, Mrs Harris, the family help Kevin settle into his new home. He learns how to use his litter tray

although he does use the family toilet for his own purposes.

He also discovers the best place for a good old scratch – certainly not Dad’s favourite chair – and gets used to the feeding time routine. In short he makes himself comfortable but as for mouse catching, it’s a great big No. It looks as though Dad might well decide to send him back to the Rescue Centre.

“Isn’t that what cats do” the narrator asks their neighbour on the mice-catching topic, the answer isn’t exactly what she’d hoped though.

But then Kevin takes himself off to explore the great outdoors and vanishes. Has he read Dad’s mind perhaps?

Up-beat in style, with additional captions that provide information on feeding, grooming and cat care throughout the book and a final ‘If you’re getting a cat’ page at the end, along with an index and some helpful websites, this is an ideal read for potential cat owners.

Even this cat-phobic reviewer was charmed by Rubbino’s scenes of the trials and tribulations Kevin puts his new family through, and the manner in which he establishes himself as an essential part of their household.

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky
Eric & Terry Fan
Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything about this, the second Fan Brothers picture book, is absolutely superb: the jacket, the cover, the endpapers, the paper used and of course, the story and illustrations.

It’s a magical tale of young Finn who, inspired by memories of his grandfather’s sayings, his voice, and his stories – stories of a far distant place where ocean and sky meet – on what would have been his ninetieth birthday, builds a boat in his honour.

Then, imagination fuelled by those stories, the boy sets off on an amazing dream of a voyage. A voyage aided by a huge golden fish that tells him it knows of the place he seeks: “It’s high and low … It’s up and down and very far.” and offers to show the way.

The journey takes Finn through such wondrous places as the Library Islands populated by bibliophile birds; (love that there’s a copy of The Night Gardener tucked in one of the piles of books)

then, after landing to explore an island of giant shells, they travel onwards crossing a sea of dancing jellyfish until eventually they reach their destination, perhaps,

whereupon the boat lifts towards the sky (or had the water fallen away?) and the boy drifts through starry, steampunkish spreads whereon hot air balloons, zeppelins, submarines, a giant whale, float following the fish towards the full moon. There, a transformation takes place.
Smiling back at him benevolently, illuminating his farewell, is a face Finn knows so well.

Then comes a voice summoning him home from his dreaming. It’s his mother calling him (with echoes of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) for dinner– Grandpa’s favourite dumplings.

The Finn Brothers vision of eternity is, in this affecting story, one that offers a bereft boy some healing from his sadness, leaving him able to face forwards, full of wonder. ‘It had been a good day for sailing.’

Elegant scenes grace every spread providing much to explore: observant readers/listeners will notice that an early picture of Grandpa’s room is filled with treasured objects that become part of the dream sequence.

Moth

Moth
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interestingly this is the second picture book introducing adaptation and natural selection to children I’ve seen in the past few weeks – could a new trend be starting. I was first taught about these scientific ideas with reference to the Peppered Moth, the particular example used in this story, when doing A-level zoology donkeys ages ago, and now they’re part of the KS2 science curriculum – quite a thought.

‘This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’ So says science writer, Isabel Thomas in the opening lines of her narrative, a narrative that seamlessly interweaves both science and social history.

In the nineteenth century almost all Peppered Moths had light grey patterned wings that blended with the tree trunks and branches it frequented.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution also came air pollution blackening buildings, monuments and trees alike.

In this new environment, the light-coloured moths became easy to spot and were gobbled up by birds.
Darker forms of the insect were less conspicuous and more likely to escape predation and to breed whilst the lighter form became extremely scarce.

With the advent of the Clean Air Acts in the mid-twentieth century air pollution from smoke and soot was greatly reduced, trees and buildings were no longer stained. Now the dark moths were more conspicuous and less likely to breed successfully, though both forms of the moth can still be found.

All this, Isabel Thomas recounts in her dramatic, sometimes lyrical text that ends with hope. A hope which, as we hear in the final explanatory pages, might lead to other living things being able to adapt to the changes, including climate change, that we humans inflict upon our planet.

Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations are as lyrical as the text, embodying at once arresting beauty and veritas, and instilling a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to see such an eloquent science-focused book that also embraces the arts side of the curriculum.

Baby’s First Bank Heist

Baby’s First Bank Heist
Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Utterly crazy, but equally hilarious, is this tale of an errant infant with an overwhelming desire for a pet.

Let me introduce baby Frank, ardent animal lover who decides to take the law into his own tiny hands in order to procure the necessary wherewithal to make his dream come true.

The trouble is, this tiny lad isn’t content with just one animal and before long the whole house resembles a menagerie;

but still he wants more and there’s cash aplenty to fund his passion so there’s nothing to stop him. Until, one afternoon, Mum makes a discovery …

Eventually Frank’s deceitful doings are uncovered and it’s time to make amends. Without any of his loot left what can they do to raise the money to repay the bank? And, what can they do with all the animals?

There’s only one way to put everything right. I won’t say what ensues but merely add that it entails Frank spending some time behind bars.

Tongue-in-cheek text from debut author, Jim Whalley coupled with Stephen Collins’s retro-style illustrations make for a corker of a book.

Pet-related preposterousness to make both children and adults splutter with glee; I’m sure this will quickly establish itself as a story time favourite.

The Little Green Hen

The Little Green Hen
Alison Murray
Orchard Books

Alison Murray has reworked the original Little Red Hen traditional story giving it an environmental slant. Herein her main character resides in the hollow trunk of a large apple tree growing atop a hill.

The Little Green Hen cares for the tree and sows the apple seeds to grow more trees. Before long an orchard has sprung up and she’s in need of some assistant cultivators.
Who would like to help me tend the apple trees?” she asks. Peacock is too busy preening himself but Dog offers his help as assistant pruner.

Requests for assistance with bug control and seed sowing are turned down by Fox and Cat respectively but she finds willing helpers in Sparrow and Squirrel. Throughout the year the new friends tend the orchard and all are rewarded by its bounties.

As autumn turns to winter, down comes the rain, day after day, week after week.

The industrious friends are safe, warm and dry in the old apple tree but Peacock and Fox are flooded out of their homes and seek refuge on Cat’s log.

Fortunately for the trio, The Little Green Hen is big-hearted enough to offer them a place of safety and together they wait for the flood waters to recede.

When the sun finally reappears, it’s time to clean up.

How will the Little Green Hen’s call for help in cleaning up the mess be received by her guests?

Fortunately for all the animals and of course, the orchard, the word is now teamwork.

Thanks to this and the thirsty roots of the new young trees, a new orchard grows up providing food and shelter for all to share.

Alison Murray’s crisp, clean-cut illustrations have a pleasing freshness and the body language and facial expressions of her characters capture their changing feelings eloquently.

Great for individual or story time sharing.

Brothers Forever

Brothers Forever
Claudia Boldt
Puffin Books

What do you do when your brother and best friend starts school leaving you to spend a long, gloomy day alone doing the things – cake baking, drawing and playing hide-and-seek – you’ve always done together?

That’s what happens to the small ursine narrator of Claudia Boldt’s new picture book. But that is only the beginning.

Big brother Barney, now calling himself Barnaby, has so many new and exciting ways to pass his time, and interesting new friends to play with, that his little brother is side-lined.

Life just isn’t fun any longer.

Enter new friend, Podgy. This cuddly creature participates in the activities previously shared with Barney,

but the new friendship makes boy narrator and Podgy the object of amusement to big bro. and his pals.

When Barney declines his favourite food one day, our narrator senses something is wrong

and that night he discovers what’s troubling his brother – it’s the thought of his first school trip away from home.

Brotherly love and understanding come to the rescue as both bears realise that no matter what changes life brings, one thing – or rather two – are forever.

Warm, realistic and imbued with gentle humour, this story will strike a chord with siblings especially.

If all the world were …

If all the world were …
Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpoys
Lincoln Children’s Books, First Editions

Be prepared to shed tears when you read this first person narration by a little girl who takes readers on a journey through four seasons and a whole life’s experiences shared with her beloved Grandad.
Starting with spring, she talks of long exploratory walks hand in hand and then takes a seasonal flight of fancy: ‘If all the world were springtime, / I would replant my grandad’s birthdays / so that he would never get old.

In summer Grandad buys a wooden racing track (second hand with bits missing) and together they play, sometimes zooming the cars up into space. This action triggers the narrator’s second imagined scenario to make her granddad happy.

I love the notebook with handmade paper, bound with Indian-leather string Grandpa makes for his granddaughter in autumn, wherein to write and draw her dreams with a special rainbow pencil.

That suggestion leads to her third loving musing:
If all the world were dreams, / I would mix my bright Grandad feelings / and paint them over sad places.

Come winter it’s time for cosying up by the fire and listening to Grandad’s tales of his boyhood of Indian sweets and homemade toys, and hear him tell of ships, snakes and tigers. Now though Grandad is ailing and the little girl supposes a world of stories and making her grandad better merely by listening to his every tale.

One day though his chair is empty; Grandad is no more. From the ephemera she finds in his room, the narrator creates a beautiful mandala of memories; memories she wishes could be rooms where she could visit her granddad.

On Grandad’s chair she finds a brand new notebook made by him with her name on the cover, the perfect thing in which to record all her precious memories.

I’m sure that like me, you’ll find yourself reaching for that box of tissues as you read this beautiful, lyrical book. Joseph’s Coelho’s poignant text in combination with Allison Colpoy’s tender illustrations infused with nostalgia and love, are a celebration of life as well as a perfect starting point for a conversation about loss and dying.

Soul music in a picture book, this.

My Stinky Dog

My Stinky Dog
Christine Roussey
Abrams

A boy narrator talks about his best friend and faithful dog, Alfred, always on hand to bring cheer to his owner and a great soccer player to boot.
If we take a closer look at this hero of a pet we discover that despite his wonderful character, there’s a problem with Alfred: foul odours emanate from every part of his body; in short, HE STINKS!

And he does so morning, noon and night and everywhere that Alfred takes him which is pretty embarrassing.
There’s an even bigger issue though as the boy’s family is soon to move to New York and a malodorous dog is not something they’ll be keen to take with them.
Time to pay the problem some attention. Aftershave (dad’s) perfume and air freshener only make matters worse so something more serious must be done. Into the bathtub goes Alfred. He’s thoroughly lathered and bubbled until hurrah!
No more stink! Alfred is positively sparkling

Uh-oh! All of a sudden the dog appears to have undergone a complete personality change. He starts cavorting around in welly boots and raincoat and is obsessive about his oral hygiene. Perhaps this destinkifying thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Out into the mud goes the boy who rolls around until Alfred follows suit. Soon his characteristic canine pong is well and truly restored and with odour issue resolved their whole stinky normality can resume.

But what about that New York move? Will both boy and dog make it to the new home?

A wonderful tale of love, acceptance and individuality is given a delightful carefree spin by Christine Roussey’s distinctive illustrative style, which will surely cause readers to smile at every turn of the page.

What Does an Anteater Eat?

What Does an Anteater Eat?
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

Ross Collins will certainly have audiences spluttering with delight at the finale of what is essentially an extended joke of a book. That’s getting ahead of things though, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Surely any self-respecting anteater, even one that wakes up hungry, should not need to go around asking the various creatures he encounters one morning what he ought to be dining upon but that’s exactly what happens here.

The responses he gets range from an indolent “I’m very busy. Don’t bother me.” through some recommendations …

and helpful advice about thorough chewing (that’s from snake)to a lip-licking contemplation of the anteater’s own potential as a meal

until Anteater arrives at a large nest. Now surely the penny will drop so to speak at the sight of this …

It does, but perhaps not in quite the way we might have been anticipating.

This tongue-in-cheek tale is delivered with panache: the expressions on the faces of the animals – anteater’s and all the others’ are wonderfully droll as is the dialogue throughout.

Be sure to watch out for the tiny insects crawling through almost every spread clearly intent on a spot of nest building.

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Am I Yours?

Am I Yours?
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer certainly keeps his audience guessing in this rhyming tale concerning an identity issue.
If you’ve never heard of an egg that speaks, you’re about to in this review.
Said egg, having been blown from a nest and spent a cold dark night at the foot of a hill emits a gentle ‘Excuse me, please, but am I yours? I’m sure I am a dinosaur’s.’
Yes it’s another dinosaur tale with lots of children’s favourites making an appearance.
First to come  along is Stegosaurus but the egg doesn’t fit its specifications, says so, but remains upbeat.
Nor does it fit those of Brachiosaurus, Triceratops, Corythosaurus

or Tyrannosaurus, by which time an entire day has passed and the egg, feeling lonely begins to cry out ‘… I can’t stay out in wind and storm! / I’ll freeze alone! I must stay warm!
The sun sinks and in so doing renders the eggshell translucent allowing the five concerned adult dinosaurs a view within.

Now they know what to do with the lost egg: back it’s rolled up the hill from whence it came, and there, to the sound of heavy feet, it makes a final plea:
One last time – I must be sure – / Are you the ones I’m looking for?’ …
In addition to the enjoyment of meeting some of their favourite prehistoric creatures in the story, with its invitation to join in the telling through the rhyming repeat refrain, ‘What do you look like inside that shell? / I can’t see in so I can’t tell.’ children will love becoming co-inquisitors of the egg,
(There’s lots of potential for small world play here once you’ve shared the story.)

For dinosaur enthusiasts who like to colour:

Fuzzy Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
illustrated by Papio Press

This is a touch-and-feel book with 7 spreads to add colour to, featuring animals of the prehistoric land, sea and sky, set out in chart-like form with brief snippets of information relating to each featured (numbered) animal one side of the spread, opposite which is the colouring page on a dramatic black background with the numbered creatures and other flora and fauna.
The book is written in association with, and fact-checked by, the National History Museum.

Mabel and Sam at Home

Mabel and Sam at Home
Linda Urban and Hadley Hooper
Chronicle Books

It’s moving day for Mabel and Sam and things look pretty chaotic from the viewpoint of the siblings.

To keep out of the way of the grown-ups they embark on a series of adventures related in three chapters. The first is ‘On the High Seas’ and here Captain Mabel and First Mate Sam set out in the good ship Handle With Care. Bossy sis. gives the orders as they go sailing on the high seas, a dangerous voyage full of pirates, whales and sea serpents

until they spy some friendly landlubbers, after which it’s “All ashore” for some tasty pizza.
‘At the Museum’ has curator Mabel showing Sam new ways of looking at old familiar things: the dialogue here is especially wonderful with Mabel “Behold“ing at every opportunity as she introduces the various artefacts to her brother.

Finally, after supper the two become astronauts blasting through space heading for Planet Perfecto and for this they need to be especially bold, “Space Bold” Astronaut Mabel declares, “Space Bold is bigger, because space is bigger.

Linda Urban’s entire text is a delight – funny, full of charm, reassuring and cleverly structured so as to embrace the kind of things that cause young children moving day anxieties; and before the end, the children are feeling upbeat about the move with Mabel concluding that their ‘new planet was surprisingly homey’.
Hadley Hooper’s illustrations (created with printmaking techniques and Photoshop) are, like the siblings’ adventures, wonderfully imagined, both in their rendering of the children’s adventures and the portrayal of the somewhat frazzled parents at the end of the book.
Just right for sharing with a child or children moving home.

Migration

Migration
Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Mike Unwin documents the migratory journeys of twenty animals large and small, from the monarch butterfly to the great white shark

and the African elephant to the Southern pilchard, all of which travel incredible distances due to the seasonal changes to the environment in which they live. They move in pursuit of food, to escape bad weather or hostile environmental conditions, or in search of a suitable place to breed.
Each of the animals featured is allocated a double spread impressively illustrated by Jenni Desmond; and there’s a world map showing all the migrations at the back of the book.
Just imagine weighing less than a lump of sugar and having to fly 800km across the ocean like the ruby-throated hummingbird. Come spring, these iridescent birds leave their tropical winter home in Central America, fly across the Gulf of Mexico, north to North America, even as far north as Canada, where they breed, nesting somewhere in woods, a garden or park.

I was amazed to read the fascinating details about green marine sea turtles, which sometimes weigh as much as two humans and migrate across the Atlantic to breed on Ascension Island.

Unwin’s accounts are beautifully, at times poetically written, while Jenni Desmond’s illustrations make you want to linger long over each one enjoying the form, details and individual beauty of each animal portrayed.

Hero vs. Villain / Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

Hero vs. Villain
T. Nat Fuller and Alex Eben Meyer
Abrams Appleseed

Using comic-book style images, the creators of this little board book manage to provide an engaging storyline while at the same time demonstrating opposites – hero/villain, smile/frown, up/down, build/destroy, truth/ lie

and enemies/friends – in just eight spreads.
Toddler super-hero enthusiasts will love the female sporting cloak and mask and laugh over the mock-scary, tooth-snapping, top-hat wearing crocodile villain and delight in the surprise finale. As a tool of conciliation, the cupcake rules!
Conflict resolution for tinies and a satisfying adventure is pretty good going in so brief a book.

For slightly older superhero fans:

Monty + Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes
Carly Gledhill
Orchard Books

Meet best pals Monty (mouse) and Sylvester (bear), new super heroes on the block. They’ve already got the gear, read the manual and followed the training regime and now they’re ready for operation ‘Save the World’.
RING! RING! It’s a call for help and off they go for their very first emergency.

Now this looks tricky but suddenly Mouse has a light-bulb moment and using their faithful vacuum cleaner, mission one is soon successfully completed.
Word of their skills spreads and everything is going swimmingly until …

This rascally rat mounts a counter-attack that really tests the abilities of the friends and makes them wonder if they’ll ever see the light of day again.
Rest assured though, thanks to a deft flick of this …

they do and gain a few extra helpers too.
With its delicious characters, (love the hatching on Sylvester) this is a book to appeal to young listeners especially would-be superheroes. Carly Geldhill’s illustrations are sprinkled with splendidly silly, giggle-inducing details both visual and verbal.

Between Tick and Tock

Between Tick and Tock
Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay
Egmont Publishing

Most of us lead frenetic lives, dashing from here to there, mostly doing rather than being; but what would you want to do if you were able to stop time?

Liesel, the little girl in this story does just that. Liesel lives in a city, a city of hustle and bustle, a city of Grey, of loneliness, where almost everyone is far too busy to notice the details.

Not so watchful Liesel. She knows what is needed. She must pause the clock – just for a short time –bringing everything to a halt. Then she quietly springs into action working her way through the city beautifying the Grey with deft strokes of colour and creativity, showing kindliness to humans and creatures alike

and restoring calm and happiness.

She knows though that she cannot hold back time for longer than a very little while: that tick must be allowed to become a tock, that stop must once gain become go. Only now a transformation has taken place: things will never be quite the same again;

but just in case they ever should, Liesel knows exactly what to do …

Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay’s enchanting day time story is every bit as beautiful as the nocturnal evocation they created in The Night Box, if not more so. Once again, lyrical words and pictures work in perfect accord to make a memorable, magical book.

Rosa Draws

Rosa Draws
Jordan Wray
Words & Pictures

Rosa is happiest when using her drawing pencils and letting her imagination run wild and that’s what this story is all about.

Seemingly her favourite subjects are animals, fairly ordinary ones, but what happens to them is anything but ordinary.

For when Rosa adorns her fuzzy black cat with a ‘RIDONKULOUS’ hat, it triggers an increasingly crazy concatenation of events involving a hat-eating bear with GLAM-U-LICIOUS long hair (yes the whole thing is recounted in rhyme with only the occasional slight creak).

Said bear has its hair sat upon by a moose that takes tea with a la-dee-dah goose and so on until the ants – a zillion of them – board a train and plunge Rose into darkness, cutting off her train of thought and completely stifling her imagination.

Only temporarily though, for the tugging on a light switch cord puts her back ‘on track’ and her ideas flow freely once more until suddenly who should arrive on the scene but Rosa’s mum.

Apologies are immediately forthcoming but it turns out that young Rosa isn’t the only one with an artistic bent …

Packed with zany details – look out for the peacock sporting jazzy socks – Wray’s illustrations will amuse both children and adults and the former will enjoy the invented words and the surprise finale.

The Little Mouse and the Red Wall

The Little Mouse and the Red Wall
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books

Little Mouse lives in a community surrounded by a big red wall. It’s always been there but why? And what lies beyond?
When she asks the other animals, each one comes up with a different reason – for protection, thinks Scaredy Cat; Old Bear cannot remember; Fox doesn’t care and Lion Who Had Lost His Roar says  ‘just a big black nothing’ is behind the wall.

None of these responses satisfy Little Mouse but then one day she meets a Bluebird. Thanks to the bird, she is able to discover the answers to her questions.

What she sees – a world of freedom and beauty – and an ensuing conversation with the Bluebird are life changing, altering completely her way of seeing and being in the world.
They were looking with fear… YOU are looking with wonder. You were brave enough to find out the truth for yourself.

Little Mouse goes back to her friends and tells them of the wonders she’s seen and one by one they walk through the wall, all except Lion, although one day he too is ready to join the others in the land beyond.

Despite the simplicity of her telling, Britta Teckentrup’s beautifully illustrated story is profound and would be an ideal starting point for a community of enquiry style philosophical discussion.

When we in the UK, and other countries, seem to be putting up boundaries, its timely themes of discovering freedom and embracing change, both personal and in the world, will resonate with both children and adults.

Bonkers About Beetles

Bonkers About Beetles
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books

After focussing on monkeys, sharks and cats, Owen Davey turns his attention to beetles, a particularly successful insect group.

I knew that that were a great many different beetle species, some very tiny, others around the size of a human hand, but I had no idea that already 400,000 different kinds have been found, nor that beetles account for a quarter of all the animal species in the world being found on every continent other that Antarctica. Awesome!

There are basically four different ways of life; there are predators, herbivores, omnivores and decomposers each of which Davey explains giving examples of each of these kinds.

Clearly beetles come in many different shapes and sizes, although as we see here, all have a similar basic design.

As always in this series, Owen Davey’s playful sense of humour comes across in his choice of titles for some of the spreads as well as paragraph headings; for instance ‘Love You and Leaf You’ heads up some information about leaf-rolling weevils that construct special rounded homes for their eggs, taking around two hours to do the job.
And, dung beetles shaping dung balls to enclose their eggs, (one per egg) is under the heading ‘Let the Good Times Roll’.

What tickled my quirky nature particularly was discovering there’s a beetle that practises yoga: the head-stander beetle lives in the southern African Namib desert where the lack of water means it’s often difficult to find a drink. In the early morning, head-stander beetles climb to the top of the dunes when there’s a fog laden with moisture. They put their heads down and lift their rear ends to the sky so water collects on their backs and runs down into their mouths:
amazingly clever creatures.

I was also especially taken with the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ spread showcasing the likes of the giraffe weevil, the violin beetle and the harlequin beetle.

I’ve loved all Davey’s brilliantly illustrated books in the series but this one has to be my favourite.
What next I wonder?