Tag Archives: humour

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 …

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming
Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Two Hoots

Television writer/producer Chris Harris teams up with Greeenaway medal winner, Lane Smith in this riotous book of nonsense verse.
The first thing I should say, actually, it’s the second, is, take no notice of the title: Harris is telling enormous porkies; the only non-rhyming offerings are those made deliberately so.
In all there are over one hundred zany compositions, most of which will make you want to laugh out loud; almost all of which are illustrated; and every one of which is imbued with a sense of playfulness.

There’s wordplay in abundance: here’s the briefest entitled The Gecko, ‘If ever I find myself holding a gecko … / I’ll lecko.

Typography is used to effect, for instance when ‘d’ and ‘b’ have a showdown in The Duel ending up as ‘p’ and ‘q’. There are riddles, parodies of nursery rhymes, and, perhaps surprisingly – but then everything is pretty surprising in this book – some introspective verses: ‘I’m shy on the outside, but inside my head? / I’m not at all shy – I’m outgoing instead.’ …

The downright irreverent appears too: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by … / Since then I’ve been completely lost. / Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost!

Author and illustrator even have a go at one another (possibly on account of Smith’s Alphabet Book visuals)

‘I must confess I don’t like my poems’ illustrator. They told me, “Lane is great!” but man, I really think I hate her!’ Harris rails (he can’t even get Smith’s gender right). But Smith counters with this portrait …

One poem that particularly spoke to the teacher part of me was The Secret of My Art reminding us of all the dangers of appearing to know about, or judge, children’s art. Here it is:

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my teacher declared.
“This drawing will get a gold star!”

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my father declared.
“Your talents will carry you far!’

“It’s a beautiful whale,” my mother declared.
“What a wonderful artist you are!”

Well maybe it is a beautiful whale …
But I was trying to draw a guitar.

A brilliant collaboration and definitely a sure-fire winner for those who already love poetry, but perhaps more importantly, for those who claim to hate it. A sterling successor to the likes of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and Dr Seuss.Every classroom and home needs a copy.

Hibernation Hotel / Still Stuck

Hibernation Hotel
John Kelly and Laura Brenlla
Little Tiger Press

This book really made me think of winter, starring as it does, a bear, who despite it being past hibernation time, is still wide awake.
Bear’s sleeplessness is all down to his over-crowded cave but it looks like he’s thought of a solution.
A phone call later, followed by a drive in his jalopy and he’s checking in at a smart hotel in the mountains. The perfect place for some uninterrupted shut-eye, especially as he’s asked the receptionist for a March 1st wake-up call.

How wrong could Bear be? Noisy, partying guests, an over-soft bed, and heavy bedding are far from sleep-inducing, and the TV shows just upset him.
Perhaps an empty tummy is the cause of his insomnia; room service should soon fix things …

And fix things it does, entirely satisfactorily; only not quite in the way Bear anticipated.
Kelly & Brenlla’s enormous ursine character with his fascination for hotel freebies, fixtures and fittings, is a peevish delight.

In that luxurious alien environment he discovers that creature comforts can come in unexpected forms.
Just right for a pre-bedtime giggle with little ones, especially those who need a bit of help dropping off.

More bedtime shenanigans in:

Still Stuck
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s time for a bath and the independent-minded toddler protagonist refuses help with getting undressed. Good on you, little one. But then, almost inevitably thinks the experienced nursery teacher part of me, his shirt gets stuck – well and truly so.
This sets the infant off on a surprisingly upbeat contemplation of the challenges of ‘stuckness’ and their problem-solving solutions – being thirsty for example …

Then there are the possibilities of friendship with other similarly stuck individuals: that could be lots of fun …

Coldness starts to invade his thoughts so the lad has another go at extricating himself, starting with his trousers – a valiant effort but definitely not a success.

Eventually Mum appears, disrobes the boy and lugs him off (wait for giggles at the bum views) to the bathroom.
But then, come the pyjamas – hmmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Yoshitake’s dead-pan text combined with wonderfully observed, cartoon comic, digitally rendered visuals make for a chucklesome pre-bedtime share for adults and infants.

Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World

Sam, the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the World
Mo Willems
Walker Books

It’s over a decade since we first met Mo Willems’ Leonardo the Terrible Monster along with Sam, the boy who is terrified of everything other than Leo. Now they’re back with Sam, (just as scared as before), being in the limelight until he encounters these two .

Seemingly Sam has a rival in Kerry, for immediately both humans, terrified of one another, start screaming uncontrollably.
Irked by their behaviour, the monsters decide to leave the children to ‘Figure it out’ and wander off the page together.
Having explored their similarities …

and differences, the humans eventually do just that and they too come to a decision, a wise and slightly mischievous one. And the two monsters are certainly in for something of a surprise when they return.

If you’re familiar with the first Sam and Leonardo story, then you’ll love this as a companion volume; if not it stands alone as a wonderfully funny account of forging a new and unlikely friendship.
Willems’ sombre colour palette, stand-out capitalised fonts and comic-style characters serve as well here as they did before, making this another monstrous winner for the USA’s master of drollery.

I’ve signed the charter  

Clumpety Bump / Barnyard Boogie!

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

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

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

More playful language in:

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

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

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

I Want To Go First!

I Want To Go First!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

I’ve never quite understood the obsession with being first in a line but it’s something that seems to take hold of children almost from the minute they start school – that’s if they’re made to line up anyway – a teachers’ obsession, often fuelled by parents, and one I dislike intensely.
The whole ‘going first’ thing can make for a fun story though and Richard Byrne exploits its potential for creating humour in his latest interactive picture book.
We join five funkily attired elephants, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Elton, Elgar and Elphie as they’re about to embark on ‘the long march to the watering hole at the back of the book’.
Elphie, the smallest of their number, is always the one that brings up the rear.
On this occasion however, he’s had enough of being last and asks to go in the front of the line. As usual though the response comes, ‘ … the littlest always goes last’.
Elphie isn’t prepared to walk at the back and instead he enlists the help of readers to help him with his plan of action. Help that involves first, shouting …

followed by hissing,

wobbling the book, squeaking and other noise making; all of which serve to get him to second place in the line right behind Elgar, just as they reach their destination where it looks as though we’re about to be rumbled …

Oops! The water hole is already occupied. Now what? Perhaps that squeak-squeak noise might come in useful after all … Could it even make the other elephants rethink their first in line criterion.
Enthusiastic orchestration and demands of ‘again’ were my listeners’ responses to this sizeist tale with its playful attempt to alter the status quo.

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story
Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts
Walker Books

I think I’ve just found my favourite ever picture book take on a new sibling. This one had me spluttering at every turn of the page; both words and pictures are utterly priceless.
Let’s meet the Happy Family: there’s a mum, a dad and a little princess: ‘the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long flowing wondrous hair’ is how the young miss describes herself. (“That’s her tights,” one of my listeners was quick to point out.) Oh! and there’s a gerbil too.
All is peace and harmony in the kingdom aka The Land until one fateful day, a new ruler is born: His Royal Highness, King Baby. Let right royal disaster commence for, from that day forth for a whole year thereafter, the increasingly chubby babe rules The Land, not to mention the household. A certain young Princess’s nose is well and truly out of joint, but come infant’s first birthday, things get even worse.
Relations gather from far and wide to celebrate, fawning and fussing over the infant, and totally ignoring big sis. Seemingly the prince has cast a spell over The Whole Land.
Time for some drastic action: our innocent Princess knows just what to do – a disguise and a cunning plan are called for.

Before she’s barely even begun however, the sight of birthday cake and the sound of singing …

spark off horrendous screams, drooling dribbles and a tremendous tantrum from young King Billy.

Can anyone console the poor little chap?
Surprisingly, yes. But to find out exactly who and how, you’ll need to read the story for yourself …
Let’s just say that peace and harmony are finally restored and from a most unexpected quarter.
David Roberts must surely be king when it comes to pen and watercolour illustrations. Herein his distinctive illustrative style is retro 1970s (mum with frizzy permed hair and dad wearing bell-bottoms) ; but running in tandem with that are crayoned images showing the Princess’s version of events taken from Princess Marigold’s Drawing Book– a brilliant comic counterpoint if ever there was one. All this, alongside Sally Lloyd-Jones’ terrific fairytale pastiche and the result? A new dream team is launched.

Here’s one little princess totally loving the story.

World Pizza / The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza

World Pizza
Cece Meng and Ellen Shi
Sterling
Who would have thought that pizza could become a peace-maker but you never know.
The vast majority of us wish for world peace and the mum in this story does just that one night when a wishing star appears in the sky. But as she speaks her wish a sneeze comes upon her and her children are convinced her wish is for pizza. Suddenly a large pizza falls from the sky and truly delicious it turns out to be.
Soon yummy pizzas of every kind imaginable are raining down all over the world making people happy and content.

Even bullies become kindly and pirates cease their plundering; everywhere differences are forgotten and unlikely friendships forged and all in the name of pizza. Peace and love fills the world and all unbeknown to the instigator of the whole process.
Interesting and thought-provoking: would that it were that simple though.

More about the power of pizza in:

The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza
Jennie Palmer
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The Wompananny witches, Anita and Winnifred are sisters who like nothing better that preparing a delicious pizza in their kitchen. In fact they seldom set foot outside on account of the local, so they think, wild children. So when three of them come a-calling the two sisters are quite overcome with terror and decide to give vent to their feelings by pounding a new batch of dough.
Before you can say ‘baked pizza’, the dough has morphed into ‘one mean pizza’ that in true ‘runaway pancake style’, has upped and flopped its way out of the oven, through the front door and out into the street, hotly pursued by Anita and Winnifred.

Soon the entire child population of the neighbourhood, hungry and desperate for a nibble of pizza, is chasing after the yummy thing, all the way to the park where something very unexpected happens. Yes, the children are still wild decide the witches, only now witches and children are actually a very tasty combination and all thanks to pizza.

Full of humorous touches, Jennie Palmer’s ink, watercolour and photoshop illustrations for her whimsical tale bring to mind James Stevenson’s art.

I Want to be in a Scary Story

I Want to be in a Scary Story
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

From the dream team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, here’s a story told entirely in dialogue: black type for the external narrator and purple – aptly – for chief protagonist, Little Monster.
Eager to be in a story, the totally endearing little enthusiast turns down the suggestion that a funny story might be preferable, assuring the narrator that a scary story it must be.
Talk about dropping you in it, but that’s exactly what the narrator does by placing the monster right outside a haunted house.

‘Spooky’, seems preferable, and that’s no walk in the park either, as the house might be inhabited by a scary witch, or a ghastly ghost just waiting to jump out; at least the narrator forewarns our Little Monster though. But there seems to have been something of a misunderstanding.
Little Monster wants to do the scaring, not be scared silly. Here goes …

But then comes another thought: what lies behind that door? The witch?
Much too scary; so what about ‘just a teeny weeny monkey and his friend’? Surely scaring them should prove suitably funny …

Sean Taylor knows just how much scariness little monsters, purple or otherwise, can take, and his clever scaling back of the terror as the tale proceeds, is spot on for keeping young listeners on the edge of their seats. Equally Jean Jullien’s creepy scenes have a sufficient degree of zaniness to grip but not unduly alarm; and that final twist really hits the spot.
Can I be in a story again tomorrow?’ asks Little Monster on the final page: I suspect young audiences, thrilled rather than chilled, will want it to be more immediate than that.

Kevin

Kevin
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins

Sid Gibbons and trouble seem to go hand in hand: first it’s smashing the birdbath with his ball; then forgetting to put the tops back on his pens; his bedroom resembles a ‘pigsty’ and now his dinner is all over the floor. Needless to say, his mum is less than happy. But, none of this is Sid’s fault: no it’s Kevin’s.
And who is Kevin you might be thinking; he’s Sid’s friend. The pink spotted, vanilla furred pal with a single tooth and a tendency for clumsiness who comes through a hatch in his bedroom ceiling when Sid feels lonely, so he tells his mum, who naturally is having none of this ‘make-believe friend.’
Make-believe? Through that ceiling hatch there shines a light – a light of vanilla and pink striped rays: up the stairs goes Sid to be confronted by a truly amazing sight – a magical world filled with strange beasties…

Now though, the boot is on the other foot, so to speak: Sid is the invisible being here and this gives him an idea. Uh-oh!

As a result however, it also gives him an opportunity to question his actions: is it fair to blame your misdemeanours on a friend, albeit an imaginary one?
Time to make reparation – first to Kevin and then to his very own Mum …

All this and more is delivered through Rob Biddulph’s faultless rhyming narrative – a longish one – and his equally superb visuals. For the latter he moves from the monochromes of Sid’s reality to the glorious rainbow hues of Kevin’s kingdom. Fans of the author’s previous works will delight in guest appearances from Fred, the bear from Grrrrr!; Blown Away’s Blue and the occasional Odd Dog dachshund.

And, those beastie inhabitants of Kevin’s world, be they hairy, slimy, leggy or frilly, are splendid. As for Sid, he’s a totally believable character, full of mischief and absolutely adorable – I’m pretty sure I’ve taught him somewhere along the line; many times over in fact.
All this while exploring ideas about imaginary friends and the notion of facing up to the consequences of our own actions, which is so subtly embedded into the tale – genius!

Toad has Talent

Toad has Talent
Richard Smythe
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

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

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

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

and the duckling troupe are the real show-stoppers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing Rhymes with Orange / Sam’s Hamburger

Nothing Rhymes with Orange
Adam Rex
Chronicle Books
I do love a book that encourages language play and Adam Rex’s crazy fruit-filled extravaganza does just that. His rhyming litany, interspersed with an orange’s lament at the lack of fun-filled opportunities afforded to one without a rhyme for itself is a hoot; and that long-suffering orange, with his constant interjections, is an absolute charmer.
Rex, not forgetting our citrus pal, introduces us to a plethora of fruits that can be made into rhymes,
And all the while, the solitary orange remains just that, until one empathetic apple takes pity on him and with a wonderful invented word, creates an opportunity to draw orange into the heart of the group.

Emotions run high throughout, where orange is concerned: I love the way the quirky collaged photographs show his changing feelings.
With a bit of Nietzsche thrown in for good measure …

a fruitful offering indeed,.

Sam’s Hamburger
David Pelham
Walker Books
If you want to illicit an audience response of ‘yucks’ and ‘eughs’ then this rhyming novelty will fit the bill. It relates how with her help, Sam’s brother, carries out a burger-shaped plan to unmask the thief who has been stealing his sister’s lunches.
The whole thing is absolutely bursting with creepy bugs and wriggly wigglies embedded within layers of onion, egg,

cheese, sauce and more, all sandwiched between a ‘nice big bun’.
Surely the consumer of that particular delicacy will be deterred from ever coming back for more …
Unless like me you’re a life-long veggie, I’d suggest sinking your gnashers into this tasty offering now back on the menu served by Walker Books.

Mopoke

Mopoke
Philip Bunting
Scholastic

Ever heard of a mopoke? I certainly hadn’t until this book arrived and even then I thought at first it was a made up word. Then I discovered a note at the back telling readers that a ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, their smallest and most common owl species.
The particular mopoke of the title is the star of Philip Bunting’s debut picture book, which unsurprisingly begins ‘This is a mopoke.’
What follows is a deliciously playful sequence in which the mopoke, sitting on its branch longing for some solitude, becomes a highpoke, a lowpoke, a poshpoke and a poorpoke.

One then becomes two and then, more pokes, and a wee poke. Thereafter the real fun starts with a ‘Fee-fi-fo-poke’.

Before long the creature has become a ‘yo-poke’ – twice thanks to the addition of an exclamation mark.
Other animals also put in an appearance – there’s a wombat, totally unexpected, a snail riding a tortoise …

and a crow(poke) until finally the long suffering creature has had enough and flies off, presumably in search of a peaceful spot, leaving an empty branch.
Gently humorous, with a deceptively simple text and delightfully droll illustrations, this extended wordplay joke is great fun to share; and perfect for beginning readers of all ages.

Pirate Baby

Pirate Baby
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

Yo ho ho! me hearties, there’s a brand new crew a’sailin’ on the high seas and we all love a good pirate yarn. This one though is altogether different and an absolute humdinger.
The crew of the Ramshackle are more than a little discombobulated when they discover a bawling baby bobbing about on a raft;

all the more so when they find out that the object they’re trying their level best to feed is actually a girl baby.

That’s only the start of their adventures however. The crew become the owners of a nanny-goat which they aptly name Nana; very useful when it comes to providing nourishment for the babe. Spoons the cook turns his hand to stitching nappies and other baby attire; and Red Bart the bosun even makes the infant a toy squid from a pair of old gloves.

None of your stereotypical pirates these.
As time passes and the babe, now named Isla, becomes mobile, the pirates, bothered by their lack of piratical action, resolve to plunder the next ship they spy. They think better of their plan though, when they discover the crew is all women.
Then an enormous sea monster looms up from the deep. The crew fear for their ship and their lives; and it’s Isla who saves the day with a truly selfless deed.
Thereafter, she’s recognised as “a true Pirate Baby” with a dazzling piratical future to look forward to.
No pirate crew is really complete without a parrot and a cat; these vital bit parts are admirably played here by McSquark and ship’s moggy, Plunderpuss.
Who better than Ros Asquith to bring out the humour of Mary Hoffman’s salty story? Awash with chucklesome details, her jaunty, swashbuckling scenes are set fair to create a splash with landlubbers young and not so young. A real treasure.

I’ve signed the charter  

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake
Michael Rosen and Kevin Waldron
Puffin Books

I can’t possibly imagine how many times I shared Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake poem from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here during my time as a primary teacher; it was certainly the most requested poem with countless classes and always an ideal offering to have at the ready when working in an advisory capacity. So to learn it was to be published in picture book format with Kevin Waldron supplying the illustrations was very exciting.
The poem itself is sheer genius telling of a little boy who just cannot get out of his mind the scrumptious chocolate cake he’s sampled earlier in the day and, knowing that there’s a considerable chunk still downstairs, cannot resist its temptation.
He creeps out of bed (ensuring he misses the creaky floorboard outside his parents’ bedroom) and downstairs into the kitchen. There, in the cupboard, is the object of his desire …

Out it comes and he notices there just happen to be some crumbs, and that the cake itself needs a spot of tidying up …

until things get just a tad out of control …

Such are the agonising details  used to relate the whole experience, that we’re right in that child’s head as he’s overwhelmed by desire, and we’re desperately wanting him not to get caught – which of course he does, although not until the following morning.
Oh dear, the embarrassment, the humiliation …

Kevin Waldron brilliantly captures all the subterfuge, the suspense and the final priceless denouement in his deliciously funny scenes, every one of which will leave you spluttering with delight.
If the whole thing doesn’t get your taste buds all a-tingling, then nothing will.

All About Cats

All About Cats
Monika Filipina
Child’s Play

Oh my goodness! There was I under the misapprehension that domestic cats spend the vast majority of their days sleeping: how wrong could one be?
The feline narrator of this book confides in readers, offering an altogether different picture, with a whole host of activities being on the agenda once those humans are out of the way and the cats left entirely to their own devices.
And there’s a variety of adorable moggies to participate in this show and tell.
Naturally after a fair bit of physical exercise, the odd snooze is perfectly in order but there’s too much to do to let any curl-up time last long. Very high on the agenda is cooking when it’s a case of all paws on deck …

Snack over, a spot of knitting maybe? Or even better some reading time – a perfect curl-up opportunity methinks; or what about a swim in the bathtub?
Better still engage in something co-operative such as forming a band or being creative …

Seemingly there are no holds barred just so long as all participants are safely back innocently curled up in that chair by the time any humans return; then they’ll never know. I wonder … Observant readers and listeners certainly will if the mess is anything to go by.
Now I’m far from being a cat lover but these creative creatures are just SO appealing and full of mischief that I was totally under their spell by the time I reached this …

Superbly illustrated, funny and such a wonderful invitation to youngsters to get out their pastels or paints and get creating.

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission / Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase / Animazes

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission
Sophie Guerrive
Wide Eyed Editions
In his plane, which looks more like an inflatable toy than anything capable of carrying a dinosaur, famous Dinosaur Detective sets forth on a mission: to find five missing items as requested by the likes of a dog, a princess, a teacher and a distraught wife, hidden somewhere in eleven different locations including what looks like a Medieval European village, an underground cave network, atop a mountain,

a funfair, a forest, a completely crazy-looking outer space neighbourhood and a city.

It’s difficult to know where to start each search as your eyes keep getting drawn to features of interest – mine did anyway – and some of the spreads are so densely packed, it’s mindboggling, and easy to get absorbed in the surreal nature of the whole thing rather than the task in hand. It’s just as well there’s an answer spread at the end.
Dinosaur Detective’s plane transforms into a kind of tank (to find the missing toad) and a flying saucer – another fun feature.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase
Lomp
Little Tiger Press
Herein we meet natural history explorers Wilfred and Olbert and follow them on a quest to discover a new animal and thus win the coveted Nature Discovery Prize. And when an unidentified butterfly just happens to float through the window, they decide their chance has come. Off they go in hot pursuit but who will be the one to claim the prize?
Their journey has them dashing through forests, diving into oceans, crossing deserts, and wild grasslands,

scaling mountains and delving into tropical jungles …

as they battle to reach the butterfly first.
In the end teamwork wins out and mission complete, they claim their trophy.
The whole adventure is perilous and it’s something of a task to keep track of the two competitors and their antics en route – almost being the next meal of a lion, or being engulfed by ice, for instance – but the whole crazy drama is totally engaging, full of funny moments, things to search for, and of course, wild animals.
Wild too are Lomp’s hilarious, cartoon-like illustrations, full of daft doings and silly speech bubbles making every spread a treat to linger over.
Action-packed they surely are!

Animazes
illustrated by Melissa Castrillión
Big Picture Press
This unusual book of mazes follows the journeys of fourteen animal migrants from Antarctic krill and Monarch butterflies to Humpback whales and Mali elephants.
For some of these creatures such as reindeer, finding food is the reason for their journey; for others, such as Rockhopper Penguins, it’s to seek a suitable environment for the survival of the next generation.
In tracing their journeys, the aim is to discover the one safe path for each animal and in so doing, readers will discover a host of fascinating facts about the creature. Did you know for instance that Mali elephants all pass through one narrow passage, The Porte des Éléphants on their migratory travels? Or that Wildebeest participate in the largest mass migration of mammals on earth?

It’s Katie Howarth who provides these and the other interesting snippets of information that support Melissa Castrillión’s intricately detailed illustrations through which the mazes are woven.
Absorbing, fun and educational.

I Really Want the Cake

I Really Want the Cake
Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti
Templar Publishing

Now here’s a lip-smacker of a book guaranteed to make your salivary glands go into over-drive.
Who can resist that wonderful aroma of a fresh from the oven chocolate cake?
The little girl narrator of this story really has my sympathies when she follows the delicious smell emanating from the kitchen and discovers a totally yummy-looking confection just sitting there waiting to be tasted.

The trouble is though, her mum has left a warning note ‘YOU MUST NOT EAT THIS CAKE’. There’s no ambiguity about that, so the whole deliciously tempting chocolate cake must quite simply be forgotten.
Easier said than done though and the temptation proves too much for the young miss who, after holding back for a while, then finds herself drawn by an irresistible longing, back to object of her desire. What else could she do but sample the thing?
But then, the lick gives way to a bite, which turns into a slice and …

Oops! No cake!
Still a replacement shouldn’t be much of a challenge, surely?

Simon Philip’s tasty rhythmic, rhyming tale slips so smoothly from the tongue making it a great read aloud. Combined with Lucia Gaggiotti’s high energy, laugh-out-loud illustrations of chocolate cake and calamity, the whole thing becomes a scrumptious treat to serve up to young listeners. (I love the way the narrator takes on a variety of personas as she grapples with her conscience.)
If my experience is anything to go by extra servings will be immediately demanded.
There’s even a recipe for chocolate cake on the final page – mmmm!

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Salty Dogs

Salty Dogs
Matty Long
Oxford University

Matty Long packed plenty into his Magic Forest picture books; now he turns his creative attention to pirates and once again the result is full of fun and frenzy.
Let’s meet the Salty Dogs: there’s Captain Fifi, super strong first mate, Barker, Mylo, the crew’s official watchdog, the rather excitable Sherman; Stewart the swordsdog extraordinaire – so he claims; Pug, the questionable cook and last but not least, Horatio Pawsworth 111, head of grooming. They however are not the only crew to be sailing the high seas in search of treasure; there are also The Green Shell Gang, The Crazy Horn Crew, The Feathered Furies and The Sea Monkeys – all forces to be reckoned with.
As the Salty Dogs sail towards Crossbone Island to unearth their long-buried treasure, they manage to get the better of the first three of their enemies; but then, they find themselves facing the mighty galleon the Scoundrel and its crew the dreaded Sea Monkeys.

It seems as though those Salty Dogs are in for some BIG trouble when the Scoundrel’s captain gives the order to fire the cannons.
Then it’s a case of sink or swim – doggy paddle style – as fast as they can to claim what is rightfully theirs.

But what exactly is this treasure that both crews are ready to go head to head over?
This crazy tale is absolutely brimming over with suitably daft details, speech bubbles and piratical humour. Readers will want to linger over every spread relishing the irresistible buccaneering bounties.

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Sofa Dog

Sofa Dog
Leonie Lord
Alison Green Books
When it comes to the sofa, the canine narrator of this book reigns supreme: the only person he’ll allow to share it is the aptly named, young Sophie, his ‘human’. Hence his name, Sofa Dog.

Seemingly others, be they animal or human are unaware of the territorial rule; they too want to share the springy seat. And it seems the doorbell is never going to stop ringing.
Before you can say, “Budge up, Sofa Dog!” there are a couple of cats from next door, three aunties – all avid knitters,

friend Polly plus pony, a host of rabbits, Grandpa (from Bavaria) with his orangutan oompah band, and a panda; and they’ve all piled onto the sofa.
Hang on though, there’s an additional guest, a very tiny one that’s managed to sneak in unnoticed. Now what could that be? And why has everyone suddenly started scratching?
Is this perhaps an opportunity for Sofa Dog to regain his rightful place on the sofa? It can’t be much fun sitting outside all on his own, now can it?

Utterly crazy, and bursting with zany characters to delight both readers aloud and listeners. Leonie Lord portrays every one of them, and the chaos they create, with great panache.
Who can resist falling for the charms of the exuberant Sofa Dog in particular, though I did rather fall for the drum-playing member of Grandpa’s Bavarian band too.

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They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Sean Taylor does crazy stories supremely well and this one surely tops the pops for craziness.
Three aliens, inhabitants of the planet Zabalooloo head to earth in their spaceship and they have a mission. There’s the brainy one, that’s Zoron our narrator; Bazoo, the strong one and Zob, prone to hyper-exuberance and crazy wiggle-woggle dancing.
Their aim is to be the first to capture a “BIG-SIZE thing” by means of their supersonic-sucker with special shrinker nozzle and take it back to their own planet. Quite a challenge judging by the relative size of the aliens and their prey, Undaunted and with supersonic sucker at the ready, the three creep up behind the creature ready to strike.

But then Bazoo wants to stop for a photo shoot. PHOOAH! Big mistake! Followed by rapid retreat back to spaceship.
Maybe they’ll have more success with MEDIUM-SIZED thing. Or maybe not …

Surely nothing can go wrong capturing a SMALL-SIZED thing; after all it would still be a first for their planet.
But even aliens from Zabalooloo cannot resist feeding our earthly ducks and it’s a case of love at first sight for both Zoron their intrepid leader and the target duck.

So is their mission doomed to failure or could there perhaps be another way of capturing their prey?
Sean Taylor’s deliciously zany text, some of which is rendered through colour-coded speech bubbles, is full of utterances guaranteed to make you splutter with laughter. Take this one for instance ‘I am COMPLETE BIG-GOB NINCOMPOOP WITH PANTS ON INSIDE OUT!
Perfectly complementing Taylor’s words are Kate Hindley’s sublimely silly, intricately detailed visuals of the diminutive Zabaloolooian explorers and their tin can craft complete with steering wheel and party area, going about their mission.
Human explorers of the pages will find many more small-sized things including a wealth of insects hovering on, and buzzing around, the various kinds of plants liberally scattered throughout the terrain of the aliens’ hunting ground.
Epic!

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Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

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Rhyme Crime

Rhyme Crime
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

Beware the googly eyes staring out through the cover of Jon Burgerman’s follow up to Splat!. It’s another chortle inducer starring a thief, albeit one whose light-fingered habit leaves a rhyming replacement item for every one stolen. In fact the whole thing is a veritable rhyming extravaganza.
First to fall victim to those thieving fingers is Hammy; his brand new hat is swapped for a c– .
I’m sure Gumpop is none too pleased to lose his head, only to have it replaced by a slice of …

And so it goes on: Arney loses his chair; Tootle – his dog; Moomoo – a pair of clogs;

Gertie’s house is swapped for a giant m —- .
Tumble’s orange however proves the thief’s undoing.
As he ponders upon a suitable rhyming object with which to replace the juicy item he’s apprehended by a couple of police officers

and marched off to jail.
Not for long though: seemingly our light-fingered jail bird is an expert lock-picker …
This hilarious romp is absolutely brilliant for developing rhyming skills and encouraging prediction, a vital skill in reading for meaning.
Burgerman’s bold, bright, matt illustrations are attention grabbing and deliciously zany.

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Professional Crocodile

Professional Crocodile
Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Chronicle Books

Now here’s a wordless picture book that is simply bursting with wit, and full of wonderful details to tickle your fancy.
Meet Mr Crocodile, an extremely dapper gent if ever there was one.
Every morning he rises with his alarm, performs his ablutions, breakfasts (on toast and jam), dons his business attire, including matching tie, and heads off to work.

But precisely how does this croc-about-town earn his livelihood? That is the question.
As you turn the pages you’ll find yourself pausing to pore over the wealth of interesting and absorbing happenings on each and every spread.

So many questions, so many possible stories wherever you rest your eyes.

The surprise final twist will leave you open-mouthed, I suspect. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
(Perhaps if you take off the dust jacket before reading it, you’ll be less surprised; but hey, why spoil the fun?)
Captivating, clever and totally immersive.

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Tiny Tantrum

Tiny Tantrum
Caroline Crowe and Ella Okstad
Little Tiger Press

Temper tantrums are part and parcel of being a toddler and the little girl in this story is no exception.

Indeed she seems to have got the whole tantrum thing down to a fine art causing windows to wobble, jelly to shake and birds to fall from trees and all because mum has requested that she put on her coat.
Enter one purple hairy monster with talk of a freezing bottom and hence no fun and before you can say ‘chilly bum’, the little miss has donned her coat and is meekly following her mum.
All is fun and cuddles until back home at lunchtime. Then comes tantrum number two: it’s broccoli induced. Fortunately there just happens to be an apron- wearing monster to advise on improving the taste of veggies too; and it works like magic.

Those are not the only tantrums Tiny throws during the course of her busy day, but each time it happens there’s a monster on hand with timely advice.
Come bedtime though, Tiny has four very lively monsters to put to bed. Can she gain the upper hand and get them to take one final bounce, right into bed and stay there?

She’s certainly had some good training.
Ella Okstad’s portrayal of the capricious infant shows her ticklish temperament to great effect in an offbeat colour palette, and Caroline Crow’s rhyming narrative is just right for sharing with tinies especially those of a tantrum-prone nature.

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This is NOT a Fairy Tale

This is NOT a Fairy Tale
Will Mabbitt and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books

Dad and his story sabotaging daughter, Sophie, return in a sequel to This is NOT a Bedtime Story; now though, the time honoured fairy tale is under attack and all because Grandad couldn’t keep his eyes open long enough to finish the story.
No matter, Dad is on hand to take over, or rather attempt to; but he’s reckoned without the creative interjections of the opinionated subverter of narratives sitting right beside him.
Let the imagination roll… and roll it surely does.
Sophie’s having none of your pathetic princess stuff: her young royal female is the one wearing the armour and she’s all for using the latest mod cons – a combine harvester transformer for instance – to save time and perform heroic deeds involving dragons.

Fast paced, metafictive mayhem is the order of the day in this deliciously bonkers book.
Yes there IS a prince – a slumbering bald one whose fate it is to be rescued …

(although he does inadvertently have moments of less inert, even momentarily useful and agonisingly ROAR worthy activity, where dragon’s bums are concerned). YEOWCH!

Giggles aplenty guaranteed. The super-crazy team of Mabbitt and Blunt have scored another ace with this one.

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Fairy Tale Pets

Fairy Tale Pets
Tracey Corderoy and Jorge Martin
Little Tiger Press

Bob and his dog Rex live a happy life in their neat abode but Bob needs a job. Being an animal lover he decides pet-sitting is just the ticket and advertises his services all over town.
The following day business is booming but not with the cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters Bob had been anticipating. Oh dear no!
First comes a golden-haired young miss with a baby bear that needs minding while she’s on her hols.

Next to call is Jack (who insists on paying with beans) and his goose Gabby. Not the comparatively easy task Bob anticipated and before long eggs are flying around all over his once tidy home. That however is actually after the arrival of client number three with her billy goats, and you certainly don’t say no to someone looking like that.

Just when it looks as though matters can’t get any worse, along come three little pigs with their oh so ‘friendly’ um, ‘puppy’. Who are they fooling?
Certainly not young listeners, who by now will be positively squealing with delight.
It’s not difficult to guess what that so called puppy does, which leaves an exasperated Bob without a home or job: he quits pet-sitting and who can blame him; it’s far too hazardous.

That just leaves those beans …
Talk about fairy tale frenzy; Tracey Corderoy’s text is a treat for both listeners (who will enjoy spotting all their favourite characters) and readers aloud.
Laughs aplenty are assured in Jorge Martin’s zesty, slapstick depictions of the mayhem caused by the stream of outlandish animal arrivals at Bob’s residence.
Full of potential following a classroom sharing; but most important, a thoroughly fun-filled picture book.

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Troll Stroll

Troll Stroll
Elli Woollard and David Barrow
Nosy Crow
Having grown tired of an unrelenting diet of billy goat, the large lumbering troll in this tasty tale goes lumbering off in search of something different to tickle his palate. Off he heads through the town, stopping at the bridge – after all that’s where trolls hang out, isn’t it? Seems as though he’s about to strike lucky for what should come pedalling into view but a lad out for a spin. “Mmm” says the Troll. “There is nothing I like quite as much as a nice juicy boy on his bike.
The lad however, despite his relatively diminutive stature, shows a decided lack of fear.

Clearly he is familiar with the Three Billy Goats Gruff story for he responds thus: “Please don’t eat me just yet! There is something much better behind me, I bet!
Sure enough almost instantly, along comes an infinitely more tempting possibility.

And so it goes on, with first a school bus and then a digger full of mucky young passengers coming along to tempt the troll with even better, more substantial sounding treats.
Has the Troll finally met his match with that digger, or are those ‘scrumptious young morsels” aboard about to become his next tasty repast?

This is a lip-smacking offering from the toothsome new twosome, Woollard and Barrow. Elli Woollard’s rhyming text simply slips off the tongue – a veritable treat if ever; and David Barrow’s soft-focus, splodgy illustrations are deliciously diverting.

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The Best Chip

The Best Chip
Kate Leake
Alison Green Books

Chubble – what a lovely word; apparently it’s urban slang for ‘to move or be like a mass of fat’. Mmm; maybe I don’t like it quite so much now.
In fact, I’m not a big fan of chips although I’m not averse to pinching a few from my partner’s plate when he indulges himself.
In this veritable ode to chips, our narrator is so she says, “the world’s Chip-Chubbling Champ!” Now there’s a claim to fame; and throughout this rhyming chip extravaganza, she extols the virtues of the humble chip in all its shapes and sizes. Well perhaps not Granny’s frazzled ones, nor those black-eyes ones.
Apparently she comes from a family of chip lovers; Dad too is a huge fan although he’s rather a messy eater.

It’s our narrator’s largest and ‘bestest’ chip though which gives rise to enormous anticipatory excitement and all manner of flights of fancy …

not to mention crazy a song and dance act, all hilariously visualised in lip-smacking scenes.
But will that much -lauded titbit ever actually pass through the lips of its owner?
I’ll say no more on that matter but just add, there’s a spot of fickleness in the finale.

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The Only Lonely Panda

The Only Lonely Panda
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

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

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

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

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

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Big Brown Bear’s Cave

Big Brown Bear’s Cave
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing

What is more important to you: friends or ‘stuff’? I know which I’d prefer any day.
Could it be though that Yuval Zommer secretly visited our home before writing this story: I certainly wish Big Brown Bear, star of his latest picture book would drop in on our human cave (garage): he’d have a field day surrounded by stuff, stuff and more stuff; and he’d be able to fill his new abode with all manner of goodies.
The ursine collector definitely goes overboard on acquiring creature comforts for his empty cave, so much so that its fame spreads far and wide, attracting the attention of all his pals who are eager to see inside his residence.

Lack of room prevents their entry however, and off they go leaving Big Brown Bear to continue filling the space.
Alone with his boxes, Bear begins to be overwhelmed by lack of wiggle room, so much so that when his three friends return with an invitation, he’s well and truly hemmed in …

Then there’s only one thing to do and our hero does it: wise move, Big Brown Bear.
Zommer’s portrayal of the acquisitive trait, and the accumulative chaos it can cause, is a rib-tickling treat. There’s Bear pondering over the sheer variety of ‘stuff’; and his obvious delight over the selection of his favourites – ‘stuff that came with wheels, stuff that came with handles and stuff that came in boxes.’ He almost looks as though he’s dancing with joy despite the precarious balancing act required to carry that stack of boxes.

This is very much a fable of our time and will, I suspect strike a chord with readers of all ages.

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