Tag Archives: Macmillan Children’s Books

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
The ladybird is holidaying in London and doing a spot of sightseeing, visiting the usual tourist destinations. One place of particular interest is the zoo which is full of noisy animals, and it’s as well the little creature isn’t giving her sense organs a holiday for there, she spies two familiar faces, those of Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh. As usual they’re up to no good: she overhears their conversation about kidnapping Monkey Joe and then using him to scale the palace wall and steal the royal crown while the Queen is fast asleep.

The other animals are informed of the dastardly plot and are fearful of the safety of their monkey friend.
Before you can say up and away, the ladybird has done just that and flown off to communicate her idea to Willow and Holly, the Queen’s two corgis.

Come nightfall, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len put their plan into action: they release Monkey, give him a swag bag and lead him to carry out the robbery.

Little do they know though, that another plan has already been set in motion: a plan hatched between the ladybird and the two corgis; a plan involving a very large number of bones from the royal coffers …
The winning Donaldson/Monks team does it again: like its predecessors, the ladybird’s third adventure is certain to be a crowd pleaser. Donaldson’s sure-footed rhyming narrative in combination with Monks’ sparkle-spangled spreads is a recipe for success. The dastardly twosome, Len and Hugh, look about as wonderfully un-roguish as ever they could in her bold, engaging collage-style scenes.

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Mouse’s Big Day / All Birds Have Anxiety / Mouse and the Storm

Mouse’s Big Day
Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Mouse is going to school for the very first time and even before leaving home, she’s decided it’s not for her. Her dawdling tactics don’t work, nor does her “I don’t want to” response to all Mummy mouse’s encouraging remarks; finally she’s left at Twit Twoo School in the safe hands of teacher, Miss Hoot.

She has an exciting project for her class: “… go out and find something. Something special. Maybe something only you can find.
Mouse reluctantly joins her classmates all of whom thoroughly enjoy rummaging, upturning rocks, digging and pond peering, although she’s too shy to be anything but an onlooker. While the others are busy contemplating their findings …

Mouse vanishes. Miss Hoot knows just where to look for her though, and eventually a kindly paw proffered by Mole encourages Mouse to emerge from her hiding place and follow the others back indoors.
There she makes a series of discoveries that ultimately lead her to a very important realisation. School is an exciting place after all and she cannot wait for tomorrow.
Populated by adorable animal characters, Mouse’s school is an inviting place and Lydia Monks’ heart-warming story of her first day gets right to the heart of how the less outgoing among 4 year olds are likely to feel on their ‘Big Day’. This is just right to share with a nursery and preschool groups, or individuals, in the lead up to starting school.
Further reassurance about coping with tricky situations comes in:

All Birds Have Anxiety
Kathy Hoopman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Statistics show that more and more children have anxiety problems, often starting at a young age. I’ve talked about educational issues that I feel are to a large degree responsible in other reviews so will just say that here is a photographic picture book that will help children of all ages better understand the condition.
By populating it with birds of all kinds with appealing faces,

and in amusing poses,

the author gives a serious topic just the right degree of lightness and gentle humour.
Anxiety in all its forms is discussed including how stress can effect everyday activities – ‘Everyday jobs, like combing hair, changing clothes or making decisions are too much to think about ’; its possible causes – ‘it often runs in families’; how to deal with it: ‘Being with those who listen to us and accept us makes a world of difference.’ and ‘Exercise, plenty of sunshine and a healthy diet are all a huge help.’ for instance.
Unthreatening, fun and enormously helpful for children of all ages, whether they suffer from anxiety or just want to understand it better in others.
For educators and those they have dealings with, be that in school, at home or in another setting.
Anxiety prone youngsters will benefit from some therapeutic reflexology as in:

Mouse and the Storm
Susan Quayle, illustrated by Melissa Muldoon
Singing Dragon
Reflexologist, complementary therapist and developer of The Children’s Reflexology Programme follows The Mouse’s House with a third story intended, this time for reflexology on a child’s hands.
Using Mouse and the five other animal characters to represent reflex areas of the hand, Quayle weaves a charming rhyming story to accompany the sessions of hand reflexology. It’s especially designed for use with young children, in particular those who have anxieties be they associated with ASD, new experiences, or another condition where calming treatments are required.
With hand instructions at the top of each left hand page and a charmingly quirky illustration on the right, adults can read the story of what happens when the animals awake to discover a storm scattered them far from the comfort of their own homes

while applying the gentle movements to the young recipient’s hands.
Since no prior reflexology experience is needed, this is a book for any parent of an anxious young child to add to the family bookshelf.

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The Everywhere Bear

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The Everywhere Bear
Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Those of us who work with young children have probably had at some time, a travelling ted or other soft toy that either went home in a storysack, with each child in turn, together with a book for drawing/writing their experiences; or one that accompanied individual pupils when they went away on holiday, again accompanied by a diary or similar for photos/notes, tickets and other things of interest to be added, and shared on their return. I recall a lurid pink one named Roamin’ Ted that went to places as varied as rural Punjab, Dubai, Disney Land Florida and Canada. (Yes, in term time; but that was the whole point of the book.)
This story, penned by Julia Donaldson, is one of the former kind and he belongs to the pupils of Class One. Their arrangement is that each child in turn takes him home on a Friday and brings him back on the following Monday, regaling his experiences to the rest of the class.

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He certainly has all manner of adventures – bus rides, horse riding, tasting lots of new foods; he becomes a pirate, a king and tries some active pursuits such as soccer, handstands and den making. In fact there aren’t many things he doesn’t experience, hence his name.
One rainy day though, while in Matt’s care, The Everywhere Bear accidentally escapes into the wide world …

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is washed down a drain and ends up on the high seas.

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Will Class One ever see their favourite roving bear again? And, if so, where will he turn up?
This is a thoroughly engaging book for a multitude of reasons; not least Rebecca Cobb’s wonderfully warm illustrations. Packed with so many captivating details to pore over, adult readers will want to give listeners plenty of opportunities to explore each spread after they’ve heard the story all through; and, as one would expect, Julia Donaldson’s rhyming tale is sheer pleasure to read aloud; and it pays homage to a very important place which is sadly under threat throughout the country.

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Sproutzilla vs.Christmas / Santa Claude

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

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

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

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Santa Claude

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

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

Hooray for Independent Thinkers: Little Monkey & Larry Lemming

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Little Monkey
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
Size, or rather lack of it, is a big issue for one particular little Monkey, so much so that one day, she comes to a decision – a BIG decision. She won’t be left out any longer; “I will climb to the top of the tallest tree,” she announces and off she goes through the jungle to prove herself.

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What she’s blissfully unaware of as she navigates the deep dangerous river and the tricky path is that although she notices lots of little things doing lots of amazing things …

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she’s not the only one undertaking this journey …
Eventually Monkey reaches her destination: that tallest tree in the jungle and up she goes, higher and higher, until finally she can see the world stretching out below her. By now you’ll have your audience wriggling on their bums crying out to the gallant little creature and even more so, as she stands atop that palm viewing all that’s before her.

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Without being a total story-spoiler I won’t reveal what happens thereafter, but suffice it to say a certain small Monkey feels very proud of herself, after all, ‘ … the smaller you are, the larger your adventures can be.’
It’s definitely a case of showing, not telling being the essence of this deliciously funny tale. Altés comic choreography means that every turn of the page brings something new to giggle over; and the synergy between words and illustrations is terrific.

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Leaping Lemmings!
John Briggs and Nicola Slater
Sterling Children’s Books
Can you tell these lemmings apart?’ Readers are drawn in from the start by Briggs’ opening question to this story. He continues, ‘No? That’s because all lemmings look alike, sound alike, and act alike.’ Not one hundred per cent accurate: meet the wonderfully divergent Larry. Larry is a thinker: he knows he doesn’t fit in with the lemmings crowd …

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and he certainly has no intention of following his fellow lemmings off the edge of a cliff.
Can he avert disaster though, when after abortive attempts to live with the seals, the puffins and the polar bears, he returns home to find the lemmings about to make that fateful leap? Fortunately yes, and as for becoming independent thinkers … job done!

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Wonderfully whimsical and with important themes of thinking for yourself and daring to be different, this book deserves to be shared widely; it certainly offers teachers a great opportunity for discussion, as well as food for thought, not only among the children.
Nicola Slater’s deliciously witty, minimalist artwork is a terrific complement to Briggs’ gently humorous text. As a divergent thinker myself, I whole-heartedly applaud the independently-minded Larry, and of course, his creators.

The Darkest Dark / Ludwig the Space Dog

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The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers
Macmillan Children’s Books
The dark is for dreams – and morning is for making them come true.’ So says Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut on whose childhood this book is based. Herein we meet him as a boy, a boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut, flying to the moon or Mars.
Chris however, was afraid of the dark. For him the darkness that filled his bedroom when the lights were turned out was a darkness filled with aliens, very scary aliens.

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One particular night, he has to overcome his fears and sleep in his own bed or miss the opportunity to visit a neighbour’s house the following evening to view the Apollo 11 lunar landing. So on the night of July 20th 1969, as he watches the TV (the only one on their island home) and sees the events unfolding, he realises just how dark space is – ‘the darkest dark ever’.
This is a turning point for the would-be astronaut. Chris has lost his fear and for the very first time he appreciates ‘the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.’ And in that dark your dreams await, dreams that can become your life, not tomorrow morning but some time …
The illustrators of this story really bring out both the mystery of darkness and the depth of young Chris’s nyctophobia when everything around him takes on a brooding, sinister appearance …

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Certainly this is an inspiring story to share with youngsters who fear the dark, as well as those with an interest in space, whether or not they aspire to become astronauts: one never knows. Stories can generate dreams and you’ve read what Chris Hadfield has to say about those …
There’s more for space lovers in

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Ludwig the Space Dog
Henning Löhlein
Templar Publishing
I guess if I had to choose an alternative world in which to live, I’d be pretty happy with the one wherein Ludwig and his five friends reside. It’s a world of books no less and unsurprisingly Ludwig loves to read, especially books about space. These books – as books generally do – generate dreams and ideas; and for Ludwig those ideas are about space and flying.
Try as he might though, Ludwig just cannot stay in the air for more than a very short time;

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but then something unexpected crash lands right before his eyes. From that something steps its pilot – a space explorer who is in urgent need of assistance. And that is the starting point for a whole new life for Ludwig. Having fixed the rocket’s engine, he accepts the explorer’s invitation and finally takes flight on an amazing exploration of space.
Children can enjoy entering the bookish world of Ludwig and his friends, and joining the dog on his space adventure through the 3D glasses provided in the pocket inside the book’s front cover.
I love those quirky collage style illustrations of Henning Löhlein, which, even without the glasses, have in places, a three-dimensional look.

Pattan’s Pumpkin / Prince Ribbit

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Pattan’s Pumpkin
Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac
Otter-Barry Books
Subtitled ‘An India Flood Story’ it seemed highly appropriate to be opening the parcel containing this book on the day of my return from a trip to India during a very wet monsoon season. Essentially it is a retelling of a tale from the Irular tribe of the southern state of Kerala. It relates how a man called Pattan finds and nurtures an ailing plant …

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until it grows and thrives becoming an enormous pumpkin (a bottle gourd in the original). One day Pattan awakes to a furious storm raging outside his hut and so worried is he about the fate of the animals and plants that he lays awake all the next night: he knows he and his wife must leave their mountain home but how can they take so many creatures with them? Looking out through his window he sees the pumpkin lit up by lightning and an idea strikes him. Next morning he grabs his axe and sets to work on the pumpkin, hollowing it from within.

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Eventually all is ready and having rolled down the mountain with animals and humans inside, the pumpkin sails off on the rushing river. Having sailed for many nights and days, the pumpkin and contents reach the plains and out come Pattan, his wife, Kanni, and all the animals safe and ready to continue their lives …
Frané Lessac’s naïve style illustrations are a kaleidoscope of colour and the playful expressions of the animals inject humour into the straightforward, direct narrative. A must for primary classrooms; why not try sharing it around harvest time.

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Prince Ribbit
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
The author/artist team in this funny picture book put a fresh spin on the traditional Frog Prince fairy tale. The frog herein is a cunning fellow who happens to overhear a conversation between Princess Martha and her sisters. Arabella and Lucinda who have just read the story of the Princess and the Frog. The latter two are romantic tale enthusiasts whereas Martha prefers facts and real frogs to fairy tales and what’s more she’s heard a real frog croaking in the royal pool.
Now all the while, a clever little frog has been listening to the princesses discussing fairy tales, in particular those featuring princes; indeed a princely kind of life-style has great appeal for him, and this gives him an idea. The thing is he needs to convince those princesses that he is indeed Prince Ribbit and then maybe, he’ll come in for some right royal treatment. He’s certainly pretty determined but Princess Martha is going to take a lot of convincing …

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The others however are ready to indulge …

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So who is right? There’s one point that all parties make use of, including Prince Ribbit but can the answer really lie in one of those books …

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Or is there another, more practical way to find out for sure: “True Love’s Kiss” no less.
Author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Polly Bernatene bring their own brands of magic to this spin on the classic Frog Prince fairy tale. The illustrations are vibrant, funny and full of dotty details. Young audiences will delight in spotting all the visitors from other classic tales in this scene …

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Emmett’s telling is also full of fun and I particularly like the use of “Just because it’s in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s true.” by the various characters. Wise words indeed.

Mix-Ups & Disguises

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The Hippopandamouse
Jools Bentley
Macmillan Children’s Books
Things are all of a tizz at Fluffey’s Fine Toys as the workers prepare for a royal visit: the princess is coming and everything has to be perfect. Any toys that don’t pass muster are consigned to the dreaded unstitcher…

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In all the panic, one hippopotamus is put on the wrong table and ends up looking thus:

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The resulting mistake goes un-noticed by the fussy Miss Fluffey who is eager to usher in Princess Flo and show her all the wonderful toys. The young lady show polite interest but is unimpressed until she spies the mistake. Miss Fluffey orders its instant withdrawal and off it’s sent to the dreaded unstitcher. Much to the displeasure of one small royal miss who is determined to spend her pocket money on just one very special item. But can that machine be stopped in time to save that very special item from destruction …
Mistake he might be, but the Hippopandamouse is a winner with youngsters be they or be they not princesses.

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Jools Bentley’s creation demonstrates beautifully that we don’t need to be perfect to be lovable; that and the fact that everybody needs a break from time to time, no matter how important the job being worked on.

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How to Hide a Lion at School
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
What do you do when your best pal and companion isn’t allowed to go with you to the place you spend a great deal of time in – school? At first, Iris does nothing – there’s no need: her lion follows her there every single day, sneaks in and does his best to merge in but unsurprisingly Iris’s teacher, Miss Holland (like most teachers) has eyes in the back of her head and sends him packing. That works when the children are staying put in school but there comes a day when the class is off on a school trip. Moreover, their mode of transport just happens to be the very bus upon which Iris’s lion languishes to watch the goings on in the playground. So, with class aboard off speeds said bus, lion atop – to the museum.
What a splendid hiding place this turns out to be with all those fascinating exhibits.

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Nobody, not even Iris notices him until, they reach the ancient Egyptian room. Here, Iris has to do some quick thinking, and a whole lot of loo roll snitching, in order to attempt a disguise.

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It’s pretty effective until one of the museum visitors has a touch of the tickly noses … and that’s when the plan starts to unravel …
What happens thereafter really puts the lion’s thinking skills to the test but suffice it to say that a certain large-maned creature ends up as hero of the hour …

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and earns himself a new job to boot.
As with previous adventures of the duo, this one is lots of fun. If you’ve not met Iris and her friendly lion previously you can start here, after which I suspect you’ll want to go back and get hold of the two books How to Hide a Lion and How to Hide a Lion from Grandma.

The Shrew That Flew/ The Dragon & the Nibblesome Knight

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The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Told through faultless rhyme – no easy matter despite Elli making it appear so – (with plenty of repetition, and sprinklings of onomatopoeia (FLASHes SPLASHes, FLAPs and CLAPs etc.) and awesome visuals – but one expects no less from Benji Davies – this is a stupendous offering. But, it’s the interaction of text and illustrations that makes the whole thing such a bobby dazzler of a book.
The tale revolves around Dram (love that name), an infant dragon, ejected from the Dragons of Dread family nest to search for ‘dribblesome, nibblesome, knobble-kneed knights.’

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In other words what he has to do is stand on his own feet, or rather fly with his own wings, and get his teeth and claws into a nibblesome knight. However that’s not quite what happens due to a prevailing wind – a looping, curling gale no less – that whisks young Dram ‘away to the End of the World’ depositing him unceremoniously into a lake beside which sits a diminutive knight. Said knight, James, takes the “duckie” under his wing …

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tending to his wounds and generally ministering to his injuries and sore parts,

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not to mention supplying nourishment for both Dram’s body and mind …

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The infant dragon however hasn’t forgotten his nibblesome knight procurement mission, so what will transpire when finally the dreadful realization dawns – that his new best friend is in fact, nothing less than a knight?

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Yes, there are faint echoes of Donaldson’s Zog here, but that is not to detract from its brilliance: if you want to do your bit to make children into life-long book lovers, there’s no doubt this is a MUST have book.

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Another Red Reading Hub favourite creative partnership is responsible for :

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The Shrew that Flew
Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo
Faber & Faber
This is the third wonderful ‘Harry & Lil Story’ and they just seem to get better and better. In this adventure, Candy Stripe Lil and Harry the Hog (along with the other creatures on Piggyback Hill) having received this invitation …

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are busy preparing for Badger’s do. It’s already 2pm; Harry has donned his spotty, dotty, pointy, flat titfa’ and Lil’s is still drying out on the washing line. Until that is, along comes a sudden gust of wind that whisks the object right up onto the roof.

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Disaster! There follows an amazing sequence of hat-retrieving attempts involving a brolly,

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a portable fan and all manner of other discarded ephemera retrieved from the shed.

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But can they manage to get the thing down and onto Lil’s head in time for the party? It’s certainly not a simple task, but however formidable it might be, Lil is the eternal optimist (Oh Lil we need you NOW!). “NEVER SAY NEVERis her maxim and with a bit of timely assistance from another of the party goers …

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it looks as though, they might, just might, be successful …

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Glorious, totally uplifting, a wonderful celebration of friendship and perseverance; Harry & Lil are eternally endearing. Eunyoung Seo’s delectable scenes, coupled with Julia Copus’ tongue-tingling rhyming text – here’s a sample
Lil gripped very tight; the umbrella bent
   and trembled,
         then tugged,
               then – whoosh! – up she went!
And floated off – past the sycamore stump …
are guaranteed to bring joy to listeners and readers aloud, at every turn of the page. Spectacular!

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Use your local bookshop

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The Detective Dog

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The Detective Dog
Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie
Macmillan Children’s Books
There once was a dog with a keen sense of smell.
She was known far and wide as Detective Dog Nell.
Sniff, sniff, sniff. Time after time,
Nell the Detective solved crime after crime.’

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but this is much more than a crime-solver, which we’ll discover as the story progresses and we meet some of the other characters, in particular her scatty carer, six-year–old Peter and on a particular weekday, (Nell doesn’t do detecting on that day of the week: she devotes Mondays to hearing children read at Peter’s school) his classmates and teacher …

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The smells of the school delight Nell, in particular that of the books. But then, one Monday, the aroma emanating from the school isn’t quite right: something seems to be different. And it is. Mr Jones is distraught: all the books have gone missing.
Immediately Nell is hot on the trail, following her nose out the school, through the town …

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and out into the countryside. And it’s there the thief is unmasked …

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I know I’ve been bad. … I only meant to borrow. I was planning to give all the books back tomorrow.” is his explanation. Can you guess where this one’s going yet? Nell certainly knows … and off everyone races at full pelt right back to town and into …

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Ted cannot believe his eyes at the sight of such wonders, enrols himself immediately and all ends happily with the school books returned to their rightful place just waiting for those regular Monday visits by Detective Dog Nell. And there’s a new story awaiting her there too …
Nell knows best! Long may she continue, but more importantly, long may that particular library and all our libraries continue – what a wonderful ode to our precious libraries this is. It’s also a brilliant new partnership between two amazing talents.

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Little Red

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Little Red
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots
Ever since seeing the publisher’s press notices about this one last year I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival and boy was it worth the wait. That wolf is a wolf to beat all wolves,

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but not Little Red Riding Hood: wait I’m getting ahead of myself here. First off, let’s meet, clad as one would expect, the young miss, as she’s about to set off in the usual way through the woods to visit her poorly Grandma.

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Pretty soon, she’s accosted by this nosy creature demanding to know where she’s going; but is she bothered by the fearsome beast? No way! She replies politely and proceeds on her journey leaving wolfie behind with a plan in his tricky mind …

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Behind initially, but the cunning beast knows a shortcut so he hot foots it to Grandma’s making short work of her before Little Red arrives, donning her night attire and adopting what he hopes is a suitably Grandmotherly pose in her bed. ‘Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.’
There’s no fooling our young heroine though; she immediately sees through his disguise and she too makes a plan. Then, playing along with all the usual “Oh Grandma! What big ears you have” etc. chat,

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and armed with a certain sharp implement she just happens to have picked up along the way, she calmly executes her own plan and off she goes back home to mum.

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I simply love the way the young heroine grabs hold of the story and subverts it to her own ends in Bethan Woollvin’s stonkingly brilliant debut picture book. The comic timing is spot on in this black comedy recreation of the nursery favourite making it one that will appeal to anyone familiar with the traditional story. Those arresting visuals will remain in the mind long, long after the book has been closed. Bethan’s narrative voice is pitch perfect and her title choice perfectly summarises her judicious use of colour in this otherwise black and white delight. Little Red will, I suspect, be much read.

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Solomon and Mortimer

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Solomon and Mortimer
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books
Solomon crocodile is back and he’s as mischievous as ever, especially now he’s teamed up with pal Mortimer and the two of them are feeling bored and in need of some fun.
Tree climbing proves pretty disastrous …

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Lizard chasing upsets the lizards and as for flying – best forgotten straightaway. So on go the little crocs. still searching for that illusive fun. Then Solomon comes up with a hippo-teasing plan. But can the mischief makers carry it through or will the interfering pelicans, the nosy butterflies or the grumpy toad …

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give the game away and sabotage their seemingly perfect plot?

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Let’s just say, it’s a smashingly splashing finale and every one of the animals ends up with a huge grin …
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Spot on for early years story time sessions. Mischievous lead characters (those toothy grins are just delicious), wonderfully detailed watery scenes, a build-up of suspense as the big push opportunity draws closer and a satisfying conclusion – albeit not the intended one.
All in all, a read aloud treat that will be asked for over and over.

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Jungle Jaunts

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Alan’s Big Scary Teeth
Jarvis
Walker Books
Alan is one big scary creature or so he’d have us believe. It’s certainly true that he’s descended from a long line of scary alligators and his reputation for scariness is legendary. His daily routine involved a whole lot of polishing (his scales), sharpening (his nails) and brushing – those huge gnashers – followed by a spot of frightening-face practice.

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Then ready to scare the world, off he’d saunter jaws a-snapping, teeth g-nashing and the result was, as you might expect, fear and terror all around .

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That’s how things went day in day out and then Alan would head home to the swamp for an evening of crossword completion and relaxation. And that’s when we’re let into a secret –perhaps young listeners have already an inkling of what’s about to be revealed …

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although I’m pretty sure they’ll have no idea of Alan’s pre-stashing “Good night teeth. Thweet dweams my theary thnappers,” nightly bidding.
Then one morning as he’s out doing a spot of wood collecting, Barry beaver spies a dozing Alan and seeking safety behind the nearest bush, is surprised by something looking decidedly familiar.

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Oh-Oh! – looks like you might have been rumbled Alan. Maybe there’s a deal to be struck though …

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Good thinking guys: Alan now has not just one, but three thoroughly reputable daytime occupations – gardener, hairdresser and dentist; and a very important nocturnal one too.

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A jungly jaunt that’s sure to bring Alan-sized smiles to the faces of listeners (not to mention the occasional adult reader aloud) and I love those vibrant, energetic scenes and some of the small details are real giggle-inducers.

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Giraffe on a Bicycle
Julia Woolf
Macmillan Children’s Books
Monkey is a complete novice when it comes to bike riding so it’s fortunate that when he discovers a bicycle one day, his friend giraffe is on hand to demonstrate his cycling skills. Pedalling straight takes a bit of getting used to though, even with an ‘expert’ in the saddle

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but as we all know …

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And off go the cyclists on a jaunt deeper into the jungle, collecting a whole host of additional ‘passengers’ or rather hangers on, as they go

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… gradually gathering speed till they’re literally ‘Whooshing’ along until

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Seems that monkey’s warning cry came too late to avert disaster; and now the bike’s in urgent need of repair. No! Make that reconstruction guys. And reconstruction is exactly what those animals embark on but pretty soon the job’s done. Ta dah! Good as new? …

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A wonderfully exuberant debut picture book from Julia Woolf: both words and pictures are full of fun. With a smattering of alliteration, the tension-building text keeps listeners on the edge of their saddles as they anticipate the inevitable outcome of the overload.
Make sure you take a close look at the end papers; there’s a whole other story going on there.

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Presents, Presents and More Presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With its energetic characters, sometimes snowy setting …

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and a brief interlude of sadness …

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

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

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The Emperor of Absurdia & Wendel

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The Emperor of Absurdia
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books
This is a smaller format edition of a wonderful dream of a story from the pen of Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. It’s told with a delicious humour and through his fantastical and amazingly detailed illustrations. The whole thing revolves around an endearing young character who has something of a wardrobe crisis and that’s despite facilitations from the Wardrobe Monster: the Emperor’s scarf has gone missing.
A hunt ensues, and the scarf retrieved – just in time for breakfast. Thereafter another hunt happens; but not before supper is served and the seeker is suitably replete –

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or almost – for his lunch has hatched and taken flight.
This chase is done courtesy of the Emperor’s wonderful vehicle, his tricycle chair …

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and culminates in the finding of not one but two dragons. And the mama dragon is anything but pleased to see him, chasing him back into the hugging arms of none other than the Wardrobe Monster.

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Time to sleep …
Crammed with wonderfully whimsical imagery and sometimes, minute details, every scene, large or small, is simply superb. The delicacy of Riddell’s drawing is out of this world: do take time to compare the landscapes of the front and end papers …

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Such wonderfully detailed endpapers – feast your eyes…

Quite early on in the story, the Emperor himself declares, “This is exciting!” What child (or adult) could fail to agree? For the latter, the whole thing is a joy to read aloud – wonderful word combinations abound – ‘crumply coat, jingle-jangle socks’, ‘a loud, pointy-sounding squawk’; and smatters of repetition are judiciously dropped in to the text.
If this one doesn’t set the imagination of youngsters flying, nothing will. Me, I’m off to revel in the realm of Absurdia for a while. It rather reminds me of an adventure from The Edge, one of my all time favourite fantasy worlds.

In the same format and also from the current children’s laureate is another wonderfully quirky creation:

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Wendel and the Robots
Herein inventor, Wendel’s latest robotic creation has gone out of control and doesn’t know when to stop: even the inventor mouse himself ends up being tossed down the rubbish chute and onto the scrapheap. The question is can Wendel and his team seize back control of his territory from the dreaded tidying fanatic, Wendelbot?

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Enormous fun; but I certainly wouldn’t take a leaf out of Wendel’s ‘never threw anything on the scrapheap’ book. (although there’s one person in my household who definitely has!)
Both of these are great for those slightly older readers who may have missed out on the publication of these delicious books in their original, larger picture book format.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Walter’s Wonderful Web
Tim Hopgood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Walter is a spider with a mission: he wants to spin a perfect web, not a wibbly- wobbly one that is whisked away whenever the wind blows.
His first effort – a triangular one is destroyed by the first puff of wind so he tries another – a rectangle, but with no more success.

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The diamond meets a similar fate but what about his circular-looking one, could that be the answer?
But three wooshes and Walter plus web hit the ground. Nearing despair, Walter stops to think before making one last attempt and by nightfall it looks as if he’s got it the design just right –

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WOW! Walter, you certainly deserved to succeed – top marks for perseverance and a wonderfully intricate web.
This delightful story for the very youngest provides a great opportunity to introduce ideas about not giving up when things get tough and of course, built into the narrative are those six basic 2D shapes.

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The Butterfly Garden
Laura Weston
Big Picture Press
Twenty words and a sequence of half a dozen super-stylish, beautifully patterned black and white illustrations: nothing much to get excited about – right? Wrong: look closely at the first of those black and white spreads.

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How many caterpillars can you spot? Look again at the silhouetted leaves and blooms and you notice there are flaps to lift. Open the top left-hand flap to reveal …

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And then the other four flaps and you’ll see a whole lot going on in vibrant colours …

 

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The subsequent spreads show the life cycle and life journey of the Monarch butterfly. (In North America, the Monarch migrates en masse to Mexico during the course of its life.)

 

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Essentially that’s it and every spread is beautifully designed and arresting first in black and white and then with its flashes of flamboyant colour.
Although the Monarch isn’t a breeding British butterfly, this book is a striking visual account of a butterfly’s life cycle.

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The Tiger Prowls
Seb Braun
Simon & Schuster
It’s hard to choose a favourite from the five animals that pop out from the pages of this seemingly simple yet impressive book. I love the shape and feel of the whole thing – its arresting cover, the way it whizzes through the various habitats the colour palette used and the clever paper engineering. Then there’s the elegant prose of the sentences used to describe each of the iconic creatures that grace the spreads.
First off is that tiger from the cover described thus:
‘The tiger prowls, stalking the jungle. Paw after heavy paw crunches on the forest floor. And so he does emerging from a gentle hint of vegetation straddling that first spread across which slides a muted snake.
Turn over and meet a graceful whale with its cleverly upturned tail and snout;

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the brown bear padding slow through the forest, the mighty elephant taking a shower in the hot sun (If I’m fussy I’d like to have seen an upturned trunk and slightly sharper tusks here ) and finally …

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Gentle, elegant, treetop nibbling, cloud-high grazer giraffe ‘pitching his way across the savannah, like a ship adrift on the open plain.’ (love those bird silhouettes)
Aimed at the very young but I can also envisage older children who get hold of this being inspired to try their hand at making their own pop-up animals.

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Dinoblock
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams & Chronicle
MEET THE DINOSAURS says the sign across the museum doors and on opening them readers (and the two child investigators) find two key questions ‘Who are the dinosaurs?’ and ‘Where are the dinosaurs?’
From then on the book’s clever design really comes into play with a formula that is used to great effect for the next ninety or so pages using a mix of cleverly crafted cutaway pages and a series of similes likening each of the twenty three dinosaurs introduced to something a young child is likely to be familiar with, followed by another spread showing the particular dinosaur in its natural habitat and a sentence giving the dinosaur’s name with its phonetic pronunciation. Thus we have for instance, ‘I have a neck like a goose …

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turn over to ‘I am a Coelophysis (SEE-low-FYE-sis)’…
Or this one:

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The grand finale comprises a spread of drawn-to-scale dinosaurs on a gate-fold that opens out into a farewell display of skeletons of all the dinosaurs featured.

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Of those a fair number are relatively uncommon in books for young children and indeed a few such as Micropachycephalosaurus and Edmontosaurus) were new names to me.
Assuredly a block-buster for the very young but also a book that offers a great opportunity for them to see and think about a favourite topic in an exciting and imaginative new way. And, a jumping off point for further investigation and children’s own creativity.

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A Tree Climbing Cow and a Mowing Toad

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The Cow Who Climbed a Tree
Gemma Merino
Macmillan Children’s Books
The sight of a cow perusing a book and wielding a magnifying glass on the first spread immediately predisposed me to like this book and endeared me to its chief protagonist. Tina is her name and seemingly she has an insatiable thirst for discovery. Her sisters however remain unimpressed by the wonderful things that occupy their sibling’s mind.
One day as she explores the woods, Tina takes it upon herself to climb a tree and there at the top a rather large surprise awaits her in the form of a vegetarian dragon. The two forge a friendship

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and spend the afternoon in dreams and stories.
Comments of “IMPOSSIBLE! RIDICULOUS! NONSENSE! are thrown at her by her sisters as she regales her adventure. But the following morning Tina is notable by her absence though she has left a message.

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Off go the disbelievers to track her down and as they venture out of their comfort zone something unexpected overtakes them – literally – and so up they go …
Then all it takes is an invitation from Tina and …

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a leap of faith. And after that? Well, who can say…
I love the understated humour in both words and pictures of Gemma Merino’s latest offering. Her colour palette is mouthwateringly delicious too.

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McToad Mows Tiny Island
Tom Angleberger and John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Subtitled ‘A Transportation Tale’, this wacky book is certainly that in more ways than one. Its one and only character is McToad, mower of islands; one is Big Island– that occupies his time every day but one.

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The other’s small and is aptly named Tiny Island; it’s here McToad spends Thursdays, his favourite day of the week. There’s nothing exciting about that I know, but it’s all about the getting there. Having driven his mower from the shed, McToad drives it onto his truck, drives to the train loading it thereon with a forklift. The train heads to the airport where a plane flies to the opposite side of Big island and from there it’s a helicopter journey to the docks, onto a steamboat and across to Tiny Island where a crane deposits the mower onto its destination. Back in the mower Mc Toad proceeds to mow the island pausing only briefly for a drink and refuel.
Then job done and it’s erm, back from whence he came.

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Utterly bonkers with its anti-climactic finale but there are so many unanswered questions: Is McToad a transport magnate? (His logo is brandished across each and every vehicle in the story.) Are there no other inhabitants on either island? Does he own both and everything thereon? Where’s the crane while McToad is mowing Tiny Island? Isn’t he lonely? These are a few that immediately come to mind. Children will come up with many more I’m sure.
Even for those who aren’t big machine enthusiasts, there is plenty to appeal in the illustrations. The plethora of witty details are bound to make anyone smile – the row of objects behind the steering wheel in McToad’s truck

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and this …

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not forgetting that patched straw hat of course.

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What the Ladybird Heard Next

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What the Ladybird Heard Next
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Clothes pegs ready for this fantastically stinky sequel to What the Ladybird Heard and with a sparkly cover too.
When the listening ladybird learns of the mysterious disappearance of red hen’s new laid clutch she realises there’s a case to be solved and off she flies. As the stars begin to twinkle over the farmyard she spies and hears two men – ex cons. Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len – plotting to steal not the eggs this time, but the fat red hen herself.

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Back she flies to report to her farmyard pals and a cunning plan is quickly formulated – a plan that perhaps owes something to the Billy Goats Gruff – so that when the thieves seize the hen she sets in motion a chain of events that will supposedly, lead them to an altogether superior egg producer, the super-duper Snuggly Snerd, layer of rugby ball sized eggs.

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Off go Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh armed with torch and spade, deep into the big brown heap as per instructions – a very pongy heap I should add – seeking the shy egg layer extraordinaire. (You can almost get a whiff as you turn the pages.)

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Just imagine their wrath when they realize they’ve been duped. But their come-uppance is not yet quite complete: that job is left to some other small winged creatures and they’re more than willing to oblige …

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After which, it’s peace and harmony once more down on the farm.
‘Trippingly on the tongue’ comes to mind when one reads this rural romp aloud; it’s brilliant fun to do so and listeners equally, will delight in the rhythmic rhyme whether or not they’ve already met the star of the show and farmyard pals in her first adventure.

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Emmanuelle demanded at least 10 re-reads in one afternoon!

The humour and pizzazz in Lydia Monks’ illustrations is the perfect accompaniment to the text. The sight of the thieving twosome digging into, and plastered in, that muck is a real hoot; and I love the scene where those buzzing bees see them off.

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Toddler Bookshelf

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Where’s Bear?
Emily Gravett
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bear and Hare are back in their third amusing adventure, or game actually. The adorable duo engage in a game of Hide and Seek with Bear hiding first. Unsurprisingly to readers his chosen hiding places – in front of a lamp, or a pile of books, and behind a fish tank (albeit a large one) – are a dismal failure and the roles are reversed. Bear is now the finder: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 … but where, oh where is Hare? Here perhaps?

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But now Hare cannot find Bear and oh dear, he’s getting in a bit of a tizzy

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until finally …

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Nobody can turn a small episode into high drama with quite the consummate skill of Emily Gravett.
I do hope the publishers decide to offer it other formats: it’s perfect for beginning readers but the board book edition may well put them off.

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How Many Legs?
Katja Spitzer
Flying Eye Books
Off beat illustrations of all manner of items from ice-creams to bugs and ‘mischievous monkeys’ to ‘stylish shoes’ to count, are presented in the small pages of this quirky little counting and number book. It’s divided into two distinct parts: the first introduces numerals and counting to 10 (the number being displayed on both sides of the spread);

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the second provides practice in getting one to one correspondence between the number names spoken and the items being counted without the visual number symbols.

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There’s plenty of potential for talking with the very young ones as well as the mathematical opportunities offered here in this mini volume, which is one of a new series from this artist and Flying Eye. I love the bold retro images and the feel of the whole thing.

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SNAP! SNAP!
Cocoretto
Child’s Play
There are five animals hiding beneath the flaps of this ‘Guess the Animal’ board book, each introduced by a noisy clue and the repeated question What’s that noise?’

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the answer being revealed by lifting the flap on the opposite page.

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Those from just a few months can enjoy the sounds and bold, bright images, slightly older toddlers will delight in the playful scenarios and the chance to be noisy along with the various animals large and small each spread provides; and those just beginning to match the spoken word to the print on the page might try doing just that. The experience will be hugely more enjoyable than that provided by the first books of a dreary reading scheme and in addition there’s the opportunity to begin to develop prediction skills.
In similar vein is

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CHOO! CHOO!
The format is the same but herein the animals are the drivers or operators of wonderfully noisy vehicles. There’s a train, a tractor, a digger, a motorbike and a fire engine. Playful, cacophonous fun aplenty.

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Hooray For Small Girl With Big Imaginations

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Lion Practice
Emma Carlisle
Macmillan Children’s Books
In this warm-hearted story that celebrates the imagination we meet Laura: she has a penchant for practice, pretty much any kind of practice so long as it involves being big and/or noisy.

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So when her mother suggests she should practise being something small and quiet, Laura is having none of it – no way; her sights are set on something rather different.
But what is all this about you might be wondering. Her parents certainly don’t appreciate it.
Well, perhaps Laura just wants to be in the limelight because…

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Maybe she’ll settle for being a little lion after all – it does have its compensations

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and there’s always tomorrow for this resilient little miss …
Emma Carlisle is an emerging talent. Her free flowing illustrations have the uninhibited spirit of the unselfconscious artist one images Laura herself would be.
I look forward to what comes next…

Another small girl with a large imagination is featured in debut author Jenna Harrington’s:

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Katie McGinty Wants a Pet!
Jenna Harrington and Finn Simpson
Little Tiger Press
The great day has finally arrived: Katie McGinty is big enough to have a pet

 

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– but this tricky miss doesn’t want a common or garden hamster, cat, or dog. Oh no! What she has set her heart on is something much more exciting  …

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And seemingly she’s thought things through pretty carefully as she demonstrates to her perplexed parent on their walk to the pet shop: “Don’t be silly Daddy! … He’ll eat pizza and fish fingers and spaghetti with us at the table … “ is her response to his concerns about the lack of grass in their garden and of course, their bath isn’t large enough. “I’ll have to wash him at the swimming pool!” she informs him.
Dad tries to let her down gently as they reach their destination but he hasn’t quite anticipated the very special bargain on offer …

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Finn Simpson’s exuberant scenes show much more than is said in the words. He captures the gentle playful humour of Jenna Harrington’s deliberately straightforward delivery, much of which is dialogue, extending and embellishing it with laugh out loud fantasies.

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A Clutch of Activity Books

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of activity type books; the teacher part of me would much prefer to provide children sheets of paper, large and small and a variety of materials, some encouragement and let them create. However that’s not for everyone and I know there are some children (and definitely lots of parents) who want something much more self-contained on occasion. So, here’s a clutch of stand-out books that might be just the thing to turn to on a rainy day or when the children seem at a loss for what to do next…

 

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Let’s Go Find a Tiger!
Yasmeen Ismail
Macmillan Children’s Books
In the company of two explorers we foray deep into the jungle seeking a tiger. Tigers however are far from the only inhabitants of this lush environment: there are brightly coloured birds – particularly if you draw some as well as using the stickers provided at the back of the book, a variety of minibeasts, a snake or so …

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a lone monkey that needs feeding (you draw or stick the food and additional monkeys), and some more friends to play with (you decide what).
Further in are some animals already engaged in playful activity; they too need others to join them.
Watch out for that pond: what scary thing lives there? – It’s pretty much up to the reader …
And so the search continues: there’s an encounter with a large, friendly pachyderm, some leopards partying, birds among the branches …

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and finally or almost so – that sought-after tiger.
At the end of the book, the reader has become the co-creator of his or her own jungle story, or that’s the intention. Very young children will need an adult to read the rhythmic, sometimes rhyming text aloud before embarking on the artistic endeavours offered herein.
As always Yasmeen Ismail’s own illustrations are a delight – exuberant and playful. I suspect any youngster offered this book would delight in personalizing it in his or her unique way.

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You Are an Artist
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
This book takes the form of a series of ‘lessons’ from an artist, THE artist from Marta Altés’ I Am An Artist picture book. The art teacher provides a drawing lesson, a lesson in looking at things creatively wherein you have to find the 10 faces, an opportunity to get colourful, another to use sticker shapes in imaginative ways (I’ve seen foundation stage children engaging in using real objects – leaves,

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flower petals, shells, pebbles, pencil shavings, scraps of paper, wood offcuts etc. in a similar fashion,

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rather than the stickers provided at the end of the narrative). Then there is a lesson on using line, another about looking for and using pattern …

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and some other fairly open-ended activities.
Not only does this book offer hours of fun but also provides the opportunity to think about, and talk about being an artist and what it entails.
I love the assertive message inherent in the title.

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Atlas of Adventure Activity Fun Pack
illustrated by Lucy Letherland
Wide Eyed Publications
Even if you’re not going far afield this holiday, you can visit all kinds of locations near and far courtesy of a companion to Lucy Letherland’s splendid Atlas of Adventure. Essentially it comprises a fair bit of colouring in (this seems to be in vogue at present), things to spot and snippets of information that are scattered throughout the various spreads. So, pens and crayons at the ready, you can ‘Go Wild in Africa’, ‘Party Around the World’, go deep sea diving and more.

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There’s also a flags of the world poster a the back of the book and stickers to embellish the map of the world on the reverse side.

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Pop this into a bag before you embark on a journey with youngsters, no matter what your destination.

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Making Faces!
Jacky Bahbout and Momoko Kudo
Thames & Hudson
With a large die-cut circle through each of the 32 tear-out pages of this book/pad children are provided with a whole host of possibilities to be inventive with mark-making materials, offcuts of paper/fabric, wool, glue and other bits and pieces. Then by peering through the central hole, they can become the star (human or animal) of their own playful scenarios

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with sound effects as suggested on some of the pages, though there isn’t always much room for embellishment around the face hole.
The paper used feels like artists’ paper and the wide variety of topics such as ‘Let’s Space Walk’ or ‘I Love Spiders’ included should offer something to interest most young children.

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ZIPPO The Super Hippo

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Emmanuelle more than a little concerned at the sight of the crocodile’s open jaws as Zippo plummets, seemingly  towards them.

ZIPPO The Super Hippo
Kes Gray and Nikki Dyson
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bottoms up for Zippo the hippo. As he wallows in the swamp, said hippo bemoans to his best pal, Roxi the oxpecker, the fact that he lacks a super power. What he wants is something BIG and exciting and he needs Roxi’s help to discover what exactly IS that personal speciality of his. Plodding, getting muddy and swimming don’t cut it in the super power department, nor do splishing, sploshing and splashing. Flying maybe, suggests Roxi leading Zippo to the top of a waterfall for his maiden flight …

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Several attempts later, not to mention a few splatted creatures …

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our would-be super hero declares that flying isn’t his thing after all. But, as Roxi tells him, “You didn’t just squash’em… You got’em with your bottom!” Super hippopotamus he isn’t; but super hippobottomus, well certainly …

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Who wouldn’t fall for (though definitely not under) Zippo with his massive rear and those wonderful super-pants. Giggles galore will result from sharing this one I predict. Like those Zippo landings, it will be a whopping hit for sure. I’m off to find some children to help launch Zippo into superhero stardom. They’re bound, like me, to give this super story a massive BUMS UP: It’s BUMBALICIOUS!

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An Unaware Jackdaw and A Nautical Mouse

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What the Jackdaw Saw
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Jackdaw flies over the ocean, the farm, the town, and a forest towards a looming black cloud, issuing his invitation “Come to my party!” to all and sundry, ignoring the warning signs from octopus, horse, cat, and squirrel until he whizzes headlong into the thundercloud and thence …

 

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Why didn’t they warn me?” he asks the owl. “Why didn’t you see them?” comes the reply, … Every one of them touching its head, Danger! Danger! That’s what they said.”

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Time for a lesson in signing for that heedless jackdaw, courtesy of owl of course and then hurray, jackdaw flies forth using his wings to sign “Come to my party!” to all his animal pals. Then off they all got to he seaside where a fantastic time is had by all those animals and just a few other guests too …

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Nick Sharratt’s powerful, expressive spreads capture the scenes of impending disaster, and the joyful exuberance of the jaunty tale with great aplomb.
After you’ve enjoyed the story, don’t miss the opportunity to practise signing some of the key words from the book; eight of them are found on the final spread.
Two years in the making, this book is the result of the author’s workshop (organized by Life and Deaf) for deaf children -20 are named – and of course, her collaboration with artist, Nick. What an ingenious and brilliantly inclusive book it is; and what a wonderful testament to the power of sign language and all who use it including finally, that jackdaw.

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The Mouse Who Sailed the Seas
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing pbk
The sight of those chunky bumblebees perching tenuously atop their beehive immediately appealed to my sense of the ridiculous when I turned from the introductory ‘A mouse he went to sail the seas. He sailed the seas/to look for cheese,/But all he found were …

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The jaunty story continues with an invasion of purple peas of the alien variety,

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a drop in from a pair of hairy-kneed goats and some magic-sneezing elves. Surely disaster must be close at hand with such a load methinks and … CREAK! SQUEAK! LEAK! Oh dear me.

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But, could that concatenation triggered by a timely sneeze from the elves work its magic and save the day? Well, you will just have to get hold of this wonderfully madcap tale to find out that and to discover whether our intrepid sailor mouse finally does find the object of his cheesy search. Assuredly, it’s pretty nail- biting stuff.
Nick East’s exuberant and garish illustrations are brimming over with delicious touches of completely crazy detail – just the thing to complement Amy Sparkes’ super and stupendously silly saga.

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Giants, Gold-Spinning and a Growing Nose

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Dolci was a little bit alarmed at the giant’s child-eating threats

 

The Giant of Jum
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Inspired by the traditional tale told to him by his brother, about a boy called Jack, the Giant of Jum – a bad-tempered chap – sets out in search of some children for a tasty teatime snack. The children he discovers though, far from fearing the giant, enlist his help in reaching their ball.

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He obliges promising to be back to fulfill his own purposes, then goes on his way again. Before long another group of children beg for his assistance

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and once again our giant obliges and promises to return. His search is now for Jack … and sure enough – soon enough, there at his feet is a very small boy pleading for a ride. I’m sure you can guess the name of this little fellow and he’s thoroughly beguiled by the giant.
But … “Fee!” he said, and “Fi!” he said and “Little Jack snack, is that right?” and a whole lot worse. (This bit really had some children on the very edge of their seats.)

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But he hadn’t bargained for the children’s rapid intervention, and their bargaining powers …
It’s a happy ending for all – kindness begets kindness – and the giant discovers that some things actually taste better than children.

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Enormous fun; and what potential for inspiring creative work from young children. Elli Woollard’s rhyming text bounces along jauntily and is brilliant fun to read aloud: Benji Davies has created a wonderful character in the giant: I love that funky head attire and those peep-toed boots are just superb. With all manner of interesting perspectives (and some darker scenes)

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every page is packed with small details to relish and chuckle over. The illustrative style seems something of a new development for Benji Davies; this new partnership with Elli Woollard is one to be celebrated if their debut book is anything to go by. Maybe that Giant of Jum could even make a return …

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Jack and the Beanstalk
illustrated by Ed Bryan
Nosy Crow
This is I think, the fourth in the series of fairy tales created from Bryan’s award- winning Nosy Crow apps. It’s a lively rendition of a favourite story that includes a mouse, a frog

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and a baby dragon in the cast of characters. The latter enlists Jack’s help to release him from a dungeon cell and in return he tells Jack the whereabouts of the giant’s golden harp. This harp however, is a trickster and once Jack has it in his clutches, calls out, “Master Giant, wakey wakey! This boy Jack is trying to take me!” Nevertheless Jack does manage to escape from the castle hotly pursued by the giant, grab his trusty axe and bring the beanstalk crashing down. We never learn the fate of the giant but at least he never troubles Jack and his mother ever again.
The setting has something of a modern feel: Jack’s mum, despite her poverty, wears a stylish dress albeit with jazzy patches, and long boots;

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and Jack carries a rucksack. The story itself reads aloud well and as the goose on the back cover says, ‘is all about being kind and helpful’. May be not ‘all ’ but no one would argue with that as a worthwhile message.

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Rumpelstiltskin
Mara Alperin and Loretta Schauer
Little Tiger Press
This is a lively rendition of a favourite fairy tale with some fairly lavish verbal, and hence visual, embellishments such as the miller’s pre gold-spinning boast about his daughter: “Tulips start to bloom when my daughter sings,” and “When Isabel catches raindrops, they turn into butterflies.” for instance. Young Isabel is duly thrust into the highest tower by the king once he’s heard of her ability to spin straw into gold and ordered to do just that. There follows her encounter with the little man who offers help, makes a bargain and in her desperation, Isobel has promised him his “pick of treasure” once she’s rich. Having spun as promised (‘coins and crowns, and trinkets and trophies’), he vanishes leaving Isabel to reap the rewards from the king. (His visits are cut to one here) and the king introduces her to his kind son, Prince Herbert. Before long wedding bells ring forth and, in due course, the couple is blessed with a baby boy.

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The little man is completely forgotten until one stormy night that is. Then POOF! There he is cackling and demanding his dues. Nothing short of the baby will do unless Isabel can guess his name within three nights.

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However, it’s not Isabel who takes the initiative – not sure I approve of that – but her husband, Herbert. He tracks down the little man, discovers his name and informs his wife who then ‘guesses correctly’ on her final chance and with a howl and a growl, a stomp and a stamp, Rumpelstiltskin vanishes through the floor, never to be seen again in the kingdom, leaving baby Hugo to grow up safe and sound with his loving parents.
With smatterings of word play and bright, jolly, richly patterned illustrations, this version has a modern feel to it. It’s certainly one young audiences will be attracted to visually and they will enjoy the tension of the guessing game and its outcome in particular.
For me nothing can beat an oral telling I once heard Sara Corrin perform (based on the text in her Stories for Seven Year Olds collection) but this one is an enjoyable read aloud if that’s what you want.

Not a traditional tale but a classic one that seems to be ever popular is:

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The Patua Pinocchio
Carlo Collodi and Swarna Chitrakar
Tara Books
The artist, Swarna Chitrakar, a West Bengali scroll painter has given the tale a wholly new visual interpretation, totally unlike the westernized, often Disneyfied one where Pinocchio, the mischievous Italian marionette wears a yellow hat and a kind of romper suit. Here, in keeping with clothing styles from her own tradition, Pinocchio is clad in a dhoti/ loincloth, is adorned with jewellery (anklets and armlets and a neck adornment),

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and has a rich brown skin and beatific smile reminding one – and this is the author’s conception too – of the Hindu deity, Krishna whom she refers to in her afterword as ‘a lovable yet godly trickster figure … who looks composed and serene at all times.’
Geppetto in contrast has a mustard-coloured skin and wears a dhoti.
Visually striking, with its stylized Patua folk art images, this book will  particularly appeal to those fascinated by traditional art forms, and anyone interested in exploring the universality of stories.

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The King Cat & Mr Mistoffelees

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The King Cat
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
The feline narrator of this story has had things pretty much his own way for a very long time. He does however provide occasional entertainment and regular nocturnal protective duty for his ‘people’ in return for being left to slumber during the daytime, not to mention a little bit of relaxation therapy proffered by human hands. All in all life couldn’t be better for this – in his own words – GOOD, SUPER CUTE king.
Then one morning without so much as a by your leave, everything changes.

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The rules of the kingdom are upheld no longer.

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Time to reinforce the status quo decides our erstwhile domestic king and before long peace and normality are restored. So why does the realm seem so quiet – too quiet perhaps with the old rules back in place.
Oh! what’s that …

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Maybe some negotiation could work after all …
I love the droll illustrations and straightforward manner of telling of this comic tale of domestic rivalry. Indeed it could well be a metaphor for sibling rivalry with the arrival of a new infant in the household. Don’t forget to look closely at the details in fore- and endpapers for the story really begins and ends thereon.

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Mr. Mistoffelees
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber Children’s Books pbk
We’ve already been treated to Arthur Robins’ hilarious illustrative rendition of Macavity; now it’s the turn of the Mr. Mistoffelees the ‘Original Conjuring Cat’ to take centre stage and that is exactly what he does. In close up we view a performance of his confusion-causing illusions,

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of one kind … and another.
This small black feline character takes us through his whole repertoire of sleights of hand and more,

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while deceiving us all that his sole occupation is mouse-hunting . And as for shyness –well that’s what he’d have us believe but

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we know better.
Even I, with my cat allergy and phobia find this Mr M. totally irresistible, which only goes to prove that he truly is, as Arthur Robins has so admirably shown, ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’.

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The five year old maker of this puppet certainly thought so too.

 

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Testing Situations with Mouse, Penguin Blue and Rhinoceros

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All Mine
Zehra Hicks
Macmillan Children’s Books
It’s lunch time: Mouse is just about to embark on his cheese sandwich when down swoops Seagull, pinches it,

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flies off and scoffs the lot. Mouse is far from pleased; he reprimands the thief for his bad manners and dashes off in search of something else to eat. Imagine how he feels when down swoops that greedy Seagull again and proceeds to polish off Mouse’s entire packet of crisps.

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The tiny rodent is anything but happy and both he and Seagull are still in need of sustenance. So will Seagull manage to gobble up the delicious looking confection that stops him dead in his tracks? It’s time for Mouse to draw on his resources if he’s to outwit that marauding bird and satisfy his hunger pangs, and that he does very cleverly.
That foxy-looking ‘puppet’ is just great and looks almost exactly the kind of thing young children make from scrap materials.

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That Zahra Hicks uses a stick for painting (combined with photography) to create her illustrations fascinated my audiences. I love her child-like simplicity and the way for instance, she has added the lower jaw to the fox.
A tasty book through and through. Who’s for cake?

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Blown Away
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins pbk
This seemingly simple, perfectly crafted tale is the thoroughly uplifting picture book debut from Art Director of the Observer Magazine, Rob Biddulph. By an interesting co-incidence, my copy arrived in the post on Sakrant, the day of India’s kite flying festival.
Far away in the Antarctic, Penguin Blue is test flying his brand new kite. The wind is particularly strong and before long our supposedly flightless friend finds himself airborne. Penguin pals Jeff and Flo, Wilbur (seal) pegging washing on his clothesline, and Clive, (polar bear) out fishing in his inflatable dinghy, attempt to help

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but they too are swept aloft and way across the ocean until they spy far below,
A tiny island, lush and green/(A colour that they’ve never seen). “The trees look soft, we’ll be all right./Hello jungle! Goodbye kite!” – the author’s rhyme is spot on as well as his design. Down they cascade into a jungly landscape full of friendly animals.

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However, unused to the tropical heat the friends long for home so it’s fortunate that Blue is the creative type. They can make use of the resources to hand and the same element that brought them there: all that’s required is another large gust of wind

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and the travellers are on their way, albeit with a stowaway.
Safely home and a warm welcome, but their visitor finds the climate far from comfortable;

 

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it’s as well then that Blue just happens to have a spare kite …

 

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Preposterous Rhinoceros
Tracy Gunaratnam and Marta Costa
Maverick Arts Publising pbk
The jungle animals are far from happy; King Lion has lost his voice and that means no bedtime story unless they can find another story reader. Rhinoceros is eager to step in; the others doubt his ability but reluctantly agree to let him try. When confronted with a book however, Rhinoceros is stymied; seemingly he’s misunderstood how the reading process works – the words don’t just speak themselves from the page and his key doesn’t unlock that text either. And shaking the book is disastrous.
Off goes Rhino in search of some storytelling advice. Both Drama Llama and Techie Toucan offer useful suggestions “Just open it and dive straight in,” (Llama) and “Just open it and get stuck in,”

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from Techie.
But Rhinoceros takes both literally with disastrous, or rather as Sly Salamander tells him, “preposterous” consequences.

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Nor does her own explanation “… They just need to be READ!” prove any more fruitful. But finally with Salamander’s help,

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Rhinoceros cracks the code and is ready to deliver his first bedtime tale – even though by that time, King Lion’s voice is fully restored.
The interaction of the verbal and visual definitely works well with young audiences. This chain of misunderstandings herein had my listeners, who are themselves learning to read, in fits of giggles
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Snowy Frolics

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Snow
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
We all, adults and children alike, relish those first footsteps in virgin snow so it’s natural that when the boy narrator of this lovely story wakes to discover snow is falling, he can’t wait to get off to the park – before anyone else if possible.

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He’s ready in no time but he has to wait for Grandad who does everything in his own good time. It’s no surprise then, that despite his constant urging, “… the others will get there first, Grandad. DON’T FORGET THE SNOW”, the two are last on the scene.
When they eventually reach the park however, it becomes evident that Grandad’s throw away remark that the whole zoo was probably out there, is in fact true and they throw themselves wholeheartedly into the wintry fun and frolics.

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Was it worth the wait? ‘Definitely’ is the decision of both Grandad and small boy.
This heart-warming wintry tale, which has at its core the loving relationship between a Grandad and his grandson, is beautifully portrayed with gentle humour in watercolour paintings large and small. I see echoes of Bob Graham and Quentin Blake in Usher’s illustrative style and I love the balance of text and illustrations within the taller than usual pages, in particular the large white expanses used to depict the freshly fallen snow and the sheer exhilaration of the snowball fight spread .
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Bear and Hare SNOW!
Emily Gravett
Macmillan Children’s Books
We had the superb Bear and Hare Go Fishing wherein they shared a pastime loved by Bear. Here the friends delight in one of Hare’s favourite activities, romping in the snow. They catch snowflakes on their tongues, make footprints in the snow, create snow angels, build snow creatures – a hare

 

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and a bear …

 

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Then comes some snowball making, followed by a spot of sledging, the sheer exhilaration of which finally brings a smile to Bear’s face – YIPPEE!

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Time for a mug of hot chocolate guys …
So simple, so clever and absolutely brilliant for beginning readers to relish for themselves once it’s been read aloud again and again and …
Full of warmth, gentle humour and those wintry activities loved by young and old alike. Sheer genius for the chilly season.
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The Big Princess & Princess Mirror-Belle

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The Big Princess
Taro Miura
Walker Books
This is a prequel to the Japanese author’s charming The Tiny King. One night in his dreams the king of a distant land is visited by a white dove telling him of a princess child he will find in the palace garden, a princess under a spell; a spell that must be broken for the princess to become his true daughter. Failure though will result in the ruination of his kingdom. When morning comes the king rushes to his garden and there discovers sitting upon a leaf, a tiny princess. Oh joy! Both king and queen puzzle over the nature of the spell and its possible consequences but meanwhile the little princess starts to grow and grow… and grow… until she is taller than the king and queen themselves. In seemingly no time she has almost outgrown the castle and that’s when the king remembers his dream. From then on he and his wife try desperately to break the spell but to no avail. With the tallest castle tower at breaking point, the king notices something through the tower window, something tiny, shiny and black

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that could just be the key to breaking the spell.
As with its predecessor, Miura has used precision, patterned cut-outs in bright, bold colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes. In addition though herein he adds embellishments in the form of separate but linked smaller, mostly black and white objects – a chair,

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a toy trumpet, a spoon for example.
An unusual, quirky modern fairy tale with a longish text and glowing, sunflower- filled ending.

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Princess Mirror-Belle and the Dragon Pox
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Ellen has chicken pox; she’s covered from head to toe in horribly itchy spots; and what does she want to do to those spots? Scratch them of course, especially the one right on the tip of her nose. As she gazes in the bathroom mirror, about to do the deed, she hears a voice – no, not mum’s but Princess Mirror-Belle’s. This little madam, for so she seems, leaps from the mirror, a mirror image of herself even down to the missing slipper which she claims was stolen by a goblin, and announces that it’s not chicken pox but Dragon Pox Ellen has – eeugh! She knows how to cure it too, clever clogs that she is. And the cure? It involves a bath full of water to which one must add pretty much anything and everything the grown-ups happen to have left visible in the bathroom – bubble bath (a whole bottle), toothpaste (an entire tube), dad’s shaving foam; you can see where this is going – not the loo paper bandaging perhaps …
As she concocts the cure, the princess tells Ellen all about her enchanted life beyond the mirror, a life with knights and dragons,

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fairies, magical spells and more. Ellen is then instructed to close her eyes and count to a hundred. At the final number the spell is broken: someone is beside her but now it’s her mum looking none too happy about the state of the bathroom. Over to you Ellen.

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There’s glitter galore in this funny story, delivered for a change in prose rather than Donaldson’s more usual rhyme. Lydia Monks’ sparkle-spangled, collage constructed illustrations offer readers an abundance of opportunities for visual and tactile exploration.

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Above and Below

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The Something
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
The small boy narrator of this story loses his ball down a hole in his garden. Thus begins a whole host of flights of fancy about what might be lurking down in the darkness. Perhaps his red bouncy ball has caused breakfast-time havoc in the subterranean home of little mouse or maybe some frogs are having fun with it. Or, might there be something much larger and more frightening – a fiery dragon or a hungry troll? Although we never do find out what, if anything at all resides under the cherry tree, it certainly gives the lad something to talk about with his friends,

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grandparents and the dog. Assuredly the dog enjoys guarding said hole and dreaming about its possible residents.
Rebecca Cobb’s illustrations, as always are a delight; in particular those underground scenes of the disaster-struck mouse-hole with the mezzanine bedroom and that little mole sitting knitting a rainbow scarf.

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Cobb’s spare rendering of the child’s voice is spot-on allowing the pictures to provide the detail of his imaginings. Above ground, the passage of time is shown through the seasonal changes to the cherry tree beside which the watch is kept – just in case…
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Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari
Nosy Crow
Meet lion, elephant, buffalo, flamingo, zebra, warthog, crocodile, cheetah, rhinoceros, giraffe and antelope each of which introduces itself with a jaunty, two-verse rhyme and a portrait courtesy of Scheffler. But we can also hear from a zebingo, an elephara, a wartodile

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and over a hundred other possible creatures thanks to the spirally bound, split page design of this book. The characteristic Scheffler humour is present too in the small creatures that ask “What is it” in the left-hand corner of every page, as well as in the expressions and stances of the larger beasts portrayed on the right hand pages.
I recall when I was a fledgling teacher, Penguin Education had a series of split page books and the children couldn’t get enough of them. Then there was Maureen Roffey’s Door to Door, also very popular. I foresee endless hours of fun being had with these new incarnations too. It’s as well they are printed on sturdy card and strongly bound; I’m sure they will get a lot of handling in primary classrooms and could well inspire children to try making their own split page books.
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Canine Catastrophes

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This book just ate my dog!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Many of us avid readers devour books but here the situation is altogether different; it’s the book that does the devouring. All begins normally as Bella is walking her large spotty dog across the first page, but when he reaches the gutter, he starts to disappear headfirst

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and by the next page has vanished altogether, his lead protruding from the crack. Along comes Ben offering to help but he too meets the same fate, as does the rescue service van, followed by a police car and a fire engine! Time for Bella to take over but at the turn of a page and a very large BURP she too falls victim to the dreaded gutter.
All is not lost however; seemingly Bella has somehow managed to slip a note out to us book-devouring readers issuing instructions on how to help her escape. Wiggle, shake and shake and shake and shake and wiggle once again …

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normality restored –more or less.

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Don’t forget to read Bella’s final instructions or …. Oh well, we are bound to go back and start all over anyway.
Very clever, very funny and very, very satisfying.

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Smelly Louie
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books
Fresh from the bathtub, Louie has lost his unique doggy smell; instead, there’s a distinct aroma of roses and apple blossom about him. One unhappy Louie: off he goes in search of his own elusive odour. Fox, the snails, even some friendly flies all come up with helpfully pongy possibilities and then an improved, but not yet perfect Louise remembers the stagnant pond. There he wallows until his ‘Special Smell’ is restored. Back home trots a satisfied Louie with a big smile on his face; but what is that powerful aroma coming from upstairs and that noise?

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Please not –
Once again, Catherine Rayner’s characterization is superb. The text, with its scattering of alliteration, is a delight to read aloud and the circularity of her shaggy dog story so satisfying, for readers and listeners that is, although not perhaps for its determined canine protagonist. Her illustrations here exhibit a delightful blend of scribbled exuberance in Louie’s glorious messiness and the detailed, fine control evident in the small creatures such as snails and bees and the flora around them.

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One can almost smell that characteristic doggy whiff emanating from Louie on the penultimate spread and he’s definitely won my affection despite my not being a dog lover in general.

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Princesses and a Postman

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Ten Little Princesses
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books
Ten little princesses trot past the castle but whither are they bound on their special day? Why, to the ball of course: but will they arrive safely and on time? When one pricks her finger, another bites into a poisoned apple and a third is charmed by a handsome skateboarding prince, we begin to wonder whether any of these damsels will reach their destination. There are piggies and a big bad wolf,

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a frog, a toothy troll

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and much more in this action-packed, bouncy, rhyming romp of a countdown that really invites joining in.
What a wealth of detail there is to talk about, and an abundance of counting opportunities, in the various comical scenes rendered in dazzling colours by Rickerty, who made me chuckle several times at every turn of the page. Brilliant fun (even better than Ten Little Pirates) by a pair that work so well together.
Great fun too is:

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Digby Dog Delivers
Tor Freeman
Macmillan Children’s Books
Digby Dog is a postman and he spends his time delivering the town folks’ mail on his trusty scooter. On this particular day he has all manner of parcels to take to Fred Fox, Ginger Guinea Pig, Annie Ape,

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Professor Perry Pig and Sally Sheep. Those duly delivered, there is just one parcel remaining in his cart and it’s a very special one for a very special person.; but whose house is he heading to? His very own and just in time for a fifth birthday party and a share in Petal Puppy’s birthday tea.
There is so much to look at and share in the wonderfully humorous, action-packed pictures, not only the double spreads of the places Digby delivers to, but also the smaller scenes on his route. In one of the latter we see such things as three apple cores lined up beside a rubbish sack and a rabbit balancing seven scoops of ice-cream on a single cone.

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A Flying Bath and a Busy Tractor

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The Flying Bath
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books
When everyone’s away, the toys will play. The particular toys in question are the bath toys at number 17 where one morning, we see the residents depart, watched by the red plastic duck on the windowsill. Then begins an international rescue operation organized by said duck and his pals, frog and turtle.

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First stop is the Australian outback to save a dehydrated kangaroo. But that’s not the only call on the services of the bath – good job they filled up before take off – so it’s,
Wings out, and off we fly.
The flying bath is in the sky!

Next stop – to help the worried bee whose flowers are decidedly droopy; a carefully aimed shower is just the thing there. Next they fly to help a very mucky pig clean up;

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then it’s off to extinguish a fire in Baboon’s tree

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and finally to rescue a frantic fish from a drought-threatened pond. As night falls the intrepid toys must return home for the children’s bathtime, with a special surprise -an extra member of the gang.

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Apart from the occasional word, the entire rhyming text is either in speech bubbles or the repeated chorus, which makes it great for audience participation.
And, as well as a punchy tale, there is a gentle science lesson on the importance of water to life embedded herein.
David Roberts’ illustrations are full of fun: those ‘telephones’ are particularly inspired.

Another rhyming narrative that imparts a gentle lesson is:

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Following the Tractor
Susan Steggall
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
We share a farmer’s year through the activities of a bright red tractor and there is plenty to keep it busy   through the seasons. There’s the winter ploughing, sowing the crop,

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muck spreading, rescue work

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and when summer comes, the harvest tasks such as pulling the grain trailer, the baler and

 

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then the straw trailer back to the farm.
The cleverly composed, brightly coloured collage scenes have much to interest: there are of course, the vehicles but look too at the dog walkers and the various other furred and feathered animals, large and small.

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RABBIT, RABBIT, RABBIT!

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Rabbits Don’t Lay Eggs!
Paula Metcalf and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bored with his lonely, dark burrow life, Rupert the rabbit hears happy farm sounds beyond the wall and decides to seek a new home there. He tunnels under the fence and POPS up just as Dora duck has finished her new nest, ruining her precious creation. Less than pleased, Dora endeavours to find Rupert something useful to do on the farm, no easy task despite Rupert’s confidence and enthusiasm.

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Such enthusiasm even leads him to believe he can lay an egg. He doesn’t, but after considerable straining and pushing, something else does pop out from his nether regions.

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So, what can Rupert do to earn his right to stay on the farm? Well, what are rabbits expert at? Getting under things that others cannot – like fences between hungry animals and fields of delicious juicy carrots. Now, there’s a job that will please his new friends, Dora included, so long as she thinks he’s ace layer of all those tasty vegetables… hmmmmm!

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Young audiences will love Rupert’s misunderstandings, the shared joke between the author, Rupert and themselves. And, like Rupert’s new-found friends, they’ll relish the visual treats supplied by the bold, bright pictures of Cally Johnson-Isaacs whose scenes, be they full spread or smaller vignette style, are both funny and full of charm, in this farmyard romp.
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The Spring Rabbit
Joyce Dunbar and Susan Varley
Andersen Press pbk
I cannot believe this book is twenty years old. It’s a story I’ve always treasured since it first was published and kept as a special one to share, with fours to sixes especially, towards the end of the Easter term. It tells of young rabbit Smudge who lives with his parents in the woods and is the only one not to have a sister or brother. “Wait until the spring,” is his mother’s response when he asks why he has no siblings. Spring however seems a long way away. So, in autumn Smudge makes a leaf rabbit to be a brother but leaf rabbits cannot play chase, neither can the snow rabbit he makes for a sister in winter, join in a game of snowballs, nor the mud rabbit brother he builds as the snow melts, enjoy splashing in puddles with Smudge;

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in fact it is soon washed away by the rain.
At the first signs of spring, Smudge begins his search for his new sibling but he finds only baby mice, speckled eggs in a robin’s nest and frogspawn in the pond. Sadly he returns home to tell his mother but there awaiting him is a wonderful surprise;

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not just one baby brother but two … and a baby sister as well. Then it’s not long before they can all enjoy Smudge’s specially built, great big moss rabbit.
Smudge and his friends remain as adorable as ever. Susan Varley’s water colour pictures are infused with tenderness and just a hint of gentle humour making them the perfect complement for Joyce Dunbar’s sensitively told story of longing and new life.
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Miffy’s Play Date
Illustrations by Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It was something of a relief to discover that thoroughly modern Miffy, who has a play date with her friend Grunty, looks almost the same adorable rabbit she’s always been, despite this new and very now, experience and her slightly broader, digitally rendered mouth. The two pals have fun building a block castle, playing hide and seek, role-playing and much more. All too soon, it’s time to tidy away and Miffy bids farewell to her friend.
Simple, cute and just the thing for the very young to enjoy with an older family member or friend who can not only read the story but also share the instructions to the sticker finding activities. I am at a loss though to understand why the publishers feel a need to flag up this as ‘Practise fine motor skills’ alongside, ‘Relate to a child’s first experiences’. Books should be allowed to speak for themselves – surely the instructions are sufficient anyway but to use ‘early years’ jargon as a sales tactic is, in my opinion, wrong and diminishes the prime purpose of such books, which should be enjoyed for their own sake.
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Miffy at the Zoo
Dick Bruna
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
Thankfully there is no such message on the new edition of this old favourite. Herein, Miffy and her Daddy take a train ride to the zoo where Miffy encounters animals large and small. Poet Tony Mitton has reworked the original texts with his consummate skill as a writer of verse, giving them a modern, yet timeless appeal that remains true to Bruna’s original voice. Personally, I’d start with this one and of course, Miffy.
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February Finale

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Two Little Aliens
Sam Lloyd
Orchard pbk
We see things from an outsider’s perspective when two small aliens spy a playground from their rocket and decide to pay a visit. What’s that ‘yellow stuff’? they wonder; it’s certainly not for eating.

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And, what does one do with those conical objects from the kiosk? They’re definitely not for throwing… “Waaah!” being new can be overwhelming, they decide, but who are those friendly-looking characters running towards them?
Wow! “ … “Ahh!” … “Wheee!” …

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Problems solved, new friends made, but all too soon it’s time to head for home.
Dotty characters, bold bright images and funny scenes are the main ingredients of this funny story. The entire, brief text is in dialogue with just one or two sentences per page making the book ideal for young beginning readers as well as a good one to share with preschoolers.
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Gracie enjoying sharing the story.

Hugo the Hare’s Rainy Day
Jez Alborough
Doubleday
I once had a yoga teacher (now a friend) who advocated finding pleasure in everything you do, even those things (like ironing) that you dislike. This is exactly what Hugo Hare manages to do, finally, in this latest escapade featuring the usual trio, Hugo and his pals Billy the Goat and Nat the Cat.
When Hugo, who hates to get wet, sets out for the park to meet Nat and Billy, he takes his umbrella in anticipation of rain. This proves a sensible move as before long, there is a sudden downpour. Hugo offers Billy a share of his brolly but they have to adopt an unconventional way of walking in order to accommodate both of them. When they come upon Nat sheltering under a tree Hugo decides to join her and that’s when things start to take a turn for the worse

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The ensuing SPLASH however, is not such a disaster as Hugo at first thinks. In fact, from then on the sploshing, slapping and slopping in the slippery wet puddle proves a whole lot of fun (ask any 3/4 year old) and once the sky is bright again, it’s time for Nat to entertain her friends with one of her musical interludes.
A funny, jaunty rhyme that trips beautifully off the tongue and appropriately action packed, chucklesome scenes that show the characters’ changing moods are the hallmarks of Alborough’s third adventure in this series.
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(The second story, Billy the Goat’s Big Breakfast (previously reviewed on this site is just out in paperback.)

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Bear and Hare Go Fishing
Emily Gravett
Macmillan
Friends, Hare and Bear go fishing. Bear loves to fish. Bear fishes, while Hare waits. He fishes Hare’s hat,

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a frog, a rollerskate, and …
Hare meanwhile is making a daisy chain. It gets longer…

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and longer.

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Then finally, a fish is caught!

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Brilliantly simple, brilliantly effective, very funny and perfect for beginning readers.
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Hooray for Hoppy!
Tim Hopgoood
Macmillan Children’s Books
Hoppy, the rabbit uses all five of his senses as he seeks out signs of spring. He smells the fresh air, sees the trees in blossom, hears the birds singing, smells the flowers and watches the lambs, tastes the fresh green grass and feels the warm ground beneath his feet. It really is spring he decides – a spring whose arrival he cannot wait to share with his many friends. But first he has to find them. Tim Hopgood’s delightful mixed media illustrations are seemingly simple but very effective; they put me in mind of some of the pictures created by foundation stage children using sponges for printing, crayons, paints and pastels.
This story would be a good starting point for a sensory walk with very young children either in a nursery or school setting, or with their parents.
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This is really funny, thinks Gracie

Do Dare Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Jane Massey
Jonathan Cape pbk
What does the duck do? Dance like the pig, dazzle like peacock, doze like dog, doodle like the cockerel’s cock-a-doodle-do!

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dawdle like tortoise, dash like hare or even dilly-dally-dangle with legs in a tangle donkey style? No, not exactly. Instead duck dares to … dance with pig, dazzle with peacock… dilly-dally dangle with donkey and having done all that our duck engages in a spot of dabbling and what’s more all her friends join her for some dibble dobble dabbling – up tails all!
Deliciously diverting alliteration delivered question and answer style by Dunbar and delightfully depicted in Massey’s marvellous illustrative pen and paint, sploshy, splattery musings.

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Every spread is  superb. Definitely one to put a spring in your step and much more as you emulate the animals herein, along with your children of course.
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Goodbye Grandma
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books
Having been told of his grandma’s death, the small boy narrator in this book shares his thoughts and anxieties with readers as he talks with his Mum about what has happened. He has lots of questions, which she answers  in a simple, frank manner, making links to other family members, pets and friends. She acknowledges his feelings of sadness: ‘Sometimes we will miss Grandma’ and it’s OK to feel sad, she tells him … but ‘We will never forget’ her.

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Melanie Walsh’s characteristic bold collage illustrations convey the range of feelings effectively in her straightforward and reassuring picture book for the very young. Recommended for use at times of bereavement and also as a starting point for discussion with young children in nursery settings.
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Also on the theme of death is

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Fred
Posy Simmons
Andersen Press pbk
This is a reissue of a classic story told in comic strip format, first published over twenty five years ago, wherein brother and sister, Nick and Sophie mourn the death of their beloved cat, Fred. Having buried him under the buddleia, they try to think of something nice to put on his gravestone. The two had always thought of Fred as a cat that liked nothing better than to eat and to sleep; seemingly he had spent most of his time asleep. That night Sophie and Nick are woken by noises in their garden and go down to investigate. There they discover a veritable army of cats, come to pay tribute to Fred, a cat they discover led a double life and was, in the eyes of his fellow felines, “The MOST FAMOUS CAT in the WORLD!”

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Fred has lost none of his appeal and should find a whole host of new fans.
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Bookmark 5th March in your diary: wrad13nodate

Prehistoric Animal Brigade

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Woolly
Sam Childs
Scholastic pbk
The new addition to the mammoth family has something of a problem. She’s not woolly at all, just the opposite in fact; she’s bald and pink and feels the cold terribly. Mum has an idea – a tea towel wrapping, but this scares off the potential friends she meets. Poor Woolly: back home she goes. Time to start knitting advises Daddy but Mummy has another idea in the form of a rainbow-hued, feathery coat. However, Woolly’s attempts to emulate the birds win her no friends either so it’s back home once again.

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This time though, Mummy heeds Daddy’s advice and gets knitting.

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The outcome? A very happy Woolly with lots of playmates until she gets overheated in the family cave and rushes out to play in the cold, cold snow. That proves to be her undoing but it’s not a total disaster; far from it in fact … Unashamedly cute and heart-warming; what endearing characters Sam Childs has portrayed in the mixed media illustrations of her hugely enchanting story.
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Dino-Mummy
Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury pbk.
Dino-Mummy is a marvel. From singing a morning ‘Tra la la” to after lunch rocket launcher, afternoon dino-pirate

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or evening bath time bubble maker she is hard at work caring for and entertaining her two demanding dino-offspring. Nothing seems to faze this super-mum and although it would have been good to see her engaging in some less traditional female activities, Dino-Mummy as portrayed by Sam Lloyd is a charmer with her matching pink shoes, necklace and floral adornment. Sperring’s rhyming text reads aloud well though I suggest if you are sharing it with a group that you try it on your own first as the phrasing in one or two places can be a bit tricky on the tongue.
Definitely a good bet for appreciative (dino) tinies to give to their mums on Mother’s Day.
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There’s a Dinosaur in My Bathtub
Catalina Echeverri
Bloomsbury pbk.
Not so much a dinosaur, more an imaginary friend is the huge green creature in this story, especially as he is only seen by Amelia, sports a large black curly moustache, hails from France and answers to the name, Pierre. Said large beast certainly adds spice to Amelia’s life: together they picnic on the moon, dance upside down to Pierre’s magic violin and much more besides, the bathtub becoming a vehicle for their flights of fancy.

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Sadly though, Pierre and others like him only stay during the summer months and so, when the autumn leaves begin to fall, it’s time to bid farewell. But not before one last special picnic with Pierre’s most favourite food: can you guess what that might be?
Catalina Echeverri’s wonderful scenes abound with witty detail, including captions and labels, adding to the quirky humour of her tale, a tale told by Amelia herself who engages her audience with her opening speech … ‘My name is Amelia. … Shhh!! It’s a secret so you mustn’t tell anyone in the whole world … OK?
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Toot Goes to Dinosaurland
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Nosy Crow pbk
Toot has a little red car with a magic satnav that will take him and his toy puppy to all manner of exciting places. He decides to visit Dinosaurland. (I can see a series coming here.) Off goes the car, through the city, into a tunnel, up and down mountains, to the top of a high hill and down to his destination. There he meets dinosaurs of different sizes – a weeny one, a middle-sized one and a big one but not, much to Toot’s relief, a huge enormous one. So what is that long green slope you are driving up Toot? “ROA-AR!

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Time for some fast thinking and a clever trick to escape those open jaws.
This story will go down well with very young children either individually or in a preschool setting. The bright illustrations are engaging and will hold their interest; and the text offers lots of opportunities for audience participation through sounds and actions, Children will enjoy being in the know as they notice what Toot does not; that he is driving along a tail-shaped road towards danger.
After sharing the story you could take the opportunity offered therein to talk about comparative sizes. Then, why not let preschoolers play out the story with small world dinosaurs of various sizes, a little rabbit soft toy for Toot and a toy car large enough to fit him in; the children could decide what else is needed.
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Nina is immediately grabbed by the story

Gigantosaurus
Jonny Duddle
Templar Publishing
His feet go STOMP!
His jaws go CRUNCH!
In the blink of an eye
You’d be his LUNCH!
Watch out! The Gigantosaurus is about, warn the dinosaur mums as Bonehead, Tiny, Fin and Bill set off to play on the hill one day.
Self-elected lookout, Bonehead posts himself on the termite nest and it’s not long before he raises the alarm “GIGANTOSAURUS!”

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THUD THUD THUD – a false alarm as it turns out. So too is the second cry and the third. Bonehead laughs at his pals, leaves them and goes to take a nap so he says, but “GIGANTOASARUS!” he calls again. Enough is enough decide the others going off to explore but then …
Duddle’s prehistoric take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf is nothing short of stupendous. The rhyming story rollicks along and with their filmic quality, the digitally created illustrations almost leap off the page.

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There’s also a fold out page and sturdy dust jacket that doubles as a large two-sided poster,one side of which shows the dinosaurs on a time-line and, to whet the appetites of knowledge seekers, there are snippets of information about the featured dinosaurs on the two final double spreads.
With his dinosaurs, Duddle has definitely done it again.

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WOW!

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Finally, not really a picture book

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Hot Dogs and Dinosnores
Amanda Li
Macmillan Children’s Books pbk
‘What do you get when a dinosaur sneezes? Out of the way’.  You can find this joke, more dinosaur jokes and a whole host of others in this ‘first animal joke book’. It’s ideal for those gaining confidence as readers, and even if they don’t laugh uproariously at Li’s one hundred odd groan making jokes, Jane Eccles’s dotty line drawings are sure to raise a smile.
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Have you marked  5th March in your diaries? wrad13nodate

Picture Book Medley

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The Strongest Boy in the World
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln
Jessica Souhami’s latest offering is an alternative take on an old Japanese tale, the first records of which go back to the 13th Century. The original story featured an adult warrior whereas here, Souhami’s would-be hero is a plucky though puny boy who dreams of becoming a champion Sumo wrestler. Kaito sets out from his village to the Kyoto tournament and en route meets Hana, a girl with much greater strength. Hana decides to toughen him up but can she do it in the three weeks before the tournament? Training begins in earnest with a strict diet of tough meat, bony fish and semi-cooked rice together with a regime of running, jumping, kicking, lifting and punching.

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Finally Kaito is declared ready to fight and sets off once again for the city. The enormous and famous wrestlers he meets therein scoff at him but Kaito overcomes every one he comes up against and is declared champion. Greatly impressed, the Emperor invites him to live at his court as Imperial Champion. What is Kaiko’s decision? Suffice it to say he is the strongest boy in the land but both he and readers know of an even stronger young person, someone without whose help he could not have achieved his dream.
Striking collage illustrations, beautifully crafted and suitably energetic, underline the humour of this tale. It’s wonderful to have a female character with such strength of body and mind – a celebration of ‘girl power’, but at the same time, an acknowledgment of male strength, making this a book that will be pleasing to both genders.
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Counting Chickens
Polly Alakija
Frances Lincoln
Young Tobi’s pride and joy is his hen: his village friends have animals of their own too. One Monday, Ade’s cow has a calf and Tobi’s hen lays one egg. The next day, Tunde’s sheep has two lambs; Tobi’s hen lays a second egg and so it goes on.

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On Sunday it lays a seventh egg. The hen sits, Tobi waits and waits… After three weeks both are rewarded with a brood of seven, newly hatched, yellow chicks. The following year those chicks become mother hens with their own babies – so many Tobi needs help to count them all.
This lovely story with its Nigerian village setting is beautifully illustrated with earthy tones that contrast with the strong colours of the villagers’ clothes and vehicles. Patterns abound in the details of the weaves of baskets, designs on some of the clothing and the natural designs of the African flora and fauna.
With its counting opportunities, days of the week and most important, a great opportunity to share a story with a Nigerian setting, this is a book I would recommend highly to those in nursery and infant settings as well as anybody who wants to expand the horizons of their young child/children.
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Mr Tiger Goes Wild
Peter Brown
Macmillan Children’s Books pbk
Dapper looking Mr Tiger sports a top hat, suit and bow tie and lives in a street of houses the residents of which are very proper, upright people who drink tea and sit nicely at the table. Mr T. however becomes bored with this dull existence. Time to explore life on the wild side, he decides. Soon he isn’t content with being on all fours; clothing dispensed with, he’s off to ‘the wilderness’ as instructed by his now, horrified friends. There, his wildness is given full rein but roaring and roaming freely in the wilderness proves less than completely satisfying: Mr Tiger misses his friends and city home. Back he goes to discover that not only can he now be more true to his real nature, but that his friends too have become both more accepting and relaxed in themselves.

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There are echoes of Rousseau in Peter Brown’s digitally edited Indian ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations. These begin with an almost monochromatic palette (apart from the tiger’s face) becoming brighter in tandem with Mr T growing wildness.

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Brown lets his illustrations do much of the talking. The ‘be yourself’ message comes through loud and clear from the pictures whereas he keeps the verbal content understated and to the point.
This clever picture book has much to offer although I wouldn’t suggest using it with under fives unless they have already had exposure to a wide variety of picture books and some experience of talking about and interpreting them.
The book is most assuredly an excellent starting point for discussions relating to being yourself, difference/divergence and acceptance for children in primary and even secondary schools.
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Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner
Gareth Edwards and Guy Parker-Rees
Alison Green Books pbk
Definitely don’t do that nor, says the boy narrator of this very funny, rhyming cautionary tale, should you share your toothbrush with a shark, never let a beaver in the basin or use a tiger as a towel. A bison will be a bully so despite its woolliness, don’t choose one for a blanket

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and a barn owl is nocturnal so most certainly not a suitable night-time companion. Shun them all and instead stick with your tried and trusted Ted for a blissful sleep in bed.
Delightfully dotty and made all the more so by Parker-Rees’s illustrations. His glowing colours are gorgeous, the scenes hilarious and the, oh so endearing cast of characters he portrays, make one immediately want to ignore the advice and snuggle up with all of them – well maybe not the shark on second thoughts.
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That Dog!
Gillian Shields and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Unloved, indeed virtually unnoticed, the Jones’ family dog is thoroughly miserable. So, determined to get some attention, he ups and leaves home. But then what is a hungry dog to do? Get a job, he decides and tries his hand or rather paws at washing up, taxi driving, farm working, litter picking, fire fighting, nursing and more.

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Eventually our canine pal is not only skilled, but also very knowledgeable. It’s then that the Jones spot their erstwhile pet on a TV talent show but of course, it’s too late; that amazing dog now has plenty of people to give him love and friendship.
Believe in yourself and you are unstoppable is the message that dog sends out loud and clear in this off-beat story. The illustrations abound with pattern and there is much else to entertain in the detail too.
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There’s a Shark in the Bath
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic pbk.
Join Dulcie in a riotous bathroom farce wherein she discovers not one, but three sharks in the bath full of cold water left overnight by her dad. Now being breakfast time, Papa, Mama and Baby Shark have just one thing in mind and you can guess what that is. Quick-thinking Dulcie however, has others. First there’s the ‘Brushety-Brush Game’ with the toothpaste,

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then the ‘Wiggety-Wig Game’ involving masses of pink bubbles, hastily followed by the ‘Happy-Wrappy-Uppie Game’ an excellent diversion that results in a very large entanglement of sharks and toilet paper. No mess at all, she assures Dad who is anxiously waiting outside the door; so then one final game is called for. PHEW! Time for breakfast – Dulcie’s not the sharks’ I hasten to add . . .

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Wonderfully silly both verbally and visually. The wacky, over the top or rather, over the edge, bathroom scenes are cleverly so nearly catastrophic and are a perfect match for the tongue-in-cheek telling.
A brilliant one to share with individuals or groups large and small.
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Gracie is highly amused at the exploits of Aldrin and friends

The Great Moon Confusion
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Raccoon Aldrin is something of a know-all; he impresses his friends Fox, Rabbit and Woodpecker, but he’s not quite as clever as he likes to think. So, one night when Rabbit asks why the moon has changed its shape, too embarrassed to admit he doesn’t know, Aldrin proposes an investigation. A week later, with some clues provided by his friends, he concludes, erroneously, that the bears, Hubble and Lovell, are engaged in moon theft.

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The truth however is something far more constructive.
One cannot help but laugh at, but also have a little sympathy for, self-elected expert, Aldrin who does, before this funny tale is out, learn an awful lot, not only about the moon but also about showing off, jumping to hasty conclusions,

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accusing, and apologising and perhaps most importantly, about friendship, as he engages in one hilarious, blunder-making situation after another.
Get hold of this book for its hilarious story and wonderful illustrations, I love the endpapers too. Also, embedded within, is some basic information about the moon that young listeners will absorb effortlessly.
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Nursery Time
Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
Hodder Children’s Books
The animals are bemused: Suzy Sue has disappeared. They search high and low to no avail and then cow discovers a sign – Sunshine Nursery. That’s where she has gone. The animals pay a visit and discover what a wonderful place it is; but is it so good Suzy Sue will never want to return to her farmyard pals? The animals hatch a plan and enter the nursery in disguise intending to take her home right away. That was the plan but the place is such fun that they want to stay too playing with the sand, water, bouncy balls, building blocks and much more.

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But, ‘oh my goodness’ their cover is blown; Suzy Sue spots them and tells them it’s a children only environment. Quickly though, she explains “I’m not going to live here, I just come every day. I play for a while and then go away.” Much relieved cow, sheep and the others return home with another plan in mind. Then it’s a case of home from home…
A reassuring, indeed enticing view of nursery is portrayed (not sure about the bookshelf though) in this amusing, rhyming tale. There are plenty of details for those already at nursery to spot and enjoy; those yet to start should be filled with eager anticipation. Adults too will enjoy the visual humour especially those who have spent time in a nursery.
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Boris Gets Spots
Carrie Weston and Tim Warnes
Oxford University Press pbk
This is the fourth Boris adventure. Herein his teacher makes an exciting announcement: Mr Gander from Gosling farm is coming to pay the class a visit. There is great excitement with everyone except Boris who merely wants to stay quietly in the book corner. When the special visitor arrives, Miss Cluck and her class go outside and enthusiastically experience all Mr Gander has to offer until Boris’s absence is discovered. Back to the classroom goes Fergus and then comes the cry, ‘Boris is covered with spots!’ Back they all dash to find a red -spotted Boris looking very sorry for himself. ‘Chicken Pox” announces Miss Cluck who fortunately knows just what to do.

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Before long though, she has an epidemic, not to mention an empty classroom on her hands. Time to put that honey cookies recipe to good use with the delicious ingredients Mr Gander left them.
Those who work in early years will immediately relate to this one. On several occasions I’ve had my nursery or reception class decimated by a chicken pox epidemic, perhaps not quite all at once as is the case here however. Authorial license notwithstanding though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story to share with young children with or without the dreaded spots. There is so much to explore in relation to the food items and other things Mr Gander brings to show Boris’s class.
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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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October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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Tinies and Monsters

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Very Little Red Riding Hood
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
David Fickling Books
With Red Teddy in hand and blanket, tea-set and a box of cakes safely stowed in her pull along bag, Very Little Red Riding Hood sets out to her Grandmama’s for a sleepover. Before long, what should she meet but a Wolf. “A Foxie!” she cries in delight giving him a big hug. More than a little put out at her lack of fear and her refusal to give him a cake, the Wolf suggests gathering a bouquet for Grandmama. Red – insists our feisty young heroine, inviting ‘Foxie’ to a game of chase all the way to Grandmama’s and a ‘cuppatea’ when they get there. But is this a step too far? Well, there’s a rib-tickling ending but if you want to find out what happens, then get your hands on this sweetly funny variation of the traditional story.
With her toddler talk and winning smile, Very Little Red Riding Hood is an absolute charmer.

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Rosa and Nina sharing Little Red’s exploits

The end papers show the route she took to her Grandmama’s house but also a number of other homes occupied by ‘Very Little’ fairy tale characters. Is this then the start of a series? I do hope so. Certainly this first time collaboration between Heapy and Heap is a whole heap of fun.
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The Tiny King
Taro Miura
Walker Books
In a castle far away lived a king. But the castle was very, very big and the king was a very, very Tiny King. The Tiny King had a big army and a big, big table for his meals but delicious food isn’t much fun if you’re all alone. It’s a good thing then, that the Tiny King fell head over heels in love with a princess, albeit a Big Princess and she agreed to be his wife. Before long, the Tiny King and the Big Queen had lots of children and what seemed like a very big castle for one Tiny King now felt just right with ten children playing and laughing the whole day.
Of course, big families mean lots of sharing: sharing meals, sharing the space on the big white horse’s back and sharing a riotous bath time; and what comes of sharing? Happiness; certainly that’s so in the case of the Tiny King.
Japanese artist and author, Taro Muira uses precision, patterned cut-outs in bold, bright colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes, which stand out dramatically against flat black backgrounds. These scenes remind me of scenes from young children’s small world and construction play.

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Told in a straightforward manner, this simple neo fairy tale is a delight to share with under fives.
(Quite apart from the story, there is a wealth of learning opportunities here: talking about sharing, counting, identifying shapes, mathematical language and concepts relating to size, pattern making, block play, collage and small world castle play.)
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
There is a lovely twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mothers. What is Mummy Camel to do when confronted with a baby Polar Bear in the middle of the desert and baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.
With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round, and a text that trips off the tongue, this is one to share  with the under sixes and will prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Enormouse
Angie Morgan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Enormouse was big; much, much bigger than all the other mice in Mouse House. But being big had its advantages. Enormouse could lift REALLY heavy cheese, reach high up things and give lifts to tired-legged little mice. One day while out exploring he and his best friend Tinymouse find a large book with pictures of furry animals. That’s when Tinymouse concludes that his pal is actually A RAT. How the other mice laugh at poor Enormouse. Off he goes to find a new home with the rats but, what a shock he gets on arriving at ‘Rats’ House’; there’s mess everywhere. His offer to clean up is laughed at and once again Enormouse feels at odds with his housemates. In the meantime, his mouse friends have seen the error of their ways and set off in the hope of bringing their absent friend back home. But it’s now dark and they don’t know where to go…
From the mouse photo portrait endpapers, every turn of the page brings much to talk about and explore in the mixed media illustrations. The squalor of the rats’ house is truly disgusting with the grubby rodents lolling amongst half eaten fruit, discarded chips, over-turned cans, fish bones, filth and flies. You can almost smell the pong.

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Rosa couldn’t resist coming to see what we were so disgusted at.

The story too offers plenty of food for thought with its themes of not judging by appearances, self-belief, friendship and finding ones place in the world.
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Here Be Monsters
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
With the fiercest pirate crew and the fastest pirate ship, fearless Captain Cut-Throat is the meanest pirate to sail the seas. So, when he hears of an island strewn with giant gemstones he is determined to set sail straight away. His crew members though are far from happy; monsters are hiding in the mist, so the legend tells. At first all goes well but then they reach the MIST from which emanates all manner of alarming sounds. “Sail on!” commands the Captain and they do – into the swirling white. ‘ “Here be monsters!” cried the lookout…
‘ “Nonsense!” growled the Captain. “Monsters simply don’t exist.” ‘

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And so he maintains, heading on, unaware of the diminishing crew numbers, until an island comes into view. Once ashore, the penny finally drops but undaunted, the greedy Captain has his mind only on those giant jewels littering the shore. Oh foolish one!
Emmett’s riotous rollicking rhyme rattles along apace and when read aloud, it will have delighted audiences joining in with the repeated refrain of the fearless captain, as they see what he does not – his crew disappearing one by one.
Poly Bernatene draws his inspiration for the dastardly crew from the less attractive members of the animal kingdom with crow, rat, crocodile and blue-bottomed baboon all featuring. The almost filmic quality of his arresting illustrations adds to the dramatic impact of the story.
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