Tag Archives: Hodder Children’s Books

Oi Cat!

Oi Cat!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Frog is a stickler for the rules – his rules in particular – which is unfortunate for Cat whose turn it is to have his own book. Sadly though, for the feline at least, it’s been decreed that he, and all cats now ‘sit on gnats’.
Imagine the bites, imagine the itching, imagine the scratching of a very sensitive part of his anatomy. Ouch!
Inevitably Cat’s distress results in all kinds of possibilities being proffered by the other animals: were he a pony he could sit on macaroni, suggests Dog. This does not go down well with Cat who objects to his bottom being anyone’s business but his own.
Dog though is full of good ideas, all of which are rapidly negated by the frog on account of their not rhyming with cat.

And even when he does deliver the goods, that dastardly amphibian is quick to point out that bats – be they of the cricket, baseball or softball variety – are already allocated to, erm …

Still though, the dog keeps on trying and even changes tack, suggesting ‘mog’ as an alternative handle for the put upon cat. Now there’s a thought … Doesn’t that word rhyme with a certain extremely assertive creature beginning with f?
But that’s a no go area isn’t it? Surely there must be plenty of alternatives …

Someone’s going to regret that utterance.
I keep on thinking with every new addition to the Oi…! series that they can’t get any better, but then along comes another and I have to say, this one, with its splendid elevating finale, is as close to ‘purr-fect’ as you’re likely to get.
Top that, Kes and Jim …

A Home Full of Friends

A Home Full of Friends
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

Peter Bently does rhyming narrative with aplomb and it’s once again the case here.
Kind soul, badger Bramble doesn’t quite know what he’s letting himself in for when he offers Scuffle the dormouse, toad Tipper

and Boo the hedgehog a bed for the night when they’re made homeless by a storm. Rather that’s all he thinks he has to contend with as he hurries home concerned about his messy sett, stretching his supper to feed four and there only being one bed.
Bramble busies himself making preparations: makeshift they may be but entirely adequate for a badger and three pals.
His thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at his door and the sight that meets his eyes is more than a little shocking. Three entire families are standing on his doorstep …

Fortunately though, they’ve brought with them everything they’ve managed to salvage from their wrecked homes and it’s not long before, with full bellies, they’re having a wonderful time playing games and sharing a bedtime story

before snuggling up for the night.

Warm-heartedness shines out of Charles Fuge’s beautifully detailed scenes which, together with Bently’s text, make a read aloud book with a compassionate message which is particularly pertinent given recent weather disasters and the ever increasing numbers of displaced people in various parts of the world.

Unplugged

Unplugged
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me and My Dad

Me and My Dad
Robin Shaw
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s small wonder that the little girl narrator of this wonderful book has such a powerful imagination: it’s due in no small measure to the fact that, ‘the best bit’s at the end’ Not the end of the book although that is also true; the end referred to in the story is at the end of the road, the end of their journey; the place where a father and daughter are heading when they set out together. That though is getting ahead of the story.
To reach their destination, they walk through an alleyway with a puddle that might well have crocodiles in; then continue beneath the brick viaduct carrying the railway line with its rumbling, roaring trains; past the castle-like house wherein dwells a sleeping princess just waiting for her prince to come.

Mrs Pot’s plant shop causes the walkers to halt briefly for a sneaky peep inside …

and then come the pet shop and the ironmongers with its old metal bins on sale – perfect for blasting off into space … In fact every single place father and daughter pass sends the little girl off on another flight of fancy until at last, the end IS in sight – Buntings Bookshop and Café awaits. Hurray! Now it’s time for a delicious hot chocolate and a snuggle-up read together: what better way to end a walk.

With it’s irresistible join in phrase this is an utterly enchanting read and one of the very best father and child books I’ve seen in a long time. Animator, Robin Shaw’s detailed scenes have a soft luminescence about them, which is perfect for the fusion of the real and the imagined he conjures up.

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Rockabye Pirate / The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit

Rockabye Pirate
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Don’t expect loud shouts of ‘Avast me ‘arties’ and similar in this pirate tale; far from it, for Knapman’s text is a lilting, under the covers-luring, lullaby for mummy pirates or daddies for that matter, to share with their pirate offspring at bedtime.
Yes, it’s full of freebooters, the likes of Black Bearded Brewster, Sea Dog McPhail and Freddy the Fright, but they’re not doing the wicked deeds upon the seas, rather they’re performing their ablutions

albeit with some maternal assistance in preparation for the most important part of their daily ritual …

After all, their day has been packed with mischief and mayhem, so now it’s time for some tucked-up-cosily-under-the-duvet dreams. I wonder what those might feature …

Ada Grey’s piratical characters, far from alarming, are portrayed as an endearing bunch of marauders as befits the inhabitants of a gentle bedtime story. Having said ‘bedtime’, this fun picture book could equally be shared with an early years group especially if they’re engaged in a pirate theme.

The Tooth Fairy’s Royal Visit
Peter Bently and Gerry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
The Tooth Fairy returns for another adventure, this time responding to a missive from Her Majesty the Queen informing of the loss of her great grandson’s first tooth. Come nightfall, the little fairy is palace bound but has a few obstacles in her path

before she finds a way in.
Once inside there are still further hazards – corgis, a cloth-wielding maid and some undies …

Finding the little prince’s bedroom is none too easy and the Tooth Fairy finds herself assisting in another ‘toothy’ search before receiving assistance for her troubles.

Will she ever make that all-important coin/tooth exchange and get home for some shut-eye?
Bently’s rhyming text is full of read-aloud fun with some unexpected encounters and, some expected ones: the corgis seem to find their way into every Royals’ picture book as do members of the Queen’s Guard. Garry Parsons’ exuberant illustrations provide gigglesome details at every turn of the page. All in all, a right royal chuckle.

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My Hand to Hold / How Do I Love You?

My Hand to Hold
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Alison Friend
Hodder Children’s Books
Love shines through no matter what, is the message in this sweet rhyming book.
Through the seasons and through the highs and lows of everyday life, we follow an adult and infant as they interact with each other;

with the natural world they inhabit and occasionally, with others …

Smriti’s heartfelt verbal evocation of unconditional love is made all the more enchanting by Alison Friend’s pastel and watercolour illustrations.

I think this is their first picture book collaboration; it’s certainly a harmonious one.

How Do I Love You?
Marion Dane Bauer and Caroline Jayne Church
Hodder Children’s Books
Using the well-known line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning as a starting point, Bauer uses comparisons with aspects of the natural world to show that parental love is ever present. ‘I love you as the thirsty duck loves a sudden shower.

Or, ‘I love you as the waking bear loves the smell of spring.
The small girl, the only human shown throughout, is clearly the centre of a parent’s world; this also suggests an ‘at oneness’ of child and nature no matter the landscape she happens to be in.

Caroline Church’s mixed media style collages have a pleasing texture: the duck’s wings bear a floral pattern, the bear’s fur has a hatched appearance not unlike parquet flooring; the cat’s fur is gently brushed with a darker shade contrasting beautifully with the child’s madly wavy tangled tresses.
The final spread fuses present and future with ‘And as our friendly Earth/ loves to spin around. / I love you as the moon / loves each shining star. // I love all that you will be / and everything you are.’ So be it.
An enchanting interplay of words and pictures for adult and child to savour together.

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Knock Knock Dinosaur / If I Had a Dinosaur

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Knock Knock Dinosaur
Caryl Heart and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books
Following a delivery to a small boy’s house, in his mum’s absence, a host of dinosaurs invade every room starting with the T-rex that proceeds to consume the freshly baked apple pie standing on the table, followed immediately by two triceratops, three stegosauruses, four velociraptors …

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five allosauruses, six apatosauruses, seven iguanodons – small ones – one of which takes liberties with an item of mum’s underwear. ‘Bras are to put on your boobies, not your ears,’ remarked Ellena, giggling.

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Then come eight gigantosauruses (sporting knickers on their heads), nine oviraptors and finally ten pterodactyls.
The outcomes of all this rampaging is bathwater sploshing everywhere, a smashed mirror, broken bed springs and a smashed vase. By now our young boy narrator has had enough. “Everybody stop!” he yells which prompts the T.Rex to draw the lad’s attention to two important words at the bottom of the delivery note.

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The penny drops which just goes to show that you should always read the small print carefully before clicking ORDER when buying things on the internet. That however is not quite the end of the story. Can they get rid of the chaos and get everything back as it should be before Mum returns? It’ll certainly take some doing … Let operation clean up commence.
Caryl Hart’s rhyming riotous romp is a fun read aloud, but make sure you give your audience – if it’s a largish one – opportunities to explore Nick East’s rainbow-hued illustrations; they’re full of chuckle-worthy details.

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If I Had a Dinosaur
Alex Barrow and Gabby Dawnay
Thames & Hudson
A small girl, would-be pet owner longs for a pet – not a small cat though, she already has one of those. No, something more house sized, something like a DINOSAUR. She then goes on to entertain all manner of possibilities relating to diplodocus ownership. Walks in the park could be just a little embarrassing …

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Her school pals would be mightily impressed, as would her teachers. Providing sufficient drinking water, not to mention a place to swim, might prove a little tricky and he’d definitely need a vegetarian diet.
Dinosaurs certainly do make smashing pets – in more ways than one; walks would be great fun …

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although there would be the question of POOH avoidance …

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The house might need a few minor adjustments – a dino-flap, for instance but the family sofa is plenty big enough for one more, although Dad might get the odd surprise from time to time.

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Not convinced? Then you could try acting on the young narrator’s suggestion, ‘ … just get one and you’ll see!
Dinosaurs are an unfailing source of delight where young children are concerned: Gabby Dawnay’s rhyming contemplation will doubtless provide both fun and opportunities for listeners’ own imaginative musings. They might well, inspired by Alex Barrow’s charmingly witty illustrations, try to create their own If I Had a Dinosaur visuals.

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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Thank You, Mr Panda

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Thank You, Mr Panda
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
Mr Panda’s back in story number three – hurray! This might just be my favourite to date; the final spread certainly had me laughing out loud in delight; and I absolutely love the return of those doughnuts.
Mr P. has five beautifully wrapped parcels and as he sets out to deliver them, lemur is eager to know who the recipients will be. ’My friends’ comes the response.
Mouse’s hole is the first stop:

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a beautiful sweater is duly unwrapped – it’s somewhat on the generous size though. ‘It’s the thought that counts’ lemur tells him. Next comes Octopus; he seems pleased but there is a slight snag …

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Elephant seems altogether disinterested in his gift – little does he know what he’s missing. The next venue requires a balloon ride for it’s Mountain Goat. The sight of him teetering atop his mountain weighed down by his gift is wonderful and of course, lemur chips in with “it’s the thought …’ once more.
That leaves just one present; who will be its lucky recipient? Lemur is thrilled to find it’s him and he’s effusive in his thanks. That’s before he’s opened it though; and now it’s Mr Panda’s turn to toss in the ‘…it’s the thought that counts’ reminder.
Delicious endpapers show, at the front – the five parcels ready and waiting for delivery; and at the back,

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Mr Panda’s five friends sporting (or clutching – almost – in the case of Elephant) their gifts.

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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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Everybunny Dance!

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Everybunny Dance!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books
Foxes generally get a bad press when it comes to rabbits and so here when the dancing, singing,

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music-playing bunnies are displaying their talents, the appearance of a large vulpine creature creeping up from behind sends them fleeing. It’s a case of ‘EVERYBUNNY RUN!
But then, from their hiding place they spy something totally unexpected. Not a lip-licking fox, but a dancing, clarinet-playing animal …

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They watch entranced. Then virtuoso performance over and bow taken, there’s a tear in the fox’s eye. After which, comes a thoroughly deserved ‘EVERYBUNNY CLAP‘, followed by joyful singing, dancing and playing in celebration of a brand new friendship. Hurray! Now they’ll all play together every day.

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Which all goes to show that appearances can be deceptive. We all have much more in common than outward appearance might suggest. Difference is to be celebrated and embraced; prejudice has no place.
In her jaunty rhyming text and scenes full of enormously engaging rabbits and that show-stealing fox, Ellie Sandal conveys all this without the slightest hint of preachiness.

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Love Matters Most

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Love Matters Most
Mij Kelly and Gerry Turley
Hodder Children’s Books
Why is the bear staring into the night,
at a world that is turning shimmering white?

With that opening question we join a mother bear as she leaves her warm sheltering cave and ventures out into the frost-filled night air on a stormy night in search of something. Surely not gold in such frozen terrain, nor those berries,

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though they look so delicious glowing ruby-red on the bushes.
Could it be the magic glow of the forest calling?

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Will she pause to catch salmon or see a snowflake become a teardrop or watch in wonder as the stars splinter the sky? Yes, these are all wonderful, but it’s none of these; there’s something much more important she needs to find, which is why that bear is following footprints.
Searching and following them on and on until at last, joy oh joy!

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Mother and cub are finally reunited and both know for sure what matters most; it’s love.
Mij Kelly’s gentle poetic text is music to the ear and really draws listeners right in to the bear’s chilly world as she journeys across the snowy landscapes so wonderfully portrayed by Gerry Turley. He brings stark beauty to every scene and the impact of words and pictures together send shivers of pleasure up the spine.
Look out for the little yellow bird that accompanies the mother bear on her journey leading her forwards all the way and watching that tender finale.

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Danny McGee Drinks the Sea

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Danny McGee Drinks the Sea
Andy Stanton and Neal Layton
Hodder Children’s Books
Authors often talk about getting inside a character’s head but I’ve never heard of one getting inside a character’s stomach before. Andy Stanton did just that though: he wrote, so he’d have us believe, this entire book from within one, Danny McGee; and it certainly didn’t have an adverse effect on his wicked sense of humour.
How did he get therein, you might well be wondering so let’s start at the beginning and meet young Danny and his sister Frannie McGee as they head towards the beach in their little red car.

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Once there, Danny, for some reason known only to himself, announces that he can drink the sea – all of it – and within ten minutes, he has. This however is not enough for the lad who turns his attention to a tree …

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followed by pretty much everything you can think of and some you can’t.
Before long, young Danny has gleefully consumed virtually the whole of humankind (hence the author),

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not to mention the whole Roman alphabet and goodness knows how much of our number system.
And he just keeps going until there’s nothing left but himself, or so he thinks …
The denouement to Stanton’s wonderfully anarchic rhyming tale is something of a jaw dropper and one young listeners will relish.
The combination of Stanton’s supreme verbal silliness and Neal Layton’s brilliantly bizarre visuals,

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combining comic cartoon and photo-collage, is an unforgettable nonsense tale that will be requested over and over.

Sproutzilla vs.Christmas / Santa Claude

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Sproutzilla vs. Christmas
Tom Jamieson and Mike Byrne
Macmillan Children’s Books
Young Jack’s abhorrence of Brussels sprouts is about to result in the ruination of Christmas and not just for the lad himself when his parents come back from a shopping expedition with the most enormous one of the green veggies he’s ever set eyes on. He’s called Sproutzilla and he’s the meanest, greenest Christmas ruining vegetable ever. What’s more, he (and his army of Sproutlings) have their sights set on Santa; and Sproutzilla is exceedingly hungry.

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Seemingly, if the mums and dads, the angry dinner ladies and the furious chefs can’t save Christmas, there’s only one person who can and there’s only one way he can do it. Jack will have to EAT SPROUTS!

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This is a totally ridiculous story over which you cannot help but have a good giggle, as will young children, especially at the final PAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRP-powered delivery, not to mention the tasty final twist.
Sprout lover or not, I suspect you’ll never look at your Christmas veggies in quite the same way again.
More bonkers fun in:

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Santa Claude

Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve night and Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes have left Claude and best pal Sir Bobblysock alone in the house while they go out partying. A super-excited Claude has tucked himself up in bed and is just settling down to read his new Cops and Robbers book when he hears a loud THUD! followed by what sound like a series of heavy footsteps. Convinced whoever has whooshed down the chimney is a burglar, and already anticipating catching same red-handed, off he goes armed with his handcuffs to apprehend the intruder.
Having secured the ‘burglar’ to the arm of a chair in the pitch-dark living room, Claude switches on the light to find himself face to face with none other than Santa. Easy enough to release the handcuffs you might think but oh dear me, no! The key is nowhere to be found.
With Santa out of action there’s only one thing to be done; Claude and Sir Bobblysock will have to make the rest of the deliveries instead. But can they – even with Claude decked out in Santa’s seasonal costume –

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make it round all those hundreds of homes, delivering an absolutely enormous sack of presents and be safely back by midnight when the Shinyshoes return?
Needless to say, things won’t be plain sailing no matter what: let the festivities begin …
With Claude and Sir Bobblysock you’re guaranteed a whole load of gigglesome delight and this fast-paced festive romp is no different. It’s perfect to tuck into a Christmas stocking, or for an excited youngster to hide away with for a pre-Christmas chortle.

Can I Tell You a Secret?

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Can I Tell You a Secret?
Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books
I loved both You Are (Not) Small and That’s (Not) Mine; now the same husband and wife team have created an entirely new character, Monty, a green frog. Immediately endearing, this little fellow introduces himself with a “PSSST!” directed straight at readers. What follows is a confession dialogue conducted between young Monty and his audience, for Monty has a secret: “I can’t swim. Not even a little bit. And … I’m afraid of water.” he says looking somewhat abashed.
Some questions and responses clarify the whole sorry cover-up situation …

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What’s that? You think I should tell someone? Like my parents? Are you sure? POSITIVE?
Suggestion taken, but it takes Monty three attempts so sum up the courage to do it …

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and the “We know sweetie …” parental response sets the scene for a grand aquatic finale …

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Weyant’s portrayal of Monty is splendidly expressive: that fearful frog says so much with his eyes; and Anna Kang’s amusing direct speech narrative gets listeners on board straight away, keeping them thoroughly involved until his final “Can you come back tomorrow?” and is likely to encourage the fearful among the young frog’s audience to confront their own fears too. Great fun.

Canine Capers

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Fred
Mick and Chloë Inkpen
Hodder Children’s Books
Hooray! More from Fred.. I fell in love with this mischievous puggish pup in I Will Love You Anyway and now here he is, bouncing right back to delight us once again with his prankish behaviour. In fact now it seems he can tick off a whole lot of ‘can do’ items from the list of accomplishments one might expect of a little dog. He can fetch a stick, come when called, sit and stay. There’s one word though that still eludes the little chap; he doesn’t understand the meaning of Fred – a word often on the lips of his young owner. And something else puzzles him too: another dog upstairs that looks just like him –mmm!

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Could he perhaps know what this strange ‘Fred’ word is all about? Strangely enough he seems to be popping up in other places too, places like the park and he has his paws on a certain ball belonging to our narrator …
After a very wet awakening, followed by a scream, a dash, and a jump, another face appears, a face that whispers a certain word over and over and then – light bulb moment …

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Adorable!

Another canine has recently won a place in my affections; he’s the Boston terrier that stars in:

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Harold’s Hungry Eyes
Kevin Waldron
Phaidon
Harold is a real foodie; he spends almost all his time either eating or day dreaming about his next meal. His dreaming is done lying in one position or another on his favourite chair – a chair he loves almost as much as he loves food. One day though, this super comfy chair is no longer where it should be when he goes to eat breakfast. A devastated Harold sees it being loaded onto the rubbish cart.

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Without another thought for his meal, he takes off in hot pursuit and is soon lost and even worse, his tummy is starting to rumble. His food obsession kicks in and Harold begins seeing things of the edible kind wherever he looks …

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Happily though, his wits and those hungry eyes of his finally lead him back home where he finds a satisfying breakfast and a delicious surprise … a new place whereon to relax.
With smatterings of edible humour, this stylish book is a wonderful visual feast that’s more than likely to have young audiences chuckling and perhaps, drooling.

Snail Mail

Snail Mail
Sharon King-Chai
Hodder Children’s Books
The majority of us receive much of our communication by text, e-mail and social media nowadays; letters are mainly junk with the occasional thing to delight – a letter from abroad, an exciting piece of publishers’ information, and of course all those wonderful books to review; I only ever receive picture postcards from one person. As a young classroom teacher in the 80s and 90s, before social media, one of my most favourite books to share was Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s The Jolly Postman and there have been other books with letters and cards thereafter. These can be a great stimulus for children’s own writing and now, there’s one more. Herein we meet 4 year old Seashell Snail, Sam, our narrator who has a large group of adventure-loving family and friends. Take big brother Tiger; it’s he who generates the snail mail, which gives the book its title. Tiger sets out on a world trip promising to write to Sam every day.

Good as he word, Tiger sends Sam a picture postcard from every place he stops at -. Brazil on Monday, the USA on Tuesday, India on Wednesday, Japan on Thursday, France on Friday. Goodness he does get around and those communications surely do keep Postman Perry busy, not to mention sparking off exciting activities for the seashore residents. Each card is delivered in a beautifully designed envelope appropriate to its place of origin; here’s the one from India.

The final communication contains something very special – a birthday treat for Sam; and it’s one that will undoubtedly inspire its recipient to start making some international travel plans too.
A super-silly story with appropriately crazy illustrations to delight – lots of fun to share and perhaps, a classroom stimulus to some imaginative written correspondences.

I Can Read It: That’s (Not) Mine & What’s An Apple?

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That’s (Not) Mine
Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant
Hodder Children’s Books
The Anna Kang/Christopher Weyant partnership take the two characters – one large and one small – from their wonderful You Are (Not) Small and feature them in this equally hilarious incident from childhood.
The ownership of a big comfy chair is in dispute as the two furry creatures both claim it as theirs. Big, with needles a-clicking – is occupying said chair at the start of the book when in bursts Small. The squabble starts to escalate (parents and early years teachers will immediately recognise the scenario) with the knitter refusing resolutely to budge …

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But then in comes Small wheeling a deliciously squeaky, revolving office chair: guess who wants a go …

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and is more than happy to leave his previous perch, hurl himself onto the inviting-looking alternative and ZOOM wildly … oops! – till there comes the inevitable – tee hee! Argument over: err, no: it looks as though it’s starting all over again …

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Will those two ever sort things out?

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Well yes –but … there’s a lovely final twist to this delicious cracker of a tale. A brilliant lesson in sharing and taking turns but equally it’s a perfect book for beginner readers. The dialogue is punchy, the humour spot on and the illustrations wonderfully expressive. It’s a universal experience – emotionally intense – that deserves a universal readership.

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What’s An Apple?
Marilyn Singer and Greg Pizzoli
Abrams Appleseed
If you’ve never thought beyond the title question, your immediate response will probably be, ‘It’s the fruit of an apple tree.’ So it is; but this little book takes a look beyond the obvious, although it does start there. ‘You can pick it.’ we are told on the first page but thereafter the imagination starts to take over, as a girl and boy explore all manner of possible uses for apples alongside the conventional ones. You can, so we’re told, kick it, toss it and use it to play skittles with …

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or even baseball perhaps. Or why not try a spot of juggling, although you’ll need rather more than one for this

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as you would if you follow some of the other suggestions. Apple sauce requires a fair few of the fruit, as does making juice or even apple bobbing. You can give an apple a wash – always advisable especially if you intend using it for a smile …

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you might even give it a bit of a cuddle. My favourite suggestion though is this one …

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although I’m totally in favour of this ‘You can eat it anyplace.’ sentiment too.
The quirky rhyming text is easy to read, making the book a good one for early reading and Greg Pizzoli’s illustrations are sure to bring on a smile, or many.
As a beginner reader wouldn’t you much rather read something fun like this that a dull scheme book?

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D is for Duck / P for the Perfect Picnic

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D is for Duck!
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
We start with magician, Duck, doing a spot of prestidigitation on the opening spread resulting in …

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followed pretty rapidly by …

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and a King Lion. He is summarily shoved out of sight Narnia style; though what should emerge from the bottom drawer but something equally, or even more, dangerous: it’s very large, has spikes all along its back and often breathes err – well in this case, stars …

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There’s only one thing to do and Duck does it PRONTO, with a flick and a swish, causing said ‘something’ to up and vanish: which is not quite the end of this superb alphabet story; the only words of which follow a strict alphabetical order pattern, with the odd aside, stage direction, or spot of direct speech (also in perfect timely alphabetical place). Oh, there’s a speech bubble strategically placed too. And the finale? That you’ll just have to discover for yourself – it’s pretty cool, is all I’ll say on the matter.

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A show-stopping, dazzling rendition by Melling and of course, Duck: not to be missed. Book your tickets NOW!

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The Perfect Picnic
Ciara Flood
Templar Publishing
The enormously talented Ciara Flood has followed her terrific Those Pesky Rabbits with another winner and it’s just perfect summer reading.
Meet best friends Squirrel and Mole, a terrific twosome despite being totally different (a bit like Lobel’s Frog and Toad): Mole is the laid back one whereas finicky Squirrel insists everything is done ‘just so’. So when they decide to go on a picnic, Squirrel wants it to be – that’s it – ‘the most perfect picnic ever’.
No butter on the sandwiches!” insists Squirrel (I’m with you there Squirrel) and of course, butter-loving Mole obliges.

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Finally, with picnic bag packed perfectly, the pair head off with guess who carrying the load but …

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First stop the meadow but that’s too sunny; the cornfield in contrast is too shady …

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(By now your audience will probably be shouting to the pair as they shed more and more items through the hole in the snagged bag.) The bench’s too busy, they have the hill to themselves but Squirrel decrees that too windy; and the river, cave and beach don’t pass muster either.
Eventually Squirrel comes to a halt: seemingly the ideal place has been reached at last (take a look at the map at the back) and it’s then that Mole makes THE discovery – OH NO! (Superb Edvard Munch moment).

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Happily all is NOT lost, thanks to a host of animals the friends have encountered along the way: and yes the food’s not quite as perfect as it was at the outset but hey –sometimes make do and mend can turn out to be pretty dam near perfect …

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Bursting with subtle humour and oozing with awesome touches and delectable details, this is genius at work. The whole thing’s as pretty near perfect as anyone could imagine and it’s absolutely bound to be demanded again and again (that’s my experience anyway). Most will find their mouths watering at the scrummy, squelchy strawberry cake; my preference though is for Mole’s jaw-stretching sandwich or that unassigned slab of what looks like my favourite, coffee cake.
Ciara’s colour palette (computer photos don’t do justice to the quality) exudes sensations of summer sunny days lying back and soaking in the warmth.  Picnic hampers out and off you go – don’t forget the book though.

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Oi Dog!

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Oi Dog!
Kes & Claire Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
My delight on opening the parcel containing this was indescribable: could it possibly be as side-splittingly good as its predecessor Oi Frog! though? That was the burning question in my mind as I began reading and it certainly gets off to a good start – for the dog that is. He has a squishy, squashy PLURPPPPPPPPPPP-producing cushion beneath his rear end: the frog of course is far from happy. The cat is quick to remind them of the rules: “Cats sit on mats, frogs sit on logs, and dogs sit on FROGS!” Whereupon the frog announces a rule change (can you blame him?) “From now on dogs sit on logs not frogs!” he asserts and thus he starts off a hilarious concatenation beginning thus …

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of assigning sit-upons in response to dog’s seemingly endless questions, for in turn, bears (that’s stairs); slugs – errm: “Slugs will sit on plugs (not on mine they won’t!), … “Slugs will sit on plugs, flies will sit on pies, crickets will sit on tickets and moths will sit on cloths.” (watch out for eggs then!)

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Next come leopards – I’ll leave you to guess that one on the frog’s behalf and pass on to cheetahs – tuck in everyone – unless like me you’re a veggie …

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At this stage the dog somewhat condescendingly announces “You’re really getting the hang of this,” giving the frog fresh impetus to pronounce on pigs, gnus, boars (a terrific Jim Field boating scene); then whales – brilliant dialogue here: “Whales will sit on nails,” said the frog. “I’m not sure the whales will like that,” said the dog. “They don’t have to like it,” said the frog, “they just have to do it.”
The dog then enquires about dragons and off the frog goes again … (there’s a tasty bit of word play on the vehicle upon which they must sit).

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Clearly he’s on a roll as there follow pronouncements on mice, kittens and puppies. Whereupon the dog wants to know about crabs and here we go again, this time with a glorious musical seat being assigned to hornets which after more banter leads to,
and elephants will sit on smelly pants!” and the dog’s instant gasping rejoinder, “Elephants aren’t going to sit on smelly pants!” at which the frog merely smiles and states, ”They are now.”
That seems to bring the discourse to a halt momentarily; and then the cat comes in reciting the whole litany of seating arrangements only to be brought to a halt by the dog’s question …

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And the frog’s answer? That’s yours to work out (hint: it doesn’t rhyme with frog); or better still, get your own copy of this cracking book and discover what he says. Suffice it to say that frog really does have the last laugh (and the best seat!).
STU-PEN-DOUS! I think perhaps the Gray/Field team have, between them, managed to out-dog Oi Frog with Oi Dog! It’s absolutely un-missable and another splendiferous send up of the prevailing phonics obsession in infant classrooms; or looked at another way: a brilliant lesson in rhyme.

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Claude All At Sea

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Claude All at Sea
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
What joy! A Claude picture book and it’s a corker of a one too, methinks. If you don’t know Claude, these are the essentials: he’s a small plump pooch who sports, in normal circumstances (if there are such with Claude), a red beret and jumper and lives with his owners, Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes and his best pal, Sir Bobbysock. He and Claude have an adventure every day, once Mr and Mrs S. have departed for work, that is.
On this particular day Claude has got himself into a right painty mess and is in dire need of a bath; so having stashed his painting gear and grabbed his bath toys, off he goes up to the bathroom to turn on the taps ready to perform his ablutions. Or rather, that’s the plan. What actually happens is something altogether else. Before anybody can say ‘You both forgot about the water’ here’s the result …

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which, they quickly discover is ‘very wet and stonking good fun!’
Hang on; what are all those signs that have caught the eye of Sir Bobbysock about?

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The pair quickly discover when they find themselves in a very dark, damp place; and they’re not alone down there. Three people, not to mention a steam-boat, desperately require some Claude style assistance; and helping is one of Claude’s favourite things to do.

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Out comes his trusty red beret into which he just happened to have stashed all manner of potentially useful stuff …

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However, nothing quite works and just when it seems they might be stuck, in Sir B’s words ‘for ever!’ he’s smitten with an attack of hiccups and THIS gives Claude a brilliant idea; one involving a paintbrush and a spot of tickling.
Is this idea sufficiently brilliant to effect a successful rescue though? Well that would be telling and story spoiling now wouldn’t it …
Let’s just say that one of the other objects in Claude’s beret eventually makes a certain large, voracious guzzler a very happy creature.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant fun; every spread brims over with visual and verbal delights. If you enjoy quirky; don’t miss this one … Actually, just don’t miss it.

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Let’s Hear it for Dads

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Baking With Dad
Aurora Cacciapuoti
Child’s Play
When a little girl (the narrator) and her dad, oh, and there’s a moggy assisting too, spend the day baking, magic happens. But this isn’t any old baking day – it’s a special day for someone.
Let’s go back to the start though: first task (having donned chef’s hats) is to select the ingredients …

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Then it’s time to get them into the mixing bowl, starting with the eggs …

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followed by the sugar and a bit of mixing and shaking. Next comes the flour – a rather large quantity

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and butter and milk, plus fruit to finish the whole thing off.

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Now let the baking magic commence.
But why are the cooks now bustling around with bunting, crayons and more? To find out, you’ll just have to get hold of this sparkling story to see for yourself.
Aurora Cacciapuoti’s illustrations, in combination with her brief text, have made for a gigglesome delight to share around Father’s Day. But it’s way too much fun to restrict to then: this one’s a winner any day and in addition to a read aloud, it’s ideal for those beginning to read for themselves.

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Amazing Daddy
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books
I’ve come across very few children who don’t think their particular dad is THE best and so it is with the little panda narrator of this wonderfully warm story. Of course, like most dads, Daddy Panda has to go to work but before that there’s usually time for a snuggle up together …

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and maybe even a shared breakfast.

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At weekends Daddy might be busy in his shed, working on important projects …

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but other days are spent just playing and even when little panda misbehaves, his dad remains cool and calm.
For all these reasons and many more – best of all being the shared bedtime stories – there’s no other dad that can come close to the amazing superhero daddy whose virtues this little panda extols.
A smashing celebration of the relationship between father and child: Rachel Bright’s illustrations are full of tenderness and sufficient gentle humour to please the adults who share this with young children.

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Your Baby’s First Word Will be Dada
Jimmy Fallon and Miguel Ordóñez
Hodder Children’s Books
Two dads, one a relation, the other a friend have said to me in the last couple of weeks that their offspring have started talking and guess what the first word said in both instances was: “Dada”. So too here – or rather that’s the intention of the various animal fathers – in this hoot of a book. However paternal coaching doesn’t yield the desired results as we are shown – most merely proffer the characteristic sound of their species …

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though there is the odd exception …

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Maybe a more regimented group effort will bring on the all-important D word.

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That’s better, proud fathers all round … Well, almost: there’s always one …
Comedian and actor, Fallon has combined forces with Spanish illustrator, Ordóñez and it’s the artist who really makes this extended joke work.

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I Love My Daddy
Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway
Little Tiger Kids
Dads come in all shapes and sizes and, according to their offspring in this board book celebration of father figures be they Lion, Penguin, Cheetah, Hippo …

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Goat or Dog, deserve rewarding in one way or another.
Attractive illustrations with a die-cut star on each spread that is part and parcel of a special gift from child to dad, are a key feature here; and the combination of Litton’s rhyming text and Fhiona Galloway’s bright scenes make for a jolly book for very littles to share with their special Dad figures around father’s day or any time.

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I Will Not Wear Pink

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I Will Not Wear Pink
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Otter-Barry Books
When Plunkett the pig receives an invitation to a pink themed party his reaction is one of more than a little peturbation …

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What him? No way. The one who’s called “Plunkett the plonker. Plunkett the oinker. The hooter, the honker. The toff who shows off, stands out in a crowd.”
There follows a veritable litany of further protestatory outpourings from our porky pal before he states the obvious: “…there is one sort of pink so divine, so sublime, and the best of it is that it’s already mine, from the tip of my tail to the snoot of my snout, pink is the shade of the skin that I’m in. Pink’s where I end and where I begin.” Thereafter he scoots off to state his case for being in the buff to his waiting host, Priscilla …

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and having done so, he proceeds to deliver an exhortation to her other guests to throw caution to the wind and join them in a glorious strip off and plunge party of the wallowing kind.

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Then seemingly, a terrific time is had by one and all.
One gets the impression that both Joyce and Polly Dunbar had an equally terrific time creating this gloriously dotty, thoroughly upbeat celebration of being yourself – au naturel – so to speak. Joyce’s – or should that be Plunkett’s narrative – is pure pleasure to read aloud, especially to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy the opportunity to put on a story-telling performance. Young audiences

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are certain to revel in the hilarious antics of Plunkett and Priscilla as portrayed by Polly in her effervescent scenes.
Altogether a bravura performance by both mother and daughter.

Another lovely picture book with themes of being yourself and friendship is re-issued with a brand new look:

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The Star-Faced Crocodile
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
This one tells of a developing bond between a banjo-strumming bear and the crocodile of the title, who is not actually star-faced at all but is frightened to reveal his ordinariness to the bear.

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The bear however is perfectly happy in the knowledge that the croc. is just a plain, snippy-snappy creature, but goes to great lengths to transform his new friend into a twinkling animal nonetheless.
Melling’s humorous watercolour scenes are sheer delight.

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Food Favourites

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Gorilla Loves Vanilla
Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne
Scholastic Children’s Books
Fancy some ice cream? Then head down to Jellybean Street and there you’ll find Sam’s Sundaes, a favourite haunt of ice cream aficionados of a rather unusual kind. And young Sam Sundae doesn’t seem fazed at all when five of them arrive at once as soon as he opens up shop.
First in the queue – and yes they do queue, no pushing and shoving here – is a little mouse and his request is for a sundae tasting of blue cheese. I said nothing fazes our Sam and straightway he presents the mouse with some cheesy ice cream. His next order is for “fish finger ice cream in a dish” – you can guess who would want such a disgusting-sounding thing.
Chicken’s favourite comes in a cone, and it’s wormy and squirmy. YUCK! Cow’s penchant is for daisy ice cream and Sam quickly obliges once again …

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And as for hippo, he doesn’t even want to eat what he orders …

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Last in line is a gorilla and his taste is rather more conservative – “Just give me a cone full of good old vanilla.” is his request. And now, judging by the way they’re staring, the others might be having second thoughts about their choices as Sam adds yummy toppings of sprinkles, chocolate chips and sticky fudge sauce to gorilla’s order …
Chae Strathie’s tasty tale bounces along in exuberant fashion and is sure to have young listeners EEEUURRGHING loudly at the thought of some of the orders and giggling as hippo makes messy use of his selection.
Nicola O’Byrne’s equally exuberant illustrations are to be relished too: just take a look at the cat and mouse tucking in together here …

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More food fun in:

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Hugless Douglas and the Great Cake Bake
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
A honeyless breakfast is something Douglas just cannot contemplate so having discovered his cupboard has been raided, he follows the sticky footprints (and his nose) until they lead him to …

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When the sheep tell him they’re collecting ingredients to make honey cakes, Douglas is eager to help – no surprises there! With berries, nuts, carrots and of course, honey duly assembled, and Flossie in charge, the cooks set to work …

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Having finished the task, Douglas cannot wait to try the product of their labours but has to join the line of eager cake consumers awaiting the oven’s PING! The sheep however, are less polite than Douglas and pretty soon a fight breaks out and is only halted by Flossie’s announcement “The cakes are ready!” There follows a mad scramble in the direction of the delicious aroma emanating from the oven door but do you think those crazy sheep gave Douglas a look in when it came to consuming those yummy cakes? Definitely not; but their actions do result in a partial re-education of our hugging friend’s taste buds as he samples the surplus – carrots, berries and nuts, declaring they’re “… ALMOST as good as honey,”.
With instructions on ‘How to decorate cupcake sheep’ on the final spread, this latest Hugless Douglas offering is sure to tickle the taste buds of young listeners who will delight at the humorous interplay of text and visuals –

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and be duly shocked at the sheep’s shenanigans.

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Take Off with Mango & Bambang and Claude

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Mango & Bambang: Tapir All at Sea
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Calamitous at cake making and disastrous at dancing – ballet and free dance certainly,

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it seems Bambang is never going to find the right hobby to occupy him while Mango concentrates on her chess moves. But who is this and what can he possibly want?

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Seemingly there’s a lack of male partners in Sênor Churro’s Flamenco class and Bambang’s stomping, thumping trotters are just the thing when it comes to that particular Spanish dance. All that in the first story but there are three more in this cracking sequel to Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig.
There follows a crazy tale of misadventures that include Bambang crash landing onto a romantic picnic and accidentally becoming entangled in a marriage proposal

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resulting in an accusation of causing ‘Havoc and being a Public Nuisance’ and his removal to the local dog pound. All ends magnificently though with Mango being granted this:

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and Bambang making a new friend of the canine kind.
An old enemy making a reappearance in the third tale which sees Bambang beguiled into becoming the chief exhibit in her new venture …

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with astounding consequences; and in the final adventure, as a result of his actions in the museum, Bambang is now headline news and something of a celebrity dancer of the flamenco. The trouble is he lets fame got to his head and finds himself setting sail on board a luxury liner leaving Mango and all things familiar far behind. Will they ever be reunited?

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I won’t be a story spoiler but suffice it to say, Bambang’s new doggy friend Rocket reappears and Bambang is no mean swimmer.
If you know any youngsters just taking off as confident solo readers, then this is the book: funny – indeed wonderfully eccentric with a superb narrative full of delicious dialogue – ‘Mango stopped long enough to say, “He has the beautiful feet of a tapir, NOT a mammoth, and they’re not stampeding. It’s your silly dance that’s all wrong!”, then she ran after Bambang.’; a perfect balance between text and pictures with Clara’s distinctive retro style illustrations bringing delight at every turn of the page. She’s brilliant at capturing ‘the moment’ and every single picture, large or small, oozes charm and vitality.

Another corker of a book for that taking off stage is

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Claude Going for Gold
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
Our beret-wearing pooch is back for yet another adventure along with best friend Sir Bobbysock of course. On this particular day Claude has woken up full of joie de vivre and having created havoc with the breakfast cereal, heads off with his pal to the great outdoors. Before long though they conclude that there’s a decided lack of adventure around; then all of a sudden Claude trips over his own shoelaces and cascades into a marching band that is accompanying these characters

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on their way to participate in the STONKING BIG SPORTS DAY at the local stadium. Finally, something to get excited about and all the more so when Claude himself is given a pair of sports knickers …

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and invited to participate. His shot put skills however leave more than a little to be desired, his sprinting ends in disaster, he misses the swimming competition altogether and his efforts at gymnastics are catastrophic. But then the trophy is seized by a pair of dastardly crooks and there’s only one person – or rather animal – that can possibly save the day …

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Glorious!

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Twinkle Tames a Dragon/Mamasaurus

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Twinkle Tames a Dragon
Katharine Holabird and Sarah Warburton
Hodder Children’s Books
In this, the third story of friendship, fun, frolics and all things fairy, young Twinkle has a yearning for a pet as do her pals Pippa and Lulu. Her wishing song is heard by the Fairy Godmother who duly grants each one a wish. Pippa’s pet is a butterfly; Lulu gets a ladybird and Twinkle? The ‘sweet little pet’ she’d anticipated turns out to be anything but cute and fluffy, rather it’s scaly, decidedly boisterous …

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and in need of a rather drastic training regime – Dragon Obedience Class no less. But can she tame him in time for that Fairy Pet Day her godmother had mentioned?
The day of the show dawns and Scruffy has certainly scrubbed up well; in fact he looks pretty darn cute, but winning a prize?

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He definitely isn’t the prettiest pet: Pippa’s butterfly wins that award and Lulu’s ladybird is the cleverest trickster but what about the best-trained pet? No chance surely; or maybe, just maybe …

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I know quite a few under sixes who will love this book though I have to admit they’re all female. Sarah Warburton’s illustrations are just quirky enough to be cute but not sugary sweet; they’re full of zany details that will delight adult readers aloud as well as young children – look at the expressions on the faces of those animals here …

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Don’t forget to have a good look at the endpapers too; you’ll find all the animal characters there.

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Mamasaurus
Stephan Lomp,
Chronicle Books
When Babysaurus accidentally loses his grip on Mamasaurus’s spine he’s launched into space

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and then finds himself in a heap of leaves but with no sign of his parent. So there’s nothing for it but to wander about in the jungle asking its other inhabitants if they’ve seen her. However, each one he asks only sees Mamasaurus with characteristics of their own parent. But she can’t run like the wind, doesn’t have a long horn, nor wings to fly as high as the sun,

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she’s much larger than tiny Hespero’s mama and she definitely doesn’t have the sharp teeth that Rexy’s mama has.

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Where, oh where is Babysaurus’s mama? I wonder what that loud noise might be …
The luminous colours of the various prehistoric creatures set against the black background really make the images stand out in Lomp’s striking brush pen and photoshop illustrations. The storyline reminds me somewhat of P.D.Eastman’s’ classic Are You My Mother but the visuals are altogether different.

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Board Book Roundup

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Hugless Douglas First Words
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
Our favourite hugging bear certainly has his priorities right in this six-word board book. Having safely deposited his Teddy, Douglas relaxes – well that was his intention – in a Bath

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and indulges himself with his favourite preserve, then dons his Pyjamas and dressing gown ready for a spot of Book sharing …

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followed by a Hug (of course) and then everyone snuggles down in and around the Bed.
That, in a nutshell is it; but there’s so much going on in the illustrations that there’s at least one story on every spread.
There’s also a session of book sharing in:

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I Love My Mummy
Fhiona Galloway and Jonathan LittonLittle Tiger Kids,
Little Tiger Kids
Bright, cheery art work, die cuts and an assortment of humanised animals (other than the final one) are the key elements of this little rhyming ‘thank you to mum’ book published just in time for Mother’s Day. A calf, a little frog, a kitten, a bear,

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a young croc. a lamb and a bee all have their own ways of delivering the message and each has a floral offering for their very special mother, little bee’s being the most spectacular in my view.

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Animal mothers also feature in

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Baby Tiger
Baby Bear
illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
Chronicle Books
A pair of tiny chunky board books each with a cute finger puppet, present some basic information about the respective baby animals and how they spend their days from early morning through to bedtime, and at the same time encourage playful interaction between the adult and infant sharing them. Book sharing is one of the very best experiences you can give your very young child to nurture his or her language and general cognition. When you read as if you’re having a conversation with your child it’s supplying brilliant brain food in addition to helping to develop that very special bond between you.

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Listen to the Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Half a dozen different animals strut their stuff as musicians herein: there’s recorder-playing Pig, Elephant the pianist, violinist Cat,

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a pair of guitar strumming Zebras, a couple of Bear drummers and finally Mouse tinkles on the xylophone. When you press the button on each instrument (once you’ve activated the switch inside the back cover, that is) the musician in question starts playing.
I have a suspicion this jolly little book will be played to destruction: it’s a fun way to introduce some musical instrument names to tinies and you could perhaps play a memory game: What did Elephant play? etc. Or turn it around: Which animal played the piano. No peeping on the final page though.

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What Do I Do? What Am I For?

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Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do?
Kate McLelland
Hodder Children’s Books
Young blackbird Pip is yet to identify what makes him special, so off he flies into the big wide world on a mission to find out. It certainly isn’t standing in the river waiting for fish like Heron; Pip’s legs are way too short.

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Nor is it staying up all night looking for mice like Owl, so what about nest building in the sand? Definitely not that with such a tiny beak as Pip has. And seed pecking Pigeon style in a crowded place is a definite ‘No’ too.
Pip’s efforts to be like sand-digging Puffin, seed-pecking Pigeon, the swooping falcons, chattering parrots and waddling ducks are all disastrous

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and it’s a very downcast blackbird that flies back to the nest on the branch.
As he sits despairing of ever finding something at which he can excel, Pip sings to himself – so he thinks. But his song attracts the attention of all the other birds and it’s then that he discovers he had a special talent all along; it was just a matter of finding it.

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New kid on the block, Kate McLelland’s tale of self-discovery is one that needs to be shared and discussed with all young (and perhaps not so young) children). Her beautiful prints make every turn of the page a delight for audiences and adult readers aloud alike.

Finding out about yourself is also part and parcel of this story:

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A Big Surprise for Little Card
Charise Mericle Harper and Anna Raff
Walker Books
Little Card is the unlikely chief protagonist of this picture book and when we first encounter him he’s living with all kinds of other cards: there’s Wide Card – a postcard, price tag Round Card, Tiny Card a ticket for a shiny toy, Giant Card, a folder for important office work, Long Card –yet to be assigned a role, and Little Card, ditto. Then a letter arrives summoning Little Card to birthday card training. At last he’s to ‘be’ something and next day off he goes to learn how.

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One day on his return from school, Long Card greets him with the news that due to a mix up he isn’t to be a birthday card after all and the following morning off goes our Little Card to an imposing building to discover his new identity. He’s to be a library card, something he finds very exciting especially when he meets young Alice, his new owner.

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Thus begins a journey of discovery wherein the two new friends explore the many fascinating activities that the library has to offer – games, story time and snacks as well as all those amazing books-

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and Little Card breaks into song – albeit in his quietest voice – before the two of them head home together. And the best thing of all is that unlike once a year Happy Birthdays, ‘Happy Library Day’ is every day but Sunday.
The mixed media collage scenes capture the exuberance of Little Card and his justifiable excitement about the whole library experience.
A fun introduction to the wonderful possibilities on offer behind the doors of our libraries, those of us who are still fortunate enough to have one that is.

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Sleepy Cheetah

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Sleepy Cheetah
Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway
Hodder Children’s Books
In this neo-pourquoi tale set on the plains of Africa, we learn how sleep-loving Cheetah, once a plain old sandy colour, got her spots and became the fastest of all the animals.
It all begins with a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning and a cry from little Vervet Monkeys calling, “Wake up, Sleepy Cheetah! Wake up!” But Cheetah’s only response is to open one of her sleepy eyes and continue dozing. As the other animals make a dash towards the rushing river, the monkeys move closer to Cheetah, once more urging her, “Wake up, Sleepy Cheetah! We can see Fire! Wake up and run!” and then bouncing with their black sooty paws all over her sandy back,

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tummy and tail while repeating their wake up and run cries. But all Cheetah does is to roll over and go back to sleep.
The dash past her continues with each passing animal urging the sleepy creature to “Run!” all to no avail until suddenly Cheetah feels a tingle in her tail as it begins to heat up. And that’s when she starts to move, slowly at first but then faster and faster …

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till she’s ‘racing like the wind’ away from the fire and urging the others to speed up as she outstrips them in her frantic dash to the water’s edge. So fast does she run that tears stream down streaking her face, but still on she runs pausing briefly to allow the Vervet Monkeys to hop up onto her back before taking an enormous leap across the water to land safe and sound on the opposite bank.

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It’s then that Cheetah becomes aware of her striking new look for as she glances down at her reflection what she sees is a beautiful spotty coat and tear tracks down her face.

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Moreover, from that day to this Cheetah has been the fastest animal on four legs.
Gorgeous watercolour visuals and a pacey text keep listeners entranced as they follow Cheetah’s transformation from somnolent creature to graceful speedster.

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Quick Quack Quentin/How Many Legs?

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Quick Quack Quentin
Kes Gr y and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
Did you spot the deliberate mistake in the author’s name? It – or rather a missing A – is really key to the whole sorry situation in this hilarious book from the Field/Gray dream team that all begins when a duck, a duck whose ‘Quack’ has become a mere ‘Qu ck!’, consults a doctor about the distressing condition. But although quick with his diagnosis “… your QUACK has lost it’s a.” said doctor is unable to prescribe anything. So off goes Quentin to the FARM to see if any of the animals can help. They try their best: DOG offers his O, HEN her E, PIG his I and BULL a U

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but none of these sound appropriately duck-like.
Quentin’s next stop is the ZOO – a couple of OOs perhaps? On second thoughts maybe not, but perhaps there might be an animal with a spare A therein.
All the animals are sympathetic but part with an A – not likely! The APES don’t want to be PES.
The SNAKES don’t want to be SNKES nor the CAMELS CMELS. The PARROTS have no intention of becoming PRROTS and those PANDAS don’t want to be PNDAS or even PANDS.

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Poor Quentin, seems he’s stuck with that QUCK or is he? What’s this strange looking creature saying he has a spare A …

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A quacking read aloud, a fun introduction to vowels and a brilliant way of showing children they need to be flexible in their approach to letters and sounds. In my book it doesn’t quite beat Oi Frog! but it comes pretty darn close: those animal expressions are something else.

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How Many Legs!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
What begins as a simple question from the boy narrator of this picture book from the hugely talented Field and Gray “How many legs would there be if in this room there was only me?” gradually turns into a chaotic and riotous romp of a party as one after another animal crashes onto the scene at every turn of the page.

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Did I say another animal? Make that more than one on occasion …

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And just when you think it can’t get more crazy, this happens …

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With the addition of a slug, a snail, a maggot and a centipede just to name a few of the gate-crashers keeping up a leg count is pretty tricky.

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In fact I wouldn’t recommend trying it on a first reading – just enjoy the fun and leave computation till afterwards; and anyway the host reveals the answer to the leg question as he deals with the after- party chaos on the final page.
With wonderfully wacky guests splendidly attired, and scenes full of delightfully exuberant eccentricities, this book now out in paperback, is a cracker.

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Terrific Twosomes

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I Love You Already
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
The Goodnight Already duo(s) are back with another rip-roaring winner.
We start with Duck seemingly planning a morning stroll with his best pal and Bear extolling the virtues of lazy weekends at home …

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Before long though Bear’s peace is shattered by a knock at his door and this little buddy isn’t taking no for an answer.
Maybe that walk isn’t quite such a good idea after all though …

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and it seems Bear likes “quiet time by himself’ as much or maybe even more than he likes his chatty neighbour, and is determined to have some quality time to himself no matter what, or where.
Not very much however, for very soon he hears …

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And sees …

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Guess who is starting to feel a little bit of remorse now and then even more when he hears “You don’t even like me, do you, Bear? ” to which he responds, “Nonsense. You’re basically my family. I love you already, Duck.”
Maybe not the best thing you could have said, Bear because …

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That irrepressible, fun loving Duck is the perfect complement to his ursine neighbour who loves nothing better than a quiet day to himself with plenty of books and the odd cuppa.
Super stuff.

On the subject of perfect partnerships, bears, and a rabbit this time, an unmissable book for newly independent and emerging readers is:

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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits
Julian Gough & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
I absolutely adored Jim Field’s wonderful Oi Frog! so I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! did I love it. I’ve always thought Frog and Toad were the unbeatable pairing when it comes to perfectly balanced contrasting characters but now along come the all-knowing Rabbit and laid-back Bear; and if this first book is anything to go by, they are about to give those amphibian guys a run for their money.
This side-splitting woodland romp is the setting for a tale of snowballs, snowman building,

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almost-avalanches, cracking ice, a breath-taking escape, a bit of stealing, poo eating – did I just say poo eating? (apparently, in this instance it’s called coprophagia) – not to mention the odd soggy carrot, oh! and there’s this other character I almost forgot to mention too.

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And of course, there’s friendship – who could ask for anything more? Well, other than – next instalment very soon please Mr G and Mr F.
Such a brilliantly seamless amalgam of words and pictures. Roll on The Pest in the Nest say I.

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Let’s Play

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Ready, Steady, DIG!
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Ed Eaves
Hodder Children’s Books
As one little boy plays with his collection of vehicles, his playmat becomes the scene for Construction Crew to rumble into action. There’s Connor Crane with wrecking ball to bash and smash, big tough Dumper Dave to haul and heave, Mixer Millie is at the ready,

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followed by Ravi Roller to squash the tarmac and Doug the Digger with that enormous scoop – OOPS!

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He’s got stuck, so now it’s a case of teamwork to heave him out and complete the task …

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before that well-earned rest.

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Ed Eaves transforms the various vehicles into friendly-looking monsters, which, in combination with Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ lively rhyming text, make for a rumbustious read to share with the very young.
Teachers in early years settings may well want to take the opportunity this book offers to add some movement to the story session with the children themselves becoming the various members of the Construction Crew as the story unfolds – after an initial seated reading, that is.
Certainly this is one to add to an early years collection.

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Hedgehugs Hopping Hot
Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson
Maverick Arts Publishing
The delightful duo, best friends Horace and Hattie return with their third story and it’s a very sunny day on which we find them attempting to play a favourite hopping game. The trouble is they’re feeling far too hot and the only shady spot doesn’t furnish sufficient hopping space. Their cooling strategies don’t meet with much success either

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and it’s well nigh impossible to emulate frogs when you make so much splash. Hiding under rocks like woodlice will certainly not work, if you want to hop that is …

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and nor will a squelchy mud covering. What about emulating that bird up there on a branch, think the friends but although it’s definitely a cooler place, it’s not suitable for jumping and …

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Hold on though, perhaps down here might be just what those spiky friends need – whatever the weather …

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Gentle humour delivered hedgehog fashion is fun no matter what the temperature: Horace and Hattie are such a joyful twosome; even in the face of all those misadventures they just bounce right back up, and that’s exactly what’s needed for a hopping game too! Lucy Tapper’s beautifully patterned illustrations capture the mood perfectly.

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Little One

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Little One
Jo Weaver
Hodder Children’s Books
Big Bear and Little One emerge from their winter den into the spring sunshine. It’s clearly Little One’s first experience of the season: “There’s so much to discover in your new world,” his mother tells him leading him into a forest astir with new life.

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What follows is a journey through the seasons with some life lessons for Little One, wonderfully rendered in Jo Weaver’s quietly beautiful charcoal illustrations. How to be gentle …

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and playful. How to catch fish …

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and how to swim.
How to find food in the autumn

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before winter comes around once more and it’s time to leave the forest and head for their den to spend another winter together, Little One so much wiser now from all his experiences.
Jo Weaver’s superb craftsmanship in her use of black and white and greys is evident on every single spread: just look at this nocturnal scene:

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and this glorious skyscape …

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There’s a gentle lyrical, almost meditational quality too, in Weaver’s writing as she moves her characters and readers right through a whole year in this, her debut picture book. It’s one to be shared one to one or with a small group when in keeping with the narrative, the pace can be slow and children and adult have time to explore the wonderful, illustrative details. I love the circular nature of the whole thing too.

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Treats for Tinies

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Kiss it Better
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Sarah Massini
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
How many times have you said the title words in your dealings with young (or not so young children? I suspect you’ve lost count.
This tender celebration of the healing power of kisses is charmingly presented courtesy of a bear family as they, in particular the two young bears, go about their daily lives with those inevitable thrills and spills. No matter those ‘down in the dumps’ feelings when a tumble has been taken there’s always a kiss to make it feel better.

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There are playful kisses too, and those that mean ‘I’m sorry’ when the siblings come to blows.
Then comes the cheer-up kind after a bad day at school or nursery and the wonderful goodnight, go-to-sleep variety that help shoo any of those bedtime storybook monsters that might be lurking
No matter the time of day or night, whether you’re feeling poorly or grumpy a kiss will help. Or maybe more than one … and they never run out. Kisses work no matter how big or small you are In fact everyone needs a kiss from time to time …

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Sarah Massini’s bears are truly adorable and a perfect match for Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ gentle rhyming text. Just the thing to have on hand in the home or an early years setting; you never know when a kiss and cuddle up with this delightful book might be called for.

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Good Night, I Love You
Caroline Jayne Church
Hodder Children’s Books
We join a brother and sister as they embark on their nightly bedtime routine: splashing,

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scrubbing, wrapping and brushing. Then it’s on with those pjs and time to share a story before snuggle down and lights out time.

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Told in rhyming couplets, it’s gently playful, cosy and just the thing to round off the day with your toddler.

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Jane Foster’s First Words
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
Here is a beautifully illustrated board book introducing twenty items – one per page to babies and perhaps those learning English as an additional language. The uncluttered nature of each page and the single word label make it obvious at once what is being so clearly named. The images themselves – animals,

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transport, a house and some things you’d find in and around a house – are for the most part, richly patterned reflecting Jane Foster’s background in textiles;

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and on occasion, the image is set against a softly patterned, textured background.
Altogether a stylish little book for babes and their parents/carers to share:

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despite its apparent simplicity, this is rich in language potential.

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Hide and Seek Bob and Flo
Rebecca Ashdown
Oxford University Press
The endearing penguin pals are back in the nursery again and it’s a rainy day so Bob’s brought his brolly. This triggers a game of hide-and-seek and Bob’s first to hide – so he thinks. The trouble is Bob is at the developmental stage where he thinks if he can’t see people (or penguins) they can’t see him and even after a bit of coaching he’s still not quite getting the hang of things.

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Sam and Flo decide to give him even more help; they go off to play in the kitchen giving him much longer to find a good hiding place.

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Can Bob manage to disappear this time? And what’s cake got to do with all this?
Gentle, playful humour delightfully delivered by Rebecca Ashdown and perfect to share with those around the age of Bob and Flo.

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I’ll Wait, Mr Panda

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I’ll Wait, Mr Panda
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
Sporting a chef’s hat and delectable doughnut-patterned pinny, and wielding mixing bowl and spoon, straight-faced Mr Panda is back to deliver another lesson in manners and this time it’s all about being rewarded for patience. But when it comes to discovering the surprise being cooked up by Mr P, patience is something that is decidedly lacking in llama: he definitely doesn’t want to wait.

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Neither does aardvark although he thinks it could be cookies on the menu.

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And those bunnies are rather hoping for cupcakes but will they “wait and see” What do you think?

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Seemingly it’s only that one small penguin who has the right attitude when it comes to the waiting game. He’s determined to stick it out till the last.
So, will his patience be duly rewarded when Mr Panda finally produces the outcome of his labours? Err – yes but …

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Another one to relish: Steve Antony’s droll humour shines through yet again in this tasty tale of delayed gratification. The guy is a genius and cannot seem to put a foot (or a paw) wrong. More please Mr A. and of course, I’ll wait …

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Cat Capers

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Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat
Emily MacKenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
In this follow-up to her splendid book-stealing Ralfy Rabbit, Emily MacKenzie provides another furry character with an unlikely preoccupation: marmalade cat Stanley is a fanatical knitter. He hones his craft not in chasing mice or dogs but in flexing his paws and clicking his needles to create all manner of wonderful objects: those pompoms are pretty cool (or should that be warm?), the bathtime bobble hats, ditto and then there are those tail cosies conjured up at the supermarket.

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Stanley’s pals were the lucky recipients of his craftsmanship: the balaclava-sporting bunnies looked wonderful, as did all the other woolly wearing animals.

 

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Until the day Stanley spots a poster …

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From then on, all Stanley’s energy, not to mention wool is focused on a single enterprise and nothing can stop him till – uh no! has Stanley come to the end of his chances of winning?

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But even that doesn’t stop the determined moggie as he embarks – to his friends’ chagrin, on operation unravel …

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When the day of the competition dawns, Stanley’s pals gather (sans woolies) at the venue but where is the great competitor himself? Seemingly he has thoughts other than victory on his mind after all;

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but in his efforts to make recompense to his friends, have Stanley’s prize-winning plans unravelled altogether, or does he still have a chance at the grand prize?
To discover the answer, you’ll have to get your mitts on a copy of this wacky, winning tale.

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Double Dave
Sue Hendra and Lee Wildish
Hodder Children’s Books
Rotund moggie Dave returns in another crazy tale and this time he has something of an identity crisis: who, or what is this Dave-like creature that’s sleeping in his bed and consuming his meals?

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And moreover, trying to take his friends .

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There’s only one thing for the indomitable Dave to do: unmask the imposter and prove himself worthy of the name Dave. That however seems to be somewhat more difficult than he (and Bug) have anticipated; but in the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating or should that be its gaseous after effects …

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Doubtless Dave will please his already established fans, and gain a few new ones too, with this comical windy caper.

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Presents, Presents and More Presents

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The Best Christmas Present Ever!
Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bear is back with another present enterprise: Christmas present creating this time, and he has to be quick because, as Squirrel informs him excitedly, “FOUR SLEEPS TILL CHRISTMAS!” But Bear has forgotten to get a present for his best pal. – some friend! He ponders, he puzzles … he knits … he sleeps. His knitting prowess leaves something to be desired though …

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With three sleeps left it’s back to the drawing board; Owl fortunately has a suggestion and soon Bear is busy again but …

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Maybe Fox can help. His suggestion, indirectly, provides Bear with inspiration and the result is terrific – or almost.

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One sleep to go Bear and that pile of ruined gifts is growing.
DING! Light-bulb moment … off goes our ursine friend again. Now I won’t be a story spoiler so let me end by saying both Bear and Squirrel are delighted with their Christmas presents: ‘the BEST Christmas presents ever.’
Great story, great illustrations and great end-papers too. But if I show you those, you’ll guess how the tale ends so, instead, get hold of a copy of this super seasonal story and share it widely or give one to a youngster who may well decide it’s exactly what the title says.

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Tickly Christmas Wibbly Pig!
Mick Inkpen
Hodder Children’s Books
Tickly Pig is the owner of some special garments – an outsized scarf, odd mittens, a babygro and matching accessories even; all these courtesy of Big Aunt Larlie. She’s sent them to him as Christmas presents for the past four years and when it’s especially cold and snowy, Wibbly is expected to sport his tickly woolly items of clothing – not the babygro of course; thankfully, he’s far outgrown that. So when Christmas is just ten days off and he’s busily helping with the putting up of decorations, and his Big Aunt Larlie has already been very busy with her knitting needles and a great many balls of wool, you can imagine how eagerly he’s anticipating this year’s gift.
On Christmas Eve when the doorbell rings and there stands his Aunt, he is slightly puzzled as to why she’s wearing HIS present – or is she?

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Bursting with warmth – despite the chilly weather – and gentle humour this is quite simply an adorable, timely re-issue.

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Amelie and Nanette: Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes
Sophie Tilley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This sugary sweet story wherein we share the run-up to Christmas with best friends Amelie and Nanette exudes Christmas nostalgia. The girls are bursting with excitement as they anticipate the day itself , but first is their school Christmas party to look forward to and prepare for.

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With its energetic characters, sometimes snowy setting …

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and a brief interlude of sadness …

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this story radiates seasonal warmth, brims over with friendship;and with those delectable, slightly whimsical watercolour scenes, is sure to enchant.

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I’m sure many will agree with the author’s final words: ‘ … sharing Christmas with your best friend is the best present EVER!’ especially if you sit down and make those paper chains provided inside the back cover of the book together.

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Santa, Santa, Santa …

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Waiting for Santa
Steve Metzger and Alison Edgson
Little Tiger Press
This really is Christmas enchantment, small furry animal style.
It’s Christmas Eve and Bear is awake before his friends. ”We’ve got to get ready for Santa Claus!” he informs them excitedly. Badger however, doesn’t share his enthusiasm: “Santa’s not coming … He doesn’t even know we’re here!” he grumbles.
His other pals are unsure but fortunately Bear’s enthusiasm wins them round and so under his direction they rally, busying themselves making signs,

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preparing snacks for Santa’s reindeer and decorating a Christmas tree. This they sit down beside, once they’ve managed to tie the star atop, that is. It’s a long wait for Santa’s arrival and as night falls and they sup their cocoa, doubt starts to creep in; even Bear begins to feel anxious,

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but then up in the sky …

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That’s not quite where we leave the friends though: Santa needs a little help with his delivery round and one of their number (heartily endorsed by Badger) goes off with him on the sleigh.
A sweet story focusing on the build up to the big day; the animals are relatively undemanding rather than greedy about presents; and I particularly like the element of teamwork. Alison Edgson’s soft scenes are a delight and the tense atmosphere as the friends sit under the tree waiting is almost palpable.

There seems to be a plethora of cute seasonal stories for the under sixes this year; here’s another:

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Santa Baby
Smriti Prasadam Halls and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Disappointed that he cannot accompany Santa on his delivery round, Santa Baby complains to Roo and both agree it’s no fun being small. But when they step indoors what do they find but two large parcels left behind.

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Fearing a child will be left presentless on Christmas morn, it’s a case of dashing through the snow, “We’re off to save the day.” But can they do just that in the face of super snowball fighting elf friends, slippy, sliding penguins and a rather reckless midnight loop-the-loop?

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And who are the recipients of the two parcels they’ve risked life and limb to deliver? To discover the answers, you’ll have to get a copy of this charmingly illustrated, delightful, rhyming story (that echoes the patterning of The Night before Christmas), and share it with young listeners.

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How to Catch Santa
Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish
Hodder Children’s Books
The recipe is as before if you’re familiar with the amusing ‘How to’ series from the Reagan/Wildish team – well kind of.
The spirited youngsters are on hand to furnish Santa-catching instructions but first there are all manner of considerations. Questions for Santa “How do you stay clean?” for instance and things you want to tell him – “I’m trying very hard to be good.” is pretty important. Then you might want to give HIM something – ‘A nose-warmer for cold sleigh rides’ should go down well.
Of course, none of this is any use unless you actually manage to catch the man and some ways are definitely NOT top of the list …

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What’s needed instead is craft and guile…

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and plenty of patience for sure. Even then a degree of quiet is vital for ensuring you don’t miss those special sounds – sleigh bells and the odd Ho Ho HO! for instance …

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Oops! Nearly forgot to say ‘Santa won’t come to your house until you’re asleep.’ So, catching him? Well there’s always next time …
Tongue in cheek humour verbal and visual in sack loads herein.

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The Night Before Christmas
Clement C. Moore and Mark Marshall
Little Tiger Press
Mark Marshall’s visuals for the favourite Christmas Eve poem are full of seasonal charm with a modern edge to them. Santa though, truly is ‘a right jolly old elf’ …

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as he pays a special visit to Ruby and Sam’s home. They’ve left him the customary offering …

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and are snug in their beds, till young Sam is summarily awoken

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and watches St. Nicholas filling the stockings and he’s not the only one watching.

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Bear With Me

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The Bear Who Went Boo!
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books
I put this book down in a classroom belonging to nine year olds and it was eagerly seized on by one girl who’d been attracted by the author’s name splashed across the cover. She sat silently reading it to herself, then excitedly called some of her peers and saying ‘Listen to this, guys.’ began reading it aloud to them. ‘Can you read it?’ they asked and so I was given the book and proceeded. The group loved it: ‘It’s hilarious,’ one said and ‘he (little cub) really asked for it.’

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That about sums things up.
Essentially, this performance stars a cheeky little polar bear residing at the top of the world who enjoys nothing better than creeping up on his poor unsuspecting fellow creatures and letting out an enormous “Boo!” He pays no heed to his mama’s “How would you like it if someone went boo to you?” and when a TV crew arrives to make a film of the animals, he continues with his boos. He boos the wrinkly walrus as he’s topping up his tan for the camera, the puffins as they preen their feathers, with disastrous results for the birds and the killer whales working on their synchronised swimming routine.

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Then along comes an altogether different creature – one unknown to little cub – and he’s about to film a snowy owl. Of course, the booing bear lets loose with one final …

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Needless to say its recipient is far from pleased and he’s not fooled by little cub’s claim to be a member of the penguin species either, so it’s a case of TV show filming cancelled.
Off flies the helicopter taking with it the film crew – next destination the Antarctica – leaving behind some very angry would-be famous TV stars and a somewhat downcast little cub.
But even after being treated to a dose of his own medicine and ending up looking like this …

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our irrepressible young chief protagonist just has to have the very last word and you’ll know what that is …
What a tour de force this Walliams/Ross team is: indeed just as irrepressible as little cub himself.

 

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How to Hug with Hugless Douglas
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
The famous hugging bear is back with lessons in – you’ve guessed it – hugging and it’s altogether generous hearted of him, as he and his pals are engaging in a hugging contest. Still that’s Douglas for you and as he says, “Some of the nicest hugs are with your friends.” But, you can hug pretty much anything, one way …

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or another.
There are prizes for all manner of hugs and huggers; but will Douglas win anything? What do you think? …
An exuberantly warm-hearted board book for apprentice huggers of all shapes and sizes.

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War or Peace? Ninja Baby/Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles

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Ninja Baby
David Zeltser and Diane Goode
Chronicle Books
An original take on a new sibling is offered in this hilarious book written in a wonderfully wry manner. Born a ninja for sure, Nina immediately shows her nature by karate chopping the doctor in return for her ‘make sure she’s breathing thump on the behind’.

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We then follow her path as she masters the sneak attack, hand-to-hand combat, obliteration, even advanced infiltration:

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total independence no less. Life is, one might say, pretty peachy for young Nina until that is, the arrival of a new prodigy: a veritable Kung Fu Master.

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In no time at all, this creature has wormed his way into his parents’ affections by doing nothing other than being utterly adorable. Guess who is far from happy.

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And seemingly young Nina has a few things to learn from the Master and vice-versa …

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Together they can become an indomitable force …

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I love the way the different, contrasting energies are portrayed in Diane Goode’s delectable watercolour and ink scenes: Fast moving, Ninja Nina’s success is her stealth. (That all out tantrum scene is sheer genius in its demonstration of the art of ninja.) Her placid, manipulative baby brother is altogether other. A total heart-stealer if ever there was one (or two!)

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Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
The Green Lizards and the Red Rectangles wage war on one another as first one side – the GLs – is in the ascendant, and then the other, as tricky tactics from the RRs truly test the strength of the GLs.

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Until one Green Lizard has the audacity to question the whole thing.

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He however is firmly squashed and the battle then quickly reaches epic proportions …

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culminating in total exhaustion on both sides.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” declares a small Red Rectangle and indeed it is for the two sides then face one another for a truce.
And, finally they work together to construct a way of living in peace and harmony.

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Long may it continue …
Seemingly simple, this is a brilliantly clever, totally original fable of our time. It packs a powerful punch about peace (and the futility of war), delivering a message that one hopes young children will take on board and keep with them as they mature. Indeed the questions raised here in this allegorical story are equally relevant to older children and adults. I suggest teachers of children in KS2 and beyond share it with their classes too.

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Love London

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L is for London
Paul Thurlby
Hodder Children’s Books
If you didn’t make it to London over half term, don’t worry. You can take a virtual trip courtesy of this fine alphabetic offering from Paul Thurlby. Delivered with tremendous panache, his instantly recognizable retro-modern style graces every page from its Abbey Road zebra crossing …

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to the (London) Zoo; it quite simply exudes style.
Must visit landmarks include the London Eye, the Globe theatre,  

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Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge …

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and Nelson’s Column. You can savour the produce on the stalls at Borough Market, enjoy at least one of the eight Royal Parks, or Kew Gardens …

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travel in a black Cab or board a London bus or the Uunderground.
And no trip to the capital city would be complete without spending time at the V&A museum, browsing in Foyles bookshop or, Harrods for the ultimate shopping experience. Other ‘must dos’ would be to see the Royal Guards in front of Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister and the Olympic Park.
In June/July you can watch the tennis at Wimbledon or if it’s a Christmas visit there is day and night outdoor Ice skating at Somerset House.
Although you might have to Queue, the crown Jewels can be viewed at the Tower of London, which is guarded by those legendary Yeomen warders better known as ‘Beefeaters’.
Finally, if one has time, on the South Bank is the oXo Tower, further along from the Royal festival Hall.
Those heading out of London for an international destination might leave from St Pancras station …

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With a scattering of famous faces, a fox to spot at every landmark and fascinating facts as well, this is assuredly a buy to keep and buy to give book.

An altogether different look at our capital city comes in

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Mr Chicken Lands On London
Leigh Hobbs
Allen & Unwin
In his second adventure, the travelling Mr Chicken descends on London – literally, landing gently in the Thames with his waterproof camera safe and sound. He then hotfoots to his favourite hotel the Savoy, having pre-booked the River View Deluxe Room prior to his trip.
After a Thames view breakfast, it’s off to visit her Majesty the Queen for morning tea. This has to be a brief meeting for Mr Chicken has many other things on his itinerary: a climb up St Paul’s Cathedral, an exploration of the Tower of London, a brief column-sharing view of Trafalgar Square with Lord Nelson and a hasty tour of the National Gallery, all before lunch.
After which comes a bus-ride to the London Eye …

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a perch atop the fountain at Piccadilly Circus and an evening visit to the opera; all that before nine fifteen because at precisely that moment he is inside Big Ben itself. Then it’s back to his hotel – briefly – before a moonlit foray along the Thames. Phew! What a busy day; but next morning it’s farewell to London for Mr Chicken and off he flies in his trusty air-balloon. Whither next one wonders …
Told with a tongue-in-cheek text, there’s an abundance of visual humour in this frenetic madcap extravaganza.

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Fun with Numbers

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One Thing
Lauren Child
Orchard Books
The author tells us the idea for her new book came because she ‘loves the way little children start counting almost before anything else’ and she assuredly brings a deliciously creative and exciting slant to the topic of numbers with the help of Charlie and Lola. Mum is taking them to the shops and they are allowed to choose one thing – one thing each that is – and they have TEN minutes to get ready:

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so, in comes the idea of numbers in relation to time …

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and addition, and possibly multiplication.
But they haven’t even set out yet for Lola has already become distracted – albeit with counting the dots on her dress.
Finally they’re on their way but of course, once again Lola is side-tracked and it’s ladybirds that have captured her attention; she’s full of questions: “How many shoes would fifty or twenty-seventeen ladybirds need, Charlie” … “What about socks?” (potential for some audience calculation after the story perhaps?). On they go past the water meadow –

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lots of birds to count there and up on the telegraph wire.
If you’re wondering if they ever reach the shops , the answer is yes, eventually after a lot more procrastination, well counting I suppose.

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And yes they do each choose one thing – kind of – and guess who has nothing to show for her choice by the time they all reach home once more.
Numbers and counting in real life situations is by far the best way for young children to begin to develop mathematical concepts: well done Charlie (and Lola) for finding lots of fun ways to do this and well done Lauren Child for crafting a wonderfully funny story wherein they (and listeners/readers) can learn so much about numbers. Every spread is rich in potential and could well be the starting point for an interesting session for early years educators who might be challenged to see what maths potential (apart from the obvious) they can find at every turn of the page.
Great fun and a brilliant way to promote the ‘maths (in particular numeracy) is exciting ’ idea to young children.

Another book that promotes the idea of numbers being exciting while at the same time fostering in children of all ages creativity and interest in design is:

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Numbers
Paul Thurlby
Hodder Children’s Books
Newly in paperback is graphic artist Thurlby’s creative, wonderfully thoughtful and thought provoking book illustrating numbers – numbers 0 to 9

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and then ten, twenty, thirty, forty

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etc. through to one hundred.
The artist speaks of his style in the book’s preface as‘retro-modern’ and his work reminds me of vintage railway posters …
I particularly love the way he so cleverly and wittily takes each number and incorporates the digit(s) into the scene illustrated opposite …

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Some of the striking (humorous) number representations will mean much more to older children/adults

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than to very young children learning to recognize the numerals (I’ve yet to discover a child who really has learned to recognize 0 to 10 by using counting books). Indeed this whole enterprise is much more about art and creativity than numeracy: I’d love to have some of these illustrations on my own walls.

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The Queen’s Handbag

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The Queens’s Handbag
Steve Antony,
Hodder Children’s Books
There sits Her Majesty in the royal coach set to depart on her Great Britain tour when ‘swoosh!’ along comes a swan and away it swoops clutching her handbag firmly in its beak. Abandoning the coach, the Queen speeds off in her Aston Martin convertible hot on the trail of the sneaky thief all the way to Windsor Castle …

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and thence to Stonehenge.
From there it’s next stop Dover, followed by Oxford, Snowdonia, the Giants Causeway, Edinburgh Castle and all the way back to where she started. In the course of her break-neck chase Her Royal Majesty changes vehicle many times from motor bike, to Red Arrow plane, to penny farthing,

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then a parachute, a speedboat, a steam train

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– what an amazing acrobat she is – and a final gallop right back to London where she finds herself and the thieving bird caught up in the London Marathon. WOW! See her go …

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but can she catch that sneaky swan and retrieve the object of her chase? That would be telling wouldn’t it…
Delivered with considerable aplomb, and rendered in an appropriately regal colour palette, with a Union flag strategically placed in almost every location spread, not to mention a royal corgi, this is more than a worthy successor to The Queen’s Hat.
One cannot help but wonder just how many police officers got themselves involved in the chase (their antics are hilarious), and Her Majesty’s butler too makes a special appearance.
A laugh-on-every-page follow up to The Queen’s Hat and a veritable visual feast of British landmarks and the constabulary.

There’s an exciting event coming up in London on 23rd to 29th October: the Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition

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Forays into Fairytale

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The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book
Thierry Robberecht and Grégoire Mabire
Ragged Bears Publishing
An overcrowded bookshelf in Zoe’s room precipitates an adventure for the black wolf that spills out of a falling book as it hits the floor. With his pointy teeth, said wolf, in his own environment is a scary creature but once out of the book he becomes something else altogether – a frightened creature anxious to escape from the resident moggy. In some desperate attempts to keep himself out of the cat’s clutches he gets into all manner of testing situations

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and tries to escape into other story books. None of the first few he tries can furnish a safe hiding place

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but our lupine friend isn’t giving up which is a good thing because on entering the next one he finds himself in a large forest wherein he meets …

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This little character is much more welcoming: in fact it turns out the wolf is just what she needs by way of a shoulder to cry on and of course, he’s more than happy to offer a helping paw to ensure a safe passage through the forest to Grandmother’s house.
Superbly subversive and with its sprinkling of fairy tale references and such a beguiling main character this is enormous fun to read with under 7s and a great book to spark off children’s own wolf adventures. Grégoire Mabire’s comic rendering of that toothy wolf and his larger than life feline adversary are both hilarious and wonderfully dramatic.

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Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch
Greg Gormley and Steven Lenton
Orchard Books
I like a book with a twist to the tale: with its plethora of fairytale characters and diverting illustrations this playful modern story certainly has one or two.
Frankie is a fairytale fanatic and one morning as she’s enjoying a peaceful read in her bedroom, a princess bursts in asking for a hiding place and thus begins a visitation from a whole chain of unlikely intruders large

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and small …

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all asking for somewhere to hide from the witch.
When Frankie realizes she too should take cover, the witch bursts in demanding to know where the other characters are. Frankie doesn’t let on so the witch has to resort to more drastic measures to discover their whereabouts before uttering some words that finally cause the confused Frankie to understand what is going on.

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Help!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books
From the partnership that created Shhh! and Keep Out! is another playful foray into the world of traditional tales. This time there’s a big bad wolf at large and three porcine characters are rather keen to apprehend him and they’ve enlisted the reader to assist in the search, not to mention a teddy bear and a whole drove of their fellow swine.
There are so many possible hiding places to check out and lots of false starts although plenty of evidence that the BBW isn’t far away.

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So it’s on with the search and the poster pinning …

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until they discover more evidence of tricky doings.
But the creature’s still at large and the search continues till the seekers come upon a sturdy-looking house that might just be THE place.
Engaging, entertaining and from the opening lines, totally involving. There’s even a pair of mouse observers/commentators to add to the fun.

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I Will Love You Anyway/How to Be a Dog

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I Will Love You Anyway
Mick and Chloë Inkpen
Hodder Children’s Books
We share a puggish pup’s thoughts directed at his small boy owner in this delicious book from the Inkpen father and daughter team.
Said pup is anything but your ideal dog; he’s a furniture wrecker, thief and inveterate chaser …

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he cannot follow instructions and worst of all, he keeps on running away – with disastrous consequences sometimes.

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But does this pup ever learn? Oh dear no and when he and his boy hear the terrible words, “We cannot cope! He cannot stay!” he takes off once again running and running into the inky black, wet night.
Being lost, out all night and wet

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and scared is no picnic even for our canine hero. It’s fortunate then that a certain small boy happens along at the crucial moment and back they go to share a blissful moment or two.
You might now be thinking that at last this runaway has finally come to his senses but the trouble is, as we hear, “I don’t do words. They make no sense. I jump for joy …”  

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and er …
The spare rhyming text takes the form of the pup’s reportage narrative recording of what he does and what he hears, cleverly conveying the animal’s lack of any real understanding of what is expected of him. An unusual manner of telling for sure but it’s really effective and affecting here.
Chloe Inkpen truly does capture the full gamut of the emotions of both pup and boy in her captivating illustrations. I’d love to show you every single one but you will just have to get your paws on a copy of the book for the whole experience.

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How To Be a Dog
Jo Williamson
Scholastic Children’s Books
A mischievious, tongue-in-cheek guide penned purportedly, by a dog for his fellow canines. It’s full of need to know tips and advice on such topics as choosing the right human, sleeping arrangements,

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how to meet and greet, toilet training …

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getting the best food by whatever means, “To get the best treats, pretend that you have not been fed. If that doesn’t work … you may need to learn some new tricks … “, games to play with your human,

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forging new friendships with neighbours’ dogs and more.
The narrator is a delightful character (even to non dog lovers like me), full of mischief and endearingly portrayed, as are all the other characters – canine and human – we meet. My only wish is that some recognition had been given to the multi-ethnic dog-owning society we live in.
With a restricted colour palette, Jo Williamson has created a highly entertaining and engaging debut book and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

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Focus on Traditional Tales

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HONK! HONK! Hold Tight
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Anyone with an interest in traditional tales will likely be familiar with versions of stories about a sad-faced princess who never so much as smiles being reduced to laughter when she sees a procession stuck to a goose or other magic object; or a king offering his daughter’s hand in marriage to any man who can make his sad daughter laugh. These elements are the basis of Jessica Souhami’s latest folk-tale style rendering of a traditional story that has variants in Russia, Egypt and various parts of Europe.
Here we meet po-faced princess, Alice and her despairing father who has announced that he’ll share his kingdom with whomsoever can make his daughter laugh. This news reaches a poor young fellow, Peter who then sets out to try his luck carrying only a loaf and a carafe of wine. These he gives to a hungry old woman on the way and she in return gives him a gold-feathered goose, a warning and some instructions.
Following her instructions to the letter results in an ever-growing procession of adherents

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as he journeys to the palace and the spectacle duly works its magic upon the doleful Alice. Her laughter breaks the ‘sticking’ spell and the delighted King keeps his bargain. And young Princess Alice? She gradually comes to appreciate the possibilities in a young man who can make her laugh and proposes, resulting in …

 

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Jessica Souhami sets her story in what looks like the early twentieth century from her jewel-bright, cut paper collage style illustrations. With its direct telling, and funny scenes, it’s sure to bring a smile to the faces of audiences young and not so young. It would also be great fun for children to act out – with or without puppets. Get that hooter ready …

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Favourite Mixed Up Fairy Tales
Hilary Robinson and Sarah Horne
Hodder Children’s Books
This is the third in the series of Mixed Up split page books and has a new illustrator, Sarah Monk. Herein readers meet all manner of characters large and small, good and not so good: The Pied Piper, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Rapunzel, Tom Thumb, Rumpelstiltskin, The Gingerbread Man, Thumbelina, Hansel, The Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood, even the Frog Prince and can involve them in all manner of likely or unlikely adventures and encounters with lesser characters such as a wicked witch or a spotty toad. The possibilities are seemingly countless (I’m certainly not going to bother working out the possible number of permutations) and hours of playful fun are assured. One random opening resulted in:

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For those who enjoy being the co-creators of off beat scenarios, this will doubtless prove as popular as its predecessors.

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Gracie exploring the possibilities.

Sarah Horne’s zany, brightly coloured cartoon style images are full of fun and there are some particularly playful mini freeze frames such as that of the yellow brick road …

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that would make interesting starting points for further flights of fancy.

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School Is Fun

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Hugless Douglas Goes to Little School
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
Miss Moo-Hoo certainly has her hands, or rather hooves, full when Douglas spends his first day in her care at Little School, especially when he gets that characteristic TICKLE in his tummy in response to her question “what do you like doing best?

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Indeed I suspect she was somewhat surprised at the responses from some of Douglas’ classmates too, especially “Thinking“.
I’m pretty sure that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the art activity especially bottom printing; now there’s a thought!

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And the interpretation of “wash before you eat” is interpreted rather liberally by her charges

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but at least they get rid of all that paint before lunch.
Probably the best bit of the day was the co-operative block play … Oops!

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I’ve no doubt young Douglas will eagerly join that walking bus when it leaves for school on the next day and the next and … wouldn’t you?
Enormous fun (despite the ‘naughty step’ – one of my pet aversions) and just the thing for those starting nursery or reception when term starts once again.

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Owl Wants to Share at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow pbk
It’s time for the pupils at Miss Moon’s School to get creative: They are to draw “a FAVOURITE night-time THING.” Mouse announces hers will feature “a dark and glinty SEA.” Bat’s will be a “dark and whispery TREE.” Cat chooses a BEE, one that’s dark and mysterious; but Owl’s picture is top secret. Because he’s so slow in starting, all the night-time colours are in use and his classmates refuse to share

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(selfish lot) so Owl is forced to use daytime shades instead.
His effort is belittled by the others, but Miss Moon, (the subject) is more supportive

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commenting that Owl has made her look special and different.. This leads to a swapping of crayons, additions to each picture and a satisfactory outcome for everyone.
A story about learning to share resources and making creative use of what’s available to you. The gently humorous text, with its unusual characters and setting, is delightfully brought to life in Ali Pye’s glowing lunar-lighted scenes. Her characters all look enchanting despite some unfriendly behaviour towards Owl; and their pictures really do look as though they’ve come from a nursery setting.

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Captain Falsebeard in A Very Fishy Tale & another salty story

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Captain Falsebeard in a Very Fishy Tale
Fred Blunt
Puffin Books pbk
The fine detail in this one is awesome and truly hilarious in parts. Take for instance the sight of all those evil-looking parrots launching their aeronautical attack (of which more later).
The story tells of two pirates bold, fearsome and sworn deadly enemies, Captain Falsebeard and Admiral Swinetoes by name. For over a decade these pirates have searched the briny blue looking for the Crossbone Treasure and now finally, one of the pair, Falsebeard has it in his clutches and, when we meet him is about to stash the loot safely aboard his ship, the Pretty Polly and partake of a celebratory fishy supper. First though, there’s to be a fish-off competition to catch a creature worthy of the cap’n’s table.
Lines are duly cast and with the competitors concentrating on the task in hand, none of them notices the watchful parrot observer close by.

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This wily creature flies back to the Killjoy to report his discoveries to Admiral Swinetoes, who as you can imagine, is none too impressed. But a plan is quickly set in motion.
Not long after, back aboard the Pretty Polly a sizeable catch is landed and it’s something of a surprise

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and a totally beguiling one.
When Falsebeard discovers the nature of the hoodwinking, an even more cunning plan is ignominiously thrust upon him – or rather before him. One that involves the unleashing of a truly deadly weapon (which is where we came in).

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But does Captain Falsebeard retrieve his plunder?

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Well that would be telling wouldn’t it?
A wonderful rib-tickling yarn of the saltiest variety that will have your audiences calling out for more and demanding opportunities to pore over the individual frames and full pages scenes. Welcome to the REAL picture book scene Fred Blunt: a superbly swashbuckling debut.
Miss this at your peril me ’arties!

Also with a marine theme is

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Mr Benn Diver
Based on the TV series by David McKee
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Herein Mr B. visits the costume shop and finds himself part of an adventure involving rival submarine crews searching for a sea monster, a mermaid seeking a special present for King Neptune’s birthday and a cunning trick to ensure the king is left in peace to enjoy his birthday celebrations with his pet monster. It certainly kept a lively group of 5s to 7s involved throughout and wanting more.

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Old Friends and New

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Max
Marc Martin
Templar Publishing
Most of us will be familiar with the empty feeling that comes when circumstances separate close friends. In this affecting story by an award winning Australian artist, the avian protagonist certainly does.
Max is a seagull – a very fine looking one and slightly mischievous, so a gull after my own heart. He has a particular penchant for fish and chips

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and a special friend, Bob who keeps him supplied with the latter. And the former? The friends spend their evenings together catching those: life is pretty peachy for Max.
Then one day when Max arrives at Bob’s shop, he finds it empty; but where oh where is Bob?
Max waits a long time but then decides it’s time to take flight and off he goes searching …

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until as he flies above a city, a familiar smell pervades his nares.
Down he swoops and eventually finds …

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Wonder of wonders – there is his old pal and a joyful reunion is the order of the day, along with a few chips of course.
Oh, and their after hours fishing trips are resumed too …
Beautifully rendered through mixed media illustrations and a spare text that allows observant readers and listeners plenty of room to fill the gaps, this is a tender-hearted celebration of friendship triumphing against the odds. For instance we are never told about the fairground and its possible impact on the shops it dominates but it’s shown several times in the early scenes.

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Delicious!

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Best Friends
Mara Bergman and Nicola Slater
Hodder Children’s Books
Crazy capers ensue when three balls are thrown: these are immediately pursued by Dexter, Daisy and Lily, three altogether different dogs. Dexter McFadden McSimmons McClean (imagine yelling ‘Come here DMMM’ in full when he charges off) is a dashing greyhound, Daisy is a somewhat dreamy-looking dachshund and Lily, a prettified poodle.
Hot on their trails go respective owners, William – at a mad dash, Jack at a more leisurely stroll and a somewhat embarrassed Maddie, sporting a new haircut. But Dexter crash-lands right into a rather genteel picnic;

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Daisy somehow scares a reader and Lily becomes entangled in a kite. That however, is nowhere near the end of the canine-caused chaos …

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There’s a soaking in store too and it’s not just for those demented dogs

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But, with new friendships forged, all ends happily in Mara Bergman’s hilarious rhyming romp. It’s told in a jaunty fashion entirely in keeping with which are Nicola Slater’s superbly energetic, retro-style illustrations that have all the verve and vigour of Lynley Dodd’s well-known and much loved, Hairy Maclary.
Definitely a book that will stand up to the many re-readings I’m sure young listeners will demand, mine certainly have. I found myself falling for all three of those canine charmers despite being dog-phobic.

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Friends
Eric Carle
Puffin Books
A boy and a girl are close friends playing together and sharing each other’s secrets until one day the girl is gone; she’s moved somewhere far away. The boy counts to ten then sets off to find her. Having swum across a cold river, slept under a starry sky climbed up a steep mountain and down into a grassy meadow. He journeys through the rain till sleep overtakes him. Next day off he goes once more through a shadowy forest and a garden where he gathers flowers and eventually finds his friend again. “I have found you!” he shouted. “I knew you would come,” she said.
Much of the journey features only the landscape, which is conveyed through abstract brush-strokes and collage forms, with the children appearing just at the beginning and end. This serves to allow the reader to step into the shoes of the boy and in so doing get a feeling of the enormous distance he travels. Certainly the lad was a determined over-comer of obstacles.
The final pages show a photograph of Carle and a girl friend from his early childhood in 1932 from whom he was separated when his family moved. Seemingly this friendship was part of the inspiration for the book, although the real-life friends have never been reunited.

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