Tag Archives: friendship

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.

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I Wrote You A Note / Mr Darcy

I Wrote You A Note
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books
Herein we follow the journey of a note written by a little girl sitting beside a stream, as it travels from her hands until it finally finds its way to the intended recipient.
During its journey the note becomes briefly, a sail for Turtle’s raft; a resting place for some baby ducklings; a bridge for Spider.

Bird then uses it as nesting material; it’s discovered by a restless squirrel; Snail mistakes it for a house; Mouse fashions it into a sunhat;

Rabbit makes a basket from it; Dragonfly rests beneath it; Goat – well he can’t read so abandons it in favour of grass.
Finally the wind whisks the paper skywards dropping it in just the right place for a friend to find. But what does the note say? Aah! You’ll need to get hold of a copy of this enchanting book to discover that.
This is a lovely, rhythmic read aloud with some natural sounding repetition and gentle humour throughout. Lizi Boyd’s gouache illustrations are enchanting. They, along with the stream, seem to flow across the pages as the note makes it journey; and the sender is, all the while, exploring and interacting with the natural world around her. It’s absolute delight from cover to cover, with text and illustrations working so perfectly together.

Mr Darcy
Alex Field and Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing
Meet Mr Darcy, a genteel, refined and shy character living alone on the edge of Pemberley Park. One day he receives an invitation to tea from Lizzy and her sisters who live in an ordinary park. Seemingly considering himself a cut above such creatures, Mr D. tosses the invitation aside

and goes on his way, cutting short the sisters as he passes by.
The following day, Mr Darcy embarrasses himself by crashing right into a tree while endeavouring to ignore Lizzy, and then suffers another disaster of a very messy kind.

Once again its Lizzy together with several others, including Mr Bingley who, despite Mr Darcy’s rudeness, come to his aid.
Grateful for his assistance, Mr Darcy decides after all to accept the invitation to tea and once there, he feels ‘quite loved and not alone at all.’
If any of this sounds familiar, then it’s because the author, a Jane Austen lover, chose to create this rather softer character in her reimagined Pride and Prejudice for young children with its basic plot, main characters and settings remaining intact. Alex Field’s charming tale about shyness, encouragement and the joys of friendship, demonstrates beautifully how easy it is for shyness to come across as rudeness. It’s made all the more enjoyable by Peter Carnavas’s gently humorous, painterly portrayal of the characters.

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Daisy Doodles / Ella Who?

Daisy Doodles
Michelle Robinson, Irene Dickson & Tom Weller
Oxford University Press
Get ready to go doodle crazy with Daisy.
One rainy day the little girl is stuck indoors and almost before she can say ‘Pipsqueak’ her drawing has upped off the page and is helping the child adorn the entire house with doodles of all shapes and sizes.
The rain stops but that is not the end of the adventure; in fact it’s the beginning of a whole exciting experience,

as dragons and dragonflies, castles and carousels, mermaids and much more are conjured into being, which culminates in the claw-wielding, jaw-snapping Battle of Crayon Creek.
All good things have to end though and end they do when the tickly octopus chases everyone back home and mum appears on the scene …

although that is not quite the end of the story …
In this lovely celebration of children’s creativity and imagination, the book’s creators cleverly use the device of a mirror to transport the little girl and her companion into their fantasy world of make-believe and back again: a world created by a variety of doodle-appropriate media.
With all the exciting visuals, it would be easy to overlook Michelle’s manner of telling, which, with its sprinklings of alliteration, and interjections of dialogue, is also a delight and allows plenty of space for Irene Dickson’s illustrations to create their magic.

Ella Who?
Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez
Sterling
There’s a touch or two of the Not Now Bernard’s about this story of a family moving day. The parents of the young narrator are far too busy to take notice of their daughter’s talk of the presence of an elephant in the living room of the home they’re moving in to.
While mum, dad …

and grandma are engaged in getting their new abode into some kind of order, the little girl, having ensured that her baby brother is soundly asleep, engages in some elephant-shared activities, first in her new bedroom and then, outside in the garden. And that is where our narrator notices a man coming to the front door: a man inquiring about a missing baby elephant going by the name of Fiona and having – so it says in the flier he leaves – a particular penchant for apples, . Surely it couldn’t be … could it?

Much of the humour of this book is in the interplay of words and pictures: It’s the little elephant that hands dad a tool as he struggles to fix the shower – a fact he’s completely oblivious to as he utters the story’s “Ella WHO?” catch phrase. As are the other family members, throughout the book: even on the penultimate spread, having told her mum she’s just been bidding the elephant farewell, she gets this same “Ella WHO?” response from her dad.
An extended joke that works well enough to engage young children who will be amused at the adults who don’t listen and delight in joining in with the repeat question.

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Sam and Jump

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

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

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

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

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Edward and the Great Discovery / Diggersaurs

Edward and the Great Discovery
Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme
New Frontier Publishing
Young Edward comes from a long line of archaeologists but, despite determined efforts, is yet to make his first discovery. Then one wet night, the lad unearths, or rather falls over something that looks promising; it’s a strange egg.
Edward takes it indoors for investigation and a spot of TLC …

When the egg eventually hatches, Edward is more than a little disappointed to discover that it’s nothing more exciting than a bird; albeit a very helpful, loving one. Disappointment number two comes when Edward realises his bird is unable to fly.

To cheer himself up, the boy takes himself off to his favourite place, The Museum of Ancient Things and it’s there he learns that after all, his find is indeed a momentous one– a Dodo no less.

Now Edward has, not one but two great finds: an extraordinary friend and companion and a rarity from ancient times. He has also earned himself a place on the wall of fame alongside the other esteemed members of his family.
With its scientific underpinning, this is an unusual and enormously engaging tale of friendship and self-discovery. The gentle humour of the text is brought out beautifully in Celeste Hulme’s avant-garde, detailed illustrations: every turn of the page brings visual delight and much to chuckle over.

Diggersaurs
Michael Whaite
Puffin Books
If you want a book for pre-schoolers that rhymes, is full of delicious words for developing sound/symbol awareness, is great fun to use for a noisy movement session and is characterised by creatures that are a fusion of two things young children most love, then Diggersaurs is for you.
A dozen of the mechanical beasts are to be found strutting their stuff between the covers of animator Whaite’s debut picture book; and what’s more they’re all working together in a enormous construction enterprise.

In addition to the huge monsters, there are some hard-hat wearing humans; but you’ll need to look closely to discover exactly what they’re doing and saying. That site certainly appears to be something of a hazardous place to be working alongside those earth-shaking, smashing, crashing, crunching and munching …

pushing and shoving, stacking, spinning, deep hole drilling, moving, sweeping mechanised giants.

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Tiny Dinosaurs / Dance Is for Everyone

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

and engage in all manner of dinosaur-like behaviour.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Thing

The Thing
Simon Puttock and Daniel Egnéus
Egmont
Among the picture books I like most are those that leave me with unanswered questions: this is such a one.
A Thing falls from the sky causing passers by to stop and puzzle over it: one asks, “What is it?” Another, “What does it do?” while a third merely suggests, “Maybe it just is.” A fourth thinks it beautiful.
Investigations as to whether or not it’s alive ensue. Tummler is unsure; Hummly – the third of the creatures wonders if it might be lonely and Roop, the fourth of their number, suggests they stay and keep it company. All four lie beside the Thing and fall asleep.

Next morning nothing has changed; various greetings are proffered, and the appropriateness of each commented upon; and all the while, the Thing remains, silent and unmoving. A shelter is planned and duly built for the four, but also for the visitor.

People come to view; and to question; some want one like it.
Before long, the Thing has become a visitor attraction and a theme park springs up; its fame goes worldwide and viral.

But then, almost inevitably, its presence proves controversial and divisive; some deem it ‘too strange’, others ‘worrisome’; some suspect it could be dangerous: it doesn’t belong so, they want it gone …
Then one day, gone it is – ‘un-fallen’ – completely vanished. Again opinions are split – some are sad, others pleased to see the back of it. Without the Thing, everything goes back to how it was; or rather, not quite everything.
Hummly never did identify it; Cobbler remains puzzled: Tummler and Roop are more upbeat and focus on the friendship that has formed between the four of them. The sun sets, the friends go their separate ways – albeit with promises to get together again soon; and that’s it.
Themes of caring for strangers and friendship emerge; but this multi-layered, enigmatic, thought-provoking picture book poses rather than answers questions. It is perfect for a community of enquiry style discussion with any age group from nursery up. Daniel Egnéus’ slightly Miróesque illustrations of a fantasy world, populated by whimsical, almost recognisable creatures leave further space for free thinking and speculation.
One to add to any book collection, I suggest.

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Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
I have to admit that I’m a great fan of the Mango & Bambang series, this being the fourth book; and they seem to go on getting better and better.
What is the snowiest meal you can think of: whatever it is I’ll bet it’s not half as delicious as that consumed by the little girl and her best friend and tapir, Bambang in the first of these four linked, although separate, stories. It happens because, Mango is trying to provide the best possible experience of snow for her pal without there actually being any likelihood of the chilly precipitation in their neck of the woods, especially as it’s summer. Instead she decides to ‘bring snow to the tapir’; and they end up breakfasting on lemon sorbet, cream soda, crushed ice topped with whipped cream plus meringue chunks and marshmallows – white ones naturally. That of course is only part of their snowy Saturday outing, which does get more than a little hairy at times …

The whole episode is sheer delight though, especially the finale that you’ll have to discover for yourself by getting your hands on a copy of this enchanting book.
In the other three stories, they spend a night at the fair and poor Bambang ends up with Bambang sustaining a rather nasty injury, inflicted by one of the duo’s arch enemies when Bambang puts his own safety second in order to protect Mango.
Being quick to recover though, its only a few days before the two are ready for their next two adventures, the final one of which sees them reunited with Bambang’s somewhat sassy, diminutive young cousin Gunter at the international premiere of his new film.

I absolutely love Bambang’s assessment of the canapés offered as ‘just normal food, made too small.
Charm simply oozes from these wonderfully uplifting, fun-filled tales; but what over-arches everything is the bond of affection between the two main protagonists, one of which has an unfailing capacity for innocent havoc wreaking.
As always, Clara’s delectable, retro-style illustrations – this time with touches of orange – add visual charm to Polly’s stories; the combination once again creating the perfect book for newly independent readers, or for sharing with those not yet ready to fly solo.
If you’ve yet to be delighted by this team, get a copy of this book right away; I suspect you’ll then want to read their previous stories too.

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King of the Sky

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

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

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

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

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Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day / Papasaurus

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Meet Kiki and Bobo. They’re super excited on account of a trip to the seaside; the perfect place to spend a sunny day they think. Off they go in the bus where Kiki eagerly anticipates a swim in the sea: Bobo, in contrast does not.
He doesn’t want the ice-cream Kiki buys either, despite his friend’s best efforts.
Undaunted, she suggests that dip in the sea. This is greeted by a series of stalling activities: rubbing on sun cream,

collecting seashells and sandcastle constructing, until finally the indulgent Kiki is rewarded, not by an enthusiastic change of heart on Bobo’s part: rather he tearfully admits that he’s scared of sea swimming.
Three cheers for Kiki: she has just the thing for reluctant swimmers and she’s ready to let Bobo have that, and equally important, to take hold of his hand as they enter the water.

So, overcoming the fear of water – tick; being a super-duper friend and helping a pal in his hour of need – tick. Those are the important outcomes of a seaside sortie so delightfully orchestrated through Yasmeen Ishmail’s characteristically adorable illustrations – littered in this instance with flaps to open – and a straightforward text that in the main, comprises the dialogue between Bobo and Kiki.
Another winner for Yasmeen Ismail.

Papasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books
Using a similar question and answer style employed in Mamasaurus, Lomp has Babysaurus participating in a game of hide-and-seek with his Papasaurus. When it’s Babysaurus’s turn to be the seeker, he can’t find his Papa. His “Have you seen my papa?” is directed to first Stego, and subsequently Anky, Mosa, Velo and Edmont,

all of whom respond by referring to attributes of their own papas. None though can match up to Papasaurus in the eyes of his little one and eventually he pauses his search on top of a large hump in the landscape to consider where his father might be;

and lo and behold …
The dinosaur characters are rendered in bright colours making them stand out starkly against the sombre shades of the prehistoric landscapes they inhabit and it’s thus that Lomp creates the possibility of hidden danger as the infant dinosaur forays into the unknown perhaps for the first time.
Lots of fun to share with young dino. fans, in particular those youngsters who with a parent fairly near at hand are beginning to make those first forays into the wider world.

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Grumpy Frog

Grumpy Frog
Ed Vere
Puffin Books
Grumpy Frog wasn’t the only character to be leaping around when I opened his book parcel: I started leaping round the kitchen waving the book in delight especially as its arrival coincided with Earth Day and there on the first double spread is a more upbeat version of the amphibian proclaiming thus:

He then proceeds to blow it though by damming every other colour, he can think of: “Uh oh!” to pinch his words, “Grumpy Frog alert!“.
Better organise a hopping contest with some pals ASAP, but make sure he crosses the line first or else …

Don’t think of suggesting a swim – that involves blue; or a bounce, which, so Grumpy Frog decrees, is yellow.
It looks as though isolation is the best thing; after all, aloneness he absolutely adores. It gives him time to contemplate colour, diet, annual events and err … loneliness.

Not such a good idea after all then, this setting oneself apart.
Enter stage left another kind of jumper but as you might expect, a pink rabbit gets a huge thumbs down from our frog who manages to make the poor unsuspecting creature cry for its trouble. What about this large snuggle toothed croc. then? He’s definitely making friendly overtures towards GF and SNAP! Oh no! surely Grumpy Frog hasn’t met his demise; has he?
Actually no: a spot of self-reflection appears to have saved his skin so …

Furthermore it looks as though some apologies are on the cards too; though that is not quite the end of this corker of a book: this is …

and, to discover what happens in the interim, I urge you to hot foot it, or rather hop foot it immediately to your nearest bookshop and bag yourself a copy.
It’s an utter triumph for Ed Vere and maybe even for Grumpy Frog, just so long as he gets there first. This reviewer found herself snortling at every turn of the page: it’s the perfect antidote to grumpiness (and election blues).

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A Home for Gully / Through the Gate

A Home for Gully
Jo Clegg and Lalalimola
Oxford University Press
Gully is a long-suffering resident of the park; long-suffering because every morning his makeshift home is swept away by the keeper. This should no longer be tolerated, decides the scruffy dog that happens along one morning, introduces himself as Fetch and claims to be returning Gully’s stick. Fetch calls a meeting of his 412 resident fleas and thereupon they decide to assist the seagull in a search for a more satisfactory place of residence: one “that doesn’t get swept away, where my feet are warm and dry, and my tummy is full” is the bird’s desire.
They leave the relative peace and quiet of the park …

and head into the city where, after being shown the door of a smart hotel, they come upon the seemingly stuck-up Madison who offers her assistance as city guide. The three circumambulate the whole city before ending up at the library for some R and R. Make that R, R and R for therein they meet rat, Zachary.

On learning it’s a home rather than a book they’re seeking, Zachary leads them out and eventually, to a likely spot. Then with Gully safely installed, the other three head off into the darkness leaving their pal to his new warm, dry abode.
Next morning however, all is not quite hunky-dory with Gully. What good is a home if he doesn’t have others to share it with thinks our feathered friend …

There is a wonderful vintage look to Jo Clegg’s warm-hearted, funny story, thanks to Lalalimola’s delectably droll illustrations. These she packs with diverting visual (and verbal) asides that cause the reader to pause for a while and spend time exploring every spread. This is an artist I shall watch with interest, as I will the author.

Through the Gate
Sally Fawcett
EK
A little girl narrator, unhappy about a move to a new house, shares her step-by- step transformation from feelings of sadness and loss, to those of joy and satisfaction. The process is recounted as she travels with initially, downcast eyes, in a plodding manner to and from her new school; then after a week, the plod gives way to a mooch and the sighting of wild flowers growing through cracks in the pavement. Another week passes and she changes to an eyes-forward wander and hence, more awareness of the positives the environment offers …

The following week our narrator is ready to look all around her as she walks and thus, one becomes two walkers to school; and thereafter, things are altogether different.
Concurrent with the little girl’s changing feelings as new opportunities manifest, we see the new house gradually becoming a wonderful new home; but those aren’t the only changes: a lone bird on a bare tree builds a nest, finds a mate, eggs are laid, and life begins anew as three fledglings appear, just in time for blossom to burst forth on the tree.

Look closely at the spreads and you’ll notice a cat that plays a bit part in the whole transformation; delicate details of plants which, like the rest of the girl’s surroundings, change from shades of grey to full colour.
Sally Fawcett orchestrates this lovely story of change, hope and resilience superbly using a patterned text in tandem with subtly changing scenes of the girl’s actual and metaphorical journey.

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A Story Like the Wind

A Story Like the Wind
Gill Lewis and Jo Weaver
Oxford University Press
Gill Lewis has woven a wonderful novella with an up-to-the-minute feel to it. Stories of the refugee crisis continue to feature in the news with desperate people continuing to attempt seemingly impossible journeys in inflatable boats: this fable is such a one and this particular boat is filled with hopeful passengers young and old, ‘clutching the remains of their lives in small bags of belongings.’ The boat’s engine has failed and the boat is adrift on the Mediterranean; but the passengers, their resources dwindling minute by minute, are alive. Even so, they are willing to share what they have. Among them is fourteen year old Rami: he has no food to share so he refuses what the others offer him. What he does have though, is his precious violin: fragile; intricate; beautiful.

I took the only thing I could not leave behind,” he tells the others when asked why he refuses their offers.
Tell us a story to see us through the night,” requests mother of two young children, Nor.
What Rami performs for those beleaguered passengers is, so he tells them a story of Freedom, a story like the wind, a story that begins on the highest plains of the Mongolian desert, known as the ‘land of a million horses’. His story – essentially a Mongolian folktale about a young shepherd and a white stallion that he rescues as a foal, – is powerful, drawing in each and every listener (and readers) and as it progresses part by part, the passengers make connections with their own lives. Carpet seller, Mohammad tells of trying to sell a flying carpet to the woman who is now his wife. Others too have stories to tell but eventually, Rafi’s magical telling is done. It’s brought his audience together in a shared bond of happy memories, of sadness for those they’ve loved and lost, but most of all, of freedom and hope.

With what I fear is an increase in overt racism, in hate crimes and fascism, not only here in the UK, but also in many other parts of the world, this affecting book deserves, (I’d like to say needs), to be shared widely and discussed anywhere people come together in groups.
Music has the power to transform – that is clear from the story;

and it’s something many of us know from experience: so too do words. Let’s hope Gill Lewis’s poignant words here can work the same magic as those of Rami. They certainly moved me to tears several times as I read. But let’s not forget the power of pictures: they too can bring us together, sometimes in shared understanding, sometimes, shared appreciation or awe. Seamlessly integrated into the story, and adding to the sense of connectedness, Jo Weaver’s illustrations rendered in blue-grey shades are at once atmospheric, evocative and intensely moving, as befits the telling.

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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.

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Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt / Goldilocks and the Three Potties

Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt
Giles Andreae
Egmont
My initial thought on opening the parcel containing this book was ‘Oh no! Messing around with Pooh Bear!’ But then I read the rhyming story aloud all the way through and was utterly enchanted: it is Giles Andreae after all and he knows how to write a rhymer if anyone does.

The story simply trips off the tongue rather like that delicious honey that Pooh just cannot resist consuming; even when it’s his very last jar: and it’s supposed to be Heffalump-catching bait in the pit that Piglet has dug in the hope that it, rather than ‘Fresh Piglet(s)’ will become the creature’s next feast.
That jar of honey in our trap.” / groaned Pooh, “it was my last. Oh bother! Double bother! / And if no-one’s listening, / BLAST!

So saying, off goes Pooh, leaving Piglet all alone in bed, pondering on the “horrid, hairy Heffalump” and whether it will indeed, prefer the sweet sticky stuff or “juicy piglets in his tummy.” But then before you can say ‘Heffalump’ it’s time for Piglet to foray into the forest and see what, it anything is in that pit.

Delicious! It certainly left me, and my listeners, hungry for more …

Goldilocks and the Three Potties
Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow
Even fairy tale characters have to learn about using a potty; young Goldilocks is no exception. Fed up with soggy nappies, she decides it’s about time she began wearing “Big girl pants’ instead. – so long as she has the perfect pair _

Of course, though, wearing pants means remembering to use a potty when you need a wee: that too has to be just right. Then there’s the question of timing: there are occasions when it seems you really need to go but it turns out to be a false alarm; other times you might leave it a little too late …

Sure enough though, Goldilocks soon gets the hang of things making her mum and dad very proud parents indeed.
Just the book to share at home or in a nursery setting, with toddlers embarking on potty training; and equally those just past that stage who will delight in Goldilocks’s toileting activities from their own slightly superior, ‘been there’ standpoint.
There is plenty to amuse in Leigh Hodgkinson’s scenes be they indoors or out in the woods. The infant Goldilocks is an adorable character and that final spread will surely make readers aloud chuckle as much as their young audiences.

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Big Hid

Big Hid
Roisin Swales
Flying Eye Books
Do you have days when you feel unaccountably sad? I know I do from time to time. It’s the same for one of the characters in this, Roisin Swales’ sweetly beautiful debut picture book.
Little and Big together are a terrific team so what is Little to do when Big doesn’t want to do any of the usual friends-together things?  It’s no to climbing trees,

chewing stuff, dressing up, and having races.
In fact all Big wants to do is hide away: Little is at a loss to know how to help.
Perhaps a slice of Big’s favourite cake might do the trick: Little duly bakes and delivers a large piece but Big stays firmly tucked in.

He consults his other friends but to no avail: Big remains hidden no matter what; and Little misses his pal SO much.

Suddenly out go his arms and around Big they go (as far as possible) into a great big hug and guess what …
So simple yet so utterly affecting: everybody needs a Little on hand to work some hugging magic at those hide-away times. If you’re not fortunate enough to have one such, then try giving someone in need a hug and see what happens.
The mostly warm earthy tones of Roisin Swales visuals are just perfect for this revivifying story; and those Testudinean eyes have just a touch of Klassen about them.
Perfect for sharing; and equally perfect for beginning readers: it knocks the rubbish they dish out in the name of teaching children in the early stages right out of the water.

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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.

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It’s My Pond / Looking for Lord Ganesh


It’s My Pond
Claire Garralon, translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Book Island
There is a pond and a duck – a yellow one that comes upon same. “Wow, nice pond – it’s my pond!” it declares and plunges in. Bliss. Enter stage right another duck, white this time. It too wants the pond. Its “Why don’t we split it in two?” suggestion seems ideal. Another duck appears, a red one …

but that’s no problem: divide the pond three ways. And so it goes on: more and more ducks of all colours of the rainbow appear one by one, and the pond is split into ‘tiny bits and pieces.’ Then … consternation on the part of the in-the-pond ducks … none of them, it transpires, is actually having any fun at all.
“We don’t swim” says green duck. “We just stay put.” “We’re bored, “ says pink duck “and we can’t move!
Leave it to black duck though: it has the perfect solution.

But then what should happen along but a huge hippo: uh-oh!
Wonderful wit on the part of the book’s creator is evident in both words and pictures. Young listeners will have a good laugh over the lovely lessons on negotiating and sharing; and they’ll delight in the notion of what look like the kind of ducks they’ve seen at the fair or school fete being characters in a picture book.

Looking for Lord Ganesh
Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer
Lantana Publishing
I have a fairly large collection of Ganesha images both 3D and 2D so was more than a little amused by the title of this book. A friend asked me the other day, ’Why do you collect them?’ My response that Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, was all that was needed. Herein it’s Anika’s grandmother who had always told her to ask ‘Lord Ganesh’ for help when the girl is anxious over something. Anika has recently emigrated with her family and now is missing her home city Mumbai greatly. However she has made a friend, Hadiya and now has a dilemma.

Anika has the opportunity to join a soccer team but without her new friend, so, she borrows her mum’s tablet and e-mails the god of wisdom asking for advice.
What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of soul searching on Anika’s part, a wise choice (without the help of a response to her mail) and ultimately, an outcome that works for all would-be players, every one of them.

Sonja Wimmer’s vibrant, richly patterned illustrations convey beautifully, both Anika’s and her friend’s thoughts and emotions in this touchingly different story about friendship, inclusiveness, finding your feet in a new environment and discovering your own inner strength to hold fast to what you believe to be right. It offers an excellent starting point for discussion and explorations of a cultural and/or, religious nature.

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Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books
There was once a raincloud.’ Nothing unusual about that: we frequently have plenty. This particular raincloud though has feelings, sad ones on account of being the only one remaining after the ‘horrible’ hot sun had chased off the others, leaving him all alone and without a pal to play with. Search as he might, the cloud’s friend-finding endeavours were fruitless. On the point of giving up however, the cloud notices a small person in the street beneath him – an extremely grumpy-looking lass, despite the sunshine.

Could she be the one he’s been looking for?
The cloud pursues the girl to the market, the underground and finally home; and all the while she remains grumpy VERY grumpy indeed. What could be the cause of all this ill-temper? The cloud ponders: is she lonely or just plain peevish?

After all, she has plenty to lift her mood.
Being a kind-hearted soul, the raincloud decides to ‘pay it forward’ in the very best way a raincloud can …
and guess what? A beautiful new friendship begins to form …

This entrancing follow-up to Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat caught me on a day when I, like Ivy, was feeling more than a little down. That raincloud had the same uplifting effect on me as it did on the girl character herein. Now that’s pretty amazing as rainclouds normally have the effect of dampening my spirits considerably … which all goes to show what a revivifying reaction a lovely picture book can bring about.

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Henry and Boo!

Henry and Boo!
Megan Brewis
Child’s Play
When Boo intrudes upon Henry’s peaceful tea break one day, the floppy-eared character is far from pleased; even less so when Boo resists Henry’s instructions to leave. The only response issuing from the little rabbit is “Boo!” Now that’s no way to win friends surely, but there you are; it’s what the pesky bun. insists on doing over and over. What’s a chap to do when Boo follows him everywhere …

and does everything he does – even headstands? Not a good idea for a little bunny, nor is intruding on the cake making, washing up (think I’d allow that one) and vacuuming – ditto, so long as Boo took a share of driving the machine …

Ignoring just has no effect: Boo pops up everywhere you can imagine, and everywhere you probably can’t and try as he might, all he gets is the cold shoulder.
Hello, what’s  peeping out from behind the tree, right by that sign?

Eventually Henry runs out of Boo-avoiding strategies; even hiding in a box doesn’t do the Boo-banishing trick: the ‘boos’ merely increase. Then as a last desperate measure Henry is about to despatch the intruder when events take a dramatic turn …
Perhaps Boo has some uses after all (that’s in addition to giving audiences irresistible Boo’ opportunities) Could what began as a total no-go situation, perhaps be the start of a wonderful new friendship? …
You’ll certainly have your audiences eagerly joining in with that irresistible oft repeated ‘Boo’ as they relish this super story with its enchantingly quirky characters, so deliciously illustrated and with important themes of understanding and friendship.

I’ve signed the charter 

I Lost My Sock! / Fruits in Suits

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I Lost My Sock!
P.J.Roberts and Elio
Abrams Appleseed
Subtitled ‘A Matching Mystery’ this begins with Fox’s declaration, “I lost my sock!” Ox, despite the fact his pal is sporting its pair, asks what it’s like. The dopey-seeming Ox then goes on to produce several unmatching sockish articles of a variety of patterns and sizes for the increasingly frustrated Fox.

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A parcel and a rock are then proffered and rejected before a totally undaunted Ox comes up with a lorry load of socks, tips the entire contents out and proceeds to hunt for the match, without success.
Eventually Ox gives up and is about to depart when BINGO! Fox spots the sock …

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There then ensues a dispute over the ownership of the blue-dotted article. Ox maintains it’s his brand new, perfectly fitting hat with a special handy place to keep his supply of oranges; oranges he cannot keep in his pocket because he doesn’t have one on account of not wearing any pants (trousers). PARDON!

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Ox’s crazy response educes a crazily considerate response from Fox who generously hands over his one remaining sock/hat: but that is not quite the end of this wonderfully foolish tale.
Crazy as it may be, this tale of misunderstanding and mismatching offers much to learn about friendship, and also about pattern, shape, size and colour, comparison and contrast. Elio’s exuberant, cartoon-like illustrations, with their geometric shapes, are terrific fun and Roberts’ equally amusing text, all in dialogue, is hugely enjoyable to read aloud. (The exchanges reminded me somewhat of Mo Willems’ heroes, Elephant and Piggie). It’s also ideal for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves; share it first though.

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Fruits in Suits
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed
It’s time for a swim, fruit style. First changed into appropriate gear is Strawberry, the narrator, in snazzy polka dot trunks, who then endeavours to persuade the business suited Grapefruit that what he’s wearing – suit though it may be – is totally inappropriate for taking a dip in the pool. Other fruits duly dress suitably – pardon the pun – in one- or two-piece bathing attire (although the word swimsuit’ is never mentioned). After a ridiculous exchange culminating in “BUT I’M WEARING A SUIT!” the near-exasperated Strawberry eventually produces a pair of large trunks and finally …

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whereupon the infant Pomegranate throws caution to the wind and takes a leap in the buff …
This final action caused a giggle on behalf of my young reader who also enjoyed the whole nonsensical scenario.

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That’s Not a Daffodil!

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That’s Not a Daffodil
Elizabeth Honey
Allen & Unwin
When Tom’s next-door neighbour, Mr Yilmaz,  calls with a crumpled bag containing what looks somewhat like an onion, but Mr Yilmaz assures him is a daffodil, the boy is more than a little sceptical. “Let’s plant it and see,” Mr Yilmaz suggests, so they do, in a large pot. Tom waits and waits but nothing much happens; He calls it a desert so Mr Y. suggests making it rain and he does …

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Still, nothing seems to be happening, but they keep watching until Tom declares “a green beak” is peeping through. Inevitably, – as beaks do – it opens up; and becomes a green- fingered hand.

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Mr Yilmaz continues visiting, bearing gifts of various fruits and vegetables, Tom’s curiosity growing along with the plant all the while as it becomes “Grandpa’s hairs in the wind”, “a wet rocket”, needs the assistance of “the plant ambulance” when Mr Yilmaz’s grandchildren accidentally knock over the pot in play; and then after some TLC, shines forth as a “street light”, heralding spring.

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What though, does young Tom see when the bud finally bursts forth in bloom …
Wonderfully playful, uplifting and full of hope, this beautiful story introduces so much – notions of good neighbourliness, diversity, respectfulness and a whole lot of learning about gardening, and growth – not only of the flower but also of a special friendship. At the same time it interweaves imaginative notions in the form of metaphor and all this through the eyes of a young child.
The author’s gorgeously warm, soft-focus illustrations in, I think, watercolour and oil pastel, exude warmth and a joie-de-vivre.
A perfect springtime share for early years teachers and parents of pre-schoolers.

The Butterfly Dance

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

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

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

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

Let’s Go to Nursery! / Will You Be My Friend?

Let’s Go to Nursery!
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
We join Bee and Billy (and their mums) at the door of a nursery. The session is already in full swing with all kinds of exciting activities taking place. The children give their mums a farewell hug and Bee eagerly begins to join in. Billy however, is more reluctant and a tad clingy. He soon gets drawn in though, thanks to a ‘message’ full of kindness …

Happy noisy play ensues until there’s a dispute over ownership of a large toy; but Billy, surely a fast learner, comes to the rescue and all is well once more.
There’s so much fun to be had, so many things to share and so much playful learning – just how it should be.

All too soon though, it’s time to help tidy up; the mums are back and it’s farewell until tomorrow: a happy, exhausting day spent and the prospect of many more to come.
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia paint a lively portrait of nursery life without the intrusion of the nursery staff: they, one hopes, are observing and sometimes, gently encouraging and perhaps guiding, unobtrusively from the side-lines.
The first of the First Experiences series for ‘a new generation of little readers’ the publishers say. Perhaps ‘little listeners’ would be more accurate, but no matter which, its intended young audience will find plenty to enjoy; it’s as well that the book is sturdily made with wipe-clean pages as I foresee a lot of enthusiastic handling.

Will You Be My Friend?
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is a title from Bloomsbury’s Featherstone imprint and has something of an educational slant: There’s plenty to think about and discuss; and the whole thing is invitingly illustrated with a sequence of vignettes. These are captioned and each spread opens with a question on an aspect of friendship: ‘What do you do when a friend upsets you?’ and ‘What do your friends think of you?’ for instance. Notes from a friendly puggish pup offer further food for thought at the bottom of each right hand page.

A final spread is aimed at parents, although I see this book being used in preschool and KS1 sessions on ‘What makes a good friend?’ too. It’s all very nicely and inclusively done though personally, I prefer emotional and social learning to be part and parcel of picture books’ stories rather than books specially created for the purpose.

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Can I Join Your Club?

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this cleverly inclusive book

Can I Join Your Club?
John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Little Tiger Press
Children are inveterate club creators (often calling them gangs); and club joiners. There’s the book club, the gym club, dance club, drama club, art club and so on: after- school clubs are numerous and in my experience, extremely popular. Adults too are big club joiners. The trouble is, the issue of insiders and outsiders often rears its ugly head causing upsets, resentment and sometimes, worse: discrimination and prejudice for example.
John Kelly’s wonderful story of Duck’s efforts to become a member of a club – any club – be it Lion Club, Snake Club or Club Elephant find him wanting: he receives a resounding ‘Application DENIED!’ in each case.
Down, but definitely not out, Duck knows just what he must do. He sets up his very own club: one where every single applicant is welcome – Good on you Duck. And best of all, he calls it, eventually, OUR CLUB.

Drum roll for Duck. Acceptance and friendship rule.
How beautifully Kelly takes the issues of inclusivity and the vital importance of embracing diversity and weaves them into this funny book. As someone who is in despair about current issues such as BREXIT, the treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, not to mention Trump’s wall, this is truly a timely parable. This could be seen as a wake-up call for one and all.
Steph Laberis’ animal characters are a treat to behold: the specs they sport in this scene are so ridiculously spectacular.

Almost every scene simply crackles with energy; there is deliberately, the odd exception though – not a lot of dynamism here …

I now hand over to the book’s author to talk about the way he works:

Where do I work? And how do I work? With John Kelly author of Can I Join Your Club?

I work from home.
But the truth is that I work in lots of different places.

I work sat bolt upright in front of my desktop computer, but also slouched on the sofa with my laptop. I draw with big pencils on a drawing board perched on my dining room table, yet I scribble tiny doodles with my favourite fountain pen in a Moleskine sketchbook. I write leaning against the kitchen worktop, hunched over a cup of coffee in a cafe, wrapped up warmly on a park bench. I construct plots, characters and rhymes best in a hot bath, in the shower, laid flat out on the floor with my eyes closed, or walking a friend’s tiny Jack Russell (called Luna) round the park.

My writing work falls roughly into two modes of working.
Rhyming books and Non-rhyming books.

Rhyming books tend to start with a general idea: i.e. ‘What if a dragon was raised as a knight in armour?’
I then just begin jotting down random rhyming couplets that make me laugh or, by a bizarre combination of words, spark some other silly idea.
When I’ve got enough of those (about 40-50) I’ll see if it’s possible to roughly cut them into some kind of order. That order will then (fingers crossed) suggest some kind of story. I then start filling in the gaps with more new couplets. This will then suggest even more silly ideas which, in turn, suggests more stupid plot ideas. I then need new couplets, and the process goes on, and on, and on…

After an indeterminate time (anything from three weeks to two years) I end up with a working story outline. So then I go through it doing everything to make the rhymes as amusing as possible. Then I polish it over and over until I’m not clever enough to make it any better and send it to my agent.
She emails me back saying, “That’s great!” or “That’s awful!” In which case I start again.

Non-rhyming books are a bit different.
They still start with a general idea: i.e.‘What would happen if a Bear checked into a 5 star hotel to hibernate?’
But then I’ll just jump straight into writing in my sketchbook, trying to work out what the story is actually about. I often do drawings as I go along – not because I’m intending to illustrate it myself – but because it helps me find the meaning of certain scenes. It’s like having my own pet actors who can act out scenes to see if they work or not. Sometimes the actors are much cleverer than me and they’ll come up with something I would never have thought on my own.
Eventually I have enough to attempt a rough draft. Then it becomes very similar to the previous method of working. The big difference with non-rhyming books is that I act them out in my kitchen, which I’m sure is enormously amusing/irritating to my neighbours.

I do school visits and have learnt that what works on paper doesn’t always translate out loud. So I’m now a big believer in performing each draft of my texts. I don’t think it’s until I’ve read something out loud, in a silly voice, that I get a sense of whether it works – or not. It’s got to the point now where when I’m writing I’m always thinking, ‘How this will sound?’ in front of a hall full of 150 kids.

(I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall when John is acting out some of those drafts of his.)

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The Perfect Guest

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The Perfect Guest
Paula Metcalf
Walker Books
Meet Walter, a rather persnickety pooch; he’s extremely house proud and exceedingly enamoured of his brand new teapot. Enter squirrel, Pansy, Walter’s friend; he’s not seen her in a while so is delighted when she calls and announces she’s coming for a visit. Now Pansy is something of an enthusiast – can you see where this might be going?
Even before Walter has finished smartening himself up for his guest, there she is ringing his doorbell.

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Oh dearie me! He’s not even finished some running repairs to his trousers, no matter though; his pal is an expert when it comes to sewing. But that will have to wait because first a catch-up cuppa is called for – the perfect opportunity for Walter to show off his precious possession.
Tea over, she gets to work whipping up her celebrated lemon cake, followed by wielding her needle on Walter’s torn trousers. Oh no! looks like she’s got a little carried away with her hole sewing: Oopsie! Those really big ones were the legholes.
Never mind; Pansy can demonstrate her tailoring skills by making him a brand new pair – in some very jazzy material. Now where could that have come from? Walter’s soon to find out … OMG!

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No matter: Walter, like many of us, reaches for the chocolate at times of extreme stress, but it appears Pansy’s sharing skills seem to leave a little to be desired …

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In fact, it’s starting to appear that Miss P. is something of a nuisance.
However, things are only just starting to go pear-shaped: the inevitable happens when she offers to do the washing up. After which, long-suffering Walter comes up with a damage limitation – so he thinks – plan.. He sends her outside to water his veggies while he attempts to restore his home to its former state of spotlessness.
The whole thing unfolds like a delicious sitcom culminating in a wonderful and altogether unexpected finale …

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The lengths some people (or animals) go to in the cause of friendship …
Joking apart, Paula Metcalf’s dramatic rendition is a wonderful demonstration of how, when it comes to special friends, one is willing to look beyond their imperfections and love them for what they are. Her illustrations are deliciously droll, her characterisation and dialogue truly brilliant. Encores will certainly be the order of the day.

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling
Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books
Full of heart and wonderfully quirky is Ering’s lastest tale. Herein we meet Captain Alfred on board his little sailing boat on his way home to his wife. On board with him are a whole lot of ducks for his farmyard, his dog and, nestling inside his violin case, an almost ready to hatch, duck egg for his wife. The Captain has already decided upon a name for the soon to be born duckling: Alfred Fiddleduckling.

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As Capt. Alfred fiddles, a storm is blowing up unexpectedly – a big one and such is its might that for hours the boat is tossed and buffeted and engulfed by a silent blanket of fog. Captain Alfred, his ducks and his violin are cast overboard and all that appears drifting far offshore towards an anxiously awaiting Captain’s wife fretting on the porch, is the just hatching Alfred Fiddleduckling in the fiddle case.
The newborn creature emerges into a solitary, mist-swirling world and his first quack is directed towards an inanimate object floating close by. And ‘Alfred embraced the object with all of his heart. And he caressed it so it would not feel lonely as he did..
Albert’s caresses are rewarded by another unexpected happening: the object makes the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard: the sound of friendship – sweet solace for his solitude.

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Alfred loved the object! And, by the sound of its beautiful music, the object loved Alfred, too.
And as the sounds continue to drift and waft through the swirling fog and duckling and violin drift likewise, they come to ground in a mysterious place and those sounds drifted on until they reach the ears of a lonely beast. It’s Captain Alfred’s dog and soon he too is swept up in the music and ‘in just a twinkle of an eye, the duckling and the dog were best of buddies.
Eventually, thanks to the music, duckling and dog and the Captain’s wife are drawn together.

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We’re not told though, of the Captain’s safe return home; rather we’re led to believe in it through both the final words ‘And you can guess what will happen if Alfred Puddleduck just keeps on playing!’ and the final scene wherein music and the missing are drifting closer together.

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Such are the quality of Ering’s prose and his paintings with their thick brush-strokes and delicate pen/ink lines, that one can almost hear the sounds of the beautiful, swirling music and feel the eddying fog.
An enchantingly lovely, life-affirming book that resonates long after its covers have been closed, and even those with that tactile spine and embossed lettering and images, are alluring.

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Quiet! / The Unexpected Visitor

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Quiet!
Kate Alizadeh
Child’s Play
We join a small girl on an exciting auditory exploration of her (seemingly single-parent) family home. ‘Ssssh! Listen, what’s that noise?’ is her invitation as we follow her from room to room. Staring in the kitchen there’s the bubble bubble of the pan rattling on the cooker, the hummmmmmmm of the fridge, the click of the toaster, the whizz whoosh of the mixer, the kettle rumbles and burbles, the microwave beeps and pings, the pedal bin clanks and Dad at the sink washing up, sloshes and clatters.
Mealtimes are equally noisy with four residents creating all manner of eating-related sounds …

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But there’s more to hear, so our guide repeats her invitation and leads us into the next room where I counted at least thirteen sounds in Kate Laizadeh’s living- room illustration, and that’s without baby brother’s giggles and rattles; even turning the pages of a book causes a swish and rustle

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There’s plenty to listen out for at bath-time and as bedtime preparations are under way, with hair drying and teeth brushing and finally comes one more ‘Ssssh! …’ as it’s time to get into bed ready for Dad’s bedtime story told in suitably hushed tones, and a goodnight lullaby. Those however, are not the last sounds we hear …

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One of the learning experiences most early years teachers do is to take their class or nursery group on a listening walk either indoors or out. (I’ve done it on many occasions). This onomatopoeic celebration of a book is a wonderful introduction or follow-up to such an activity.

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The Unexpected Visitor
J. Courtney-Tickle
Egmont Publishing
A little fisherman lives alone on a rocky island. Each day he takes his boat out, casts his fishing net and waits. His haul is usually plentiful and at night he has plenty to cook for supper. Far too much in fact, but the fisherman always hopes that others will visit, although they never do.
Then one morning he does receive a visitor, a big friendly whale. Although the visitor is far too huge to get inside the fisherman’s home, the two become friends …

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and even go on a fishing expedition together. That’s when the whale needs to teach his new friend a lesson, for the sea is decidedly empty of fish: not a single one is to be found. ”You took far more fish than you needed. That was greedy,” the whale tells him and the fisherman knows it’s so.
A promise is made and in return, the whale takes the fisherman and his boat to another island whereon he can start afresh, with a new home …

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a new fair fishing regime and a whole host of new friends, both human and marine-dwelling.

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With its important themes of sustainability, friendship and sharing, this thoughtful and thought-provoking picture book puts its message across in a manner that, like the whale, packs a powerful punch.
Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s stippled spray effect and the swirls add a touch of maritime depth and magic to the otherwise flat style of her illustrations.

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Mighty, Mighty Construction Site

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Mighty, Mighty Construction Site
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle Books
It’s wake-up time at the construction site and the construction vehicles are back, to share their working day. Teamwork is needed for their new task – the erecting of an enormous building: but the trusty truck crew are ready. First comes Cement Mixer blasting his horn, calling to his fellow trucks.

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A ‘SUPERCREW’ is required to work on this job; so the fleet becomes ten. Small and quick Skid Steer partners big Bulldozer working side by side to clear the way with Skid performing some of her super spins.
Excavator and Backhoe make another duo, the former digging the trenches, the latter putting the drainage pipes  in place and then both covering them, the process being repeated  – over and over …
The work continues apace with Crane Truck, Flatbed Truck, Front-End Loader, Dump Truck and Pumper

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all playing vital roles until finally, it’s job done! (The building itself stands out starkly in its setting: its shape and transparent nature suggests it is made largely of glass: an interesting talking point.)

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Now, the sun has gone, the moon is out and the trucks wend their weary way back to sleep. ‘Shh … goodnight!
Like its predecessor, Rinker’s rhyming text reads aloud well as it details the various roles of the team members – it’s great to see how the trucks work in co-operation – and Lichtenheld’s robust, action-packed illustrations (alternating spreads and panels) help pace the rhyme. There’s so much to enjoy and discuss and after a reading or two (or more I suspect) this story could be turned into a movement session. Children can use their bodies to emulate the truck actions adding appropriate sound effects too.

Also just out is an unabridged board book edition of the predecessor:

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Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle Books
There’s such a lovely rhythmic feel to this bedtime tale that features five large machines, which, on the first spread, are still hard at work making a road and constructing a building. A turn of the page shows the same vehicles with one task each to complete before their day’s work is done.
Shh … goodnight, Crane Truck, goodnight.’ One by one, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Bulldozer and Excavator each completes its work and is duly bid goodnight in similar fashion, the repetition helping to add to the sleepy ambiance of the telling. Earthy hues at sundown, and indigo night shades, are just right for Lichtenheld’s scenes, which are full of gentle visual humour.

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Jamal’s Journey

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Jamal’s Journey
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press
Young camel, Jamal does little else but walk, walk, walk across the desert following his mama and baba, the boy and other riders; he watches the falcons too sometimes, as he plods along. Then one day a sandstorm blows up – roaring, whooshing and whirling sand into Jamal’s mouth and eyes. When it’s passed, the little camel finds himself alone looking up at a star-filled, moonlit sky …

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The sand has been completely smoothed: of his Mama or Bapa’s footprints there is no sign, let alone their riders.
As dawn breaks Jamal discovers that other animals are close by – a jerboa, a spiky monitor lizard and a brown hare;

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but Jamal’s request for help goes unheeded: the animals are too busy fleeing. What can have frightened them?
Looking skywards, Jamal spies a tiny dot – a falcon is spiralling towards him. Jamal though isn’t scared and he follows the falcon’s looping flight across the sand, up the hills towards the distant dunes and the shining sea before which stands a huge city. Then coming towards him out of the dust cloud, there emerges a wonderfully welcoming sight: his Mama, Baba and, joy of joys, his friend, the boy.

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After the reunion, it’s time to explore the city …

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and one day perhaps, even more.
Michael Foreman created this book after a visit to Dubai and in his introductory note writes, ‘When you are in Dubai, among its glistening towers, it is easy to forget that this city was built in a desert and its roots are firmly in the Bedouin culture. Central to that culture … the camel.’ Everything about this tender tale of friendship, determination and adventure evokes, and pays tribute to, the desert and to that Bedouin culture: one can almost feel the shimmering heat and respond to an urge to cover eyes and ears as the sandstorm approaches
Little Jamal’s feelings – panic, fear, hope, surprise, delight, and finally, joy, are all shown through Foreman’s superbly expressive camel eyes. The word ‘jamaal’ in Arabic means beauty and some people think there is a link between its J-M-L root structure and ‘jamal’ meaning camel (which has the same root). True or not, Foreman certainly, in this book, has created something beautiful.

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I Love You (nearly always)

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I Love You (nearly always)
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing
Roly is a woodlouse – the king of camouflage, Rita, a super-cool firefly. Surprisingly, or maybe not if you believe the ‘opposites attract’ idea, they like one another. That’s at the beginning however.
One day Rita becomes critical of Roly’s tough skin, his controlling manner and his habit of hiding away quietly. Roly too has issues: they’re logged in his black book: Rita’s light’s too bright, she’s noisy and too fast a flier; in fact she’s downright annoying.

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Can they overcome their differences? Seemingly it’s worth a try.
Roly takes measures to soften his suit, just a little …

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Rita attempts to slow her flight somewhat …

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A bond of trust begins to form … And then it’s a case of vive la différence: love conquers all.
What an absolutely brilliant way of demonstrating the importance of friendship and that we should acknowledge and celebrate our differences. Roly and Rita are such endearing characters, so adorably portrayed in Anna Llenas’ mixed media illustrations. Every spread made me smile and the plethora of pop-ups, wheels, flaps and sliders ensures visual delight, not to mention ‘wow’!s from young children, at every page turn.
I’m keeping close tabs on my copy for fear it gets booknapped by an enthusiastic child.

Rabbit & Bear The Pest in the Nest

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Rabbit & Bear The Pest in the Nest
Julian Gough and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
After the first wonderful Rabbit & Bear book, Bear’s Bad Habits, from this duo I did wonder whether the second could possibly be as good. The answer is definitely yes, every bit as brilliant and every bit as uproarious. Here’s a sample of the delights of the dialogue:
‘ “What?” asked Bear. “I’m angry! And I want to be calm! So I’m angry that I’m angry!” …
Why did you kick yourself?
Because I’m annoyed with myself!” said Rabbit. “Because I can’t change myself
But you can change your thoughts,” said Bear.
Change my thoughts? What’s wrong with them? My thoughts are PERFECT,” said Rabbit.
But your thoughts are making you unhappy,” said Bear.
No!” said Rabbit. “The world is making me unhappy! I must change the world … Stupid world! Change!” …
Maybe you could just think about the world differently,” said Bear. “Maybe you could … accept it
Accept! Accept!” said Rabbit … “What’s accept mean?
Saying, well, that’s just the way it is,” said Bear. “Not try to change it.
No!” said Rabbit. (a creature after my own heart; don’t an awful lot of us feel like that right now with everything that’s happening around us?) Bear though, is entirely right when she tells her pal, “Your brain is getting into a fight with the World.
As you’ll have realised – if you weren’t already aware from book 1 – these two characters are pretty much polar opposites with cantankerous Rabbit and reasonable, reasoning Bear.
What in particular though, in this tale, has made Rabbit so tetchy? Only that he’s been woken from his slumbers by a TERRIBLE noise and his place of repose (Bear’s cave) is full of light. No, it’s not thunder and lightning as he fears however, but Bear snoring and Spring sunlight illuminating the cave.

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That’s just the start of things though: worse is to follow. There’s an intruder in his burrow – not the snake he feared but still not wanted …

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and newcomer to the valley, Woodpecker’s ‘BANG! BANG! BANG!’ is utterly infuriating.
Thank goodness then for Bear and her words of wisdom. She has a wonderfully tempering effect on Rabbit and although he won’t, despite what he says, remain “Calm and Happy and Wise forever!” he does now at least have some coping mechanisms: for Bear’s snoring anyway “Mmm, maybe I should think about it in a Different Way. … Yes! I shall stop thinking of it as a Nasty Noise. I shall think of it instead as a nice, friendly reminder that my friend Bear is nearby.” And suddenly the sound, without changing at all, made Rabbit feel all happy and warm. (Must try that one.)
As well as so much to giggle over, Gough give his readers (as well as Rabbit) plenty to ponder upon in Bear’s philosophical musings about the manner in which they react to things: perspective is what it’s about essentially. Field’s visuals are equally sublime in the way they present both the humour and pathos in the relationship between the two main characters, and the situations they are involved in.

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A brilliant read for newly independent readers, but also a great read aloud: adults will enjoy it as much as listeners I suspect.

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Origami Heart

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Origami Heart
Binny
Hodder Children’s Books
Meet rabbit Kabuki, a charming, neat little guy, who lives high up in a city in Japan, who likes everything to be just so, especially when his friend Yoko is coming to visit. Off he goes to the market…

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in search of perfect vegetables, excellent snow pea tea and symmetrical flowers; he certainly is a particular fellow.
Back home his obsessive behaviour has him lining up all his new purchases on the kitchen bench in neat rows. These he then proceeds to dice into perfect heart shapes (love that idea) –

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and set the table for two. But two doesn’t seem about to happen. Kabuki waits … and waits … but it’s the postman who calls, with a note.Kabuki reads and responds … creatively and, alluringly.
What will be the response to his action?

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Gorgeous design, a delightfully quirky story, adorable characters, thoroughly heart-warming illustrations and what looks like a hand-lettered text make this debut book a small treasure; and there’s an added bonus of three spreads giving instructions for making an origami heart, a rabbit …

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and an aeroplane at the end of the story.

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Dave’s Rock

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Dave’s Rock
Frann Preston-Gannon
Nosy Crow
The delightful troglodyte from Dave’s Cave is back with another troublesome scenario; on this occasion it’s rock related rivalry.
Dave love rock, Jon too.
Bigger rock Dave’s; Jon’s rock faster …

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Dave find pretty new rock, err …

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Cavemen fall out. Dave has idea. Dave busy. Jon busy too. New rocks, nice and round:just right for – new game …

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Dave and Jon both happy; friends happy too.

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… friends happy too.

Delivered in similar clipped caveman speak to its predecessor, this is a terrific tale of friendship, falling out and fun from the fabulous Frann Preston-Gannon. The inclusion of the Mark Twain quote, ‘Name the greatest of all inventors: accident’ sets the scene so perfectly.
The deliciously droll visuals are just SO eloquent. Her hirsute humans and their animal audience are simply splendid. The animals’ doodlings in the sand outlined my own thoughts as to the likely use of Dave’s and Jon’s new rocks but seemingly, the era of Homo ludens had a much earlier origin than the twentieth century advent of computer games, right back in the Tertiary period no less.
Perfect for storytime sharing (watch out for a spate of caveman speak thereafter); and equally perfect for beginning readers. A real cracker this!

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Lucy Ladybird / Where’s Mrs Ladybird?

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Lucy Ladybird
Sharon King-Chai
Templar Publishing
This is a re-issue and it’s good to see Lucy Ladybird back in circulation once again.
Ostracised by the other ladybirds, the despondent creature takes off and soon meets Fred Frog. He pays her a morale-boosting compliment and gives her one of his green spots. As she continues to fly all through the seasons, her encounters with Carla Caterpillar, Felicity Fish and Bella Bird yield further compliments and three additional spots …

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after which Lucy returns home feeling like a true ladybird, albeit a variegated one. Will she now fit in with the other ladybirds?
Actually no but something much more exciting happens instead and before long a change has come upon the entire community …

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With its themes of difference, acceptance, sharing and friendship this is a super story to share with early years listeners and if my experience is anything to go by, immediate re-readings will be the order of the day.
This one’s rich in potential not only for discussion but creative work – I’ll leave that to your imagination. Sharon King-Chai’s paintbox hued, mixed media illustrations have certainly sparked off a whole plethora of activies, both artistic and other, whenever I’ve shared the story. Vive la difference, say I.

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Where’s Mrs Ladybird?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
Toddlers will delight in this brightly coloured hide-and-seek board book wherein four minibeasts are hiding behind felt flaps, one on each spread, except the final one whereon they watch the revelation of a mirror just waiting to be looked in.
The single sentence question and answer per double spread follows the same pattern, for instance …

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and that makes the audience two-fold: beginning readers can enjoy sharing the book, perhaps with younger siblings.

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Frog and Beaver

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Frog and Beaver
Simon James
Walker Books
Frog and his friends the duck family and the vole family live together sharing the river and life’s pretty peachy. Then one day what should come swimming down the river but a beaver, a beaver in search of a place to build his very first dam.

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Frog’s enthusiastic welcome sells the place to him and straightway Beaver sets his chompers to work.
Next morning though, much to the consternation of Vole and Duck, there’s a decided lack of water in their stretch of river.

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Frog sets off to have a word with Beaver but the creature’s too wrapped up in his endeavour to heed Frog’s anxious words and after several attempts to get him to see their point of view, Frog is forced to pass on the Beaver’s suggestion, “Why don’t you all move up here?” to his friends.
Less than happy, the water voles and ducks shift upstream and set about making new homes. Beaver meanwhile continues building enthusiastically, paying no heed to repeated warnings about the volume of water building up, and is finally ready to show off his completed construction. But then …

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Has Beaver finally learned his lesson about doing things in moderation and can Frog truly become friends with someone so different and so wrapped up in his own concerns?
Simon James’ gentle humour pervades the riverside scenes executed in his signature style pen and watercolours.

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The small close-ups of Frog enthusiastically leaping up and down on Beaver’s back to expel all the excess water he’d swallowed are a hoot.

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Animal Allsorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter Fox / Presents Through the Window

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The Winter Fox
Timothy Knapman and Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow
As summer gives way to autumn, a little fox is too busy enjoying himself romping in the flowers and chasing butterflies to pay heed to his friends, Rabbit, Owl and Squirrel as they prepare for the long winter that’s to come. He plays through the autumn too …

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and come winter when the other animals are all snuggled cosily in their nests, Fox is alone out in the forest.
Cold and hungry, he makes a wish beneath a star. What happens then changes the course of events not only for Fox but for the other forest creatures too.

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Full of wintry warm-heartedness and friendship, and just enough seasonal sparkle, this is a story to share with young listeners in the weeks leading up to Christmas. They’ll need to look carefully at the sky to discover where that surprise parcel came from.

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Presents Through the Window
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is out on his present delivery round. He has an unconventional mode of transport and seems in rather a rush. So much so that his quick peep through the (die-cut) window of each house before dropping off a gift will result in some rather inappropriate offerings being received come Christmas morning.

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Part of the fun is that by turning the page, readers will discover the identities of the gifts recipients and relish each mis-match.

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Santa in contrast never does learn the outcome of his hasty choices: another part of the fun is imagining the reactions of the recipients. However the most fun of all is seeing how everything works out just fine come Christmas morning.
The entire text is composed of Santa’s utterances presented in speech bubbles as a running commentary – literally – directed to his audience as he moves from one home to the next. Simple, clever and highly effective.

A Dot in the Snow / Bunny Slopes

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A Dot in the Snow
Corrine Averiss and Fiona Woodcock
Oxford University Press
Polar bear cub Miki would much rather play with his mother in the soft snow than fish in the icy Arctic waters. Off he goes up the ridge presumably in search of a playmate. That’s when he sees it – a red dot in the snow. Then from out of the blizzard emerges a figure – one that looks, smells and sounds friendly.

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And, joy of joys, it wants to play  at first anyway…

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Suddenly though, the dot isn’t so smiley and playful; something has gone missing. One of the child’s mittens: can Miki rescue it and save the day? He can; the ice breaks, the two continue playing; more snow falls blotting out almost everything. Two infants bid each other farewell, return to their respective mothers and doubtless each will have much to talk about.
Gorgeous texturing in the illustrations and a suitably spare text combine to create a warm-hearted wintry read with themes of friendship, determination and parental love, albeit with a bit of stereotyping. Snuggle and share.

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Bunny Slopes
Claudia Rueda
Chronicle Books
Following in the footsteps of Hervé Tullet (Press Here, The Dot), Claudia Rueda has created a metabook with a wintry theme – a wintry theme that is, if readers play along. Bunny is ready for a ski day and invites us to join him; but snow is decidedly lacking. Readers have to create it by shaking the book – hard. Oops!

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Then tap the top of the book to extricate Bunny but that ground looks rather flat. The book needs a right tilt to set our would-be skier in motion, and again. Yeah! He’s off … but all of a sudden …

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(ingenious precipice-gutter moment). A  hasty 180 degree book turn and a page flip will, sort things. Now what?
More manipulating will see a battered Bunny up on his skis again and ready for another run at that cliff. Whoppee! He’s made it right to the opposite side but can he clear that hole? Phew! Just about, but surely not another one; the little fellow’s getting just a tad too big for his boots now but there he goes again …

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Fortunately this leap leads to his very own den where Mummy Bunny is ready and waiting with a warming treat …
Love those rabbitty expressions and the minimal colour palette: with its simple text this is a good bet for those in the early stages of reading as well as individual listeners and book manipulators.

Otto the Book Bear in the Snow

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Otto the Book Bear in the Snow
Katie Cleminson
Jonathan Cape
If you didn’t meet library book residents Otto and his pal Ernest in their first adventure, then take the opportunity to do so now in this wintry one. Otto and all his library friends are getting ready for their annual winter party, an occasion Otto eagerly anticipates. But then Otto’s book is borrowed and the family doesn’t seem very eager to return it – worrying because that party date is looming ever closer. Even worse is to come though: the family departs for a holiday leaving Otto and Ernest all alone in the house, a house that’s right across the city from their library home –and a great distance for the two book bears to carry their book. Another strategy must be found and fast. All it needs is an envelope, some stamps and …

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That WAS the plan but things don’t quite go as they’d hoped. The postman drops the sack as he cycles along the snowy road and CRASH! The friends find themselves hurtling into the path of an on-coming car. Phew!

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Narrow escape but the library’s still a long, long walk away. Can they ever make it home, let alone in time for that party?
A real treat for lovers of books, reading, libraries and of course, bears. Katie Cleminson’s scenes, executed in pen and ink, watercolour and pencil, have something of a vintage feel to them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samson the Mighty Flea

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Samson the Mighty Flea
Angela McAllister and Nathan Reed
Andersen Press
Samson the Mighty Flea is top of the bill at Fleabag’s Circus, which is no surprise: he can lift a match, a pea and, the lovely Amelie – all at once. Despite this, he’s not satisfied; Samson longs for the big time so he bids farewell to fellow Fleabag performers and off he goes determined to be “the biggest star in the world“.

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But the world is a very big place and he’s such a small flea: “Go back where you belong,” a bug tells him. There’s no going back for Samson though, not until he’s performed before a huge audience. That does eventually happen …

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but so does something else: Samson realises that however much he’d longed for fame, it’s worth nothing without his old friends and one in particular.
Meanwhile back at Fleabag’s that particular friend is about to give the performance of her life too …

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Thought provoking and funny, this circus romp moves in and out of rhyme and so requires careful perusal by an adult reader aloud before public performance. I loved the offbeat nature of the whole thing: its unlikely characters are portrayed with finesse by Nathan Reed, who provides visual delight at every turn of the page.

Owl Bat Bat Owl

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Owl Bat Bat Owl
Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
Walker Books
I’m a big fan of wordless picture books and this one is a cracker. It features two families one of owls, one of bats.
As the story opens, the owls are happily settled on their roomy branch enjoying some shut-eye when all of a sudden along comes a family of bats. They too decide to make their home on that self same branch so we then have …

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Unsurprisingly the two families are circumspect: after all owls and bats don’t really make the best of friends.
After a fair bit of positional adjustment, the families both prepare to sleep but baby animals, like humans are inquisitive and so you can probably guess what happens after this …

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Now we know that human children are much more ready to accept newcomers than are most adults. The same is true of owls …

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though mother owl soon has her youngest offspring back where she wants, beside her and all is peace and quiet. But when the chips are down and disaster strikes in the shape of a storm,

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differences don’t seem to matter – co-operation is now the name of the game.
This book works on so many levels and is open to a multitude of interpretations. We often talk about the power of words: here, picture power rules.
What a wonderful demonstration that reading is about so much more than getting words off the page.

We Found A Hat

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We Found a Hat
Jon Klassen
Walker Books
This, the concluding book in Klassen’s “Hat’ trilogy is delivered in the artist’s dead pan style. Longer than the previous two at 56 pages, and divided into three chapters, it features two turtles and just one hat – an exceedingly large one – for turtle heads, that is. Each in turn tries it on and reach one conclusion: It looks good on both of them.

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Rather than have a bust-up, the two walk away to watch the sunset from a nearby rock – together.

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One starts thinking about the sunset – so we’re told; the other starts thinking about you know what …
Night falls and the two prepare to sleep. One turtle starts moving downwards in the direction of a certain article of headwear … The second dreams – of stars and identical hats, one for each of them. Hmm: now what?

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Seemingly that’s for readers to decide as they relish the subtleties in this Klassen finale. With its spare text and slow-moving visual action – it’s entirely a case of showing, not telling here –
and they are turtles after all. What’s going on behind those eyes? That is the key.
Rendered in sombre hues with a gradual fading out of the soft orange as the sun finally sinks, this is desert dryness in more senses than one.

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That’s NOT How You Do It!

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That’s NOT How You Do It!
Ariane Hofmann-Maniyar
Child’s Play
Think how boring our lives would be if everyone did things in exactly the same way, but that appears to be how one of the characters in this charming story would like it to be. Meet Lucy; she’s an expert at pretty much everything from eating with a knife and spoon to gymnastics; she’s a pretty dab hand at painting and origami stars too.

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In fact she seems to act as adviser on pretty much everything to all and sundry until, along comes Toshi. Now Toshi’s pretty confident in his eating and musical abilities; his moves are pretty cool too.

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His art is awesome and it looks like he has a talent for paper folding. The only trouble is – for Lucy at least – his ways of doing are very different from hers; and THAT is what bothers her.

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Eventually she can hold back no longer: “That’s NOT how you do it!” she yells at the newcomer as he completes this for her…

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Now, it’s a case not of teaching but of learning where miss Lucy is concerned; she, it seems, has at last learned a vital lesson about understanding and celebrating difference. We all have so much to learn from one another.

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That’s a lesson all children, and a good many adults too, need to take on board. It’s most definitely something teachers need to know as they start out, and to remember every time they present a new learning opportunity to a class or group. Such a hugely important message, so simply and charmingly delivered through the two delightful characters in this simple little story.

Wings! / Bertie Wings It

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Wings
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books
Paul Stewart, co-creator of the wonderful Edge Chronicles series turns his hand to picture book writing and has teamed up with Jane Porter; the result is a picture book that celebrates friendship, determination and discovering your own talent.
It’s the Great Gathering of Birds and everyone is there having fun, until that is one of their number shouts, “Last one to the top of the tree’s a rotten egg!” With that the whole gathering takes to the air, all except Penguin. The poor fellow is left all alone and it’s not the first time. Time to teach himself to fly, thinks Penguin but try as he might his feet remain well and truly grounded, despite the help of some of his friends.

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Emu, Kiwi and Ostrich can’t see what all the fuss is about; they much prefer to walk but Penguin remains determined. Owl steps in and offers a spot of coaching but all penguin perfects is running, jumping and flapping. Seemingly nothing can get our penguin pal airborne – or can it? Wait a moment … what’s that string for?

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Oops. Is this the end of Penguin’s flight then?.

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Not quite: there IS one place where those wings of his can be put to good use …

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Jane Porter’s richly coloured mixed media collage pictures are full of humour and pathos: her love of birds shines through in every one.

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Bertie Wings It!
Leslie Corin and Brendan Kearney
Sterling
Bertie knows it’s time to fly the nest. He’s all prepared and the sun is shining: “Today is the day that I fly!” he announces stepping, wings a-tingle, to the edge of his nest. That’s when things start to go wrong.

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Seemingly every other bird around has opinions as to how it should be done. Bertie listens attentively to their input and some time later, he’s ready for the off; he now looks like this …

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and there he goes … Uh-oh!

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That’s not quite the end though: Bertie picks himself up and suddenly he feels freer. Now he KNOWS for sure exactly what to do and this time, he’s going to stay true to himself and follow his own instincts.
A fun look at what happens when you stop trusting yourself and start listening to everyone else’s opinions instead; and a good starting point for discussion.

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 Storm Whale in Winter

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The Storm Whale in Winter
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Some friendships are forever, no matter the distance between the two friends. Such is the case with young Noi who, in The Storm Whale, formed a strong bond with a young whale washed ashore on the beach near his home and later returned to the sea by the boy and his dad. Now with the coming of winter, Noi’s father sets out on one last trip in his fishing boat, but his failure to return by nightfall alarms his son as he waits and watches from his window.

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Seeing something far out at sea, Noi knows he has to leave the safety of his bedroom and braving the snowstorm raging outside, he goes, as fast as the icy shore will allow, towards the water’s edge. Frozen sea prevents him launching his boat and so Noi continues on foot and is soon lost, or so he thinks. Suddenly he spies in the flickering lamplight, a strange shape:

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it’s his dad’s boat, stuck in the ice but there’s nobody aboard. Nobody aboard, but Noi is not alone: all around the boat is the entire whale family including his friend, the storm whale.

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Another storm has brought the friends together once more. But that’s not the only re-union to take place that freezing night …

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However, it’s certainly one that father and son will talk about often.
Once again, Benji Davies has created a truly heart-warming tale, a tale that celebrates the power of love and friendship and the courage it can engender in the face of adversity. What superbly atmospheric scenes of swirling snow and icy seas grace the pages of this long-awaited wintry sequel.

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Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble / Pugly Solves a Crime

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Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
The tiny tapir referred to in the title of this, the third delicious Mango And Bambang collaboration between Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy doesn’t crash onto the scene until the third story and when he does, my goodness he certainly makes his presence felt.
Before that though, Bambang and Mango visit the seaside to spend a special carefree, fun-filled day together before Mango’s new school term starts. At least that’s the plan, but it turns out to be a day packed with unexpected incidents culminating in the rescue of a toddler swept out to sea and an exciting parachute flight.
In the second story Bambang is feeling off-colour, his snout is blocked and he takes to his bed. Doctor Blossom the tapir specialist is at a loss to know how to make him better …

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so it’s left to Mango, ably assisted by their pal George, to find a cure.
Even after his recovery, Bambang hasn’t regained his full bounce and so he and Mango do quiet things at home. But then a large parcel is delivered addressed to Bambang and any chance of peace and quiet immediately go out the window, for what should be inside but his small cousin Gunter – a cousin he didn’t even know existed. Small he might be, but he’s a force to be reckoned with and pretty soon, it becomes evident that two tapirs in one apartment is one too many. The trouble is Gunter has announced his intention to stay put and Mango appears to be enjoying his company rather too much. So much so that Bambang starts to think that perhaps he should be the one to go …
The final story sees Mango participating in the City Chess Tournament and one of the other competitors is the boy who’s been champ for the past three years. Seemingly though – at least to Bambang – something strange is afoot.

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By the end of the book, Bambang has come to a very important understanding about family – it’s not about who you look like or where you started; true family are those you belong with – those who make you feel most completely yourself, no matter what.
Full of warmth and humour, these stories are perfect for those readers just starting to go solo.
Another favourite character returns in a brand new adventure:

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Pugly Solves a Crime
Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow
When Pugly learns that Big Sal the guinea pig has been ‘GUINEA PIG-NAPPED he dons his detective hat and turns PUG-DETECTIVE. But who’s responsible for this dastardly crime? Perhaps it’s Glitterball the Poodle who has come to live next door – Pugly doesn’t trust poodles. Or could it be someone else? Time to enlist the help of super smart cat, Clem. Off go the two of them in search of clues …
With plenty of wonderful illustrations from Gemma Correll …

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this crazy tale is sure to bring plenty of smiles to the faces of young readers; in fact, there’s not a spread that didn’t make me giggle to myself.

Scruffle Bear, Ellie, Cyril Squirrel and Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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