Tag Archives: Walker Books

Boo Who?

Boo Who?
Ben Clanton
Walker Books

The pals from Ben Clanton’s Rex Wrecks It! – dinosaur Rex, robot, Gizmo, Sprinkles the unicorn-rabbit, and furry monster, Wild return; but there’s a new kid on the block and he wants to play.

The others are accommodating and try their level best to include him in their games; but for a ghostly apparition, bounce-ball is a non starter (the ball bounces right through him); ditto ‘pick-up twigs’ (Boo has no hands); and his would-be friends can’t feel a thing when Boo tags them.

Enough is enough: the four run off to play another game leaving Boo all alone and sad – ‘Boo-hoo’. Would anyone even care if he just disappeared, Boo wonders.
Meanwhile a game of hide-and-seek has started. Now that’s surely THE perfect game for a little ghost.

Three cheers for the established group and their patience and perseverance. It pays off in the end: and what a great example to young audiences, especially those just starting nursery or school.
Clanton’s artfully drawn characters portray the sensitive and empathetic way the friends treat the newcomer. Their changes of expression speak volumes about their feelings, as do those of Boo and his uncertainty about being accepted by the others, about fitting in and discovering his own strength.
Share and discuss with early years listeners.

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They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!

They Came from Planet Zabalooloo!
Sean Taylor and Kate Hindley
Walker Books
Sean Taylor does crazy stories supremely well and this one surely tops the pops for craziness.
Three aliens, inhabitants of the planet Zabalooloo head to earth in their spaceship and they have a mission. There’s the brainy one, that’s Zoron our narrator; Bazoo, the strong one and Zob, prone to hyper-exuberance and crazy wiggle-woggle dancing.
Their aim is to be the first to capture a “BIG-SIZE thing” by means of their supersonic-sucker with special shrinker nozzle and take it back to their own planet. Quite a challenge judging by the relative size of the aliens and their prey, Undaunted and with supersonic sucker at the ready, the three creep up behind the creature ready to strike.

But then Bazoo wants to stop for a photo shoot. PHOOAH! Big mistake! Followed by rapid retreat back to spaceship.
Maybe they’ll have more success with MEDIUM-SIZED thing. Or maybe not …

Surely nothing can go wrong capturing a SMALL-SIZED thing; after all it would still be a first for their planet.
But even aliens from Zabalooloo cannot resist feeding our earthly ducks and it’s a case of love at first sight for both Zoron their intrepid leader and the target duck.

So is their mission doomed to failure or could there perhaps be another way of capturing their prey?
Sean Taylor’s deliciously zany text, some of which is rendered through colour-coded speech bubbles, is full of utterances guaranteed to make you splutter with laughter. Take this one for instance ‘I am COMPLETE BIG-GOB NINCOMPOOP WITH PANTS ON INSIDE OUT!
Perfectly complementing Taylor’s words are Kate Hindley’s sublimely silly, intricately detailed visuals of the diminutive Zabaloolooian explorers and their tin can craft complete with steering wheel and party area, going about their mission.
Human explorers of the pages will find many more small-sized things including a wealth of insects hovering on, and buzzing around, the various kinds of plants liberally scattered throughout the terrain of the aliens’ hunting ground.
Epic!

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10 Reasons to Love: an Elephant / a Turtle & Dolphin Baby

10 Reasons to Love an Elephant
10 Reasons to Love a Turtle

Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Two titles published in collaboration with the Natural History Museum focus on what makes the particular animal special.
Each is sandwiched between two sturdy covers with a die cut of the animal through the front one and a double spread is devoted to each reason.
I didn’t need any persuasion to love elephants mainly because of frequent encounters with the Asian variety on my numerous visits to India. (I’ve never seen any with googly eyes however.) In addition to the reason that gives each spread its title, there is plenty more to enjoy. I was fascinated to learn that elephants ‘wrap their trucks around each other in warm greetings’ and that ‘they understand how other elephants feel.’ Here for example one can see a beautiful Indian swallowtail butterfly, a common rose butterfly and a common bluebottle butterfly among the flora.

Children will I’m sure be amused to learn that forest elephants eat seeds that pass through their bodies and out in their poo, and then the seeds start growing in their dung making them “good gardeners’ for their role in seed dispersal. Equally they might, having read the ‘Show You Love an Elephant’ badge, want to look online and find how to buy some paper made from recycled elephant poo.
Ecologist, Catherine Barr’s text is very reader friendly and Hanako Clulow’s illustrations offer plenty to observe and discuss.
10 Reasons to love a Turtle features the seven different sea turtle species and interestingly, ‘gardening’ features herein too,

with sea turtles acting like ‘underwater lawn movers’ grazing on the seagrass and keeping it the appropriate length for fish, crabs and seahorses to make their homes in.
At the end of the book, readers are reminded of the threat that pollution, fishing and hunting pose to these gentle animals.
With their environmental focus, these would be worthwhile additions to classroom libraries; as well as for interested individuals, who it is hoped, might turn into conservationists.

Dolphin Baby
Nicola Davies and Brita Granström
Walker Books
‘Tail first, head last, Dolphin POPS out into the blue.’ What could be a more engaging way to start a book of narrative non-fiction? But then this is zoologist Nicola Davies writing and she knows just how to grab the attention of young readers and listeners and keep them entranced throughout.
Here, through the story of Dolphin and Mum, she describes the first six months of a baby calf’s life as it learns to feed, to acquaint itself with and respond to her call, and to explore its world playing, making friends …

and all the while he’s growing and developing his very own whistle to communicate that he has at six months old, caught his very first fish.
The text uses two fonts: the large provides the narrative with additional facts given in smaller italics; and the final spread reminds readers that dolphins need protecting from pollution, from over-fishing and from the careless use of fishing nets.
Brita Granström’s superb acrylic illustrations grace every spread helping to make the book a winner for both early years and primary school audiences.

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Maisy Goes to the Bookshop / Kiki and Bobo’s Super Surprise

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
A book that promotes the idea of reading and bookshops for the very young – what’s not to love? And when it’s a child-friendly establishment (or in this case Maisy friendly) with a kindly bookseller on hand to help you make a choice once you’ve had a good browse, as is so at  ‘We Love Books’, you know you’re in one of the best possible places.
Then when you happen to bump into your friends, all enthusing about their choice of reading matter things get even better. There’s even a story time session …

and a café to complete the delights, before you head off to give another friend a very special present.
Lucy Cousins captures the magic of books and bookshops for pre-schoolers in her bright, engaging scenes of budding bibliophiles. Hurray for Maisy and friends, and child-friendly bookshops everywhere.

Kiki and Bobo’s Super Surprise
Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books
Two friends return in another lift-the-flap fun story.
It’s a special day in Kiki and Bobo’s house, so they both think; far more special than waffle day, Bobo tells his friend as he departs to market.
Kiki meanwhile decides it must be her best friend’s birthday and sets about preparing for a surprise party. She bakes a cake, blows up balloons, hangs bunting and dons her best party clothes.
She of course, is not the only one preparing for a surprise party.
Bobo’s shopping includes lots of yummy food …

and a special present; and on his way home, he stops to pick a birthday bouquet for Kiki, who back  indoors, seems totally unaware that it’s actually her birthday that is being celebrated.
Let the merriment begin …

Gentle offbeat humour for the very youngest: it’s brimming over with flaps to explore, labels to read and yummy things to tingle the taste buds, not forgetting that BIG SURPRISE for one of the main characters that will be eagerly anticipated by knowing toddlers.

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Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

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Look, Look and Look Again

Where’s the Baby?
Britta Teckentrup
Big Picture Press
Baby animals are the objects of the search in Britta Teckentrup’s latest ‘spotting’ book, which, once again is intended to develop visual perception in the very young.
A rhyming text accompanies each digitally composed spread and the challenge is satisfyingly demanding for youngsters: I had to search for a while to locate the gosling on the pond.
With their matt colours and wallpaper style patterns, the artist’s visuals really demand that you look closely savouring the pleasing design of each one be it the vibrant parrots,

the farmyard hens, the kangaroos, the zebras or the seahorses to name just some of the fourteen creatures featured.
The final challenge in the book is different asking, ‘can you see the mother/ whose babies are TWINS?’
Alluring, absorbing and enjoyable.

Have You Seen My Lunch Box?
Steve Light
Walker Books
Morning chaos reigns as a small boy gets ready for school: the clock is ticking but he wants help locating all the things he needs: his socks, his pencil case, a crayon, his book,

a ball, marbles and particularly important, his lunch box. Mum and Dad are on hand to hunt but essentially it’s down to the reader to save the day and ensure he boards the bus on time.
The text, delivered as a first person narrative, appears on each verso, set against the same colour as the missing item to be located on the recto among the plethora of items inked in detail against a predominantly white background. This pattern continues throughout until the last object is safely in the hands of its owner. The final page shows all eight things.
Essentially this is a game for adult and toddler to play together: there’s plenty to talk about in addition to those misplaced items, and that’s in the hands of the adult sharer; in fact every spread is a possible starting point for some adult/child storying.

Double Take!
Susan Hood and Jay Fleck,
Walker Books
We’re in the company of a little boy, his cat and a friendly elephant being asked not to take things at first sight. Assuredly, we’re told, some opposites – in/out, asleep/ awake for instance, are pretty straightforward, albeit orchestrated herein; but others are totally dependent on one’s frame of reference.

Subtitled ‘A New Look at Opposites’ and published under the imprint Walker Studio, this rhyming invitation certainly demands that readers think about opposites with regard to perspective.

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Baby Goes to Market

Baby Goes To Market
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

I love a good market and this one, located somewhere in West Africa, absolutely exudes atmosphere immersing readers in a multi-sensory experience so you can almost feel the heat and dust, smell the roasting sweetcorn and taste the juicy tomatoes.
We accompany a totally adorable baby and his mother as they wander through the hustle and bustle with Baby charming every stallholder they stop by. So much so that none can resist giving the lively little chap something.
From Mrs Ade it’s six bananas: one goes in Baby’s mouth, five in Mama’s large basket along with the yam she purchased.

Mr Femi offers juicy oranges: one Baby sucks on; four go into the basket. And so it goes on and all the while the cheerful little fellow is receiving bounties from the vendors: four biscuits, three roasted sweetcorn and two pieces of coconut.
Purchases complete, Mama hails a taxi; after all, she thinks, Baby must be a tad hungry after all that shopping. Putting down her basket to wait, she gets a very big surprise …

Then, reassured by the traders, Mama gets on the taxi and away it goes: Baby slumbering replete with goodies. “Poor Baby!” says Mama. “He’s not had a single thing to eat!

Essentially Atinuke’s zingy, patterned text is a shared joke between author and audience. The latter will relish the antics of Baby and savour Mama’s total unawareness of what is going on behind her back.
Angela Brooksbank captures all the vibrancy and excitement of a crowded tropical market: the rich, bright colours and patterns, the dusty byways, the goods for sale and those wonderfully observed characters.

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Play

Play
Jez Alborough
Walker Books
The adorable Bobo is back and he’s in defiant mood. Mummy chimp declares it’s bedtime and the little chimp is far from ready to settle down for the night. The sun’s still bright, his friends are still up and ready to play; and play is exactly what Bobo wants to do.

Being Bobo he does …

Until Mummy discovers what he’s up to, and back into bed goes Bobo. Not for long however: there’s plenty of go in the young chimp yet and Turtle is on hand for some watery fun. But as the sun sinks over the hill, Turtle decides it’s time to sleep, which leaves Bobo alone and facing …

He does what most infants would in that situation: hollers ‘Mummy’ for all he’s worth.
Fortunately another of his pals is still around and willing to deliver the little chimp safely home to an extremely anxious parent. There’s no argument about ‘bed time’ now. In fact it’s Bobo himself who says the words and in no time at all they’re both snuggled up for the night.
Next morning at sunrise, who should be ready and waiting for another day’s fun and games but all his jungle pals..
Following on from Hug, Tall and Yes, Jez Alborough has created a celebration of play and friendship. Once again, with very few words, he fashions a wonderful drama that will not only be a winner with existing Bobo fans, but will gain him a host of new would-be playmates.
Brilliant for developing visual literacy, encouraging talk, and perfect for beginning readers; but most important, it’s enormous fun.

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Jabari Jumps

Jabari Jumps
Gaia Cornwall
Walker Books
It’s the day for Jabari to jump off the diving board, so he tells his dad when they reach the swimming pool. “I’m a great jumper, so I’m not scared,” he says.
Looks easy”, he continues as he stands and watches others launch themselves from the edge of the board.

But then, at the bottom of the long ladder, the delaying tactics begin: he allows another child to go in front of him in the queue; he needs to think about the “kind of special jump” he’ll do. Dad is empathetic suggesting a “tiny rest” before the ascent after which, Jabari remembers his stretching regime and again Dad endorses his idea. Then it seems as though the whole thing is going to be postponed until another day; but then Dad’s timely “It’s OK to feel a little scared,” and further words of wisdom finally give him that much needed confidence boost. After a deep breath, Jabari begins to climb up and up and up and up.
He walks right to the edge of the board and curls his toes around the edge …

Here as he surveys the scene before him, we really feel as though we’re right with the little lad inside his head and heart and then … Mission accomplished!

The variety of perspectives Gaia Cornwall provides in this, her debut picture book, right from the clothes changing sequence on the title page …

to the joyous after the jump, family celebration in the pool are wonderfully observed and her narrative is pitch perfect. Look closely at the beautifully patterned illustrations and you’ll find other small stories to enjoy too: there’s a boy in the queue, with a ladybird on his arm; another having sunscreen applied by an adult and looking none too happy about it; the ball game in the pool below Jabari.
This gently humorous, ‘building up the courage to embrace your fear’ book is sure to resonate with both children and adults alike: most of us have been there with Jabari’s dad, either as parent or teacher, as a child takes that plunge into the unknown: the idea of treating it as a ‘surprise’ is superb and will definitely ensure that wherever this is shared, it will create a pretty big SPLASH!.

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Sam and Jump

Sam and Jump
Jennifer K.Mann
Walker Books
Many young children form a special bond with one of their soft toys. Sam’s very best friend is Jump, his soft toy rabbit; they’re pretty much inseparable.
One day they go to the beach where they meet Thomas. Sam and Thomas spend the whole day playing together …

and have such a great time that Sam leaves Jump behind, forgotten on the beach.
When he reaches home, Sam realises Jump isn’t with him. It’s too late to go back but his mum promises they’ll go and search for him the following morning. Sam passes a miserable evening and a worried night and early next day, Mum drives him back. But there’s no sign of Jump anywhere. Nothing is fun without him. But then suddenly, standing right there on the beach is …

A gentle tale of abandonment, loss, friendship and love is simply and tenderly told and illustrated with great sensitivity in watercolour and pencil. By leaving plenty of white space around her images, Mann focuses the audience’s attention on the interactions between characters, and on the feelings of each individual; and the use of blue-grey backgrounds after Jump is left behind underline Sam’s feelings of distress.

A small book that offers much to think about and discuss.

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Ellie and Lump’s Very Busy Day / Monster Party

Ellie and Lump’s Very Busy Day
Dorothy Clark and Becky Palmer
Walker Books
Exuberant is the word that immediately came to mind as I read this action-packed story.
Two young elephants, Ellie and Lump instantly spring to life  on receiving Mum’s wake-up call.

Then it’s a dash downstairs to receive a pile of parcels from the postman. This is followed by a ‘Split splat!’ eggs-cracking, toast soldiers-dipping breakfast. After which it’s jackets zipped and off into town, there to buy decorations, balloons and most important, cake.
They take a quick stop to gaze in the pet shop window before heading home to get busy decorating the room and donning fancy dress costumes.

PHEW! Just in time for the arrival of the guests. But what is all this rushing around and secrecy in aid of? Shhh!
In walks the special birthday guest himself – Dad; and then it’s party time.

The whole joyful thing effervesces and sparkles with joie de vie: Lump and Ellie are an adorable duo especially in their party gear.
Dorothy Clark’s text takes the form of a running commentary from the young pachyderms as they dash through their day; and is full of delicious noises and action words for young listeners to join in with. They’ll surely love ‘split splat’ting, ‘dip’, dipping, ‘rustle’ rustling, ‘zzzzip’ zzzipping, popping, crunching, wriggling, stomping, skipping, puffing and such like along with you as you read. All this and more is illustrated in Becky Palmer’s scenes of those frenzied preparations for dad’s surprise party. Every one of them is full of wonderful details that will delight toddlers; and many will cause adults with young children to smile in recognition.

Monster Party!
Annie Bach
Sterling
Young monster is excited to receive an invitation to a party, so much so that he even spends time selecting his most jazzy underpants. Once at the party, its full on fun with disco dancing, games, scrummy pizza. Then it’s time for a spot of candle blowing out which precipitates the toppling of a cupcake tower resulting in pink goo adhering to all the guests.

No matter; it tastes good and birthday monster is thrilled with all his presents. Less so, our main character who kicks off when it’s time for him to leave; never mind though; there’ll be another exciting event soon …
A brief rhyming text accompanies Anne Bach’s animated scenes of young monsters partying; despite the shaggy appearance of the guests, their actions bear a striking resemblance to young children engaged in the same activity. A high energy board book; best not shared at bedtime though, I’d suggest.

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The Big Bad Mood / Everyone …

The Big Bad Mood
Tom Jamieson and Olga Demidova
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Beware the Big Bad Mood; he’s always lurking somewhere around on the off-chance that you’ll be having one of those days when everything in the world seems to be conspiring to ruffle your feathers and make you feel thoroughly bad tempered. It’s such a day for young George – total tantrums are the order of his day. “There’s a big bad mood hanging around you today” says his mum.
George isn’t convinced: he can’t see the thing anywhere, which only makes him feel …

Then, seemingly out of nowhere there appears right before him a large blobby being announcing itself as “the Big Bad Mood”. His sole purpose, he informs George is to make everyone just like him – big, bad and moody; and he wants the boy’s help.
Off they go on their mischief-making mission and before long rather a lot of people are in big bad moods, including a fair number of George’s friends.
All this behaviour is pretty exhausting though, and after a while, George at least is starting to think constant big bad moodiness is not his thing; it’s silly, noisy, and upsetting for his friends.

Consequently, he bids farewell to his erstwhile companion who stomps off to find another partner in crime. And George? Maybe you can imagine what he did thereafter; let’s just say that he does apologise to all concerned; and he’s changed – somewhat!
A cleverly constructed, fun story to share and open up discussions about bad moods and anger-related feelings. Olga Demidova’s scenes of domestic moodiness, and the mayhem George causes out and about, will bring on giggles aplenty.

Everyone
Christopher Silas Neal
Walker Books
Emotions are at the heart of Christopher Silas Neal’s debut as author/illustrator. I’m familiar with his wonderful artwork in Over and Under the Pond and this is somewhat sparer, or rather, for this feelings-centred book, the artist has chosen to use a restricted colour palette.
Herein, by means of a small boy character he explores the power of human emotions, demonstrating that they are perfectly normal. All of us experience them: all of us need to accept them for their universality. Neal’s focus is on the way in which as humans, our emotions are drawn into a relationship with the natural world – the birds, the sky, flowers.

His prose is simple, yet lyrical; his voice authentic sounding. “Sometimes, you just need to cry, and that’s OK,” he says as the boy’s tears become birds flying into the grey sky.

With Personal, Social and Emotional Development being one of the prime areas in the EYFS, books such as this one are just right for encouraging young children to talk about how they and others show their feelings.

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Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
I have to admit that I’m a great fan of the Mango & Bambang series, this being the fourth book; and they seem to go on getting better and better.
What is the snowiest meal you can think of: whatever it is I’ll bet it’s not half as delicious as that consumed by the little girl and her best friend and tapir, Bambang in the first of these four linked, although separate, stories. It happens because, Mango is trying to provide the best possible experience of snow for her pal without there actually being any likelihood of the chilly precipitation in their neck of the woods, especially as it’s summer. Instead she decides to ‘bring snow to the tapir’; and they end up breakfasting on lemon sorbet, cream soda, crushed ice topped with whipped cream plus meringue chunks and marshmallows – white ones naturally. That of course is only part of their snowy Saturday outing, which does get more than a little hairy at times …

The whole episode is sheer delight though, especially the finale that you’ll have to discover for yourself by getting your hands on a copy of this enchanting book.
In the other three stories, they spend a night at the fair and poor Bambang ends up with Bambang sustaining a rather nasty injury, inflicted by one of the duo’s arch enemies when Bambang puts his own safety second in order to protect Mango.
Being quick to recover though, its only a few days before the two are ready for their next two adventures, the final one of which sees them reunited with Bambang’s somewhat sassy, diminutive young cousin Gunter at the international premiere of his new film.

I absolutely love Bambang’s assessment of the canapés offered as ‘just normal food, made too small.
Charm simply oozes from these wonderfully uplifting, fun-filled tales; but what over-arches everything is the bond of affection between the two main protagonists, one of which has an unfailing capacity for innocent havoc wreaking.
As always, Clara’s delectable, retro-style illustrations – this time with touches of orange – add visual charm to Polly’s stories; the combination once again creating the perfect book for newly independent readers, or for sharing with those not yet ready to fly solo.
If you’ve yet to be delighted by this team, get a copy of this book right away; I suspect you’ll then want to read their previous stories too.

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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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

 

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter  

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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.

I’ve signed the charter 

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.

I’ve signed 

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.

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Triangle

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

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

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

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

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Board Book Shelf 2

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Mix & Match Animal Homes
Mix & Match Colours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cats, Dogs, Baby Animals and Their Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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in search of his mummy.

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

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

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riding between fluffy wings …

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

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The Perfect Guest

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

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

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

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

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

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Duckling

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

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

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

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

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

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Nanette’s Baguette

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

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

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

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

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

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A Busy Day for Birds

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

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

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

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

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Hilda and the Runaway Baby

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

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

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

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

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Lucky Lazlo

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

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

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and beyond is certainly a showstopper,

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

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

The Hamster Book

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

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

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

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Picken / Animal Counting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frog and Beaver

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

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

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

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

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

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This is the Kiss / I Love You, Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Also an Octopus

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

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

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

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

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Snowflake in My Pocket

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

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

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

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

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

Du Iz Tak?

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

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A ladder is produced, a cricket serenades the moon …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Sure, Mother Bear / Goodnight World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Penguin Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home in the Rain & Home and Dry

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

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the fishermen hunched in a line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and a final whoops:

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

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

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