Tag Archives: change

Tiny Dinosaurs / Dance Is for Everyone

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

and engage in all manner of dinosaur-like behaviour.

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

King of the Sky

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

Poor Louie / Raymond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

The Butterfly Dance

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The Butterfly Dance
Suzanne Barton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The butterflies weren’t the only ones dancing: I joined them as I opened the parcel containing this alluring book. My dance though, fell far short of the dazzling show of the exquisitely patterned, winged creatures herein. It’s good to see Susanne Barton adding a book starring ‘flyers’ different from those in The Dawn Chorus and Robin’s Winter Song to her repertoire.
Two caterpillars, Dotty and Stripe share everything. Then Stripe pupates leaving Dotty feeling lonely, but soon she too makes a cosy bed and falls asleep. Dotty is first to emerge and cannot wait to show her wonderful wings to Stripe. He however, is already flying towards her, resplendent with his outstretched wings.
Then begins a dazzling gliding, looping, soaring, whirling, fluttering and chasing dance, which is interrupted by an untimely rain shower. Taking cover, the butterflies encounter a bee that tells them of a meadow full of flowers, and sends them on their way. Their route takes them through the woods where dragonflies dip and dart around a puddle

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and there they learn of other butterflies the colour of Stripe. Further on though, Dotty discovers that there are also butterflies of her own blue colour and the two wonder if they should be playing with those that look like they do.
The best friends have a dilemma: should they seek their fellow look-alikes or stay together? They decide to part: Stripe plays with red butterflies, Dotty with blue. They miss each other. Can they remain friends but stay true to themselves at the same time? And, equally important, can they find one another again?

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Inherent in this enchanting rendition are themes of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, friendship, reaching out to others, similarities and differences, and change. Every spread, be it a single scene stretching across the whole double page, one page, or a sequence of small vignettes,

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is made visually captivating by Suzanne Barton’s kaleidoscopically coloured, signature mixed media, collage style art.

Du Iz Tak?

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Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Walker Books
Google translate often comes to the rescue when one is confronted with a piece of text in an unfamiliar language. I doubt it would be of help here though for the characters in this story speak ‘insect’. It’s delivered in dialogue – nonsense dialogue unless of course, you happen to be a damselfly or another insect.
Du iz tak?” one asks the other as a pair of damselflies gaze upon an unfurling shoot. “Ma nazoot.” comes the reply. Now, as this brief exchange is contextualised by the picture we can take a guess at its meaning ‘What is that?’ and ‘I don’t know.’ in the same way somebody learning English as an additional language might.
Time passes: The shoot continues to grow and to the left, the dangling caterpillar has become a pupa. More bugs discuss the ‘thing’ -a plant, but what kind? They need something:“Ru badda unk ribble.” We need a ladder – context again.
They call on Icky who lives, conveniently, close by …

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A ladder is produced, a cricket serenades the moon …

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and work on building a ‘furt’ starts. Then danger presents itself in the form of an ominous arachnid

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that soon starts enveloping their enterprise in a large web, until that is, along comes a large bird putting paid to that. Happily the gladdenboot remains intact and eventually, fully unfurled delights both the whole insect community and readers.

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That however is not quite the end of the story for the cycle of nature must take its course with further transformations – plant and animal – so the whole thing can start over … and over and …
By this time readers will most likely be fluent readers of ‘insectspeak’, but whether or not this is so matters not: the superbly whimsical story visuals carry you through with their own spectacular grammar.
I do wonder whether despite being from the US, Carson Ellis could be having a satirical dig at the nonsense words six year olds are asked to read in that ridiculous phonics test they’re faced with towards the end of Y1; the one that many who read for meaning come unstuck with; the one the government insists is assessing reading. It’s not. At best, it’s merely assessing one aspect – decoding. Rant over: this extraordinary book is a total delight.

Scruffle Bear, Ellie, Cyril Squirrel and Love

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There’s Only One Scruffle
Robert Dunn
QED
Almost all children have a favourite soft toy and so it is with Ellie: she and her bear Scruffle are inseparable. Her parents cannot understand this Scruffle obsession – after all he’s patched, has an eye missing and is more than a little stinky! That reminds me of  ‘Bobby’ a bear I’ve kept ever since I was a very young child in Pakistan many, many years ago.
He must be replaced decides Ellie’s mum and presents her with this … Now you don’t need me to tell you how Ellie feels about this, nor will you be surprised at what she does next …

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Mum remains upbeat, trying to cajole Ellie and persuade her to give the newcomer a try. Ellie decides a walk might help her think and off she goes with new bear on her mind. He’s also on her mind as she assists Grandad with the gardening …

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and while she paints Scruffle a picture. By now, new bear is looking a little less like new and smelling well – disgusting! Not fit to be played with Ellie declares handing Scruffle to Mum who’s still wondering what her daughter sees in him. Could it perhaps be that two smelly bears could be accommodated in Ellie’s household? What do you think? I think a wash is definitely the order of the day …
Young children will immediately empathise with Ellie, giggle over her treatment of new bear and have plenty to say about the ending. The story’s a good one to prompt discussion about favourite toys, as well as coping with change and showing love.

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Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love
Jane Evans and Izzy Bean
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Cyril is a lively creature and also very inquisitive; the thing he spends most time pondering on is love: What is it? “Can I find it and keep it? Do I need it?” he wonders. He decides to write a list of questions on the subject to ask his friends Carrie Crow, Dan Deer, Ramon Rat and Dafiya Dormouse, but none can supply answers. Instead, Dafiya suggests Cyril goes to look for love and having left an explanatory note and taken a few supplies, off he goes next day.
On his journey he encounters a bird that is amused to hear what Cyril is searching for and offers a demonstration of its version of love – ‘being held by a warm wing’.

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Other creatures provide different love suggestions: rabbit demonstrates with a warm smile, and with a “Buzzzzzzzzzz,” bee provides a ‘soft, soothing sound’. All these expand Cyril’s understanding of love and on his notepad he writes ‘Some of us have different maps to find love.’
Other animals he comes across further add to his list of ideas – that of Poppa Hedgehog demonstrating how sometimes love can be a bit puzzling …

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until eventually Cyril heads home where his friends are waiting, eager to find out about his quest. It’s in their reception of him that Cyril finally comes to know a crucial fact about that all-important word: that seemingly small acts of love can have a huge impact;

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and not only for those on the receiving end, I suggest.
There are many beautiful picture books on the market with love as an inherent theme. This one, with its cartoon-style illustrations and in-built questions is likely to promote lots of discussion among youngsters and will, I hope help to enlarge their understanding of such a vital concept. To that end there are some suggested activities and a guide for adults on the last two pages. Written by an expert on trauma, parenting and related topics, this is definitely one for the early years shelf in nurseries and for children’s centres.

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Marcel

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Marcel
Eda Akaltun
Flying Eye Books
Meet Bulldog pup Marcel, a native New Yorker from downtown residing with ‘My Human’, his favourite person. Yes, the tale’s narrator is Marcel himself. He tells how he loves his daily walks on Hudson Street with said human …

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They call at Ruff and Sons for the best bagels in the city, stop off for a spot of pooch pampering at the spa …

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and drop in at the park to listen to some jazz. Downtown rocks, thinks Marcel. But uptown? That’s entirely another matter (although it is the location of the American Natural History Museum, which houses rather a lot of ‘scrumptious bones.’
However there appears to be something going on in Central Park of late: Marcel’s human has suddenly developed a particular penchant for jogging around there and, just by chance (of course), keeps running into the same male human. Hmmm?

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In fact Marcel’s whole life seems to be in utter turmoil, for this other human – a Frenchman – starts spending rather a lot of time at Marcel’s apartment, usurping his place on the couch if you please; change is NOT good in Marcel’s book.
Suddenly though, he begins to adapt and think that perhaps this different way of being is not so terrible after all. Could there possibly be room for another human in Marcel’s life …

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and even, peut être, new horizons …

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An unusual and interesting exploration of changing family relationships presented thus may well help young readers understand the confusion a seeming intruder into their close family world can cause. It’s certainly not that easy to accept and adjust to change for any of us, and children especially can feel vulnerable, so Eda Akaltun’s quirky style and light touch narrative are just the thing.
For the change averse, especially, Marcel is a winner. No make that, a winner for all.

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Bee-&-Me

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Bee-&-Me
Alison Jay
Old Barn Books
Currently living just outside Stroud, Britain’s ‘First Bee Friendly town’ I knew straightway I wanted to review this wonderful wordless book. Wordless it may be but every spread, nay every single picture speaks for itself. The story’s set in a city, a very busy one where, in an apartment block, resides a little girl. Now, like me you probably dislike being buzzed at by bees, let alone stung, so I suspect the girl would have had your sympathies, had she whacked the bee that bothers her. But something stops her. Instead she does this …

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followed by …

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and some time later, she carefully releases the creature, thinking, one imagines, that’s that.
But along comes a rainstorm and what should reappear at the window looking bedraggled and in need of some T.L.C. but Bee.
And that is the start of a burgeoning friendship …

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full of adventures that take the two far afield and back again. Back with some of nature’s bounties

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that will ultimately yield not only benefits, but beauty and joy to those residing in the city, be they human or bee.

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There is gentle humour running throughout this uplifting tale or rather tales, for this is a multi-layered, multi-faceted telling. One facet shows another unfolding friendship – one between the girl and the boy living above in the same block of flats. And there is a multitude of incidental stories to conjure up through the glimpses of other people’s lives shown through the windows of the neighbouring apartments.
Pictures are such a powerful means of storying: in the right hands, as eloquent as words and just as thought-provoking, as Alison Jay so adroitly demonstrates here. Is it the floral curtains that draw Bee to the girl’s apartment? The passage of time is conveyed through Bee’s growth, and the coming of autumn by the leaves blowing through the city street and the pumpkins outside the florist’s shop –

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Words do have their place though – after the story’s end. With a final ‘BEE AWARE!’ information page, giving facts and helpful hints on bee requirements and preferences, readers themselves can take up the vital role of BEE-ing friendly.

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