Tag Archives: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Look for Ladybird in Plant City

Look for Ladybird in Plant City
Katherina Manolessou
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There seems to be an ever-increasing number of ‘search-and-find books’ of late: here’s one from rising star, Katherina Manolessou that really caught my eye for its zany, action-packed illustrations.
When Daisy’s pet ladybird – a rather cheeky little creature – goes missing, she enlists the help of Basil, Plant City’s best detective.
Then with notes duly written by Basil, and appropriate tools in hand, the two begin a frantic search for the lost minibeast.
It’s a search that takes them through the entire city starting at Big Bones School, then moving on to the station, the museum,

the funfair, restaurants, the plant nursery. That would seem a likely place with its abundance of insect life; but there’s no sign of Ladybird. Actually, there is, but Basil and Daisy fail to find him, as they do in all the other locations; though that is part of what makes the book such fun.

Readers however, will eventually discover Ladybird’s whereabouts on every spread; or if not, they can always look at the answers inside the back cover.
In addition to the missing pet, there are five bees, five grey mice, someone crying and someone sleeping, all of which are waiting to be discovered at each place the detectives search, plus all the items printed in capital letters in the narrative for each venue.
I say ‘detectives’ in the plural because, as well as recovering Ladybird at the end of the search, Basil makes Daisy an offer she can’t refuse and that, I suspect, means more cases are to follow.
I spent ages poring over the wealth of details in each of the ten locations: every one has signs to read, visual jokes

and a plethora of diverting happenings which I’m sure, young readers will enjoy as much as this reviewer did.
Between the covers of this book lies rich potential for language development, but more important, it’s enormous fun.

Imagine

Imagine
John Lennon, illustrated by Jean Jullien
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this illustrated version of Lennon’s 1971 anthem to peace, published in partnership with Amnesty International, (royalties from the sale of the book go to the charity) illustrator Jean Jullien uses a pigeon instead of the usual peace dove to carry its message around the globe, asking readers to imagine a world without possessions, without greed or hunger a world where everyone is part of a universal brotherhood, sharing and caring for all; without countries or religion, with nothing to kill or die for.
We first see this feathered ambassador of peace emerging from the underground train, bag slung around its neck and then he takes off on his mission over land and sea …

The pigeon’s focus as it wings its way around the earth distributing olive branches to its fellow feathered friends, is on fairness and sharing …

and culminates in an uplifting embrace for all the birds seen on his flight. (They too have become peace messengers.)

The artist’s boldly outlined images, digitally coloured and set against backgrounds of eggshell blue, white, purple or orange have a simple, heartfelt poignancy that make this beautiful book the perfect starting point for introducing Lennon’s message of tolerance, understanding, inclusiveness, unity and peace to today’s children. It’s certainly as relevant as when it was written over 45 years ago: indeed, we desperately need it now even more than ever.
Published on 21st September, International Day of Peace, let’s all pause and … Imagine.

Toad has Talent

Toad has Talent
Richard Smythe
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Frozen ponds in the moonlit would, I suspect, normally have more allure for humans than forest animals; but not so in this story. Even those one might expect to be hibernating are willing to risk freezing paws, or tingling noses and toes, in the hope of winning the Moonlight Pond talent contest.
Not Toad however; he’s absolutely convinced he has nothing to offer this extravaganza. “It’s best if I keep myself out of sight,” he decides lest the other animals think he’s useless.
As he watches the glittering performances of the contestants …

further self-deprecatory comments pour forth from the amphibian, until, the competition draws to a close.
However, just as a winner is about to be announced, a snail halts the proceedings declaring, much to Toad’s displeasure, that one of their number is yet to perform.
Fully intending to resist, the hapless creature steps from the shadows and slips, trips, swirls, twirls and cartwheels across the ice, landing right in front of the judges.

Such a glittering ice-skating performance by a toad has never before been seen and so, by a unanimous decision, and to great applause, Toad is declared the winner. After all, to use Toad’s final words, “You never know what you can do until you try!
Hugely entertaining scenes are the real strength of the far-fetched tale so far as I’m concerned; and yes Toad (despite looking like a frog) may have won the prize; but for me, that yogic snake …

and the duckling troupe are the real show-stoppers.

It’s Time For School

               Here’s a handful of picture books, each with a school setting, albeit a somewhat unlikely one in the first three.

First Day at Skeleton School
Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Following on from First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd moves deep into the dark forest for her new school-based offering. (Some of my listeners recognised the illustrative style having spotted it on my table and eagerly pounced on the book demanding an immediate reading.)
Skeleton School doesn’t restrict its intake to skeletons though; all manner of creepy pupils are to be found here in this night-time educational establishment run by one, Mr Bones who stands ready and waiting to welcome newcomers (and readers).
I’m happy to see that there’s a school library, albeit a haunted one; but at least one of the pupils needs to learn some appropriate behaviour – maybe she just hasn’t learned to read yet.
The curriculum includes a jingle jangle dance class with the skeletons, how to float through walls, ghost style and spell making, which has some surprising outcomes, not least for Mr Bones.

Sam Lloyd gives full rein to her imagination and in addition to the zany storyline delivered in her rhyming text, provides a visual extravaganza for young listeners to explore and chuckle over.
The endpapers cutaway spread of the school interior will definitely illicit lots of giggles not least over the toilet humour.


More crazy happenings in:

School for Little Monsters
Michelle Robinson and Sarah Horne
Scholastic
Side by side stand two schools, one for monsters, the other for ‘nice boys and girls’. The question is which one is which? And if it’s your first day, how do you know you’re in the right school, especially when some little monsters have been up to a spot of mischief making?
No matter which door you enter, there are some rules to abide by – fourteen in all;

and the whole day is assuredly, a steep learning curve for both human and monster newcomers; and has more than a sprinkling of the kind of gently subversive humour (bums, poo, trumps and bottoms) that young children relish.
Riotous scenes from Sarah Horne showing the pupils’ interpretations of Michelle Robinson’s rhyming rules in this read aloud romp.

Old friends return in:

Cat Learns to Listen at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Cat, Bat, Owl and Mouse are not newcomers to Miss Moon’s Moonlight School; they already know about the importance of sharing; but listening? Certainly Cat still has a lot to learn where this vital skill is concerned.
On this particular night Miss Moon is taking her class on a nature walk to look for ‘interesting things’. She issues instructions for the pupils to walk in twos and to stay together. “Nobody must wander off,” she warns.
Before long, it becomes apparent that Cat has done just that. She’s spied a firefly and follows it until it settles far from the others, on a flower.

Suddenly though her delight gives way to panic: where are her classmates and teacher?
All ends happily with Cat’s friends using their observation skills until they’ve tracked her down; and the importance of listening having been impressed upon Cat once again, they return to school with their findings.
Ali Pye’s digital illustrations are full of shadows brightened by the moon and stars and Miss Moon’s lantern, illuminating for listeners and readers, the delightful details of the natural world on every spread.
Puttock and Pye seem to have a winning formula here: my young listeners immediately recognised the characters and responded enthusiastically to the sweet story.

Now back to reality:

Going to School
Rose Blake
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The pupil here is a girl, Rose, who shares with readers a very busy day spent with friends in their primary school class. There’s certainly a lot to pack in for our narrator, her classmates and their teacher, Miss Balmer: geography, art, English, maths, PE, science, computing and drama.
Fortunately though, it appears to be an active curriculum …

and Miss Balmer reads a story to the children in the “Book Nook’. Hurray!
Seemingly all of the children have firm ideas about their future paths and what they want to become. This is reflected in their choice of activities at work and play: visual clues as to what these are occur throughout the book.
Rose Blakes’s digitally worked spreads are full of visual narratives offering much to interest and discuss, and though this certainly isn’t a first ever day at school book, she certainly makes school look an exciting place to be.

I’ve signed the charter  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

Tug of War

Tug of War
Naomi Howarth
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

Sticker Art: Woodland; Savannah; Jungle; Ocean

Sticker Art: Woodland
Sticker Art: Savannah
Sticker Art: Jungle
Sticker Art Ocean

Craig & Karl
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

These four innovative books are published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum: and the illustrations are provided by Craig Redman and Karl Maier, who work in transatlantic partnership.
Each book features eight animals and users are invited to create their own ‘sticker-by-number’ portraits of say, for Ocean, a starfish, an octopus, an angelfish, a blue whale, a turtle, a walrus, a dolphin and a seahorse …

by using Craig and Karl’s designs as guidelines.
In addition to the animal images and stickers, each of the books has eight interesting facts per animal relating to lifespan, habitat, family, survival, diet, identification, special skill and behaviour.
Did you know for instance, that African elephants can use sticks and branches to swat insects and scratch itches? You’ll find that in Savannah.
Or that a pit viper can have as many as thirty snakes born at once? (This creature is featured in Jungle.)
An enjoyable, absorbing and satisfying way to introduce children to a wide range of creatures, especially during the holidays.
In addition, each book could be the starting point to a whole lot more investigation and creativity.

 

Fluffywuffy

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

Lift-the-flap and Colour: Forest & African Animals / Drawing in Space

Lift-the-flap and Colour: Forest
Lift-the-flap and Colour: African Animals

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Pens and crayons ready? Alice Bowsher has added two new habitats to her activity books series, which are published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum.
In Forest we meet deer, squirrels busy collecting nuts, a family of dormice, owls and even howling grey wolves.
On the African savannah – elephants and their calves soak up the sun, springboks graze, lion cubs leap, a cheetah chases some ostriches, giraffes graze and as the sun sets, zebras stroll down to the waterhole …

Each book has five playful spreads to colour; and there’s a final information paragraph that gives some additional facts about each habitat.
Fun, interactive learning that might inspire children to go on to create their own natural world dioramas.
For slightly older readers is:

Drawing in Space
Harriet Russell
Princeton Architectural Press
Part activity book, part information book, this stylish and engaging offering takes readers through the solar system.
It begins, appropriately, with the Big Bang and proceeds to the planets, the moon, stars, galaxies and beyond, telling readers, ‘… there are many other solar systems besides our own.’
There’s a wide range of activities, (over thirty in all) one of my favourites being in part, a humorous dialogue between two stars, one round, the other with five points.
Equally amusing is an unhappy Pluto speech explaining how its status was downgraded from planet to dwarf planet; and then meeting with another dwarf planet and discovering it’s one of five known dwarves.
Other possibilities include games, puzzles and lots of drawing, including drawing a galaxy based on star-shaped objects – some examples are given …

and it might be fun to go out searching for suitable items, or perhaps, creating some in 3D.
Fun, educational in the broadest sense, and a jumping off point for further exploration of the topic.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Great Big Body Book

The Great Big Body Book
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Everybody has a body and every body is different: this fact is acknowledged and celebrated in the latest Great Big book from the Hoffman/Asquith team.
Starting from those of babies, they introduce young readers to the bodies of new- borns …

toddlers, children, teenagers and adults, young, middle aged and old.
Spreads focus on such topics as gender in ‘Boy or Girl’ wherein it’s good to see ‘… a few don’t feel completely comfortable in the body they were born in and not everybody fits neatly into a “boy” or “girl” box. That’s OK – just be yourself!’
No matter which of the seventeen spreads one explores, we encounter both visual and verbal examples of the overarching premise that ‘bodies are both similar and different:’ We are all more alike than different’ one speech bubble reminds us: moreover we all develop at different rates and some are better at doing one thing than others;

but we all learn an amazing amount throughout our lives.

Emotions, as well as the physical aspects of bodies without and within, are considered and there’s a feline intruder that appears in every spread comparing and contrasting humans and cats.
Ros Asquith’s cartoon style illustrations are amusing, empathetic and all encompassing.
You really couldn’t get more inclusive than this book when it comes to the topic of bodies. It’s just right for sharing and discussing at home or in school.

I’ve signed the charter  

9 Months

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

All the Wild Wonders

All the Wild Wonders
edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
In her introduction to this diverse compilation, now in paperback, Wendy Cooling expresses the hope that ‘just one of the poems lingers in your mind long after the book has been put down’: I suspect more than just one of the thirty-five therein will do so.
Loosely grouped into subjects concerned with the natural world, there are different viewpoints that relate to the beauty of our world, and threats to the environment; and Elizabeth Honey’s opening poem which gives the book its name pretty much sums it up in these final lines:
All the wild wonders, / For you my sweet babe. // For this wish to come true /We have much work to do / All the wild wonders / For you my sweet babe.

Riad Nourallah’s An Alphabet for the Planet (beautifully bordered with letters from a variety of scripts) puts the case for much we hold dear; and is one that might well inspire children to try writing their own either individually, in small groups or perhaps, as a class.
The same is true of Brian Moses’ Dreamer, which has become a lovely picture book in its own right, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
It’s possible to hit home using very few words as Andrew Fusek Peters does with his Man,the Mad Magician:
Said the money-man “We must have oil! / And that’s my final word!’ / How magical and tragical his final act / As the seagull became a blackbird.
The whole book is beautifully illustrated with Piet Grobler’s delicate watercolours: here’s one of my favourites …

Encompassing gentle and not so gentle lessons on taking care of our precious environment, this thought-provoking book is for families, for schools and for anyone who cares about the natural world; and that should be everyone.

I’ve signed the charter  

Towering Tree Puzzle / Lift-the-Flap and Colour:Jungle & Ocean

The Towering Tree Puzzle
illustrated by Teagan White
Chronicle Books
Essentially this is a sturdy box containing 17 large, easily manipulated, double-sided pieces depicting Spring/Summer scenes on one side and Autumn/Winter ones on the reverse. Each piece shows various woodland animals playing and working together; a whole tree community indeed and the puzzle when complete is over 130 centimetres long. Nothing special about that, you might be thinking but, the language potential is enormous, especially as there is no one right way of fitting the pieces together: this open-endedness also means that if more than one child plays with the pieces, there is a co-operative element too.

The artwork is splendid: each detailed piece, a delight.
Every branch of the tree generates a different story, or rather, many possibilities; ditto the completed tree. Some children like to story about the pieces as they put them into place, others prefer to complete the puzzle and then tell one or several stories which may or may not be connected. You could try a completely open-ended ‘take it in turns tell me about’ game with children sitting in a circle for starters, or perhaps choose a focus, say animals, plants or perhaps, events: the possibilities are many.
I’ve used this marvellous resource in several different settings and each time it’s been received with enormous enthusiasm and the users have shown great reluctance to part with it afterwards.

Lift-the-Flap and Colour Jungle
Lift-the-Flap and Colour Ocean

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/ Natural History Museum
In this collaborative publishing enterprise, children can choose from one of two locations to start their colouring in experience. The first is the South American Amazon jungle wherein jaguars hunt, slow sloths dangle, alligators lie in wait for a tasty meal, stick insects and parrots share the lush foliage, and swinging monkeys abound.
In the Ocean they can encounter diving dolphins, and shoals of fish, visit a coral reef with its abundance of sea creatures, notice the seaweed fronds that provide a safe hiding place for fish; and dive right down to the deepest dark depths.
A brief, rhyming text accompanies each adventure gently informing and guiding the young user as s/he explores the location, lifts the flaps and adds colour to the black and white pages – five spreads per book. And the final page of each book has an information paragraph that focuses on the importance of protecting the specific environment.
These will I’m sure be seized on by young enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in wild life and will one hopes, leave them wanting to discover more about the inhabitants of each location.

If I Were a Whale
Shelley Gill and Erik Brooks
Little Bigfoot
This contemplative, charmer of a board book successfully mixes rhyme and science facts. It imagines the possibilities of being a minke, a beluga playing with icebergs, a pilot whale and then these beauties …

If those don’t suit there’s a tusked narwhal, a blue whale, or a humpback perhaps? There are eleven possibilities in all, each one beautifully illustrated by Erik Brooks who manages to capture the essence of each one in those watery worlds of his.
Yes, it’s a small introduction to a huge topic but this is a pleasure to read aloud, is likely to be demanded over and over, and to inspire tinies to want to know more about these amazing mammals.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Cave

The Cave
Rob Hodgson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Inside a cave there is a ‘little creature’: the cave is his home. Outside the cave is another creature: the cave is not his home, but his heart is set on getting the troglodyte to come out and join him. “I’m sure we’d be VERY good friends.” he says encouragingly. The little creature refuses to budge.
This goes on day after day, after day. Boredom isn’t an issue for the little creature despite what the lupine outsider says. “Only boring creatures get bored” is the response of the cave-dweller. Time passes and with neither animal giving way…

come wind or rain … it’s situation impasse.

Then one day in desperation, the creature without lets slip the words, “I’m getting hungry now!” then quickly amends the ‘I’m’ to ‘YOU’. This results in an admission of slight hunger from the little creature within, whereupon a deliciously tempting doughnut, complete with sprinkles, is proffered. This confection proves irresistible and the ‘Little Creature’ emerges. To say what happens next would make me a story spoiler but I can reveal that the doughnut disappears and there’s a new resident in the cave.
An absolutely splendid debut for Rob Hodgson. There is just SO much to love about this book.
The illustrations are scrumptious with delectable details chronicling, in addition to the main action or rather lack of it for the most part, Wolf’s total disregard for little creatures such as worm, snail and slug, that play silent bit parts throughout.

Hodgson’s text in contrast, is spare, and plays in perfect harmony with his visuals. A super read aloud: you’ll have children squirming in eager anticipation throughout and they’re sure to demand at least one encore performance.

I’ve signed the charter  

All Aboard the London Bus / No, Nancy, No!

All Aboard the London Bus
Patricia Toht and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s hard to resist the opening invitation of this book:
Come! / Board the double-decker bus / and see the London sights with us. / Any time, hop off. /Explore! / Then climb back on and ride some more.’ With its welcome aboard greeting in five languages, we’re off and heading for Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.
From there, it’s on to Westminster Abbey with its amazing ceilings and tombstones and statues galore.

Big Ben is the next stop and then comes the London Eye so beautifully described as ‘A bracelet that hangs off the Arm of the Thames, / its pods filled with people, all dangle like gems.’ Then after pausing to look at the river itself snaking through a host of landmarks, the family heads for Trafalgar Square. Here readers are offered a busy ‘Seek and Find’ spread while they too pause for breath,

before heading via Speaker’s Corner down onto the tube and thence to Piccadilly Circus where they emerge into a sudden downpour. Seemingly there’s only one thing to do: stop for tea and a browse in a famous toyshop for a while.
The British Museum, Tate Modern and the Globe are some of the other destinations once family members have dried off; and no London visit would be complete without seeing Tower Bridge and the Tower itself so that is their final stop. Phew! It’s certainly been an exhausting day especially for the little ones. The adults are very brave to undertake such a huge itinerary in a single outing and still leave the bus with smiles on their faces.
Essentially a sequence of poems in celebration of London: you can either take the whole tour in one sitting or, take things more slowly just dipping into or revisiting favourite landmarks. No matter which way, Sam Usher’s gently humorous illustrations, whether the focus be a famous London site or its visitors,

are sheer delight.
It’s clear from this celebratory book that London means a lot to both author and artist.

No, Nancy, No!
Alice Tait
Walker Books
Join Nancy and best friend Roger for an exciting, action-packed visit to London. First stop is Buckingham Palace where Nancy is hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. Her dog however has his eyes on two children, one of whom drops a teddybear. Rather than remain at the palace, Nancy and Roger set off hot on the trail of the bear’s owners. A bus ride takes them to St Paul’s Cathedral

and thereafter various other famous London landmarks. Every time it seems they’re about to catch the teddy losers, Nancy’s proclivity for mischief diverts her attention.
Will they ever catch up with the children they’re chasing; and will Nancy ever get to see the Queen?
There are flaps on every detailed spread helping to move the action forwards as well as a surprise Nelson’s Column pop-up; and guess who cannot resist climbing right up to the top. Fun, fast and with its repeat “No, Nancy, No!” from Roger, fun to share, especially before a visit to London.

I’ve signed the charter 

Ella Queen of Jazz / The School of Music

Ella Queen of Jazz
Helen Hancocks
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A super-stylish biographical story of the friendship between two iconic women: Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. It tells how rising star, Ella and her ‘Fellas’ experienced racial prejudice on the part of some club owners.

This treatment dented her confidence, but only temporarily, thanks to the magic of her music and the intervention of one very special woman who secretly used her powers of persuasion to get Ella an invitation to perform at the ‘biggest joint in town’, (The Mocambo,) the very same nightclub that had turned her away before.
And so it was that, just as her secret friend had predicted, Ella Fitzgerald became a huge hit with the audience

and subsequent shows drew in enormous, enthusiastic crowds for every performance, in part thanks to Marilyn Monroe’s presence. Like all good things though, this show had to come to an end; but Ella’s sadness was more than compensated for by the lasting friendship between herself and Marilyn .

Thanks to Marilyn too, Ella became a great film singer and even sang for the US president, eventually earning the name of ‘First Lady of Song – the Queen of Jazz’ and winning thirteen Grammys and many other awards.
Enormously empowering and pitch perfect for KS1 readers is this slice of 1950’s Hollywood razzle-dazzle.

Jazz is just one of the many music genres featured in another stylish presentation:

The School of Music
Meurig & Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost
Wide Eyed Editions
Readers are invited to enrol in the School of Music for a course of 40 lessons, presented over three terms. First we meet ‘The Boss’ aka Sergio Trunk aka, The Maestro, convincingly putting the case for having music in your life and explaining his role as Head of School. Next we meet other faculty members, six talented professors including the percussionist, Roxy Moto …

Now let lessons commence:
During the first term, there’s an introduction to a variety of musical instruments and a wide range of music.
Term two comprises a look at the essentials of melody, harmony, pitch and rhythm; and musical notation is explained in terms understandable to anyone, even those without any musical knowledge.

Students who make it through to Term 3 – and one hopes that’s everyone (no exams here), the final nine lessons encompass ways to enjoy the practical aspects of music. There’s a lesson on making music at home, another on singing and its benefits, and a brief consideration of which instrument to learn. Then comes the nitty gritty ‘Why do we have to practise?, followed by helpful ideas for combatting nerves and more. Many of the lessons have a practical activity for additional enrichment and enjoyment. There is even a QR code at the back of the book with which to stream  samples  of music to your phone or tablet.
I learned more from reading this, than I did during all my music lessons at grammar school (albeit only taken for the first four years and during which I spent a lot of time mucking around as the teacher was so boring). Meuirig and Rachel Bowen are infinitely better teachers and their lessons are made more accessible and further enlivened through Daniel Frost’s witty, contemporary illustrations.
Thoroughly recommended for KS2 readers at home or school.

I’ve signed the charter 

For Your Information Shelf: Books Books Books / Taking Flight

Books Books Books
Mick Manning and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books
Award-winning team, Mick Manning and Brita Grandström takes readers on an exploratory journey around London’s British Library, a library that holds over 150 million items in all, going right back to the earliest printed books and coming bang up to date with some printed this year.
First stop is the St Cuthbert Gospel, an ancient hand-made volume that was found in the saint’s coffin at Lindisfarne Priory some time after he died in the 7th century and which was sold to the British Library in 2011 for £9,000,000.
We’re also shown the Lindisfarne Gospels; a copy of Beowulf written in Old English …

and eighteen other landmark publications from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Alice in Wonderland, including the gigantic Klencke Atlas, dating back to the time of Charles 11, that needs six people to lift it …

handwritten sheet music and newspapers.
Mick makes the whole place sound absolutely fascinating and Brita’s visuals really bring each and every entry to life. I haven’t visited this enormous library for many years but reading their book sent me first to its website, http://www.bl.uk and from there to planning my next visit in the near future.

Taking Flight
Adam Hancher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Adam Hancher tells in words and pictures , the amazing story of the Wright Brothers and how through determination and fearlessness, they brought their childhood dream to fruition.
From humble beginnings in Ohio, the boys, inspired by the gift of a toy helicopter from their father, worked tirelessly on project glider. Starting with observations of birds in flight, then working on designing and making, they built their first glider, which they then tested in one of the wildest parts of the US. The machine was a failure, so it was back to the drawing board to work on Mark 2.
Finally a powered machine was ready for testing and … yes, the first journey of a Wright flying machine took place.

It still needed perfecting however and patience was needed until in 1908, everything was ready but …

‘ … something was wrong.’

Fortunately the brothers had kept the promise they’d made to their sister never to fly together, so although Orville was badly injured, he recovered and meanwhile Wilbur had been hard at work flying and breaking records. Fame at last for the Wright Brothers and thoroughly deserved it was.
A mix of superb double page spreads of key scenes, single pages and small scenarios, Hancher’s illustrations really do evoke a sense of their late 19th century settings.
An inspiring, beautiful book for KS1/2 readers at school or at home.

I’ve signed the charter  

Grandad’s Secret Giant

Grandad’s Secret Giant
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Imagine having a giant in your town, one with “hands the size of tables, legs as long as drainpipes, and feet as big as rowing boats.” There is such a one residing where young Billy lives, or so his Grandad tells him: Billy however doesn’t believe it. Especially when Grandad claims he can fix anything such as mend the broken town clock; push the boat stranded in a storm to safety on the shore; and even help cars cross a bridge that’s partly fallen down.

Moreover, the reason Billy can’t see this wonderful being is, so Grandad says, that the giant keeps himself secret “because people are scared of things that are different”.
The trouble is that if nobody can reach to the top of the wall upon which the townsfolk are painting a mural, it will remain unfinished. So, Billy has a dilemma: should he get up at dawn, go to the mural, hope to see the giant and enlist his help, or continue in his disbelief and leave the wall as it is? The former wins out but only so the lad can prove Grandad wrong about the whole giant business. Off Billy goes accompanied by his dog, Murphy.
Who should be waiting right beside the mural but the …

real … HUMUNGOUS and … TERRIFYING!
Billy beats a hasty retreat but then, having put a considerable distance between himself and the giant, pauses for thought. Could Grandpa be right about people being scared of difference? Back he goes to tell Grandad about his experience. Was it a mistake to run away, he wonders?
Perhaps; but perhaps too, there is a way for Billy, with Grandad’s help, to show the giant he’s sorry. A plan is conceived and executed; then comes the waiting …

Will the giant accept the apologetic offering? Will he rescue Murphy for a second time, and … ?
I got home from a few days in London to find this book waiting for me. After the tragedy that had just happened there, its messages concerning reaching out, embracing difference and friendship resonated all the more.
Heart-wrenchingly beautiful and ultimately, uplifting, this stunning book for me, out- plays even The Bear and the Piano.

I’e signed the charter 

The Ladybird / Make and Move Minibeasts / Build a Butterfly

The Ladybird
Bernadette Gervais
Laurence King Publishing
I knew that the ladybird season was about to burst upon us when I noticed several that had emerged, and died on a window-sill of one of the spare bedrooms of my house a few days back. Before disposing of them I took a close look: I think they were a variant of the invasive Harlequin species from Asia. My first go-to was this little book waiting for me to write a review. It’s a wonderful introduction to the little insects, beautifully produced and illustrated, biologically accurate with parts properly labelled; and with judiciously used flaps that add to the effectiveness of the information given.

Topics covered include the insect’s anatomy, defence, nutrition, hibernation and reproduction. The latter takes readers through the entire life-cycle from mating, via the larval stage to the emergence of the new spotless ladybird; the spots and red colour develop fully after about an hour.

There are also spreads devoted to the variety of ladybirds; and a ‘spot the difference’ observation game. The whole thing is printed on thick matt paper, which further adds to the quality of the whole. Altogether a class act; add it to your early years topic box or KS1 collection.

Make and Move Minibeasts
Sato Hisao
Laurence King Publishing
I’m not generally a great fan of ‘pop-out, create a whatever’ kind of books; they generally require way more manual dexterity and know how than the target age group indicated, but this one is definitely worth a look.
It’s the most recent of a Make and Move series by this artist and contains nine pre-coloured creatures; and a butterfly, a stag beetle and a dragonfly to which users of the book can add their own designs and colours. The coloured images are textured, and although texturing the uncoloured ones, while not impossible, might be something of a challenge that’s no bad thing and certainly something a six or seven year old could do.

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They might need a little help with putting the animals together though and the projects increase in difficulty from first to last.
When completed the minibeasts do move easily, partly due to their being printed on thin card. Now while I don’t suggest buying a whole lot of these books, I know that many schools have a focus on minibeasts at some time during the summer term and a copy of this in the classroom could well prove inspiring for children to perhaps use as a source book, with an adult creating an example or two from the book itself. There’s a whole lot of mathematical learning potential as well as biological (and technological) learning herein.
Alternatively, it’s an interesting way to spend a few hours at the weekend or during say, a half term holiday.

Build a Butterfly
illustrated by Kiki Ljung
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, this is a board book and activity book combined.
Young readers are invited to find out about the Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) and to use the press-out pieces, following the step-by-step instructions to build a card model of the butterfly. Starting with its life-cycle, information is given about finding food including the role of the eyes in locating same, as well as finding a mate; the butterfly’s diet;

emergence from its chrysalis; habits; and how it migrates.
The names of the insect’s various body parts are supplied – these are crucial when constructing the butterfly model – as well as a simple explanation of the function of each part. Young fingers may require the assistance of an adult in fitting the eleven pieces together.
My knowledge of this butterfly species is that there’s a slight inaccuracy in the portrayal of the adult, which here has been given white markings to the upper surface of the hind-wings making it look like a Monarch butterfly. A curious slip considering the endorsement given by the Natural History Museum; ditto the use of a capital C in the specific name; the paragraph about the butterfly’s emergence from its chrysalis has inaccuracies too. These factors will not however detract from the enjoyment of creating the insect. This book, I suggest, is best seen as helping readers to understand the basic anatomy of the butterfly.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Story of Space / 100 Steps for Science

The Story of Space
Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘A first book about our universe’ this follow-up to The Story of Life is an equally fascinating exploration of another ‘big’ topic: what is thought to have happened 13.8 billion yeas ago when the Big Bang created our universe; and what followed in space thereafter going right up to the present time …

even projecting future possibilities. We’re told how the sun came into being; how, over billions of years, stars ‘are born, grow old and die’; how the planets – and hence our solar system – were formed. As well as that, there is a spread on comets and asteroids; another on how/why the seasons vary in different parts of the Earth; and one looking at oxygen and how it supports life.

This awesome journey is taken in the company of two young space investigators who comment and ask questions alongside the authors’ main narrative. Both Barr and Williams have a science background and manage perfectly, to avoid talking down to primary school aged readers. Amy Husband’s vibrant illustrations have an exuberance about them, making the whole book all the more inviting for the target audience.
I’d most certainly add this to a home collection or primary class library.
The same is true of:

100 Steps for Science
Lisa Jane Gillespie and Yukai Du
Wide Eyed Editions
Ten STEM topics are explored in this fascinating book (written by a doctor of chemistry), that offers thoroughly digestible, bite-sized introductions to Space, Wheels, Numbers, Light, Sound, Particles, Medicine, Materials, Energy, and Life.
Each one is allocated several spreads wherein its evolutionary story is explored and the key scientists are introduced. In this way, what might for some, seem formidable topics, are given a human element making them more easily engaged with and intriguing. Add to that Yukai Du’s detailed visuals, which include some amazing perspectives …

and science becomes exciting for everyone.

I’ve signed the charter 

Board Book Shelf 1

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Flip Flap Dogs
Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow
There’s a newcomer to the Flip Flap series in Nikki Dyson who introduces readers to eleven breeds of dog in this split page pooch-lovers delight. In all though you can make 121 different combinations by manipulating the bissected cardboard pages..
There’s a descriptive, two verse rhyme for each breed in which, for example the Terrier, introduces itself
opposite a portrait of same, and a characteristic ‘Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!’ or whatever. And then, that might become with a deft flick of the flaps, say, a ‘Terrihuahua’ …

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or all manner of other crazy crossbreeds. Splendid stuff especially, if you’re canine crazy.

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Pairs! in the garden
Pairs! underwater

Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Lorna Scobie
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Pairs! is a new series which provides young children with an interactive information book, a memory game (via the flaps and a straightforward instruction such as ‘Find each matching pair of snails’, and an inviting, brightly illustrated board book all between the same two covers. In the Garden penned by Smriti, introduces, with a series of jolly rhymes, including some nice alliteration ‘swirly, sparkly silver trails’, all kinds of minibeasts scattered among a plethora of flowers.
One of my preschool testers has a great time ascribing names to the various creatures Lorna Scobie has illustrated: ‘buzzy fat bee’, ‘cuddly bee’, ‘grumpy bee’ ‘but this cross skinny bee doesn’t have a friend’.

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The grasshoppers became ‘dotty’, ‘spotty’ ‘stripey’ and ‘skinny striped’ while among the caterpillars were ‘hairy, scary blue’ and ‘red spotalot’. My favourite though I think, was ‘pinky purply underpants’ beetle’.
Underwater looks at marine life both on the shore (despite the title) and under the sea …

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and is equally attractive and involving.

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Baby Dinosaurs
Minibeasts

DK
These two larger than usual board books ask users to ‘Follow the Trail’ or trails, as there are several offered on some spreads to interact with Baby Dinosaurs or a variety of Minibeasts. The trails are glittery embossed lines that readers can trace across the pages with their fingers and at the same time find out something about the Allosaurus, Diplodocus, Styracosaurus and Tuojiangosaurus or alternatively butterflies, honeybees, ladybirds and dragonflies.
Digital illustrations of the baby dinosaurs are set against clean white backgrounds on which are digitally drawn flora to give a idea of their environments. Interactive instructions (‘Loop around’ or ‘Make an oval shape as you go round the dinosaur egg’), brief facts about the animals (‘Allosaurus walked on two legs’. ‘Mummy Allosaurus was about as tall as a giraffe‘),

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and die-cut holes through which to peep at what dinosaur is coming next add up to a playful, multilayered reading experience.
Similarly with the minibeasts (all four are winged insects), there are glittery trails – looping or zigzagging, going straight or curving up and down, to take the insects to the flowers containing nectar, honeycombs,

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aphids on a leaf, or a pond. All are illustrated by Charlotte Milner and the inclusion of a snail with its spiral shell to trace as the ladybird travels over a flowerpot, justifies the Minibeasts title.
One of my preschool testers seized on these and, after spending a considerable time enjoying sharing them, wanted to keep them; this had to be put on hold until I’d had a chance to reflect and write however. Beautifully done and certain to be read over and over.

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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!

A Rocketful of Space Poems / Things To Do

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A Rocketful of Space Poems
John Foster and Korky Paul
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Reputed anthologist , John Foster has compiled a book of twenty-six poems on the ever- popular space theme. Four are Foster’s own work and there are three from Eric Finney. Supposing went down well with my audience as did Judith Nicholls’ A Space Odyssey with its fun alliterative opening ‘Percival Pettigrew packed his pyjamas / and parted for Pluto, pausing at Mars.
Many of the poems are, I think, newly penned. If you use this collection in a primary school, children can have great fun inventing additions to the items for sale at Greasy Peter Pluto’s Fast Food Superstore – a good starting point for some imaginative writing of their own; ditto Robert Scotellaro’s Garage Sale in Outer Space and David Harmer’s Inter-galactic Squibble-ball, the Official Rules.
Old favourites are here as well: there’s Richard Edwards’ Asteroid Dog and Max Fatchen’s ‘Jump Over the Moon?the Cow Declared, to name but two.
Korky Paul’s weird and wacky visuals further add to the overall humorous feel and every spread is enclosed within a galactic-themed border …

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Cool endpapers too from pupils of Rockwell Nursery & Infant School.
Add this one to your primary classroom collection or topic box.

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Things To Do
Elaine Magliaro and Catia Chien
Chronicle Books
Erstwhile primary school teacher and now children’s poet, Elaine Magliaro, has written a short poetic sequence focusing on the small things and moments that occupy the thoughts of young children in their everyday lives from Dawn until the Moon brightens the night sky. If you’re Birds you can ‘Stretch out your wings/ on the brightening sky/ Morning’s upon us. / Get ready to fly!

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If you’re a Honeybee ‘Flit among flowers/ Sip nectar for hours / Be yellow and fuzzy. / Stay busy. / For hours.
Other natural world focuses are an Acorn, a Snail, the Sun and Sky, Rain, an Orb Spider, and Crickets and some made objects – Boots, an Eraser and Scissors …

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This lovely picture book, with Elaine Magliaro’s vivid verbal imagery and Catia Chien’s textured, acrylic illustrations, very much reflects that way of being in the present moment, very young children exhibit when we allow them to follow their own interests, as well as being reflective of the natural poets or ‘versifiers’ – ‘avid creator(s) of word rhythms and rhymes’ that Kornei Chukovsky called them, in his famous From Two to Five, ‘pouring forth verse to express their exhilaration.’
One to add to the home, or primary school, bookshelf.

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Don’t forget 14th Feb.

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Pandora

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Pandora
Victoria Turnbull
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
I have to admit to doing a little dance when I saw this. I’ve loved all Victoria Turnbull’s books so far, but this one, with its tactile, satin, gold-sheened cover, is sublime. It takes picture book perfection to another level as it draws readers into Pandora’s lone world of broken things …

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where she spends her time collecting, mending and recycling whatever she can.
Into that world one day crashes a small creature. That too needs fixing, but Pandora’s mending skills are, she feels, inadequate. Clearly not her caring though, for she nurses it with tenderness …

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as it gradually gains strength and is able to fly once more. Pandora’s kindness is rewarded with small treasures …

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But then one day she is faced with an empty box.
The emotional turmoil this creates is as devastatingly heart-wrenching for the reader as for Pandora. Alone once more she nurses her broken heart and, as it slowly grows back together,

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other things start to grow in that box until one morning, the sun shines into her room drawing her outdoors to the best of all possible surprises …

 

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The spare text means that every turn of the page is part of an exquisite contemplative experience that has you in its thrall throughout Pandora’s highs and lows, as you linger to explore every delicate detail of this ultimately, uplifting, fable of transformation; for as Alexander Pope said, ‘Hope springs eternal …’

I Am a Very Clever Cat / Two Can

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I am a Very Clever Cat
Kasia Matyjaszek
Templar Publishing
With such an arresting cover, this book will be hard to resist. Its narrator, Stockon, is certainly not short on self-esteem: “I am a very clever cat,” he tells us by way of introduction and goes on to demonstrate some of his skills. His greatest claim to fame is his wizardry with a pair of knitting needles: here he is as he sets about creating the ‘fanciest scarf for the fanciest soirée.’

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Naturally being such a wiz with those needles though, Stockton has no need for a pattern: he just makes it up as he goes along. So super-confident is our wool worker that he is completely oblivious to what’s happening while he talks until …

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Seems his chances of strutting his stuff at that soirée have just taken a tumble.
How fortunate it is that all the while, his antics have been watched by a pair of mice; can they perhaps save the day?

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Stockton may have dropped a whole lot of stitches but he’s certainly picked up a couple of pals, very clever ones at that, in the course of his knitting capers.
I’m sure those capers will win him a whole lot more friends among young listeners (and adult cat lovers) who will delight in the interplay between words and pictures in Kasia Matyjaszek’s funny debut picture book.

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Two Can
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Ben Javens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What a cracking little book! Using just 29 words, its creators explore a whole range of emotions. Small children at play in a park demonstrate playing solo, playing apart and playing together, occasionally falling out …

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sometimes co-operating, sometimes empowering …

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or encouraging and concluding (almost) …

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SO simple, so clever and SO effective. Perfect to share with one, with two or with a few …
It’s equally perfect though, for beginning readers to try for themselves: what an ideal opportunity to say, “I can” therafter.

The Star Tree

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The Star Tree
Catherine Hyde
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A tender lyrical story of a flame-haired girl, Mia who makes a Midsummer’s night moonlit wish.

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It’s a wish that launches her on an amazing magical journey by air, sea and land, a journey made possible by a huge owl,

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a Little Red Hare …

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(look at the toys on Mia’s window sill), Big White Bear and his air balloon and, Giant Stag. It’s he that takes her up to the top of the high hill upon which stands the Star Tree shimmering and sparkling in the night. From it Mia takes one small star …

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and clutching it to herself, boards the waiting Great White Goose and flies homewards ‘along the river’s silver pathway. / Up and over the drowsy land, over the hills, / over the church with the blunted vane / that barely stirs in the still air.’ to her bedroom wherein something else truly magical awaits her …
Breath-takingly beautiful illustrations and equally magical words meld into a spellbinding reading experience. Every one of Catherine Hyde’s atmospheric paintings has a mesmeric quality, which transports readers – particularly this one – to those other worlds of the imagination where anything and everything is possible. On subsequent readings try letting that happen; focus on one scene, pause and release your mind for a while before continuing Mia’s journey with her.
A perfect bedtime share; but equally a story to read at anytime; and a wonderful demonstration of how visual and verbal artistry can work together as a truly harmonious whole.

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Mr Mustachio / George Pearce and His Huge Massive Ears

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Mr Mustachio
Yasmin Finch and Abigail Tompkins
Maverick Arts Publishing
I’ve never seen a moustache quite like that of the star of the show in this funny story. He’s very, very tall and thin, sports a maxi camel hair coat and pointy black boots; and on the day we meet him, is off for a picnic in the park …

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This he enjoys but then his eyes light on one of those roundabout things and that’s when the trouble starts- well it would, wouldn’t it? Before long the hirsute Mr M. is in a bit of a fix …

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Various children attempt to release him by pulling and soaping and a granny trio try tooling a rescue but to no avail: even the gang of builders can’t do the trick …

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so it looks at though it’s down to one of the teachers to snip him out (not sure what they’re doing walking in the park wielding scissors but no matter). Mr M is finally released but there’s something about his appearance that’s not quite as it used to be … Can our resourceful Mr Mustachio find a replacement for his missing facial filaments: perhaps he could choose from those wonderful endpaper ideas.
A crazy tale for sure, but it’s one that will elicit giggles from young audiences: Abigail Tompkins’ subtle-toned scenes of the moustachioed Mr M are a hoot.

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George Pearce and His Huge Massive Ears
Felix Massie
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
George Pearce is an ordinary sort of boy except for one thing, or rather two – his ears. They are enormous and protrude – wing-like – from either side of his otherwise ordinary head. George doesn’t use them for flight though, for him, they’re secret sound catchers. The only trouble being that pretty soon, George’s head is stuffed full of words – some good, others decidedly not …

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So much so that his head is so muddled, he just doesn’t know how to sort right from wrong, or what to think at all. Opinions seem to be crowding in on George everywhere he goes and it’s impossible to please everyone.

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There’s only one thing to do and George does it. He puts a finger in each ear, pushing them in hard to block out everyone else’s ideas and words.
Suddenly there comes a very tiny voice from deep within George’s own skull; this voice doesn’t tell him anything, rather it provides a thinking space for George’s own thoughts to form and at last, there’s no need for pretence. The real boy can finally emerge and yes, his ears still stick right out, but now there’s only one person who can make up George’s mind and that is George himself …

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Sad, funny and insightful, this is a cautionary tale to share with those who are easily swayed by what others say and think, especially, though I suspect it will bring a smile to the faces of most youngsters particularly if they enjoy a bit of quirkiness.

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15 things NOT to do with a Granny/ Big Bug Log

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15 things NOT to do with a Granny
Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The young children in this latest “Not to do’ guide have the whole topic of grannies pretty much sorted and they’ve drawn up a set of ‘simple rules’ for us all, a kind of ways to keep granny happy list. Now the teacher part of me might want to argue with the fact that they start with a whole lot of Don’ts rather than stating at the outset, the kinds of behaviours that are desirable; but then these littles have not, I suspect, begun attending nursery let alone school as yet, so instant forgiveness is the order of the day. And anyway, this small girl and her even smaller brother are just so adorable –tiny charmers no less. I’m sure their two grannies savour every moment they spend with their grandchildren. So what do the children suggest: First, no hiding an elephant in your granny’s bed – as if!
Second is food related: jelly beans on toast for breakfast are a definite no no and putting leftover spaghetti into a gran’s handbag is totally unthinkable …

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The same goes for using her pants as head gear or giving your ted. a makeover with the contents of her make-up bag.
They strongly advise against taking her on in a skateboard race; certain birthday presents are off the agenda as is interrupting her karate practice.

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Grannies tend to hate loud noises, particularly when they’re lost in a good book; and when it’s your turn for a story, don’t completely overwhelm her …

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Grans are to be shared, but never swapped. That pretty much deals with the NO NOs but what about the Do’s?
Walking together is good, listening – definitely, playing ditto, singing, hugging, helping – likewise. But most important of all …

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A wonderfully playful little book: Holly Sterling’s scenes of grans and grandchildren bring delight at every turn of the page. It’s perfect for littles to give their grans and vice-versa. A must for families with young children and for all early years settings. Grans do so much in the way of child-care and many families have come to rely on their goodwill in order to survive Grans deserve celebrating.: so, let’s hear it for all grans everywhere and for the book’s creators, Margaret and Holly – a great team.

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Big Bug Log
Sebastian Braun
Nosy Crow
This is a log-shaped board book that’s absolutely crammed with details and brimming over with humour. It stars young Bugsy Bug who is endeavouring to visit his gran who lives somewhere within the log, but he doesn’t know the right way. Young listeners can help Bugsy on his journey to her home by some puzzle-solving, maze following and clue solving. There are numerous doors to open, speech bubbles to act out, and even a wonderful library to visit – full of bookworms – as you might expect.

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It’s a good thing that there are so many helpful bugs on hand to assist Bugsy too, by giving him instructions and directions. After a lot of twists and turns, the little creature does eventually track down his Granny and a delicious surprise awaits him after all that effort.
This little book is superbly interactive and sure to keep littles involved and absorbed for ages. My only quibble is the bee’s assertion on the back cover: “We think this book is perfect for 3 to 5 year-olds!” I’d put it down to 2s and above.

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The Glump and the Peeble

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The Glump and the Peeble
Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What an intriguing title: what on earth is a Glump and what’s a Peeble? Sounds almost like something from Lewis Carroll I thought. I pondered these questions before even opening this deliciously fanciful book. Let me enlighten you now: the Glump in question is a troglodyte loner. He’s not a loner by choice however; he desperately longs to break out of the glump do-nothing mould and join in the moonlit fun and dancing with the peebles; but he just can’t bring himself to do it …

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Then, what should skip into the wood, ‘singing and dancing just like peebles should.’ (Yes this story’s told in Wendy Meddour’s mellifluous rhyming text.) but a veritable peeble. What she does next though is decidedly un-peeble-like: she sighs, frowns, pauses and sits down on the ground. Moreover, she starts to sing and this is her song:
I know that a peeble should dance every night./ I know I should twirl in the glow of moonlight./ But it makes me feel dizzy, I get hot and pink. / Why can’t I sit still like a glump and just think?
The Glump, from his cave, tries ignoring these words, and the peeble, but somehow he cannot. Instead he coughs and invites her in – in for a sit still. The surprised Peeble accepts and eventually follows the Glump into his cave; where she sits meditatively, breathing in the still and quiet of the night…

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Thereafter, a discussion ensues and the Glump tells his visitor of his yearning to dance, pointing out the troubles his toes would be likely to cause were he to do so; and the Peeble in turn persuades him to have a go – good on you Peeble. And off the two go to give it a spin …

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Guess who, with fear overcome, is soon wowing all the other peebles with his dance moves and equally important, a new friendship has been forged, well and truly. Two firsts in one night: a sitting still, thinking Peeble and a dancing Glump: that’s some going Glump and Peeble.

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All this is visually realised in Rebecca Ashdown’s wondrously quirky scenes wherein we are shown how this enchanting pair of characters manage, with each other’s help, to take a risk, step out of their respective comfort zones and dare to be different.localbookshops_NameImage-2

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How to Look After Your Human

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How To Look After Your Human
Kim Sears and Helen Hancocks
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Now I have to say at the outset that I’m no dog lover (having been attacked aged six, I think, by an Alsatian, I tend to beat a hasty retreat at the sight of any pooch); nor do I share the illustrator’s penchant for cats (they make me wheezy) and yes I did see the odd moggie lurking herein; but I felt drawn to this ‘A Dog’s Guide’ by the creatures posing on the back cover, in particular. That, and a great liking for Helen Hancocks’ previous books.
But let’s begin with the essentials: this is said to be written by ‘Maggie Mayhem’ so I can only assume that she’s a highly intelligent, literate canine. What she tells us is that she’s an eight-year old Border Terrier residing just outside London with brother Rusty, and that they own ‘two adorable humans plus an assortment of their extended family and friends.’ So, she should know; moreover so she claims ‘the terrier has a brain twice as large as a human.’ (This has not officially been verified, we’re told; so it appears, Maggie is honest to boot.)
Maggie has chosen to divide her instruction guide into eight chapters (plus the intro. that we’ve already mentioned). The first and possibly most important is How to Choose Your Human, which looks at the pros and cons of family life and living with an individual. Those unhappy with more than a little exercise should avoid certain types like these here …

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Next topic for consideration is Communication, essentially body language and verbal communication, the latter being, so we’re told, a minefield on account of the ‘thousands of different noises (words) produced and the fact that they alter ‘the order, pitch, tone and volume every time.’
Training comes next, and this doesn’t mean merely toilet training. Making as much mess as possible is advocated ‘so your human knows exactly what’s expected of them.’ from the beginning.

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The whole thing proceeds in similar dead pan vein through chapters on Nutrition, where the importance of keeping one eye on what you want the human to eat and the other firmly fixed on what you want them not to – what you want to eat yourself in other words. Of course polite humans operate a sharing is caring policy. This is followed by …

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Grooming & Hygiene with hair being a focus here.

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(Not sure I’d agree with the idea of imbibing liquid refreshment from the toilet bowl while supervising your human performing its ablutions, however.) But then I am writing from a human perspective here. Dress – human and canine is discussed in chapter 7 where the author confesses that sporting a designer mackintosh that matches her human is not something she approves of.
Maggie’s ten commandments account for the final chapter and the moggie portrayed here is a legitimate visitor – albeit as the subject of the 8th commandment – a general enemy warning.
Deliciously tongue in cheek – when not engaged thus …

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the ‘author’ of this book had me in fits of giggles throughout. A must for all prospective pooch human carers as well as those humans in particular who have a penchant for Border Terriers, or really any breed whatsoever. In other words, if you’re getting a dog or already have one, don’t miss this.

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Pets and Problems

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Lottie Potter Wants an Otter
Jeanne Willis and Leonie Lord
Harper Collins Children’s Books
An otter certainly isn’t the most likely of animals for a child to want but it’s the pet of choice for young Lottie Potter. So off she goes with a hop and a skip into town.

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Mr Trotter has a wide range of otters available – spotty, potty, snotty, swotty, tie in a knotty, or hot from Lanzarote. Seemingly there’s something for all tastes here.

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Somewhat overwhelmed, Lottie turns to the shop-keeper for expert advice. He duly selects, a purchase is made and off goes Lottie with her otter. However, said animal isn’t quite the perfect pet she’d anticipated; it’s an absolute rotter through and through, even having the audacity to bite her bot. …

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Who could possibly blame her for taking it right back to the shop and demanding a refund? Well, that may have been her plan but it’s one that’s well and truly thwarted causing Lottie to rid herself of the unwanted animal elsewhere,

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and go seeking an altogether more suitable creature for her next pet. Err …
The jaunty rhyming extravaganza is illustrated with zestful scenes of otters cavorting, climbing and carousing, and Lottie’s one in particular, causing chaos. Leonie Lord’s otters are guaranteed to make you and your audience giggle as much as Jeanne Willis’ otterly dotty words.

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Hiccups!
Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Book
Hiccups seem to come on all too easily, but getting rid of them, well that’s another matter. And that’s the problem facing young Ruby but the hiccups aren’t hers; it’s her dog Oscar that’s Hic! Hic! Hiccuping …
Ruby however is full of ideas and it’s as well she’s not one to give up easily. They try dancey-dancing,

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jumpity-jumping, slurpity-slurping …

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not to mention twirly-twirling and hoppity- hopping all to no avail. Not even munchy-munching or wielding a magic wand halt the hics. But Ruby has one more idea up her sleeve – one that involves a complete change of garb and this time … silence from Oscar. But maybe hiccups are catching after all err …
Great potential for audience participation herein – let’s hope the hiccups are simulated not real though or you might find yourself having to try out some of Ruby’s remedies. Ruby and Oscar are both thoroughly engaging characters – cute but also spirited, and their relationship is beautifully captured in Holly Sterlings’ scenes large and small.

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Dragon Dos and Don’ts

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Dare to Care: Pet Dragon
M.P.Robertson and Sally Symes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Ever thought of keeping a dragon? It’s probably not top of your list of things to do. Nevertheless Robertson and Symes have compiled a spoofingly delicious manual on how to do just that. There are several considerations including how to dispose of the dung it will produce in profusion –

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before taking that dragon decision tying you together for life. Anatomy (you might want to skip the warty bit, ditto the ‘teeth’ bit, if you are at all squeamish), choice of breed and choice of egg come next – we’re advised that it’s best to begin with an egg and select one that your particular lifestyle most easily accommodates. And hatching can be extremely time consuming …

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Of course, once the thing finally does emerge you’ll need to know about handling, feeding and grooming. Each of these is given its own spread and I suggest reading them with great care: brussels sprouts are a definite no-no and curry’s inadvisable too. And, oh my goodness you’ll need a veritable troupe of tradespeople when it comes to grooming …

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It’s best to know about dealing with ailments in the unlikely event that your dragon falls sick, so that’s taken care of next, followed by exercise.
Now you may well have selected a dragon as companion for the aeronautical opportunities such a creature offers, so a term or two at flight school is a MUST and then, with license under your belt …

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This tongue-in-cheek treat is guaranteed to give you a good giggle, or rather, a whole lot of giggles. And, it’s the perfect picture book for those who claim to enjoy information texts rather than stories.

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Marmaduke the Very Popular Dragon
Rachel Valentine and Ed Eaves
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
In this, his second story, Marmaduke has become something of a celebrity, so much so that best friend, Meg, sees little of him. Never mind, thinks Meg, there’s the Whizz Cone Tournament coming up, the perfect thing for the best friends to do together. But then Marmaduke becomes even more elusive; surely he couldn’t have found another partner for the tournament could he? That certainly doesn’t look like Meg riding him to victory here …

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Then, come trophy presentation time, Marmaduke isn’t feeling as overjoyed as he ought to and what’s more, he can hear sobbing sounds in the distance. Off he goes to find Meg, offer his heartfelt apologies and make a promise that henceforward, he’ll never exclude her again. That’s the kind of promise best friends always try to keep …

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Fans of Marmaduke and Meg will welcome their return; and applaud Marmaduke for seeing the error of his ways and acting accordingly. Adult mediators of the story have a good starting point for a ‘what makes a good friend?’ discussion.

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Celebrating Friendship: Albert’s Tree & Dear Bunny

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Albert’s Tree
Jenni Desmond
Walker Books
Even before I started reading this I knew I was in for a treat – the endpapers are beautiful. Essentially it’s a tale of friendship – an unusual friendship between a bear and his beloved tree. A tree that’s ‘Not too hard, or too soft, or too slippery, or too prickly.’ Oh! And there’s a spot of mistaken identity involved too.
When Albert bear wakes from his long sleep to a forest world of thawing snow and trickling water, he straightway heads for his tree – his favourite thing in the world. But something isn’t quite right; it’s not the perfect peaceful place of before: Albert’s tree is crying. Unable to stop it himself, a bemused Albert seeks the assistance of fellow woodland animals, first Rabbit and then Caribou. Both offer personal suggestions but what makes a rabbit or a caribou happy …

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doesn’t seem to work for the tree.

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Finally, alone again – the others have left on account of the continual wailing – Albert has one more try; he talks to the tree, gently asking what is wrong. What happens next gives him something of a surprise. But ultimately it’s a surprise that will make his tree doubly perfect and the friendship twice as special …

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This is a funny, wonderfully warm tale with a huggable main character, gorgeous, richly coloured mixed media illustrations; and a text that cries out for audience participation of the “WAA WAAAA” kind and with some delicious dialogue, is a delight to read aloud. It’s perfect for sharing either one to one or with a large group.

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Dear Bunny
Katie Cotton and Blanca Gómez
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A little girl writes a ‘Dear Bunny’ letter in response to the question her toy rabbit has asked her: “What’s your favourite thing in the world?” She tells him of all the things that make him so special; things like finding her favourite socks and cooling her porridge.
Whatever the weather, child and Bunny play together and share happy times …

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sometimes just sitting and being together is all that’s needed.

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There are places they visit together and sometimes Bunny helps his friend feel brave like him but sometimes instead of laughing together, they share moments of sadness.
The little girl loves to look at the stars: “Someday we will count them all!” she tells Bunny – maybe that’s her favourite thing or perhaps it’s story time (Bunny’s stories bring good dreams).

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Really though, there’s no doubt “my favourite thing in the world is YOU!” she concludes.
A gentle celebration of the way young children delight being in the moment, enjoying the everyday things of the world, and even more so when you have a special friend to share in them. The beautifully patterned, collage style illustrations have a simple charm to them too and I love the subtle colour palette. A lovely book to share with one child or a small group who might be moved to write their own ‘Dear Bunny’ style letters.

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There’s a Tiger in the Garden

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There’s a Tiger in the Garden
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What would your reaction be if somebody told you there was a tiger in the garden? Dismissive – pretty much the same as young Nora’s, I expect.
When Nora complains of boredom on a visit to her Grandma’s house, her Gran. suggests she go and play in the garden: “I thought I saw a tiger there earlier.” she tells her … “And dragonflies the size of birds and plants that can …” Reluctantly, accompanied by her pal Jeff the Giraffe, off goes Nora outside muttering to herself when Whoosh! something whizzes right past her nose …

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Slightly impressed by what she discovers but still dismissive of the whole nonsensical suggestion of cannibalistic plants, polar bears and tigers, our young heroine urges Jeff to go home but seemingly one of the plants has designs on a Jeff snack …

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Having duly rescued Jeff, Nora remains unconvinced about the polar bear and tiger until that is, she hears a rather gruff voice and sees …

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Nora’s grumpiness is by now almost equal to the polar bear’s (she’s had to accept him too of course) as she asserts “there is absolutely, definitely one hundred per cent no …

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That is only a part of this terrific tale; for the rest you’ll need to get hold of a copy of your own: it’s a delight from cover to cover. The dialogue is absolutely spot on: “Um … Tigers don’t live in gardens,” says Nora. “Are you real?” “I don’t know,” says the tiger. “Are you?” …

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I have an idea,” says the tiger. ”If you believe in me, then maybe I’ll be real.” “And if you believe in me,” says Nora, “then maybe I’ll be real too!” … helping to make this a wonderful read aloud. And, it’s also a great book for those teachers who use ‘Community of Enquiry’ approaches in their primary classrooms.
I love the way the lush vegetation of Grandma’s garden takes on an increasingly jungly appearance the more Nora forays among the plants – seemingly Nora’s imagination is taking over despite her scepticism; and the animals in those gorgeous paintings would surely convince the most ardent of disbelievers. Oh! And there’s a delicious final twist in the tale too.
With a debut picture book as good as this one, I can’t wait to see what Lizzy Stewart does next.

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings
Na’ima B Robert and Shirin Adi
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Mahbrook, the title of this fascinating book means ‘congratulations’ (or I think, ‘you are blessed’) in Arabic, certainly a sentiment one would want to pass on to a couple who have just got married: ‘Muslims from around the world share the same religious rites, but they celebrate in different ways in the four corners of the world.’ We then visit various countries to get a glimpse of the particular celebration that might take place when Muslims living there get married.
First stop is Pakistan where there’s a pre wedding henna party in full swing:

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the bride’s hands and feet are being adorned with beautiful, intricate henna designs while family and friends enjoy some dancing. The following day, the groom rides in on a white horse, the bride, bedecked with gold, hides beneath her silks awaiting her husband to be. There’s a huge feast awaiting everyone once the baraat arrives and other formalities have taken place.
Morocco is the next wedding venue. There, weddings are community affairs when all the neighbours spend days cooking delicious food: couscous, roast lamb with olives and pickled lemons sufficient to feed the huge number of guests expected. The bride changes her dress seven times at the waleemah (feast for the community) into which she is carried by the crowds. There is much joy as the bride dances in a circle of song.

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Traditional Somali dance to drums music and song is part and parcel of a wedding in Somalia …

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In Britain the bride might wear a white hijab and have guests from many different faiths and backgrounds. Here’s one happy celebration:

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Those are just some of the ways Muslim weddings are celebrated but in addition to having the same rites there are formalities that will be common no matter where the celebration takes place: important family meetings and discussions, a marriage contract, conditions that must be respected, guidance is sought for a blessed union and the groom pledges the mahr be it gold, a home, a ring or whatever she wishes – a dowry for his bride to be, the ceremony, in front of witnesses, is performed by the imam.

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A new journey awaits the happy couple …
With its beautiful mendhi designs adorning the inside covers, glowing illustrations on every spread, and fascinating facts about aspects of wedding celebrations, this is a book to inform, to delight, to draw on for RE discussions and most of all, to further the celebration not only of the particular topic herein, but of the rich cultural diversity that is part of what makes our world such an exciting place.

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Better Together

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Good Knight, Bad Knight
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing
Summer is over and Bad Knight is about to return to school. Up until now the young knight has hated school  but things look set to change for two reasons. Bad Knight is building a special secret weapon and, his cousin is coming to stay …

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That was the plan; but when said cousin arrives, Bad Knight is in for a surprise; his cousin is GOOD! Indeed much more than good – he’s star pupil in every respect. Disaster! Especially as bad Knight’s status as worst knight in the school is made official and the two are to meet face to face in the end-of-term jousting contest.

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You’ll only need one guess as to the winner of the match, but perhaps what appears overhead as the victor is announced will give Bad Knight another chance to prove himself …

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and put that invention of his to good use.
And perhaps, the two young knights aren’t quite so different: two heads are often better than one after all…

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A crazy tale of folly, fighting, friendship and the odd stink bomb too. Tom Knight’s debut solo picture book will surely find friends among young would-be knights and catapult creators in particular.

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Cool Cat Versus Top Dog
Mike Yamada
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Cool Cat and Top Dog are sworn enemies, which is somewhat problematic as they live under the same roof. Top of their list of reasons to fight is Pet Quest, the annual round the town race and nobody has won the trophy other than our two adversaries CC and TD with Top Dog being the cup’s current holder.

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Now the race night is upon them and both parties are determined to win, no matter what. But there’s another contestant – Buck Thumper – who has set his sights on claiming the trophy this year.

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Cool Cat has a plan up her sleeve and pretty soon Top Dog has fallen for it but he’s quick to resort to some tricky doings of his own.

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The race continues with the rivals neck and neck until eventually both parties’ vehicles are totally out of control and Buck Thumper zooms into the lead.
Can that be the end for TD and CC; or is there perhaps a chance that some clever teamwork might just save the day?
This final shot gives a hint but you’ll have to get your paws on a copy of this breakneck riot of a book to discover all that happened along the way. PHEW!

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Coco Chanel & Frida Kahlo: Little People Big Dreams

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Little People, Big Dreams Coco Chanel
Little People, Big Dreams Frida Kahlo
Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Ana Albero, translated by Emma Martinez
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Delightfully different are these stylish picture book biographies for young readers, and both feature young women – girls when we first meet them – who themselves were different and proud to be so.
When we first encounter Coco Chanel, she’s called Gabrielle and lives in an orphanage. where the nuns there are far from happy about her unusual behaviour as they deem it, …

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Even at an early age, Gabrielle liked to spend time sewing rather than playing with the other girls and when she grew up, the young miss sewed during the daytime and sang at night. It was then people began calling her Coco.
Then one day Coco makes a hat for a friend, a hat quite out of the ordinary and thus begins her new career as a designer of hats.

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Before long though her flair for design leads her to create stylish clothes that not only looked different but felt different: they were comfortable to wear. Not everyone took to them straight away but gradually women realised that stylish needn’t mean stiff and sparkly:

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Coco Chanel had begun to make her mark on the fashion world and would continue to be remembered as a great designer and style icon even to this day.

Right from the start as a young girl in Mexico, Frida Kahlo stood out from the crowd. But it wasn’t until she was involved in a terrible road accident that Frida’s life really changed. Following the accident, she spent a lot of time in bed and to pass the time she’d draw pictures of first, her foot and then by using a mirror, entire self-portraits.

 

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Gradually she amassed a whole portfolio and decided to visit the famous artist, Diego Rivera. It wasn’t only her pictures that impressed him however, and eventually the two were married.

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Encouraged by her partner, Frida continued painting self-portraits, her pictures reflecting how she felt at the time and a show was organised of her work in New York City. Sadly though, Frida’s health continued to decline but despite this, she carried on painting to the end: her passion for life and for painting never left her. It wasn’t until after her death however, that the painter truly won fame as an international artist whose work is characterised by vivid colours and Mexican symbols.
Truly inspirational are these two women who have both left a lasting mark on the world and made it a better place for us all; and all because they dared to be different and let nothing or no one stand in the way of their dreams.
Both books have a time line at the end as well as additional facts and a brief list of further reading suggestions and museums where their work can be seen.
Definitely worth investing in for KS1 and lower KS2 classrooms and just the thing to help celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March.

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Dogs to the Rescue

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Ralf.
Jean Jullien, text collaboration Gwendal Le Bec
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Ralf, just a little dog …

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but he manages to occupy a great deal of space …

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get in the way rather too frequently OOPS beg your pardon Mum!

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Sorry Dad!

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The result? Banishment to his kennel where there ensues a very brief period of peace and quiet. But then Ralf’s nose begins to twitch: smoke is coming from the family home. Time for our canine pal to test his abilities to the utmost.
Flexible he may be – I’m sure this heroic pooch must have been taking yoga lessons on the quiet – but having finally gained an entrance of sorts, can he succeed in waking the blissfully unaware slumberers? Or is there another way he can effect a rescue perhaps? …
What follows are fantastic heroism and supreme stretchiness on Ralf’s part …

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and utter brilliance on Jean Jullien’s. In fact the whole book (endpapers included) is entirely brilliant.
Jullien documents Ralf’s rise from outcast to celebrated hero with such aplomb it’s hard to believe this is his first solo picture book. (he was the illustrator of the wonderful Hoot Owl)
Let’s hear it for Ralf. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And again for the genius visual storytelling of Jean Jullien – YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

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Hot Dog Hal
Peter Bently and Tom McLaughlin
Scholastic Children’s Books
Most of us will be familiar with children having comforters they insist on taking everywhere they go, but a dachshund– surely not? Well surely yes, if your name happens to be Hal. Hal totally loved his blanket and refused to be parted from it despite the fact that ‘… he felt boiling and flustered/ And looked like a sausage all covered in mustard.’ and Buster McNally had started calling him Hot Dog Hal. And hot he truly was but even in the sunniest of situations Hal just would not take that blanket off;

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well it did, so he insisted have “a nice biscuit chocolatey smell.”
So besotted with this object of his was he that Hal found all manner of ways to keep it close to his person …

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none of which impressed Nipper or Buster and off they all trot for a game of hide-and-seek. Before long though down comes the rain and the canine crew are forced to take shelter in an old windmill. And as the thunder crashes and lightning flashes, good old Hal is ready to accommodate his pals beneath that comforter of his. But then disaster strikes leaving the creatures stranded.

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Maybe that old blanket is about to come into its own after all … But a torn, tattered blanket is no use to any self-respecting dog –

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or is it? …
This crazy canine romp is delivered in appropriately frisky style in Peter Bently’s rhyming text and wonderfully portrayed in Tom McLaughlin’s suitably silly sausage dog scenes.

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Nicholas and the Wild Ones

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Nicholas and the Wild Ones
Niki Daly
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Nicholas has just had his first day at school and we meet him at the gate where his mother greets him. “How did you like it?” she asks. “Not one bit,” is his response and on the way home he proceeds to tell her about the Wild Ones, who have made his life a misery all day. There’s the wildest, Charlie who jumps on people, Wedgie Reggie who gets his amusement by pulling his peers by their underpants, Big-Mouth Jake scoffer of other people’s snacks and scariest of all, the huge Cindy Crocker.

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Back home Nicholas’s family suggest ways to handle those bullies and next day armed with strategies Nicholas faces up to the gang and in the course of the day his tactics begin to pay dividends particularly with the number one bully, so much so that by the end of day two, Nicholas has a new friend with whom to share his design skill.

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And it’s this skill that eventually wins over the rest of the gang who are wild no longer. Well maybe just once in a while ….

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but no matter, Nicholas has plenty more designs up his sleeve.

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This humorous book tackles bullying head on, highlighting the fact that girls as well as boys can be bullies. It’s perfect for circle time discussions in primary classes and for individual sharing. I particularly like the way that Nicholas uses creative means to deal with the bullies here and those end papers are great.

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The Christmas Eve Tree

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The Christmas Eve Tree
Delia Huddy and Emily Sutton
Walker Books
The author, of this book, Delia Huddy, who I knew as an editor at Julia McRae Books, was working on the story at the end of her life and it’s wonderful to see it in print as a beautiful, moving picture book illustrated by Emily Sutton.
The story begins with a ‘carelessly planted’ little fir tree growing yes, but crookedly, so that when finally the trees are cut years later, it is stunted and tangled with its neighbour. Nonetheless it’s taken along with all the others to be sold, this ‘bottom of the pile’ tree. As the rest are sold one by one, the little tree fears for its fate until on Christmas Eve, a boy comes into the shop and the shopkeeper gives him the sad-looking object. A better fate than the black rubbish sack assuredly.
Indeed once outside the shop, the boy heads for the river,

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plants the tree in a box he discovers at the waterside and heads off back to his own, larger box shelter.
The Christmas spirit begins to descend upon both boy and the tree, that now feels a sense of belonging.

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Soon others join them and before long the traffic’s at a standstill as everyone gathers to listen to the Christmas song. And suddenly …

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Eventually, as rough sleepers do, the boy moves on. And the tree? It’s put into a road sweeper’s barrow and taken off to the park, planted in a corner and now against all the odds there it still stands ‘cheerfully stout’

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and giving pleasure to so many all year round.
Giving pleasure to many is assuredly what this wonderful story will do to what I hope will be its many readers and listeners, all year round too.

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Nina engrossed in the wonderful story

Emily Sutton’s retro-modern scenes portray an almost fairytale atmosphere of a wintry London.

Previously reviewed in hardback, but now out in paperback is a totally contrasting presentation of Christmas:

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A Stork in a Baobab Tree
Catherine House and Polly Alakija
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘An African Twelve Days of Christmas’, this book is far more than just a reworking of the traditional English version of the song. Readers are treated to a superb experience of African village traditions and customs, animals, food and clothing, and much else. Christmas in southern Africa, we are told, comes during the rainy season. …

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when the grey branches of the Baobab are covered in leaves and white flowers.
Each of the twelve days, portrays a different African country and is given a double page spread where,

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in addition to the main text, there is a paragraph in smaller print explaining the particular scene. There are many allusions to the biblical story of the nativity woven into Polly Alakija’s fine illustrations;

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in fact the more you look the more you see. Indeed the whole book is one to be revisited over and over allowing considerable time to be spent exploring each setting.

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Elliot’s Arctic Surprise

 

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Rosa lost in the Arctic world of the story …

Elliot’s Arctic Surprise
Catherine Barr and Francesca Chessa
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
When a bottle is washed up before the eye’s of young Elliot as he lies at the water’s edge and he discovers a message inside, he knows his beach holiday is about to end: he has something far, far more important to do …

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His preoccupied parents barely acknowledge his “Can I go to the North Pole?” request and Elliot hitches a ride to his destination with a friendly sea captain.
Before long, they discover that they’re not alone: thousands of other tiny little boats have joined them,

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carrying children from all over the world.
The fleet sails past giant icebergs, polar bears and seals before the children hear an alarming roar

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and a sinister sight meets their eyes …
So, with Elliot as their leader, the children confront the man in charge of the rig that’s all set to begin its operation. “This is Father Christmas’s home, … Please don’t spoil it.” Elliot begs.

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And as the oil man ponders on the request, the sea captain reveals his true identity.
Catherine Barr, the story’s author formerly worked at Greenpeace International and her passion for environmental issues is evident herein. However, the fairytale type narrative means that the Arctic cause is delivered gently and appealingly, and is an excellent way to introduce a vital and complex issue to young children. (The final page provides a note from Greenpeace’s executive director about their Arctic campaign.)
Francesca Chessa’s acrylic paintings are arresting and those Arctic scenes, particularly powerful in their impact.
A thought-provoking book that provides something completely different from other seasonal offerings; it’s one that has relevance the whole year round and I particularly like the children’s ‘we can overcome’ spirit.

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Fairy Tales Old, Fairy Tales New

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The Orchard Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Savoiur Pirotta and Emma Chichester Clark
Orchard Books
Readers and listeners enter a world full of enchantments, mystery and a scattering of frights when they open the covers of this re-incarnation of ‘The Sleeping Princess” first published in the early 2000s. The magic still holds good though as each of the ten stories is visited or revisited through Pirotta’s appropriately direct retellings of favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Snow White and Rose Red.

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Emma Chichester Clark’s wonderful jewel-like illustrations – large and small – bring an extra glow, an occasional frisson of fear;

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and in many cases, a degree of gentle humour …

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to the verbal renditions.

Equally full of enchantment, occasional scares and sadness, and plenty of Celtic humour is:

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Magic!
edited by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers’ this collection of stories has many of the same ingredients: princesses, (one features in a tale by John Boyne), frogs – ‘the other’ one gloriously named Hildegard. I love this story with its princess who wears a red cloak and happens upon a wolf as she walks in the forest;

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it comes from the pen of Ireland’s first laureate for children’s literature, Siobhán Parkinson.
Then there’s an ogre – gruesomely green although he, Finbar the Furious, is capable of no wrongdoing.

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Every one of the seven stories reads aloud beautifully and Olwyn Whelan’s gorgeous watercolours delight at every turn of the page. Here’s one from Darragh Martin’s ‘The Sky-Snake and the Pot of Gold’

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This wickedly funny story had my audience in fits of giggles, especially over the stripe-stretching Síle transforming himself into what young Nora refers to ‘GIANT’S STICKY SNOT’
A book to treasure alongside other fairytale collections.

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The Crow’s Tale & The Wild Swans

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The Crow’s Tale
Naomi Howarth
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Right from the dazzlingly beautiful cover, this book is sheer magic. Told through a lyrical rhyming text and gorgeous, iridescent lithographic/watercolour illustrations, every turn of the page brings new delight – visual and verbal as we are treated to this tale inspired by a Lenni Lenape Native American legend.
It centres around Crow, a beautiful rainbow coloured bird: well that was then. Moreover, at that time, he had a sweet singing voice. So how/why did he end up with that black plumage and harsh-sounding call?
This pourquoi tale tells just that. It begins one day in the depths of winter, snow has covered the ground and the animals huddle together to forge a plan.

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One of their number must take on a perilous journey to bring them some of the Sun’s warmth. The one chosen is none other than Rainbow Crow:
The magnificently coloured kaleidoscope Crow
was the one who would battle through ice, wind and snow.
His flight is swift but hard and long, taking him through the blizzard and into the dazzlingly bright Sun’s realm.

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Awoken from his deep slumbers, Sun however is unwilling to return; instead he gives Crow a burning branch to take back to the animals. During his return flight, Crow’s feathers are blackened by smoke and soot, and his voice becomes nothing more than a harsh croaky ‘caw’.

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A successful mission, yes and his friends praise him wholeheartedly, but still, Crow has lost his beauty and is despondent.
No matter the Sun tells him: “it’s not how you look but how you behave.” that matters … ‘your beauty inside is the heart of the matter.’
In truth however, there is about Crow, an altogether different kind of beauty – a special gift from the Sun.

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It’s the arresting artwork that really steals the show here, wonderfully highlighting the message inherent in the text. Wow! What a debut for Naomi Howarth.
And what an exciting group art project it would make with every member of a group/class contributing a feather for Rainbow Crow and another for his new plumage.

Probably for somewhat older readers/listeners is this amazing retelling of another old tale

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The Wild Swans
Jackie Morris
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Everything Jackie Morris does is brilliant and this is no exception. Here, she takes what is a fairly short story and expands it to 175 pages, enhancing it with her wondrous watercolours

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and turning it into something quite out of this world, a coming of age story with new twists and glorious descriptions of the natural world through which Eliza moves and has her being.
In the morning, Eliza woke to a chorus rich with the singing of birds. She walked, and soon came to a place in the trees where the branches arched over a clear-water pool. Surrounded on all sides by brambles, with a space where the delicate deer came to drink… also on the smooth surface, so still in the forest glade, a mirrored image of sky and leaves, each crystal sharp.’
And as she reaches the sea: ‘’the waves, slate and gold, wind-wrinkled water. The sun was sinking, lower, lower. Soon it would touch the water, slip down behind the horizon.’ Such mesmerisingly beautiful words.
How brilliantly too, we are allowed to share Eliza’s thoughts and feelings, as well as gaining some insights into various characters. The queen, Eliza’s stepmother we are told, ‘learned the ache of loneliness and the sharp pain of jealousy.’ These are truly three-dimensional characters rather than those one often encounters in the fairy tale genre.

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…the bishop…drew the  spider’s web of his plan closer around him like a net.

A book to savour and to revisit, to give and to keep and treasure for oneself; a book to share in the classroom, or, if you can bear to let go of it, for the family bookshelf .

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The Pebble in My Pocket

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The Pebble In My Pocket
Meredith Hooper and Chris Coady
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
How can a small, insignificant-looking pebble generate a strong sense of wonder and give readers an exciting overview of 480 million years of evolution? Well assuredly it can if it’s the one held by the girl narrator on the first page of this excellent book. “Where did you come from, pebble?” she asks and we are then zoomed back to the volcanic eruption, the ‘beginning’ of earth’s history.

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Then, spread by wonderful spread, we are moved forwards, millions of years at a time, right through the entire evolution of the geosphere, to a field beside a recently built road and houses of the ‘almost’ present. (I cannot believe it’s almost twenty years since this book was first published.) As the narrator tells us her pebble has ‘been on top of mountains and under the sea. … buried in ice and in rock. … covered in drying sand and tropical forest… flung and dropped, frozen, soaked and baked, squeezed and squashed. … stood on, sheltered under and used… travelled huge distances, over immense periods of time.’ WOW! If that doesn’t inspire readers then little will.
And all the while, the text keeps track of the pebble: ‘A furry, two-horned rodent pushes past the pebble into its burrow.’ That’s 15 million years ago.

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The whole text reads aloud beautifully: ‘Gradually the sand hardens, forming a new layer of rock, a conglomerate ‘pudding-stone rock.’

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How easily exciting new words are, pebble-like, dropped into the narrative; but equally, Meredith Hooper presents us with the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Chris Coady’s wonderfully textured watercolours are the perfect complement for Hooper’s words; and a final spread provides a timeline with explanatory note that ‘pictures are not drawn to scale’.

Also newly re-issued from the same team is ‘The Story of Water on Our Planet’

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The Drop In My Drink
Meredith Hooper and Chris Coady
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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Talking Points

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Animal Rescue
Patrick George
Creators of books for young children use a variety of ways to engage their audience. A particularly effective one – acetate overlays – is employed by Patrick George. A double-sided printed acetate page is sandwiched between two ordinary brightly printed wordless pages and when flipped, this allows the child to change the story completely.
This one however, has an added dimension in the form of an environmental message in that it draws attention to the difference between each animal in its natural habitat or being cared for/and in captivity or being mistreated for human purposes such as entertainment:
Thus we have an elephant roaming free …

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Flip the acetate sheet to the right and you have …

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Fashion purposes – exotic skins,

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factory farming – chickens, trophy hunting and abandoned pets are some of the topics included.
Virtually wordless apart from the final question, this delightful book is rich in potential for talk and storying as well as offering those opportunities for discussing issues of animal welfare.
50p from sales of each book goes to the Born Free Foundation.
Conversation creator – assuredly: Conservation/animal welfare promoter – one truly hopes so.

Equally playful and similar basic design, but without the serious underlying message, is

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Opposites
Patrick George
Herein basic concepts such as Big/Small, Left/Right, Empty/Full, Up/Down, First/Last, Hot/Cold, In/Out are presented …DSCN5769 (800x600)and …

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along with Sun/Rain, Hit/Miss, Land/Sea, Boy/Girl. The latter are rather more questionable in terms of mere ‘opposites’, but will certainly engender a lot of interactive talk and creative thought and learning. Eye-catching art in vibrant colours with single word labels complete the ingredients of this one.

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Colours
Susan Steggall
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Tractors, tippers, trucks, rollers, mixers, vans and cars are among those featured in the twenty different types of vehicle, (two for each of the ten colours) presented in the bright collage style,

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captioned illustrations of this book for very young lovers of all things mechanical. The final spread shows all the vehicles.

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There’s lots of potential for talk and I envisage ‘littles’ with their own collections of toy cars getting them out and lining them up along with those presented herein. And there’s a wheel attached to the back cover which when turned, makes the vehicles change colour –

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more talk potential!

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Whose Truck?
Toni Buzzeo and Jim Datz
Abrams Appleseed
Featuring half a dozen different trucks and their operators, this cleverly designed board book is bound to appeal to all young machine lovers. Readers are invited in Toni Buzzeo’s rhyming text, to guess: Whose truck is this? in relation to a utilities truck, a fire-engine, a snow-plough, an ambulance, a crane, an outside broadcast vehicle.
Thus we have …

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Open the gate-fold to reveal …

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The end pages showcase all the vehicles and a surprise finale unfolds …

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Full of potential for interaction and playful learning – with the book and beyond.

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If Music Be the Food of Love

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Heartsong
Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray
Orchard Books
Antonio Vivaldi and his music, and stories of orphan girls who grew up in an orphanage/music school, the Ospedale della Pietà (in Venice) were the inspiration for this powerfully told and beautifully illustrated book.
The young Vivaldi was director of music at the institution and wrote many pieces for the girls in his choir.

 

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One of these was the foundling child Laura whose name Jane Ray came upon on a visit to the Vivaldi Museum in a list, written in an old ledger, of the foundling babies left at the Ospedale della Pietà.
Abandoned as a baby, Laura who is mute, narrates her own story telling of her musical education, her daily duties,

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her friendships and how music, in particular her flute playing, finally becomes her redemption.

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Jane Ray’s evocative illustrations have a powerful haunting quality that resonates with the text: Crossley-Holland wastes not a single word as he gives voice to Laura – ‘In the watches of the night. Like a cradle, rocking. Sometimes I think I hear you. Do you love music too? / The drops of water falling onto my stone floor are minims and crotchets, quavers and semi-quavers. Like a song I almost think I know. Like a song you sang to me.’

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Flyaway
Lesley Barnes
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The young princess in this lift-the-flap story keeps a bird caged and every morning demands that it should sing for her. One day though, she forgets to lock the cage. The bird escapes and so begins a chase through the entire castle …

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and out into the grounds. There, the princess traps the bird in a net and so is happy once more. Not for long however, for she soon notices that the bird no longer sings. Realising that it longs to be free, she releases it once more and is later delighted to discover that her kindness is rewarded by not one, but a whole host of birds that come and sing for her every night.

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With stylish illustrations, ten things to find and a flap to lift on every spread (some revealing the encouraging “Fly, birdie, fly away!” to the escapee),

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to add to the enjoyment, this book for young readers and listeners embodies an important message about freedom.

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 Exciting event: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition, Piccadilly, 23rd-29th October

C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]

Deep in the Woods

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Deep in the Woods
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Deep in the woods is a small white wooden house with nine neat windows and a red front door; empty until a little mouse happens upon it. The perfect place for a home, thinks the mouse and he soon has it looking spick and span.
Before long though, other woodland creatures notice the house; they too want to make it their home

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and the kindly mouse makes them welcome. Eventually a dozen animals have taken up residence in the little house, which resounds with their happy dancing and music.

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Those happy sounds attract the attention of a brown bear and he too wants to move in. So determined is he to squeeze his huge bulk into (or onto) the house that disaster occurs – the whole thing begins to collapse beneath him.

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Feeling sad at the destruction of the animals’ home, the bear sets to work to make recompense for their loss; and with hard work and the help of them all, the story ends happily, in celebratory style.

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This dazzlingly beautiful book is a twist on Teremok, a Russian folk tale. Here the intense colour palette, delicious folksy, yet modern illustrative style and stunning endpapers, make the whole thing  a veritable visual feast. Oh, and the cover has a gorgeous retro feel to it too.

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We might  read this story as a parable of our times and only hope that all the countries involved could be as open-hearted as mouse and take in their fair share of those needing a new safe place to live.

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Counting Lions & Actual Size

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Counting Lions
Katie Cotton and Stephen Walton
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Right from the amazing cover image I was blown away by this one. What strikes you first about this large format book is the stunning, incredibly life-like charcoal drawings of the ten animal species portrayed, so accurate and detailed are they that at first glance one could almost think they’re photos.
Starting with One lion and finishing with Ten zebras …

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this is of course a counting book but it’s so much more. Both text and pictures radiate a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the natural world.
Katie Cotton’s poetic descriptions capture verbally the creatures’ physicality and what it might be like for each of the animals in the wild at particular times in their lives so ‘Two gorillas / breathe the same breath./ The child was born a tiny, two-kilo thing of hair and bone and not much else, / so the other keeps him close./ For two or three years, they clasp each other,/ one creature, while he grows and grows and grows./ Later, as he climbs the trees alone,/ he may forget they were once/ two together./ Two gorillas.

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Many of the animals portrayed are threatened species:

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Some of the descriptions themselves mention the animal’s endangeredness, for instance “Does she know they are too few?/ What future is there for/ these four fighters?/ Four tigers.’
In ‘About the animals’ notes at the end of the book, Virginia McKenna provides additional information about each animal featured including its conservation status.

Readers also get right close up to the animals in:

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actual size
Steve Jenkins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Eighteen creatures great and small feature in this engaging book that introduces readers to a wide variety of fauna from insects to mammals although in some instances Steve Jenkins shows only a part of the animal in his layered collage style illustrations. Alongside each of these is a descriptive sentence giving additional facts such as body height and weight.
Eyes figure quite prominently in several of the spreads and in one instance virtually all we get is an enormous squid eye 30cm across staring up from the page;

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but we also get quite close up to that of the Alaskan Brown Bear, the largest bird – an ostrich, and one belonging to the salt water crocodile. Here however, thanks to a fold out, our view is expanded to take in its awesome jaws.

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In a spread where we are shown a gorilla hand and that of the pygmy mouse lemur one’s instinct is to hold one’s own hand up against the former (children will want to do likewise) and to cover completely (if you’re an adult) the latter.

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If you missed out on the original hardcover version, get hold of this new paperback edition for your primary classroom or school library.

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The Bear and the Piano & Little Bear

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The Bear and the Piano
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
There are some amazing picture book debuts this season: here’s one from David Litchfield that absolutely oozes style and panache.
A young bear cub discovers something unexpected in the forest one day and it’s something that, once he gets his paws on it, draws him back again and again and again for days,

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weeks, months and years as his plinking and plonking slowly becomes beautiful music with a power to transport him to magical places far away from his arboreal home.
Now a large grizzly, his musical prowess attracts other bears and then, some talent spotting humans. Thus, he leaves home and heads for the bright city lights of Manhattan …

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and stardom …

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What price fame and fortune though without your friends? Time to head for home thinks the bear and back he goes bursting with tales of life as a celebrity. But all he finds when he reaches the forest clearing is …

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Surely it can’t all have been for nothing, can it?
Executed with remarkable finesse, a fine virtuoso performance all round. It has all the qualities of a classic in the making.

Here’s one that’s already established itself as such:

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Little Bear
Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Red Fox pbk
Many moons ago in an edition of Learning to Read with Picture Books I featured this book in its previous I Can Read incarnation. It was the first of my key ‘Taking Off’ titles and I said of it, ‘a classic whose literary quality is indisputable.’
With four short stories in which Little Bear discovers the value of his own fur coat, makes birthday soup, visits the moon, and makes some wishes, together with its wonderfully warm illustrations by Maurice Sendak, this remains a book that all young children should encounter on their journey as readers. It’s great to see this Red Fox publication of a very special book.

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Hindu Tales Retold

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Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth
Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
Chronicle Books
Ganesha is the Hindu deity said to be the remover of obstacles and a very popular one he is too. With those extremely large ears he is reputed to be a good listener and Hindus often pray to him before embarking on a new venture or going on a journey. I have a large collection of Ganesha murtis collected on my numerous visits to India and each and every one seems to have a slightly different personality; all have a pot belly and many of them have him accompanied by his vehicle, a small rat (called Mr Mouse in this story).
There are many stories about Ganesha – how he got a broken tusk being one of the most popular and this colourful book is a modern version of the particular episode. It tells how as a young child, Ganesha liked nothing better than to eat sweet things, in particular laddoos, the Indian confection. This predilection results in a tragedy when our young hero comes upon a new kind of laddoo – The Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Laddoo. Despite warnings from Mr Mouse, Ganesha cannot resist chomping down on the thing – “I’m invincible.” he reassures his friend – and snaps off one of his tusks.
So furious is young Ganesha that he hurls the broken tusk at the moon. It misses, landing at the feet of the ancient sage and poet, Vyasa who just happens to have a special task for the tusk thrower and thus Ganesha lands the job of scribing the great epic of Hindu literature, the Mahabharata.

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The whole book is a riot of dayglo colour in which Sanjay Patel so brilliantly creates ultra-modern visuals, some of which are reminiscent of what you might see in a temple in South India.

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Others are decidedly closer to some of the contemporary Pixar animations he has worked on.

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By adding their own embellishments and playing slightly with the original plot, Patel and Haynes have between them concocted a wonderfully playful rendering of a classic legend that will surely have wide appeal.
It’s just the thing to read around the time of Ganesha Chaturthi the festival, which celebrates Ganesha’s birthday and falls in 2015 on 15th September.

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Rama and the Demon King
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
My original hardback edition of this book has been read and recommended more times than I care to remember and after its publication soon became the ‘must share’ book for teachers at the time of Dussehra/Diwali. So, I’m thrilled to see a new paperback of Jessica Souhami’s wonderful rendition of the ancient Indian tale. For those who have yet to discover this gem, it’s wonderfully illustrated with wondrous scenes based on Jessica’s own shadow puppets (She has an amazing travelling shadow puppet company).
If like me, you had a copy from the 1990s and it’s been lost, read to death or perhaps, stolen, then you’ll welcome this opportunity to replace it. For those yet to discover this gem, I urge you to get a copy now. Souhami’s spare storytelling style is splendid for reading aloud and her visuals of Rama and his monkey army led by Hanuman, overcoming the evil demon King Ravana are magnificent.

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