Tag Archives: poetry

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake
Michael Rosen and Kevin Waldron
Puffin Books

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

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

until things get just a tad out of control …

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

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

It’s Time for Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Zebras Go / How to be a Tiger

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Where Zebras Go
Sue Hardy-Dawson
Otter-Barry Books
Let The Weaver of Words, the subject of the opening poem, capture you in her threads and take you on an amazing journey past ghosts, through the fog and out across the plains, embracing en route wildlife in many forms and then leading you towards enchanted fairytale worlds where mermaids sing silent songs, magical boxes wait to be opened and tales you thought familiar are cast anew: ‘So what if he did find my golden ball, I didn’t once mention a kiss. More like I put him gently over the wall. Oh well then – maybe as you suggest, it was the teeniest little kick. Then naturally, I ran and ran, as only really a true princess can, in silly shoes and a dress. I never once dreamed he would follow me – No, Dad.’ (That’s from The Frog Princess, one of a sprinkling of deliciously playful shape poems.)

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Wonderfully inventive, or occasionally re-inventive – Motorway Poem after Night Mail by WH Auden and Ugly Sister Sonnet
Many things will look a little different – ‘I’m the flame in the nettles sting / the fleet snow of goose’s wing. / I’m the feather in grass’s seed / wheaten waves in meadow’s sea.’ – after a few excursions into this amazingly diverse, and surprisingly, Sue Hardy-Dawson’s debut, solo poetry book.
Some cry out to be read aloud – performed perhaps – such as Sludge-Bog Stew and how many times have the teachers among us heard the words of this, which has a title longer than the poem itself …

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Talking of school – think of the visual (2D and 3D) potential of the ‘spiky salamander,’ ‘slithering, skinny snake’, ‘cranky crocodile’ and ‘flippy, floppy frog’ from that swampy, glue-like sludge-bog, or indeed, many of the other poems. Sue herself has illustrated almost all of her poems.
A must get for primary classes and individuals in particular with a taste for the slightly quirky – the latter will, after dipping into this treat of a book, surely become poetry lovers.
For somewhat younger audiences is:
How to be a Tiger
George Szirtes
Otter-Barry Books
Award winning poet Szirtes also takes his readers foraying into fairy tales with a belching princess in The Princess and the Bad King and the tongue-twistingly superb Rumpelstiltskin. Now who knew he has brothers the likes of Dumplingstiltskin, Crumpetstiltskin, Stumblingstiltskin, Jumperstiltskin, Plumplipstiltskin, Crumpledstiltskin, Grumpystiltskin, Chumptripstiltskin, Mumppillstiltskinm Gazumpstiltskin; oh and Billy-ho! Mustn’t overlook him!

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(Think of what you might do with that one in the classroom … )
In addition there are seasonal poems, poems such as You Have a Body and The Leaping Hare that cry out to be dramatised,; and Spelling Your Name: ‘Here’s your name and how to spell it. See it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it! – a gift for creative early years teachers, and much much more. And, Tim Archbold’s delightfully scribble-style, smudgy illustrations further add to the delights herein.
In fact, the whole thing is packed with learning adventures just waiting to be embarked upon … What are you waiting for?

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Jellicle Cats

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Jellicle Cats
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber
In the fourth of his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats visual interpretations, Arthur Robins renders the jellicle Cats as total pleasure-loving felines cavorting ‘neath the Jellicle Moon, clad in all their jazzy gear, having first had a sneaky practice of their ‘airs and graces’ while waiting for that lunar object to illuminate their revels.

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These black and white beauties take their preparations seriously for: ‘Until the Jellicle Moon appears/ They make their toilette and take their repose:

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Note the Parisian perfume – just one of the numerous enchanting details that make Arthur Robins’ illustrations such tremendous fun.
Mornings and afternoons are mostly for repose and ‘Reserving their terpsichorean powers’ for the much-anticipated moonlight dancing, adverse weather permitting, that is …

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Every one of Robins’ spreads will surely bring a smile to readers and listeners who will delight in the revelry and the action inherent in each scene be it indoors or out.
If you want to encourage young children to become poetry lovers, then share this with them and then cavort like those Jellicle Cats.

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster / Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies

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Adder, Bluebell, Lobster
Chrissie Gittins, illustrated by Paul Bommer
Otter-Barry Books
I was intrigued by the title of this collection of “Wild Poems’ from Chrissie Gittins and delighted by the explanation for its choice. The author was inspired by the list of natural world words that were left out of the most recent (2015) edition of Oxford Junior Dictionary and replaced with 21st century terms So, this is Chrissie’s offering as part of the protest against their omission that was endorsed by almost 30 authors intent on the laudable aim to send a “tremendous cultural signal and message of support for natural childhood”.
The poems are arranged alphabetically with almost every letter represented, the exceptions being E, J, K, Q, U, X, Y and Z and every one is a treat for the ears and eyes. For A in addition to the snake of the title we have Allotment, which describes a wonderfully wet time: here are the first few lines: “When it rains the soil sighs deeply, / the leaves of the purple sprouting broccoli giggle as rivulets tickle their veins,/ rainbow chard reaches out to catch droplets in its wrinkles ,/ the strawberries smile – their redness becomes redder, their sweetness sweeter,/ broad beans swell inside their emerald pods/ waiting to be picked.
What a splendid evocation of a downpour: and it’s vertically presented for extra effect.
For B there’s Bluebell, Blackberry – such a tasty treat with its wordplay –and its ‘luscious globules’ and ‘purple dribbles’; and the superbly bossy Beetroot shown in Bommer’s line drawing wielding a pot of red juice capable of causing ‘a red Niagara Falls’.

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The fastest animal on land, the Cheetah races in and across the spread – ‘made for flight’ as one of the Cs and then we have a run of flora – Dandelion, Fern, Fungi – two species – and Gorse. I have to say I was shocked at some of the omissions; how can a dictionary for the young not have Hamster – surely a favourite pet, the majestic Heronrigid as a cement pterodactyl’, Ivy, Lark, Lavender? All these and the many others herein are essential parts of childhood – Newt, Poppy, Violet, Willow, Wren. Oh my goodness, I got more and more sad and angry as I continued reading; but thank goodness for Chrissie Gittins’ wild and wonderful, sometimes wacky words; and she’s ably abetted by artist Paul Bommer with those stark black and white illustrations – some funny …

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some beautiful …
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and all apposite, on almost every spread. I have a feeling this will be read to extinction/destruction fairly fast; it’s such a tongue-tingling assortment of poetic forms and fanciful phrases: what a way to ‘turn sows’ ears into a silk purse’.
A must have for all primary classrooms, for the family bookshelf and for anyone who loves words, the natural world, and those who, like me and the creators of this book are eager to help play a part in saving from extinction, these names from nature. Long may they reign and remain…

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Dinosaurs & Dinner Ladies
John Dougherty illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones
Otter-Barry Books
This is a debut foray into poetry collection created by the author of the popular Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series of stories, John Dougherty, whose humour is evident in each and every offering. Many of the preoccupations of school children, most notably school and what happens therein are featured and in some instances superbly sent up in his verses. Take for example The Alliterative Alligator who: ‘lurks languidly, looking like a lazy log/ by the bank, beneath the blue/ wavy waters, waiting, wanting,/ hunting hungrily but unhurriedly,/ seeking something satisfyingly savoury.’ This is cleverly juxtaposed with an impatient Alligator that –and who can blame it – ‘hates the crime/ Of bending words to force a rhyme.’ (I hope those responsible for the current Primary English curriculum are listening.) And I absolutely love his Note to an English Teacher, an oh-so-telling offering comparing a poem with a hamster. You’ll need a copy of this splendid collection to relish this one yourself (relish, if like me you are party to, and hate, what’s currently served up in many classrooms in the name of English. Teachers feature quite frequently in one way or another by the way.
Slow Reader provides a view of what reading might look like to one such (you have to read each line backwards) and I have to say, it makes about as much, or as little sense, as a phonic book for beginners. Don’t you just love Tom Morgan-Jones’ visual representation of same?

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Not all the poems are school-themed however: there are natural world poems, Seeds being one; another is this Lonely Haiku: ‘Bare autumn branches/ The emptiness of lost leaves/ The long wait for spring.’ . There are pets such as Next- Door’s Cat, a creature with ‘attitude’ and ‘fat cattitude’, Dogs, some of which are liked, others definitely not; and poems about faces, food-related verses and an exciting lunar ‘Countdown’. I think if I had to choose a favourite, it’s Sail Away Between the Pages that includes this; ‘Their words are not enough to name the blessings/ that they bring/ The wonder of their pictures or the songs their poems/ sing./ And their prose by any other name would have/ as many flavours/ So I can’t think of a better thing to do/ Than sail away between the pages.’ (of the books read).Good on you, John Dougherty. If you want to turn children on to poetry, then grab a copy of this and share it; buy a copy or more and give it; which ever – JUST DO IT!
And I’m interested to read at the back of the book, that its author now lives in Gloucestershire and is an ex-primary teacher.

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Zim Zam Zoom

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Zim Zam Zoom
James Carter and Nicola Colton
Otter-Barry Books
This corker of a book arrived during the holidays and I had to restrain myself from dashing out into the road, grabbing any child I could find and saying, ‘Come with me and listen.’ ‘Zappy poems to read aloud’ announces the cover by line; and every one of the sixteen included truly is a treat to do so. From fireworks to a farmyard Hullabaloo (do I detect a touch of Charley Causely here?)

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bedtime (with a teddy) to Billy Goats there’s something for all tastes; but I suspect re-reads of them all will be the order of the day. From a performance point of view, I think my favourite has to be Grump, Grump, Grump! (or … The Three Billy Goats Get Rough Rap), with verses such as this:
Says Goat, “Ohh, Trev – you don’t scare me-
cos my bruv’s tough, as you’ll soon see!”
So Goat number 1 trots off to the grass
As Goat number two pops up so fast.
“Yells, Oi, Goatie – off you squeal,
or I’m gonna scoff you as my meal!”
Grump, grump, grump!
If you’re in the mood for something altogether quieter then try this lullaby…

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Or, for maximum audience participation of the silent kind share this …

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I also love Hey, Let’s Go, a once upon a time invitation to participate in some fairytale frolics such as ’Let’s dress up in a riding hood./ Let’s take that shortcut though the wood.// let’s race that wolf to Granny’s door./ Let’s huff and puff that house of straw.
Assuredly, this is a book if ever there was one, to turn children on to poetry. It leads on perfectly from nursery rhymes and deserves a place in every early years setting and on every family bookshelf. So, do what James Carter suggests in his final offering and Take a Poem … 
Nicola Colton ‘s spirited illustrations allow the poems to take centre stage right where they should be – a tricky undertaking, deftly done.

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A Rainbow in My Pocket

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A Rainbow in My Pocket
Ali Seidabadi and Hoda Haddadi
Tiny Owl Publishing
How can you put a rainbow in your pocket? Seemingly the little child in this book has an answer to what sounds like a riddle and it’s one she shares with readers in her poetic outpourings – her musings, preoccupations and daydreams.
Excuse me, /Little ant,/Could you tell me/Which school this is,/Where you queue in such a neat line?’ she asks one day as she concerns herself with the minutiae of life…

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Those of us who work as teachers of young children are from our observations, well aware of that state of being transfixed by the moment, being in the here and now – the kind of contemplative state that the child in this book appears to be in as she observes that line of tiny ants at her feet.
On another day she has this to offer: ‘I wish people/Would talk using only nice words – / Poetry,/ Songs,/ Not harsh words/ That prod/ And poke you.’

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Possibly here her thoughts have taken on a self-transcendent or universal outlook; or has she herself perhaps been upset by somebody? But then she continues ‘I think of the sparrow in the tree/ And the fish in the river.’ indicating a possible return to the here and now. This particular stanza certainly demonstrates how quickly one thought comes and another goes when a child’s mind runs free, untrammelled by adults requiring them to ‘do this, that or the other… ‘
The enigmatic and introspective nature of the book is such that it seems to raise more questions than answers. It’s not in my opinion a whole class ‘storytime’ book but one for small group discussion or personal contemplation.
Hoda Haddadi appears to use often translucent, tissue, rag and fibre papers

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to compose her collages, which decorate the white pages with simple, delicate images that have a child-like quality in tune with the narrative voice.

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Puzzling Pictures, Puzzling Words

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Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
Near, Far
Silvia Borando
Walker Books
Two more brilliantly playful titles in the minibombo series:
In the first we start with a line up of animals, large and small –

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after which two at a time they disappear into the coloured background leaving just their eyes and a tiny clue visible. Then comes the fun of trying to work out which ones are the ‘vanishers’ each time. The good news is, the animals don’t swap places so if you’ve a good visual memory, you’re pretty much ahead of the game until the final …

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no cheating now!
Near, Far is all about zooming in and zooming out. Seven animals are featured and each has three double spreads, the final one revealing the whole creature and I have to admit I only got two right the first time around. What would you say, this is?

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Or this?

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The amount of language these two unassuming little gems can generate is amazing; they’re ideal for sharing in early years settings or one to one with a child, especially those who need a bit of encouragement to talk.

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Guess Who, Haiku
Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea
Abrams Appleseed
An outdoor setting with a concatenation of riddles for young readers/listeners to solve is offered in this lovely, cleverly constructed introduction to haiku beginning with :
   new day on the farm
muffled mooing announces
   a fresh pail of milk.
Can you guess who from this haiku?
This question then recurs throughout the book for the other nine animal portraits …

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each animal posing another haiku …

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thus continuing the chain: riddling haiku, guess who? and turn the page discovery.
Bob Shea offers visual clues too – one for each riddle, and these as much as the verbal posers are likely to have youngsters delightedly calling out their guesses ahead of the vibrant pictorial revelations on the following page.
A final page gives a brief introduction to the haiku form – its structure and intentions.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile addition to the poetry bookshelf.

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Clever Cats

 

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Gracie was highly amused by Macavity’s antics.

Macavity The Mystery Cat
T.S.Eliot and Arthur Robbins
Faber & Faber pbk
Macavity has taken on a new incarnation courtesy of Arthur Robins in this 75th Anniversary Edition of one of the inhabitants of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and a truly splendid tribute it is too.

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Robins’ wibbly wobbly outlines work wonderfully for this purpose of celebratory depiction of the activities of that levitating, gravity defying, feline fiend who has Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad and the Admiralty flummoxed.

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A rip-roaring read of the first order and herein we are introduced to a bumbling bloodhound police detective who has taken charge of the task of investigating the moggie’s misdoing, but of course, after each dastardly act ‘Macavity’s not there!’ All we, but seemingly not the inept, flashlight- and binocular-waving investigator, catch sight of is a tail,

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a paw, or perhaps an ear, at the scene of a crime.
Wonderful to share with youngsters, friends, cat lovers, poetry lovers, word lovers, pretty much anyone in fact. And if any of those and I’m sure they will, enjoy the adventures of the scraggy, ginger tom, that Napoleon of Crime, then direct them straightway to the further feline frolics found in Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in its entirety.
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William & the Missing Masterpiece
Helen Hancocks
Templar Publishing pbk
The ’William’ of the title is an international cat of mystery who has to postpone his holiday to rush to the assistance of Parisian art gallery owner, Monsieur Gruyere. Mr Gruyere is in a stew because his gallery has planned an exhibition for National Cheese Week and the Mona Cheesa masterpiece has been stolen.

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There are no suspects, William is told on arrival. His close search reveals – take note – two items of significance: a strand of red wool and a little hole in the skirting board.
A visit to two close friends proves fruitless and William accepts an invitation to their  competition opening. In the meantime, while having a bite of lunch he espies a decidedly overdressed character passing by carrying a large, flat shaped parcel and heading for a fancy dress shop.

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When the same character leaves with another parcel our special investigator follows him for a while but then loses the trail and instead heads to the competition venue. Therein, he learns of a splendid last-minute entry by an unknown.
William inspects it closely, visualizes the day’s events thus far, ponders on the cheesy nature of the prize

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and just as the winner is about to be announced, he dashes in and unmasks, not only the painting but also the so-called artist …
A feline frolic of the first order is Helen Hancocks’ latest offering. It’s packed with deliciously cheesy wordplay, ‘ THE ROBBERS HAD THOUGHT THEIR MISSION TO STEAL THE MONA CHEESE A ‘FETA-COMPLI’ AS THEY WERE HANDED FIRST PRIZE AT THE ANNUAL HOMAGE TO FROMAGE COMPETITION. …
TO SEE THE THIEVES GO UNPUNISHED REALLY GRATES,” SAID MONSIEUR GRUYERE,
’ visual art references, droll pictorial details with the Parisian spirit very much in evidence.

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My Name is Bob
James Bowen, Garry Jenkins and Gerald Kelley
Red Fox pbk.
Forced by a chain of circumstances, into becoming a street cat following the death of his kind old lady owner, the feline narrator is cold, friendless and mistreated but then, attracted by beautiful music being played, he comes upon a man playing a guitar.

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Having followed the man home and then got himself injured, our narrator is taken in by the kind guitarist, James who feeds him and gives him a new name, Bob. Once his leg was better, Bob accompanied James everywhere and they became a busking duo and so they are today: inseparable.
This heartwarming tale told in a matter of fact manner without a hint of sentimentality, will appeal to cat lovers young and not so young, in particular to those who enjoy a true story with a happy ending.
Don’t forget to read the pawprint information about the chief protagonist on the back cover too.
Kelley’s true to life paintings add to the reality of whole book, which is actually billed as a picture book prequel to the worldwide bestseller ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’.
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