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Mopoke

Mopoke
Philip Bunting
Scholastic

Ever heard of a mopoke? I certainly hadn’t until this book arrived and even then I thought at first it was a made up word. Then I discovered a note at the back telling readers that a ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, their smallest and most common owl species.
The particular mopoke of the title is the star of Philip Bunting’s debut picture book, which unsurprisingly begins ‘This is a mopoke.’
What follows is a deliciously playful sequence in which the mopoke, sitting on its branch longing for some solitude, becomes a highpoke, a lowpoke, a poshpoke and a poorpoke.

One then becomes two and then, more pokes, and a wee poke. Thereafter the real fun starts with a ‘Fee-fi-fo-poke’.

Before long the creature has become a ‘yo-poke’ – twice thanks to the addition of an exclamation mark.
Other animals also put in an appearance – there’s a wombat, totally unexpected, a snail riding a tortoise …

and a crow(poke) until finally the long suffering creature has had enough and flies off, presumably in search of a peaceful spot, leaving an empty branch.
Gently humorous, with a deceptively simple text and delightfully droll illustrations, this extended wordplay joke is great fun to share; and perfect for beginning readers of all ages.

Jessica’s Box

Emmanuelle, who starts school this week,  engrossed in the story.

Jessica’s Box
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Jessica’s mind was too busy for sleep. / Her thoughts are already with tomorrow.’ …
‘tomorrow’ being the day Jessica is starting school. The whole family is excited. She’s determined to make friends and to that end, with her to school goes a large cardboard box.
On the first day it contains her teddybear; but the other children are unimpressed and leave her alone. The second day is really no better: she fills the box with cupcakes.

They quickly draw a momentary crowd, but ne’er even a thank you.
Time for some serious thinking.
On the third day, Jessica takes her dog, Doris in the box. She has a temporary success but then the school caretaker steps in and Doris is returned home.
Day four arrives and Jessica takes an empty box ….

Then a little boy notices her and the seeds of a friendship are sown …

Carnavas’s potent images, with and without full colour, need few accompanying words to relate the emotional rollercoaster of Jessica’s first few days at school. The message is clear, just be yourself: true friends will love you for what you are; you cannot ‘buy’ friendship however hard you try.
A perfect, starting school story; but equally, with its friendship theme, a lovely book to share at any time: the author really does see things from behind the child’s head.

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Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission / Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase / Animazes

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission
Sophie Guerrive
Wide Eyed Editions
In his plane, which looks more like an inflatable toy than anything capable of carrying a dinosaur, famous Dinosaur Detective sets forth on a mission: to find five missing items as requested by the likes of a dog, a princess, a teacher and a distraught wife, hidden somewhere in eleven different locations including what looks like a Medieval European village, an underground cave network, atop a mountain,

a funfair, a forest, a completely crazy-looking outer space neighbourhood and a city.

It’s difficult to know where to start each search as your eyes keep getting drawn to features of interest – mine did anyway – and some of the spreads are so densely packed, it’s mindboggling, and easy to get absorbed in the surreal nature of the whole thing rather than the task in hand. It’s just as well there’s an answer spread at the end.
Dinosaur Detective’s plane transforms into a kind of tank (to find the missing toad) and a flying saucer – another fun feature.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase
Lomp
Little Tiger Press
Herein we meet natural history explorers Wilfred and Olbert and follow them on a quest to discover a new animal and thus win the coveted Nature Discovery Prize. And when an unidentified butterfly just happens to float through the window, they decide their chance has come. Off they go in hot pursuit but who will be the one to claim the prize?
Their journey has them dashing through forests, diving into oceans, crossing deserts, and wild grasslands,

scaling mountains and delving into tropical jungles …

as they battle to reach the butterfly first.
In the end teamwork wins out and mission complete, they claim their trophy.
The whole adventure is perilous and it’s something of a task to keep track of the two competitors and their antics en route – almost being the next meal of a lion, or being engulfed by ice, for instance – but the whole crazy drama is totally engaging, full of funny moments, things to search for, and of course, wild animals.
Wild too are Lomp’s hilarious, cartoon-like illustrations, full of daft doings and silly speech bubbles making every spread a treat to linger over.
Action-packed they surely are!

Animazes
illustrated by Melissa Castrillión
Big Picture Press
This unusual book of mazes follows the journeys of fourteen animal migrants from Antarctic krill and Monarch butterflies to Humpback whales and Mali elephants.
For some of these creatures such as reindeer, finding food is the reason for their journey; for others, such as Rockhopper Penguins, it’s to seek a suitable environment for the survival of the next generation.
In tracing their journeys, the aim is to discover the one safe path for each animal and in so doing, readers will discover a host of fascinating facts about the creature. Did you know for instance that Mali elephants all pass through one narrow passage, The Porte des Éléphants on their migratory travels? Or that Wildebeest participate in the largest mass migration of mammals on earth?

It’s Katie Howarth who provides these and the other interesting snippets of information that support Melissa Castrillión’s intricately detailed illustrations through which the mazes are woven.
Absorbing, fun and educational.

Sam and Jump

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

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

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

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

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My Daddy is a Silly Monkey / The Dictionary of Dads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spot the Mistake : Lands of Long Ago

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

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

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

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I’m Going To Eat This Ant

I’m Going To Eat This Ant
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I did see many years ago, several kinds of insects – albeit cooked, chocolate covered and dried, being offered for sale in a Hong Kong market; but ants? Surely they wouldn’t be worth the effort: unless of course, you happen to be, like the narrator here, an extremely hungry anteater. This character is, in fact, fed up with the whole ‘licking, wriggling, tickling, stinging, biting’ little insects but his hunger appears to have got the better of him. That leaves him just one choice and that is to contemplate the most palatable way of consuming one particular little black wriggler: might it be thus,

or sucked up a straw perhaps; what about mint sauce smothered, splatted with a spatula or swallowed from a spoon full of simmering soup. (love all the sibilant alliteration) Not to your taste? There are less soggy sounding alternatives such as …

even seared, steak-like, speared on a stick or squished in a sausage -DISGUSTING!
I could go on but my stomach is already heaving, so let’s skip the sweet possibilities and move on to find what our anteater chooses …
Oopsie! Looks as though the pesky minibeast has done a runner.

What now? … Our poor narrator is quite simply salivating …
The conclusion is priceless but I’m no story spoiler so lets leave the creature there contemplating.
A total hoot of a book that’s definitely going to get the taste buds of listeners tingling from the outset and their stomachs sated by the final scene. Greatly gratifying, gigglesome graphics grace every page; and there’s a tiny pinch of Klasson in the whole droll dish. Try it and see, you’ll love the insouciance.

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Virginia Wolf

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

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

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

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

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Museums and Machines

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

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

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

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

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Surprise! Surprise!

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

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

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

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

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Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Night Gardener

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The Night Gardener
Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
William resides in Grimloch Orphanage and as he gazes from his window one morning he discovers that overnight an enormous owl has been fashioned from the foliage of the tree outside. Now if one turns back to the dedication page it’s evident that the same child has been at work, drawing a similar feathered creature in the dust, and that passing by, is a bowler hatted man carrying a ladder and a bag of tools. The title page shows that same man working with his shears on the tree in front of the orphanage building.
Awed by this seemingly magical happening, William spends the day staring at the piece of topiary, and at bedtime he goes to sleep ‘with a sense of excitement’.
The following morning another amazing sight meets William’s eyes and, the scene has taken on a rather more colourful appearance as other members of the community too, have come to wonder at the sight.

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Subsequent mornings bring further wonderful creations (the spreads, in tandem take on more colour)

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and as William ventures forth, excitedly following the crowds, he discovers that not only have some of the neighbours been doing a spot of grooming of their own tatty-looking abodes, but also the topiarist has created his best work yet and celebrations are in full swing.

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As night envelops the town, William returns home and en route, encounters a certain gentleman who is about to change his life for the better (well strictly speaking, he’s already done that and that of the other community members)

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but the gifts he receives, as the seasons change the look of the foliage, will have a lasting effect on everyone in the neighbourhood, not least of whom is William.
This is a superb demonstration – visual and verbal – of how a caring adult, art and a touch of magic can transform the life, not just of one small boy, but also, of a whole community. The text flows perfectly but its combination with the Fan Brothers illustrative artistry puts this into a realm far above most picture books.
FAB-U-LOUS!

There’s a Pig Up My Nose!

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There’s a Pig Up My Nose!
John Dougherty and Laura Hughes
Egmont Publishing
Can you imagine anything less likely than having a pig up your nose? Probably not, but that’s, seemingly at least, the problem troubling young Natalie when she wakes one morning, bounds down to breakfast and emits an OINK! from her nostrils. The doctor confirms it is indeed so …

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a note requesting she’s let off games is penned by her parents and duly delivered to a very sceptical Mrs Daffodil, her teacher.
Morning lessons proceed rather badly with a lot of oinking disturbing her classmates; playtime hide-and-seek is a disaster and story-time’s totally ruined.

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After lunch (sans ham rolls of course), Mrs Daffodil sets the class a spot of problem solving: ‘inventing a way of getting a pig out of Natalie’s nose’, is the task and it’s one received with enthusiasm by her fellow pupils, some of whom, it has to be said, appear to have a slightly sadistic bent …

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Mark and Joseph’s solution works a treat though, and a new pet is duly added to the gerbil enclosure.
That however, is not quite the end of things where nasal passages and noises are concerned, but hey! Who wants to be a story-spoiler? Let’s just say, the finale will certainly set your nostrils twitching.
Totally, delightfully bonkers but Dougherty’s tale certainly held my audience and the finale received snorts of approval, a round of applause, and a ‘read it again’ request. Laura Hughes’ illustrations are full of fun and I’ve developed a special soft spot for those smiley twins – the problem solvers.

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Don’t forget 14th February

Animal Allsorts

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Hello, Mr Dodo
Nicholas John Firth
Alison Green Books
I absolutely loved Nicholas John Firth’s debut Hector and the Hummingbird, so was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this, his second offering. It also has an avian theme and once again, is a delight through and through.
Martha is an avid bird lover and twitcher spending much of her time in the woods with her binoculars; there isn’t a bird she can’t identify until that is, the day she comes upon an extremely large specimen she doesn’t recognise

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and it bears a very close resemblance to a supposedly extinct creature.
Before long a secret friendship has developed between Martha and her discovery, who shares with her, a particular penchant for doughnuts …

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Then one afternoon Martha accidentally lets slip her secret and the following day she’s besieged by a crowd at her front door. Time for some quick thinking: the dodo has to disappear.

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Is that to be the end of a beautiful friendship?
The wonderfully retro look of the book (there’s a slight touch of Roger Duvoisin about it) comes from the artist’s choice of colour palette, yet this is a thoroughly modern and enchanting tale.

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One Very Big Bear
Alice Brière-Haquet, Olivier Philipponneau & Raphaële Enjary
Abrams Appleseed
Mightily impressed by his own stature, a bear make an announcement: “I’m very big! … I’m almost a giant!” This claim is quickly countered by a whole host of other polar creatures that turn up in turn: two walrus, three foxes, four sea lions, five penguins and six sardines, the latter have the cheek to call him ‘foolish

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But who gets the last word …
Minimalist artwork, an easy to read text, mathematical opportunities aplenty and a giggle-inducing finale make for a fun book to share and discuss.

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I Need a Hug
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Childrens’s Books
We all need a hug from time to time but when you’re covered in spikes it makes things just a little tricky and so it is with the prickly creature in this tale.
When a porcupine declares he needs a hug, unsurprisingly he doesn’t get any offers.

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Then something happens to change his luck but it’s not quite what he was expecting …

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With themes of looking for friendship and embracing difference, this brief rhyming tale offers food for thought and discussion with early years groups or individuals.

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Superchimp
Giles Paley-Phillips and Karl Newson
QED
Sporting his red underwear and feasting on fleas, a young chimp spends his days whizzing around in the jungle coming to the aid of troubled animals,

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zooming through the trees in his super-cool chimpmobile or occasionally, relaxing in his secret cave. Known as Superchimp, he’s loved by all the rainforest inhabitants; in fact he’s nothing short of their hero …

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Come nightfall though, from afar there comes another booming voice; but it’s not a voice asking for assistance this time. Now Superchimp doesn’t look quite such a hero and it’s not just his underpants that are a dazzling shade of red.
Rhyming text from Paley-Phillips and vibrant rainforest scenes from Newson combine to make a fun read for young would-be superheroes.

Where’s the Baboon?

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Where’s the Baboon?
Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
Andersen Press
Is it a book or is it a game? Actually the mouse on the cover hits it on the nail ‘It’s a Super Bookgame!’ he asserts and it might be time to get out those plastic letters for a visit to the crazy animal school herein, as we respond to this invitation … ‘Let’s search for hidden words!

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Question one is ‘Who is the headmaster?’, the answer being … got it? Next comes ‘Who brought the apple?’ That’s it: the red letters highlight the answers, each one being an animal of some kind, the tricky creature itself appearing in part …

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or wholly somewhere on the scene, while the mischievous mouse trio makes an appearance on every spread.

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These little creatures seem about to launch a glue missile at two unsuspecting readers in one of the scenes.
The final birthday surprise bursts – literally – onto the scene proclaiming as he makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms …

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Exploding with fun – and not just from the penultimate spread – this is absolutely perfect for sharing and for having a good giggle over the crazy shenanigans of the pupils, before trying to invent some animal capers of your own; or even re-making those featured with coloured letter shapes. Totally engaging in every respect. Teachers, don’t miss this one: it’s packed with potential such as ‘Think of an appropriate sentence, write it and then create a scene around it.’ Of course the spelling will need checking though.

Big Bob, Little Bob / Mine Mine Mine Said The Porcupine

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Big Bob, Little Bob
James Howe and Laura Ellen Andersen
Walker Books
The possibility of friendship seems unlikely when Big Bob moves in next door to Little Bob: the boys are just so different and it’s not just their relative size; their interests are totally different too. Little Bob likes quiet activities such as block building and playing with dolls; Big Bob’s play is altogether more boisterous. “Boys do not play with dolls,” he asserts. Despite this Big Bob does make efforts to involve his neighbour in his play …

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but nothing can bring the two round to the same way of thinking or doing.

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However when a girl moves into their neighbourhood, the first person to jump to Little Bob’s defence when she questions his choice of play activities is none other than Big Bob. “Hey! You stop picking on my friend!” he tells her. “Boys can do whatever they want!” Gender stereotyping is seemingly not so fine now.
But then it turns out that Blossom prefers trucks to dolls: can the three find a way to accommodate everyone’s choices …
Any story that challenges gender stereotyping is worth a look in my book. This one is delivered with a gentle humour that is accentuated by Andersen’s comical scenes of the children at play. Definitely a book to share with those around the same age as the characters herein; it will give them plenty to think about and discuss.
Also looking at building friendship is:

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Mine Mine Mine! Said the Porcupine
Alex English and Emma Levey
Maverick Arts Publishing
Alfie returns and this time he has a porcupine as his visitor; a porcupine whose sharing skills leave a lot to be desired. Alfie does his best to engage the porcupine in some play, but everything he offers is immediately seized by his visitor. “Mine!” he claims at each attempt.

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Eventually, Alfie decides enough is enough and leaving the possessive creature to his own devices, he goes to play on his own. Now the porcupine has what he wants – or has he? Can he perhaps find a situation where that word he loves so much, is appropriate?

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A gentle lesson in sharing delivered in a rhythmic text easy enough to read so that those around Alfie’s age can try it for themselves. Emma Levey portrays the porcupine as hirsute making him appear cuddly rather than a prickly character and he certainly knows how to talk with his eyes.

Hyde and Squeak

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Hyde and Squeak
Fiona Ross
Little Tiger Press
Meet Squeak, inveterate competition enterer, and Granny with whom he shares a residence, as they learn of Squeak’s latest win …

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What emerges – literally – from the parcel is something green, wobbly and decidedly whiffy; it’s no wonder Granny puts it straight into the bin.
During the night Squeak cannot resist creeping downstairs and sampling the goo. Big mistake! In no time at all he’s turned into an enormous monster mouse with an insatiable appetite …

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If this isn’t bad enough, the following morning after Granny has disposed of the previous night’s mess and set out to buy supplies, another prize is delivered and the whole things starts ALL OVER AGAIN! This time however, there being absolutely zilch to eat, Squeak is forced to turn scientist cum inventor. Move over Professor Branestawm.

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Back comes Granny who is dumfounded by the sight that meets her eyes. She immediately puts in a report to the constabulary and learns that similar things are happening all over the town.
Can Granny save Squeak from the monster’s clutches? That is the question …
For the answer, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of this super-silly book and find out for yourself. Watch out for any lurking goo and beware of jelly.
Fiona Ross’s crazy comic-book style spin on the Jekyll and Hyde classic will have young listeners revelling in the messy mayhem and the massive, munching, mouse-machine. They’ll also relish the opportunities to ‘PARP! POOF! and PING!’ along with Hyde, then ZAP along with his machine.
If you work with early years children, I suggest making some green dough and inviting some creative jelly making (strickly no eating!) and perhaps a session of Mega Munch Machine building. The possibilities are endless, just like Squeak’s appetite for competitions.

Pattan’s Pumpkin / Prince Ribbit

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Pattan’s Pumpkin
Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac
Otter-Barry Books
Subtitled ‘An India Flood Story’ it seemed highly appropriate to be opening the parcel containing this book on the day of my return from a trip to India during a very wet monsoon season. Essentially it is a retelling of a tale from the Irular tribe of the southern state of Kerala. It relates how a man called Pattan finds and nurtures an ailing plant …

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until it grows and thrives becoming an enormous pumpkin (a bottle gourd in the original). One day Pattan awakes to a furious storm raging outside his hut and so worried is he about the fate of the animals and plants that he lays awake all the next night: he knows he and his wife must leave their mountain home but how can they take so many creatures with them? Looking out through his window he sees the pumpkin lit up by lightning and an idea strikes him. Next morning he grabs his axe and sets to work on the pumpkin, hollowing it from within.

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Eventually all is ready and having rolled down the mountain with animals and humans inside, the pumpkin sails off on the rushing river. Having sailed for many nights and days, the pumpkin and contents reach the plains and out come Pattan, his wife, Kanni, and all the animals safe and ready to continue their lives …
Frané Lessac’s naïve style illustrations are a kaleidoscope of colour and the playful expressions of the animals inject humour into the straightforward, direct narrative. A must for primary classrooms; why not try sharing it around harvest time.

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Prince Ribbit
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
The author/artist team in this funny picture book put a fresh spin on the traditional Frog Prince fairy tale. The frog herein is a cunning fellow who happens to overhear a conversation between Princess Martha and her sisters. Arabella and Lucinda who have just read the story of the Princess and the Frog. The latter two are romantic tale enthusiasts whereas Martha prefers facts and real frogs to fairy tales and what’s more she’s heard a real frog croaking in the royal pool.
Now all the while, a clever little frog has been listening to the princesses discussing fairy tales, in particular those featuring princes; indeed a princely kind of life-style has great appeal for him, and this gives him an idea. The thing is he needs to convince those princesses that he is indeed Prince Ribbit and then maybe, he’ll come in for some right royal treatment. He’s certainly pretty determined but Princess Martha is going to take a lot of convincing …

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The others however are ready to indulge …

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So who is right? There’s one point that all parties make use of, including Prince Ribbit but can the answer really lie in one of those books …

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Or is there another, more practical way to find out for sure: “True Love’s Kiss” no less.
Author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Polly Bernatene bring their own brands of magic to this spin on the classic Frog Prince fairy tale. The illustrations are vibrant, funny and full of dotty details. Young audiences will delight in spotting all the visitors from other classic tales in this scene …

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Emmett’s telling is also full of fun and I particularly like the use of “Just because it’s in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s true.” by the various characters. Wise words indeed.

Mix-Ups & Disguises

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The Hippopandamouse
Jools Bentley
Macmillan Children’s Books
Things are all of a tizz at Fluffey’s Fine Toys as the workers prepare for a royal visit: the princess is coming and everything has to be perfect. Any toys that don’t pass muster are consigned to the dreaded unstitcher…

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In all the panic, one hippopotamus is put on the wrong table and ends up looking thus:

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The resulting mistake goes un-noticed by the fussy Miss Fluffey who is eager to usher in Princess Flo and show her all the wonderful toys. The young lady show polite interest but is unimpressed until she spies the mistake. Miss Fluffey orders its instant withdrawal and off it’s sent to the dreaded unstitcher. Much to the displeasure of one small royal miss who is determined to spend her pocket money on just one very special item. But can that machine be stopped in time to save that very special item from destruction …
Mistake he might be, but the Hippopandamouse is a winner with youngsters be they or be they not princesses.

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Jools Bentley’s creation demonstrates beautifully that we don’t need to be perfect to be lovable; that and the fact that everybody needs a break from time to time, no matter how important the job being worked on.

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How to Hide a Lion at School
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
What do you do when your best pal and companion isn’t allowed to go with you to the place you spend a great deal of time in – school? At first, Iris does nothing – there’s no need: her lion follows her there every single day, sneaks in and does his best to merge in but unsurprisingly Iris’s teacher, Miss Holland (like most teachers) has eyes in the back of her head and sends him packing. That works when the children are staying put in school but there comes a day when the class is off on a school trip. Moreover, their mode of transport just happens to be the very bus upon which Iris’s lion languishes to watch the goings on in the playground. So, with class aboard off speeds said bus, lion atop – to the museum.
What a splendid hiding place this turns out to be with all those fascinating exhibits.

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Nobody, not even Iris notices him until, they reach the ancient Egyptian room. Here, Iris has to do some quick thinking, and a whole lot of loo roll snitching, in order to attempt a disguise.

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It’s pretty effective until one of the museum visitors has a touch of the tickly noses … and that’s when the plan starts to unravel …
What happens thereafter really puts the lion’s thinking skills to the test but suffice it to say that a certain large-maned creature ends up as hero of the hour …

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and earns himself a new job to boot.
As with previous adventures of the duo, this one is lots of fun. If you’ve not met Iris and her friendly lion previously you can start here, after which I suspect you’ll want to go back and get hold of the two books How to Hide a Lion and How to Hide a Lion from Grandma.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting

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A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting
Michelle Robinson and David Roberts
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
2016 looks set to be the Year of the Bear so far as picture books go anyway (I’m counting in the Gough/Field offering here). And now here we have an achingly rib-tickling treat from Robinson and Roberts who just want to make sure we’re all fully informed before going on a bear hunt, so to speak. I have to say here at the outset, that bear country itself looks pretty hostile and that’s even without a single bear sighting …

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Oh I tell a lie – our intrepid ursine explorer has something looking distinctly bear-shaped attached to his luggage.
Right then, on with the show: there’s the black bear (aka Ursus Americanus) and the brown bear (Ursus Horibilis), both of which can be highly dangerous and not at all averse to gobbling you up. Sometimes however, their coats might just show a touch of otherness. so it’s important to keep your wits about you at all times. Now, which kind could this little – oops! I mean large- beauty be?

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Did I hear you say, “back away” just then; well that advice doesn’t seem to have been altogether reliable in the circumstances …

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And nor does the pepper spray, so what about the bubble gum??

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Oh well, at least that bought a bit of time but now desperate measures are called for…

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Hmm seems this might just be going to work …

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Errr! Or should that be, Grrr!?
I’m totally bearsotted with this one and it certainly takes field notes to a whole different level.

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A Great Big Cuddle

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A Great Big Cuddle
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books
Thirty five super-silly new poems from the Rosen pen each one stupendously illustrated by Riddell simply sizzle with the joys of early childhood and a few of the pains too.
I love his playful take on beginning reading – Reading Lesson:
This is how you read:/Can you see?/ This says “you”/ This says “me”./ /
When you see “me”/ You say “me”/ When you see “you”/ Say “you” – do you see?//
Altogether now:/ Can you see?/ You, you, you/ Me, me, me.??
Well done all./ That’s it for today. You can all read./ You can go and play.
But in reality every single one of these delicious offerings is a better in-built reading lesson than any of the contrived phonics or word recognition sessions that children in their early years are all too often subjected to.
What Rosen is doing in this book is enhancing children’s metalinguistic awareness and what comes across here loud and clear is that language is fun and playing around with it even more so…

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As one would expect, rhyme, rhythm and repetition are key ingredients and there’s a fair amount of nonsense with occasional echoes of Lear and Milligan alongside some more serious poems such as Lost wherein a small being sits contemplating being left all alone. There are rhymes that make you want to sit still and savour the words and others such as TIPPY-TAPPY and BOING! BOING! that make you and certainly tinies want to get up and move: Boing! Boing!/ Bounce bounce/ I’m a ball/ Bounce bounce./ Jump jump/ Pounce pounce/ I’m a tiger/ Pounce pounce/ ROARRRRRR!

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Riddell’s visual interpretations in pencil and watercolour are often gloriously inventive …

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and at appropriate times, quietly reflective renderings of moments of tenderness …

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His menagerie of larger than life animals, imaginary creatures and monsters provide talking points aplenty and a visual treat to match Rosen’s verbal ones on every spread.
A two-laureate treat and a must have book for anyone who has dealings with the very young. Buy it for the words, buy it for the pictures, buy it because in tandem the whole experience is a joy.

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Whatever Happened To My Sister?

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Whatever Happened to My Sister?
Simona Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books
It’s unusual to have a picture book about how the on-set of puberty can have such a profound effect, being presented from a younger sister’s point of view. There are lots of books about the arrival of a new baby and how this impacts on the family and in particular, the older child or children. The growing up of an elder sibling can also have an unsettling impact upon the one being left behind, particularly where it’s two girls involved.
Here, we have a tender-hearted, somewhat whimsical look, presented through the eyes of a small girl, at the realization that her big sis. has joined the ranks of that breed of ‘just teenagers’ who seemingly spend most of their time behind a closed bedroom door or plugged into various mobile devices.
I’d had my suspicions for a while that someone had replaced my sister with a girl who looked a lot like her. It had to be!” says the narrator as she remembers the good times they had together while perusing a photo album.
Then, turning detective, she then goes on ponder the tell-tale signs in retrospect …

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some more obvious than others –

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… and to relate how she even turns to her sister’s friends for answers to the thorny problem.

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Simona Ciraolo’s mixed media illustrations executed with a limited colour palette, predominantly in shades first of blue, grey, and latterly, red and orange, speak volumes about the dynamics of the loving relationship between the two siblings.

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Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

it’s a girl …

Red Reading Hub - Jillrbennett's Reviews of Children's Books

DSCN4255 (600x800)Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!
Martha Mumford and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
There’ll be giggles aplenty over this latest addition to the ‘Royal Baby’ series.
Baby George is apprehensive at the thought of a newcomer to the family. Suppose the New Royal Baby has designs on his jammy sandwiches, wants to play with his toys and worst of all, dribbles on his favourite dinosaur toy? Will the anticipation be worse than reality; or is it possible that the new wrinkly, crying bundle might prove to be someone to celebrate after all? Could it possibly be more exciting than that new pet goldfish delivered as a special thank you gift for being a big brother?

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Martha Mumford’s telling beautifully captures the fears of any older sibling – royal or otherwise – about the arrival of a new baby; and the growing love of course.

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Once again, Ada Grey…

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Whoops!

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Whoops!
Suzi Moore and Russell Ayto
Brubaker, Ford and Friends (Templar) pbk
A cat that cannot MEOW, a dog that doesn’t WOOF and a squeakless mouse; add a wise owl – well let’s reserve judgement on that one – and an old lady in a tumbledown house (an old lady with a spell book I should point out) and you pretty much have the ingredients of this tale. Bringing these ingredients together proves to be more than a little tricky especially in that tumbledown house.
Of course the little old lady is eager to help her voiceless visitors sent by the owl. Out comes the spell book – a very large volume – and with a flick of her fingers all is well. Eerm, not quite. Remember this is a tumbledown house and in a flash the wind is blowing in, the rain beating down and the house turning around and around. What of the animals though –have they found their voices? Well, yes and no for, ‘the cat went, CLUCK! And the dog went, QUACK! And the mouse from a shoe went, COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! And the little old lady went, WHOOPS! (Echoes of Charles Causley’s Quack Said the Billy Goat here.) But no matter for the spell book has plenty more pages so what about the spell on page three?

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BAA! NEIGH! MOO! MOO! MOO! WHOOPS! Page seven then? Oh, not that one either but we do have a WOOF, a SQUEAK! and a MEOW!  so it’s definitely worth giving page ten a try.

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But what is this? – brown sky and a spinning house and within … ?
Do I hear right? … And the cat went MEOW! And the dog went, WOOF! The mouse who couldn’t speak went, SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!
And the little old lady? Well, I’d hate to spoil the story so you’ll just have to get hold of a copy for yourself. You can make up your own mind about that old owl too – he does have the last word though.
Again, again” is the cry every time I share this hilarious, laugh out loud story with individuals or groups of children. Needless to say I’m more than happy to oblige. Suzi Moore’s rhyming text is a joy to read, especially if you like doing ‘voices’ and adding dramatic effects and Russell Ayto’s muted, minimalist style illustrations are a real hoot.

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He leaves plenty of space on many a page to create superb dramatic effect and the more tumultuous spreads are equally brilliant and contain superb comic detail.
The whole thing is a wonderful springboard to classroom drama too.

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April Picture Book Pick 1

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Hugh Shampoo
Karen George
Oxford University Press
Young son of hairstylists, Hugh Shampoo refuses to allow his parents or anyone else to brush, comb, cut or wash his unruly mop. Then one day Mrs Shampoo receives an exciting communication announcing that she and her husband have reached the final of “Scissor Showdown” and despite his longing to be part of the team Hugh is set to miss out. Then watched by young Hugh, disaster strikes their chosen model who happens to stand in the way of a hedge trimmer wielder. Hugh is sent to inform team Shampoo and on his mad dash his hair undergoes an amazing transformation. So amazing in fact that, guess who takes the winner’s cup; but that is not the only wish that comes true for Hugh’s mum and dad that day.
Toni and Guy have met their match in this amusing book that is great fun to share with young audiences especially those among them who, like Hugh, have an aversion to hair scissors, shampoo, showers, combs or brushes. The illustrations are packed with deliciously funny details that add to the overall enjoyment so assuredly this is a tale to be read over and over.
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Stick!
Andy Prichett
Walker Books
With just half a dozen different words and a glorious pictorial sequence (speech bubbles abound), this debut picture book from a talented newcomer is perfect for beginning readers. Illustrations and text work in perfect harmony as the story of an endearing pup, a single stick and a hunt for a new friend unfolds in comically playful fashion.
Assuredly this is minimalism for maximum impact.
Buy from Amazon

Ready, Teddy, Go!
Michael Davidson
Orchard Books
Narrator Steady Teddy introduces his co-racers, in particular Clever Fox and his Car-Bot as they line up to start the big race. Screech! Off they, zoom through day and night speeding overland, under sea, uphill and down, and into Robot City to the finish. But can Teddy in his red racer defeat Clever-Fox with his flashy, gadget-filled vehicle… well let’s just say that the first car over the line is driven by the more careful driver.
The breakneck pace of the race is cleverly captured in the rhyming text and amusing, action filled scenes. Every spread is packed full of detail, from the race line-up to the high up streets of Robot City crammed with skyscraping buildings and robots.
This is bound to become a firm favourite especially with small (and not so small) males.
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Sidney, Stella and the Moon
Emma Yarlett
Templar Publishing
Siblings Stella and Sidney do everything together, everything but share; and that’s where the trouble starts. Well with a bouncy ball actually; one that not being shared, zooms through the window and bounces its way right to the moon – destroying the lunar entity in fact leaving nothing but dark space in the night sky. Next day anticipating big trouble, the duo resolve to find a replacement, and where after an exhausting search do the hungry two look? – The fridge – and guess what is in there right before their eyes.
So, can they manage to resolve their sharing issues and launch their new moon into space? Let’s just say that a somewhat raggedy-edged object eventually glows in the dark that night.
A totally zany first picture book from an emerging artist and with a parting promise of more to come, this is assuredly a talent to watch.
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The Dark
Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen
Orchard Books
The dark terrifies young Laszlo. It resides in his big, creaky-roofed house, lurking from time to time in cupboards or behind shower curtains but most often in a corner of the basement during the day and waiting outside his windows at night. One night, while lying in bed, Laszlo hears the dark exhorting him to come downstairs to see something. He plucks up the courage to descend to the basement, going ever closer to a chest of drawers wherein lies a source of power against the darkness.
In this perfectly paced tale, tension mounts magnificently to the final spread whereon a splendid rosy glow of sunlight welcomes a no longer scared Laszlo. Klassen’s interplay of dark and light makes for a striking and stunningly effective visual narrative. Snicket’s conversational prose style is equally elegant and powerful: the partnership has produced something totally original and a superb amalgam of two unique talents.
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I Dare You Not to Yawn
Helene Boudreau and Serge Bloch
Walker Books
In this droll cautionary tale, a knowing, small boy narrator warns of the dangers of yawning and its consequences. Thus he exhorts readers to avoid watching yawners, to stay away from soft toys, cosy pyjamas and blankets, to distance oneself from bedtime stories, lullabies or indeed any other sleepiness-inducing objects and activities.
Great fun and ideal bedtime reading because, as we are told, ‘Yawns are sneaky… They spread! Uh-oh…
Buy from Amazon

 

Penguins, Puffins and other things with Wings

Penguins Can’t Fly!
Richard Byrne
Andersen Press
From two eggs emerge two different birds, Gregory, a gull and Hudson, a penguin. However, the two become inseparable friends, but as they grow they change, though the friendship remains constant. When Gregory sees some other young gulls flying he flies off to join the fun urging Hudson to follow, but despite his best efforts, Hudson is a total flop when it comes to aerobatics. Deeming himself useless he waits for his best pal and watches his diving feats, but when Gregory fails to resurface, it’s Hudson’s chance to prove himself, not only as a wonderful friend but also as a diver extraordinaire.
This is tender tale of friendship overcoming difference, eloquently illustrated with a gentle humour that perfectly matches the tenor of the text. Watch out for the little red crab that sneaks into almost every scene silently commentating on the proceedings, finding voice only on the final endpapers.

Penguin in Peril
Helen Hancocks
Templar Publishing
Penguins catch fish, we all know that, but so too do three very hungry cats, or rather they do after a visit to their local cinema and that’s where the trouble begins. Trouble in the form of a kidnapping, a chase, some clever subterfuge, a little bird, some subterranean knowledge, a friendly policeman and a grueling life sentence: Trouble for whom though, all depends on which viewpoint one takes – the penguin’s or the cats’.
Illustrator Helen Hancocks uses mixed media, filmic style illustrations with slightly elongated images and visual thought bubbles for her debut picture book. A talent to watch; I certainly shall be interested to see what comes next.

Nothing Like a Puffin
Sue Soltis and Bob Kolar
Walker Books pbk.
‘There is nothing like a puffin’ asserts the author and then goes on to present an unpuffinlike ladder and house, and then other items and creatures (a newspaper, jeans,, a goldfish, a spade, a snake, a helicopter) that also apparently prove the point, and shows us how they are actually somewhat like a puffin; then comes a penguin – very puffin-like ‘but not exactly’…
This is such a clever book and children spending time with it will surely gain a great deal both from Soltis’ thought-provoking, questioning, conversational-style text and Kolar’s story-telling pictures. In the latter, the bold colours on the puffin’s beak are repeated in the objects – human, animal and inanimate – and backgrounds from beginning to end. Not only will readers and listeners painlessly and enjoyably find out a fair bit amount about puffins but they will also have encountered some inbuilt lessons on comparing and contrasting, and how to place new information alongside what they already know.
Teachers could encourage their children to try using the same format and come up with other things to compare and contrast. There are so many possibilities – creative, logical, mathematical, and scientific.

Fly, Chick, Fly!
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press pbk.
‘In the middle of the wood, there was an oak tree…’ so begins this lyrical story of a Mother and Father Owl and their three babies. The focus is on the youngest of the three chicks, who is reluctant to leave the safety of the nest even when autumn comes; “You must fly!” her parents tell her. “If I fly, the crow might get me… My sister flew and never came back.” is her frightened response. Finally though, she heeds her long suffering parents’ exhortations “Fly, little chick, just try!” and uncertainly creeps along the branch, flaps, flips, flops and … flies. But that is not all. In this tender tale we come full circle – there are echoes of Eliot’s ‘In my beginning is my end.’ as the last baby to fly herself becomes a mother.
So gorgeous are Ross’s glowing, soft, delicate, pastel on textured paper illustrations, they make one want to caress the pages.
Truly a beautiful picture book and one, which incidentally,, imparts accurate information about barn owls. Not to be missed.

Pandamonium at Peek Zoo
Kevin Waldron
Templar Publishing pbk.
When a new baby panda is born at Peek Zoo, keeper Mr Peek eagerly anticipates the special Free Animal Parade organized in her honour. But on the great day his ‘tickety- boo’ organisation is quickly thrown into disarray when he forgets to close the gate after feeding the penguins. In his haste he forgets lots of other important details too and before long everything is in chaos and as the visitors arrive, Mr Peek announces an emergency action plan. It’s just as well then, that his son Jimmy has his wits about him and is on hand to save the day, not to mention the zoo from utter pandamonium so that the event of a lifetime can take place with everything in perfect marching order.
With wry humour and a present tense telling the whole thing reads like a TV outside broadcast news presentation. There are lists, maps, signs and labels aplenty incorporated into the droll illustrations and a fold-out animal parade packed with antics both animal and human, to add further to enjoyment.

The Brave Beast
Chris Judge
Andersen Press pbk.
The Beast, a large black hairy character, returns for a second adventure. Herein his restful garden bath-time ritual is disturbed by the sound of a plane landing nearby. Its pilot announces terror in the form of a frightful noise supposedly emanating from a ferocious monster in the centre of the island. The beast’s help is called upon to rid the island of said monster so that its inhabitants can return to their homes. So, overcoming his fear, Beast boards the plane with the pilot and is lowered down towards the island shore. Making his way towards its centre, he navigates his way through a dark tunnel in the cliffs, then a thickening spooky forest, the sound getting closer and scarier all the while. Finally, Beast comes upon the source of all the noise. It’s a small bird, lost and lonely whose crying had so terrified the islanders. Mystery solved, all ends happily with the grateful islanders giving the Beast a hero’s send-off and the bird a new job as lighthouse warning call.
The tension builds nicely throughout the tale, the scare factor being built in the minds of the audience rather than through the bright, offbeat illustrations.

Six Little Chicks
Jez Alborough
Red Fox pbk.
Foxes mean trouble where hens are concerned and so, when Owl swoops by the chicken coop announcing, ‘The big bad fox is on the prowl’ we know that the five recently hatched, playful chicks are in grave danger. Mother hen however has one more egg to hatch so her attention is somewhat diverted even when Goose too warns her – it’s a quick look and back to her egg. After a third warning she ushers her offspring back into the safety of the coop – so she thinks and goes out to look around. But before long there is the BIG BAD FOX right up close, jaws open wide right inside and the trapped chicks once more going PECK, CHEEP, FLAP, HOP and KICK the stick respectively. It’s that stick however that saves the day and all ends happily with a final CRACK of egg number six.
The jaunty rhyme, repeat refrains, opportunities to join in the action verbally and bodily, together with the ongoing tension and the wonderfully expressive illustrations will make this a sure fire winner with young listeners. There are counting opportunities aplenty too.

March Selection

Books Always Everywhere
Jane Blatt and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow pbk.
A celebration of books of many kinds, in all manner of places, this rhyming picture book is a delight from cover to cover. Herein, toddlers present of whole host of bibliophilic activities from browsing to building, sitting on to wearing and of course, reading and loving. With its easy to read, predictable text in large font, this splendid book will undoubtedly inspire many beginning readers to have a go reading it for themselves. There is so much to explore in Massini’s illustrations including a little mouse that makes an appearance on every spread, verbal jokes aplenty strategically placed on and in the titles depicted and the children themselves are truly endearing.
Highly recommended.
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Too Small for my Big Bed 
Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press
Piper tries following Mummy tiger’s advice to count beyond ten before seeking the comfort of her big bed if he wakes in the night; he gets as far as 10 and a big bit more in fact before spreading himself out beside her ‘like a small star.’ In the daytime however, he confidently jumps higher than ever and climbs to the top of Red Rock Ridge but still hasn’t managed to sleep alone in the deep dark night. Then on their way home Mummy and Piper have a discussion beside their favourite pond following which, he seems somewhat reassured of her constant nearness. So can he manage to sleep alone?
When he wakes in the night, as the little tiger cub feels her love enfolding him, he realizes that though he cannot see her she is close by and long before he can count to ten, he is fast asleep – all by himself.
Beautifully portrayed through mixed media illustrations, predominantly in subtle shades of browns, oranges and blues, and well chosen words that are a pleasure to read aloud., this is a lovely bedtime (or indeed anytime) story for the under fives whether or not they seek the comfort of the parental bed if they wake in the night. My early years audiences have enjoyed trying to emulate Piper’s ‘spread out like a small star’ position.
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Grendel A Cautionary Tale About Chocolate
David Lucas
Walker Books
Grendel is a small monster and something of a chocoholic. When he snatches the chocolate egg (intended by his mum as a reward for good behaviour) he discovers a note inside giving him three wishes. His subsequent experiences result in him learning a vital lesson – stop and think before you wish.
Wonderful patterned artwork executed predominantly in brown, green and red hues, superb spare dialogue together with facial expressions that are a joy to behold are the ingredients of this book which is delicious in more ways than one.
And in this instance, unlike it’s chief protagonist, you can’t have too much of a god thing.
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The Disgusting Sandwich
Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw
Alison Green Books pbk.
A hungry badger resides on the edge of a park into which comes a boy clutching a peanut butter sandwich, Said badger longs to sink his teeth into it but before even its owner can do that, the wonderful white bread is spattered with sand, globby with stinky green pondweed, squished and squished by a black-tyred scooter, crawling with ants, flecked with feathers, slippery with slime and oozing grey bubbles as various animals briefly have it in their clutches. The result is totally disgusting and rejected by each of them. Then comes badger’s turn…
Children love anything revolting so this hilarious concatenation with its surprising finale cannot fail.
As always Hannah Shaw’s illustrations are crammed with weird and wonderfully wacky details and perfectly complement the scrumptious tale. I did a slightly belated World Book Day reading of this story at the Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth, Glos. http://www.yellow-lightedbookshop.co.uk/index.html and the audience were suitably disgusted and went on to produce their own equally foul food offerings.

Here is Ava's truly disgusting sandwich. She made a stand- out one which turned our stomachs. great stuff, Ava.

Here is Ava’s truly disgusting sandwich. She made a stand- out one which turned our stomachs. great stuff, Ava.

The House Rabbit
Lesley White
David Fickling Books
House Rabbit, a well-trained animal resides in a dark old house on a hill. When he awakes one moonlit night he starts worrying about his home falling down and almost simultaneously he hears a loud crash. Panic stricken, and convinced it’s true, Rabbit dashes through the house alerting its other residents and before long Mouse, Cat, Dog and Tortoise are hurtling after him. Only Moth is remains calm in the face of all the frenzy. Following his glowing wings the terrified animals retrace their steps and discover the source of the supposed catastrophe and thereafter peace and calm are restored.
With its built-in repetition, the tension builds beautifully in this well-paced story and cleverly controlled story. Cleverly controlled and patterned too are the suitably sombre illustrations and the fear in rabbit’s eyes is palpable. Superb and I specially love the ending.
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The Black Rabbit
Philippa Leathers
Walker Books
Rabbit – a small white one – is bemused by the huge Black Rabbit tailing him constantly no matter what he says or how fast he runs. Even hiding is useless, so too is swimming across the river but when he enters the deep dark wood, it’s a different matter altogether. Before long, Rabbit discovers that in certain circumstances, having large Black Rabbit as a companion can be a distinct advantage.
Children love to be in the know, sharing a secret with the author; herein the illustrations make it immediately apparent that the character shadowing Rabbit is exactly that. A promising debut picture book from an author/artist. Her spare and uncluttered paintings in greens, browns and blues are wonderfully dramatic. I look forward to her next offering.
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(This story could well spark off investigations of shadows. On a sunny day children can have fun playing shadow tag, or looking at the changes in their own shadows over several hours and measuring them.
If you are in a school that has an overhead projector, children can project and draw around each other’s shadows to create silhouettes, or perhaps, experiment with a light box.)

Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile
Jez Alborough
Doubleday
When Nat comes calling neither of her friends Hugo Hare nor Billy Goat is in the mood for sharing her picnic. So, giving each a smile and a sympathetic pat on the head she goes on her way. Before long however, their grey moods have lifted and Hugo and Billy feel on top of the world. Nat meanwhile starts to feel downhearted; with nobody to share her picnic her day now looks grey and gloomy. But smiles are infectious and a tap, tap of hooves and the sight of two happy faces restore Nat’s sparkling eyes and her sunny disposition: before long the three are enjoying slices of cake and a lakeside sing along.
Like Nat’s smile, the jaunty rhyming text is highly infectious and his larger than life characters seem almost to leap off the page at you. Guaranteed to win smiles from young listeners this is a lovely celebration of the transformative power of a smile. Moreover, words and music are provided for those who want to join the three friends in their sing-along.
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Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife
Templar Publishing
More than twenty creatures, great and small, from bear to bee, giraffe to goldfish and electric eel to elephant feature in Thurlby’s weird and wonderful menagerie. We learn all manner of fascinating facts: did you know for instance that bears can go for six months without needing to poo during their winter sleep or, that dolphins ‘sleep with one eye open, resting one half of their brain at a time.’ Each animal/fact is wittily and wackily illustrated, poster style, in this unusual peep at the animal kingdom.
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The King of Space
Jonny Duddle
Templar publishing
Weird, wacky and totally absorbing is this intergalactic adventure wherein readers join young Rex, resident at his parents moog farm on small moon in the Gamma Quadrant, as he becomes self-crowned King of Space, invading planets of the galactic alliance and kidnapping the Emperor Bob’s daughter, Princess Kooki. Suddenly though, all this adventuring gets rather too much for Rex especially when the Galactic Alliance are waiting outside his home and demanding surrender. Time to hand control over to Mum and then start making new plans.
Told in comic strip format and awash with strange creatures and machines, this is going to keep young would-be space explorers (and some of their parents) enthralled for hours. What’s more there are some fold-out pages and the cover doubles as a two-sided poster. The whole thing looks as though it’s about to spring into animated life.
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Mother’s Day Medley

mothersday2
Here is a selection of my favourites – some new, some not so new – but all featuring the all important Mum. Why not seek some of them out in your local bookshop if you are lucky enough to have one near.

Too Small for my Big Bed *new
Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow
Oxford University Press
Piper tries following Mummy tiger’s advice to count beyond ten before seeking the comfort of her big bed if he wakes in the night; he gets as far as 10 and a big bit more in fact before spreading himself out beside her ‘like a small star.’ In the daytime however, he confidently jumps higher than ever and climbs to the top of Red Rock Ridge but still hasn’t managed to sleep alone in the deep dark night. Then on their way home Mummy and Piper have a discussion beside their favourite pond following which, he seems somewhat reassured of her constant nearness. So can he manage to sleep alone?
When he wakes in the night, as the little tiger cub feels her love enfolding him, he realizes that though he cannot see her she is close by and long before he can count to ten, he is fast asleep – all by himself.
Beautifully portrayed through mixed media illustrations, predominantly in subtle shades of browns, oranges and blues, and well chosen words that are a pleasure to read aloud., this is a lovely bedtime (or indeed anytime) story for the under fives whether or not they seek the comfort of the parental bed if they wake in the night. My early years audiences have enjoyed trying to emulate Piper’s ‘spread out like a small star’ position.

I love my mummy
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
This lovely monologue comes from the viewpoint of a small child who shares with readers what s/he loves about ‘my mummy’ a mummy who is soft, cuddly, playful, comforting, protective, the cook of ‘yummy things to eat’ and much more. Told in rhyme, which is a delight to read aloud, and illustrated with tenderness and gentle humour, this is a marvellous book to share with the very young as a parent, teacher, older sibling, anyone in fact.
Mums would love to receive it as a Mother’s day present from a toddler too.

My Mum is Beautiful
Jessica Spanyol
Walker Books pbk.
Herein, we share together times with an ever patient Mum bear indulging her little one’s antics during activities such as sweeping up the leaves, feeding the ducks, bathtime (Mum’s) and a visit to a dress shop.
With its large print, repeated use of the sentence opening “My Mum is beautiful because she …” and pictorial context cues, this is an ideal book for beginning readers as well as sharing with toddlers. If I was a Mum I’d be thrilled to receive it on Mother’s Day.

The Snuggle Sandwich
Malachy Doyle and Gwen Millward
Andersen Press
Toddler Annie goes downstairs with her Mama leaving the rest of the household still sleeping. She sits with her beloved Edward bear in her high chair but as Mama goes about her daily routine, Annie drops her teddy onto the floor where he remains as the various other family members crash and bash their way about in the kitchen. None of them notices Edward or hears Anna’s cries. Finally everyone has departed save Annie and Mama and only then does Mama realize Edward Bear is missing and the two set off in search of him. Having looked high and low he’s eventually discovered snuggled in with Fred in his dog basket. Then comes Annie’s favourite time, when she becomes part of a ‘snuggle sandwich’ with Ted as the peanut butter.
A lovely story to add to that all-important snuggle time. The rhyming text is a pleasure to read aloud and Gwen Millward’s bright, detailed illustrations supply just the right mix of gentle humour and tension as the tale unfolds. The blissful demeanours of both human and animal characters on the final spread are a special delight.

My Mum
Anthony Browne
Doubleday
This is a wonderful tribute to Mum and of course all mums, by the amazing Anthony Browne (previous Children’s Laureate). Presented from the viewpoint of a small child narrator, we see Mum in a variety of roles from fantastic cook to brilliant juggler of all manner of unlikely objects. She’s also an angelic singer, painter – depicted as applying her lipstick and super strong woman: altogether a loving, caring parent portrayed in her workaday clothes.
Look out for those inimitable Browne details in each and every illustration.
If you haven’t seen this brilliant, witty book before, this is an ideal time to get hold of a copy.

Duckie’s Ducklings *new
Frances Barry
Walker Books pbk
A mother duck wants to take her ducklings for a swim on the pond. Join “Duckie’ as she searches everywhere for the ten missing babies, only to discover that they’re following right behind her all the time.
A lovely visual joke and counting story for toddlers and mothers to share.

Flip, Flap, Fly! *new
Phyllis Root, illustrated by David Walker
Walker Books
Billed as ‘A Book for Babies Everywhere’ but where would a baby be without its Mummy? This lovely book portrays a host of baby animals making their first moves towards independence with the help of their Mummies, who else? We see baby bird ‘flip flap fly,’ and then spot a baby fish as it goes ‘splish, splash swim’ towards the bank where there is a baby snake being helped to ‘ziggle zaggle wiggle’ and so on until finally we meet a baby child having a ‘kiss, kiss, kiss!’ with its mama and then on the final spread are all the little ones sans mummies.
Soft, gentle and an absolute delight.

I Love My Mum

Anna Walker
Harper Collins pbk
A portrayal of a loving relationship between young Ollie and his mum (zebras)and the things they do together – simple everyday things like hanging out the washing, walking and talking (and spotting interesting things along the way),sharing treats, bath-time and bedtime hugs.
The combination of spare watercolour illustrations on a white background and a brief rhyming text, works well with the very young and beginning readers.

The Biggest Thing in the World

Kenneth Steven illustrated by Melanie Mitchell
Lion Children’s Books
After almost one hundred days, Little Snow Bear awakes from his winter sleep and emerges into the big wide world. His mother takes him on a walk and he encounters some huge and truly awesome things both animate and inanimate but each time Mother Bear assures her offspring that there’s something much bigger. So what can it be? Surely the star filled night sky must be the vastest thing thinks Little Snow Bear. It’s not until he is safely back inside his den that his mother reveals the truth…
Despite the chilly nature of the frozen landscape, the warmth of the mother/child relationship radiates from the pages in this gentle tale.

Just Like My Mum
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
This heartwarming story celebrates the mother/progeny relationship through the eyes of a very appealing lion cub as he introduces us to his lioness mum. We share his early waking moments (just like mum, – well maybe not quite!) and other times during the day but best of all is cuddle time.
This humorous portrayal of that special bond between mother and child is one that both Mum and child will recognize elements of from their respective viewpoints.

Here are James and Daniel enjoying some of their favourites.

Here are James and Daniel enjoying some of their favourites.