Tag Archives: humour

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger
Patricia Cleveland Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

After their successful collaboration with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus, team Cleveland-Peck and Tazzyman return to entertain readers with another selection of silly scenarios involving an array of unlikely creatures all endeavouring to lend a hand, a tusk, paws or perhaps fins, flippers or some other part of their anatomy, all with gigglesome outcomes.

Patricia’s rhyming possibilities or should I say, impossibilities, will surely deter even the bravest of readers from say, letting a polar bear anywhere near their hair with a pair of scissors, engaging an octopus as a dressing assistant,

attempting tooth cleaning in the vicinity of a crocodile, particularly of the hungry kind, or allowing a wolf to read the bedtime story,

while David Tazzyman’s portrayals of the creatures carrying out their self-set tasks are a scribblesome treat of the disastrous – sometimes life-threatening – consequences of ignoring the author’s advice.

Maybe the rejected animals are right – if you can’t join ’em then beat ’em and party instead!

Spencer age 5, who thoroughly enjoyed the book, has come up with two playful ideas of his own.

Belinda Brown

Belinda Brown
David McKee
Andersen Press

Belinda Brown is fanatical about bananas, insisting on dining upon them at every meal and in-between times too, even going to the lengths of keeping a spare in her sock should she feel peckish. None of her family or friends shares her ultra-enthusiasm for the fruit; in fact her friendship with best pal, Felicity Jones is terminated thanks to the curvy fruit.

So convinced are her parents that the child is merely going through a faddy phase that they aren’t troubled by this over-indulgence:

it’s left to her Grandma to worry about Belinda’s obsession.
She becomes increasingly troubled until eventually on a walk together, she begs her granddaughter to cut down on the bananas for fear her body should start to mimic the form of same.

Belinda has no wish for her back-bone to take on a banana-shape and so, rather than give up what she loves so much, the girl tries her own method of offsetting any possible curvature that might occur.

The results however, are not quite what she’s hoping for …

Rhyming nonsense from McKee to tickle the taste buds and bring on the giggles. Belinda’s a totally zany character but you’ll also love her small brother Bryan, the balletic, skinny Aunt Sally and the banana-sharing toddler twins, all portrayed in McKee’s signature style.

Steve, Terror of the Seas

Steve, Terror of the Seas
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

Steve is not a very big fish, his teeth aren’t really razor sharp,

he’s no angelfish certainly, but why, he wonders, is it that the very sight of him sends not only all the fishes large and small, but other sea creatures too, and even humans, into a terrified tizzy.

Let me introduce some of the most alarming varieties of the fish Steve shares the ocean with: here they are, each one appearing decidedly more likely to have you for breakfast than Steve;

but I’ll leave him to do the honours when it comes to an introduction to his best pal, George. “We go EVERYWHERE together” Steve tells us “And George doesn’t think I’m scary at all!’ Now why would that be?

This is just a made up tale, you’re probably thinking but actually it is and it isn’t. Steve is a Pilot fish for George; and they share a symbiotic relationship. He keeps George free from harmful parasites and is even allowed to clean his teeth. Ooooh!

Essentially this is an extended joke of a story with a factual sting in its tail. It’s amusingly illustrated with interestingly textured, sub-aquatic scenes by relative newcomer to the picture book scene, Megan Brewis.

The Truth About My Unbelievable School…

The Truth About My Unbelievable School …
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Henry returns in a new story, and on this occasion he’s charged with taking a new classmate on a tour around school. If you’ve met Henry previously, you’ll already know that he’s more than a little inclined to exaggerate. Here though he’s up to something different: “… there really isn’t much to see …” he tells the girl as he shows her the class pet – a gigantic jellyfish. She appears singularly unimpressed, as she does at the sight of the music teacher,

the art class in progress and the maths lesson.

Not even the long tentacles escaping from a part closed door, the short cut to the playground …

or the flying mashed potatoes in the cafeteria cause her to bat an eyelid.
After a few more stops including a Smaug-like den and the principal’s office (reached by rowing boat),

the two arrive back at their classroom just as their teacher is bidding the class farewell. Perfect timing. And then we get a wonderful surprise ending.

(Observant readers may well have noticed the odd clue as to what’s coming already, as well as enjoying the various literary allusions scattered throughout in Chaud’s wryly funny illustrations.)

Keep an eye on Henry’s dog: the animal seems to have muscled its way into the action and is sure to make readers smile.

Delicious fun and another likely winner for Cali and Chaud.

My Stinky Dog

My Stinky Dog
Christine Roussey
Abrams

A boy narrator talks about his best friend and faithful dog, Alfred, always on hand to bring cheer to his owner and a great soccer player to boot.
If we take a closer look at this hero of a pet we discover that despite his wonderful character, there’s a problem with Alfred: foul odours emanate from every part of his body; in short, HE STINKS!

And he does so morning, noon and night and everywhere that Alfred takes him which is pretty embarrassing.
There’s an even bigger issue though as the boy’s family is soon to move to New York and a malodorous dog is not something they’ll be keen to take with them.
Time to pay the problem some attention. Aftershave (dad’s) perfume and air freshener only make matters worse so something more serious must be done. Into the bathtub goes Alfred. He’s thoroughly lathered and bubbled until hurrah!
No more stink! Alfred is positively sparkling

Uh-oh! All of a sudden the dog appears to have undergone a complete personality change. He starts cavorting around in welly boots and raincoat and is obsessive about his oral hygiene. Perhaps this destinkifying thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Out into the mud goes the boy who rolls around until Alfred follows suit. Soon his characteristic canine pong is well and truly restored and with odour issue resolved their whole stinky normality can resume.

But what about that New York move? Will both boy and dog make it to the new home?

A wonderful tale of love, acceptance and individuality is given a delightful carefree spin by Christine Roussey’s distinctive illustrative style, which will surely cause readers to smile at every turn of the page.

What Does an Anteater Eat?

What Does an Anteater Eat?
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

Ross Collins will certainly have audiences spluttering with delight at the finale of what is essentially an extended joke of a book. That’s getting ahead of things though, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Surely any self-respecting anteater, even one that wakes up hungry, should not need to go around asking the various creatures he encounters one morning what he ought to be dining upon but that’s exactly what happens here.

The responses he gets range from an indolent “I’m very busy. Don’t bother me.” through some recommendations …

and helpful advice about thorough chewing (that’s from snake)to a lip-licking contemplation of the anteater’s own potential as a meal

until Anteater arrives at a large nest. Now surely the penny will drop so to speak at the sight of this …

It does, but perhaps not in quite the way we might have been anticipating.

This tongue-in-cheek tale is delivered with panache: the expressions on the faces of the animals – anteater’s and all the others’ are wonderfully droll as is the dialogue throughout.

Be sure to watch out for the tiny insects crawling through almost every spread clearly intent on a spot of nest building.

Gary’s Banana Drama

Gary’s Banana Drama
Jane Massey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Gary the huge gorilla is a banana-phile so you might imagine that his discovery one day that there are ‘NO MORE BANANAS’ would send him into a crisis. Not so! Gary isn’t one to panic; instead he dons his smart new titfa’, trims his toenails and sallies forth to carry out his plan: to search for his favourite food.

Pretty soon, it seems as though his plan is going to prove fruitful: there are bananas at almost every step.
The trouble is not one of the banana-looking items is the real thing. Some leap and lick his face, others burst into song

and then have the audacity to peck him; others come hurtling at him courtesy of one Billy.

He sees bananas wherever he looks; it’s enough to drive the creature absolutely err, bananas, especially when it starts to rain.

Then however, Gary’s luck changes. He bashes his bonce on a huge obstacle

and then despite not at first wanting anything to do with the object he’s bumped into, suddenly changes his mind and launches himself off towards the most wonderful place he could never have imagined …

Is it possible though to have too much of a good thing? …

Totally crazy – bananas you might say – but with some wonderful slap-stick moments Gary and his banana-filled drama will have your audience chortling with delight.

How the Borks Became

How the Borks Became
Jonathan Emmett and Elys Dolan
Otter-Barry Books

Who better to introduce the concept of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection to primary age children than author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Elys Dolan?

So let’s take a journey to a distant planet, quite similar to earth, named Charleebob, home to a species going by the name of Borks.

When we arrive a group of llama-like Bork mothers has just given birth to a large brood of Borklings, long-necked, shaggy, yellow creatures, each one slightly different.

They didn’t always look that way though: long, long ago their appearance was altogether different: their fur was short, smooth and blue and their necks short and thick, at least that’s how most of them were. A few exceptional ones had shaggier fur – not ideal for hot weather but when the chilly time arrived later in the year, they were the ones that survived.

Over the next couple of generations, more changes took place; first instead of all the offspring having blue fur a few were bright yellow.

This meant that the latter blended in with their surroundings so that when a Ravenous Snarfle was on the lookout for its lunchtime feed, the blues were hastily consumed

leaving the yellow-furred few to thrive and breed the next Borkling batch – all yellow, the majority with short necks, a few with long skinny ones.
You can guess which ones survived the drought that year, saved by their ability to feed on the thick leaves high up in the Ju-Ju-Bong trees. And that’s it – evolution in just four generations of Borks.

Clearly changes don’t happen that fast, but artistic licence on behalf of the book’s creators demonstrates how three key environmental factors – climate, predation and food availability brought about evolutionary changes with only the fittest surviving by natural selection.

The combination of Emmett’s brilliant, quirky rhyming narrative and Elys Dolan’s wonderfully witty, whimsical illustrations is an enormously enjoyable amalgam of science and storytelling, which offers a perfect starting point for the KS2 evolution topic.

(At the end of the book it’s explained that the Borks’ evolution story is a hugely speeded up account of what really happens: evolution happens at a much, much slower rate and the changes are smaller and more gradual so that an earth animal could take millions of years to change.) While you’re looking at the back matter, do check out the quirky end papers.

A Very Late Story

A Very Late Story
Mariana Coppo
Flying Eye Books

Imagine opening a book and discovering that the first spread is virtually blank, save for a single sentence. So it is in Mariana Coppo’s new picture book of which showing rather than telling is the essence.

Five creatures show up on the second spread and when one decides they’ve landed in a book, four are content to wait for the story to arrive.

Not so the little pink rabbit.

Having had its “Can we play?” suggestion turned down by the others who are willing to be patient and chat among themselves, the rabbit makes its way to the verso page of the book.
There, using the colour pencils from its backpack and a bit of imagination, the little pink animal populates the page with a tree, birds and much more besides.

The tree grows and with it and further colour pencil additions from rabbit, life on the verso becomes ever more exciting, spilling across the gutter

and attracting the attention of the passive quartet of story waiters.

Before long they are drawn into the action so that when the postman arrives with the mail, the story he delivers to them is surplus to requirements.

Cleverly conceived and SO brilliantly executed, this is a real joy of a book.

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

The chalks are an artistic lot creating colourful drawings at every opportunity so imagine their feelings when something or someone starts ‘stealing’ their pictures, and not just once either.

Thus begins this daft tale wherein Sergeant Blue and of course, readers are hot on the trail of the miscreant although I expect young listeners will already have their own suspicions as to his identity.

It’s not long before the Sergeant has lined up an identity parade of possible candidates and there’s one particularly suspicious-looking character that fits the evidence and his behind is covered in tell-tale red dust.

Caught red-bottomed! But before the prison doors are closed on the culprit, he makes a dash for freedom.

Will the chalks ever catch up with that slippery customer and if so, what will happen?

This light-hearted romp embodies an important message about not being too hasty in making judgements.
Children will enjoy the chalk-board style illustrations: in the face of the near ubiquity of white boards and markers in schools, could this be the start of a chalk-board revival – you never know!

Timeless Tales: I Really Want to See You, Grandma / I Wish I Was Sick, Too!

I Really Want to See You, Grandma
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

First published in Japan (the home of the book’s creator), in 1979, this story about a small girl and her grandmother and their efforts to see one another is now available in English for the first time.

Yumi and her Grandma live some distance apart, Yumi on a hill, her grandma on a mountain, and simultaneously each decides to visit the other – why they didn’t ring one another one can only assume is due to there being no mobile phones in those days.

They both leave home in upbeat mood, Yumi boarding a bus, her Gran taking a train.

Both arrive at the other’s home to discover the muddle and head back to their own homes …

missing each other again.

Will they ever get to meet or are they destined to spend the day passing each other on the way?

Gomi’s illustrations fill in much of the detail not mentioned in his simple text: ‘How come she was allowed to go on a bus without a grown-up?’ my listeners wanted to know after hearing this story of mix-ups and changing emotions.

Those in the early stages of becoming readers may well be able to try this one for themselves having heard the story read aloud first.

I Wish I Was Sick, Too!
Franz Brandenberg and Aliki
The New York Review Children’s Collection

I first came across this book as a young teacher in its Picture Puffin incarnation, I Don’t Feel Well.

It features sibling kittens, Elizabeth and Edward. Elizabeth is resentful of the attention her brother receives when he’s ill in bed. “It isn’t fair! … I wish I was sick, too!” she says.
When her wish comes true a few days later, she realises that, rather than all the attention received, it’s as her brother says, “The best part of being sick is getting well.

Aliki’s chalky illustrations capture the emotions of the infant cat characters superbly and the story’s as amusing now as it was over three decades ago.

Share and enjoy no matter the state of the listeners’ health; equally, with its clear print and inviting layout, it’s a good book for solo readers to try for themselves.

That Fruit Is Mine!

That Fruit Is Mine!
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Deep in the jungle live five elephants, fruit lovers all, but content to stick to their own favourites until one day they come upon a new tree, a very tall one bearing the ‘MOST delicious-looking exotic fruit’ they’d ever set eyes on.

Inevitably each one wants that tasty-looking object for him or herself.
MINE!” calls Elephant One, huffing and puffing till her lungs were fit to burst.
Elephant Two launches herself at the tree but fails to dislodge the object of her desire.

The other three elephants are equally unsuccessful despite ingenious attempts, and all the while unbeknown to the pachyderms, but spotted by readers, a group of five tiny mice working together reach and seize the yellow fruit

and carry it away triumphantly. “OURS!

Their teamwork lesson so adeptly demonstrated, is then put into action by the elephants and a combination of their original individual ideas bears fruit of a truly yummy kind.

Even yummier is the tale’s final twist.

Anuska Allepuz’s debut as author is a delectable offering, with its wry humour, theme of the fruitfulness of cooperation and sharing and alliterative phrases to relish. The use of different typefaces for elephants and mice works in harmony with the splendidly expressive, comical illustrations.

Great fun for sharing with one child or many.

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards
Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
Retold by Sean Taylor and Khayaal Theatre, illustrated by Shirin Adl
Otter-Barry Books

I first came across stories of Nasruddin, a comic figure in Islamic folklore many years ago and often used them as assembly stories so was delighted to get this collection of tales so beautifully illustrated by Shirin Adl.

Sean Taylor is a superb storyteller and here he has collaborated with Khayaal, a theatre and drama education company to bring twenty-one of the tales to youngsters in the UK. The result is a cracking collection that is guaranteed to make you chuckle your way through from start to finish not to mention your audience.

First comes an introduction wherein we’re told Mulla Nasruddin is a trickster and a few other snippets of information about him, one being that he likes to ride his donkey backwards; Nasruddin provides the answer at the back of the book.

All the stories are very short, ‘Tell Me One Thing’ being only three lines long but there’s wisdom and humour in each one.

It’s difficult to choose a favourite today though the three that suited my mood best were:
‘What Are You Doing?’ wherein we discover why the Mulla was spooning yogurt into a lake …

Drawing a Blank’ a story telling how when Nasruddin was a schoolboy, he fell asleep in class having been asked to draw something and came up with a quick- witted response to his teacher’s expression of displeasure at the lad’s blank page.

The third, ‘A Cow up a Pole‘ shows Nasruddin’s foolish side: he’d managed to save some money and was concerned to find a safe place to hide it, eventually putting his purse full of money at the top of a very long pole in his garden.
However someone had seen what he was doing, stolen the purse and left a lump of cow dung in its place. Nasruddin’s reaction some weeks later on discovering the dung where his purse should have been was, “How on earth did a cow manage to climb up a pole?

Ask me again on another day and I may well choose different stories.

If you’ve never come across Mulla Nasruddin before, then this is the perfect collection to start with. They’re just right for classroom use across a wide age range as well as great to share as a family. The tellings are enormous fun and Shirin Ald’s humorous collage illustrations an absolute delight; don’t miss the splendid Islamic tessellation style endpapers

Grandmas from Mars

Grandmas from Mars
Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Fred and Nell’s mum and dad head off for a meeting leaving their offspring in the care of Grandma they issue strict instructions: ‘homework, a bath and in bed before eight.’ It’s a similar situation in most of the houses in Nell and Fred’s town: the grans have been left in temporary charge.

Little do those Grandmas know however that far off on the planet Mars, they’re under surveillance and there’s a plan being hatched for their capture.

Before you can say ‘Martian’, the grannies have been replaced by Martian carers resembling those they’ve kidnapped save for one thing, they look rather, well … green!

At first, despite having noticed their Gran’s sickly pallor, Fred and Nell relish the zany instructions she issues and the fun that ensues. But then they look at her a little more closely: something doesn’t appear quite as it should.
Nell shouts: the town’s children make a dash.

Chaos ensues with the Martian Grans rampaging all over the town wreaking havoc to left and right. Time for operation ‘treat them like real grans’ decide the children, but can they screw up all their courage, put Fred and Nell’s plan into action and save their kidnapped Grandmas?

Michelle Robinson’s zany rhyming narrative bounces along merrily and is given added craziness – not that it was lacking in same – by Fred Blunt’s scribblesome, exuberant scenes. Make sure to share this deliciously daft tale with your offspring before you next leave them in their Gran’s care.

I’ve signed the charter  

Big Bunny

Big Bunny
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books

Rowboat Watkins does off the wall humour brilliantly as demonstrated in Rude Cakes and Pete With No Pants. Now he’s come up with another quirky, no make that totally bonkers, offering.

‘Once upon a time there was a BIG BUNNY’ begins the storyteller. ‘A ginormously SCARY bunny?’ responds the listener – presumably a child.

From then on the tale becomes an increasingly tall one with BB gorging himself on truckloads of carrots,

until the adult finally hands over the narrative to the child whereupon things spiral out of control with said rabbit devouring not only the carrots but the delivery trucks, a bridge

and then an entire city – the buildings were very tasty after all.

As for Big Bunny surely all that consumption would have damaged his inner workings wouldn’t it, rendering the creature totally unscary?

Thus far, we’ve not seen the two story makers and so have assumed their humanness.

Then comes the penultimate spread where all is revealed – a terrific splutter inducer if ever there was one.

There is no narrative as such, merely the dialogue between the two story makers whose identity I won’t reveal, but let’s just say it’s a bit of a cruncher and the final spread, absolutely delicious.

Seemingly Watkins’ inventiveness knows no bounds: this telling in combination with his crazy scenes of carrots, trucks and that omnivorous Big Bunny are wonderfully weird; look for all the lesser jokes scattered throughout too.

All ages will relish this yummy book for sure.

Looking After William

Looking After William
Eve Coy
Andersen Press

Brilliantly observed and full of humour is Eve Coy’s debut picture book.

It’s narrated by the small child through whose eyes we see what happens when she takes it upon herself to ‘be mummy’ for a day to her dad, William.

How efficiently she adopts the parental role while of course, carrying on with all the other important jobs that mothers have – drawing and colouring, organising a tea party for the toys in her life, or block building.

She’s so matter of fact: ‘William is full of energy and needs lots of exercise. … He needs so much attention …

Sometimes he just needs a little rest.’

How perceptively and enchantingly portrayed is their entire day in those gorgeous inky scenes of love and affection, every one of which is sheer adorableness in every way.

Assuredly this is a book that will appeal to both children and their parents, the latter will particularly appreciate how the ‘mummy’ is able to see potential career opportunities for her beloved and ‘very clever’ William …

Young children love to play at being ‘mum’ either with their toys or siblings, but this is a whole different take on the subject.
I can’t wait to see what comes next from this wonderfully insightful artist; meanwhile I intend to share this one widely.

Hello Hot Dog!

Hello Hot Dog!
Lily Murray and Jarvis
Lincoln Children’s Books

There’s been a fair sprinkling of food-centred picture books of late – pizza and sausages immediately spring to mind and now comes this tasty offering which takes the form of a conversation seemingly between a busy bee and an indolent hot dog.

We first encounter the latter as it languishes on some “comfy bread, with some corn and a couple of fries” apparently totally oblivious of the approaching ketchup bottle nozzle.

Suddenly as splodges of the red stuff splatter in his direction the lazybones realises what his fate is, at any second, to be. It’s time to ‘Run, Hot Dog, run!’.

Lack of limbs forces the fellow to come up with a somewhat complicated escape plan only to realise almost immediately that triple backflips are not his forte and that his demise is looming ever closer …

As a set of human gnashers close over the bun Hot Dog makes a desperate roll, extricating himself from the bread and flying through the air…

Freedom at last or dog’s dinner? Which is it to be?

Totally ridiculous but this will make you splutter with delight – it’s certainly been the case with every one of my readers, along with cries of AGAIN!

With its spare conversational text and hilarious Jarvis illustrations, in addition to being a terrific read aloud, this is a great book to share with those in the early stages of reading, with the adult acting as Hot Dog and the child as his aid to escape.

Meltdown!

Meltdown!
Jill Murphy
Walker Books

Once again, Jill Murphy humorously explores the relationship between an irrepressible infant and an exhausted parent, on this occasion it’s young Ruby Rabbit and her mum.

Ruby is at that stage of language development when she repeats phrases and she also loves to explore things by squishing, throwing, rolling and generally finding out what she can do with them.

Delighted at the thought of “HELPING MUMMY”, she does all of these when Mum takes her to the supermarket. Mum selects the items, hands them to Ruby to put in the trolley and the young rabbit proceeds to scrunch, toss, and roll, then charge off with the trolley.

Exasperated Mum plonks her in the trolley and continues down the aisles to the cake section. There they spy Ruby’s favourite piggy face cake, just perfect for tea. Into the trolley it goes. Thereupon a certain little rabbit asks, “HOLD the piggy cake?” Mum makes a big mistake as she hands over the item.

That “HOLD it” rapidly turns into “HAVE the piggy cake NOW!” which pretty quickly escalates into a monumental paddy not to mention a great deal of mess, and enormous embarrassment on Mum’s part.

We’ve all either seen it happen or experienced it first hand; Jill Murphy has done the latter: her wonderfully witty story – text and illustrations – is a delight and the finale utterly delicious.

I’m not sure how I missed this one first time around but it’s great to see it now in its paperback incarnation.

I’ve signed the charter  

I Do Not Like Books Any More!

I Do Not Like Books Any More!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

How insightful is Daisy Hurst: her account of young book loving monster Natalie’s disillusionment with the whole reading thing when she starts school is absolutely superb and a sad reflection of the sorry state of beginning reading teaching in pretty much every primary school I’ve spent any time in during the last few years.

That’s getting ahead of things though, so let’s go back to the start where we find Natalie and her younger brother Alphonse, thanks to their parents and relations, relishing every book encounter. Not only that, they remember stories they’ve heard and love to invent their own too.

Natalie eagerly anticipates being able to read for herself: “When I can read, I’ll have all the stories in the world, whenever I want them,” she says.

When she gets her first ‘reading book’ though it’s not quite as exciting as she’d hoped. Her teacher tells her to ‘sound out the words’.

Natalie’s frank response hits the nail firmly on the head:

and she goes on to add while trying to read at home … “I can’t … And nothing even happens to the cat!” Alphonse is marginally impressed …

but totally agrees about the nature of the reading material, politely requesting something more exciting …

 

Despite her best efforts the marks on the page of the interesting books continue to ‘look like scuttling insects with too many eyes and legs’: Natalie has had enough …

She storms off to tend her poorly toy elephant with the best medicine she can think of – a story from her own imagination (aided and abetted by Alphonse).

Impressed with their efforts, Alphonse suggests turning the story into a picture book. Out come the pens and when the illustrations are ready, Dad acts as scribe and they staple the pages to make a book and surprise, surprise, Natalie finds that she can pretty much read the entire thing – HURRAH!

As someone who has always advocated and for many years, taught using real books as the medium (alongside child made ones) for helping children learn to read, Daisy Hurst’s book made me both laugh and cry.

Yes, the monster children here have supportive parents who model, encourage and support, but sadly not all children are so fortunate: for many Natalie’s experience of reading at school is ALL they get.

This a brilliant cautionary tale that ought to be read by all those involved in the teaching of reading in the foundation stage and KS1 as well as teachers in training; and, dare I say it, policy makers in the government too.

Not Just a Book / A Couch for Llama

Not Just a Book
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

A book is for reading, yes certainly, but according to Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross’s latest offering, books can sometimes be so much more.
On occasion they might serve as hats, or make a tent for a cat, prevent a table from wobbling. A book makes a good tunnel for your toy train, can become an extra block for building with,

even perhaps a flower press.
This multi-purpose object is the perfect fly-swatter …

or protector of your drink from marauding wasps.

More important though than any of these additional uses, and that’s the real message herein, books have the power to affect how you feel;

to help you go to sleep, to educate; the best are never forgotten and best of all, a book is something to read and love …

Silly? Yes, Fun? Yes.

Jeanne Willis’s brief rhyming text and Tony Ross’s wonderful illustrations – look out for the mischievous cat on every page – make for an enjoyable and playful message about the importance of books.

A Couch for Llama
Leah Gilbert
Sterling

The Lago family absolutely love their old couch: it’s been the site of many good together times but now a new one is much needed. Off they go in the car to the furniture shop where they find the perfect replacement.

On the way home however, something happens that results in their new item of furniture ending up in Llama’s field. Llama is by nature a curious creature and so he starts to investigate this new arrival. He sniffs it, greets it and even tries sharing his lunch with it but none of these moves elicits any response. Llama tries lunching on the couch instead but it tastes awful and it’s too heavy to move.
The couch is useless, is his conclusion so Llama decides to ignore the object.
This unsurprisingly becomes exceedingly boring and so the exasperated animal leaps onto it and suddenly comes understanding …

By this time the owners of his new lounger have returned to claim their lost item but Llama refuses to budge. There’s only one option that will work for one and all: now what might that be? …
In her debut picture book Leah Gilbert mixes the realistic and the ridiculous with just the right degree of each for the story to work, but the real strength is in her visuals: in particular the scenes of Llama and his couch encounters are hilarious.

Great Bunny Bakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Eat Pizza

How To Eat Pizza
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

A book on how to eat pizza? When it comes to feasting on that favourite of foods surely everybody knows what to do; but just in case there’s any doubt, this latest offering from the creator of Splat! shows the way.

There’s a snag however: the particular pizza Burgerman is dishing up has no intention of being eaten at all. No way! Especially the largest slice.

Indeed he’s determined to convince us that there’s a range of infinitely more delicious options sharing his plate – a book worm for example, or this funky dude.

All the while though there’s the pull of the biggest slice but he’s not about to give up in his efforts to persuade us that any one of his fellows is the one to feast upon.

Alternatively, there are much more healthy, way less calorific possibilities that won’t damage your waistline. What about indulging in a few of these?

Burgerman’s zany humour goes down a treat in this colourful culinary extravaganza and if you’re still undecided about your cheesy choice, then maybe a sugary something might hit the spot …

Totally daft but enormous fun: Burgerman, with his off the wall sense of humour, has dished up another winner to tickle your taste buds.

Swapsies / Say Sorry, Sidney!

Swapsies
Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Worst Book Ever!

My Worst Book Ever!
Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Thames & Hudson

Whatever would make a reviewer want to open a book with the title of this one and start reading? Two other words on the cover, Ahlberg and Ingman: their collaborative efforts are always a huge treat even when there’s a squashed fly on the page before the narrative proper even begins.

Essentially this is a look at the whole publishing process from the germ of an idea in the author’s mind – that’s Allan of course – all the way through to finished book: a comparatively straightforward operation surely?

It all begins well in Allan’s writing shed at the bottom of his garden. The author has the essential brain fuelling mug of coffee, a pencil and pad, and his ‘Crocodile Snap’ story, just waiting to be written and off he goes.

Then real life intervenes. First it’s the small drama of the cat: this though is but a minor distraction.
Next comes a family seaside holiday (completely forgotten by the author), which interrupts the schedule for a whole week; but there’s that good old shed ready and waiting on his return.

However, it seems as though there have been some hungry visitors during Allan’s absence. (Now I can verify that this is perfectly possible – the same fate met my courier note taped to the front door and I caught the pesky molluscs in action having a nibble.)

Fortunately, this setback doesn’t appear to interfere with the author’s narrative flow and, displacement activities notwithstanding, by the end of the day the story is finished. ‘The End’: time for a celebratory hunk of cake.

The end for the writing maybe, but it’s only the beginning for stage two: enter illustrator Bruce. The guy appears to be pretty taken with the story, claims crocodiles are his favourite protagonists and …

So why is it that a couple of days later, that croc. has been kicked right out of the water so to speak and there’s another creature hogging the show?

Nevertheless, the changes are only temporary and a few days later the co-creators visit the publisher’s office where the editor throws in her own ideas or rather tries to, as does the designer,

and the agreed version of the book then goes off to the printer. End of story …

Not quite, but if you want to find out what comes off the press and is duly delivered to the bookshops, then you’ll have to get your own copy of the book: after all we don’t want yet another story spoiler …

Another winning collaboration between Ahlberg and Ingman no matter what we’re led to believe herein.

Utterly hilarious from cover to cover, this catastrophic account will have you chortling at every turn of the page. It’s a longish read and one you might not choose to share with a group of budding authors just before a story writing session, although; on second thoughts, mistakes are a vital part of the learning process.

Lucie Goose

Lucie Goose
Danny Baker and Pippa Curnick
Hodder Children’s Books

Lucie Goose is, by all accounts, a reclusive creature residing on the edge of a wood. One day while she’s keeping herself to herself and doing a spot of gardening, out from the shadows creeps a wolf. His “Rraaaarrrrrr”s fail utterly to ruffle her feathers …

and she invites the creature, whom she likens to a woolly sausage, in for a cuppa and a slice of cake, an offer the wolf declines.

Next on the scene is a huge ursine character whose roaring is but a mere brief interruption to her strawberry picking. He too fails to alarm and declines the tea invitation.

Then comes Lion and also roaring, but Lucie has flowers to pick and the ‘fat old carpet’ is singularly unalarming in her eyes and is quickly dispatched leaving the goose pondering upon the notion of scaring and being scared.

Enter another goose, Bruce by name. He doesn’t roar but merely explains the unlikelihood of anybody being scared of a goose.
Polite as she is, Lucie suggests tea and cake and home they go together.

However, there’s a surprise – or should that be three or err – awaiting the geese at Lucie’s house.

This is comedy writer, journalist and radio presenter Danny Baker’s first foray into picture books. I hope it isn’t his last. With its splendid similies and other absurd dialogue his narrative is really funny and I suspect you’ll find it impossible to read it aloud without wanting to break into fits of giggles.
Moreover, the showing, not telling finale and the guests’ final comments leave the audience free to use their own imaginations.
Equally humorous are rising star Pippa Curnick’s illustrations. Her sequences showing the interactions between Lucie and each of the other characters are picture book theatre of the first order.

Simon Sock

Simon Sock
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Simon lives in the sock drawer with all the other socks; it’s a cosy place but he feels lonely and unloved. All the other inhabitants go out on adventures and Simon longs to find the perfect friend to roller skate, bounce and hula hoop with; but, as Spotty tells him, Simon is odd.

Then Ted offers his help and thus begins Simon’s search for a stripy matching pair. He meets all manner of possible partners,

he certainly learns a lot and finally discovers Simone.

It turns out though, that his matching pair does not share his thirst for the great outdoors.

Poor Simon; is he doomed to a life without a partner or …

With Nick East’s captivating sock scenarios, this is funny story, about friendship, difference and preconceptions that will make listeners laugh and think; and the ending – yes it is a happy one – will bring delight and a definite feel good factor.
It might even work as a book to give to a significant other on February 14th.

I’ve signed the charter  

I Say Ooh You Say Aah

I Say Ooh, You Say Aah
John Kane
Templar Publishing

Ooh, aah, you’re really going to have some fun with this one; it’s a very bossy book – John Kane’s first – that keeps on telling you to do things. Daft things like saying ‘aah’ when you hear an ‘ooh’; patting your head when you see red, or saying ‘underpants’ at the sight of an ant (and then proceeding to admonish you for so doing). I ask you.

And there’s this daft donkey in the book, (apparently he belongs to the author) and he’s called, can you believe, ‘Ooh’.
(Did I hear you just say ‘Aah’?)

The stupid creature insists on prancing about with a pair of spotty bloomers on his head; now why would that be?
Apparently they’re the property of someone else, so he says. The creature really ought to know better.

There’s no real story here, nor is it intended for self solo reading: essentially it’s a kind of crazy pantomime of a book that only works if the listener or listeners play along and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the performance.
Thus far, all mine have done so with enormous enthusiasm, and demanded immediate reruns.

I’ve signed the charter  

Read the Book, Lemmings!

Read the Book, Lemmings!
Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora
Andersen Press

Having seen it in the catalogue, I eagerly awaited the arrival of a copy of this latest comedic offering from Dyckman and OHora, creators of the wonderful Wolfie the Bunny and Horrible Bear! It more than lives up to its promise.

The book features three lemmings of the particularly impressionable kind, a whale that doubles up as a container ship, S.S.Cliff , its polar bear captain, PB by name, and first mate Foxy.
The story actually starts on the front endpaper where a sign floating on an iceberg informs, ‘ lemmings: small fuzzy, illiterate rodents who share the icy North with arctic foxes and polar bears. People used to think lemmings jumped off cliffs. Now we know they don’t.’

Close to the iceberg is a cliff and guess what: a lemming jumps proclaiming at the same time “Wonder what that says.” “Me too,” replies a second lemming. “Ditto!” says a third.
The trio lands up aboard S.S. Cliff whereon Foxy has just settled down with his book entitled ‘Everything About Lemmings’. “Huh!” he announces, “Says here, lemmings don’t jump off cliffs.” The lemmings hear just a single word: a four-lettered one beginning with j and …

Foxy requests the use of PB’s bucket and fishes the creatures out, bestowing upon them hats and names – Jumper, Me Too and Ditto, and urging them to “Read the book,” before settling down once more with said text.

A few further foolhardy leaps follow, each one increasingly reckless … “Sinking! Sinking fast!” / “Me too!” / “Glub!

until Foxy’s “WHY didn’t you read the book, lemmings?!” finally gets to the crux of the matter: the lemmings can’t read.

Time for some reading lessons …

After which, er that’s for you to discover when you ‘Read the book!’ (And, be sure to check out the final endpapers.)

Ame Dykman’s brilliantly mischievous text is an absolute treat for readers aloud and listeners alike; and the deadpan humour of OHora’s illustrations with their fun details and supremely expressive faces and body language, is the perfect counterpart for this madcap romp. I love the colour palette.

If this isn’t a superb demonstration of the importance and delights of reading, then one reviewer at least will jump off the nearest cliff.

Spyder

Spyder
Matt Carr
Scholastic Children’s Books

Meet Spyder, reputedly the world’s smallest secret agent and penthouse flat resident at No. 7 Fleming Road wherein a special birthday is about to be celebrated.

Suddenly, as the agent has just settled down for a spot of reading she receives an urgent call from HQ.

Instantly, or almost so – it takes a little time to get those feet readjusted to work mode, and then to pack her spy-kit – she’s off on a mission to save Tom’s birthday cake from a disastrous attack by a dastardly buzzing insect going under the code name of Bluebottle.

It’s a hazardous chase with some pretty perilous moments. Not least this one …

There follow, clever moves on the part of Bluebottle, some wily thinking from Spyder and the occasional moment of fun for the agent;

but will it be enough to save the day and the cake?

And who actually gets the last laugh?

All this and more in a totally daft tale that’s a wonderful follow up to Matt’s debut Superbat.

There are some groan worthy puns, plenty of action of the comical kind, some splendidly silly speech bubbles, a show-stopping colour palette and endpapers packed with spy stuff. Another cracking read aloud from Carr who even adds a strategically placed word (or several) on the back cover warning about the folly of trying any of Spyder’s stunts – they’re for trained professionals only.

The Big Red Rock

The Big Red Rock
Jess Stockham
Child’s Play

The importance of play and collaboration are celebrated in a comical story about the large red rock of the title,
Bif, whose path is blocked by same, and assorted other monsters of various hues and talents.

‘Chomp, slurp’ goes Biff as he strolls merrily along consuming the contents of his breakfast bowl. So absorbed in his meal is he that he fails to see the large obstacle in his path until suddenly he can go no further. Shouting at the rock gets him nowhere so Bif tries a polite approach …

but to no avail.

Physical attempts at budging the object such as kicking and bashing it have no effect whatsoever and as Bif ponders his next move along comes Bop. He offers to enlist the help of the Big Red Rock Eater and off he goes to fetch her, wobbly tooth and all.

The lack of a firm bite means that mere nibbles are shifted. Bop though has other pals and each one has a go. Try as they might though, that Big Red Rock stays firm.

Time to play, announces Bif, giving up on rock-shifting attempts; and off they go to have fun until lo and behold, they find themselves on the other side of the rock. Bif has by now worked up an appetite once more.
I wonder where he left that breakfast bowl?

Jess Stockham’s assorted monsters are a willing, if inept crew and the sight of their ineffectual efforts is hilarious; I particularly chortled over that Green Rock Driller;

and the ‘Clanger-like’ Pink Rock Sucker. If you share this book with a class, they could have some fun inventing their own colourful Rock attacking monsters.

The Princess and the Crocodile

The Princess and the Crocodile
Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca
Walker Books

Cossetted from the start, the ‘perfect’ being that is Princess Cora is then – once the realisation dawns on her doting parents that she’ll one day be the ruler of the land – scheduled for every single minute of her time for fear she won’t measure up to the task.

A nanny is hired to ensure she’s always neat and clean – a three baths a day regime is introduced; and when she’s not in the tub, her mother is making her life a misery with deadly dull tomes or her father subjecting her to a gruelling fitness regime.

One night though the girl decides a dog might just make her life bearable but neither her parents nor the nanny are willing to entertain such an idea. In desperation the Princess writes to her fairy godmother and then rips the letter to pieces and tosses them out of the window. Here Schlitz injects a lovely magical touch “because it was a letter to her fairy godmother, every scrap turned into a white butterfly and flew away’.

Perhaps though she isn’t sufficiently specific in her request for the following morning what should be at the foot of her bed but a gift-wrapped crocodile.

The two strike a deal. For a day, in exchange for cream puffs the crocodile will take Cora’s place giving her a day of sheer unadulterated freedom.
First though there’s the issue of a suitable disguise: that comes in the form of a frilly frock and mop wig together with a promise not to eat anyone.

The creature keeps his promise while managing to create utter havoc around the palace with an appropriate degree of ferociousness: dunking in the tub and nips for the nanny,

insults and nips for the Queen and lashings, clawings, bitings …

and incarceration for the King, allowing Cora a wonderful day outdoors being thoroughly wild,

getting messy, wet, and even managing to step in a cowpat.

Witty writing and delicate yet energetic, and often very funny illustrations, make for a wonderful read aloud or read alone chapter book. Either way, I imagine a good many listeners or readers wanting to devour this whole riotous neo fairytale in a single sitting.

Enchanting from begin to end. A book that will appeal to those who love princesses, justice, a good giggle and even perhaps, crocodiles. The latter will certainly love the one herein.

I Love You, Stick Insect

I Love You, Stick Insect
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Following his tasty debut, I’m Going to Eat This Ant, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has now turned his attention to another insect – a stick insect. A particular stick insect that is besotted with another erm, stick insect: or is it?
Certainly butterfly thinks otherwise …

Our love-lorn minibeast however continues attempting to woo the insect of its dreams positing all manner of wonderful propositions as to how the two might spend their time together – at the seaside, ice-skating or in flight …

and all the while Butterfly is attempting to point out that it’s a case of mistaken identity.

But with possibilities of biking

not to mention funfair rides, a trip to the movies and more, the ardent woer lets his imagination run riot until, as he reaches for the object of his affections …

I’d hate to be a story spoiler so let’s just say this is a crackingly droll tale with a rather tasty final twist that is sure to tickle the fancy of those whose sense of humour is somewhat dry.
It’s all deliciously daft and therein lies the appeal.

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’ portrayal of this love story, as well as having child appeal, could well serve as a February 14th gift for that special valentine.

I’ve signed the charter 

Dog in Boots

Dog in Boots
Paula Metcalf
Oxford University Press

Here’s a doggy delight if ever there was one – or should that be two?

Philip is madly in love with new neighbour Penelope. Her kind eyes, waggy tail and beautiful smile have swept him off his feet.
However, there’s a problem: Penelope appears to be very tall whereas Philip’s legs are so short, his ears sweep the floor as he walks. Hmm.
Philip shares his problem with best pal, Ralph.

Ralph comes up with a variety of ingenious methods to make his friend appear taller …

After the resounding failure of the tablecloth comes the message on the wall …

But this leads only to unexpected tears from Penelope and feelings of desperation on Philip’s part.
Plan C involves a trip to the shoe-shop, the purchase of some funky footwear and the addition of some strategically placed stuffing.

Now Philip is ready to go and offer comfort to his true love. But as we know, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ And so it is here. More tears flow, this time from Phillip: surely though, our besotted pooch isn’t doomed to eternal embarrassment and unrequited love …
Judiciously placed flaps add to the laugh out loud happenings and total silliness so wonderfully illustrated, and underlying which is a plethora of heartfelt feelings, all of which add up to a read aloud delight.

Boogie Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve signed the charter  

Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches

Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches
Julie Fulton and Rachel Suzanne
Maverick Arts Publishing

Jack is busy preparing his lunch – egg sandwiches – when there’s a knock on his door. He’s more than a little surprised to discover his visitor is a large bear.
Being a friendly lad, Jack offers him an egg sandwich only to be told firmly, “Bears don’t eat egg sandwiches.

As soon as the bear demands a big plate, listeners, unlike Jack, start getting suspicious. More so when he asks for a big spoon.

The boy however continues trying to persuade his ursine guest to join him in partaking of an eggy treat.

When Jack does finally discover the answer to the all-important, ‘what do bears eat?’ question, it looks as though it might be the end of the line for the lad. Could there perhaps be a way out of his perilous position?

Anticipation is key in this tale.

Rachel Suzanne’s portrayal of diminutive boy and enormous bear are quite splendid; and Julie Fulton’s conversational narrative style works a treat.

My audiences delighted in Jack’s naivety, spluttered with pleasure over the final utterance of the title line and its illustration,

and chortled at the finale.

The Squirrels Who Squabbled

The Squirrels Who Squabbled
Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Orchard Books

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

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

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

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

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

The Turkey That Voted For Christmas / Evil Pea Rules

The Turkey that Voted for Christmas
Madeliene Cook and Samara Hardy
Oxford University Press

Christmas is an overwhelming no-no when it comes to a certain sector of the residents of Pear Tree Farm, all except Timmy Turkey that is. To the horror of his family, he really wants a dose of the festive fun but in the face of so many determined NO voters what’s a young turkey to do?
Seemingly there’s only one thing – hold a ‘Christmas’ election. First though he needs to canvas support among the other animals to see which will join his Christmas party.

Christmas Eve dawns and it’s time for votes to be cast but what will the result be?
Are the turkeys to be stuffed at last or can it perhaps be a win/win scenario despite the outcome of the poll?
A crazy Christmas offering stuffed with nutty puns and served up by the team who created The Mouse That Cancelled Christmas.

Evil Pea Rules!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Evil Pea is back and raring to go with his dastardly doings once again. Not content with being ruler of the freezer, he’s determined to take over the whole supermarket with a particularly chilling plan.
With his arch-enemy Supertato duly dealt with, the pesky pea thinks he’s well on the way to supermarket supremacy

but he’s reckoned without the cold-busting power of the chillies.
From its sparkly cover, there’s a decidedly seasonal feeling where this latest Supertato adventure is concerned; so pervasive is it that even Pea finds himself bound to join in with the festivities.
Fans of the series will relish this icy offering, which may well garner additional followers tempted by the arresting cover.

Santa Selfie / I Went to See Santa

Santa Selfie
Peter Bently and Anna Chernyshova
Macmillan Children’s Books

Santa decides to take a holiday far away from all things Christmas and takes off for the sun on a tropical cruise.
However, his hopes of a peaceful trip are soon thwarted when a little girl picks up a tell tale bookmark that falls from Santa’s pool-side reading material.

Before you can say ‘sunbathing’ everyone aboard the ship knows of the special passenger and he’s beleaguered with people wanting to take Santa selfies. There’s even one of his yoga session.

Eventually he takes desperate action and leaves the ship, but still he’s pursued by camera-clicking crowds. It’s the same no matter whether it be in Paris, Sydney, Cairo, Brazil, outside the Taj Mahal, or at the Grand Canyon, the snappers are there.
Enough is enough thinks Santa and with a quick call, courtesy of a small boy’s mobile, he summons his helper Elfie and off they go back to the North Pole.
Surely there he’ll be safe from selfie seekers …
I hate selfies but I found myself warming to Peter Bently’s festive frolic delivered with rhyming verve and illustrated by new to me artist, Anna Chernyshova, whose Santa-centric scenes are sure to bring smiles.
Selfie enthusiasts can take advantage of the cut-out back cover flap.

 

I Went to See Santa
Paul Howard
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Prepare yourself for a seasonal take on the ‘I went to the shop and I bought …’ memory game. It’s started by a little girl (love her Christmas specs.) who is joined by a slightly littler boy as they take turns to add increasingly unlikely items to the list of items bestowed upon them by Santa in the run-up to the big day itself.
Packed with crazy scenes of sparkling treasure, skating penguins, soaring through space and more, this will surely fill a few minutes of festive story time and may well spark off a game of even wilder flights of fancy with a group of early years listeners.

I Am Bat

I Am Bat
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

Morag Hood is a visual storyteller par excellence and in her usual fashion, she couples that with a minimal text of perfectly chosen words.

With his Dracula-style teeth, Bat is a somewhat irascible character and he most definitely does not like mornings. What he does like though are cherries, lovely juicy red ones and he guards them fiercely.

Woe betide any creature that so much as touches even one; that will cause bat to unleash leonine-like ferocity.

Surprisingly though, Bat leaves his precious cherries unguarded and they start to disappear.
Readers, although not Bat, will be quick to notice that the culprits are animals; he even has the cheek to accuse us having stolen his hoard.

I will never be happy again,” he declares; but then what should appear right before his eyes but a luscious alternative.

Fickle Bat now has a new favourite fruit to sink his fangs into.

Who could fail to have a good laugh at this small melodrama: an utterly batty book that will have a wide audience appeal.

Famously Phoebe / Goodnight, Little Bot

Famously Phoebe
Lori Alexander and Aurélie Blard-Quintard
Sterling

Young Phoebe is used to being in the limelight; no matter where she goes she gets special attention and so sees herself as a star.
Then into her heretofore spectacular life comes a new and much tinier star, named Rose.
Suddenly nobody is interested in Phoebe; it’s Rose, Rose, Rose all the time and it’s not as though the new babe even wants to be famous. In fact she makes it pretty clear, it’s far from so.

Re-enter Phoebe stage right. Can she not only gain the spotlight, but manage to bring a smile to Rose’s face?

Maybe there are more important roles to play than star of the show, roles such as Big Sister for instance.

Lori Alexander’s playfully constructed narrative and Aurélie Blard-Quintard’s expressive watercolour and pencil illustrations artfully spotlight Phoebe’s changing emotions in this amusing addition to the new sibling shelf.

Goodnight,Little Bot
Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith
Sterling

Like the majority of little humans, Little Bot is still full of energy when his mother robot tells him it’s time for bed.
She then puts him through his usual bedtime routine: TV off, a scrub bath, pyjamas on, a snack and drink, comb, brush and storytime will all be familiar, especially the demand for ‘ten more books’. There are differences though and herein lies the fun: Little Bot snacks on batteries, drinks oil, combs his circuits and brushes his bolts …

before plugging in to a recharger (he barely needs that from the way he’s been whizzing around).
Orloff’s jaunty rhyming text and Smith’s bold, cartoonish, digital illustrations work well together in this pre-bedtime tale and yes, after hugs, kisses and a lullaby, Little Bot does finally wind down and drift off to dreamland.

Bonkers About Beetroot / Pony in the City

Bonkers About Beetroot
Cath Jones and Chris Jevons
Maverick Arts Publishing

Sunset Safari Park is in danger of being closed down due to a distinct lack of visitors. Zebra calls a meeting of its inmates in the hope they might have suggestions as to how to save their home. Despite Penguin’s discouraging “Nobody comes because we’re boring” comment, Zebra remains determined to do something to attract the crowds. Beetroot is his plan: the biggest in the world and the animals are to grow it. “BONKERS!” is pessimistic Penguin’s response to this idea and to pretty much every stage in the growth of the vegetable from manure heap planting ground …

to the large beet that soon attracts the crowds.
So successful is the vegetable that it just goes on growing and growing until there’s no longer room for visitors.

Penguin’s solution is a pretty drastic one but will it have the effect he hopes? Can the safari park be saved after all?

Really, there’s no other way to describe this story that to borrow Penguin’s much used word, ‘BONKERS’.
The contrasting characters: optimistic Zebra and pessimist, Penguin complement one another well, making for a lively and quirky story time read aloud that invites audience participation.
Chris Jevons’ vivid illustrations of zoo residents, the zoo’s human visitors and of course, the beetroot itself, provide plenty to giggle over.

Pony in the City
Wendy Wahman
Sterling

Otis, a pony at the Pony Paddock gets on well with the children who visit his home; in fact he’s ‘saddled with questions’ about them. Do they gallop and kick? Do they ever walk on all fours? Do they graze on grass and daisies? The older ponies ignore his constant questioning so Otis sets out to find some answers for himself.
He visits the city park where hiding himself away, he observes and discovers their movements and sounds are not very different from his. Next stop is their homes; ‘such big barns’, he decides.
Otis discovers many more similarities …

but then suddenly comes the scary realisation that he’s far from home, alone in the big city and it’s way past time to sleep.

Next morning he hears a familiar clippity cloppity sound; could it be one of his fellow ponies coming to look for him?
No it isn’t; but his finders are equally surprised to see the little pony so far from his home and more than willing to take him back home where, inevitably, he has lots of questions to answer …
This gentle adventure with witty collage style illustrations of a children’s world interpreted through the limited experiences of a pony, offers food for thought about judgements and diversity.

Baabwaa & Wooliam

Baabwaa & Wooliam
David Elliott and Melissa Sweet
Walker Books

Wooliam is a sheep – a sheep with a penchant for reading: how cool is that!
Baabwaa is also a sheep: she enjoys knitting – a more likely activity for a farm resident. These two are best friends. ‘Sounds kind of boring. But they like it.’ so we’re told.
One day the friends decide they should inject some adventure into their lives; so, it being perfect sunny weather with birds singing, off they set. However their field is surrounded by a wall; and circumambulating the field seems a rather dull kind of adventure. Nevertheless it’s what they do – three times. “Is this what adventures are like?” Baabwaaa asked. “All this walking, I mean.
It certainly leads to an appetite for grass and while they’re munching their lunch another sheep appears. Or is it? This particular one has a long tail, a whiskery snout, dirty wool coat and ‘horrid teeth’. A pathetic attempt at a sheep disguise methinks.
Suddenly the whole adventure gains pace.
It’s that Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing I’ve read about,” says Wooliam knowingly,

producing a book he just happened to have in his rucksack, to prove it to the sheep/ wolf.
Woe is me! The lupine creature can’t read as he tearfully admits. “It’s not my fault, I’m just not the reading kind.” No matter: Wooliam can teach him and thus begins a highly unlikely friendship. Baabwaa meanwhile knits their new pal a replacement for his awfully dirty coat.
Learning to read is rather a protracted business, broken up as it is by bouts of wolf chasing sheep around the field.

He ‘s merely following his nature: “We can use the exercise,” is Baabwaa’s philosophical take on the interruptions. Eventually though, the wolf is sufficiently proficient to be horrified at the way he’s billed in books: ”It says here I’m cruel and sneaky!” he complains. “And your point?” said Wooliam. Deliciously droll humour such as that pervades Elliott’s entire comical narration, which is an absolute gift to readers aloud and an equal delight for those on the receiving end.
Equally brilliant are Melissa Sweet’s mixed media illustrations, which extend the telling and breathe additional vitality into the three players,

all of whom are a mix of opposing characteristics.
You can dine on this one over and over …

I Won’t Eat That

I Won’t Eat That
Christopher Silas Neal
Walker Books

There’s a delicious sting in the tail of this rather dark story of a cat’s search for an alternative to yucky, dry, dull cat food.
Tortoise, Fox, Chimp, Lion, Elephant

and Whale …

are all consulted on their diets but wiggly worms, bouncy rabbits,

bitey ants, stripy zebras and dry boring grass are decidedly uninviting for a fussy moggie, and Whale’s “bioluminescent phytoplankton” is simply weird, let alone unpronounceable.

Seemingly Mouse is similarly on the hunt for something tasty to eat and the innocent creature stops and consults Cat. Uh-oh! Finicky Cat suddenly turns eager predator.

Neal’s animals have a simple folktale look about them, which is perfectly in keeping with his cumulative textual style in this story that will be a winner with early years listeners; (mine demanded an immediate re-reading).
Equally the patterned nature of the text with its question and answer, built-in repetition format, is ideal for learner readers, once they’ve had the story read to them, of course. Here’s a taster: “Lion, please help. / I’m hungry and searching / for something yummy to eat that / doesn’t wiggle, / bounce, / or bite. // What does a lion eat?” “Zebras!” roared Lion, as he sprang after his striped prey. / “But I must warn you – “ …

A tasty tale indeed.

The Bad Mood and The Stick

The Bad Mood and the Stick
Lemony Snicket and Matt Forsythe
Andersen Press

We all succumb to a bad mood from time to time and most of us know how contagious that can be.
So it is here with young Curly who chooses to take her storminess out on her younger brother, Napoleon, by poking him with a stick. That cheers her up but the bad mood is transferred to her mother and thence to carpenter Lou, who ends up in a dry cleaner’s shop.; but, Mrs Durham, the shop’s boss, confronted by the sight of Lou sans dungarees finds herself singularly unaffected by the bad mood

which in fact, sails right out the window and off around the world.
And the stick? It too has a contagious effect; but it is cheer that is slowly spread by the spiky object and, once colourfully clad, it takes pride of place for a while in the twisting narrative,

gaining ultimately, a life of its own and also, bringing into the tale, Bert, proprietor of the ice-cream parlour.
Snicket’s off-beat tale twists and turns in wonderful ways as it reveals a chain of surprises: there’s even a wedding attended by the entire cast of characters, human, animals and even – look carefully – a certain coloured blob …

Despite the prominent Bad Mood character, there’s a great sense of community about the whole thing, visually documented in Forsythe’s deliciously hued, retro-style illustrations of events large and not so large.
If you want a cure for a case of bad moodiness, this is absolutely perfect and even if you don’t, it’s a terrific read aloud for a wide range of audiences.

Rooster Wore Skinny jeans

Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans
Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Arts Publishing

Be yourself and if that means wearing skinny jeans that make you the butt of jokes from your farmyard friends then so be it.

That’s the conclusion the resident rooster of Rosemary Mill farm comes to after strutting his stuff in his newly delivered denims with their gold stitching, and being on the receiving end of the other animals’ cutting comments.

Having run for cover and taken stock of himself in his skinnies,

the rooster decides to cock a snook at those micky takers – with surprising results.

Jessie Miller’s unfaltering rhyme rollicks along with a sparkle to match the stitching on Rooster’s jeans and if my audiences’ reactions are anything to go by, she has a winner here.

Exuberantly executed scenes of the rooster hero sporting his new purchase brought on fits of giggles from my listeners, young

and not so young; and I suspect adult readers aloud will be rushing to the nearest mirror in their skinnies to see how their rear view compares with fashionista, Rooster’s.

Halloween is Coming: Hugo Makes a Change / Pretty

Hugo Makes a Change
Scott Emmons and Mauro Gatti
Flying Eye Books

Hugo the vampire is a total carnivore: tucking into juicy meat, be it burgers, hot dogs, steak or lamb, is his idea of satisfaction and he doesn’t stop until he’s stuffed himself to bursting.
Then one night he starts to feel bloated, sluggish and downright grumpy. Time for a change of diet he decides and wings it away in search of something new to tempt his taste buds.
Landing in a vegetable garden, Hugo examines the crops and is totally unimpressed with wrinkly leaves, lumpy blobs and bumpy skins. But then he comes upon something red dangling from a tree and feeling those hunger pangs starting up, he sinks his fangs right into the object. Ahhh! the delight; the tang.

Before you can say ‘vegetables’, he’s munching away on crunchy carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers; wisely though he passes on the garlic.
Back home he makes a decision: meat is fine in moderation but a healthy mix of veggies, fruit and nuts is much more satisfying.

Before long he starts to notice the changes in himself: it’s a stronger, happier Hugo who takes his regular evening flight and just cannot resist leaving his mark whenever he stops for a quick bite.

Emmons’ rhyming narrative and Gattis’ bold, engaging illustrations (look out for Hugo’s feline companion therein) make for an entertaining story. If like me you’re a confirmed veggie, you might find yourself heaving somewhat at the opening scenes of Hugo gorging himself on mounds of meaty morsels.
A fun read, and a clever way to demonstrate, without a hint of preachiness, the benefits of a balanced diet: the ideal fare for adults wanting to get across the notion of healthy eating to young children.

Pretty
Canizales
Templar Publishing

Is it better to have ‘a crooked back, a lumpy nose, a big pointy chin and wiry hair’ or have ‘a nice straight back, a neat little nose, a very dainty chin and sleek wavy hair’? That is the dilemma facing the witch when she’s invited for a picnic by the troll.
She starts out duly attired in her best black outfit as her normal self warts and all, but after encounters with Squirrel,

Rabbit, Fox and Mouse, she is persuaded to alter her appearance, with a few deft flicks of her wand, to their perceptions of prettiness.
So effective is her transformation that her date fails to recognise her …

and stomps off in disgust.
The following day the witch invites the troll to a picnic of her own making.
Troll deems the food delicious and it certainly is, in more ways than one, especially if you like your revenge served cold.

A tasty mix of humour, magic, whimsicality and revenge, sprinklings of cumulative narrative and a darkly toothsome final twist, all served up with flat, stylised illustrations in a subdued earthy colour palette: the perfect Halloween offering.

The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse

The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books

There’s a fable-like, porquoi feel to Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s latest collaboration: think wolves, think howling at the moon.
One morning a mouse is gobbled by a wolf; its woeful cry disturbs a duck attempting to get some shut-eye in the belly of the wolf. The two breakfast together and strike up a friendship.

Their dialogue had me spluttering as the mouse asks, “Where did you get the jam? … And a tablecloth?” “I may have been swallowed but I have no intention of being eaten.” the duck assures the mouse. And over lunch preparations he reassuringly comments on the lack of fear of being swallowed by a wolf, leaving them to enjoy their creature comforts from the inside.
Comforts that include a record player and record for a celebratory dance, which has drastic effects on their host’s stomach; but for that the duck has a cure: “Eat a hunk of good cheese. And a flagon of wine! And some beeswax candles, ” he states.
Complying only worsens the wolf’s stomach ache: his moans are heard by a hunter whose target he becomes.
Now, quite suddenly all three animals must combine forces to save their lives and they do so in no uncertain terms …

convincing the hunter that “the woods are full of evil and wraiths.
The grateful wolf offers his saviours a favour, which they are delighted to accept …

Thereafter comes a kind of symbiotic existence between the main protagonists.
Barnett’s snappy narrative style with its repeated “Oh woe!” provides plenty of laugh out loud moments. In combination with Klassen’s mixed media collage-style illustrations the whole thing unfolds rather like a puppet theatre performance.
An off the wall, howlingly funny, brilliantly clever Barnett/Klassen offering, not to be missed at any cost.

A Mighty Bitey Creature

A Mighty Bitey Creature
Ronda Armitage and Nikki Dyson
Walker Books

The peace and quiet of the jungle is suddenly shattered by Frog’s loud “OUCH! Who bit my lovely green bottom? Something MIGHTY and super-sharp BITEY!” He immediately resolves to tell Lion, the King of the Jungle.

Off he dashes, lickety-split, meeting en route Monkey and Zebra, each of whom also receives a sharp nip on the nether region ‘YA-A-A-HOO!

and in consequence, both accompany Frog to consult King Lion in the hope he’ll know what to do.

The dramatic effect mounts as the trio gate crash Lion’s nap and tell him of their bitten bums.

But then something sinks its teeth into Lion’s royal sit-upon.

Will the animals discover the identity of the bottom-biting beastie; and will Lion carry out his threat to gobble up the offending creature?

The answer is yes to the first part and no to the second; but without spoiling the thoroughly satisfying finale, I can say no more on the matter.

With its combination of suspense, silliness, playful language and noisy orchestration, Ronda Armitage’s longish text, together with Nikki Dyson’s ebullient illustrations will undoubtedly please young listeners, not to mention readers aloud who will enjoy putting on a dramatic performance of the tale.

The Quiet Crocodile / Hey Willy, See the Pyramids

The Quiet Crocodile
Natacha Andriamirado and Delphine Renon
Princeton Architectural Press
Fossil the crocodile is a lover of peace and quiet, preferring to be alone and away from hustle and bustle. He has however, a ‘few friends’ so we’re told although the endpapers in particular, belie this: some two dozen named pals large and small, (each with a colour-coded dot so we can keep track of them) line up thereon, seemingly ready to move.
And move is just what they do, one by one, across the pages of the book and find a place upon Fossil’s back until he resembles first an outsized sofa and then a climbing frame or a circus balancing act as the animals pile precariously up on his length.

All the while Fossil has a large grin on his face and despite our being assured that ‘He’s afraid of scaring his friends’ sceptical readers may be beginning to doubt that.
Things take something of a turn textually however when our narrator informs, ‘… as everybody knows, they’re fierce. Even in books!’ Hmm!
Are all his friends right in issuing that “Come and play with us!” invitation? And did anything accompany that hat of Piggy’s into his grinning mouth?

Surely he’d never even consider eating any of his friends, or would he?
Irony and wry humour abound in Andriamirado’s text which, accompanied by Renon’s stylised illustrations of intricately detailed animal characters, is likely to please those with a penchant for the quirky and open-ended.

Hey Willy, See the Pyramids
Maira Kalman
New York Review of Books
This is a re-issue of an early Kalman book and quirky it surely is.
Young Alexander has trouble falling asleep and asks his elder sister Lulu to tell him stories: a million are requested but she agrees to five and ends up by telling eleven. They’re all very short – flash fiction really – and therein she mixes the familiar with the downright bizarre and surreal.
One tells of a dog that wants to live in Paris and be a poet; another features a green-faced scientist.

There are crazy parties and fish flying into the sky.
Punctuating the stories, in white lettering printed on black, are brief conversations between sister and brother further adding to the overall strangeness of the book.
Maira Kalman has, seemingly, plumbed the depths of her imagination for both narrative and illustrations of this far out offering. It’s not for the very young, certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but worth a look if you’re into the highly unusual in picture 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 …