Tag Archives: Katie Cotton

The Road Home / Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!

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The Road Home
Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What a beauty this is: Katie Cotton’s gentle cadences combine with picture book artist Sarah Jacoby’s atmospherically beautiful illustrations to create a memorable evocation of the approach of winter.
Fly with me to far away, / where sun still warms the ground. / For winter’s in the dying light/ and in that windswept sound.’ the mother bird says to her young one as they prepare to leave the safety of their nest and undertake a long, arduous flight together.

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It’s a flight that will take them and readers on a meditative journey as a mouse builds a nest for her little one and rabbits flee from wolves hunting their prey.

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Yes, nature is hard, brutal at times, and this is no cosy picture woven here from words and pictures; rather it’s a powerfully gripping contemplation of the contrasting harshness and stark beauty of life in the wild ‘This road is hard, this road is long.’ we’re told over and over, but at the same time it’s a reassuring one: ‘ … we are not alone. / For you are here, and I’m with you … / and so this road is home.
The impact of this book is slow-burning: it’s an impact that grows with each re-reading, with the words and landscapes lingering in the mind long after the covers have been closed.

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Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Susan Gal
Abrams Appleseed
The same partnership that brought us the lovely Abracadabra It’s Spring! has moved the focus to the autumn, as it’s called in the UK. It’s the time when the long summer days are already getting shorter, the temperature starts to drop, the leaves are just beginning to get those tinges of orange and gold and school opens once more. Everywhere are signs of change: seed pods burst scattering an abundance of feathery ‘clouds’…

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birds get ready to fly to warmer climes and the trees are glowing in a multitude of glorious colours.
In a short time, ‘Chilly gusts/ toss leaves around. / Shazam!‘ And a carpet of leaves covers the ground just waiting for children to frolic and kick them skywards. What joy!

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This is the season for squirrels to start laying away food for their winter store, there’s an abundance of delicious fruit to be picked and cooked …

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or hollowed and made into pumpkin faces. Some animals curl up in their burrows for a long sleep and we humans dig out our warmer clothes and delight in all the season brings…
All of this is celebrated in pictures verbal and visual. Eleven gate-folds open up to reveal Gal’s glorious extended scenes to delight the eye and complement O’Brien’s exciting rhyming text.

Celebrating Friendship: Albert’s Tree & Dear Bunny

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Albert’s Tree
Jenni Desmond
Walker Books
Even before I started reading this I knew I was in for a treat – the endpapers are beautiful. Essentially it’s a tale of friendship – an unusual friendship between a bear and his beloved tree. A tree that’s ‘Not too hard, or too soft, or too slippery, or too prickly.’ Oh! And there’s a spot of mistaken identity involved too.
When Albert bear wakes from his long sleep to a forest world of thawing snow and trickling water, he straightway heads for his tree – his favourite thing in the world. But something isn’t quite right; it’s not the perfect peaceful place of before: Albert’s tree is crying. Unable to stop it himself, a bemused Albert seeks the assistance of fellow woodland animals, first Rabbit and then Caribou. Both offer personal suggestions but what makes a rabbit or a caribou happy …

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doesn’t seem to work for the tree.

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Finally, alone again – the others have left on account of the continual wailing – Albert has one more try; he talks to the tree, gently asking what is wrong. What happens next gives him something of a surprise. But ultimately it’s a surprise that will make his tree doubly perfect and the friendship twice as special …

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This is a funny, wonderfully warm tale with a huggable main character, gorgeous, richly coloured mixed media illustrations; and a text that cries out for audience participation of the “WAA WAAAA” kind and with some delicious dialogue, is a delight to read aloud. It’s perfect for sharing either one to one or with a large group.

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Dear Bunny
Katie Cotton and Blanca Gómez
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
A little girl writes a ‘Dear Bunny’ letter in response to the question her toy rabbit has asked her: “What’s your favourite thing in the world?” She tells him of all the things that make him so special; things like finding her favourite socks and cooling her porridge.
Whatever the weather, child and Bunny play together and share happy times …

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sometimes just sitting and being together is all that’s needed.

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There are places they visit together and sometimes Bunny helps his friend feel brave like him but sometimes instead of laughing together, they share moments of sadness.
The little girl loves to look at the stars: “Someday we will count them all!” she tells Bunny – maybe that’s her favourite thing or perhaps it’s story time (Bunny’s stories bring good dreams).

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Really though, there’s no doubt “my favourite thing in the world is YOU!” she concludes.
A gentle celebration of the way young children delight being in the moment, enjoying the everyday things of the world, and even more so when you have a special friend to share in them. The beautifully patterned, collage style illustrations have a simple charm to them too and I love the subtle colour palette. A lovely book to share with one child or a small group who might be moved to write their own ‘Dear Bunny’ style letters.

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Counting Lions & Actual Size

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Counting Lions
Katie Cotton and Stephen Walton
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Right from the amazing cover image I was blown away by this one. What strikes you first about this large format book is the stunning, incredibly life-like charcoal drawings of the ten animal species portrayed, so accurate and detailed are they that at first glance one could almost think they’re photos.
Starting with One lion and finishing with Ten zebras …

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this is of course a counting book but it’s so much more. Both text and pictures radiate a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the natural world.
Katie Cotton’s poetic descriptions capture verbally the creatures’ physicality and what it might be like for each of the animals in the wild at particular times in their lives so ‘Two gorillas / breathe the same breath./ The child was born a tiny, two-kilo thing of hair and bone and not much else, / so the other keeps him close./ For two or three years, they clasp each other,/ one creature, while he grows and grows and grows./ Later, as he climbs the trees alone,/ he may forget they were once/ two together./ Two gorillas.

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Many of the animals portrayed are threatened species:

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Some of the descriptions themselves mention the animal’s endangeredness, for instance “Does she know they are too few?/ What future is there for/ these four fighters?/ Four tigers.’
In ‘About the animals’ notes at the end of the book, Virginia McKenna provides additional information about each animal featured including its conservation status.

Readers also get right close up to the animals in:

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actual size
Steve Jenkins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Eighteen creatures great and small feature in this engaging book that introduces readers to a wide variety of fauna from insects to mammals although in some instances Steve Jenkins shows only a part of the animal in his layered collage style illustrations. Alongside each of these is a descriptive sentence giving additional facts such as body height and weight.
Eyes figure quite prominently in several of the spreads and in one instance virtually all we get is an enormous squid eye 30cm across staring up from the page;

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but we also get quite close up to that of the Alaskan Brown Bear, the largest bird – an ostrich, and one belonging to the salt water crocodile. Here however, thanks to a fold out, our view is expanded to take in its awesome jaws.

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In a spread where we are shown a gorilla hand and that of the pygmy mouse lemur one’s instinct is to hold one’s own hand up against the former (children will want to do likewise) and to cover completely (if you’re an adult) the latter.

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If you missed out on the original hardcover version, get hold of this new paperback edition for your primary classroom or school library.

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Starting with a Fairy Tale …

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Cinderella’s Big Day
Katie Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Templar Publishing
It’s just one week before the wedding of Prince Charlie and Cinderella when a letter arrives on the royal breakfast table addressed to the King and Queen: a letter from Charlie, informing Their Most Marvellous Majesties that the ring he’s due to place on Cinderella’s finger has gone missing. Immediately the King’s suspicion falls on the ugly sisters. But is he right? There follow five further letters through which much of the narrative detail unfolds. The wedding does take place though with some notable absentees and all is made clear why through the final communication fired off by Cinders herself as she relaxes happily on her honeymoon – that and …

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Billed as ‘After Happily Ever After” I suspect this amusing novelty book is the first of a new series. Sheena Dempsey has used a palette of soft colours to create her scenes. Scenes that contain a mixture of contemporary items such as Cinderella’s heart shaped sunglasses, wry details like the mouse’s tail extending round the skin lotion bottle,

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as well as the more traditional fairytale paraphernalia. Children will particularly love the wedding fold-out scene that is crammed with characters from traditional tales and nursery rhymes.

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How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel
Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
On the top floor of an inner city tower block Rapunzel languishes, ignoring callers: the milkman, the postman bearing a letter, the baker woman, Rapunzel’s aunt with dinner, even a prince bearing chocs and red roses.

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All exhort, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please let down your hair.” But, receiving no response, and with the lift out of order, one by one they continue on their way. Later though, concerned on account of her lack of food, they have a change of heart and after a discussion, all (except the prince who is never seen again) decide to return to make amends. Back they go and up, up to the sixteenth floor where a hearty meal is cooked for Rapunzel and the letter duly delivered. The food restores colour to her cheeks but it’s the contents of the letter that really puts a smile on her face.
Rapunzel leapt up and she shouted with glee:
“I’ve got a new job at the library!”

From then on our heroine is transformed: no longer does she sit idly waiting to be wooed; she spends her time enthusing about books at work and educating herself when she gets home – courtesy of LIBRARY BOOKS – what else?
Told through a longish, zingy, rhyming text and bold illustrations that are full of funny details and mischievous touches such as the crow tugging at a tress of Rapunzel’s wayward auburn hair, not to mention cats, dogs and birds galore.
A great plug for libraries and the delights of books and a great picture book debut for illustrator, Rebecca Ashdown.

Also told in jaunty rhyme is:

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Princess Sleepyhead and the Night-Night Bear
Peter Bently and Laura Ellen Anderson
Orchard Books
Night has fallen over the kingdom; in the castle all are slumbering, all that is except one: Princess Sleephead is wide awake. But kindly Owl at her window is determined to help so off he flies, returning soon with Fox and Mouse. Their sleep-inducing ideas are great fun but very energetic and only serve to wake her further. Owl however has promised three friends so who is missing? Ah! It’s Bartholomew Brownfur-Brown – a large friendly creature – aka the Sleepytime Ted clutching a collection of bedtime fairy tales:

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just the thing to cure the princess’s insomnia.
Exuberant illustrations littered with the princess’s ephemera, endearing animal characters and some enchanting sleepy-time scenes and a text that is a pleasure to read aloud, are the main ingredients of this fairy tale romp.

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SHHH!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
It’s great to see this book reissued; my original hardback copy was read to destruction. Loosely based on Jack and the Beanstalk, the manner in which this book draws readers in is just superb. With the entreaty to “Come inside” we enter the giant’s castle wherein we view and creep past, a huge-bellied sleeping mouse, a slumbering cat – enormous, a broody hen, the giant’s wife busy cooking dinner and then, the snoring giant.
Distorted perspectives, grisly domestic details such as an axe to slice the bread and eyeballs in the stew pot, retrospective flaps so readers can check whether those they crept past have been disturbed – reassuring until the final one, after which it’s a case of doing what we are told …

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Not for long though, I can guarantee there will be cries of “read it again” straightaway.

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Bedtime Bookshelf

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Zoom Zoom Zoom
Katherina Manolessou
Macmillan Children’s Books
Unable to sleep in their jungly environment, Bird and Monkey fly off, Zoom Zoom Zoom on a night-time lunar excursion. Their landing brings them face to face with a friendly alien who invites them aboard his spaceship. On the way they count five glowing orange meteors, four pink alien arms, join in a race of three green moon buggies,

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climb two yellow ladders and press one red button on the spaceship to blast them off back home to earth and finally, to sleep.
Taking a popular children’s song as her starting point Katerina Manolessou has created a glowing debut picture book. With its combination of superb design, arresting screen printed illustrations in vibrant colours, endearing characters, counting opportunities and a well-loved song, this is sure to become a firm favourite with early years audiences as well as parents and youngsters at bedtime.
I look forward to seeing more from this promising artist.
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Bing Bed Time
Ted Dewan
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
Toddler bedtime Bing style is going fairly smoothly despite some inevitable procrastinations. With potty time postponed,

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teeth brushed and bath time over, it’s time to get into some pyjamas. choose a story and snuggle up with Flop. But where is Flop? Under the covers? Playing hide and seek? Outside in the dark even? Nope. Bing is distraught but what’s that protruding from under the bed?
With the pair safely tucked in, it’s time to turn out the big light. But now, where is Bing? – back on his potty to do the necessary – all by himself. Finally both Bing and Flop are safely snuggled up and sound asleep.
First published over a decade ago, this reissue is sure to delight a new generation of tinies who will be entertained by the endearing Bing and his every day activities. Dewan’s bold, bright, uncluttered illustrations are immediately engaging and have sufficient detail to hold the attention of the very young.
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Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard
Steve Cole and Bruce Ingman
Jonathan Cape pbk
The New Babysitter is having a very hard time with Joe and Ellie who simply refuse to stay in bed for more than a few minutes.She threatens all manner of things such as the sleep ray zapping robot and the toy-munching monster but the children merely laugh. Refusing to be beaten however, the babysitter has one final weapon in her armoury. Could she, would she, should she let that leopard loose? Maybe not, but GROWL… Oh! What’s that cuddly, snuggly sleep-inducing sweetie doing in the bedroom… Snore… silence.
No doubt every parent and babysitter would welcome a leopard like the one in Cole and Ingman’s amusing tale with its satisfying, somewhat surprising ending. Ingman’s illustrations have a slightly retro feel to them. His seemingly flattened images, especially of the characters, bring to mind the cut out paper people that children love to create and play with in their own stories.

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It is this child-like innocence that make his work such a delight.
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Princess Stay Awake
Giles Paley-Phillips and Adriana J. Puglisi
Maverick Arts Publishing pbk
No matter what her parents do, feisty young Princess Layla just refuses to go to sleep. They call in all manner of people to help but none can send her off to the land of nod and neither can the new, specially made, extra snug bed. Indeed it has the opposite effect making a splendid launch pad for all manner of leaping and bouncing activities.

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Thoroughly exhausted, the Queen and King decide to call upon Grandma for assistance. Her tactics are somewhat different; she requests that Layla stays awake. Confusing for Princess Stay Awake perhaps, but what is that we see? Droopy eyelids and floppy limbs, aaahhh… Grandmas do know best.
Perhaps bedtime isn’t the best time to share Paley-Phillips jaunty rhyming story with youngsters; they may well decide to try some of Princess Layla’s delaying mischief.
Puglisi’s bright, jolly pictures are sure to bring a smile to young stay awakes (and there are plenty of those); how angelic that princess looks as she proceeds to exhaust all those called in to tire her out.
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So Cosy
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books
A snuggle cumulative style begins when Dog curls up in his comfy basket. Before long he has been joined by Goose, Cat, several rabbits, a Mummy Bear and her baby, Goat, Snake and even Elephant all wanting to cosy up. Contentment reigns supreme but then patter, patter, patter, along Mouse comes with his tickly feet onto the tip of Elephant’s trunk. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAA … ”

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The enormous sneeze sends the animals tumbling leaving the basket to its rightful owner and just one very small visitor really cosy.
Perfectly pitched for the very young. An absolute delight: simply irresistible.
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Ten Monsters in the Bed
Katie Cotton and Aaron Bleecha
Templar Publishing
‘ TEN NOISY MONSTERS
Were tucked up face-to-face.
We’re really very squashed,” they said.
“We need a bit more space.” ‘
So begins a wonderfully anarchic version of the monster countdown rhyme wherein we encounter a snoring Sleepy, a burping Belchy, a screaming Scaredy, a snot dripping Sneezy, a scratchy flea-ridden Itchy, a snack munching Greedy, a Hiccupy, a dribbling Slurpy, a room-shaking Farty and a boinging, bouncing Giggly as each is jettisoned from the top bunk.

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But, by the time they are all piled up on top of one another on the floor, the squash is  worse than ever. All this action creates havoc for the long-suffering solo occupant of the lower bunk who is forced to give up his bedtime reading and take shelter under the bedclothes.
I’d strongly advise you not to read this at bedtime as an initial sharing is certain to result in repeated demands of ‘read it again’. You could well be there for some time especially as the noises generated by the invitation to press each evicted monster’s white button results in an appropriate sound and further hilarity. A sure fire winner!

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Dylan is disgusted by the yucky monsters

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