Tag Archives: Walker Books

For Your Fiction Shelf

The Cherry Pie Princess
Vivian French (illustrated by Marta Kissi)
Walker Books
Vivian French is a cracking storyteller. Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables have been perennial favourites with many, many infant classes I’ve taught; ditto Yucky Worms. Here though she is writing for a slightly older audience and immediately I was drawn into her story – partly because when it begins, the setting is a library. Grating Public Library to be more precise, and the staff (Miss Denzil at least) are eagerly anticipating a visit from seven princesses. Much more circumspect though is the chief librarian, a rather crusty old dwarf by the name of Lionel Longbeard.

When the party duly arrives, it turns out that only one princess has any interest in books and she is Princess Peony. The book she takes, or rather later, sends a pageboy for, is A Thousand Simple Recipes for Pies, Puddings and Pastries and, she holds on to it for a very long time. The king though, has the librarian arrested for breaking the rules, on account of his kindness in speaking to the princess, and locked up in his dungeons. The princess meanwhile, takes to baking until her overbearing father puts a stop to it.
Years pass, a new royal baby is born …

and a christening party duly announced and invitations sent out – with one notable omission.
Now that sounds like there could be trouble on the horizon. What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of rule breaking, a rescue and a host of exciting twists and turns, The story moves along at a fast pace and is made all the more enjoyable by Marta Kissi’s pen and ink illustrations, which are liberally scattered throughout the book adding to the slightly zany tone of the whole thing.

Spy Toys
Mark Powers (illustrated by Tim Wesson)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine a totally weird bunch of superheroes and you’d probably never quite come up with such an unlikely crew as those in Mark Powers’ book. So let’s meet Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear, Dan, made by accident 1000 times stronger than was intended;

rag doll, Arabella, a far-from friendly character; a soldier with an eyesight issue (which can sometimes be a hinderance) … and a foot where his head ought to be; and Flax the rabbit, a policebot on the run and more.
All have computerised brains and are recruited by the Department of Secret Affairs for a mission to protect the prime minister’s son from one Rusty Flumptrunk – a half-human, half-elephant breakfast cereal promotion gone wrong. What follows is a cracking, crazy, fast-moving, action-packed yarn full of slapstick and witticisms: lots of fun and made all the more so by Tim Wesson’s zany illustrations.

Louie in a Spin
Rachel Hamilton (illustrated by Oscar Armelles)
Oxford University Press
Louie is enjoying life in New York at the School for Performing Arts and is determined to remain upbeat despite the efforts of Arnie and grumpy dance teacher, Madame Swirler. Here though, it looks as if he might be losing the battle: in error, he’s been signed up to represent his dance school in the ballet category at a national dance competition. With the school’s reputation at stake, can Louie, with an enormous amount of self-belief to make up for what he lacks in skill, save the day?
It’s all beautifully funny and one cannot but admire Louie’s inexhaustible supply of inner strength and positivism. Long live Louie who is made all the more adorable through Oscar Armelles funky line drawings

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern
Roland Chambers (illustrated by Ella Okstad)
Oxford University Press
If you’ve enjoyed Pippi Longstocking – or even if you haven’t, you really should meet Nelly Peabody in her second splendid story. Here, on returning from her first adventure, Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody, the fearless explorer discovers that her mother has mysteriously vanished and nothing will stop the young redhead from tracking her down. This entails a flight in a laundry basket, high above the clouds, not to mention a deep-sea dive courtesy of a tin can contraption. As ever, of course she’s accompanied by her best friend, Columbus the turtle.
It’s quirky, full of deliciously off-beat characters and most important, superbly written, with wonderful illustrations by Ella Okstad in black and white with touches of red.

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Let’s Go to Nursery! / Will You Be My Friend?

Let’s Go to Nursery!
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
We join Bee and Billy (and their mums) at the door of a nursery. The session is already in full swing with all kinds of exciting activities taking place. The children give their mums a farewell hug and Bee eagerly begins to join in. Billy however, is more reluctant and a tad clingy. He soon gets drawn in though, thanks to a ‘message’ full of kindness …

Happy noisy play ensues until there’s a dispute over ownership of a large toy; but Billy, surely a fast learner, comes to the rescue and all is well once more.
There’s so much fun to be had, so many things to share and so much playful learning – just how it should be.

All too soon though, it’s time to help tidy up; the mums are back and it’s farewell until tomorrow: a happy, exhausting day spent and the prospect of many more to come.
Caryl Hart and Lauren Tobia paint a lively portrait of nursery life without the intrusion of the nursery staff: they, one hopes, are observing and sometimes, gently encouraging and perhaps guiding, unobtrusively from the side-lines.
The first of the First Experiences series for ‘a new generation of little readers’ the publishers say. Perhaps ‘little listeners’ would be more accurate, but no matter which, its intended young audience will find plenty to enjoy; it’s as well that the book is sturdily made with wipe-clean pages as I foresee a lot of enthusiastic handling.

Will You Be My Friend?
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This is a title from Bloomsbury’s Featherstone imprint and has something of an educational slant: There’s plenty to think about and discuss; and the whole thing is invitingly illustrated with a sequence of vignettes. These are captioned and each spread opens with a question on an aspect of friendship: ‘What do you do when a friend upsets you?’ and ‘What do your friends think of you?’ for instance. Notes from a friendly puggish pup offer further food for thought at the bottom of each right hand page.

A final spread is aimed at parents, although I see this book being used in preschool and KS1 sessions on ‘What makes a good friend?’ too. It’s all very nicely and inclusively done though personally, I prefer emotional and social learning to be part and parcel of picture books’ stories rather than books specially created for the purpose.

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Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

Counting with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Tiny Cat is an energetic bundle of mischief with a particular penchant for red wool. At the outset there isn’t any but then yippee! A ball of the red stuff rolls right along. That quickly becomes TWO! THREE! FOUR! Which is all the creature can really juggle; but still they keep coming.

Clearly Tiny Cat’s counting skills have yet to develop further, though oddly the feline’s vocabulary encompasses ‘ABOUT A DOZEN– emphasis on the about here I should add.

Still though, the creature’s appetite for the red stuff isn’t satisfied: ‘LOTS’ leads to a very greedy ‘AS MANY AS YOU CAN GET’ but even that isn’t sufficient. SOME EXTRA gives way to …

Will the frisky thing ever realise that enough is enough?
A wonderful visual comedy with a delightfully playful star: Tiny Cat most definitely commands the performance, and viewers will definitely demand instant encores.

The Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books
A small girl – the narrator – and her younger brother return to the playground in search of the skipping rope left behind earlier. There’s no sign of their rope but they follow some sounds of laughter and in the clearing, come upon, not the friends they’d anticipated. but a group of foxes enjoying a skipping game.

Doxy, foxy, / touch the ground. / Doxy, foxy, / turn around. / Turn to the east, / and turn to the west, / and choose the one that / you like best.
The children decide the foxes are less adept skippers than they on account of their tails and Luke lets out a giggle. Fortunately the foxes aren’t offended: instead they approach the children and ask for some coaching. Soon animals and humans are playing together happily, taking turns to hold the rope ends. When the little girl’s turn comes to do so, she notices the name, painted on the handle.

It’s her name, but also happens to be that of one of the foxes; and, the little creature has assumed it now belongs to her because of a wish she’d made.
Does the little fox’s wish come true: what does the little girl decide to do?
A wonderful, slightly whimsical tale of empathy, altruism and kindness, and a delightful portrayal of the way young children so easily slip between fantasy and reality, told with sensitivity that is captured equally in Sakai’s glowing illustrations and Aman’s words, which in their direct simplicity, echo the voice of a child. Such exquisite observation.

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Triangle

Triangle
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books
Knowledge of a friend’s ophidiophobia is in part, the driving force behind Triangle’s foray from his home in his triangular neighbourhood, across a barren place of rocky humps ‘They were shapes with no names’ Barnett informs us; and on through the place of squares –

big, medium and small ones – to Square’s abode. All the while he’s been plotting the sneaky trick he’s about to play.
He walks right up Square’s door, whereupon he delivers a round of snake-like “HISS” sounds.
Square is momentarily petrified: Snake dissolves into paroxysms of laughter. A pregnant pause follows,

rapidly replaced on Square’s part by incandescent rage.
Thereupon the four-sided being chases the three-sider all the way back to his home. His shape however, prevents him from entering and there he stands stuck in the doorway and thus accidentally discovers Triangle’s nyctophobia.

I know you’re afraid of the dark. Now I have played a sneaky trick on you! You see, Triangle, this was my plan all along.” Hmm! I’m not so sure about that.
Klassen’s restrained earthy palette and minimalist scenes (those eloquent eyes again), are in perfect harmony with Barnett’s even sparer, deadpan text allowing readers to step into the narrative landscape and fill for themselves, the host of gaps left by the book’s genius creators.
Prankish play or something more sinister? I come down on the side of the former.
This book is the first of a planned trilogy from this formidable team: I eagerly anticipate the next one … and the next.

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Board Book Shelf 2

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Mix & Match Animal Homes
Mix & Match Colours

Lo Cole
Walker Books
Innovative design – a tiny book within a small one – is key to these two board books for the very youngest. In Animal Homes, six habitats the (African) plains, the desert, the jungle,

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the sea, the forest and the Arctic are visited with four animals per spread and a fifth is waiting to be discovered in the inset smaller book.
Colours has a spread for each of the primary colours plus green, pink and orange each of which has eight or nine brightly coloured objects both large and small (although relative sizes aren’t explored) and the inset book has the pages of the six colours which children need to match to the colours of the objects on the surrounding larger pages.

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Vocabulary development and colour concepts are the main learning opportunities offered in these playful little books.

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Where’s Mr Lion?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
A handful of wild animals – Mrs Giraffe, Mr Crocodile, Mrs Elephant and Mr Lion are the subjects to search for in this board book. With its felt flap hiding places and a final hidden mirror, toddlers will have lots of fun manipulating the flaps to reveal and missing animals which have in fact only partially managed to conceal themselves behind the various brightly coloured objects. This of course adds to the enjoyment, as does the repetitive patterned nature of the text.

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Cheep! Cheep!
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
In the latest addition to the Can You Say It Too? series Sebastien Braun involves readers in a trip around the farm and surrounding area where five animals have hidden themselves behind a clump of flowers, a gate, a basket, a stable door and a clump of reeds.. Once located, toddlers can emulate the ‘Cheep! Cheep!’, ‘Baah! Baah!’ ‘Meew! Meew!’, ‘Hee-haw! Hee-haw!’ and ‘Quack! Quack!’

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of the baby animals. Involving, noisy fun made all the more so by Braun’s gently humorous visuals.

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Flora and the Chicks
Molly Idle
Chronicle Books
Flora, the balletic star from Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguins and Flora and the Peacocks now performs in an almost wordless counting book for a younger audience. The young miss, suitably clad in her red jump suit, more than has her hands full with the nest of hatching chicks emerging one after the other. As each new chick breaks out, the book counts, the numeral being revealed when the page-sized folds are opened out, or as one turns to the next spread to follow the action,

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until finally all 10 chicks have hatched, the mother hen has her full brood and Flora sits for a well-earned rest. Then come the only words ‘The End’ aptly heralding the show is over. The tottering first steps of the chicks provide a nice contrast to Flora’s graceful swoops, lunges and stretches as she attempts to round up the fluffy yellow hatchlings. Lots of fun and deliciously re-readable.

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Cats, Dogs, Baby Animals and Their Parents

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The Cat Book
Silvia Borando
The Dog Book
Lorenzo Clerici
Walker Books
These two small pet manual Minibombo books, along with The Guinea Pig Book, now have a category all of their own ‘Paper Pets’. I’m no lover of furry creatures, especially cats and dogs, but I am an enthusiast where the Minibombo series is concerned and these two are full of interactive fun.
The former is all about keeping your cat ‘purrfectly’ happy from the moment he wakes up until he beds down for the night. That entails some flea squishing, behaving like a mini brolly when it rains, fluffing up – no not ruffling – and then smoothing, his fur; a spot of cheek squeezing bird releasing…

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followed by a gentle behind-the-ears scratching; then Shhh! Sleep time.
Canine care is pretty much taped in The Dog Book. All that entails is a little back scratching (while he performs his down dog asana),

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a spot of rebel rousing when he dozes off again, a belly rub, and  some rather intensive getting active training. Learning to respond appropriately to commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘fetch’ might well cause the odd challenge – to the trainer that is, but it’s all part and parcel of a dog’s day. Lorenzo Clerici adds his own brand of mischievous illustrative humour – including a blank page – to the series.

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Fly!
Xavier Deneux
Chronicle Books
This wonderfully playful, chunky board book is the latest addition to the Touch, Think Learn series. Two cute-looking birds meet, nest, mate and raise a family together. The fledglings eat, grow, and fly –eventually, to find their own tree…
Immersive fun with thick card removable pieces that can be taken from their places and moved to the recessed space on the opposite page to act out the narrative as an adult reads. (Or, a learner reader could enjoy its straightforward text as a solo experience). Either way, they’ll have lots of fun.

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Baby Goz
Steve Weatherill
Steve Weatherill Books
If you’re looking for an ideal picture book for a beginning reader, then look no further, Goz, with its playful patterned language, is your ‘gosling’ so to speak. It’s great to see the little character has re-incubated; he’s certainly lost none of his charm. I’d actually forgotten his wonderful ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there?’ entry into the world; that made me smile all over again, as it has the countless beginner readers I’ve taught since Goz burst onto the scene over 25 years ago, and set off around the countryside …

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in search of his mummy.

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Safe & Sound
Jean Roussen and Loris Lora
Flying Eye Books
Many baby animals, (many, but not all) … / whether very, very big or very, very small … / would not be safe all on their own and need some help unil they’re grown.’ So begins this classy picture book account from a father and mother’s perspective, as they tuck their child safely into bed for the night. They talk of the ways numerous animals  mothers especially, protect their offspring, whether it be in an underground burrow like the little chipmunks, a nest like the bluebird, snuggled at the side of a mother lion, close to a rhino, grizzly cubs huddled in a warm den,

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hiding inside their mother’s mouth as the crocodile hatchlings do, or …

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riding between fluffy wings …

Reassuring, informative and told through Jean Roussen’s gentle rhyming text and stylishly snugglesome retro illustrations from Loris Lora, this is a winner as a bedtime book or in an early years setting.

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The Perfect Guest

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The Perfect Guest
Paula Metcalf
Walker Books
Meet Walter, a rather persnickety pooch; he’s extremely house proud and exceedingly enamoured of his brand new teapot. Enter squirrel, Pansy, Walter’s friend; he’s not seen her in a while so is delighted when she calls and announces she’s coming for a visit. Now Pansy is something of an enthusiast – can you see where this might be going?
Even before Walter has finished smartening himself up for his guest, there she is ringing his doorbell.

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Oh dearie me! He’s not even finished some running repairs to his trousers, no matter though; his pal is an expert when it comes to sewing. But that will have to wait because first a catch-up cuppa is called for – the perfect opportunity for Walter to show off his precious possession.
Tea over, she gets to work whipping up her celebrated lemon cake, followed by wielding her needle on Walter’s torn trousers. Oh no! looks like she’s got a little carried away with her hole sewing: Oopsie! Those really big ones were the legholes.
Never mind; Pansy can demonstrate her tailoring skills by making him a brand new pair – in some very jazzy material. Now where could that have come from? Walter’s soon to find out … OMG!

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No matter: Walter, like many of us, reaches for the chocolate at times of extreme stress, but it appears Pansy’s sharing skills seem to leave a little to be desired …

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In fact, it’s starting to appear that Miss P. is something of a nuisance.
However, things are only just starting to go pear-shaped: the inevitable happens when she offers to do the washing up. After which, long-suffering Walter comes up with a damage limitation – so he thinks – plan.. He sends her outside to water his veggies while he attempts to restore his home to its former state of spotlessness.
The whole thing unfolds like a delicious sitcom culminating in a wonderful and altogether unexpected finale …

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The lengths some people (or animals) go to in the cause of friendship …
Joking apart, Paula Metcalf’s dramatic rendition is a wonderful demonstration of how, when it comes to special friends, one is willing to look beyond their imperfections and love them for what they are. Her illustrations are deliciously droll, her characterisation and dialogue truly brilliant. Encores will certainly be the order of the day.

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling
Timothy Basil Ering
Walker Books
Full of heart and wonderfully quirky is Ering’s lastest tale. Herein we meet Captain Alfred on board his little sailing boat on his way home to his wife. On board with him are a whole lot of ducks for his farmyard, his dog and, nestling inside his violin case, an almost ready to hatch, duck egg for his wife. The Captain has already decided upon a name for the soon to be born duckling: Alfred Fiddleduckling.

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As Capt. Alfred fiddles, a storm is blowing up unexpectedly – a big one and such is its might that for hours the boat is tossed and buffeted and engulfed by a silent blanket of fog. Captain Alfred, his ducks and his violin are cast overboard and all that appears drifting far offshore towards an anxiously awaiting Captain’s wife fretting on the porch, is the just hatching Alfred Fiddleduckling in the fiddle case.
The newborn creature emerges into a solitary, mist-swirling world and his first quack is directed towards an inanimate object floating close by. And ‘Alfred embraced the object with all of his heart. And he caressed it so it would not feel lonely as he did..
Albert’s caresses are rewarded by another unexpected happening: the object makes the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard: the sound of friendship – sweet solace for his solitude.

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Alfred loved the object! And, by the sound of its beautiful music, the object loved Alfred, too.
And as the sounds continue to drift and waft through the swirling fog and duckling and violin drift likewise, they come to ground in a mysterious place and those sounds drifted on until they reach the ears of a lonely beast. It’s Captain Alfred’s dog and soon he too is swept up in the music and ‘in just a twinkle of an eye, the duckling and the dog were best of buddies.
Eventually, thanks to the music, duckling and dog and the Captain’s wife are drawn together.

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We’re not told though, of the Captain’s safe return home; rather we’re led to believe in it through both the final words ‘And you can guess what will happen if Alfred Puddleduck just keeps on playing!’ and the final scene wherein music and the missing are drifting closer together.

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Such are the quality of Ering’s prose and his paintings with their thick brush-strokes and delicate pen/ink lines, that one can almost hear the sounds of the beautiful, swirling music and feel the eddying fog.
An enchantingly lovely, life-affirming book that resonates long after its covers have been closed, and even those with that tactile spine and embossed lettering and images, are alluring.

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Nanette’s Baguette

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Nanette’s Baguette
Mo Willems
Walker Books
How many words can you think of that rhyme with baguette? Probably not all that many, but the amazing Mo Willems manages to construct a whole story using them and its one that’s enormous fun to read aloud.
Who can resist a chunk of freshly baked bread? Certainly not young Nanette but that’s getting ahead of the story. Nanette is sent on a shopping errand to fetch the family’s baguette: ‘getting to get the baguette is Nanette’s biggest responsibility yet.’ No pressure there then, and she’s certainly all set.

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En route the young frog, (frogs and the allusion Français may go over the heads of many listeners but will be appreciated by adult mediators of the tale) encounters a number of distractions; there’s Georgette, Suzette and with his clarinet, is Bret; and there’s Mr Barnett with pet Antoinette …

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But eager to fulfil her mission, Nanette presses on and duly arrives at her destination where she is served by Baker Juliette, with the very best baguette.

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What a deliciously alluring aroma emanates from said baguette – a pretty large one after all’s said and done. Then KRACK! That’s Nanette sampling her wonderful, warm purchase. Naturally – well wouldn’t you – Nanette takes bite after bite until, disaster: no more baguette!
A jet to Tibet – would that save her from Mum’s wrath? But no; she decides to return home and face the consequences of her actions.
There follows a wonderful twist – seemingly it’s not only Nanette who finds baguettes totally irresistible.
Willems places his characters in a cleverly constructed diorama shown on the title page …

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and Nanette’s antics are, oh so expressively portrayed, in brightly coloured vignettes, the whole thing being orchestrated by the variety of fonts used.
Extra servings are sure to be the order of the day when this is presented to young audiences – it certainly was with several of mine. In a word, a KRACKER!

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A Busy Day for Birds

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A Busy Day for Birds
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
Can you imagine … just for one day … you’re a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!’ is the invitation issued by Lucy Cousins on the opening spread of her avian offering. Yes, is the answer.  If, like me, you practise yoga regularly, you might well think of being a peacock with a wonderful tail to display…

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or perhaps, a bird like the graceful beauty standing very tall on just one leg shown on the cover.
Every spread though is an invitation to children, not only to delight in her vibrant portraits of some feathered friends but also to create some of their own, using their bodies, with paints, crayons, collage materials, modelling clay, dough or anything else they can think of. And then, there are all the various bird sounds too.
They’ll most definitely relish spreading their wings and trying some swooping like these spotty fliers.

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But there are also invitations to sing, tweet, hum and cheep, to waddle penguin style, to ‘go, go, go!‘ and, to run like an ostrich – who could resist that one, or sitting in a nest and having a ‘cuddle with mum’?
Especially pleasing is the manner of the book’s circularity – starting off ‘being a busy bird day’ with the wake-up call of the cockerel and finishing it with a goodnight bidding from the owl.

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Billed as a follow-up to Hooray for Fish! I think Lucy Cousins has done our winged flappers, swoopers and peckers even prouder: an absolute gem for early years audiences.

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Hilda and the Runaway Baby

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Hilda and the Runaway Baby
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books
This gloriously ridiculous story centres on the unlikely bond formed between Hilda, a pot-bellied pig who lives peacefully and she thinks, happily, at the foot of a hill and a chubby-faced baby who lives at the top of the hill and has a habit of being in unexpected places; hence the name – Runaway Baby. Now this baby is an observant little chap and so on his walks with mum and dad, he would notice interesting things such as a bird that is flying away. Almost inevitably (this was the top of the hill remember) his reaching towards said bird results in this happening –

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Realising the baby’s plight, Hilda gives chase and eventually the two find themselves face to face on the ground. “I think we’d better get you home,” says Hilda after introductions: “Hello, Baby … My name is Hilda” responded to by a “Da” from the infant.
Pushing the pram and its load proves exhausting for Hilda though it is rewarded with milk and part of a broken biscuit by the Runaway Baby who then comes up with an idea, an idea which is much better suited to a pig’s four-footed manner of walking …

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Eventually the two arrive safe and sound at the Baby’s home, after which, Hilda returns to her own home that now feels somewhat cold and lonely.
Job done then: story over? Not quite, for during the night a certain baby wakes, remembers a certain pig and  howls piteously which results in some moonlit perambulations on the pig’s part …

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and – ultimately – in something rather surprising, at least for Hilda. As for the Runaway Baby, well there are still plenty of surprising places just waiting for a visit …
Daisy Hurst goes from strength to strength. Her wonderfully whimsical  illustrations bring sheer delight at every turn of the page and she has such a talent for delivering marvellously maverick and memorable tales.

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Lucky Lazlo

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Lucky Lazlo
Steve Light
Walker Books
Lazlo is a young man in love. Hoping to surprise his sweetheart, who is starring in Alice in Wonderland, he buys her a beautiful red rose on opening night and dashes off to deliver it to her at the theatre. Unfortunately disaster strikes the love-struck lad en route, and the rose is stolen by a cat …

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The playful moggy leads Lazlo on a right merry dance as it dashes through the theatre backstage with the boy in hot pursuit. The resulting chase through pit, props, performers …

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and beyond is certainly a showstopper,

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with Lazlo stealing the limelight in a thoroughly satisfying finale.
Anyone familiar with Light’s previous Have You Seen My… ?  and Swap! books will know that intricately detailed black and white illustrations with judiciously placed splashes of colour is his signature style. Here, love seems to have resulted in Lucky Lazlo being flushed with colour throughout as well as more than one almost full technicolor double spread of the theatrical performance.

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In an afterword, Steve Light notes a number of superstitions related to the theatre and invites his audience to explore the pages again to discover all the rules that he has broken in the scenes.
Encore performances will definitely be the order of the day where this story is concerned.

The Hamster Book

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The Hamster Book
Silvia Borando
Walker Books
I’m a huge Minibombo (Shapes Reshape!, Open Up Please!) enthusiast and so was thrilled so see the latest book in Silvia Borando’s superb series.
Here, in tandem with an authorial narrative is – in similar fashion to Hervé Tulllet – a series of instructions (in blue print), kind of stage directions, for readers and listeners to follow and thus move the action forwards.
We first meet a sleeping hamster (you should have already named her, as per the opening sentence), and in order to wake her up, she needs a few gentle taps on the back before you turn the page whereon the instructions are to smooth down her ruffled fur in order to get her ready to perform.

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Her ensuing ‘super-spinning-ball trick’ isn’t exactly a virtuoso performance; but she does deserve a round of applause and some well-earned food to chew, which she inevitably follows with …

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But all of this has worn out the little rodent so now it’s time for some sleep …
Total interactive enjoyment. You’ll need a box of tissues at the ready for a spot of poo removal!

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Picken / Animal Counting

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Picken
Mary Murphy
Walker Books
What a clever title for this ‘mix and match’ farm animal book. Here youngsters surely can ‘pick ‘n mix’ the opposite sides of this split page board book to create a host of crazy animals. Thus for instance, a Calf can become a Camb, a Cacken, a Catten, a Caglet, a Case …

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(I’ll leave you to work out what animal the rear end belongs to) and a Cappy.
A kitten on the other hand, might be a Kilf or a Kimb …

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or four other strange creatures.
Essentially this is a game in a book and with Mary Murphy’s bold, bright illustrations, a delightful one at that. In addition, it’s a wonderfully playful way to develop some sound/symbol associations.

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Animal Counting
Petr Horáček
Walker Books
This lift-the flap animal book is just the thing to encourage the very young to participate in the development of their counting skills. Brightly coloured images of a giraffe, zebras, cheetahs …

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snakes, crocodiles, chameleons, toucans, pandas, lemurs and finally fish are presented alongside the appropriate numeral and when the half-page flap on the right-hand side of each double spread is lifted, it reveals both a number symbol fashioned from the featured animal and the corresponding number word.

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To add further interest, each animal is described in an adjectival phrase such as-‘Seven Screeching toucans‘ or ‘Nine leaping lemurs‘.

Frog and Beaver

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Frog and Beaver
Simon James
Walker Books
Frog and his friends the duck family and the vole family live together sharing the river and life’s pretty peachy. Then one day what should come swimming down the river but a beaver, a beaver in search of a place to build his very first dam.

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Frog’s enthusiastic welcome sells the place to him and straightway Beaver sets his chompers to work.
Next morning though, much to the consternation of Vole and Duck, there’s a decided lack of water in their stretch of river.

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Frog sets off to have a word with Beaver but the creature’s too wrapped up in his endeavour to heed Frog’s anxious words and after several attempts to get him to see their point of view, Frog is forced to pass on the Beaver’s suggestion, “Why don’t you all move up here?” to his friends.
Less than happy, the water voles and ducks shift upstream and set about making new homes. Beaver meanwhile continues building enthusiastically, paying no heed to repeated warnings about the volume of water building up, and is finally ready to show off his completed construction. But then …

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Has Beaver finally learned his lesson about doing things in moderation and can Frog truly become friends with someone so different and so wrapped up in his own concerns?
Simon James’ gentle humour pervades the riverside scenes executed in his signature style pen and watercolours.

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The small close-ups of Frog enthusiastically leaping up and down on Beaver’s back to expel all the excess water he’d swallowed are a hoot.

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This is the Kiss / I Love You, Baby

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This is the Kiss
Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo
Walker Books
We join an adult bear and a little one at the end of a day filled with snowy fun and games, but now after a paw-waving signal from the adult, it’s time to wend their way paw-in-paw, back to the cave for a night’s sleep. First though, comes a gentle hand squeeze,

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a loving pat on the head, a benevolent smile, a spot of tickle play,

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a goodnight hug and finally that kiss.
Sweet dreams little one. Gabriel Alborozo takes Claire Harcup brief rhythmic text and adds utterly enchanting visuals (including gorgeous end papers) making the whole thing a thoroughly heart-warming, just before bed read, for adults to share with very young children..
I suspect it’s one that will be asked for over and over. And, such is the simplicity of the writing that those in the early stages of becoming a reader can try it for themselves – make sure you share it first though.

More loving moments between adult and offspring are celebrated in a book coming in March:

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I Love You, Baby
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster
Various baby animals from penguin chicks to puppies and snakelets …

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to elephant calves are on the receiving end of parental love in this joyous litany wherein adoring adult animals show and tell their offspring how precious they are. Tenderness and gentle humour are key in this one. Although the eponymous I is portrayed as a different animal for each utterance,

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this is an affectionate book for a human parent to share with a very young child.

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Also an Octopus

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Also an Octopus
Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies
Walker Books
This collaboration between debut author, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and award-winning illustrator, Benji Davies (The Storm Whale, The Storm Whale in Winter and Grandad’s Island) is essentially a witty metanarrative about how to write a story. It’s littered with wonderfully whimsical characters – obviously characters are one of the must haves for a successful storyteller: herein we have a main character in the form of a ukulele-playing octopus.
But lets go right back to the author’s opening line, ‘every story starts the same way … with nothing.‘ Now anybody who writes or indeed works on the writing process with children, knows the truth of that. Back to our octopus.; ‘… in order for it to be a story and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something.’ What about a ‘totally awesome shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel’? Now that does sound exciting. But of course such things cannot be easily got hold of, they have to be earned; or, put another way, built from drinks cans, string, glitter, glue, umbrellas and err, waffles.

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No easy task: enter another character in the form of a truly adorable bunny – certainly no rocket scientist, so maybe that rocket isn’t about to become airborne any time soon. Did I hear the word “DESPONDENT” – surely not.

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Time for a spot of music perhaps …
It might prove just the thing to start a resolution (note that ‘r’ word, would-be story writers) forming in the mind …

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Tokuda-Hall’s deadpan humour, wherein she demonstrates the ups and downs of the writing process with the interplay between her cast of characters and the narrator), is superbly orchestrated by Davies’ fantastic images that appear to simply pop onto the pages as if at the author’s behest. Illustrators know that simply isn’t true, which makes Benji Davies’ seemingly effortless digital visuals all the more brilliant. And I love the circularity of the whole thing.
A must have for anyone working on developing the process of writing with children. It will surely get their imaginative juices flowing.

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Snowflake in My Pocket

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Snowflake in My Pocket
Rachel Bright and Yu Rong
Walker Books
This is one of those stories that leaves you with a wonderful warm glow inside. It centres on the loving relationship between two woodland characters, a very old Bear and a very young Squirrel. Nothing the two do together is new to bear but doing it with Squirrel makes every experience ‘brand new’ for Bear.

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One night Bear feels the first chills of winter and as the friends stand looking at the moon, he forecasts snow is on its way.

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Next morning an excited Squirrel rushes to his window and having cleared a peephole through the frost looks out on a magical white world …

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Bear meanwhile has a very nasty chill and needs to stay snuggled up in bed. Off goes Squirrel alone but without Bear to share it with him, even his fun-filled morning is less than perfect. The little fellow decides to take a snowflake home to give his friend and having caught ‘the perfectest one’ he puts it into his pocket and heads home. Now youngsters who have done the same will already be anticipating the outcome; and sure enough, when Squirrel puts his paw into his pocket, there’s no snowflake.
No matter, Bear tells him. “Snow comes and snow goes … but one thing lasts forever.” And Squirrel knows exactly what he means …

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How beautifully author and artist capture that joy of experiencing snow for the very first time. Share this one with early years children particularly after a snowfall and let them try taking snow indoors. Share it at home snuggled up with a young listener or two, and follow with a mug of hot chocolate.

Du Iz Tak?

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Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Walker Books
Google translate often comes to the rescue when one is confronted with a piece of text in an unfamiliar language. I doubt it would be of help here though for the characters in this story speak ‘insect’. It’s delivered in dialogue – nonsense dialogue unless of course, you happen to be a damselfly or another insect.
Du iz tak?” one asks the other as a pair of damselflies gaze upon an unfurling shoot. “Ma nazoot.” comes the reply. Now, as this brief exchange is contextualised by the picture we can take a guess at its meaning ‘What is that?’ and ‘I don’t know.’ in the same way somebody learning English as an additional language might.
Time passes: The shoot continues to grow and to the left, the dangling caterpillar has become a pupa. More bugs discuss the ‘thing’ -a plant, but what kind? They need something:“Ru badda unk ribble.” We need a ladder – context again.
They call on Icky who lives, conveniently, close by …

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A ladder is produced, a cricket serenades the moon …

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and work on building a ‘furt’ starts. Then danger presents itself in the form of an ominous arachnid

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that soon starts enveloping their enterprise in a large web, until that is, along comes a large bird putting paid to that. Happily the gladdenboot remains intact and eventually, fully unfurled delights both the whole insect community and readers.

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That however is not quite the end of the story for the cycle of nature must take its course with further transformations – plant and animal – so the whole thing can start over … and over and …
By this time readers will most likely be fluent readers of ‘insectspeak’, but whether or not this is so matters not: the superbly whimsical story visuals carry you through with their own spectacular grammar.
I do wonder whether despite being from the US, Carson Ellis could be having a satirical dig at the nonsense words six year olds are asked to read in that ridiculous phonics test they’re faced with towards the end of Y1; the one that many who read for meaning come unstuck with; the one the government insists is assessing reading. It’s not. At best, it’s merely assessing one aspect – decoding. Rant over: this extraordinary book is a total delight.

Big Bob, Little Bob / Mine Mine Mine Said The Porcupine

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Big Bob, Little Bob
James Howe and Laura Ellen Andersen
Walker Books
The possibility of friendship seems unlikely when Big Bob moves in next door to Little Bob: the boys are just so different and it’s not just their relative size; their interests are totally different too. Little Bob likes quiet activities such as block building and playing with dolls; Big Bob’s play is altogether more boisterous. “Boys do not play with dolls,” he asserts. Despite this Big Bob does make efforts to involve his neighbour in his play …

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but nothing can bring the two round to the same way of thinking or doing.

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However when a girl moves into their neighbourhood, the first person to jump to Little Bob’s defence when she questions his choice of play activities is none other than Big Bob. “Hey! You stop picking on my friend!” he tells her. “Boys can do whatever they want!” Gender stereotyping is seemingly not so fine now.
But then it turns out that Blossom prefers trucks to dolls: can the three find a way to accommodate everyone’s choices …
Any story that challenges gender stereotyping is worth a look in my book. This one is delivered with a gentle humour that is accentuated by Andersen’s comical scenes of the children at play. Definitely a book to share with those around the same age as the characters herein; it will give them plenty to think about and discuss.
Also looking at building friendship is:

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Mine Mine Mine! Said the Porcupine
Alex English and Emma Levey
Maverick Arts Publishing
Alfie returns and this time he has a porcupine as his visitor; a porcupine whose sharing skills leave a lot to be desired. Alfie does his best to engage the porcupine in some play, but everything he offers is immediately seized by his visitor. “Mine!” he claims at each attempt.

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Eventually, Alfie decides enough is enough and leaving the possessive creature to his own devices, he goes to play on his own. Now the porcupine has what he wants – or has he? Can he perhaps find a situation where that word he loves so much, is appropriate?

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A gentle lesson in sharing delivered in a rhythmic text easy enough to read so that those around Alfie’s age can try it for themselves. Emma Levey portrays the porcupine as hirsute making him appear cuddly rather than a prickly character and he certainly knows how to talk with his eyes.

Are You Sure, Mother Bear / Goodnight World

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Are You Sure, Mother Bear?
Amy Hest and Lauren Tobia,
Walker Books
It’s the very first night of winter; snow has fallen all around and it’s time for Little Miss bear and her mother to start their long winter sleep. The young bear however, is not ready for sleep just yet; she’d far rather watch the snowflakes falling. The two snuggle up together, munch on toast and stare through the window and gaze at the snowy world beyond.

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Little Miss begins thinking of everything she’ll miss once she succumbs to sleep: the stars, the moon and the hills just right for rolling down. They’ll all be right there come spring, Mother Bear reassures her little one; but then she gives in. Out the two go for one last moonlit roll …

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before finally, no matter what, it’s time for bed and sleep at last because that’s what bears do in winter, seemingly even semi-domesticated ones.

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Full of feel-good warmth and reassurance, this is a lovely book to share with sleepy littles, who will enjoy both the snuggly indoor scenes and the beautiful outside woody, snowy landscapes.

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Goodnight World
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
With a gentle, lilting narrative and soft, soothing scenes of a world already to slip into sleep, this is a beautiful just-before-bed story for young children. As we bid ‘Goodnight’ to sun, moon and stars, ships upon oceans, rockets, cars and planes, the birds, bees and fishes,

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the flowers and grasses, the animals in the zoo and in the park – pretty much everything in fact, a little child curls into a parent’s arms and shares a favourite book before finally falling fast asleep.

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Gorgeous, dream-like images drift gently across every spread providing plenty of visual delight before gently lulling the listener to the land of slumbers too. Equally though, it’s great for joining in so I’d suggest a second reading and a third to allow for that, maybe on consecutive nights.

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Penguin Problems

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Penguin Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books
Being a penguin isn’t a barrel of laughs as we quickly discover in the first Jory John/Lane Smith collaboration, certainly it isn’t for the penguin narrator of this book anyway; we learn that right away when he’s woken from his slumbers by squawking from his fellow penguins. Nothing it seems is to this little fellow’s liking: he hates snow, the sun’s too bright and he’s extremely hungry. If the land’s not to his liking, the ocean’s even worse – too salty, distinctly lacking in fish, dark and decidedly chilly.

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Oh great. An orca. Oh great. A leopard seal. Oh great. A shark. What is it with this place?” he mutters as he becomes hunted rather than hunter …

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This fellow also has body issues; his buoyancy is faulty, his flippers tire too fast, his waddle is more of a wibble …

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and of course, he can’t fly. Then there’s the issue of look alikes …

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Enter stage right a walrus. His words of wisdom should go some way to changing Penguin’s attitude to ‘half full’ at the very least – some of the time anyway …

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This book exudes humour both verbal and visual but put together the result is sheer gigglesome comedic delight at every turn of the page. Actually, make that before you start turning the pages; the perversity of the cover and penguin’s litany of negativity on the front inside flap, set the scene for what’s to come.

Home in the Rain & Home and Dry

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Home in the Rain
Bob Graham
Walker Books
How does pouring rain make you feel? I must admit it doesn’t fill me with feelings of joy, far from it, but when I read John Updike’s quote below the dedication in this wonderfully warm story, I felt I was being chided somewhat. Here it is and it’s key to the story I feel: ‘Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
A drive home from Grandma’s in pouring rain is the backdrop for Bob Graham’s warm-hearted story. In the little red car are Francie, her mum, and ‘her baby sister’ making her presence very much felt in Mum’s tum. The drive is long and the rain ceaseless; the car makes its way in the stream of traffic and as it does so we see the minutiae of life unfolding around: the baby rabbit diving for cover, the tiny mouse narrowly escaping becoming a kestrel’s next meal …

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the fishermen hunched in a line

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and the duck family just being, we even see a tiny snail and down below two men out of their cars arguing over a shunt.
The little car pulls off the road: Francie writes on the misted windows to help pass the time; she writes family names and then pauses; her little sister is yet to be named. They eat their picnic lunch and Francie snuggles. On they go and stop again to fill up with petrol: small events unfold: Francie sploshes in rainbow puddles,

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an old man feeds his dog, a small girl loses her sweets and suddenly Francie’s Mum has a name for the new sister. The journey continues, the world moves on; the sun appears.
Bob Graham provides plenty to pore over and to discuss in his tender depictions of everyday life. It’s a lovely book to share, especially in those families where a new baby is imminent.
Also with a rainy backdrop is:

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Home and Dry
Sarah L.Smith
Child’s Play
I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of living where the Paddling family does – on a small island underneath a large black cloud. A large black cloud from which for much of the year, heavy rain falls. This lifestyle seems to suit the Paddlings – Dad, Albert, a swimming teacher, Mum, Sally, who spends her time fishing, and their young son.

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Come summer though, the rain ceases, the water dries up and the family home is now atop a hill. Life changes for the Paddlings who no longer receive their regular ferry delivery of food and mail. Off in search of a place to picnic, they’re unaware that another Paddling – Mr B. Paddling has set out to visit his nephew.
Uncle B. as he’s known, duly arrives to find an empty house so he decides to go back to the station. Down comes the rain, up comes the water …
It takes a rescue to bring Mr Paddling A. and Mr Paddling B. together at last and a celebratory fish supper is served by Albert.
There are echoes of both Sarah Garland and Mairi Hedderwick in Sarah L.Smith’s illustrations in this unusual family story. Much is shown in the watery paintings that isn’t told: most notably that the Paddling family grows from three to four during the story, and that’s before Uncle B. arrives on the scene.

I Broke My Trunk / Let’s Go for a Drive

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I Broke My Trunk!
Mo Willems
Walker Books
I love Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie stories; they’re ideal for beginning readers and totally crazy. In the first one poor Gerald has a damaged trunk and just when Piggie is wondering why his friend hasn’t put in an appearance, along comes Gerald looking just a tad sorry for himself. “What happened to your trunk?” asks Piggie and thus begins a protracted and rather convoluted tale of misadventure and madness. Imagine trying to balance a hippo on your trunk; that’s what Gerald did, and a rhino, followed by Hippo’s big sis who just happens to have a piano with her.

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Well of course Gerald’s trunk would break under all that weight wouldn’t it? Actually no; there’s more to this bonkers story because Gerald’s trunk managed to stand up to all that mis-use; but then in classic Willems/ Gerald fashion comes the embarrassing part …

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and a final whoops:

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let’s leave Piggie to have the last word – or rather words.
Hilarious nonsense, but utterly irresistible and delivered all in dialogue and through Mo’s minimalist chucklesome pictures. Make sure you peruse the final endpapers – seemingly Piggie has found another old friend to share his tale with.
More delicious Gerald and Piggie nonsense in
Let’s Go For a Drive
Mo Willems
Walker Books
Let’s go for a drive!” suggests Gerald; “That sounds fun!” agrees Piggie. “Drive! Drive! Drivey-drive-drive!” they shout together gleefully. Gerald then announces the need for a map – he’s just a little bit of a fusspot (a pedant) and continues listing a whole lot more items crucial for the enterprise while poor Piggie dashes around collecting sunglasses, umbrellas, bags, …

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We have so much to pack,” interjects Gerald; but that’s not all … “There will be a lot of driving on our drive,” he continues. Really? Haven’t they forgotten about one fundamental item for this drive.

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What should they do now? Luckily for Gerald, PIggie has an answer and, a plan.
Another winner in this early reading series –young readers don’t need a plan either – all they need is right there in this satisfying little book.

Owl Bat Bat Owl

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Owl Bat Bat Owl
Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
Walker Books
I’m a big fan of wordless picture books and this one is a cracker. It features two families one of owls, one of bats.
As the story opens, the owls are happily settled on their roomy branch enjoying some shut-eye when all of a sudden along comes a family of bats. They too decide to make their home on that self same branch so we then have …

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Unsurprisingly the two families are circumspect: after all owls and bats don’t really make the best of friends.
After a fair bit of positional adjustment, the families both prepare to sleep but baby animals, like humans are inquisitive and so you can probably guess what happens after this …

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Now we know that human children are much more ready to accept newcomers than are most adults. The same is true of owls …

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though mother owl soon has her youngest offspring back where she wants, beside her and all is peace and quiet. But when the chips are down and disaster strikes in the shape of a storm,

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differences don’t seem to matter – co-operation is now the name of the game.
This book works on so many levels and is open to a multitude of interpretations. We often talk about the power of words: here, picture power rules.
What a wonderful demonstration that reading is about so much more than getting words off the page.

We Found A Hat

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We Found a Hat
Jon Klassen
Walker Books
This, the concluding book in Klassen’s “Hat’ trilogy is delivered in the artist’s dead pan style. Longer than the previous two at 56 pages, and divided into three chapters, it features two turtles and just one hat – an exceedingly large one – for turtle heads, that is. Each in turn tries it on and reach one conclusion: It looks good on both of them.

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Rather than have a bust-up, the two walk away to watch the sunset from a nearby rock – together.

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One starts thinking about the sunset – so we’re told; the other starts thinking about you know what …
Night falls and the two prepare to sleep. One turtle starts moving downwards in the direction of a certain article of headwear … The second dreams – of stars and identical hats, one for each of them. Hmm: now what?

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Seemingly that’s for readers to decide as they relish the subtleties in this Klassen finale. With its spare text and slow-moving visual action – it’s entirely a case of showing, not telling here –
and they are turtles after all. What’s going on behind those eyes? That is the key.
Rendered in sombre hues with a gradual fading out of the soft orange as the sun finally sinks, this is desert dryness in more senses than one.

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Fun and Games / Migloo’s Weekend

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Fun and Games
Alain Grée
Button Books
This is chock-full of playful activities –over 50 altogether – all devised and illustrated by artist Alain Grée. There is something that should appeal to a wide age range from around 3 up to 6 or 7. Each activity is given a single page printed only on one side and glued so that it can be removed for use. There’s a variety of matching games, find the odd one out, true or false games, calendar cubes, spot the differences pages …

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and other games to develop visual perception as well as activities that entail cutting, folding and creating objects including a tiny puppet theatre

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and a sentry box. You can even make a stand-up Santa chain.
All the pages are attractively presented and full of details that are the hallmark of Alain Grée’s illustrative style. It’s just perfect for indoor days and likely to keep a child or two engaged for hours at a time. An ideal diversion from endless screens too.

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Migloo’s Weekend
William Bee
Walker Books
A day spent in the company of dog, Migloo and his Sunnytown friends is tiring: a whole weekend is totally exhausting, from an adult perspective as least. Youngsters tend to delight in rushing from one venue to another and there’s plenty of that herein. We join Migloo as he accepts a lift in Noah’s fish van and head for the market where Mrs Luigi has just opened a new café but it doesn’t look as though he’s going to be served any time soon judging by the queue, so off they dash to the farm instead. That too is very busy, but Farmer Tom has plenty on offer: Migloo’s spoilt for choice.

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Appetite sated, the next stop is the museum, followed by the cinema to watch the latest movie, and guess what – that too is action packed. After all the fun, it’s bedtime for Migloo and all his pals. Phew!
Sunday is equally busy and Migloo manages to pack in a visit to the car races and a funfair extravaganza where he gets involved in an exciting rescue of a film star.
There are fold-out pages and things to spot aplenty; there’s even a spread called ‘Busy Page’, though I thought every page was pretty busy .
If you have or know children who like to be involved in a picture book that isn’t (despite what we’re told) a story, this could be just the thing. With plenty to explore and discuss, it’s likely to will keep youngsters amused for hours.

Time Now to Dream

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Time Now to Dream
Timothy Knapman and Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books
Alice and younger brother Jack are playing ball when they hear what sounds to them like ‘Ocka by hay bees unna da reeees’. They stop playing and follow the sound into the nearby forest – Jack more than a little reluctantly for he’s worried it might be the Wicked Wolf. Hand in hand they go and soon hear another sound …

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which troubles Jack all the more: he’s now thinking about the waiting claws of that Wicked Wolf. “Shhh, … Everything is going to be all right.” comes Alice’s assurance as on they go, creeping now. More sounds … Jack’s convinced they’re lost and is talking of ‘snap-trap jaws’, and his warm snuggly pyjamas.

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The sound gets closer and now it’s Alice who’s frightened …

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Jack however is rooted to the spot, transfixed by what he sees and hears: not a wicked wolf but a motherly one. To reveal what she’s doing would spoil the story but try saying slowly out loud those words that drew the children into the forest at the start.

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Timothy Knapman controls the pace of his story with supreme skill; not a word is redundant in his narrative. Helen Oxenbury’s painterly watercolours of the forest capture the essence of its fairy tale spirit at once mysterious, misty, shadowy and sun-dappled …

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and of the children, Jack and Alice, the timeless joys of childhood and the power of the imagination. This surely is bedtime picture book perfection.

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Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble / Pugly Solves a Crime

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Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
The tiny tapir referred to in the title of this, the third delicious Mango And Bambang collaboration between Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy doesn’t crash onto the scene until the third story and when he does, my goodness he certainly makes his presence felt.
Before that though, Bambang and Mango visit the seaside to spend a special carefree, fun-filled day together before Mango’s new school term starts. At least that’s the plan, but it turns out to be a day packed with unexpected incidents culminating in the rescue of a toddler swept out to sea and an exciting parachute flight.
In the second story Bambang is feeling off-colour, his snout is blocked and he takes to his bed. Doctor Blossom the tapir specialist is at a loss to know how to make him better …

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so it’s left to Mango, ably assisted by their pal George, to find a cure.
Even after his recovery, Bambang hasn’t regained his full bounce and so he and Mango do quiet things at home. But then a large parcel is delivered addressed to Bambang and any chance of peace and quiet immediately go out the window, for what should be inside but his small cousin Gunter – a cousin he didn’t even know existed. Small he might be, but he’s a force to be reckoned with and pretty soon, it becomes evident that two tapirs in one apartment is one too many. The trouble is Gunter has announced his intention to stay put and Mango appears to be enjoying his company rather too much. So much so that Bambang starts to think that perhaps he should be the one to go …
The final story sees Mango participating in the City Chess Tournament and one of the other competitors is the boy who’s been champ for the past three years. Seemingly though – at least to Bambang – something strange is afoot.

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By the end of the book, Bambang has come to a very important understanding about family – it’s not about who you look like or where you started; true family are those you belong with – those who make you feel most completely yourself, no matter what.
Full of warmth and humour, these stories are perfect for those readers just starting to go solo.
Another favourite character returns in a brand new adventure:

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Pugly Solves a Crime
Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow
When Pugly learns that Big Sal the guinea pig has been ‘GUINEA PIG-NAPPED he dons his detective hat and turns PUG-DETECTIVE. But who’s responsible for this dastardly crime? Perhaps it’s Glitterball the Poodle who has come to live next door – Pugly doesn’t trust poodles. Or could it be someone else? Time to enlist the help of super smart cat, Clem. Off go the two of them in search of clues …
With plenty of wonderful illustrations from Gemma Correll …

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this crazy tale is sure to bring plenty of smiles to the faces of young readers; in fact, there’s not a spread that didn’t make me giggle to myself.

Good Night Like This and This and …

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Good Night Like This
Mary Murphy
Walker Books
Adorable adult animal characters – a horse, a rabbit, a firefly, a bear, a duck, a cat and a mouse bid their respective, equally adorable infants good night in this lovely book. It’s one that uses soporific language ‘ Yawny and dozy, twitchy and cosy. Good night rabbits, sleep tight… ‘ to lull listeners into a sleepy mood too as they share in the rituals of the respective animals’ bedtime biddings …

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and by turning the split pages can play their own part in the good nights …

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before they too, enter the land of nod.
Gorgeous! Such a beautiful, dreamy colour palette, so much love and tenderness at every turn of the page – aaaahhh! Sweet dreams little ones. Sleep tight.

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Sleep, Little Pup
Jo Parry
QED
Insomnia hits us all from time to time and in this story told in a gentle rhyming text, it’s a cuddly-looking Pup that has tried all the usual ways of inducing sleep – sheep counting, star counting and even more puppish pursuits such as tail chasing, bone chewing, mice teasing and even howling at the moon: all to no avail. Out come the nocturnal bugs and beetles, the fireflies and moths and all sing a lullaby for Pup but he remains wide awake …

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so much so that when fox comes along, guess who joins the moonlit patrol. Over at the pond is where Pup finds himself next and there he stops for a bit of fish tickling, lilypad floating and frog-style leaping …

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Will he ever get some shut-eye?
Finally back to his basket comes a sad-looking Pup but then along comes his Mummy with a goodnight kiss and cuddle, and a new soft blanket. It’s that soft, warm snuggly blanket that at last, does the trick: sweet dreams little Pup; you’ve plenty to dream about.
With a cute main character and an equally lovable supporting cast, Little Pup is likely to win many friends among early years listeners: the text could well help induce sleepiness but not, I suspect, before the story’s over. Jo Parry’s scenes have a soft charm, similar to that blanket. One to add to the bedtime story shelf.

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Everyone Says Goodnight
Hiroyuki Arai
Chronicle Books
It’s Little Bear’s bedtime but first he needs some help packing away all his toys. Toddlers can assist by turning the split pages to get the toys in the toy box.
It’s also time for Little Bunny and Little Kitty to go to bed but they too have toys to put away and again ‘littles’ can assist, as they can those three little piglets –

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they have a kitchen play set to put in the box …

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Now finally, we need to get those children tucked up too and then it’s …

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Gentle interactive fun for tinies at bedtime and just the thing to encourage them to tidy up first like the characters in this cute little book.

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My Dreams
Xavier Deneux
Twirl
A small child shares his dreams – flying high a-back a huge bird or soaring on a magic carpet, entertaining a princess in her tower, playing on an enormous slide …

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or participating in a game of hide and seek in a poppy field, or enjoying a ride on a dinosaur’s back or even that of a whale.

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All these fanciful scenarios take our dreamer far from home; but then it’s time to return to a place of quiet calm and perhaps finally, some snuggly stillness …
With its ‘glow in the dark’ silvery tactile component of every dream scene, this small chunky book is a delight at every turn of the page; and the limited colour palette is used to great effect, heightening the whole nocturnal drama.

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A Child of Books

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

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

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

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

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

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Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes! / Super Rabbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Return

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Return
Aaron Becker
Walker Books
This is the finale to the wonderful wordless picture book trilogy that began with Journey and Quest, and an absolute MUST to complete the story.
We’re taken once again to that world where , in the right hands, crayons command power taking readers and protagonists to exotic lantern-lit landscapes with that purple-plumed bird, dragons, castles and architectural wonders.
It begins with a father hard at work over his drawing board upstairs while downstairs the little girl seizes her red crayon and draws a door. This time though, it’s not only the child who passes through; her father too steps into the magical landscape …

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joining the girl on another adventure with some familiar friends, and inevitably, adversaries, notably an evil, horned warrior who invades the castle …

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seizing the magical coloured crayons from the hands of the crown wearers (king, girl and boy). Father and the two children set off in pursuit …

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Like the father herein, readers are captured and captivated by Becker’s elaborate watercolour and ink kingdom as each new page of the adventure is explored until finally, the villains are vanquished …

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and then it’s time for father and daughter to make their way back home through that same door from whence they came.

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This is a book to spend time over for sure, and to revisit over and over, with every reading adding to and enriching the whole amazing experience. It’s one of those reading experiences that every child should have, an enormously rewarding journey that I urge you to give every child you know the opportunity to undertake.

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Goodnight Everyone

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Goodnight Everyone
Chris Haughton
Walker Books
It’s sundown and the woodland animals – the mice, the hares …

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the deer and Great Big Bear – are feeling sleepy. There’s one animal that doesn’t join in all those yawns and stretches though; that’s Little Bear who is still full of energy and eager to find a playmate. Despite determined efforts from the insomniac, none of the others wants to do anything but bed down for the night …

 

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and then comes a sigh from Little Bear AH ………….., followed by a long deep breath AHHHH ……….. and then an enormous stretch and a gaping yawn. And that’s when Great Big Bear seizes the opportunity and Little Bear, who is the recipient of a great big good-night kiss and …

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With a beguilingly simple, somnolent narrative style and a brilliantly rich colour palette, Chris Haughton works his magic once again, in this instance inducing in listeners and readers aloud alike, a deep sense of satisfying warmth and relaxation. At the same time he imbues the story with gentle humour and the whole thing is cleverly designed with cut out pages (matching the relative size of the animals) leading us through the woods and the story, and then moving into full page and strips; and from light into darkness as the animals drop off to sleep one by one.
If you’re looking for a bedtime story you need look no further – this one is perfect; if you’re looking for a wind down after a hectic lively session in nursery or early years classroom, again, this is perfect – zzzzzzzzz
Moreover those endpapers (the front showing Southern Hemisphere constellations; the back the Northern Hemisphere with Great Bear and Little Bear in the sky) are quite superb …

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and add an extra dimension to the whole brilliant thing.

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The Lonely Giant

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The Lonely Giant
Sophie Ambrose
Walker Books
My initial reaction before reading this beautiful book was that it’s ‘a selfish giant version’ but I was wrong. The giant in this story is a troglodyte whose cave is in the middle of a large forest. He spends his days uprooting trees and hurling them, spear like into the distance, and destroying mountains boulder by boulder. Inevitably over the years his actions lead to a gradual dwindling of the forest and consequently the loss of the birds and animals dwelling therein till ‘the songs of the forest had gone.’
The giant would then pass the nights alone in his cold cave, pondering on the silence and remembering the erstwhile forest – full of birdsong and provider of wood for his fire.

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These thoughts don’t stop his destructive habits though and one day while busy uprooting trees a little yellow bird flies down and follows the giant the whole day, singing to him. Delighted by her songs, the giant captures the bird and puts her in a cage; but the bird becomes sadder and sadder, her singing diminishing as her sadness grows until she’s too sad to sing at all.

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Seeing the error of his ways, the giant apologises and releases the bird, who flies away. Next day the giant sets off in search of the bird; he doesn’t find her, but notices a complete lack of anything live: no trees, no plants and no little yellow bird. Straightway he begins to rebuild the forest, sowing, mending and planting …

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and then waiting …
Eventually, the forest does grow back and with it gradually, come the animals, until the whole place is full of life once more …

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and the giant is happier than he’s ever been, not least because a certain little friend is there to fill his days with song .
A wonderful debut picture book by Sophie Ambrose: I shall watch with great interest for what’s to follow. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous (I’d like to have shown every one of them) and the end made not only the giant’s heart sing, but mine too.

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They Didn’t Teach THIS in Worm School!

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They Didn’t Teach THIS in Worm School
Simone Lia
Walker Books
Observer and Guardian cartoonist Simone Lia has created a cracking story featuring Marcus – a splendidly resourceful worm, and Laurence, a bird who looks like a chicken but is convinced that he’s a flamingo. An unlikely pairing you might be thinking.
Their initial meeting is decidedly iffy but Marcus manages to convince Laurence that making a slurpy spaghetti-like breakfast of him isn’t the best plan. In response to the worm’s “Are you going to eat me for breakfast?” Laurence replies, “Probably not … It feels funny eating you … now that we’ve had a conversation.” (The bird, by the way, is determined to fly all the way to Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya – his true home, so he thinks – but his map reading skills leave more than a little to be desired.)
After some more chat, a deal is struck. Marcus, with his “funny ideas and marvellous sense of direction” is to act as navigator for the journey and the two of them, having made some preparations, and Marcus has made plans to inform his relations …

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the two appear to be ready – or maybe not quite yet. It looks as though Laurence has rather overdone his packing  …

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Several hours later, with unpacking done and plumbing works re-connected, Marcus is safely (and comfortably) installed in a very soft spot in Laurence’s plumage, they’re on their way heading supposedly in the first instance for Paris.
After a while “lost” might be the best description of where they are but then, having glanced at the cover of his pal’s French guidebook, Marcus identifies The Eiffel Tower …

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Panic over – albeit temporarily.
I could continue telling you what happens but suffice it to say all manner of near tragedies and ‘stewish’ shenanigans occur until eventually it seems they’ve reached their ultimate destination; but have they?

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There are certainly flamingos; but we’re still 50 odd pages short of the end of this hilarious saga so I’ll leave you to make up your own minds and just add that this is a laugh out-loud read, full of wonderfully funny illustrations … and a must read for anyone from around seven especially those with a sense of adventure.

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One Is Not A Pair & Who’s Hungry?

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One Is Not A Pair
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
This is the third of Britta Teckentrup’s ‘spotting’ series that encourage and develop visual perception in a playful way that children (and many adults) delight in. Here she takes fourteen objects and presents them in spreads where everyone has a pair except one – the odd one out. All interests are catered for: there’s food  – yummy-looking ice-cream cones, sweet shiny cherries –

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machines are represented by huffing puffing tractors and a ‘squadron of planes’, wild life has strutting magpies, spotted toadstools upon which spotty ladybirds crawl; there are birds in bird houses and in trees: ‘Each tree has a pair/ where matching birds call, / but one has a guest/ that is no bird at all.’ Can you find it?’

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There are wonderfully coloured autumn leaves upon which insects crawl. We visit a toy shop with a host of cuddly bears …

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and there are wooden blocks, built into towers and houses, a cacophony of yowling black cats, a richly hued pack of colouring pencils and last but definitely no least, washing lines of socks …

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And the final spread is a mix of all the things to pair up and find the odd one.
Characteristically stylish, bold bright graphics grace every page and Britta’s rhyming text trips off the tongue nicely.
Look, look and keep looking: it’s such fun.
There’s also a set of Where’s The Pair? spotting postcards from Britta:

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every one a diverting visual charmer and like the book, beautifully patterned in Britta’s inimitable style.

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Who’s Hungry!
Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt
Walker Books
The split page format is cleverly used to put young readers in control of feeding some hungry animals. By turning the half pages they can bring the food right to the animal’s mouth each time. The book starts with the straightforward, all-important ‘Time to eat. Who’s hungry?’ to which seven animals respond in the affirmative, starting with a rabbit who declares, “I am! I’m hungry.” A quick flip of the flap delivers a crunchy carrot almost straight into Bunny’s mouth. This is followed by ‘Glad you like it, Bunny. Who else is hungry?’ And thus the refrain is repeated and responded to, next by Seal who hastily slurps up a fish leaving only the bones behind.

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Monkey unsurprisingly, snatches up a banana, dropping the peel; Horse chomps through a pile of hay, Squirrel consumes a large acorn, Panda some scrummy bamboo shoots, and lastly Mouse politely requests and nibbles on a chunk of cheese.
The off-screen narrator is always on hand to make certain each animal is duly satisfied: ‘There’s plenty more, Panda!’ he says …

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And, the final spread offers a plate to the reader – I’d certainly relish the vegetables particularly that broccoli.
The eyes of each animal have that ‘come on’ appeal that seems to be directed straight at the reader (or listener) who will take great delight in responding by delivering the food to each member of this alluring-looking menagerie.
In addition to providing opportunities to discuss healthy eating, asking and receiving politely, caring for animals, and animal habitats with the very young, this is a great ‘have a go yourself’ book for those in the early stages of becoming a reader. All in all, it’s cleverly conceived, all-involving enjoyment for children and adults.

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Boris, Albert and Babies

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Boris Babysits!
Sam Lloyd
Templar Publishing
Boris (Calm Down, Boris!) is back and he’s been given the job of babysitting Monster Baby while Mummy Monster goes to the shops. Now you’ll not be surprised to learn that boisterous Boris doesn’t have much clue about minding a baby. Sweet eating and telly watching certainly won’t keep the babe entertained all day so Boris decides the garden is the place. But, he leaves her to her own devices and goes off to bounce on his trampoline and of course, Baby wants a turn too – Boris lets her bounce way too much though. He then proceeds to dump her in the pongy dog basket while he rustles up a meal for himself, but Monster baby gets nothing.
There inevitably follows a little accident but is Boris able to deal with it?

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Of course not – that, like all the other Baby Monster minding is left for us to assist with and even then big bro. is so exhausted by all his ‘hard work’ that, having plonked the babe down on the sofa, he falls fast asleep beside her. Quick – we’d better finish the job by putting the little furry infant in her cot before Mummy Monster comes home.

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‘Rat-a-tat-tat’ – quick before we open the door. …
Complete with furry monster baby on a ribbon to assist Boris’s helpers and velcro spots on every spread to keep the infant in place, this sturdy book ensures maximum young child involvement with the amusing tale.
Slightly older children could make their own furry monster babes and create their own stories around them.

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Albert and Little Henry
Jez Alborough
Walker Books
There are gentle echoes of the Not Now Bernard about this Jez Alborough offering. It stars young Albert who has a particular prowess for storytelling and loves entertaining his parents with his flights of fancy.
One day though, there’s a new arrival in the family. “I can’t listen to a story now, … Little Henry needs his bath.” and “Not now, Albie, I’m trying to get Little Henry off to sleep,” is what he hears from his weary Dad and Mum, along with their frequent “Why don’t you tell us a story later?
Albert goes off to his room to wait for ‘later,’ a peculiar feeling comes over him …
Nobody notices his sudden lack of stature; and at Little Henry’s celebration party it’s the same story.
Sad and angry, Albert heads for his bedroom leaving others very firmly on the other side of the door. But then, Mum leaves a special present for him; a present bearing three vital words; and after that things start to change – for the better this time. Albert is restored to his former size and those creative juices of his start flowing again …
Albert’s story clearly shows how the arrival of a new sibling can make a child feel small and insecure. His woeful expressions and temper tantrum are tellingly visualized in Alborough’s adorable scenes of ‘new arrival’ jealousy. Young Albert is certain to find a place in the hearts of any family facing the potential emotional upheavals of a new baby.

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Wild Imaginings by Day & Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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until things begin to get out of control …

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Finally Fred has to take matters in hand …

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

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

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Shapes, Reshape! Shapes at Play

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

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

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

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

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fashioned from …

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

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

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

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

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and then, of the vehicular variety …

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

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

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The Greedy Goat

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The Greedy Goat
Petr Horáček
Walker Books
What a tremendous treat of an extended joke of a book this is. I thought at first that the particular Goat in question must have an extraordinarily strong constitution as she gobbles up dog’s food for her breakfast, washed down with slurps of the cat’s milk; this is followed by a veritable 3-course lunch: pig’s potato peelings for starters, the farmer’s wife’s plant as entrée and his daughter’s shoe for dessert. And her supper – can you believe it- is this …

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It should come as no surprise then that after a whole day’s experimental gormandising our heroine starts to feel its effects.

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Moreover, the farmer’s family too have noticed the absence of their things and the guzzler seems to have absented herself too. Come Sunday, she looks thus:

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It takes a whole week for our experimental eater to get back to her usual self: but that still leaves one small girl in need of new footwear and the farmer short of his boxers. They never do turn up – well maybe they do but let’s not go there! And the goat? Is she now a reformed vegetarian, never to stray from her herbivorous diet again? Umm … who wants to ruin your dessert? The proof of the pudding is in the reading …
Petr Horáček has served up a truly flavoursome cautionary tale with spicy ingredients: a piquant main player, supported by a copacetic cast and – as ever – delectable mixed media illustrations that will be relished by children (who may well try their hand at some of his techniques) and the adults who serve up this treat to them.

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The White Cat and the Monk

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The White Cat and the Monk
Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith
Walker Books
Having been totally bowled over by Sydney Smith’s Footpath Flowers, I knew I wanted to review this book despite not being familiar with any of its author’s work. (In her note at the back she tells us ‘In Irish, the word bán means white. Pangur has been said to refer to the word fuller, a person who fluffed and whitened cloth. We might think, then, that Pangur Bán was a cat with brilliantly white fur. Perhaps she even glowed in the candlelight.’) In Sidney Smith’s spread here, she surely does so …

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In fact in all his glorious illustrations herein, I detect the portrayal of a similar reverence for life and learning shown by the two characters , the monk and the cat, as those of the adult and child in Footpath Flowers.
Essentially, this is an interpretation of a medieval Irish poem penned by a Benedictine monk and it’s through the monk’s lenses that we view his solitary world. The scholarly monk shares his cell with the white cat of the title and with readers, his meditation on life with Pangur and with his ‘peaceful pursuit of knowledge’ through his books. While he does this the cat in its turn is busy with his own pursuits in the spartan abode: he stalks a mouse …

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Each is content with his lot and both are completely absorbed in what they do.

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There is actually within this story, another story for one of the monk’s manuscripts shows this –

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an even more ancient portrayal of another monk and cat. And we’re treated to a marvellous illuminated manuscript spread which in itself opens up a wonderful opportunity to discuss the art created by medieval monks.

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My first encounter with the poem was through the W.H. Auden adaption wherein the monk addresses the cat and begins:
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
Alone together, Scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me, study.
This second, thanks to Bogart and Smith is for me, more beautiful, more wondrous. Towards the end, Smith’s ink and watercolour frames take us towards the window …

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and the monk’s final words

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” … and I find light in the darkness.” Pangur seemingly, is the light in more than one sense. Both monk and cat can delight in and celebrate each other’s good fortune : so too can we if only we choose to view the world through similar lenses.
Like the partnership between monk and cat, that between author, Jo Ellen Bogart and artist Sydney Smith is totally in harmony; and the outcome of their collaboration is so much more than the sum of its parts.

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Small and Perfectly Formed

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Open Up, Please!
Silvia Borando and Lorenzo Clerici
Walker Books
I strongly recommend you read the blurb of the latest, Minibombo book very carefully before you start: it contains a warning …
On the first page we are presented with six different colour keys, nothing else just white space. Turn over and there’s a cage with a locked door just waiting to be opened …

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and of course, we decide upon a key and do the necessary whereupon the grateful animal within speaks …

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The next five spreads allow readers to release five more small creatures from captivity and then comes this …

 

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so I hope you did as I suggested before embarking on the story. There’s no key here, of course so best to leave it closed or …
Now of course, nobody really expects you to follow my instructions, nor those on the back cover, or the whole thing wouldn’t be the playfully satisfying delight that it is.
This is a brilliant example of small and simple equating to perfection where books for the very young, and beginning readers, are concerned.

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A Cat Called Panda
Melanie Arora and Charlie Brandon-King
Button Books
This is the kind of small, unassuming book that could easily be overlooked which would be a shame; it’s well worth seeking out. The text takes the form of a rhyming dialogue between a little girl, Amanda – an inquisitive young miss, and Panda; no not the conventional kind of panda. This one is a cat, albeit a black and white one and he does have a particular penchant for bamboo. He has something of a superior attitude too, as he proceeds to prove himself worthy of his Panda name; “My eyes are bright green, / I can see in the dark. /My whiskers are long, / and I make dogs BARK! …
Eventually the two do come to an understanding of one another – yes truly …

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and this provides a satisfying conclusion for both protagonists, and young listeners who will all the while, have been delighting in the minutiae of detail in the charming illustrations and the quirky rhythmic conversation.
And, for those teachers of young children working on philosophy with their classes, there’s potential for a community of enquiry type discussion with this book as a starting point.

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The Food of Love

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Playing From the Heart
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
There’s a whole lot of heart in this, the latest Peter H. Reynolds story. Herein we meet young Raj who, as a small child, starts as a piano plunker, delighting in every sound …

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and without lessons develops into a creative player making up his own music. Impressed, his father hires a piano teacher who teaches him the skills and techniques …

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but despite his accomplishments, there’s no joy and eventually Raj stops playing altogether.

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Raj grows up, leaves home and goes to work in the city. His father grows older and notices the silence left by the absence of his son. Time passes and then Raj hears that his father is not well. He hurries home and his father has a special request: he asks his son to play him a song, not one he’d been taught but that one of his own making – the one that flows straight from his heart.

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Like his protagonist’s playing, Reynolds surely creates this from the heart. It’s a plea to nurture, rather than stifle children’s natural creativity: to let imagination and enjoyment thereof, not precision and preoccupation with the ‘perfect form’ to lead the way.
Everything about this book is a delight: the hand-lettered text which somehow serves to heighten the intensity of the telling, the mixed media (pen and ink, watercolour, gouache and tea) illustrations. Reynolds’ use of colour too speaks volumes: his palette is limited to browns, greys and blues with a touch of gold and purple except where Raj is in creative mode; then the notes flowing from the piano are brightly coloured ‘whispery and sweet’.
A beautiful and timeless tale, (for parents, almost a cautionary one) that will resonate long after the covers have been closed and the book set aside.

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Jack’s Worry
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Jack loves to play his trumpet and eagerly anticipates his ‘first-ever concert’ with his mum in the audience. On the big day however, the lad awakes with ‘a Worry’. And no matter what he does and where he goes, the Worry is right there with him.

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So overwhelming is the wretched Worry that Jack finds even playing his trumpet doesn’t shift the thing: seemingly it’s there to stay. Then comes the time to leave for the concert and that’s when the poor boy feels completely overwhelmed …

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Eventually he confronts the THING and explains to his mum: “I don’t want to play in the concert … I’m worried I’ll make a mistake and you won’t love me anymore!
Fortunately he has an understanding mum whose reassuring words Jack takes on board and later, even passes on to his classmates: “The concert isn’t about playing perfectly. It’s about having fun and sharing something you love with people who love you.”
By the time Jack gets to school, the Worry has shrunk to tiny proportions and he and his friends  all enjoy their performance tremendously.

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Brilliantly empowering: a cracking book to share with children faced with any potentially tricky situation; and in particular one to help youngsters understand and deal with their anxieties. It’s sympathetic without being sentimental and Zuppardi’s whimsical style illustrations really do capture the intensity of Jack’s emotions superbly well.

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Circle and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

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Circle
Jeannie Baker
Walker Books
This moving story begins even before the title page with its narrator lying on his bed wishing, “Ahhhh – I wish I could fly!” When next we meet him he’s on the edge of the beach of a nature reserve watching the ascent of a flock of birds …

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They’re shorebirds – godwits embarking on their long journey north. (In an author’s note at the end of the book we are told this species makes the longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world migrating 11,000 kilometres from Alaska to their southern home in Australia – where Jeannie Baker has lived for many years and where this book begins – and New Zealand.)
It’s a journey that will continue for six days and nights ‘until they know they need to stop,’ with each bird taking a turn as leader of the flock. Increasingly their familiar safe resting places have been replaced with high rise buildings …

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so their search for food has become more and more difficult but eventually they find a place to stop and refuel, eating as much as possible from the rich mud at low tide. The focus is on the godwit with white patches on its wings and finally he flies solo on to the place he remembers. There he makes a nest, attracts a mate and a brood of four chicks duly hatch …

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of which only one survives the ravages of a fox.
After many weeks, the chick is fully grown and again it’s time to move on, feed themselves up in preparation for when an icy wind heralds departure time for the godwit family and a returning flock, that now undertake the awesome nine day flight which takes them full circle back south ‘Following an ancient invisible pathway high above the clouds’ … to the other side of the world where a welcome awaits …

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I learned a great deal from this beautiful book. Its lyrical text and stunning collage illustrations make for a memorable account of godwit migration and thought-provoking glimpses of the child narrator whose personal ‘flight’ is left to readers to interpret: seemingly he too has undergone a transformation.

There’s an altogether different journey in:

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Dr Seuss
Harper Collins Children’s Books
From starting at playgroup or in a nursery class, this book, with its weird and wonderful landscapes

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and some strange and on occasion alarming encounters …

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can accompany you or your child through life’s journey with all its highs and lows, uncertainties and unpredictability. It’ll help you take risks, persevere against the odds, take adversity in your stride – (‘I’m sorry to say so/ but, sadly, it’s true/ that Bang-ups/ and Hang-ups/ can happen to you.’); because as Seuss, the rhymer extraordinaire asserts:
So be sure when you step,/ Step with care and great tact/ and remember that Life’s/ a Great Balancing Act. … And will you succeed?/ Yes! You will, indeed!/ (98 and 3/4 per cent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
Empowering? Yes. Thought provoking? Ditto!

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Celebrating Friendship: Albert’s Tree & Dear Bunny

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

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doesn’t seem to work for the tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Environmental Concerns

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The Tree
Neal Layton
Walker Books
There stands a tree – tall and proud – a conifer that’s home to fledglings in a nest, a squirrel family, an owl one and amidst its roots, a family of rabbits. Beside the tree stands a FOR SALE board.
Then come a man and woman, also intent on making a home. The work begins …

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and halts suddenly –

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Tears are shed. Then, it’s back to the drawing board …

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and after a whole lot of measuring, hefting, hammering and painting, the result is …

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Like the humans in this seemingly simple book, Neal Layton’s fable wields a lot of power. In just fifty words and a sequence of gently humorous illustrations, he delivers a vital message about the importance of humans and animals living together and sharing.
This one delivers on so many levels: In addition to sharing it with young (and not so young listeners), I suggest giving a copy to those developers who pay scant regard to the destruction of natural habitats when drawing up and executing their plans.
In addition, it’s a perfect learning to read book that blows mindlessly boring reading schemes right out of the water.

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Where’s the Starfish?
Barroux
Egmont
See the whale – an enormous one and the brightly coloured fish – a whole multitude of them; then there’s the Starfish, the Jellyfish and the Clownfish.

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Can you spot them? Keep turning the pages and you’ll notice something else starting to appear, something undesirable and alien to the ocean. The fish appear somewhat puzzled but turn over again; the rubbish pile has grown and Starfish, Jellyfish and Clownfish are slightly easier to spy.
On the next few spreads larger rubbish items appear – car parts, washing machines, a fridge, TVs, microwaves– all evidence of our thoughtless, throwaway society; but the fish numbers have declined significantly and it’s easier still to spot our three friends.

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Finally whale cannot take it any longer and taking matters into his own hands – or rather – snout – he takes revenge in an altogether satisfying manner.

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Work out for your self – or better, get the book and see for yourself – what happens hereafter …
This, like Where’s the Elephant? is a an enormously effective and affecting lesson on how we harm our precious natural environment: the conservation message is the same though the setting of the story is entirely different.

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A Brave Bear

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A Brave Bear
Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes
Walker Books
From the instant I set eyes on the cover of this one I knew I was going to love it: those two bears are adorable; and then to see that Sean Taylor has dedicated the book to Tove Jansson (writer of the Moomins stories) was indicative of a possible influence. So I came to this with high hopes and I was beyond enchanted.
I think a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world,” says dad bear as father and son are attempting to shade themselves beneath a tree on a scorcher of a day. The cub (who acts as narrator) suggests going to the river for a splashy cool down; Dad agrees and off they go. The journey is quite a long one and little bear, determined to impress his Dad, goes for being “the jumpiest thing in all the world!” as they cross the rocks, ignoring the paternal advice to “Be careful. Just do small jumps.” Inevitably, this is what happens …

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but Dad is there to attend to the hurt knee, the wounded pride and the reluctance to complete the journey, even offering to carry the cub.

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Anxious to prove himself, Little Bear however is having none of it – “… I decided to go on my own.” he informs readers and resolutely, he does, all the way there …

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The concise narration concludes thus: ‘On the way home, the sun was glowing. The air was glowing … Even tomorrow was glowing.’ I’m pretty certain both father and cub were glowing too – glowing with pride: the narrator at his achievements, and Dad bear at his offspring for overcoming his trepidations and seeing things through to the end and one suspects, learning from his own mistakes.
This is one of those books that leaves you with a warm inner glow. The parent-child relation (attentive adult allowing the offspring to be a risk-taker) is beautifully portrayed both verbally and in Emily Hughes glowing, superbly textured scenes into which she places the shaggy-coated characters.

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A truly felicitous author/illustrator partnership if ever there was one and a picture book to be read over and over and …

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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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Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers!

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Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers!
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books
Isaac is one cool character – a superhero no less. However, on account of his superpowers he’s not quite like his brother or fellow pupils, some of whom call him names from time to time. Isaac has ASD sometimes called Asperger’s Syndrome. Isaac’s brain is truly awesome – it’s able to remember fascinating facts and he loves to share these with others though not everyone is eager to hear them.

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He’s full of energy but prefers solo indoor activities rather than outdoor, muddy ones. Social interaction isn’t one of Isaac’s strongest points though he loves to spend time with his pets.

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In class, Isaac has his special toy to help him stay calm and focused. He takes what people say literally; he just doesn’t get figurative language but his ears are hypersensitive and this can upset him.

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So can looking into people’s eyes but his dad has taught him a special coping strategy for face to face encounters.
Isaac’s straightforward first person narrative allows him to tell young readers just how it is for him in a way that is accessible to young children, many of whom are likely to encounter someone with an ASD in their own school. His upbeat voice keeps the tone light and the focus is on the positive aspects of his condition though it doesn’t avoid its challenges. Melanie Walsh beautifully portrays the various aspects of Asperger’s that Isaac talks about in her bold, uncluttered illustrations.
This book is a must for all early years settings and younger primary classes and all power to Walker Books for publishing it on their picture book list.

Girls with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to present the condition very differently from boys and can often slip through the net when it comes to an ASD diagnosis. However, they too have unique strengths and their differences should also be discussed and celebrated. Here’s a very useful little book that does just that:

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I am an Aspie Girl
Danuta Bulhak-Paterson and Teresa Ferguson
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Here we meet Lizzie. In a first person narrative, she explains ASD from her own perspective and talks about how Aspie girls are different from boys with AS and are good at blending in with other girls though this is tiring to keep up all day at school. “It’s like being an actress, I guess where school is the stage,” she says.
Lizzie also discusses her special creative interests, her worries about making mistakes, her acute sensitivity to her own feelings. Sensory sensitivities are another challenge be they to tastes, sounds, things that touch such as particular scratchy clothes or as in Lizzie’s case, smells.

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Lizzie has a special animal friend, her dog, with whom she finds sharing her feelings easy. (This is something she has in common with many boy Aspies, as are reading people’s facial expressions and playing in a group and encountering changes.)
In addition to Lizzie’s straightforward account, sympathetically illustrated by Teresa Ferguson,  there are several very helpful pages aimed at adults who might be sharing the book with an Aspie girl. Let’s end with Lizzie’s own very positive parting words though: ‘My teacher tells me that I have a great future ahead of me, with many wonderful talents to show the world!’

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