Tag Archives: friendship

The Secret Sky Garden

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

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

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

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

Then it’s time to plant seeds and wait …

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

Then the very first visitor arrives …

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

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

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

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride
Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

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

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

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

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

along with the odd spot of relaxation,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magna Cow / A Campfire Tale

Magna Cow
Barry Hutchison and Cate James
Little Door Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Campfire Tale
Sarah Glenn Marsh and Ana Gómez
Sterling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Bear Came Back

But the Bear Came Back
Tammi Sauer and Dan Taylor
Sterling

‘You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it’ is what the little boy protagonist in this story discovers when a large furry ursine character comes a-knocking.

It all starts quite politely on the boy narrator’s part; he’s disturbed from his reading and understandably a tad irritated but isn’t on this occasion rude. ‘And I said, “Go home, bear.” And that was that. ‘

However, this bear is persistent, returning over and over;

but time and again the boy sends him packing until things get just too much. He yells at the creature at the top of his voice, after which there are no further visits.

Peace ensues but the boy isn’t as happy as he’d expected; in fact, he really misses that hulking great irritating animal.

Can he ever find his friend again? The boy certainly goes to great lengths to do so …

but will he ever hear that longed for knock on his door?

There is much to discuss about the way the characters behave in Tammi Sauer’s gently humorous story – not the least being the lengths each goes to find a friend.

Day Taylor’s illustrations are captivating: the bear is adorable – decidedly huggable in fact; and there are lots of lovely details to spend time over.

Dylan the Baker

Dylan the Baker
Guy Parker Rees
Alison Green Books

Dylan the exuberant stripy dog is back once again and this time we join him as he dons a chef’s hat and apron ready to bake a birthday cake – his favourite extra special Choccy-Banana one for his pal Jolly Otter.

The trouble is that right from when those wonderful baking smells start wafting from the oven, Dylan’s tum starts to rumble.

Trying not to eat the yummy cake becomes Dylan’s major preoccupation as he removes it from the oven, leaves it on the table and dashes outside to distract himself.

It’s there that his friends Purple Puss and Titchy Chick find him and they too join Dylan in the not-eating-cake activities. First it’s head-standing, then spinning around in the woods,

followed by swinging and a host of other games; the problem being that before long Dylan isn’t the only one suffering from tummy rumbles and super salivation.

Will Jolly Otter get even so much as a sniff of his birthday cake when three friends all have an irresistible urge to sink their teeth into the delicious confection?

Look out for Dotty Bug, another of Dylan’s pals who pops up on every spread encouraging listeners to join in with this fun story. And fun it certainly is especially as the anticipation builds with those ‘Rumbly-tumbly- grumbly GRUM tummies, not to mention Dylan’s song to sing along with; and the final twist in the baking bonanza is entirely satisfying.

 

Moreover, if you fancy trying some of Dylan’s cake, he’s been kind enough to include a recipe at the end of his story.

Along Came A Different

Along Came A Different
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What is a ‘Different’? Well that all depends on your perspective. If you’re a Red then it could be a Yellow and vice-versa.

Suppose however, quite unexpectedly, a Blue happens along into ‘your’ territory sporting a blue bow tie, twanging a blue guitar and slurping a blueberry shake, supremely happy in its blueness, then what? It might well mean trouble and dare I say, separatism. BIG TROUBLE indeed, and by the look of things, a complete loss of joie de vivre.

Maybe it’s time to come together and draw up some rules …

The resulting isolation of each group appears to be working – temporarily at least but then a whole host of ‘different’ differents appear on the scene – friendly ones; could that be the start of a change of heart?

It might, but wait for it: how about a ‘really different different’ with an all-embracing attitude to life and living, maybe that could really make a difference …

Time to tear up that rule book guys!

Tom McLaughlin has surely created a fable of our divisive times. How much better we’d all be to take notice of the message of this wonderful picture book that blows the horn for inclusivity, difference and friendship everywhere.

It should be read, pondered upon and discussed and then trumpeted by all who value positive relationships across the world.

Not My Hats! / The Great Big Book of Friends

Not My Hats!
Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley
Maverick Arts Publishing

Polar Bear Hettie has an absolute passion for hats, no matter their shape or size Hettie loves to wear them.

Imagine her reaction then as she sits fishing one day when Puffin happens along desirous of a hat. “I’ll share my lollies, my dollies, my books and my brollies, my flippers and my slippers and I’ll even share my kippers … but I’ll never, ever share my HATS,” she tells him in no uncertain terms.

On account of sudden hunger pangs, Puffin settles for the kippers and disappears.

She repeats this litany again when Puffin reappears and this time fobs him off with slippers on account of his chilly tootsies.

Before long Hettie has dozed off dreaming of hat heaven when who should wake her but a certain black and white bird.

On this occasion Puffin suggests swapsies proffering items from his backpack, each of which is resoundingly refused until he suggests a scarf.

Now there’s a possibility: perhaps Hettie could spare the odd titfa after all.

With its plethora of outrageous headwear, this delightfully daft tale that moves in and out of rhyme, demonstrates that language is fun, sharing is best and friendship better than standoffishness.

Friendship is also explored in this non-fiction book:

The Great Big Book of Friends
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Friendship is the theme of the fifth book in Hoffman and Asquith’s Great Big Book series. Herein the book’s creators explore many aspects of the topic starting by asking ‘What is a friend?’ They then go on to look at best friends, friendship groups, what might be shared, difference, pen friends, imaginary friends, objects that can act as friends such as a favourite toy or comforter,

More difficult ideas including falling out, and losing a friend, are also included, as is ‘How many friends?’
Each sub topic is given a double spread and is amusingly illustrated with Ros Asquith’s signature cartoon-style artwork.
With its chatty style and inclusive illustrations, this is a good book to explore with a class or group as part of a PSHE theme.

Testing Friendships – Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories / Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury

Fox & Chick: The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Chronicle Books

Let me introduce Chick and Fox. Fox is an equable character who enjoys reading, cooking and painting; Chick, in contrast, is totally irrepressible – a bit of a pain to say the least. Surprisingly these two are friends. They star in three comic style episodes aimed at those just taking off as readers.

The first story (which gives the book its title) is I think the funniest. Chick calls on Fox, gains entry asking to use the bathroom and then proceeds to throw a party for his pals therein.

In the second story, Good Soup, Chick gives Fox a hard time about his vegetarian predilection wondering why he eschews frogs, small furry creatures, grasshoppers and er, little birds as ingredients for his soup.

Finally, Sit Still focuses on Chick’s total inability to do just that , leaping up every few minutes for a cushion, food and a drink while Fox endeavours to paint his portrait.

How long-suffering Fox puts up with Chick is anybody’s guess: – shades of Lobel’s Frog and Toad here – but their interactions are highly amusing, the text very readable and the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolour are wonderfully expressive and enormously engaging.

Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Andersen Press

I’ve been a huge admirer of Stewart and Riddell’s Rabbit and Hedgehog since A Little Bit of Winter (one of the four tales included here) was published about twenty years ago. If you’ve not met these two enchanting characters then this book of four stories is a great opportunity to get to know these two and the challenging nature of their friendship: one is awake all day and the other all night.

In the first neither of the best friends knows the date of his own birthday let alone each other’s. To be on the safe side they decide to celebrate the very next day and each goes about finding a very special gift to give the other.

Rabbit’s Wish is the second story but when he wishes that hedgehog will stay awake so they can spend a whole day together, the outcome is not quite what was anticipated.

In the third episode a remembering game tests the friendship between the two protagonists but an accident serves to remind them of the strength of their bond.

The final A Little Bit of Winter sees the friends facing another challenge. As Hedgehog prepares to hibernate he carves a message on the bark of an oak tree asking the somewhat forgetful Rabbit to save him a little bit of winter so he can find out what the season he’ll sleep through is really like.

Despite the chilly nature of the season, it’s a truly heart-warming story and like the others, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.

Is it a Mermaid?

Is it a Mermaid?
Candy Gourlay and Francesca Chessa
Otter-Barry Books

When is a mermaid not a mermaid? That is the question explored in this enchanting picture book.

Bel and Benji are playing on the beach one morning when they spy something emerging from the sea: Bel wonders what it could be. Benji says it’s a Dugong, which the creature immediately denies, insisting she’s a ‘beautiful mermaid’ and pointing out her tail – a rather large one.

Benji is having none of it even when the Dugong bursts into song – not very tunefully.

Into the ocean plunges the ‘mermaid’ – not very elegantly – intent on demonstrating her graceful swimming, immediately followed by Bel and Benji,

the latter firmly pointing out the Dugongness of the creature’s anatomy and calling her a “SEA COW”.

This results in a tearful Dugong, an apology from Benji and the forging of a new friendship as children and sea creature spend a happy day frolicking in the ocean waves before bidding one another fond farewells.

Beautifully portrayed in richly coloured scenes and told with gentle humour, this slice of tropical life will delight and amuse young listeners – it’s a treat to read aloud.

There is however a serious side to the book: the final page gives factual information about Dugongs explaining how their seagrass habitat is being destroyed, thus placing the creatures on the list of vulnerable species.

The Knight Who Said “No!”

The Knight Who Said “No!”
Lucy Rowland and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Ned had always been a biddable, obedient little knight complying with each and every one of his parents’ wishes,

and always come nightfall running indoors to hide from the dragon as she swept through the sky. One night as he watches the dragon from the safety of his bedroom window, Ned wonders if, like himself, the dragon is lonely.

Next morning – the day of the tournament – a change has come over the lad. A firm “No” is his response to every request from his parents and the townsfolk alike. When the dragon whooshes through the sky and lands at Ned’s feet, he accosts the creature, inquiring about her lack of roar.

The dragon’s response brings about a mood shift in Ned …

and thereafter, an unlikely new friendship is forged.

Lucy Rowlands’ rhyming text bounces merrily and faultlessly along, providing join-in ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ opportunities for listeners who will delight in Ned’s sudden attack of recalcitrance and its final outcome. Kate Hindley documents the whole saga with wonderful scenes of days of yore village life capturing not only Ned’s mood changes, but also the dragon’s and the bit part players’ characters, absolutely splendidly.

A potential storytime favourite, methinks.

Goat’s Coat

Goat’s Coat
Tom Percival and Christine Pym
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Alfonzo is a goat with a brand new, dapper coat; wearing it makes him feel on top of the world. He also has a kind heart so when out strutting his stuff in his stylish garment and he comes upon a family of homeless frogs in need of help Alfonzo is faced with a dilemma.

Altruism wins: the frogs sail off in a new blue boat; Alfonzo walks on in a cuffless coat.

But then he discovers a trembly cat, her tail in a trap. A bandage is required to stem the blood …

Soon the cat’s tail is covered: the goat’s nether regions anything but.

Further encounters with a panic-stricken hen …

and shivering hedgehogs leave the benevolent Alfonso alone and entirely coatless. Snow falls as night approaches.

Will the goat freeze without his coat?

Tom Percival’s rhyming cuddle of a tale is the perfect antidote to the current political climate demonstrating so beautifully that happiness lies not in possessions or self-interest but in friendship and selflessness. Christine Pym’s illustrations for his heart-warming story capture the feelings of helper and helped perfectly, injecting appropriate touches of humour along the way.

AdoraBULL

AdoraBULL
Alison Donald and Alex Willmore
Maverick Arts Publishing

Alison Donald and Alex Willmore have created a lovely book based on a misunderstanding by one of the main characters.

Tom and Alfred are the best of friends sharing everything and totally inseparable until Tom starts school, leaving Alfred with little to do but remain at home and wait for his pal’s return.

One day though Tom comes home announcing to his parents that he needs a pet – a cute, snuggly one and it has to be totally adorable.

Poor Alfred is worried: what on earth does the word mean, he wonders, and determined not to lose his place in Tom’s affections, sets about finding out.

Having done so he gets to work to make himself fit the bill.
Action plan A is anything but a success so Alfred decides it’s time for plan B – a make-over …

His new look is met with amusement not only by the barn animals, but also by Tom.

Plan C only serves to infuriate Tom: it seems as though being adorable just isn’t a bull thing. Alfred is miserable and in need of some time alone.

But that evening Tom appears carrying a large box, and what a wonderfully heart-winning and unexpected surprise peeps out at its recipient.

The outcome is, no more lonely days for Alfred.

Alison Donald’s funny, warm-hearted tale of friendship is beautifully illustrated by Alex Willmore whose scenes of Alfred and his antics are superbly expressive and like the book’s title, absolutely A-DOR-A-BLE!

Great Bunny Bakes

Great Bunny Bakes
Ellie Snowdon
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Always on the lookout for exciting debut picture books I was thrilled to receive this mouth-watering one by exciting new author/ illustrator, Ellie Snowdon whose illustrations are a real treat – every one of them full of hilarious detail.

Meet grey wolf Quentin with an unusual hobby: he loves to bake: buns, biscuits, fondant fancies and especially chocolate cake. Hmmm!
There’s a problem however; Quentin has nobody to share these yummy confections with.

Unexpectedly though, everything changes when he accidentally receives an invitation to participate in A Bunny Bake-Off.
Time for a spot of subterfuge thinks Quentin.…

Cleverly disguising his facial features he manages to get into the competitors’ tent where he sets about the five challenges.
With top marks in the first event, Quentin looks well set to secure the trophy although one of the other participants is determined to sabotage his chances.

Quentin continues gallantly but there are more dirty tricks, and as he makes his way to the judging table with his final offering, Quentin slips and …

Will all his efforts now be in vain? Fortunately not; in fact our lupine contestant ends up being on the receiving end of a double dose of good fortune.

Ellie Snowdon’s tasty tale of baking, bunnies, fairness and friendship will delight and amuse.

Juniper Jupiter

Juniper Jupiter
Lizzy Stewart
Lincoln Books
Lizzy Stewart’s debut picture book There’s a Tiger in the Garden was a Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize winner last year. Now she has created a super story with a friendship theme and a super-hero character..

A super-hero girl: that’s got to be a cause for celebration from the outset despite the fact that for Juniper Jupiter ‘It’s no big deal.’ This cool character has super powers in abundance: kindness, bravery, speed and guile, strength and she’s super-smart. She can fly too.

All in all it’s a pretty satisfying life but there are times when she feels lonely, so she decides to advertise for ‘side-kick’ and she’s pretty definite where her requirements are concerned …

There are plenty of people wanting the job but it doesn’t take too long for Juniper to rule them all out. Just when despair is setting in and a super sized sulk about to descend upon her, the final applicant makes her presence felt and guess what; she fits the bill perfectly.

Hooray! Now, with Peanut beside her, our young heroine is doubly super but that as you might expect, is ‘no big deal’.

The chatty matter of fact telling leaves the illustrations to do much of the talking and once again they’re absolutely splendid – vibrant, detailed, and beautifully observed, the feeling bored sequence in particular …

 

If superheroes are your thing then you might also enjoy:
Molly Mischief Saves the World
Adam Hargreaves
Pavilion
This young female is perhaps every parent’s worst nightmare and when she dons her super hero gear and assumes superpowers, well it’s anybody’s guess what she might get up to.
Find out more in this new adventure wherein the feisty miss discovers that being a superhero isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

Baby Bird

Baby Bird
Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka
First Editions
First Editions is a new ‘sub-imprint’ of Lincoln Children’s Books that is entirely devoted to debuts and this book is one of its first.

‘Birds are born to fly’, thinks Baby Bird but this little bird was born with one misshapen wing that fails to develop fully and so when the other hatchlings are ready to leave the nest Baby watches them take flight but, try as s/he might, Baby’s efforts to follow them end in disaster.

Determined to learn to swoop and soar like the others, the little creature keeps practising, refusing to give up until suddenly a monstrous face appears from the shadows and there is, not a monster but another bird calling itself Cooter.

Cooter offers to assist Baby by becoming a buddy and the two spend the afternoon endeavouring to get Baby airborne, all to no avail and although Cooter tells Baby that he’s having fun, the fledgling most definitely is not.

The friendship is further tested when Cooter tells Baby something exceedingly distressing that precipitates a fall, a rescue and a revelation.

What follows changes the entire mood; it’s something called Coot Scooting and from then on, Baby’s outlook on life and flying is altogether different.

Baby Bird embodies the spirit of determination against all the odds in this tale of friendship, self-acceptance and inclusivity.
Both author (who sadly did not live to see the book’s publication) and illustrator’s portrayal of the fledgling is uplifting and inspiring.

I’ve signed the charter  

Swapsies / Say Sorry, Sidney!

Swapsies
Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

There’s a delightful lesson in the importance of friendship and learning to share in this latest book from talented author/illustrator Fiona Roberton whose books have all been winners with me.
Fang has a favourite toy, an amazing yellow, stripey, squeezy, thing with an aroma of bananas; he loves Sock more than anything else.
Enter Philip with his magnificent shiny red train, which looks a whole lot more exciting than Sock. Being a good sharer, Philip agrees to a swap.

A similar thing happens with the bouncy toy belonging to Simon. But then disaster strikes …

and Fang is left toyless and missing his old favourite.
Is he to be without his beloved Sock forever more or is there perhaps a way they can be re-united.
Fiona’s characters are adorable; her dialogue superb: “What happened to Ball?” asked Simon. “Ball is no longer with us,” says Fang; and the finale (which I won’t divulge) leaves room for the children’s imaginations to take over and draw their own conclusions.

Say Sorry, Sidney!
Caryl Hart and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books

Resident of the zoo, rhino Sidney feels lonely so he decides to make a break for it and heads for the farm.
Once there, the creature starts helping himself to anything and everything that takes his fancy. First he scoffs Mr Potts lunch, then ruins all the washing on Aunt Ann’s clothes line. How wonderfully affronted she looks …

Not content with that he destroys young Emily’s den and smashes all her favourite toys. Even worse, despite their protests of innocence, everyone blames their loss on whichever farm animal happens to be on the scene at the time.
Rhino? What Rhino? / That cannot be true. / There’s only one rhino / and he’s in the zoo.” Is what the accusers all say to the accused.
Come the evening, those farm animals have had enough; time to confront that rhino and teach him a lesson they decide.

Will Sidney finally see the error of his ways, learn some manners and become a valued member of the farm community, or will it be back to the zoo for him?
With its join-in-able repeat refrain, the jaunty rhyme bounces along nicely and Sarah Horne’s wonderfully quirky characters, both animal and human, are quite splendid.

Ash Dresses Her Friends

Ash Dresses Her Friends
Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing

I’m always interested to discover new illustrators and authors and thanks to New Frontier Publishing I’m meeting Chinese author/illustrator Fu Wenzheng for the first time.
Having grown up in a temple in China she draws on her childhood experiences in her illustrative style employing an, Ink Wash Painting technique (known also as literati) using just three colours to create her multi-layered images.

Her story is simply told and features a shy, lonely, azure-winged magpie named Ash.

One day Ash finds herself face to face with a sad looking elephant. The reason for his sadness is that he wants a new shirt.

Ash decides to help and from a length of red material she fashions him a wonderfully patterned one.

Before long the news of her skill and generosity has spread and one by one, a whole host of other animals come calling hoping for something colourful from Ash’s material, and she’s happy to oblige.

She’s even willing to use her last tiny piece to create a cosy quilt for a baby snail.

Once the cloth has gone, so too seemingly, have all her friends and Ash is alone once more.
Surely that is no way to treat such a kind-hearted creature? Absolutely not; it’s now time for the animals to acknowledge her generosity …

Symbolising good luck, happiness and joy, red is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture and here the predominance of red in Fu Wenzheng’s illustrations emphasises Ash’s friendship and kindness in sharing what she has with others, as well as creating striking images throughout.

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands
Jonny Duddle
Templar Publishing

Just when you were thinking there couldn’t possibly be room on the high seas for another pirate, along comes young Matilda, friend of pirate boy Jim Lad. But can she really cut the mustard as a true pirate or is she the land-lubbing pretender that the other Scurvy Sanders suspect her to be when she goes a holidaying with the Jolley-Rogers?

Excited to be allowed to accompany her pirate pals on a visit to Scurvy Sands, Matilda bids her parents goodbye and three days later, is greeted by Cap’n Ollie Day at the pirate resort who tells them of lost gold buried long long ago by one Mad Jack McMuddle..

The pirate kids are highly doubtful about her pirate credentials, as are the adults,

all of whom are just waiting to expose the girl with her neat clothes, clean teeth, perfect table manners and lack of unwashed odours, wherever she goes and whatever she does.

Take the pirate test” is the command.

What can she do to prove herself?

Suddenly, inspired by a portrait of Mad Jack, Matilda has an idea. All she needs is Jack’s map, a compass and her own excellent sense of direction; oh and a spade carried by her pal Jim Lad.

You’ll certainly need your best array of pirate voices when you share this rollicking sequel to The Pirates Next Door, but don’t worry. I suspect your audience will be focussed on the filmic illustrations, which are absolutely brimming over with larger than life, roguish-looking characters and piratical paraphernalia. Do take a look at the superbly detailed end-papers too.
Whether or not children will on first hearing, notice the underlying theme concerning those who appear different having to prove themselves worthy to gain acceptance, I doubt, they’ll most likely just be carried along by the action.

Eric Makes a Splash

Eric Makes a Splash
Emily Mackenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When it comes to trying new things, Eric is a real worrier. His best friend Flora on the other hand is virtually fearless and loves to help Eric to feel as brave as she does.
She helps him with his fear of getting his wellies dirty; with his worries about trying a new sandwich filling, and comes to his assistance on the tall climbing frame.

When Eric receives an invitation to a swimming party his mind is a whirl of worries: supposing his fur got wet or water went in his eyes; but even worse, what if he sank to the bottom of the pool?

Flora thinks the purchase of new swimming togs might allay his fears but even with his new attire, Eric worries.

Eventually though he’s suitably prepared and off they go to ‘Soggy Towel Swimming Pool’.

Soon all Eric’s friends are having a wonderful time splashing around but Eric is reluctant even to get his toes wet.

Thank goodness Flora is soon by his side offering some timely words of encouragement and finally one very proud panda is in the water…

That isn’t quite the end of the story though. A mishap on the diving board precipitates a disastrous chain of events:

Eric is left without any support other than that supplied by the water itself, and is about to make some very surprising discoveries …
As always, Emily Mackenzie’s illustrations are full of fun and feelings. Her two main characters are totally endearing and complement each other perfectly. We could all do with a Flora in our lives when we’re about to make a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.

Friends for a Day

Friends for a Day
Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh, oh, this is achingly adorable, a real treasure of a book that is both poignant and joyful by the absolute master of sublime, scribbly artwork, Neal Layton who is a self confessed lover of bears. As I started to read it I thought hey, this is a bit familiar and then realised it is actually a reincarnation of Bartholomew and the Bug published almost fifteen years ago. Nevertheless, those children I shared it with back then are all grown up now and it’s exciting to think it’s once again available to a whole new generation of listeners.

Bartholomew is a laid back bear who lives an undemanding existence atop a mountain although occasionally contemplating the world down in the valley with its twinkling lights: maybe one day, he thinks to himself.

However that day comes a lot sooner than he’d anticipated: enter Bug. This tiny creature is in urgent need of Bartholomew’s assistance. Whatever the reason for the hurry, it’s pretty clear that Bug cannot go it alone and so the bear and bug set off together for the bright lights.

What a truly epic adventure this turns out to be (117 miles of travelling)

and all the while Bartholomew’s tiny pal seems to grow ever more eager to reach their destination.

The two finally arrive at the big city in record-breaking time and it truly is a surprising sight but where are all those lights?

Before long Bartholomew discovers just what all the hurry was for as thousand upon thousand of wonderful bugs of all shapes and sizes wing their way into the neon lights that come on only when darkness falls.

An awesome time is had by all but then comes the moment –it’s full of poignancy – when Bartholomew realises that his job is done and it’s time to bid farewell to his tiny pal.

Yes, some days are never forgotten and some books likewise. This is one of those, and like all special stories, it leaves plenty of gaps for child audiences to fill.

Look Out, It’s a Dragon!

Look Out, It’s a Dragon!
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

It’s always a pleasure to open a package and discover a new Jonny Lambert picture book. This, his latest, is something of a departure in that it stars a mythical, rather than a ‘real’ animal although there are plenty of the latter herein too.

Without further ado let me introduce Saffi. She’s an atypical dragon who isn’t interested in capturing princesses, nor in crushing castles, and she’s had quite enough of bottom-bruising rocky mountains. So off she flies in search of a more hospitable environment in which to live.

That is just what she thinks she’s found when she lands rather ungracefully in a sunny woodland. The forest animals however, think otherwise and start fleeing for their lives.

Suddenly Saffi hears a squeaky “Oi! Knobbly knickers! You can’t stay here!” from behind her. It’s Mouse expressing an opinion held by all the forest inhabitants on account of her fiery dragon nature. The dragon does her best to persuade the little creature otherwise and has almost won him over when disaster strikes in the form of a twitchy nose that ends in a very forceful sneeze that scares Mouse …

and damages Warbler’s plumage.

Saffi sets off in pursuit only wreaking more havoc …

until the animals have had enough and the poor well-intentioned dragon is sent packing in no uncertain terms.

Later though, something happens that puts the forest animals and their habitat in real peril.

Who can save them now?

A drama that embodies themes of prejudice, friendship, the dangers of stereotyping and bravery.

Gentle humour pervades the dragon-dominated, mixed media illustrations although even the very tiny participants make their presence felt strongly in the unfolding drama. As always in Lambert’s books, body language is superbly done throughout.

Your heart really does go out to Saffi in her attempts to find a new home so you will be happy to learn that there’s a dragon template that can be used for children to create their very own Saffi character. I’d suggest making a whole diorama and suspending the dragon somewhere therein.

I’ve signed the charter  

Fiona’s Little Accident

Fiona’s Little Accident
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Years ago I was enchanted by Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby: more recently she has introduced another equally enchanting pair of characters, Fiona and her much quieter friend, Felix.

The guinea pig friends are eagerly anticipating demonstrating their volcano in show and tell. Fiona is so excited that she doesn’t go to the loo before leaving for school; nor does she visit the bathroom before going into class.

Show and tell begins and Fiona starts feeling rather desperate but now the bathroom is occupied. Fiona hears their turn being announced. She dashes back and she and Felix start the demonstration.

Suddenly disaster strikes. Fiona cannot hold on any longer: in full view of the class she wets herself. ‘Fiona knew everyone saw. She wanted never, ever to be seen again.’

Her teacher quickly deals with Fiona’s discomposure …

and Felix reassures her that everyone has accidents, even royalty and that within fifty seconds the whole thing will be forgotten.

Wells presents this embarrassing scenario with an empathetic understanding that must surely help children see that accidents such as Fiona’s are quickly forgotten, as well as being something pretty much universal.

One to include in KS1 classroom collections methinks.

Beyond the Fence

Beyond the Fence
Maria Gulemetova
Child’s Play

Thomas and Piggy live together in a large country house. Thomas always takes the lead when it comes to decision making, no matter what ‘He just knew.’

When Thomas’s cousin visits, the boy is preoccupied with her and that’s when Piggy decides to venture outside the confines of the house.

On his walk he encounters Wild Pig.

Wild Pig asks Piggy some thought-provoking questions about his way of life and Piggy returns home.

Thereafter he makes frequent visits to the great outdoors in the hope of seeing his new friend but he never appears.

One evening however, there he is full of apologies and an explanation. He invites Piggy to accompany him into the forest. Piggy declines on account of it being out of bounds although he promises to meet with Wild Pig the following evening.

Thomas’s cousin goes home the next day and the boy is surprised and scornful when he discovers that Piggy has chosen his own way of playing …

Not for long though, for Thomas soon has the upper hand (or trotter) once again.

Will Piggy ever make that decisive break for true freedom? I wonder …

Watch young children playing. There are lots of Thomases but happily there are also plenty of Piggys and that’s what makes life so fascinating.

Maria Gulemetova’s picture book is softly spoken but embodies strong messages about being your own person, standing up for yourself, and what true friendship really means. Her watercolour illustrations (which put me in mind somewhat of the work of Ron Brooks) echo the sparseness of her text and that is what makes the impact of the whole so strong.
It’s a lovely one to share and discuss with people of all ages.

The Very Long Sleep

The Very Long Sleep
Polly Noakes
Child’s Play

Polly Noakes’ latest picture book is essentially a delightful extended joke.

Meet four animal friends Fox, Chipmunk, Marmot and Bear who decide to set up home together. They enthusiastically set about so doing but there is a snag: three of said animals hibernate come the arrival of winter’s frost, something they fail to tell Fox.

Inevitably he is disappointed that none of the others stays awake to share his specially prepared food; he himself is unable to sleep and feels extremely lonely.

Then one day the deliveries start. First it’s a parcel for Chipmunk; next comes a package for Marmot;

and that is followed some weeks later, by a large item for Bear.

Fox is the only one not to receive something through the pigeon post. He waits; his boredom increases: surely a little peep wouldn’t hurt, he thinks.
All of a sudden …

Now what could all that noise mean? …

Illustrated with warmth and humour, this is lovely and potentially rather noisy read aloud to share snuggled up together, especially after a woodland walk. I’d suggest mugs of hot chocolate to sip along with it.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Boogie Bear

Boogie Bear
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The tour-de-force that is Walliams and Ross has created yet another winning picture book, this time starring a resident of the North Pole, a female polar bear.

The creature over-indulges, drops off to sleep and drifts far from home. So far in fact that the sun is sufficiently warm to melt away the ice-berg upon which she’s been precariously balanced and she’s forced to swim for shore, employing ‘her best bear paddle’.

Once on dry land it seems worse is to come in the form of an advancing stampede of decidedly hostile-looking furry creatures of a brown hue yelling about a ‘boogie monster”.

Further undesirable episodes follow including the hurtling through the air of various objects – missiles …

and bears – until suddenly, the ursine residents make a startling discovery.

From then on things turn distinctly peachy for a certain polar bear;

but if you want to find out exactly how the tale ends then you’ll have to get your paws on a copy of this hilarious book. If you’re an adult who loves giving a full dramatic performance when sharing a book you’ll absolutely love this one; if you’re a child who enjoys a rippingly good yarn that will make you wriggle with laughter and that’s brilliantly illustrated, then this is for you.

Uproariously funny as it may be, the story has much to say about embracing difference, acceptance, welcoming, friendship, displacement and more. It’s as much needed now as ever.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Squirrels Who Squabbled

The Squirrels Who Squabbled
Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Orchard Books

From the duo who gave us The Lion Inside and The Koala Who Could comes another winning story, this time featuring two greedy squirrels one of which has done the unthinkable –failed to collect food for his store – and consequently, with winter fast approaching, his cupboard is completely empty: that’s Spontaneous Cyril who lives his life firmly in the here and now.

Squirrel number two is ‘Plan-Ahead Bruce’. He’s a wily one and has already amassed a huge stockpile of goodies.
By the time Cyril realises his partying habits have put him in a bit of a plight, all that appears to be left is a single pine-cone. This potentially fruitful object might just save him from starvation but he’s not the only one with his eye on the main chance. Bruce too has set his sights on one final addition to his stash.

With this potential treat delicately lodged in the twist of a branch and two would-be gatherers scurrying madly up the tree trunk, things are not set to go well and before you can say ‘slow down’ the cone is dislodged from its niche in the spruce and has gone tumbling down the hill with the two adversaries in hot pursuit through the forest.

What follows is an out and out scrimmage between Cyril and Bruce over a single treasure, that must surely end badly, as the object of their desires cascades into the water and well, I won’t say where it ends up for fear of being a story-spoiler.

This is truly a cracking book, delivered through Rachel’s perfectly paced rhyming narrative that like the cone, bounces over the pages with increasing speed, accompanied by Jim Field’s deliciously detailed illustrations executed in a softly glowing autumnal palette, and absolutely wonderful characters – not only the main ones but the bit part players too.
A truly delicious read aloud no matter what the time of year, especially with its themes of the importance of friendship and the folly of petty fights.

Bears and More Bears

Willa and the Bear
Philomena O’Neill
Sterling

Made by her Grandma Bibbie, Willa’s rag doll Rosie is her constant companion until one winter’s day as Willa and her parents are on their way to Grandma’s birthday celebration, the doll falls from the sleigh and is lost in the dark snowy woods.

They stop and search but have no luck; little do they know that the doll has been found.

When they reach their destination, her gran gives Willa a little bear that she’s made. Later, Willa spies a real and very large bear through the cabin window …

but when they open the door all they find on the doorstep is Rosie. “That bear must be a friend of yours,” her gran tells Willa.

On the way back home Willa leaves her new toy bear in the snow with the words, “My friend will love you,” …

Despite its chilly setting this is a warm-hearted, albeit rather unlikely story of reciprocal giving and receiving; and the old-fashioned, cosy paintings have a Nordic feel.

Where Bear?
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books

The fabulous Sophy Henn’s first picture book is now out in board book format and is just right for small hands.

It’s a heart-warming tale that stars a bear and a boy who have shared the boy’s abode since the bear was a cub and the boy considerably smaller.

Bear has now grown too large for the house and the boy, eager to find his friend a suitable new residence, sets out with him.
But where bear?” he asks over and over, until finally they find a suitable location and the boy heads back to his home.

Both bear and boy are happy, particularly as their friendship can be continued, verbally at least.

With such superb characterisation it’s a delight through and through.

Baking Bonanza: Dough Knights and Dragons / Jake Bakes a Monster Cake

Dough Knights and Dragons
Dee Leone and George Ermos
Sterling

Here’s a ‘Great British Bake Off’ tale set in the days of yore when dragons roamed and knights fought them.
A young knight comes upon a cave filled with novel ingredients and cannot resist cooking up a huge pot of savoury stew.
So delicious is its aroma that it arouses the resident dragon and before long the two have formed a forbidden friendship because it’s deemed in this land that every knight must slay a dragon and every dragon must eat a knight.
As their friendship flourishes so do their culinary skills but as the day of impending contest draws ever nearer, the two realise that they must cook up a clever solution by means of the thing that has bound them together in friendship.

And what a tasty solution that turns out to be with its mix of semantic niceties and unusual shaped doughnuts;

and the outcome changes the nature of competitions between knights and dragons for ever more,
This is a recipe for a lip-smacking storytime: there’s adventure, friendship, edibles, suspense, chivalry and a sweet ending, all delivered through a rhyming narrative readers aloud will enjoy sharing, and vibrant, playful digital illustrations.
Take a look at the end papers too.

More cooking in:

Jake Bakes a Monster Cake
Lucy Rowland and Mark Chambers
Macmillan Children’s Books

Jake is busy in the kitchen; he’s called in his pals to help him bake an extra delicious cake for sweet-loving Sam’s birthday tea.
His fellow monsters scoff at Jake’s cook book deeming instructions a waste of time …

and instead invent their own recipe, a concoction of altogether unsavoury items. Surprisingly, the mixture tastes pretty good to Jake though.

When it’s baked to perfection, off go Jake and his fellow cooks to deliver the enormous confection; but suddenly disaster strikes …
Is that the end of a wonderful birthday treat for Sam?
Lucy Rowland and Mark Chambers have together rustled up a deliciously disgusting tale. Lucy’s the rhymer and Mark the picture maker and their latest offering is sure to illicit plenty of EEUUGHs from young audiences.
There’s an added treat in the form of a pack of scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers: clothes pegs at the ready!

A Christmas for Bear

A Christmas for Bear
Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton
Walker Books

Can it really be the sixth story to star the unlikely best friends Bear and Mouse? This one really is a cracker despite the grumpiness of Bear – nothing unusual about that, but he seems even more so where the festive season is concerned.
Having agreed to host a Christmas party, his first ever, Bear goes on to declare presents “Most unseemly,” and appears to think Christmas pickles and the odd poem or two are all that’s needed for a successful party.
Mouse meanwhile is focussed on the possibility of presents and goes off in search of same.

Bear then pours further cold water on the notion calling them “Unnecessary hogwash” and announces his intention to read a poem.
This turns out to be A Visit from St. Nicholas –  something children will delight in .
It does of course, include a reference to a mouse and stockings; the latter seems to hold a particular significance that Mouse takes a while to grasp.

Eventually though he does finally fall in and discovers his stocking containing, no not a pickle, but a tiny, shiny silver telescope.
That’s Mouse’s present dealt with, but what about Bear? Surely his best friend can’t have forgotten him, can he?

Priceless dialogue – “Not even one present!” squeaked Mouse. “The pickles are from France!” declared Bear. “But surely – “ said Mouse. “And furthermore,” continued Bear, “I shall be reading a long and difficult poem.”, – and perfect pacing with a wonderful finale, combined with superbly expressive watercolour, ink and gouache illustrations make for an unforgettable seasonal story to share and relish.

One House for All

One House for All
Inese Zandere and Juris Petraškevičs
Book Island

A parcel from Book Island publishers is always exciting; their books exude quality and originality. It’s certainly so in this unusual take on the extended family.

Three good friends, Raven, Crayfish and Horse meet together and hold a discussion. Each wants to get married and have a family, but their friendship is so strong that a way must be found to preserve it. What can they do to remain close?

The friends decide to build a wonderful new home where they can live together; but a home that encompasses all their needs is no easy matter.

Three sketches are drawn up in turn with the three animals each clearly outlining his perfect family home.

It will come as no surprise when I say that the three homes are totally different.

Surely this isn’t to be the end of a beautiful friendship or a calling off of the marriages …

The power of the story lies in the simplicity of its telling: that, and the absolutely superb, vibrant illustrations make for a strikingly beautiful book.

Let difference, respect and friendship thrive, no matter how, no matter what.
Here’s a book that could help all three flourish.

Mice Skating / Wow! It’s Night-Time

Mice Skating
Annie Silvestro and Teagan White
Sterling

There’s nothing better after a walk on a chilly day than an exhilarating tale of the great outdoors to snuggle up and share, as you sip mugs of hot chocolate in the warmth of your home; and this one really fits the bill.

Lucy Mouse is something of an exception when it comes to winter: she loves it for the crunchy snow, frosty air and opportunities to wear her woolly hat. Not only does her hat warm her head, it warms her heart too.

Her friends in contrast, much prefer to stay huddled up in their burrow waiting for spring.

Venturing forth alone, Lucy has great fun …

but it’s lonely and she really wants to share the wintry pleasures with her pals. They however, are not interested.

Then she accidentally discovers ice-skating, even making herself a pair of skates from pine needles (I love that); and is all the more determined to get her friends to try this magical experience.

If you can put up with some corny, or rather, cheesy punning in the text (courtesy of Marcello, one of the mice), this is a wintry wonder.

The glowing illustrations exude warmth despite the chilly nature of the world beyond the burrow, and are full of creative details such as the pine needle skates and the furnishings of the mouse abode.

For younger listeners:

Wow! It’s Night-Time
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tim Hopgood’s curious little owl that was enchanted by all the colours she encountered in nature returns to share the wonders of the night-time world with young listeners.
There’s the mole that peeps from his hole, the creeping foxes, the rabbits, bats and mice; and when the clouds part, a beautiful big bright moon surrounded by twinkling stars.
All this she sees but there’s a double “wow!” when she spies the other owls that share her tree.

Just before bedtime especially, little humans will delight in discovering what goes on while they’re fast asleep and enjoy the built-in counting opportunity on each spread.
An enchanting taster of the nocturnal natural world, stylishly presented by Hopgood.

On the Night of the Shooting Star

On the Night of the Shooting Star
Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

Bunny and Dog are neighbours living on opposite sides of the fence in homes that match their owners. Bunny’s house is blue and is furnished in suitable bunny style (look for the bed’s rabbit-eared headboard and the chair’s fluffy white tail):

Dog has a red house with red furnishings. (I love the rug border and fireplace tiles.) Both have lake views and signs indicating they want to be left alone as they go about their solo activities.
However first thing every morning Bunny looks through the fence at Dog and Dog looks through the fence at Bunny: neither says so much as hello. They also take the odd peek at one another during the course of the day and at bedtime each checks the light in the window of the house opposite.
Time passes and one moonlit night, unable to sleep, both animals are drawn outside to watch the stars and each decides the other is in need of a friend.
The sudden appearance of a shooting star provides a shared experience:

could this be the catalyst for their friendship to develop at last?

Everyone needs a friend: sometimes we need the courage to reach out and be that friend. This timely message is at the heart of Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond’s softly spoken, captivatingly illustrated book.

How Monty Found His Magic / Starring Carmen!

How Monty Found His Magic
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books

Meet the Magnificent Trio: Monty, his dog named Zephyr and his rabbit named Snuffles. They have ambitions to show their magic in front of a real audience and with Mr Twinkle’s Twinkling Talent Show coming up they’ve a chance to realise their dream.

First though, Monty must overcome his fear of public performance.
The day of the talent show dawns and Monty has a bad attack of butterflies in his tummy. His pals reassure him, “ … we’ll be fine … we’ll be together.
But will Monty be able to remember their words when they’re under the spotlight up on that stage in front of all those people.

This is a tale of finding your inner courage and working together as a team that will resonate with those children in particular who find doing anything in public a trial. Equally it demonstrates that behind every public performance lies a great deal of a gentle kind of magic that comes when friends support each other just because …
With its vibrant scenes of friendship and prestidigitation this should be a winner with young audiences.

Another performance tale is:

Starring Carmen!
Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Carmen is a drama queen of the first order: she acts, sings, dances and even makes costumes.
Her little brother, Eduardo is desperate for a part in her shows, so she gives him a silent role in her latest extravaganza.

Then when her parents ask for an intermission, the showgirl stages an enormous sulk. What good is a stage show when the audience are merely toys?
There’s one member of the family though who never seems to tire of performances and it turns out, he has much to offer when it comes to high drama too.

With its sprinkling of Spanish dialogue – I like the way the Spanish phrases are naturally dropped into the narrative – and brighter than bright illustrations, this story will appeal most to those who enjoy being in the limelight – one way or another.

I’ve signed the charter  

Alfie / Wakey, Wakey Elephant

Alfie
Thyra Heder
Abrams
‘There are two sides to every story’ is an oft-used statement and so it is in this picture book. First we hear from six year old narrator Nia who receives a new pet, turtle Alfie on her birthday. She’s thrilled with the creature, introducing him to friends, making him presents, telling him stories and dancing and writing songs for him, all without anything by way of a response from Alfie. As time passes, Nia’s enthusiasm has waned considerably.
Come her seventh birthday; Alfie is conspicuous by his absence. Where has he gone?

Here the story turns and we hear from Alfie. He has after all appreciated her love and attention and wants to show Mia, by finding a present that will make her equally happy on their joint birthday.
Alfie’s quest for the perfect gift takes him outside for the first time in his life where he receives help first from dog, Toby, then from a snail and finally, after a long nap, from a fish.

It’s in the pond that Alfie eventually finds just the right thing and by the end of the book, there are two very happy celebrators of a birthday, albeit not the one Alfie thinks they’re celebrating.
Expressive watercolour scenes, punctuated by a single impactful, minimal black and white spread, combined with a spare, straightforward text, document this lovely story of appreciation and friendship.

Wakey, Wakey, Elephant!
Linda Ravin Lodding and Michael Robertson
Sterling

What do you do when your elephant friend simply refuses to wake from his slumbers no matter what you do? That’s the problem facing young Edgar.
He’s tried the usual shouting and tickling neither of which caused so much as an eyelid twitch. A flock of roosters fails to rouse him, ditto a band marching right through his bedroom and a cha-cha chicken dance on the bed is similarly ineffective as are popping balloons and a particularly itchy party hat. (Young listeners will by now have guessed the reason Edgar is so eager to wake his pachyderm pal.) Even all these things done simultaneously  does not cause so much as a stirring from the slumberer.

Could a few softly spoken words in Elephant’s ear perhaps do the trick?

With its themes of friendship and perseverance, and its satisfying finale, this lively romp coupled with Robertson’s illustrations of exuberant activities taking place around the blissfully slumbering elephant, will illicit giggles from young listeners.

The Real Boat

The Real Boat
Marina Aromshtam and Victoria Antolini
Templar Publishing

The little paper boat has ambitions – big ones. As he floats on the pond, he hears a duck talking of ‘real boats sailing on the ocean’ and decides that just like the other ‘real boats’, the ocean is the place to be. Prove himself he must by leaving the safety of his home surroundings and heading off into waters unknown.
Getting to his destination though, that is going to be tough. Many of the river boats whose help he seeks – the rowboat,

the motorboat, the riverboat and the barge – are singularly unhelpful.
The tugboat however is encouraging and assists him down to the harbour.
There the paper boat is mesmerised by the tall cranes,

the cars coming off the ferry and the lights of a huge passenger liner.
Further help and encouragement though, come from a fishing trawler in whose wake the tiny paper traveller follows as they venture further and further out on the ocean waves.
Then a fierce storm breaks battering the little paper boat and separating him from the friendly trawler. Is all lost for the intrepid journeyer?

Not quite: in fact all ends in a totally unexpected and highly satisfactory manner for the tenacious little adventurer.
From its brilliant cover you know you’re in for a real visual treat with this one: it’s wonderfully tactile and intricately detailed. Then there’s the number of pages: it’s twice as long as the usual picture book length, one of several I’ve seen of late; just the thing to snuggle up with and relish along with a hot chocolate on these long wintry evenings.
Lyrically told and with illustrations that are arresting and demand exploration for their artistry and technique, this modern fable is a thoroughly rewarding read.

Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster

Ally-saurus & the Very Bossy Monster
Richard Torrey
Sterling

Having put up with her mother’s fixing of her unruly hair and consumed her breakfast, Ally, or Ally-saurus as she insists on being called, sallies forth outside to find her friends. Their morning of imaginary play is summarily interrupted by newcomer, Maddie, a control freak if ever there was one. Everything just has to be done by the rules – her rules.

Ally, Kal and Petey try accommodating her commands into their monster play and while still keeping to their customary roles; but after a while, Maddie seizes Petey’s bear. Then, enough is enough.
“ROARRRRRRRRRR” goes Ally-saurus, angered into finding the courage to uphold her own favoured persona, and firmly standing up to Maddie.

Now it’s Ally-saurus’ turn to lay down some rules before setting off on an afternoon’s super, amazing monster dance of stomping, roaring and laughing, first without and latterly with, a certain monster queen.

Torrey cleverly uses crayon outlines to show the imaginary characters the children assume in their role play, the kind of play that will be familiar to most young children who will likely have already encountered a “Maddie’ of their own.
With its believable characters and themes of friendship and standing up for yourself and others, and clever ending, this is a fun book to share and talk about in an early years story session.

You Choose in Space / Ludwig the Sea Dog

You Choose In Space
Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart
Puffin Books

The You Choose series just gets better and better: now young children can whizz off on countless journeys of discovery in the pitch black of outer space. They can choose their jobs aboard the space-craft; select some snazzy gear to wear; there’s a weird and wonderful assortment of potential friends to get to know;

a whole different diet to sample and much more.
The great thing- or one of them –is, there’s a seemingly limitless choice of possibilities, so that with each blast off, a whole new out-of-this-world story can unfold in glorious technicolour.
The Sharratt/Goodhart team truly have conjured up an inclusive and wonderfully interactive, treat for young space enthusiasts, as well as those who like to be in the driving seat when it comes to a story.

Ludwig the Sea Dog
Henning Lōhlein
Templar Publishing

In this, the second adventure of Ludwig and his friends, the dog receives from his pal, Peter the penguin, whose submarine has broken down, a postcard requesting his assistance.
How on earth or under sea, for that’s where Peter is stuck – is a book-dwelling dog supposed to go to the aid of a friend beneath the ocean?
There are of course, plenty of books to tell him about marine life but these don’t prove as helpful as Ludwig anticipates.

He has to be rescued, and then discovers that water is not his favourite medium.
Perhaps he’ll have better luck with a spot of fairy tale magic, courtesy of the book he’s left in to dry out;

that and of course, some further assistance from his friends.
I’ll say no more other than to recommend that you open the envelope at the front of the book, put on those 3D sea goggles and prepare yourself for an amazing underwater experience. There’s even a fold out spread to explore.

The Marvellous Moon Map

The Marvellous Moon Map
Teresa Heapy and David Litchfield
Red Fox

Mouse and Bear share a house in the big, dark woods, so when Mouse announces that he’s off to find the moon, accompanied only by a the Moon Map he’s in the process of making, Bear offers to accompany him.
Mouse turns him down: “I don’t need your help – I’m the Moon map inventor!” he tells his friend; and once the map is complete, off he goes.

He tunnels, climbs and clambers up into the blackness of the woods. Suddenly, as he’s urging himself forwards who should emerge from the shadows but his ursine pal. Once again his help is refused, although Mouse cannot, so he admits, see his map in the darkness: but Bear responds with “I know, Mouse, … But I’ve got you, and you’ve got me – so we’ll be all right.
The two proceed with Mouse leading the way, until they reach a stretch of water; a stretch far too wide for them to swim across.

Once again Bear is reassuring. He then takes the map and to Mouse’s consternation, starts folding it.

Eventually, after some manipulation, and the odd bit of grumbling from Mouse, there before them is …

But in such a tiny craft, against such high waves, will they ever manage to find the moon?
Teresa’s lovely story with its two endearing characters, the reassuring repetition of Bear’s words of encouragement and the delightful surprise finale find, combined with David Litchfield’s entrancing illustrations make for what I’m sure will become a storytime favourite.

Unplugged

Unplugged
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Steve Antony has departed from his usual illustrative style for this new book, a book with a vital message, very cleverly constructed and beautifully portrayed.
We first meet Blip in her plugged in black and white world, a world where yes, she learns new things, has fun, dances, travels even, albeit virtually, all day and every day.

Then one day there’s a power cut, disconnecting Blip from all of that, plunging her world into darkness and causing her to trip and go hurtling into the great outdoors.

There, Blip discovers are new things to learn, fun games to play, music to dance to and faraway places to visit, all day long and in the company of some wonderful new friends.
Inevitably though, the time comes for her to bid her friends farewell and return from this world of soft colours and joyful exuberance,

to go back to her plugged in existence. Now though, she knows at least something of the delights the real world has to offer.

Yes, we’ve heard the message before but never conveyed with such finesse as here. Steve has already set the bar extremely high with his Mr Panda stories and The Queen’s … sequence: now he’s reached new heights with this modern day parable.

Clumpety Bump / Barnyard Boogie!

Clumpety Bump
Phil Alcock and Richard Watson
Maverick Arts Publishing
Wally Wobblebottom is a kind-hearted soul; he has a horse named Clumpety Bump, a very lazy animal indeed. So lazy that when Wally sets out to deliver goodies to his various friends and neighbours, the horse’s response to his master’s words of encouragement on each occasion is “I can’t be bothered!” which leaves Wally more than a little frustrated, especially as the items he intends to deliver all go to waste.

By Thursday Wally has had enough; he decides to use his tractor when he goes, bearing flowers, to visit his lady-friend. However it seems machines can be just as unreliable as horses …

and in the end it’s Clumpety that takes Wally, at full speed this time, all the way to Ann Kacheef’s house. There disaster strikes … but all ends happily for everyone.
With its playful phrases and refrains to join in with, this story, with its themes of thankfulness and friendship, is one to encourage audience participation and promote the message that language can be fun.

More playful language in:

Barnyard Boogie!
Tim McCanna and Allison Black
Abrams Appleseed
Be prepared for a noisy storytime if you share this one: it’s a riotous read aloud thanks to the musicians of the Barnyard Animal Band.
All the animals have their instruments poised: Horse has a tuba, Goat plays a sax, Cat fiddles, Pig is a pianist, Sheep blows a trumpet and Dog bangs the drums. But what can Cow do? …

The crowd’s assembled ready to hear the performance; but how will the show start and who will lead the band?

Crazy rhyming onomatopoeic instrumental sounds, and a repeat refrain that young children will love to join in with, are part and parcel of the brief text that scans beautifully. Put together with bright, zany illustrations, the whole thing makes for a fun session with young children actively involved both vocally and physically.

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)

This Orq (he say “ugh!”)
David Elliott and Lori Nichols
Troika Books

Orq back in new book; me happy; me love Orq.
Orq and best friend Woma play happily together …

but despite this, life is hard. The family cave is cold and dark, they dine on raw bison meat and worst of all, Orq is being bullied.
The bully, Dorq, is big, much bigger than Orq; he’s hairy, thoroughly mean, and has a nasty-looking pet named Caba.
The fearsome duo like nothing better than taunting Orq and Woma.
One day Orq and Woma are out hunting when suddenly, Dorq hurls a missile at Woma’s head

causing Orq to see red – literally.
In fury Orq grabs two rocks and bashes them together over and over, causing sparks to fly. The sparks ignite a pile of sticks at his feet: Orq has made a surprising discovery …

Orq is a hero; everybody’s hero: no more cold dark cave, no more raw meat: warm cave, night light, hot bison burgers. Mmm!
Like This Orq (he cave boy) Elliott’s deliciously droll text is written in clipped prehistoric cave-boy speak, which, in combination with Lori Nichols’ wonderfully funny, digitally coloured pencil illustrations, make for another great storytime read aloud.
Individual readers can also enjoy taking ‘The Turtle Challenge’ to discover how many turtles the artist painted for the story; it’s quite tricky.

Early Years Storytime: Fergus Barnaby Goes on Holiday / There’s Unicorn in Town!

Fergus Barnaby Goes On Holiday
David Barrow
Hodder Children’s Books
Fergus Barnaby lives with his parents on the first floor of a block of flats. Their bags are packed

and they’re just about to set off on holiday when Fergus remembers he hasn’t got his bucket and spade. They’re still upstairs in Fred’s apartment, left here when they played together. Off he goes to the second floor to retrieve them.
As they start loading the car, Barnaby remembers his swimming goggles: those he retrieves from Emily Rose on the third floor and so it goes on – Barnaby seems to have loaned out half his possessions to friends – until finally everything is ready and off they go.
Surely there can’t be anything else left behind; or can there?
Despite his forgetfulness, or is it perhaps lack of possessiveness, Fergus is an endearing character and his flats have some distinctly unusual residents.

David Barrows’ funny, retro style illustrations for this, his debut picture book, are full of delightfully quirky details and young listeners will enjoy the supreme silliness of the finale.

There’s a Unicorn in Town!
Emma Pelling
Ragged Bears
Do you believe in unicorns? Some people do, some people don’t, but they make for a good yarn no matter what.
Rumour has it that there’s a unicorn in Brinton town: some of the residents even claim to have seen it. But then during the course of a week sightings are confirmed every day, so come Sunday, it’s time to draw up a find the unicorn action plan.
Justin the zookeeper is particularly keen to add a mystical creature to his collection of animals and young Cecily has designs on it as a pet.

The search is on, but all anybody can find are some sparkle dust and a few likely looking hoofprints and before long interest dwindles.
Only Cecily harbours a hope of seeing it again, a hope that is further kindled when, on her way to the park, she notices a rainbow flash …

Could it possibly be? …
A sweet story suffused with understated magic: just right for an early years story session.

I’ve signed the charter  

Friends Return: Oskar and Mo / Alfie in the Woods / Elmer and the Tune

Oskar and Mo
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel
In his first book Oskar the raven loved a whole lot of things; now he’s back with more love. This time it’s directed at his best friend Mo and we discover what the two of them love to do together. After all, unless you’re a solitary individual most things are better if you have a friend to share them with.
They share a favourite place where they go to share secrets. A shared love of stories means that Mo loves Oscar to read to her – good on you Oskar;

they love playing together, whether it’s block building or hide and seek but like all friends they do have the occasional tiff. But it never lasts long because they’re there for each other whatever the weather, night or day, happy or sad, be they close by or far away.
Full of heart, this is a winningly simple portrayal of friendship and a great starting point for discussion with pre-schoolers.

Alfie in the Woods
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Little rabbit, Alfie returns for his third story and he’s out walking in the woods with his dad. It’s autumn and the young rabbit is collecting seasonal treasures.
He spies his friends and together they play hide-and-seek among the trees.
The mischievous little creature then starts using the available autumnal litter to transform himself into various other forest creatures: he becomes an owl gliding from tree to tree; a busy, buzzy bee, a hedgehog,

a dozy bear and even a tree.
All this imaginary play is pretty tiring though, so it’s a sleeping Alfie who is carried safely home by his dad after his crazy adventure.
Alfie has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and his latest story, with Debi Gliori’s captivating illustrations, is bound to be another winner.

Elmer and the Tune
David McKee
Andersen Press
How annoying it is when you get a tune stuck in your mind and the words just keep on going around and around no matter what you do. That’s almost what happens to Elmer when he’s out walking with his friend, Rose one day. First the tune gets stuck in her head and then Elmer too catches it and can’t stop humming the wretched thing.
So infectious is it that pretty soon all the jungle animals are humming that self same tune of Rose’s over and over. What are they to do?
Time to call upon Elmer. Can he come up with a solution to their problem?

Seemingly he can and it works for all his friends; but what about Elmer?
This is David McKee’s 24th Elmer story and his escapades continue to win him new fans as well as pleasing established ones; the latter, like elephants, never forget.

Boo Who?

Boo Who?
Ben Clanton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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  

The Only Lonely Panda

The Only Lonely Panda
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

You Can Do Anything (Hip and Hop)

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter