Tag Archives: Walker Books

King of the Sky

King of the Sky
Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin
Walker Books
Peter is starting a new life in a new country and what he feels overwhelmingly is a sense of disorientation and disconnection. Only old Mr Evans’ pigeons bring him any reminders of his former, Italian home.

Those pigeons are Mr Evans’ pride and joy, his raison d’être almost, after a life spent underground in the mines, a life that has left him with a manner of speaking sufficiently soft and slow for the boy narrator to comprehend.
There is one pigeon in particular, so Mr Evans says, that he’s training to be a champ. This pigeon he gives to Peter who names him “Re del cielo! King of the Sky!” Together the two share in the training, not only of Peter’s bird, but the entire flock; but after each flight, Peter’s bird with its milk-white head, is always the last to return. Nevertheless the old man continues to assure the lad of its winning potential. “Just you wait and see!” he’d say.
As the old man weakens, Peter takes over the whole training regime and eventually Mr Evans gives him an entry form for a race – a race of over a thousand miles back home from Rome where his pigeon is sent by train.
With the bird duly dispatched and with it Peter thinks, a part of his own heart, the wait is on.

For two days and nights Peter worries and waits, but of his special bird there is no sign. Could the aroma of vanilla ice-cream, and those sunlit squares with fountains playing have made him stay? From his bed, Mr Evans is reassuring, sending Peter straight back outside; and eventually through clouds …

Not only is the pigeon home at last, but Peter too, finally knows something very important …
Drawing on the history of South Wales, when large numbers of immigrants came from Italy early in the last century, Nicola Davies tells a poignant tale of friendship and love, of displacement and loss, of hope and home. Powerfully affecting, eloquent and ultimately elevating, her compelling text has, as with The Promise, its perfect illustrator in Laura Carlin. She is as softly spoken as Mr Evans, her pictures beautifully evoking the smoky, mining community setting. The skyscapes of pit-head chimneys, smoke and surrounding hills, and the pigeons in flight have a mesmeric haunting quality.
A truly wonderful book that will appeal to all ages.

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Hello, Mr World

Hello, Mr World
Michael Foreman
Walker Books
Two small children dress up and play doctors. Their patient is Mr World and he’s not feeling good. In true GP fashion the children ask, “Now what seems to be the matter?
As the doctors go about making their diagnosis, taking his temperature, listening to his chest and running him through the X-ray machine, Mr World talks of raised temperature and breathing problems and we are shown in Foreman’s telling watercolours the consequences of his malaise. Habitats are under threat;

towns and cities choking with filthy, toxic fumes …

drastic consequences of climate change are evident everywhere and, as the doctors decree, “You must look to the future or things will just get worse …
The solution is in the hands of Mr World’s human inhabitants; and, to the joy of the doctors, and the threatened animals,
the young children acknowledge that they have a huge responsibility; but it’s a challenge well worth taking up.

If only it were that simple. Fortunately, the final three pages offer a brief real world diagnosis and some small but important actions that children themselves can take to help with the crisis.
Foreman’s treatment of a red-hot topic is powerfully affecting. Almost every day one hears on the news or reads of the adverse effects of climate change: only recently we heard that many children playing outside in their school breaks are breathing toxic fumes for instance, so his book is all the more timely. Likening the world to a patient subject to the diagnosis of two small children at play is a stroke of genius, and makes what is a global issue comprehensible to early years listeners

who are likely to inherit the problems we’ve all helped to create. Seize the day!

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Poor Louie / Raymond

Poor Louie
Tony Fucile
Walker Books
Louie the Chihuahua narrator of this story leads a life of contented predictability with Mum and Dad until things start to change. Mum still meets up with friends, which was fine but now there are other small creatures at those get-togethers, meaning Louie is no longer the centre of attention.

Then Mum’s tummy gets visibly larger … and larger …

Lots of new things are delivered; but why two beds, two carriers, two sets of clothes and a double buggy. The prospect of two ‘of those creatures’ is just too much for Louie: he waits for an opportunity, grabs his belongings and attempts a runaway. It’s thwarted by a well-intentioned neighbour however and Louie feels his life is over.

You can close the book now” he tells readers.
We don’t of course, for that is not the end of the story …
Dry humour, a restricted colour palette which gives the whole thing a subtle air of retro sophistication, constantly changing and sometimes, unusual perspectives, and some laugh-out-loud spreads make the whole thing a delight from cover to cover. Fucile’s delicious comedy will appeal to dog lovers and families adjusting to a new sibling in particular; but neither of those are applicable to this reviewer who loved it nonetheless.
Here’s another tale of a canine accustomed to leading a pampered pooch life:

Raymond
Yann and Gwendal Le Bec
Walker Books
Meet Raymond, used to having his own special spot by the sofa, scratchings behind the ears in ‘just the right place’ and a surprise birthday party every year. What more could a canine want? If you’re Raymond, a considerable amount it appears and thus commences his being more like a human behaviour. Sitting at the table for meals; ‘cappuccino-and-cupcake Saturdays at the café and cinema trips’ become part and parcel of his life. but Raymond is not alone; seemingly the whole doggy world wants to act human.
Raymond’s four-footed gait becomes two and naturally the world now looks very different. Big thoughts invade his head and before you can say DOGUE, Raymond has landed himself a job as rover-ing reporter on the up-market magazine and spends all hours working to meet deadlines.

Soon though, Raymond embarks on a new role: he becomes newscaster on the TV channel, Dog News. Eventually however, an excess of pampered fame means that he’s in dire need of a break away from it all. Could it be that the canine celebrity is about to undergo a light-bulb moment …

This funny, ‘be careful what you wish for’,‘ don’t bite off more than you can chew’ tale, with its New York setting, will resonate with adults as much as children, or perhaps more. The trouble is though, it’s not necessarily all that easy to step off that workaholic, achievement treadmill, which seems always to be driving us onwards towards greater heights …
There’s plenty to make readers – be they or be they not dog lovers – smile in the comic style scenes of a life as a top dog.

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Little Wolf’s First Howling

Little Wolf’s First Howling
Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
Walker Books
Little Wolf accompanies Big Wolf to the top of the hill, both father and son eagerly anticipating the wolf pup’s first howling. The full moon appears above the hill top and Little Wolf can hardly hold on to that first howl of his but first he must let his father demonstrate “proper howling form.” Then comes the turn of the beginner: he starts conventionally but then adds a little bit extra of his own.
Not wanting to dent the cub’s confidence, Big Wolf performs another howl, then off goes the cub again with a superbly creative version of his own – love you little fella!

‘aaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo dignity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo’

Unsurprisingly, he’s told gently but emphatically, it doesn’t pass muster. No matter how many times Big Wolf demonstrates what he’s waiting to hear from his little one, what comes from the cub is increasingly elaborate verbal creativity.
Then suddenly, Little Wolf’s joyful wild abandon starts to have a different effect on his parent: instead of admonishing his offspring’s outpouring, he joins him, becoming co-creator of an extremely unauthentic duet performed at uninhibited full volume right across the countryside.

After which the two head home “to “tell the others” – just in case they hadn’t heard it.
Kvasnosky and McGee together have produced a superb picture book celebration of the creativity of young children.
Little Wolf’s spirited renderings are a perfect example of the kind of uninhibited imaginative responses of those in the early years, so long as well-intentioned adults don’t step in, take over and try to show them the one ‘right’ way to do something. Long live all the little wolves everywhere (especially those of the divergent kind), and those adults who, like Big Wolf have the good sense to step back and look at things from behind the heads of the very young.
The digitally coloured, gouache resist scenes wonderfully evoke the inky night setting in which wolves might wander, the telling is a delight and the dialogue spot-on. A word of warning to readers aloud though: you may well find yourself completely hoarse after being called upon for immediate re-readings of this wonderful book – happy howling.

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Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day / Papasaurus

Kiki and Bobo’s Sunny Day
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Meet Kiki and Bobo. They’re super excited on account of a trip to the seaside; the perfect place to spend a sunny day they think. Off they go in the bus where Kiki eagerly anticipates a swim in the sea: Bobo, in contrast does not.
He doesn’t want the ice-cream Kiki buys either, despite his friend’s best efforts.
Undaunted, she suggests that dip in the sea. This is greeted by a series of stalling activities: rubbing on sun cream,

collecting seashells and sandcastle constructing, until finally the indulgent Kiki is rewarded, not by an enthusiastic change of heart on Bobo’s part: rather he tearfully admits that he’s scared of sea swimming.
Three cheers for Kiki: she has just the thing for reluctant swimmers and she’s ready to let Bobo have that, and equally important, to take hold of his hand as they enter the water.

So, overcoming the fear of water – tick; being a super-duper friend and helping a pal in his hour of need – tick. Those are the important outcomes of a seaside sortie so delightfully orchestrated through Yasmeen Ishmail’s characteristically adorable illustrations – littered in this instance with flaps to open – and a straightforward text that in the main, comprises the dialogue between Bobo and Kiki.
Another winner for Yasmeen Ismail.

Papasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books
Using a similar question and answer style employed in Mamasaurus, Lomp has Babysaurus participating in a game of hide-and-seek with his Papasaurus. When it’s Babysaurus’s turn to be the seeker, he can’t find his Papa. His “Have you seen my papa?” is directed to first Stego, and subsequently Anky, Mosa, Velo and Edmont,

all of whom respond by referring to attributes of their own papas. None though can match up to Papasaurus in the eyes of his little one and eventually he pauses his search on top of a large hump in the landscape to consider where his father might be;

and lo and behold …
The dinosaur characters are rendered in bright colours making them stand out starkly against the sombre shades of the prehistoric landscapes they inhabit and it’s thus that Lomp creates the possibility of hidden danger as the infant dinosaur forays into the unknown perhaps for the first time.
Lots of fun to share with young dino. fans, in particular those youngsters who with a parent fairly near at hand are beginning to make those first forays into the wider world.

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All Aboard the London Bus / No, Nancy, No!

All Aboard the London Bus
Patricia Toht and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s hard to resist the opening invitation of this book:
Come! / Board the double-decker bus / and see the London sights with us. / Any time, hop off. /Explore! / Then climb back on and ride some more.’ With its welcome aboard greeting in five languages, we’re off and heading for Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.
From there, it’s on to Westminster Abbey with its amazing ceilings and tombstones and statues galore.

Big Ben is the next stop and then comes the London Eye so beautifully described as ‘A bracelet that hangs off the Arm of the Thames, / its pods filled with people, all dangle like gems.’ Then after pausing to look at the river itself snaking through a host of landmarks, the family heads for Trafalgar Square. Here readers are offered a busy ‘Seek and Find’ spread while they too pause for breath,

before heading via Speaker’s Corner down onto the tube and thence to Piccadilly Circus where they emerge into a sudden downpour. Seemingly there’s only one thing to do: stop for tea and a browse in a famous toyshop for a while.
The British Museum, Tate Modern and the Globe are some of the other destinations once family members have dried off; and no London visit would be complete without seeing Tower Bridge and the Tower itself so that is their final stop. Phew! It’s certainly been an exhausting day especially for the little ones. The adults are very brave to undertake such a huge itinerary in a single outing and still leave the bus with smiles on their faces.
Essentially a sequence of poems in celebration of London: you can either take the whole tour in one sitting or, take things more slowly just dipping into or revisiting favourite landmarks. No matter which way, Sam Usher’s gently humorous illustrations, whether the focus be a famous London site or its visitors,

are sheer delight.
It’s clear from this celebratory book that London means a lot to both author and artist.

No, Nancy, No!
Alice Tait
Walker Books
Join Nancy and best friend Roger for an exciting, action-packed visit to London. First stop is Buckingham Palace where Nancy is hoping for a glimpse of the Queen. Her dog however has his eyes on two children, one of whom drops a teddybear. Rather than remain at the palace, Nancy and Roger set off hot on the trail of the bear’s owners. A bus ride takes them to St Paul’s Cathedral

and thereafter various other famous London landmarks. Every time it seems they’re about to catch the teddy losers, Nancy’s proclivity for mischief diverts her attention.
Will they ever catch up with the children they’re chasing; and will Nancy ever get to see the Queen?
There are flaps on every detailed spread helping to move the action forwards as well as a surprise Nelson’s Column pop-up; and guess who cannot resist climbing right up to the top. Fun, fast and with its repeat “No, Nancy, No!” from Roger, fun to share, especially before a visit to London.

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Ice Boy / Stack the Cats

Ice Boy
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
Meet Ice Boy, the hero of Stein’s latest book. Rather than being restrained by his freezer existence and frequent “Never go outside” parental warnings, the young ice-cube leaves the safe enclosed environment and ventures down to the ocean’s edge and thence discovers a whole new world of exciting adventures is to be had.
His first incarnation is ‘Water Boy …

and thereafter Vapour Boy; after which, having tap-danced upon a thunderstorm and freezing …

a tiny pellet of summer hail.
In solid form once again, he hurtles off a roof-top and ‘BLOOP’ –is reunited with his parents who just happen to be chilling someone’s drink.

Suddenly it looks as though extermination is to be the outcome for all three cubes but fortunately, the thirsty human’s first taste is of the little lad who, after all his adventures has become a taste-bud disaster; and Ice Boy and parents are summarily tossed from the tumbler onto the grass.
Then, with an infusion of worldly knowledge, Ice Boy leads the trio off on a new water-cycle adventure …
This clever tale of risk-taking, transformation and re-incarnation is such a fun way to introduce a sclence lesson on the water-cycle. Stein’s mixed media, largely blue and grey illustrations are littered throughout with witty speech bubbles (‘Oh, Ice Boy! You’re a sight for sore ice.‘ Or, ‘Am I dense or did I just become a liquid again?‘and peppered with POPs, PUFFs, BLOOPs and other appropriate noises off.

Stack the Cats
Susie Ghahremani
Abrams Appleseed
Much more than a mere counting activity, this playful picture book offers opportunities for youngsters to expand their mathematical thinking to embrace simple division and multiplication; and a spot of height comparison. We start with ‘One cat sleeps.’ // Two cats play. // Three cats?/ STACK!’ Followed by …

After which the pattern alters thus:

Clearly the six have found this process a little wearying so ‘Seven cats nap.’
Then, the revived felines plus another try their paws at a spot to towering , which rapidly turns to a tumble. It’s as well cat nine is there to even things out and for the first and only time, numerals make their appearance …

What happens thereafter is that Ghahremi decides that ten cats are ‘just too many’, dispersing the gathering to hide, sleep, climb and generally have a playful time (a subtraction discussion opportunity) and finishing with an open-ended, ‘How will you stack the cats?’
The eye-catching cats are given the opportunity to show their playful personalities while youngsters are offered a plethora of mathematical possibilities. A purrfect prelude to some mathematical activities: fun and educative and also, great for beginning readers.

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When We Go Camping/ Skyfishing


Who is the narrator of this lively celebration of family camping? Could it be one of the children? A parent? Or perhaps, the eponymous dog that gets into each and every scene? I doubt it’s one of the grandparents; all they seem to do is sit around or participate in some form of spectator sport, with the odd pause for a spot of insect swatting on occasion.
Meanwhile, other family members make friends, play, cook, fish, swim, shiver thereafter: beg your pardon Gramps: there you are boiling up the billy can for a warm-up drink for the chilly swimmers.

Naturally taking a pee involves a bit of inconvenience and perhaps it might be advisable to take a clothes peg along.

Perhaps the highlight of the day is a spot of ‘Hummetty strummetty squeak-io’ singing around the fire before finally repairing to the tent for some dream-filled slumbers.
Sally Sutton’s rhythmic, rhyming narrative is irresistible, especially so those playful refrains that accompany every scenario so beautifully portrayed in Cat Chapman’s watercolours: there’s a ‘Smacketty tappetty bopp-io‘; a ‘Zippetty zappetty flopp-io’ and a ‘Snuffletty wuffletty roar-io’ to name a few: I’ll leave readers to guess what actions they orchestrate.
My memories of camping are of endeavouring to bash pegs into sloping, rock-hard ground, lumpy porridge and noisy sleep-intruding voices in the night. This book in contrast makes the whole experience – well maybe not the loo visits or the odd trip-up – a pleasure, full of simple, fun-filled delight.

Skyfishing
Gideon Sterer and Poly Bernatene
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The young girl narrator’s grandfather loves to fish; so when he moves from his rural idyll to live in the big city with his family, he greatly misses his passion. The child is determined to find a way to engage him, but through autumn and winter, nothing catches his interest.
Come spring, the girl has an inspiration: she initiates a game of ‘let’s pretend’ fishing over the balcony edge and …

The possibilities escalate until they cast their lines deep into the rumbling tumbling ‘ocean’ below: an ocean full of wonderful adventures to last for months and months …

As the narrative unfolds, Bernatene’s vibrant, whimsical paintings show the chaotic city transformed into an ocean teeming with amazing sea creatures.
A warm-hearted story of the special relationship between the young and old, and the power of the imagination.

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Trees / We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My First Adventure Field Guide

Trees
Lemniscates
Walker Books
Published under the Walker Studio imprint, this is a gorgeously textured, digitally worked, tribute to trees. Through elegant illustrations and a succinctly worded text, homage is paid to trees. We see them in all their changing seasonal glory;

trees with ‘their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground.

And we learn something of the functions of their roots; their various locations and something of the important environmental roles they play: homes for a plethora of birds and other creatures, providing shade for humans and other animals, cleansers of the air we breathe; and providers of a bounty of fruits. In the last few spreads we are in the company of a child in various tree interactions both rural and urban.

Share this lovely book with young children and then go outside and start to observe, enjoy and appreciate the wonderful trees around.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt My Adventure Field Guide
text by Hannah Peng/Walker Books
Walker Entertainment
Somebody somewhere has had the clever idea of capitalising on the popularity of the original Rosen/Oxenbury We’re Going on a Bear Hunt picture book and the more recent success of the animation of the same and come up with this natural history adventure guide using some stills of scenes from the latter.
Like all good adventures, it takes a bit of planning and making sure one takes the appropriate things along in the way of clothing and protection, together with a handy notebook. Then it’s off into the big wide world of explorations, be they at home, school, countryside or seaside, by day or perhaps, night, always accompanied of course, by a responsible adult.
High in the Sky’, ‘Down in the Ground’ in that ‘thick oozy mud’; Further Afield to caves, through woodlands and forest (stumble trip) and onto the shore are other possible places for spotting a plethora of flora and fauna, large and small. Doing weather observations, making mud bricks, collecting fruits for scrumptious baked apples, creating a special plant habitat at home and measuring the heights of trees are just some of the numerous possibilities included; and I’m sure children will relish the idea of a poo hunt.
With its wipe-clean cover, this backpack-sized beauty concludes with some important words about the impact of certain kinds of human activity on the natural world, ways to help combat these and a final glossary.
For any child with a taste for adventure, either at home or in school.

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Trucks and Rock Pools

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Trucks
William Bee
Pavilion Books
This is truly a vehicular delight and who better to introduce it than Bee himself. First he shows off the fuel tanker which, we’re told, holds sufficient fuel to fill 2500 motorbikes, or if you prefer, 650 cars or 40 of the fanatic’s largest trucks. It’s fuel is pretty indispensable unless you happen to have one of these beauties: watch out for soot.

Mr Bee however, has a truck to take care of that eventuality too – his amphibious one.
As construction is a frequent activity at the William Bee’s Garage, there are all kinds of trucks to help with the various building-related tasks; there’s the one that carries supplies, a cement mixer, a café truck – building makes one hungry after all. William also has a rescue truck, which here, has been called out to aid a snow-scooper.

Racing cars, and a truck to carry them complete with spare wheels, tool boxes and more, are also kept at the garage, as is William’s amazing jet-powered truck; fire engines and more. Mr Bee though is off to the seaside in yet another of his amazing vehicles and there he goes … leaving readers with a few final spreads of truck facts and some adverts for all his trucks’ needs.
What more could a truck-crazy pre-schooler want that these wonderfully bright, detailed illustrations (eye candy for truck fanatics) and William Bee’s running commentary on same.

Rock Pool Secrets
Narelle Oliver
Walker Books
As a child on summer holidays in Devon, Cornwall or further afield in the Mediterranean, apart from swimming, my favourite activity was poking around in rock pools accompanied often by my sister and Dad. I’d catch various things in my net, pop them into a bucket, observe and attempt to identify them; and then put them back into the water. This ‘lift-the-flap’ book takes me right back to those days with a close look at many of the creatures and plants I most certainly found: sea anemones with their sticky tentacles – endlessly fascinating; hermit crabs residing in empty mollusc shells, other crustacea – crab species, shrimps shooting rocket-like into the tangled seaweed; and various fish including gobies.

Most starfish I found were dried up on the seashore; herein though we see one cleverly camouflaged on the surface of a rock.
Each creature is given a double spread and almost all have a large, appropriately shaped flap that open to reveal further details about the particular animal. The final spread with an invitation to discover its secrets, opens up on both sides revealing an entire rock pool.
With awe-inspiring lino print illustrations, a fairly short narrative text and a pictorial glossary at the back giving extra information, this is perfect for preschool children and KS1 audiences.

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Lots: the Diversity of Life on Earth

Lots
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books
Subtitled ‘The Diversity of Life on Earth’ the enchanting large-sized book looks at biodiversity and interdependence on our planet.
The ‘LOTS’ herein encompasses over a hundred different animals as well as numerous plants and one enthusiastic little girl narrator.

By giving voice to the child, Nicola Davies cleverly explains what would otherwise be an abstruse topic in words that pre-school and KS1 age children can engage with and enjoy.
We visit a variety of locations from deserts to tropical islands; and zoom right in to such microbial habitats as beneath the feathers of birds, on the backs of lichen beetles

and even boiling volcanic pools. Counting all the different kinds of flora and fauna is far from easy on account of sheer numbers; but sometimes it’s a very difficult task due in part to the comparative inaccessibility of particular habitats – the tops of tall jungle trees or the bottom of the coldest seas for instance. But also there’s the fact that some young creatures – the Queen Angelfish – for one, look quite different from the adult; or alternatively things that look virtually identical are entirely different species such as here:

The Viceroy Butterfly and the Monarch look almost identical

All this is explained in a straightforward narrative that as well as providing youngsters with a wealth of information, is likely to engender awe and wonder in the ‘almost two million different kinds of living things’ already identified; and the millions that probably are yet to be found.
In the three final spreads, crucial ideas about extinction and the importance of preservation of living things are introduced, leaving readers much food for thought about the vital stewardship role humans have in the whole scheme of things.
This follow up to Tiny also has wonderful detailed, painterly illustrations by Emily Sutton. A must for primary school classroom collections and family bookshelves.

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Can’t Catch Me!

Can’t Catch Me!
Timothy Knapman and Simona Ciraolo
Walker Books
Meet Jake, the fastest mouse in the world so we’re told, and Old Tom Cat – he looks pretty formidable, at least in Simona Ciraolo’s opening portrait of him. Tom has designs on Jake as his next tasty tidbit; but however many knots the old moggy ties himself into to that end, Jake manages to elude him. All poor Tom succeeds in geting is a rumbly tum and a thinner body, and a whole lot of taunting from a certain mouse as he runs off out of the garden and into the fields beyond.
Pretty soon Jake encounters a fox. That too has hunger pangs and a space in his tummy for a little mouse.

Can’t catch me!” brags Jake as he dashes through the cornfield and on into a wood leaving the pursuing fox far behind.
In the wood, lives a wolf and guess what? It too fancies a “juicy young mouse” to eat. Despite the fact it ‘sprinted and sprang’, that wolf just could not catch the boastful Jake.

Nor could the roaring bear he next comes across, even though it lunges and leaps at the rodent who manages to spring right across a chasm and end up (after going all around the world) right back where he started …

Now there’s an old saying, ‘everything comes to he who waits’ and so it is here; I’ll say no more.
There are echoes of the Gingerbread Man in this stonker of a story; but Timothy Knapman has taken the bones of the traditional tale and created a snappy spin-off that is certain to go down well with young listeners (if mine are anything to go by) who will relish its denouement. Simona Ciraolo’s scenes of showing off, sprinting and strutting speak even louder than all Knapman’s wonderful dialogue. This is another genius author/illustrator pairing.

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Mrs Mole, I’m Home!

Mrs Mole, I’m Home!
Jarvis
Walker Books
Walking along the canal path this morning near my home I noticed unusual mole activity and immediately thought to myself, that Mr Mole of Jarvis’s must have recently popped up along here. How does the guy do it? Jarvis I mean, not Mr Mole – coming up with one superbly funny picture book after another in rapid succession. Back to Mr Mole: the creature is exhausted after a hard day’s work at Gordon Ratzy’s and eager to get home to his wife and children; the problem however is that he’s unable to find his specs. – ANYWHERE!

No matter, he thinks to himself, “I ought to know my way back home by now!
Off he burrows and … Up he pops calling out to announce his presence to his family. It’s a wrong call however, with rabbits not moles greeting him. So off he burrows again and the same thing happens when first he lands up at the residence of the Owl family demanding a “kissy kissy” from his little ones;

then bumping into the penguins in the Antarctica; and next the crocs in their swampy commorancy. Oops! Better move out of there fast before you become crunching matter for Croc’s dinner, Mr Mole. Good job you can’t see those jagged teeth they’re brandishing at you.
After all that burrowing and popping up in the wrong places, Mr Mole is near despair but then ‘Sniff – sniff … Something familiar!’ causes his nostrils to tingle – worm noodles!
There’s only one place that aroma could be coming from; and so it’s ‘Up he popped!

Explanations as to the delay inevitably amuse his offspring and a promise is made never by lose those glasses again. But …
With its glorious throw-away final scene, this story is utterly hilarious from cover to cover – literally: there’s even a wonderful visual pun on the back cover and that eye-chart title page is priceless. In-built repetition of ‘Up he popped!‘ and ‘And off he burrowed …‘ cry out for audience participation; and this is an absolute gift for readers aloud: just make sure you give your audience plenty of time to enjoy the wit in every one of Jarvis’s scenes.

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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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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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