Tag Archives: imagination

The Boy From Mars

The Boy From Mars
Simon James
Walker Books

When Stanley’s mum has to go away overnight for work, Stanley too decides to leave the family home. From the back garden he blasts off in his spaceship – destination Mars.
Not long after, the spaceship returns and out crawls a smallish martian …

come to explore “your sibilization” he tells Stanley’s brother, Will.
Their “leader” plays along with the martian thing and there follows a wonderful boundaries testing evening. Martians seemingly don’t wash their hands before meals, are unimpressed with earth food (other than ice cream) and definitely don’t have bedtimes. They don’t brush their teeth or wash before sleeping either and they always sleep in their helmets.

If there’s one thing that gets a martian’s temper flaring it’s being challenged about its identity and Stanley’s best pal, Josh is on the receiving end of a martian’s shove. This results in a morning spent sitting outside the head’s office contemplating his behaviour, something Dad learns of when he collects his offspring from school that afternoon.

When Mum returns in the evening, eager to hear how things have gone, a certain little martian decides there’s only one way to deal with the “Have you been a good little martian?” question … a return to base – of sorts.

Simon James never fails to delight and this book is a cracker. The matter of fact, down-to-earth telling is pitch perfect when read aloud – the dialogue is simply superb. The illustrations reveal a space-obsessed little human with an inventive imagination and much else to contemplate and revel in.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Snowbear

The Snowbear
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Two small children, a brother and sister wake to find that overnight their world has turned completely white. “Make a snowman if you want. But be careful because the hill is too steep and slippery,” is their mother’s warning as they sally forth into the great outdoors.
Slips and slides are inevitable and a snowman, of sorts is duly built, although they decide their creation looks more like a snowbear.
Having completed their chilly enterprise, the children take to their sledge and go hurtling downhill, faces a-tingle, towards the woods.

Eventually they come to a halt and decide home is where they now most want to be. But the climb is steep and there’s something watching them from between the trees.

Suddenly they hear a sound. Could it be that something or someone is coming to their rescue in that chilly white wood?
It is and it does.

Next morning though, the sun has melted their snowbear right away; at least that’s Martina’s suggestion. Iggy puts forward an alternative. “… he could have gone back in the woods and he’s alive down there.” I wonder …
A lovely wintry tale with just a frisson of fear, and an acknowledgement of the boundless imaginations of young children. This is, I think a new author/artist collaboration: in her eloquent, soft focus illustrations, Claire Alexander brings out the drama of Sean Taylor’s deliberately understated narrative, as well as showing young children’s ability to immerse themselves completely in the here and now.

Imagination Rules: The Magical Ice Palace & Daddy and I

The Magical Ice Palace
Suzanne Smith, Lindsay Taylor and Marnie Maurri
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

A flight on a gigantic magical snowflake,

a hairy mammoth prince stranded atop a mountain, a dramatic rescue involving an enormous bunch of balloons,

a beautiful palace …

a birthday party and a snow globe: yes Doodle Girl, is back with her magic pencil, of course, and her friends, for another amazing adventure. And it all begins with Doodle Girl’s discovery of a ‘curly CURVY SHAPE’ as she’s skipping through the sketchbook.
Even when the rescue has finally been effected there’s still the problem of a distinct lack of one absolutely vital ingredient for a topping birthday party –the cake. Can Doodle Girl wield her magic pencil one more time and make the Mammoth Prince’s celebration a truly royal occasion complete with cake and candles?
If you’ve not yet made the acquaintance of the wonderfully imaginative heroine, Doodle Girl, I urge you to do so now: she resides in a big red sketchbook and as soon as she so much as whispers the words, “Draw, draw, draw …” amazing adventures start to happen.
Deliciously quirky illustrations, whimsical characters and a sparkling wintry tale add up to another winning flight of fancy for Doodle Girl’s three creators; and there’s a bonus giant doodling poster inside the back cover.

Daddy and I
Lou Treleaven and Sophie Burrows
Maverick Arts Publishing

Saturday is ‘Daddy day’ for the little girl narrator and here she tells of a walk they take together; and what a wonderfully memorable Saturday that particular one turns out to be.
As they set out down the lane, not only is our narrator full of excitement, but her imagination is in full flow too as the pair become first, jungle explorers;

then grass snakes slithering through a field, followed by mountain climbers and cloud watchers.
Next comes a game of ‘Pooh sticks’, (they manage to pack so much into their day),

followed by a foray into the woods; but then there’s a storm and it’s time to make a run for it … all the way back to the dry.

This rhyming celebration of a special bond between father and daughter is beautifully told.
Sophie Burrows has picked up Lou Treleaven’s tuneful text embellishing the everyday sights of their country walk with scenes drawn from the child narrator’s imagination depicting a world where fact and fantasy meet.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek
Anthony Browne
Doubleday

There are search and find picture books aplenty and then there is Anthony Browne’s game of Hide and Seek, which is in an altogether different class: a class of its own. And it’s actually Anthony Browne’s 50th picture book of his career.
Herein the search is for a missing dog, Goldie, belonging to sister and brother, Poppy and Cy, or rather it isn’t. The search is actually that of Poppy for her brother in the game of hide-and-seek they decide to play in the woods as a distraction from their sadness over Goldie’s disappearance.
Cy duly hides himself; Poppy counts and then confidently commences her search.

(By now observant readers will have noticed some surreal additions to the children’s woodland surroundings.)
Seemingly Cy has hidden himself rather too well, for Poppy has trouble locating him thanks to several false leads. Her little brother meanwhile, is getting increasingly desperate for a wee, not to mention chilly and downright scared.

Is his mind beginning to conjure up some of the more disturbing images hidden in the woods as he hears the sound of something approaching?
There’s more than one surprise in the final spreads of this rich and absorbing story; and for readers perhaps, the most unexpected surprise is the open-ended finale …

But then Browne always poses questions and invites speculation way beyond the simple narrative of the written story.
(The last page lists eighteen objects the author has ‘hidden’ throughout the book.)
For me, having access to woodland is an essential part of being human. To enter a wood is to journey back in time: it sharpens the senses; we hear, see and smell differently and our imagination too is expanded. It puts us back in touch with our primeval selves. Anthony Browne invokes that same experience between the leaves of this spell-binding book.

A Briefing of Board Books

Time to Go With Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ted, the wonderfully imaginative toddler is back and he’s ready to go.
Whether it be to the park, the shops, the pool or the playground swings …

he’s always sure to have the appropriate gear with him.
And being such a friendly little boy, he’s bound to make friends wherever he goes; so come teatime he’s got plenty of guests to share with.
Lift-the-flap pages hide a host of animals as well as opportunities for some noisy roaring, shivering, sploshing and making monkey sounds.

Listen to the Dance Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Just in time for ‘Strictly’ here’s an opportunity to brush up on your dance moves with the animal movers and shakers. You can waltz with the wolves, tango with the horses, practise some Charleston swivels with the bears, salsa with the flamingos, rock n’ roll along with the cats and hip-hop with the frogs. And, to get you and your little ones going, there’s a sound button at the back of the book, so as well as enjoying the dancers visually, you can listen to the various types of music. What are you waiting for: let’s dance.

I Thought I Saw a Lion!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing
Using the sliders on every spread, toddlers can develop their manipulative skills while enjoying playing hide-and-seek with a mischievous lion that invades a variety of venues. Is he somewhere in the restaurant? Or perhaps he’s visiting the fancy dress shop or the bookshop maybe.

Surely he can’t be getting his mane trimmed at the hairdresser’s, so where is he?
Built-in repetition and bold, stylish illustrations enhance the game.

Colours/ Opposites
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Two popular topics feature in stylish look and find presentations by Britta Teckentrup.
In addition to the colour element of the first, there are opportunities for counting and developing talk on each spread.

Opposites here entails essentially, finding the odd one out, be that outside, above, fast, short, heavy, white, closed or small. Some concepts such as tall/short or heavy/ light are relative and thus not so clear-cut, but the rhyming text ensures that answering the questions asked is not an issue. Here: for instance,

‘Some animals plod / with a slow heavy pace, / but who is so fast she’s / winning the race?’

Opposites/ Colours
Nosy Crow and The British Museum
The two new Early Learning at the Museum titles contain around thirty fascinating objects from the museum collections per book.
Apart from the basic concepts presented in the two books, each fascinating image offers opportunities for developing open-ended conversations with young children.
You can look into recent history and go back over 2000 years with intriguing artefacts from a variety of cultures in Opposites. Or in Colours go back even further to 2600BC or be bang up to date with a Grayson Perry vase from 2011.
These chunky books will be of interest to children long after they’ve acquired the basic concepts related to opposites and colours.
Adults can scan the QR code in each book to find out more about the featured objects and there is a full key at the back.

The Marine Team / The Forest Folk / The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here are three new additions to the Mibo board books series featuring five animals, apiece, two spreads being given to each one.
Once again in each book, superb graphics are accompanied by fact-filled rhymes and there is a final fact page that tells you a little bit about each animal presented, their habitats and what we can do to help protect them.
The Marine Team comprises the green turtle, the great white shark, which is actually only white on its lower part, the seal, the blue whale and seahorses.
Did you know that it’s the male that carries the eggs from which the babies are born?
In The Forest Folk we meet temperate forest dwellers, brown bears, grey wolves, red squirrels, otters and deer, both male and female.
The Sky Guys features five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican and the tiny hummingbird.
The rhyming texts will help young children absorb the information as an adult reads it aloud; and each book offers plenty of talking points.

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter  

Things to Do with Dad / You Can Never Run Out of Love

Things To Do With Dad
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books

Dad and a small boy make and consume breakfast pancakes together. A promising and joyful start to the day but then Dad turns his attention to the ‘Things To Do’ list tacked to the fridge door – not so joyful.

Dad makes a start with the chores with his son playing alongside. Washing up and bookcase building go smoothly enough but after a vacuuming incident,

the boy seizes the to-do list and his green crayon, and amends the list, starting with the title.

From then on imaginative play rules: ‘Make the beds’ becomes ‘Sail a pirate ship; ‘Hang out the laundry’ is changed to ‘Join the Circus’ and best of all methinks, ‘Water the garden’ morphs into a fantastic jungle adventure.

Good old Dad; he enters into the spirit of things heart and soul, so much so that at the end of the day, an exhausted but happy father and son snuggle together for a well-earned rest under a tree.

With only the list for text, Sam Zuppardi lets his own inventiveness flow in superb scenes of playfulness and the power of the imagination: the characters’ expressions say so much without a single word being spoken between the two.

The ideal way to turn boring chores into a fun-filled day: bring it on. We’re even supplied with a list of further ideas on the final page. I wonder which chores might generate these items.

You Can Never Run Out of Love
Helen Docherty and Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster

‘You can run out of time. / You can run out of money. / You can run out of patience, / when things don’t seem funny. BUT …// You can never (not ever), / you can never / run out of LOVE.’

That’s part of Helen Docherty’s tender, gently humorous rhyming text celebrating love- giving and accepting – and its inexhaustibility. Other things might be in short supply, but never love.

We see, in Ali Pye’s warm-hearted illustrations love in many forms – love between family members; love between friends, love for animals, love between a boy and girl next door …

Affectionate? Yes. Joyful? Certainly. Slushily sentimental? No; but it’s inclusive and perfect for bedtime sharing with young children.

I’ve signed the charter  

It’s Time for Bed

A Bear Hug at Bedtime
Jana Novotny Hunter and Kay Widdowson
Child’s Play
Imaginative play rules in this enchanting pre-bedtime romp: snuggle up and prepare for a bedtime hug or two.
A small child meets a variety of animals, large and small as bedtime approaches or does she? Look again and we see that in fact something entirely different is happening as she imagines various members of her family as animals: Gran morphs into a stripy tiger, Mum becomes a monkey,

her little brothers a lizard and a lobster. And Dad? He’s a huge hairy bear just waiting to leap out and engulf his daughter with a wonderfully warm, goodnight hug. Gorgeous!
Beautifully told, wonderfully illustrated and SO full of heart, it’s perfect for bedtime sharing.

Babies Can Sleep Anywhere
Lisa Wheeler and Carolina Búzio
Abrams Appleseed
There’s a distinct retro look and pleasing pattern to this languorous rhyming look at sleeping places. ‘Bats take a nap in a cave upside down. / Hay is a bed for a mare. // Wolves cuddle up in a den ‘neath the ground./ But babies can sleep anywhere.’
This three animals followed by one human infant pattern is used throughout the book until the final spread. This shows an array of sleeping human babes all looking totally blissful.

It’s good to see a mix of well-known and less familiar animals included, as well as the variety of human families on the final pages. Carolina Búzio’s bold colour palette is gorgeous.

I See the Moon
illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
For this delightful bedtime sharing book, Rosalind Beardshaw has illustrated sixteen popular rhymes, lullabies and poems (mostly anonymous but with poems by J.M.Westrup, Thomas Hood and Robert Louis Stevenson).
Populating her moonlit world with adorable children, foxes, squirrels, mice and other small creatures set in scenes generously embellished with silver and gold,

Beardshaw makes each spread sparkles with colour, light and nocturnal enchantment.

Say Zoop!

Say Zoop!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Before you’ve finished reading this latest offering from the inimitable Tullet you and your listeners will have said a whole lot more than ‘Zoop’ and had an absolutely brilliant time to boot. Herein the artist takes pointillism and imbues it with his puckish genius.
It begins with a simple blue dot and an invitation to say ‘OH!’ A bigger dot appears demanding an appropriately ‘HUGE OH!’ and so on … Whoppee! We’re starting to make music – soft soft loud soft soft loud and so on; but that’s not all – how about a crescendo or the reverse …
We can also do a spot of dot counting or try some beats in dots and … wait for it, dive in dot sounds, rising up and … down;

then swim dot style, shiver and even cry.
Enter red dot – say ‘AH!’ And off we go again – double the possibilities: a dot dialogue or better still a robot dot dialogue – amazing! Then a spot of tickle induced laughter, dot style of course; or maybe a song and even a walk.
Oh no! Now there’s a very noisy argument … Phew! They’ve made up.
Oh my goodness, now there’s a sunny looking yellow dot WAAHOO! And off we go again, trampolining, zooming car style or singing like birds …

A whole new language perhaps?

Superbly creative: this absolutely cries out for performance over and over – first vocal, then perhaps with paint and after that, what about both together: WAAHOOAHTCHONKOHPLUCKZIKZOOPWHISHHH!! What are you waiting for?
The possibilities are endless and no reading will be the same as any other.
Zooper-dooper fun!

I’ve signed the charter  

Izzy Gizmo

Izzy Gizmo
Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster

Izzy Gizmo is full of go and seldom without her large bag of tools, after all one never knows when there might be an opportunity for mending, tweaking or inventing. She makes some pretty marvellous machines but the trouble is there do seem to be a fair few glitches along the way and often at the most inopportune moments.
It’s then that Izzy’s temper gets the better of her and she wants to give up.
Grandpa however, has other ideas: “Now, trust me, young lady. Sometimes you need to try again and again if you want to succeed,” he tells her.
After one such paddy, Izzy storms outside and all of a sudden a crow crash lands right in her path breaking his wings beyond repair.

Now the feisty young miss has a new challenge. First she tries to rehabilitate the crow but all the creature wants is to be able to soar with his feathered friends again. Despondent, she’s near to giving up but again Grandpa steps in with some timely moral support and that bag of gadgety things of Izzy’s.
Then it’s operation ‘new wings’ as books are consulted, components collected …

and assembled ready for the launch; but it’s a case of the best laid plans …
Can Izzy, not to mention her injured friend finally rise to the occasion or is the creature destined to stay forever grounded ?
Let’s put it like this: ‘where there’s a will, there has to be a way’

no matter the consequences …
I doubt many will fail to fall for Izzy and her mechanical mind.
Pip Jones’ rhyming narrative is a cracker to read aloud and Sara Ogilvie’s imagination must be almost as fertile as young Izzy’s. Her intricately detailed scenes of mechanical mayhem are simply magnificent.
A real riot.

I’ve signed the charter  

Our Kid

Our Kid
Tony Ross
Andersen Press
What an intolerant teacher ‘Our Kid’ has, responding to his lateness by sending him to the ‘Naughty Corner.’ (I have strong feelings about naughty corners/steps but won’t pursue the topic here). The Kid has an enormously fertile imagination and so, following his dad’s “Go straightly to school, Our Kid. Don’t be late again.” he tells how he took the shortcut along the beach, which led to hoof dunkling,

an encounter with a dinosaur pirate-chasing submarine driven by fish …

which resulted in the loss of his homework-containing schoolbag and trousers; followed by a rendezvous with an enormously helpful elephant who eventually dropped him at the school before he ‘kerlumped’ off: hence the kid’s tardy arrival.
However, just as the errant pupil has finished his tale and been admonished for his making up of “total and utter nonsense” the classroom tenor takes a sudden unexpected turn. The school, after a considerable degree of turbulence, is invaded by three creatures asking for “Our Kid” and proffering some objects …

To relate what ensues thereafter would spoil this fantastic story so let’s just say, the teacher has something of a change of heart, which leaves our protagonist bounding home joyfully after a thoroughly uneventful day at school. Did I say at the start Our Kid has an enormously fertile imagination? Actually, I may have been just a teensy bit wrong on that score.
This cracking tale put me in mind somewhat, of Cali and Chaud’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School but its manner of telling is completely different. Ross’s off-beat use of language is both inspired and playful: I absolutely loved ‘shoffled’ ‘bumpeeded’ ‘felumpingly’, ‘boomdered’ and ‘glumbtious’ to mention just some of the wonderful words he sprinkles throughout the kid’s saga. Equally brilliant are each and every one of his watercolours. The expression of utter joie-de-vivre the narrator shows as he dunkles his hooves in the seawater; the way he clambers up the elephant’s trunk to reach the howdah on its back;

and the nonchalance of the teacher as he hands back Our Kid’s unread homework are beyond brilliant; which in fact, applies to the whole book.

I’ve signed the charter  

There’s a Walrus in My Bed!

There’s a Walrus in My Bed!
Ciara Flood
Andersen Press
Flynn is thrilled at the prospect of sleeping in his new bed, but come bedtime, it appears that his much-anticipated sleeping space has been invaded. Neither Mum, nor Dad believe his “there’s a walrus in my bed,” assertions so he’s forced to try and fit himself alongside an enormous intruder. Things aren’t straightforward even then: could the creature be hungry perhaps? Or suffering some malaise …

Blankets and a drink of soothing milk seem to exacerbate the problem, the latter sending the walrus to the bathroom for a wee.
Perhaps a lullaby might be sufficiently soothing to induce slumbers on the walrus’s part. It certainly doesn’t seem to please Flynn’s parents. What IS the lad to do?

There aren’t any monsters lurking and finally Flynn resorts to an embrace …

which appears to do the trick but there’s still the issue of fitting Flynn and the slumbering sea creature into the same space: it just isn’t big enough.
Flynn has one more trick up his pyjama sleeve: “Mum, Dad, can Walrus sleep in your bed tonight?” he requests. Their affirmative reply leaves their son able to snuggle into his soft warm bed at last; but he’s the only human likely to get a good night’s sleep thereafter …
Rich, warm hues make the invader and the place he invades, full of geniality; and Ciara Flood’s characterisation is superb. Mum’s and Dad’s expressions at Flynn’s increasingly demanding and disturbing activities speak volumes.
Another winner from rising star, Ciara Flood: I’d avoid sharing it just before bed though: you just never know – new bed or not …

I’ve signed the charter 

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf
Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
Book Island
Author, Kyo Maclear (The Listzs) and Isabelle Arsenhault, illustrator (Cloth Lullaby) have together invented an episode from the youth of Virginia Wolf, narrated by her sister Vanessa when the former was overcome by depression: ‘She made wolf sounds and did strange things … ‘ Unsurprisingly, her actions affected the entire household –

‘She was a very bossy wolf. The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.’
Vanessa is a very understanding and supportive sister and does her upmost to cheer up her sibling. Eventually she responds to Virginia’s wish to fly to a perfect place … with “ABSOLUTELY NO DOLDRUMS”, a place called Bloomsberry, by creating, as Virginia sleeps …

a glorious ‘Bloomsberry’ garden.
This has the effect of lifting the gloom that has engulfed her sister– for the time being at least.

Strong emotions are part and parcel of childhood but comparatively few children go on to develop the dark melancholic, depressive feelings that would frequently engulf Virginia in her adult life. Not everyone, however hard they try will be able to help a depressed family member, but this is no detraction from what is undoubtedly a beautiful picture book.
Arsenault’s eloquent illustrations capture superbly the whole gamut of emotions of Maclear’s text: the graceful beauty of the pictures Vanessa creates would surely bring solace to almost anyone. The use of a hand-lettered text that sometimes almost explodes off the page, further adds to the impact of what is an immensely powerful and intensely personal tale of love and hope.
This is a book to share and discuss with older children (from around ten, and into early secondary school). I hope teachers have the insightfulness and perhaps courage to do so: its potential is rich.

I’ve signed the charter 

That’s Not a Daffodil!

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

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

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

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

Knock Knock Dinosaur / If I Had a Dinosaur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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although there would be the question of POOH avoidance …

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

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

Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade / The Opposite

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Fairytale Frankie and the Mermaid Escapade
Greg Gormley and Steve Lenton
Orchard Books
This was eagerly seized upon by one of my readers who had enjoyed Fairytale Frankie and the Tricky Witch. This time, fairytale lover Frankie encounters a mermaid at the seaside, a mermaid who is reluctant to join her for a swim on account of the BIG sea monster. Frankie reassures her and the two frolic in the shallows until the coastguard issues a warning.

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Frankie suggests a strength in numbers approach and after encounters with a surfing prince and a beardie pirate, both of whom are fearful of said sea monster, the young girl and her fellow monster anticipators watch as the sea starts to stir …

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“I’m a little bit frightened of this story now, ” one of my listeners said and was clearly empathising with Frankie and the mermaid as everyone else takes evasive action…

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leaving Frankie endeavouring to protect her mermaid friend.
Are the two of them, not to mention those who’ve temporarily disappeared from the scene, about to become the next meal of a BIG, MASSIVE, seriously HUGE, GIGANTIC sea monster? Let’s just say that what emerges from the deep isn’t quite what they’ve all been anticipating.
With its larger than life characters superbly portrayed by Steve Lenton, excitement throughout the tale, and a fun finale, this is sure to be a crowd pleaser where young audiences are concerned.

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The Opposite
Tom MacRae and Elena Odriozola
Andersen Press
This was MacRae’s picture book debut around ten years back and if you missed it then, this paperback is definitely worth getting hold of especially if you like quirky humour and a story with a twist or two in its tail.
Our first encounter with ‘The Opposite’ is hanging upside down from Nat’s bedroom ceiling ignoring the lad’s “Get down!” instruction. A disconcerting sight if ever there was one especially as it’s clad in a kind of onesie that matches the wallpaper. “Dad! There’s an Opposite on my ceiling!” Nate cries but ‘The Opposite had already happened, and it wasn’t there any more.’
The thing reappears on the kitchen worktop during breakfast …

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sabotaging Nate’s milk pouring efforts, sending the liquid upwards to the ceiling and then down onto the tablecloth, which of course, displeases his Mum.
There’s more Opposite trouble at school where paint ends up everywhere but on Nate’s paper.

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Then it’s time for Nate to begin thinking in ‘Opposite’ ways …
Elena Odriozola’s pen and watercolour illustrations, although brighter, have a hint of Edward Gorey about them and the characters’ flatness gives them a touch of spookiness: altogether an ideal complement for MacRae’s text.
Satisfying and slightly enigmatic both.

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The Land of Nod

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The Land of Nod
Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Hunter
Flying Eye Books
An altogether contemporary feel has been given to a classic Robert Louis Stevenson children’s poem through the fantastical artistry of illustrator Robert Hunter.
Herein we meet an injured boy who spends his days indoors at home with nothing but his toys for companions.

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Come night though, he’s transported beyond the confines of his room to a dream world, illuminated in eerie hues, predominantly of pinks and blues, where the familiar objects of the day – his toys, books and other ephemera from his bedroom- are transmogrified into the surreal.

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Every illustration provokes curiosity and speculation, and could lead to much additional storying

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from a new generation of young listeners whose parents will know the poem only by its words, or perhaps through Brian Wildsmith’s interpretation in A Child’s Garden of Verses.

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Cracking Seasonal Reads

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Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Kerfuffle Christmas Kidnap
John Dougherty and David Tazzyman
Oxford University Press
It’s Christmas Eve and all’s right with the world. Right? Well not quite.
When Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face wake up it’s after midnight (so technically they can call it Christmas Day) with cries of “He’s been! He’s been!”, it takes but a few seconds for them to discover that this is not the case: Father Christmas has definitely not visited their abode, and that’s despite the pair having been extra good that year. All they see where those presents should have been is a great big pile of nothing, absolutely zilch.
Obviously Father Christmas must be in some kind of trouble – think dastardly badgers – and it’s up to Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face to come to the rescue, find Santa and save Christmas for all the inhabitants on the little island of Great Kerfuffle.
As with previous books in the series, this one is full of wonderfully off-the-wall characters, bonkers jokes, evil-sounding laughter, magic and mayhem, crazy dialogue and perfect comic timing to boot. What’s more it’s illustrated by the brilliant David Tazzyman whose seemingly scribble illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to John Dougherty’s clever and deliciously silly writing style.
A seasonal cracker if ever there was one.

Altogether different but equally worth seeking out is:

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There May Be a Castle
Piers Torday
Quercus Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve: a family – mum, two sisters and a brother – are on the way to visit the grandparents. Violet the eldest is dressed as a pirate, toddler Esme has a passion for chocolate and Mouse, a smaller than average, highly imaginative eleven year old is still in his robot pyjamas; Mum is at the wheel. Snow is falling fast, the visibility is bad, but the journey across the moors should be fairly short.
As it often does on such occasions, bickering begins and Mum loses control of the car and it spins off the road. Mouse is thrown from the car by the crash but everyone else is trapped inside.
When he comes to, Mouse finds himself in a magical landscape with no snow and no car, just a peculiar sheep named Bar, a talking one-eyed horse called Nonky, a garrulous minstrel, a size-changing dinosaur; oh, and there may be a castle. Thus begins Mouse’s quest to find that castle despite not knowing quite why.
Back at the scene of the accident, Violet is on a mission to save her mother who is unconscious and bleeding, and little Esme, who keeps demanding chocolate. To do this she has to use her knowledge of a very fierce pirate woman, which, harnessed with her own imagination, gives her the strength she needs to cope.
Without giving away what happens let’s leave those two wonderful, very brave characters in their spellbinding wintry tale of hope, courage, the power of the imagination and the stories we tell ourselves.
Brilliantly imaginative and totally immersive it’s a beautifully written book; read it and you’ll be hooked, but be warned, you’re on something of an emotional rollercoaster.

Ada’s Ideas

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Ada’s Ideas
Fiona Robinson
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It may come a surprise to young readers of this biographical picture book that Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke a mathematician, and lived in the 19th century. Her parents separated soon after Ada was born and she was never to see her father again. To stop her from becoming anything like her father, Ada’s mother made her follow a strictly structured timetable of lessons: anything imaginative was strongly discouraged.
Despite this however, the young Ada developed a powerful, imaginative streak, partly fuelled by seeing some of the steam-powered machines her mother took her to see in factories …

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She even thought of inventing a mechanical flying horse.
After a period of sickness, at age sixteen Ada found herself thrust into society and that’s how she met the inventor, Charles Babbage who was in the process of inventing the Difference Engine, a machine that would never make mathematical errors.

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A friendship developed and Ada maintained it despite being married shortly after, and thus Babbage told Ada about his new project, The Analytical Engine – the world’s first computer design. It was Ada herself who used her mathematical mind to create the program that would have made Charles’ machine work. She also foresaw the machine’s potential beyond maths believing it could be programed to create music, pictures and words. Although it never was made because of costs, eventually many years later, people came to realise how forward thinking Ada and Babbage were.
With its 3D effect, Fiona Robinson’s collage style artwork is amazing and the whole book is a great tribute to the life of a young woman who refused to be bound by society’s expectations and strictures. What I like most is the way in which it demonstrates so compellingly that no matter what, imagination is behind all scientific and technological discoveries: that, and of course the fact that being a women is not a bar to great scientific achievement.

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Imagination rules: dream high, aim high, believe in yourself; let your mind run free: that’s Ada’s legacy.
An inspirational read and a must for all primary schools.

The Star Tree

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The Star Tree
Catherine Hyde
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A tender lyrical story of a flame-haired girl, Mia who makes a Midsummer’s night moonlit wish.

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It’s a wish that launches her on an amazing magical journey by air, sea and land, a journey made possible by a huge owl,

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a Little Red Hare …

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(look at the toys on Mia’s window sill), Big White Bear and his air balloon and, Giant Stag. It’s he that takes her up to the top of the high hill upon which stands the Star Tree shimmering and sparkling in the night. From it Mia takes one small star …

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and clutching it to herself, boards the waiting Great White Goose and flies homewards ‘along the river’s silver pathway. / Up and over the drowsy land, over the hills, / over the church with the blunted vane / that barely stirs in the still air.’ to her bedroom wherein something else truly magical awaits her …
Breath-takingly beautiful illustrations and equally magical words meld into a spellbinding reading experience. Every one of Catherine Hyde’s atmospheric paintings has a mesmeric quality, which transports readers – particularly this one – to those other worlds of the imagination where anything and everything is possible. On subsequent readings try letting that happen; focus on one scene, pause and release your mind for a while before continuing Mia’s journey with her.
A perfect bedtime share; but equally a story to read at anytime; and a wonderful demonstration of how visual and verbal artistry can work together as a truly harmonious whole.

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They All Saw a Cat / Picture This

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Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books
A cat is a cat, is a cat, no matter what. Right? Perhaps not. The world looks different depending on the lenses through which we view it, surely? I certainly think so. It’s a wonderfully philosophical consideration brilliantly demonstrated by author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel in this creative, thought-provoking mixed media exploration of observation, imagination and perspectives, which begins thus:
‘The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws …’. The child sees the cat, the dog sees the cat – sleek and slinky, the fox sees the cat – chunky and stubby, the fish sees the cat thus …

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and the mouse – well the mouse sees an alarmingly jaggedy, predatory monster, and the bee sees a pointillist image. On walks the cat and is seen by the bird, the flea, the snake, the worm and the bat …

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A dozen sightings, every one through different lenses, lenses which create shifts between texture, colour and tone, underlined after all twelve sightings by ‘YES, THEY ALL SAW A CAT!’

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We’re then told ‘The cat knew them all, and they knew the cat.’ –a lengthy discussion might ensue from this statement alone. But wait, we’re not quite done yet; the cat walks on and comes to the water: imagine what it saw …
Wenzel uses a range of painterly styles borrowed from impressionism, pointillism and others to make readers think about how perception, art and emotion are intricately linked. But that’s not all: the use of italics and capitals and the patterned structure of the narrative all contribute to the impact of the whole.
This is a book that can be used right across the age range from early years to adult students of art and philosophy: what a wonderful way to help the young to begin to understand and give credence to other people’s viewpoints.

The manner in which emotions are engaged and affected by the visual composition of images is explored in the revised and extended edition of a fascinating and insightful book first published 25 years ago:

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Picture This
Molly Bang
Chronicle Books
In the first hundred or so pages, Molly Bang takes the story of Little Red Riding Hood and shows how different placement of cut paper shapes and colours on the page work together to help create and build up emotionally charged scenes, our perceptions of which are bound by the context of our own experience. Why does a triangle placed on a flat base give us a feeling of stability whereas diagonal shapes make us feel tense?

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How come we feel more scared looking at pointed shapes, and more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves? These questions are explored as are others of colour choice and combination.
In the second, much shorter (new to the revised edition) section of the book, the author takes her story When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry, and using four pictures from it, looks at how she created four distinct feelings – one per illustration – of Fury, Sadness, Expectancy and Contentment/contemplation and uses them to explore the principles she’s looked at in the first part. And the final pages invite readers to create and analyse a picture of their own. Perhaps but first I’m off to take another look at some picture books starting with Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red.

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Meet Ada Twist Scientist, Mira & Em

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Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Readers may well be familiar with previous titles Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck from the creators of this inspiring rhyming read; Ada is the third in the series and like its predecessors, it’s a MUST to add to primary classroom bookshelves.
Ada remains silent, observing, investigating and thinking much until she turns three and then quite suddenly things change. ‘Why?’ she demands to know (of the grandfather clock: “Why does it tick and why does it tock?” “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?

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And once she’s started, there’s no stopping this curious young lass. Her other favourite words are ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘When’. (the very ones that should fill the hearts of all early years teachers worth their salt with delight). Yes, this child’s curioslty and imagination have no bounds and thank goodness she has such encouraging parents to support her.

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Then, one spring day – the first in fact – a revolting smell reaches Ada’s nostrils, setting questions flying and her curiosity into over-drive. Could that stench be emanating from Dad’s cabbage stew perhaps? That’s hypothesis number one.

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No – then where? The cat maybe? Wrong again and now Ada’s parents have had enough seemingly and Ada’s banished, silenced. Silent she may be, but her mind’s still very active and pretty soon, so is her thinking pencil until
thank goodness, Ada’s parents have had a rethink and before long, are back in support.
Will she ever find the answer to that ‘stink’ question? I suspect she might, for despite all her failures and blind alleys, Ada is an unstoppable problem-solver and what’s more, she’s ready to enlist the help of others. If not, then she’ll find other equally fascinating questions to pursue.
Delivered through a rhyming text and brilliantly characterised in David Roberts’ stylish illustrations, this story is sure to please young audiences and readers aloud, especially those who want to encourage the spirit of curiosity and champion the cause of girls in science. Ada is a force to be reckoned with – long may she continue. Seek this out and share it wherever you can.
Also take a look at the tale of another young girl who becomes a scientist :

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Mira Forecasts the Future
Kell Andrews and Lissy Malin
Sterling Books
Mira’s mother is a fortune teller but try as she might, all that Mira sees when she gazes into the crystal ball is herself, “Telling the future is a gift,” her mother tells her. “You have it, or you don’t.” Mira most definitely didn’t; but one day she notices something – the wind whirring the blades of her pinwheel and fluttering the streamers of her windsock.

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That’s the start of her meteorological findings and before long she’s putting her scientific talent to good use in predicting the future; she’s a weather forecaster no less.
Creativity and the imagination are at the heart of all scientific discoveries: they all begin with someone asking ‘what if’ or ‘suppose that’ and now here’s a book claiming to inspire creative play:

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The Way to Outer Space
Jay Eunji Lee
Oxford University Press
Herein we meet Em who on this particular day is feeling bored until that is, she receives a mysterious parcel containing a book and a card. She’s on the point of tossing them aside when she notices some rocket-making instructions and pretty soon here she is …

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blasting off and hurtling through the solar system to a strange place – a place she’s told belongs to her; and it’s in serious trouble. A challenge is issued and, accepted …

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and off she goes creating …
Part story (told in comic strip style), part activities, this unusual book is likely to get young minds buzzing and fingers working on creating some of the ideas suggested herein – and one hopes moving on to projects of their own imagining.

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A Child of Books

A Child of Books
Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Walker Books
I always thought I was the original ‘Child of Books’: certainly – thanks to my Dad – mine was a book-filled childhood. But it’s not so, and here’s the reason why: it’s a totally innovative and absolutely unique exploration of the power of story and storytelling that begins thus: ‘I am a child of Books. I come from a WORLD of stories.’ And thereafter, we are taken on an amazing journey of discovery that is also a celebration of classic tales from children’s literature.
Making up the waves of imagination upon which the girl and her raft float, are words from The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, The Count of Monte Cristo, Kidnapped, Gulliver’s Travels, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Pinocchio

Assuredly the girl has already sailed across a sea of words but she has an invitation to join her in further journeying, an invitation taken up by a boy who goes with her into a host of magical story worlds; worlds fashioned through the
combination of Jeffers’ powerful images and signature handwriting, and Winston’s masterful typographic word wizardry.
Together the two children scale mountains …

and explore dark places, treasure seeking; they get lost in a forest whose trees (leaves aside) are all fairytales …

and then have to escape from a monstrous word beast, resident of a haunted castle.
As the journey progresses through imaginary lands, the scenes become brighter until the children’s shouts from outer space herald a riot of story-comprised colour.

Everything about this wonderful volume is so carefully considered by this inspired pairing; for instance there’s the stark contrast between Jeffers’ hand-written, lyrical narrative and Winston’s digitally manipulated lines from the classics. Talking of classics, this ground-breaking book is surely destined to become a modern classic. One wonders whether its creators might have read Tom Phillips’ A Humument.
I could go on waxing lyrical about this intertextual wonder but let me merely urge you to get hold of a copy of your own (and some to give). Free your mind, be enchanted and also see how many of the 42 classics you can discover for yourself between its awesome pages. It’s truly a work of art and a celebration of the imagination.

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Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes! / Super Rabbit

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Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes!
Timothy Knapman and Nikki Dyson
Walker Books
Children adopt all manner of delaying tactics when it comes to bedtimes. Mo, the small boy in this book has got that down to a fine art – that and avoiding all those other activities that his long-suffering Mum wants him to do – those everyday things such as eating supper “Dinosaurs don’t HAVE suppertimes!

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rather, they “eat whenever they like”, having a bath, putting on pyjamas, (dinosaurs don’t wear PJs),

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enjoying a bit of rough and tumble play with his mum before drinking that milky nightcap and as for bedtime – well, don’t even think about it: Dinosaurs certainly do no such thing. …
Having gobbled, growled, stomped, rampaged and generally created havoc throughout the evening, does the little dinosaur-boy finally run out of steam and bed down for the night? Well yes, despite what our young dinosaur says to the contrary but that’s before the sleepy boy persona eventually wins the day – or rather, the night …

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ROAR! …
That mother certainly deserves a stiff drink after all she’s gone through.
Terrific fun, this rollicking riot of a tale is certain to be relished by lively youngsters who will delight in the bold, action-packed illustrations, which show alternating scenes of child imaginings and reality.

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Super Rabbit
Stephanie Blake
Gekko Press
Meet pink gun wielding Super Rabbit as he leaps from his bed and announces his super hero status to passers by such as this one, whose response isn’t overly enthusiastic …

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From there, as he consumes his first meal of the day, he tells his mother of his intentions, then off he goes and by and by comes upon a likely looking hiding place for villains …

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Fearless, he jumps inside the cold, dark place and suddenly we hear cries of “Mummy!” Our superhero has been stabbed by no, not a sword but a splinter and dropping his weapon, off he charges all the way back to her where he tells of the “piece of sword” in his finger. Mum calmly removes the offending object with a sterile needle …

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thus providing the little rabbit with an altogether new experience … and goes on to proclaim him “the bravest little rabbit in the whole world.” And then, he’s up and ready for his next Super Rabbit encounter …
If you’ve not encountered Simon rabbit of Poo Bum fame then you might well start here. It’s just the thing for mini superheroes: I love his fertile imagination and playfulness; and Stephanie Blake’s rendering of the little rabbit on that splinter removal couch is superb.

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Yokki and the Parno Gry / Cool Mythology

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Yokki and the Parno Gry
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Marieke Nelissen
Child’s Play
Yokki’s family are Travellers who live under canvas and make their money by selling – it might be horses or things that they make when there’s no other work – things like carved wooden spoons or lovely paper flowers. At other times of the year, they might be found mending pots and pans, sharpening tools or picking fruit and vegetables.

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Their evenings are spent around the camp fire when stories are told; and young Yokki is a particularly good story teller whose tales are a re-mix of those he’s already heard and things he adds of his own.
One year however, with work hard to come by the family is really down on their luck and Yokki’s father is worried about how they’ll cope with the coming winter. Phuri Dai (Grandma) suggests a place where they can set up camp and when they’ve done so, Yokki decides a story is just the thing to raise their spirits.

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Look at the image in the centre …

It’s a mythical tale of a powerful white flying horse – a Parno Gry – that would take him to places where life would be everything they could wish.
Can that wonderful horse fly in and save Yoki’s family at their darkest time? That is the big question and one you will have to get yourself a copy of this wonderful book to answer.
Everything about this book is exciting: most importantly that the story is a real testament to the power of children’s imaginations and the valuing of same; Marieke Nelissen’s illustrations are delightfully dream-like in places, the different viewpoints and perspectives used …

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add visual interest at every turn of the page and further enhance the telling.

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Cool Mythology
Malcolm Croft
Pavilion Books
Prolific author Croft turns his attention to a subject popular with primary age readers, as well as a topic much studied in schools. In fact I became very interested in the whole area when studying at London University in the 80s and have continued to find the whole vast topic endlessly fascinating ever since. This book is, as it says “Filled with fantastic facts’ and encompasses the main world mythologies, Sumerian and Inca and Nubian, all of which and more are mentioned on a spread entitled Map of World Mythology.
Thereafter, logically, is a look at creation myths, the commonest forms of myths and these are broken down into five general classifications as shown here …

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Examples of these are then explored in four spreads with the Greek Gaia, various sun-related myths, some fascinating African ideas and the Rainbow Serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

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‘Myths and legends are a vital part of … what it means to be human’ we’re told and the author then goes on to look at the seven basic plots used in myths. There’s also an exploration of places such as Atlantis, as well as the more recent Bermuda Triangle; and the afterlife with a look at ancient Egypt; animals, monsters and part human, part animal beings, also have a place herein.
Indeed it’s amazing just how much is packed into this little book on a topic that has much to say to us, and societies the world over today. If you know a child who wants a quick but absorbing introduction to a vast subject, this is a very good starting point. It’s fun, attractively laid out and very readable.

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Nothing!

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Nothing!
Yasmeen Ismail
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
You’ve just got to meet Lila: she’s unstoppable with her boundless imagination and joie de vivre. And she’s just off with Mummy – or is supposed to be – to visit her Grandpa. The snag is – for her mum anyhow – that Lila has already let her vivid imagination take over and rather than getting on her outdoor clothes she’s off on one of her flights of fancy. Here she goes … doing, as she tells Mummy, “Nothing …

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Yes they do manage to catch a train eventually, Lila with biscuit in hand and doing “Nothing …” to said biscuit and it’s this tasty treat that sets her imagination off into over-drive again RARRR-RRR! 

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The next step of the journey is, for Lila at least by scooter – did I say scooter? Actually for Lila it’s something else altogether: now she’s “the queen of super speed” who will “CRASH down mountains and tear up trees …

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Eventually, they do arrive at their destination and in response to Grandpa’s “What have you been doing since I last saw you?” comes the inevitable – I’ll leave that to you to work out … … and move on with Lila as she takes to the air with the birds, followed by …

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Grandpa – Yippee!
Sheer delight from cover to cover: Yasmeen Ismail does it YET again with this one. I have to say though, that I was more than a little bit predisposed to adore it from the cover message ‘Run away with your imagination’ before even looking on the inside. Nevertheless this bobby dazzler more than lived up to expectations: Lila is out of this world, brilliant.

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There’s No Such Thing As a Snappenpoop

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There’s No Such Thing as a Snappenpoop
Jeanne Willis and Matt Saunders
Little Tiger Press
I already know bits of this snappingly stupendous story off by heart after a week of reading and re-reading it with various groups and individuals. It features two brothers, Little Brother and Big Brother, and there’s a Snappenpoop involved too – despite the contrary assertion of the title. Much of the telling is through dialogue; it’s between the two siblings and essentially, Little Brother asks Big Bro. if he can play, with a promise to do anything Big Bro. asks in return; and Big Bro. issuing ridiculously impossible demands such as “Go and fetch me a unicorn.

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Then having a good laugh behind his brother’s back as Little Bro. sets off to procure whatever; and then being forced to eat his words so to speak, as his small sibling returns with each item requested. Of course the inevitable must be delayed for a long as possible and so after every successful search, Big Brother dreams up one or another reason for the unsatisfactoryiness of, in turn, the unicorn (it’s the wrong kind – too small); the lion with wings (the colour’s wrong).
Long-suffering Little Brother is prepared to travel far and wide, even through time and space …

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to achieve the desired end, as when he’s asked to fetch a dinosaur. How’s this for spot on comic timing and dialogue: “Go and fetch me a triceratops instead, “ said Big Brother. “Any particular size or colour?” asked Little Brother. “Big and brown,” said Big Brother. “OK, that narrows it down,” said Little Brother and off he runs, returning some time later with guess what – a big, brown triceratops.
Now, Big Brother is in a fix but he still wants to make playing together conditional: “You must fetch me a Massive Spiny Snappenpoop,” he insists. “Imagine the scariest monster times a million!
Whether he does or whether he doesn’t, is mine to know and yours to wonder, as our hero sets off into the menacing darkness …

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Yes, there’s a dark twist in this tale; but I’ll say no more on that subject.
Let’s finish by saying that Little Brother does get to play, though who with and who not with, is also mine to know and yours to discover – once you’ve got your hands on a copy of this magical book.
Jeanne Willis is a storyteller extraordinaire and debuting as a picture book artist, Matt Saunders’ visuals are the ideal complement –wonderfully detailed, full of atmosphere …

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and picking up on the subtle humour of the verbal telling superbly well.

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Wild Imaginings by Day & Night

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Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes
Tim Wynne-Jones and Brian Won
Walker Books
Who wouldn’t want a pair of funky tiger-striped trainers like those acquired by the young hero of this delightfully quirky book? That’s getting ahead of the story though. First, meet S.A.M. Secret Agent Man, a boy with a fertile imagination …

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Oops! That’s getting ahead too but that’s the way this Wynne-Jones’ story works. Let’s get back to the start with K. and the lad in question. K. – his carer? Mum? – or sidekick? is busy … when she decides her charge needs new footwear.
Off they go to the shop and eventually, despite his original thoughts on rocket shoes or vanishing ones, S.A.M. decides on ones with tiger stripes. (They have laces, but that’s part of the challenge when you’re a super hero.)

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In fact two pairs are purchased – one child sized, the other adult – K. gets the same kind; then off they go for a spot of lunch.

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The day continues with all kinds of danger and attempted dastardly deeds (someone tries stealing the Plans for World Domination, no less), spy meetings and the disappearance of K.

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But, nothing’s too difficult for S.A.M. now he’s sporting those tiger trainers and off he goes. Did I just see him tie those laces himself? – to undertake a rescue mission of the trickiest kind. ROAR!
As the story moves between the boy’s imagined, ‘undercover’ life, and his real one, Brian Won switches from shades of blue and black to a full-colour palette in his retro-style illustrations. Cleverly conceived and skilfully executed, this shift between the boy’s two worlds is effectively managed and I particularly like the restaurant scene wherein child and adult become co-conspirators and fellow roarers. Hurray for childhood’s imagination and for all those adults who manage to retain their playful inner-child.

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Is That an Elephant in My Fridge?
Caroline Crowe and Claudia Ranucci
Scholastic Children’s Books
I liked Fred from the outset: he’s a divergent thinker. When his mum suggests counting sheep to help the boy drop off to sleep, Fred instead, decides to count elephants: he visualises them too. Visualises them in all manner of exciting scenarios …

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until things begin to get out of control …

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Finally Fred has to take matters in hand …

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After all the exhausting action, unsurprisingly as soon as Fred’s head hits the pillow again, he’s fast asleep: no more counting elephants for him.
A book to induce delight for sure: it’s certainly true of those I’ve shared it with. I suggest you don’t use it as a bedtime story however; you never know what might ensue …

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Claudia Ranucci’s energetic illustrations – this is her UK picture book debut – highlight the humour of Caroline Crow’s telling splendidly.

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Up, Up and Away

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Up, Up and Away
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I have a particular soft spot for small boys with large imaginations so I instantly fell for Orson, a boy who loves to make things. On the particular day we meet him, young Orson has his head in a book, and his heart and mind on an extraordinary idea …

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Now unlike many of the inventive ilk, Orson is an organised little chap and so in a short time he’s busy gathering all the vital ingredients for his venture – a cup of rocks, a splosh of water, some chunks of metal and a large amount of nothingness (lots of empty space is required on a planet after all). Naturally, he’s decided to employ the big bang method and has managed to get his hands on just what he needs for the purpose …

 

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And before long BOOM! There in his bedroom, right before his, and our, eyes, is a small swirling spherical object. It’s a case of love at first sight so far as Orson is concerned, but concerned he is ,for the planet he’s brought into being has a decidedly unhappy look about it. What’s a lad to do with a sad planet?
Orson resolves to cheer it up … not very successfully …

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Off he goes to his favourite place to do a spot of research and having genned up on the subject through the night, he proceeds to carry out his plan of inducing planet happiness. He feeds it, dusts its craters, tidies its ocean and voila! By the following morning there’s a decided improvement and significant increase in size … with veritable moons even.
Unsurprisingly, care equals happiness where the planet is concerned but most of us know, though perhaps Orson had yet to learn, that happiness has a tendency to attract … Before long, it’s not ‘ just a few teaspoons and the odd unicycle’ but …

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And come bedtime both boy and big bang ball are equally down at heart.
Next morning, (no doubt Orson’s unconscious mind was in over-drive all night), the boy has come to a decision: braveness is called for – and a release …

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That however, is not entirely the end of the story …
Oh the wit, oh, the wisdom, oh the beauty of Tom McLaughlin’s whole phenomenal enterprise.

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Shapes, Reshape! Shapes at Play

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Shapes Reshape!
Shapes at Play
Silvia Borando
Walker Books
If you’ve watched young children get creative when given lots of 2D shapes, then you’ll be aware of some of the possibilities and hours of fun messing around with shapes offers. Here Silvia Borando has taken that idea a stage further in two wonderfully imaginative new Minibombos.
In Shapes Reshape they do just that: the shapes being rectangles and squares (mostly the former) with just the odd few very small circles used as dots for eyes.
It begins with 60 rectangles arranged thus …

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which rearrange, no, ‘reshape’ themselves into ten BUZZY things …

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So brilliantly playful; but there’s a whole lot more to come – 99 shapes become 9 Jumpy, slurpers … so cool aren’t they?

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Introduce another colour and the possibilities increase: look at these sneaky slitherers

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fashioned from …

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I could easily go on showing each and every wonderful ‘reshaping’ but suffice it to say there are eight further rearrangements from serried rows to creatures large and small from sniggly snuffling hedgehogs and nip-your-nose crabs to ferocious hungry lions, snappy alligators and the final piece-de-resistance –

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which flees, having been frightened by something reshaped from these …

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Now what could that be, I wonder. Hint: count the number of small rectangles …
Shapes at Play begins with a ‘Let’s play!’ invitation from a red equilateral triangle, a yellow square and a blue circle. Then the participants and others like them do so, starting with the triangles, followed by the squares and then the circles, each of which is given a double spread to do their stuff. Then follows a bit of bouncing, bumping and toppling … but undaunted, that’s followed by hasty re-creation …

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after re-creation, (oh! and there’s a spot of multiplication along the way too) first of the architectural kind …

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and then, of the vehicular variety …

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and culminating in a terrific BLAST OFF, flight and a landing where our three friends are greeted by some new shapes …

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Once many, many years back as a fledgling teacher, I read a book by Glenda Bissex called GNYS at WRK. Here’s genius at play, courtesy of Silvia Borando.
This, or a slightly less sophisticated form of same, is what children in their early years at school would and perhaps should be doing, were they not being required all too often, to jump through various mathematical hoops to satisfy the tick-box mentality requirements of the curriculum that prevails.

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What Could It Be?

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What Could It Be?
Sally Fawcett
EK Books
I love books that invite children to be creative and this one certainly does just that and more. Subtitled Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes we do so courtesy of a boy (observant readers will discover his name further into the book) and his rhyming narrative which, on the opening spread says, ‘This is a CIRCLE./What else could it be?’ and goes on to demonstrate over the page …

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Thus, readers are immediately drawn into a playful exploration of basic 2D shapes and how they can be transformed into all manner of exciting objects.
Next comes the square followed by the triangle …

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(there’s artistic license here but the ‘can you find?’ questions all relate to 2D shapes). Next comes the rectangle and a bedroom scene wherein we see all seven of the shapes included in the game.

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Another basic shape known to most pre-schoolers, the hexagon calls for the donning of a superhero cape by our narrator as he climbs to rescue his football, while his younger sister plays in her sandpit (a hexagonal enclosure, of course) close by.
Ovals come next and I particularly like the way these are transformed into a teapot ready for afternoon tea…

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and the final encounter is with the octagon and we have a seaside scene. Having explored the basics so to speak, the narrator then suggests readers start creating by making their own templates and letting their ideas flow …
There’s even a suggestion to upload personal artwork onto the publisher’s website if further incentive is needed.
Now that your thinking is out of the square,/pull out a pencil and pull up a chair.’ And that’s where children’s thinking needs to go … away from things that can be tested, measured and compared: if only all teachers might find the courage to keep offering the spaces for this to happen. Just do it!

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Rain / What Will Danny Do Today?

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Rain
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
The small boy narrator from Snow and his Grandad are back to regale us with another wondrous weathery delight. The youngster cannot wait to get outside and catch raindrops, splash in puddles and look at reflections; but Grandad has other ideas, or rather one idea – “…wait for the rain to stop.” So they wait and wait, and it rains and rains.

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Grandad busies himself with paperwork: the boy reads and imagines …
He imagines voyaging with sea monsters, floating cities with carnivals and musical boatmen …

 

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Then at last, and co-incidentally, Grandad finishes his writing and the rain stops. Time to sally forth, suitably attired, for that voyage …

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until down comes the rain once more, but no matter: there are raindrops to catch, entertainers to watch and an important letter to post.

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After that, it’s a return to dry land with its reward of hot chocolate, warm socks and cosy togetherness.
A splendid lesson in delayed gratification if ever there was one; and another beautiful portrayal of childhood’s exuberance and delight in the great outdoors come rain or shine. Sam Usher’s paintings brilliantly capture the watery world of a rainy day, the boy’s energy, and the loving relationship between child and grandparent: and the way he plays with space on the page is superb.

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More of Sam Usher’s marvellous scenes in:

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What Will Danny Do Today?
Pippa Goodheart and Sam Usher
Egmont
Following on from her You Choose series with Nick Sharratt, Pippa Goodheart joins forces with Sam Usher for another decision-making book only this time the decisions are made on behalf of young Danny.
From the moment he wakes up, Danny is faced with making choices: what kind of clothes to wear, what to have for breakfast,

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how to get to school …

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what lessons he’ll have and who will teach him. Then there are PE activities to decide upon …

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how he’ll spend his playtime and a whole range of art and craft possibilities with which to fill the afternoon: ‘What will Danny make?’ is the question.
Danny’s dad is there to meet him from school and he’s fairly easy to spot as, we are told, he wears a green jacket. Moreover, he’s willing to allow Danny an after school treat and here too it’s for us to decide whether that will be rowing, watching a film or skating. Finally, there’s the matter of bedtime reading and it appears that Danny has made his own choice this time.
This is a great book for getting talk going be it with one child, a small group, or – if you can stand it – a whole class, the majority of whom will doubtless be eager to offer their ideas on Danny’s day.

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Gorgeous detail from the endpapers

Every one of Sam Usher’s scenarios is crammed full of wonderful details and interesting characters, and is sure to generate a great deal of discussion.

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Story Box

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Story Box
Anne Laval
Laurence King Publishing
Open up Story Box and you will find a set of twenty double-sided jigsaw pieces – a mix of beginnings, middles and endings – that can be arranged and rearranged to tell a whole host of different stories. In her engaging illustrations, Anne Laval has provided details that allow for users to take the story in a variety of directions depending on the way their imagination works at any particular time.
You might choose to start with a king standing with a princess in a castle turret: the king is waving but to whom? And what about the young princess; she’s gazing in another direction – what are her thoughts?
Turn the piece over and there are three characters – a man, a woman (holding a hen) and a boy: are they parents and a son? Farm workers? The boy is smiling? Why might that be?
Take another piece – an inbetween one, maybe this … Ahh! Might it be an alternative version of Jack and the Beanstalk perhaps …

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or you might choose to send the boy off on his horse on a quest of some kind.

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There are all manner of fairytale characters he could encounter – a witch, dwarves (seven of them), a wolf clutching what one child thought was a shuttlecock but on closer investigation decided it’s a pepper pot (but could it be a sprinkler with something else inside?)

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Oh! and there’s this pink rabbit – large here …

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but not in other scenes: again he offers all manner of possibilities …
The witch’s house, the castle, the woods, a cave, an ice-ream van even, supply background for scenes to unfold as a story progresses.

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With such fairy tale motifs as a sword, a beanstalk, a basket of rosy apples users may want to stay close to the familiar or alternatively, let their imaginations run riot before finishing up with one of the half dozen endings available. Here are three of them …

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This is a great classroom resource that can be used across a wide age range from nursery up. Its potential depends only on the setting and of course to a certain extent, the creativity of the teacher and children using it. It is absolutely brilliant for developing speaking and listening skills, for building co-operative skills, for storytelling and writing, (maybe with an adult scribing) for drama, as starting points for art and craft in two or three dimensions – the possibilities are enormous.
If there are children learning English as an additional language in the group, an adult could tell a story pausing to ask the children to look for the appropriate card piece, gradually building a chain as the narrative progresses.
Alternatively a small group could be given several pieces each and sitting in a semi-circle, take turns to add a piece to the tale supplying the narrative to accompany it.
I could go on, but suffice it to say, the contents of this box cries out to be played with. ‘Narrative’ says Barbara Hardy, ‘is a primary act of mind’; here is a resource to get started with.

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There’s a Tiger in the Garden

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There’s a Tiger in the Garden
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What would your reaction be if somebody told you there was a tiger in the garden? Dismissive – pretty much the same as young Nora’s, I expect.
When Nora complains of boredom on a visit to her Grandma’s house, her Gran. suggests she go and play in the garden: “I thought I saw a tiger there earlier.” she tells her … “And dragonflies the size of birds and plants that can …” Reluctantly, accompanied by her pal Jeff the Giraffe, off goes Nora outside muttering to herself when Whoosh! something whizzes right past her nose …

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Slightly impressed by what she discovers but still dismissive of the whole nonsensical suggestion of cannibalistic plants, polar bears and tigers, our young heroine urges Jeff to go home but seemingly one of the plants has designs on a Jeff snack …

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Having duly rescued Jeff, Nora remains unconvinced about the polar bear and tiger until that is, she hears a rather gruff voice and sees …

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Nora’s grumpiness is by now almost equal to the polar bear’s (she’s had to accept him too of course) as she asserts “there is absolutely, definitely one hundred per cent no …

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That is only a part of this terrific tale; for the rest you’ll need to get hold of a copy of your own: it’s a delight from cover to cover. The dialogue is absolutely spot on: “Um … Tigers don’t live in gardens,” says Nora. “Are you real?” “I don’t know,” says the tiger. “Are you?” …

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I have an idea,” says the tiger. ”If you believe in me, then maybe I’ll be real.” “And if you believe in me,” says Nora, “then maybe I’ll be real too!” … helping to make this a wonderful read aloud. And, it’s also a great book for those teachers who use ‘Community of Enquiry’ approaches in their primary classrooms.
I love the way the lush vegetation of Grandma’s garden takes on an increasingly jungly appearance the more Nora forays among the plants – seemingly Nora’s imagination is taking over despite her scepticism; and the animals in those gorgeous paintings would surely convince the most ardent of disbelievers. Oh! And there’s a delicious final twist in the tale too.
With a debut picture book as good as this one, I can’t wait to see what Lizzy Stewart does next.

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This is NOT a Bedtime Story

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This is NOT a Bedtime Story
Will Mabbit and Fred Blunt
Puffin Books
If you like your bedtime stories to be of the calming, wind-down variety then you might find yourself in agreement with the title of this book – it’s certainly not one of those, thanks to the determined efforts of young Sophie. This lively miss has just persuaded her dad to share one more story before she beds down for the night and Dad has her chosen book ready for a short one. That’s his plan; but from the outset, his daughter is unimpressed and ready to jazz up what appears to be one of those cutesie pink narratives: here she goes …

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Pretty soon – the fifth spread to be precise –things look a whole lot more exciting with Pink Kitten wielding a lightsabre, a ‘real lion’ on the scene (introduced earlier),

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a dinosaur on the loose and Barney in grave danger.
By now Sophie has completely subverted the plot and everyone including Dad and the household have been sucked in to the excitement –

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Tension builds as Pink Kitten has to rev up her helicopter; with built-in rocket launcher it’s crucial if they want to save Barney, now in the clutches of The Robot Dinosaur.

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Looks as though they’re heading for annihilation ,which is where we’ll leave them and cut to

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where we see once again the various toys that have fuelled Sophie’s runaway imagination in this humdinger of a metafiction.
Like Sophie (or should that be author, Will Mabbit?), illustrator, Fred Blunt has given full rein to his imagination (not to mention placing his first picture book, Captain Falsebeard strategically on Sophie’s bedroom floor in the opening scene.)
Particularly effective is the contrast between the artistic style he uses for the saccharine Pink Kitten story at the outset, and the zany ‘real’ characters in ‘our’ story. That, and the way the Pink Kitten story morphs into anarchy with the unfolding adventure that Sophie (and Dad) become engulfed in. Maybe not a bedtime story, but certainly one not to be missed.

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Line, Shape, Form & Colour

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Do You See What I See?
Helen Borten
Flying Eye Books
Not so much a question, more an invitation to readers from Helen Borten, to look carefully at the world around them, to look at everything in terms of line, shape and form, and colour.
She also shows, through her poetic verbal imagery the way in which what and how we see influences how we feel: ‘Lines that bend in a zigzag way seem to crackle with excitement. They make me think of thunderstorms and jagged mountain peaks. I see huge jaws of a crocodile, wide open and bristling with jagged teeth, ready to snap shut.’

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There are also curves – swirls and twirls full of grace and beauty; and often adding texture …

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Lines are everywhere, in abundance – skinny or fat, timid or bold, wiggly or straight, hard or soft, shaggy or smooth, fast or slow – ‘Wherever I look I see lines making patterns of beauty. Can you see them too?’

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Moreover, lines can become shapes – circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and more; these too are all around us.

 

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Moving on to colours: are they hot like a fire, cold as a mountain stream, warm like the rays of the sun, or cool as a crispy lettuce leaf?

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What about this for wonderful visual/verbal evocation: ‘Colours can be pale and timid as a mouse – or dark and mysterious as the night.’

 

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Seeing and feeling are inextricably bound when it comes to art appreciation and understanding, and this book is an excellent starting point for discussion and then doing as the author urges, ‘… see the world as a great big painting, full of lines and shapes and colours to look at and enjoy.’
A modern classic in the 1960s, it’s great to see it back in print with Flying Eye: a real little treasure.

Line, shape and colour are also key elements of

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Apples and Robins
Lucie Félix
Chronicle Books
Here, every turn of the page changes one thing to another: circles to apples at summer’s end, out of reach apples that require a ladder for picking. For this rectangles are needed –short and long,
Triangles, ovals, parallelograms, squares both as blocks of colour or die-cuts are used to conjure up the robin,

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bird-house,

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the elements, and much more as we move through this cleverly conceived book from autumn through winter to the coming of spring to a garden in which stands the apple tree.
With something to surprise and delight readers on every new spread encountered,

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this is definitely one to revisit time and again, to listen to the author’s commentary as she takes us through the changing seasons and shows us how the scenes are constructed.

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Where My Feet Go & Lucky Ducky

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Where My Feet Go
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Where do your feet go? Probably nowhere near such exciting places as those belonging to the young panda narrator of this delightfully offbeat book. Panda’s feet, once they’re duly clad in socks – one green, the other purple – and inserted into moon boots, take him to wonderful places – one way

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or another …

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And that’s just in the morning.
Next comes a spot of foot resting and dinosaur feeding …

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After which the tootsies take to the skies, do a vanishing act – temporarily …

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and tramp through the desert.
Come night time and there’s underwater exploration, a couple of space sorties, and probably, more magical destinations are in the offing too …
Fuelled by that rich imagination of his, Panda, like many young children, makes everything an adventure and who better to visually document those adventures than Birgitta Sif.
Every one of her scenes is a gem. I love the overall quirkiness of her illustrations. I love the somewhat subdued colour palette and the glorious mismatch between what is said and what is shown. I love the way Panda’s internal imaginings are, on several occasions, allowed to wander expansively across an entire double spread. If only all young children, like this young panda were allowed such space/time to give free rein to their imaginations, rather than being made to do pointless tasks to ‘further their learning’; if only … there I go like Panda imagining …

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Lucky Ducky
Doreen Mulryan
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ducky is one of those characters for whom nothing seems to go right …

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so, determined to change things for himself, he sets off to the park in search of a four-leaf clover. But his search is soon interrupted, first by Pup offering a game of Frisbee, then by Piggy who invites him for a swim. No sooner has he restarted his hunt however, than he spies Bunny suggesting a picnic. By the time the sun is starting to go down, Ducky still hasn’t found that lucky 4-leaf clover but he does now appreciate just how lucky he really is. He’s discovered something much more important: the true value of good friends to share experiences with, no matter what …

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Suitably spirited, comic style illustrations document Ducky’s transition from unlucky to lucky Ducky.

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The Bear’s Surprise/ And then …

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The Bear’s Surprise
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
Spring has come to the forest and emerging from hibernation, Little Bear discovers Papa Bear missing. Intent on discovering the whereabouts of his parent off he goes down a ‘never-before-seen path’ as it twists and turns taking him through the cut-outs on every spread: down a dark hole into a cave wherein he spies an intriguing pipe …

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Then, emerging from the washing machine – for that was where the pipe led – he finds himself in a huge circus tent. There, on a very tiny bike, he spots Papa Bear performing a stunt before himself becoming part of the show …

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and eventually, courtesy of a cannon blast, landing atop a large nose belonging to none other than his very own Mama Bear.

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And she has a very special, very tiny surprise of her own to share with Little Bear and with delighted readers and listeners. Just the thing to complete a family balancing act

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before the whole family wends its way back home to the bear den and some well-earned sleep.
There is just so much to see in this book. Almost every spread is teeming with minute details of animals, circus performers and avid spectators. And just in case all this isn’t enough, Chaud drops in the odd character or two from Lewis Carroll along the way. This is definitely one to enjoy with a small group, or for sharing with an individual.

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And then …
Alborozo
Child’s Play
Determined to divert some of the attention away from her newly born baby brother, the young, birthday girl narrator of this marvellous story creates a portrait of the recent arrival, makes a special wish

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and then lets her imagination run riot … as she miniaturises her parents, deals with a squid emergency –

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with a little bit of help from a friendly doc once …

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or twice … ,

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allows herself another wish – it’s her birthday after all AND something of an emergency, before coming to a momentous decision concerning her baby sibling.

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Do I hear another story starting to emerge …
Enormous fun, this offbeat tale is a testament to the imagination  (storying in particular) and how it can help youngsters, indeed all of us, deal with those life experiences that challenge us from time to time.

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It’s Bedtime

 

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Julia Patton
Oxford University Press
I suspect many parents of a lively youngster will recognise Max: his batteries never seem to run down. So when it comes to almost bedtime, Max is brimming over with energy and has a whole lot of things on his ‘to do’ list. …”So if you can tidy away your toys, get into your clean pyjamas, and feed Fluffy, I’ll be back in five minutes.” his mum says. A simple enough request except that Max doesn’t have toys; what he has is an army engaged in Operation Castle Attack and stopping is not what Max wants to do.

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Out comes his thinking hat to help our young hero make a choice… sensible – tidying up; or naughty – keeping Mummy out of his bedroom; or crazy – going on an expedition to the South Pole? Max decides and that’s number one task he can tick – more or less …

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However he stlll has the clean pyjamas to get himself into and Fluffy is yet to receive his evening feed. How does Major Unstoppable Max deal with those other two tasks? Suffice it to say he needs a little assistance from that thinking hat, some very careful planning and a rather nifty move or two.
When his mum comes back she’s pretty impressed with young Max but as for following her instructions to “pop to the bathroom and brush your teeth.” – well um …

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A crazy tale of mayhem, making up your mind and an irrepressible imagination, this one’s sure to delight the countless Max’s of the world and make adults smile knowingly.

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Beep Beep Beep Time For Sleep
Claire Freedman and Richard Smythe
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It’s almost the end of the day and the road-building machines have been hard at work on the motorway: there’s the Backhoe loader, the digger, a tipper truck, a concrete mixer, a dump truck, a grader and a road roller all ready to wind down and take some well-earned rest. But first they need a bit of a clean up and then one by one the vehicles all line up in their yard under the silver moonlight for their nightly slumbers.

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Despite the onomatopoeic beeps, vrooms and pops, this rhyming text has a strangely soporific rhythm about it ,so once youngsters have had the opportunity to explore all the action in Richard Smythe’s busy scenes, (some have fold-out pages), they might well be ready to close their eyes and just listen one more time to the words and let the images drift into their sleepy heads and join the big machines in sweet dreams.

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Coming up next week:
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The Bear Report & Land Shark

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The Bear Report
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Homework – bor-ing!
That’s certainly the feeling of most children when faced with something as seemingly dull as Sophie is in this beautiful book. Hardly surprising then that her response is thus …

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That’s it, she thinks as sits down to watch TV. But then …

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The bear – Olafur by name – invites young Sophie to visit his Arctic home. And ignoring her indifferent “Um, no thinks. I’ve seen the pictures.” response, he whisks her away to a glorious world of ice-floes, snowy landscapes inhabited by whales, seals, Arctic foxes and snow rabbits; a place where she can fish with a stick, scramble across moss-covered rocks, birdwatch lying on her back – BRRR!

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and even slide down glaciers.
Inevitably such adventures make for sleepiness so the two snuggle up for some shut-eye but then suddenly find themselves struggling through the sea as the ice-floe melts. Then it’s Sophie’s turn to take charge as she dives beneath the waves calling – summoning – and help comes in the form of a Humpback Whale …

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And as darkness begins to fall, Olafur has one last surprise for Sophie …

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who now has a whole lot more to add to her homework assignment –thanks to that mind stretching adventure.
Inspired by Thyra Heder’s own Arctic visit, this truly impressive book really does, in comparatively few well-chosen words and stunning watercolour scenes in icy blue, grey and green shades shades, paint a breathtaking world while at the same time one hopes, sparking the imagination and engendering a fascination for wild places with their amazing flora and fauna. A delight through and through.
Perhaps homework can be worthwhile after all …

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Land Shark
Beth Ferry and Ben Mantle
Chronicle Books
Shark-obsessive, Bobby is determined to get his parents to buy him a pet shark for his birthday. What is he to do then, when the big day comes and he’s given a puppy? Certainly not fall immediately in love with her no matter how charming she might appear to be. This shark lover’s not for turning …

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Maybe then, the best solution is to sit by and observe as the pup begins to leave a trail of devastation throughout the house, chewing shoes, chair legs and stuffed toys and that’s before she starts on the neighbours’ property.

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Hold it there: didn’t Bobby’s original raison d’etre for that shark demand something like this: ‘frightful, bite-ful, delightful’? Couldn’t that equally well be applied to the most recent resident in Bobby’s household? But no: ‘Shark lovers can NOT be converted to dog lovers.” Not just yet but … then comes a bite to beat all bites and guess whose gnashers are responsible?

 

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That little canine beauty has chomped her way right into Bobby’s heart. QED
This slightly off-beat story, told with wit and charm, and great fun to read aloud is perfectly complemented by Ben Mantle’s deliciously dynamic visuals. Chock full of detail and delivered with aplomb, every character is beautifully realised, best of all being Bobby with his funky fin hairstyle: and what a range of perspectives Mantle uses.
There’s a wonderful ‘tail end’ too: one that leaves audiences free to unleash their own imaginations along with Bobby, as well as perhaps signaling follow-up possibilities. This reviewer says ‘More please!’

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Inclusivity with Champion Max

 

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Sport-mad Daniel enjoying the story

Max the Champion
Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln pbk
Sports mad, Max dreams day and night of sporting triumphs. When he dashes downstairs for his breakfast he’s running a race in his mind; when he dives into his cereal,

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it’s a swimming pool in is imagination; even his handwriting practice becomes an imaginary javelin event. Sport is always uppermost in his head and he always wins.
When his school participates in a sports tournament, Max’s dream of winning comes true: it’s the Champions Cup for his team. Max is a star!
It is only gradually that one becomes aware of just how many of Max’s class have special needs of one kind or another. Max himself wears glasses and uses an asthma inhaler and a hearing aid; his best pal is a wheelchair user, another child uses a leg brace, to name just some. And, on the classroom wall is a visual time-table.
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Outside in the street too we see people going about their daily life –a pair are signing, somebody has a guide dog and there’s tactile paving at the crossing.
None of this is mentioned and at first glance you could miss much of what is going on, so subtle is the presentation. Throughout, the emphasis is on what the children (and others) are able to do; they look as though they are enjoying themselves wholeheartedly. Max himself couldn’t be a better advocate for inclusivity; his passion is all – look at his still life in the art display.

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The authors have considerable expertise in special needs and are clearly passionate about inclusivity as their text demonstrates; not one word is spoken about any of the additional needs of the children (and adults) in the story. It’s left to Ros Asquith to show these in her humorous, detailed illustrations wherein Max’s flights of fancy are hilariously presented in thinks bubbles opposite the real events. Assuredly it’s a case of the more you look, the more you see: I love the visual word plays.
At least one copy of this fantastic book should be in every primary classroom.

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