Tag Archives: Walker Books

Going Solo: The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday / Hubert and the Magic Glasses

The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday
Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Princess Black has a double identity moving between Princess Magnolia and her black clad alter ego and it’s a pretty full-on, hard going existence and one that causes her to pay the penalty of a lack of a decent night’s sleep.
Now her slumbers are disturbed once again and having donned her transforming dark disguise, despite near exhaustion, she’s ready to leap into action once more.

Consequently when the Goat Avenger (who bears a close resemblance to her pal Duff the goat boy), offers to take over goat-guarding

and keep watch against marauding monsters, thus allowing the black sporting princess to take a much needed holiday, she cannot resist the opportunity.

Bags packed, Princess Magnolia is off on her bike to the seaside.

However her much-needed rest and relaxation are short lived for even on the beach, a monster shows up, emerging from the waves to cause havoc and scare the sunbathers out of their wits.

Time, (while Goat Avenger is still bravely playing the hero back home), to grab that black garb, step up and do battle with the brute.

Of course, in the end, our resourceful princess does finally get that much-needed holiday sans monsters, sans screaming humans, just her and sand, sea, sunshine and the odd bit of shade courtesy of a few coconut palms.
Brimming over with action, humour –due occasionally to the princess not recognising her friends, as well as monsters of the not really scary variety, the Hale partnership has penned another great chapter-book adventure story for readers just flying solo that’s bursting with engaging, action-packed illustrations from LeUyen Pham to smile at. Equally though, plenty of in-built sound effects to let rip with, make it a super read aloud.

Also ideal for new solo readers is:

Hubert and the Magic Glasses
Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman
New Frontier Publishing

When it comes to soccer, young Hubert’s skills as goalie for the under 12s Goodview Primary Able Ants team leave a lot to be desired: at best he’s mediocre. But then his team itself isn’t likely to be under enormous pressure in their next match when they take on the Wandering Wombats, reputedly the worst team in the district.

We first meet Hubert as he sits in the changing room struggling to tie his own boot laces, so nervous is he feeling while the other players are already on the field warming up. However despite the lad letting several goals in, his team does manage to win that match.

Next, Hubert’s team have to play in the quarter finals – a real challenge against a decent team – but then at dinner Hubert is faced with yet another problem when his mum announces that she’s made an appointment for him to see an optometrist.

The verdict? Astigmatism and Hubert is prescribed glasses: he’s not happy.

Just over a week later though, as he’s attempting to eat his breakfast Hubert is finally persuaded to put on his glasses and from then on everything in his life takes on an altogether different view.

With a new version of their goalie, can the Able Ants eventually win through: after all those glasses of Hubert’s aren’t just ordinary ones.

Issues of confidence building, team relationships, taking charge of your life, peer pressure and more are embraced in this amusing pacy narrative that has cool colour illustrations by Joe Spellman sprinkled throughout.

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …

How Does My Home Work? / What on Earth? Robots

How Does My Home Work?
Chris Butterworth and Lucia Gaggiotti
Walker Books

Most of us, at least the fortunate ones, adults and children, take for granted such things as light at the flick of a switch, clean running water, heat at the touch of a button or perhaps something even more sophisticated, ditto TV and fresh food straight from the fridge; we seldom stop to think about it unless something goes wrong, let alone appreciate these facilities.

Herein with uncomplicated diagrams and illustrations from Lucia Gaggiotti, including cross sections, author Chris Butterworth describes in straightforward language the inner workings of a family house. He takes readers below the floors, behind walls as well as outdoors to see where and how the amenities – electricity (from both renewable and non-renewable sources),

natural gas and clean water are sourced and in the case of the latter, dirty water got rid of.

An engaging read with words and pictures working well together, a gentle conservation message (on the penultimate spread children offer ten energy saving suggestions), final notes from author and illustrator and an index, this is a thoughtfully presented introduction to everyday, life-enchancing technology and one hopes a book that will make youngsters appreciate their creature comforts just a little bit more.
Recommended for use at home or school.

What on Earth? Robots
Jenny Fretland VanVoorst and Paulina Morgan
QED
The latest addition to the What on Earth? series that embraces a wide range of subject areas, is sure to set young minds buzzing with excitement.
Robots are, increasingly, playing a part in our everyday lives and this book covers all kinds of robot-related material from poems to building a pasta rover; creating a robot costume responding to sound clues

and touch clues robot style; and appeasing your appetite with a yummy snack by turning your friend into a robot

or discovering the role of computers and programs in robot functioning.

All these and more are covered under the book’s five sections: What is a robot?, Robot bodies, Robot senses, Robot brains and robot jobs and there are also a couple of templates relating to activities as well as a glossary.

Easy to understand, appealingly illustrated and clearly presented, with artwork and text interwoven, well-explained activities that require relatively few, readily available resources, this is a lively, worthwhile resource whether or not you are pursuing a robot-related topic at school, or to add to a collection for home exploration.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

World of Birds / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals

World of Birds
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions
This is the first of a new Sounds of Nature series, which has ten 10-second natural soundscapes available at the touch of a button.
Herein readers can visit and explore ten diverse habitats—from the Himalayan Mountains

to the wetlands of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru, and the tropical rainforest of New Guinea to an English forest

and listen to birds in the wild with this exciting book, strikingly illustrated by Robert Frank Hunter.
There’s a brief paragraph of facts about each bird species included and their respective numbers relate to the order in which the sounds they make can be heard.
An interactive book for young, and not so young nature lovers that called to mind an alarm, sounded by ecologist and musician, Bernie Krause in his recent book: ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening.’
Let’s hope that it doesn’t spread over the wonderful habitats featured by Hunter.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals
Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Walker Books

There’s a range of activities to engage young children in this woodland setting book. Readers can enjoy dot to dots,

colour in some of the creatures including completing and ensuring the symmetry of the peacock and red admiral butterflies (they’d have to check elsewhere for the colours of the latter), add stickers to scenes (in some cases completing a puzzle), hunt for partially hidden nocturnal animals, complete a maze and spot differences.

The semi-matt finish and reproductive quality of the stickers, along with the illustrator’s attractive collage style art work and the factual information integrated into the various scenes make this a book to keep and return to after the tasks have been completed.

The Day War Came

The Day War Came
Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb
Walker Books

I came back home after a few days away to find this book waiting; it was the day we heard about the egregious separation of children from their parents at the US border, so it was especially moving. It is also Refugee Week as I read/write this – even more timely and heartbreakingly pertinent, especially as I think of my Syrian friends who fled their home country from war a couple of years ago and are now happy and their two children loving their primary school in Stroud. No lack of chairs there.

Nicola Davies wrote the text, a poem, as a response to her anger at our government’s refusal to allow 3000 refugee children to enter the UK in 2016. A poem that began the 3000 chairs campaign for which artists contributed pictures of chairs, symbolic of a seat in a classroom, education, kindness and the hope of a future.

For those who didn’t read the poem when it was published in the Guardian, it’s a spare text narrated by a little girl from a country, perhaps Syria, blighted by war whose day starts normally – breakfast with her family and then school where in the morning, she learns about volcanoes, draws a picture of a bird and sings a song of tadpoles.

After lunch though comes war, destroying her school, her home, her town,

leaving her alone, bloody and tattered.

Somehow she makes it to a boat and thence to a beach and then to a camp. “But war had followed me. / it was underneath my skin, / behind my eyes, / and in my dreams. / It had taken possession of my heart,” she says.

Nicola Davies is a fine weaver of words; her text is heart-wrenchingly powerful and ultimately, redemptive – having initially been turned away from a school classroom because there was no chair for her, one is supplied by a little boy,

whose friends do likewise … as the children walk together, “Pushing / back the war / with every step.”

Rebecca Cobb has done an outstanding job with the illustrations. Her watercolour, crayon and pastel pictures – scenes of destruction, flight and desolation, all too familiar to us from TV news bulletins, have a heightened poignancy so rendered, and are all the more powerful viewed together with her images of normal life in home, street and classroom.
All her characters are incredibly expressive both facially and in their body language, and the little girl is the very embodiment of the poem’s narrator.

A must read book for anyone who values humanity.

£1 from every copy of the book sold will go to the HelpRefugees charity.

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

Come with me to Coral Reef City, home to the most flashy, dashy array of fish you could imagine. It’s also home to Terry. Terry has no dazzling scales or funky fins to flaunt. He does however have two good friends, Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail with whom he lives and plays.

The three and their games of Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish are shunned by the tropical fish on account of their drabness. Terry’s pals try to cheer him up but he still hankers after that dashing, flashing life.

A plan is needed and next day, with the help of his friends, operation transformation Terry is put into action.

Now he verily outshines everything else in Tropical City.
At last he’s one of the fishy dazzlers and much too busy with his new acquaintances to bother with Steve and Cilla.

One day however, Eddie the Eel arrives on the scene and Terry’s life in is great danger. What can he do to escape becoming an eel’s next meal?

There’s only one way to find out: get your fins on a copy of Jarvis’ tale of friendship and sea changes and read the rest of this piscine picture book.

Jarvis never fails to delight: his deep-sea adventure is certainly one to dive into.

We’re Getting a Cat!

We’re Getting a Cat!
Vivian French and Salvatore Rubbino
Walker Books

Vivian French does narrative non-fiction beautifully and so it is in this book about a family that have recently moved into a flat in an old house. A flat that’s overrun with mice.

Dad is no cat enthusiast but he likes small furry rodents even less, so a decision is made. It’s off to the cat rescue centre and that’s where they meet big, strong Kevin. His skills as a mouse-catcher seem certain and so a week later, the girl narrator and her sister are thrilled by Kevin’s arrival at their home.

With the help of cat-owning neighbour, Mrs Harris, the family help Kevin settle into his new home. He learns how to use his litter tray

although he does use the family toilet for his own purposes.

He also discovers the best place for a good old scratch – certainly not Dad’s favourite chair – and gets used to the feeding time routine. In short he makes himself comfortable but as for mouse catching, it’s a great big No. It looks as though Dad might well decide to send him back to the Rescue Centre.

“Isn’t that what cats do” the narrator asks their neighbour on the mice-catching topic, the answer isn’t exactly what she’d hoped though.

But then Kevin takes himself off to explore the great outdoors and vanishes. Has he read Dad’s mind perhaps?

Up-beat in style, with additional captions that provide information on feeding, grooming and cat care throughout the book and a final ‘If you’re getting a cat’ page at the end, along with an index and some helpful websites, this is an ideal read for potential cat owners.

Even this cat-phobic reviewer was charmed by Rubbino’s scenes of the trials and tribulations Kevin puts his new family through, and the manner in which he establishes himself as an essential part of their household.

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo / Why is the Cow on the Roof? & Smart Girls Forever

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Maverick Arts Publishing

At Purple Hill primary School there’s yet another supply teacher in 4X; they’ve gone through quite a few already so the question is, how long will the strange-looking Mrs Ogg survive, particularly when she decides to take the class on an outing – their first ever – to the zoo? Can she possibly keep seventeen unruly children under control for a whole day? It’s particularly important, for their attendance at the end-of-year party depends upon the trip being 100% trouble free.
Arlo decides it’s unlikely, so he assigns himself the role of chief back-up.

Mrs Ogg however is no ordinary supply teacher and the zoo she’s taking them to is no ordinary zoo, which probably accounts for the inclusion on the ‘don’t forget’ letter sent to parents just prior to the trip, of a T-bone steak.

Is the outing a success and do they arrive back at school with all seventeen children plus teacher safe and sound? And, are they allowed to go to that eagerly anticipated end-of-year party? You’ll have to get hold of a copy of this action packed story and find out.

With its twisting-turning plot, it’s certainly lots of fun. Packed with zany illustrations by Kathyrn Durst

and promises of further adventures to come, let me just say, there’s a whole lot more to class 4X than previous teachers had thought: Mrs Ogg manages to unearth a whole lot of hidden talents therein.

Why is the Cow on the Roof?
Smart Girls Forever

Robert Leeson illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Walker Books

These two books of short stories were first published 20 years ago and they’re as amusing now as ever – great for reading aloud or for solo reading.

Why is the Cow on the Roof? is one of the five folk tale based renditions in the first book, the story being based on the Norwegian, ‘The Husband who was to Mind the House’ and is a hilarious account of what happens when a husband and wife swap their round of daily tasks to see who works hardest.

The other four stories also pose questions including ‘Why are you such a Noddy, Big Ears?’ and “Who’s Next for the Chop?’, the former, a pourquoi tale being based on a Native American ‘Rabbit’ character and the latter from a story in the Arabian Nights..

In each case, Leeson’s renditions are full of humour with plenty of dialogue used to great effect; if you’re reading them aloud to a group, don’t forget to share Axel Scheffler’s funny line drawings that introduce each story.

Smart Girls Forever contains six tales from various parts of the world, all of which have resourceful female lead characters; they are, Leeson tells us ‘Russian, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Persian and English’ but ‘could be from anywhere’.

Look out for Natasha who outwits the devil and Oonagh who gets the better of the terrible giant Cucullin, an act for which her husband Fin M’Coul will be forever grateful.

Early Years Bookshelf: Maisy Goes to a Wedding / Bigger, Bigger!

Maisy Goes to a Wedding
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Oh my goodness! Ostrich and Penguin are getting married and we’re all invited to their wedding. Needless to say Maisy, decked out in her new outfit, is super-excited.

At the flower-bedecked venue, Maisy greets all her friends. Every one of them has brought something for the couple and soon it’s time for the celebration to start.

Music plays as Tallulah leads the way festooning the aisle with flowers and is closely followed by Penguin on the arm of Charley. They reach the waiting Ostrich.

Owl does the officiating, rings are exchanged, “I do” is said by both partners and then it’s the party. Hurrah!
Delicious food, toasting the couple, music and dancing and cutting the cake follow.

Then the bride throws her bouquet: who will catch it though?

After a wonderful party the happy couple leave for their honeymoon …

Maisy fans will love this latest episode in the ‘First Experiences series’, which now numbers over 15 titles.

Bigger! Bigger!
Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

The story really starts before the title page with a little girl gleefully emptying out her box of coloured blocks onto the floor.
Build’ she says smiling, hard-hat balancing precariously on her head.

From then on her imagination appears to take over as the blue wall behind her is transformed into blue sky and her pets too have donned hard-hats and their buildings look real: first a dog kennel ‘Big’; then a wooden house ‘Bigger!’ and ‘Bigger! Bigger!’ is the cry …

as a block of flats, a large bridge, office blocks appear until we see the happy builders exuberantly celebrating the finish of their task.

They’re certainly an ambitious crew these three.

Suddenly there’s a ‘BOOM! BOOM!’ followed by at the turn of the page a huge nappy-clad baby (has it escaped from the author’s board books?) wreaking havoc.

Thereafter reality is restored with tears from big sis. and then a penitent babe attempting a silent apology.

Finally co-operation wins the day and ‘Stronger! Stronger!‘ comes the cry.

Share with a group of nursery children or an individual around the age of the girl builder – either way they’ll demand repeats. Equally, with its minimal text writ large, this is perfect for those just starting to read.

A Handful of Board Books

Clap Hands
Say Goodnight

Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books

Can it really be thirty years since the original editions of these ‘A First Book for Babies’ titles appeared? They’ve lost none of their charm and those babes, whether they’re dancing, eating, making a noise, waving, swinging, riding or sleeping are just as adorable as ever.
As first books for babies, with their brief jaunty texts and superbly observed illustrations,

they’d still be one of my first picks to give a new mum.

Pop-Up Ocean
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Books

In this chunky little board book fifteen ocean-related things (one per spread) are stylishly illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius.
Toddlers will delight in seeing sea creatures large – whale, seal, stingray and not so large– crab, fish, octopus, seagull, coral and seahorse, along with a fishing boat, lighthouse, shell, submarine, swimmer, surfer all of which literally pop out of the pages.
A fun way to introduce vocabulary associated with the sea, it’s full of opportunities for language development at every opening.

Spot’s Puzzle Fun!
Eric Hill
Puffin Books

Toddlers will enjoy joining in with the ‘Brmm-brmm. Whoosh!’ of Helen’s bright red car; the ‘Bumpety-bump!’ of Steve’s shiny green tractor’ the ‘Rumble-rumble, beep-beep!’ of Tom’s big yellow digger and finally, the ‘Choo-choo, clickety-clack’ of Spot’s blue train as one by one they drive their vehicles into view, offering “Does anyone else want a turn?” to the other animals.

There are sturdy press-out pieces (animal and vehicle) on each spread that can also act as puzzle pieces and can be fitted together in various combinations – great for developing manipulative skills as well as fun.

Star Wars Block
Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed

Using die-cut shapes, the husband and wife design team that is Peskimo take readers on an epic celebratory journey that showcases iconic characters, spacecraft, combat vehicles, locations and creatures from various Star Wars films, from the very first to Rogue One.
Subtitled ‘Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know,’ with its easily manipulated pages, this latest addition to the block book titles, will be welcomed by small fans of the epic space adventures, and I suspect, enthusiastic adults with whom they share this chunky offering.

Square

Square
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books

In a previous book we left Square obstructing the entrance to Triangle’s home and now he’s back moving in and out of his own secret abode hauling large rock cubes from his subterranean stash all the way up to the top of a hill. This he regards as his ‘work’.

One day while he’s thus engaged along comes Circle pronouncing him a “genius” and “sculptor”. Thinking his block sculpture to be a self-portrait, she commissions one of her, promising to return the following day. Now Square really does have a tricky undertaking: Circle is perfect.

Anxiously he sets to work but as the rain falls, Square’s far from perfect shape begins to disintegrate and come nightfall he’s surrounded by a circular pile of rubble into which the rain falls.

By now his anxiety is almost palpable and having determined to stay up all night, overwhelmed by despair, he falls fast asleep.

Morning comes and with it the realisation that he’s allowed himself to be beguiled by Circle’s talk of genius. There he stands in a large puddle surrounded by a circle of rubble.

Eager to set eyes on her portrait, Circle rolls along early and sees her reflection in the puddle.

Declaring it “perfect” she reaffirms Square’s genius and departs.

Barnett’s final throwaway ‘But was he really?’ leaves readers, and indeed Square, to ponder and make their own decisions, not the least of which are, what does it mean to be an artist? And, what is art?

With his characteristic minimalism Klassen imbues his art with humorous detail: the twig for instance that looks like a wilted aerial on Square’s head, and the way he just keels over in utter exhaustion, are superb.

Barnett’s brief, droll text, combined with Klassen’s illustrations make this a perfect offering for those who enjoy pondering upon and discussing philosophical questions. Community of Enquiry enthusiasts and artists in particular will love this, as indeed will anyone who enjoys the subtlety of this duo’s picture books.

Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale

Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale
Robie H. Harris and Chris Chatterton
Walker Books

Block play elephant style is pretty much the same as that of young children particularly when little Elephant has such a wonderful resource to use.

Kneeling on a carpeted floor our pachyderm starts stacking; his aim to build a tower the same height as he is (intention). How many more do I need he wonders (estimating) .

‘1 2 3 4’, he counts the precariously balanced blocks, then hurrah! – arms stretched out wide in celebration (self-expression and self-esteem).

Elephant stands beside the stacked blocks (comparing/measuring), but almost inevitably given the unstableness of his stack CRASH! BOOM! Disaster …

Elephant though is not one to give up so easily. “It has to be as tall as ME!” he reaffirms. (resilience and determination).
He stops and thinks about the placement of that first block …

before starting to build another tower, self-questioning as he goes until, 8 blocks high it’s “WHOOPEE!” Success! This time Elephant gives the tower a celebratory bottom bash sending his stack crashing.
He still isn’t finished though; it’s time to experiment with that very long block and those others he’s yet to play with … “What if” – imagining. (love that one)

until …

(testing hypotheses, problem-solving, spatial awareness, balance, concentration)

Harris introduces a multitude of maths concepts along with a host of other learning possibilities of block play.  Chatterton’s simple, uncluttered, but oh so telling, illustrations show not only Elephant’s learning but also his sheer joy in his experience.

Those, like myself who champion the activity – especially with the kind of equipment in Chris Chatterton’s photographic collages, will celebrate this book and want to show it to anybody who ever thought block play was mere messing around: they need to read it right away. It’s such a brilliant example of learning through play, made even better because the publishers let the story speak for itself.

After you share it with young humans (and any elephants that happen to be around), make sure you have a large set of wooden blocks available; they’re sure to be inspired.

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?
Nicola Byrne
Walker Books

Evie Bear and her Dad are moving home and Evie feels full of doubts – ‘heavy’ in fact. “How will I make new friends?” she wants to know. She doesn’t understand why they need to move at all but eventually everything is loaded and it’s time to say goodbye to their city life and set off into the unknown.

As they drive further from everything familiar Evie’s worries continue. “Dad, what if I don’t like my new home?” she asks.
Where am I from now?” Evie wonders aloud when they stop for blueberry pancakes.

All the way Dad does his best to reassure the little bear with carefully considered words of comfort and activities to distract her from her worries.

When they stop for the night, tucked up together in a hammock they continue their discussion about home

and Dad tells his little Bear that he considers home is more about feelings and not really things at all.

After what seems like a very long drive next day, father and daughter finally reach their new abode

and as they start to unpack Evie comes to her own conclusion about what home means for her: no matter where they live, so long as her dad is with her, she will always feel at home.

Rich in detail both domestic and of the natural world, Nicola Byrne’s illustrations have plenty to pore over and enjoy, not least being the two tiny mice that move house along with the bears and appear in several scenes along the way with their suitcase. On the penultimate picture attentive readers will see them moving into a hole in the skirting board, a scene that also shows The Great Dragon Bake Off among Evie’s books.

The expressions on the bears’ faces say much about the loving bond between father and Evie and also about the emotional upheaval involved in their move.

Why this is happening, especially as their new home appears to be in the middle of nowhere, is left for audiences to ponder upon and draw their own conclusions as is the question of what has happened to Mother Bear; but then, gaps for the reader to fill are part and parcel of a good picture book.

That Fruit Is Mine!

That Fruit Is Mine!
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Deep in the jungle live five elephants, fruit lovers all, but content to stick to their own favourites until one day they come upon a new tree, a very tall one bearing the ‘MOST delicious-looking exotic fruit’ they’d ever set eyes on.

Inevitably each one wants that tasty-looking object for him or herself.
MINE!” calls Elephant One, huffing and puffing till her lungs were fit to burst.
Elephant Two launches herself at the tree but fails to dislodge the object of her desire.

The other three elephants are equally unsuccessful despite ingenious attempts, and all the while unbeknown to the pachyderms, but spotted by readers, a group of five tiny mice working together reach and seize the yellow fruit

and carry it away triumphantly. “OURS!

Their teamwork lesson so adeptly demonstrated, is then put into action by the elephants and a combination of their original individual ideas bears fruit of a truly yummy kind.

Even yummier is the tale’s final twist.

Anuska Allepuz’s debut as author is a delectable offering, with its wry humour, theme of the fruitfulness of cooperation and sharing and alliterative phrases to relish. The use of different typefaces for elephants and mice works in harmony with the splendidly expressive, comical illustrations.

Great fun for sharing with one child or many.

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Shirley Hughes has set her latest picture book in 1945 London, shortly after the end of World War 11.

Ruby and her mother have come through the Blitz safely and now in the aftermath of the bombing there’s a lot of clearing up to be done and changes to embrace.

Young Ruby has become used to sharing a bed with her Mum but now her long absent Dad is just home from the war and making his very large presence felt in their home.

Ruby has a lot of accommodating to do and spends a fair bit of time out with her friends playing, despite warnings, on the bomb sites near their homes.

One day Ruby, playing rather dare devilishly among the ruins, takes a tumble and needs adult help.

What happens thereafter provides the ideal opportunity for the warm loving relationship between Ruby and her Dad to be renewed.

A thoroughly heartwarming, unsentimental story of post-war family love, illustrated in the author’s inimitable signature style; it will be enjoyed by all ages both at home and in school.

The Things That I Love about Trees

The Things That I Love about Trees
Chris Butterworth and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

As I write this the trees all around are bursting forth with blossoms and new leaves; it’s just like the little girl in this arboreal tribute says as she leaves her house and sallies forth, ‘… changes begin. There are buds, like beads getting bigger on the branches…’. I’ve yet to see trees ‘buzzing with bees’ like the plum tree mentioned, ’but I know it will soon be so.

The child goes on to talk about the beauty of trees through the other seasons: in summer it’s the sheer enormity that impresses her, that and the shade they offer as well as the swishing sound that brings to mind the sea,

and the tiny green plums that are beginning to form.

Come autumn, the striking thing is the colour change to yellow, orange and red; the ripe fruits and seeds that feed the birds and animals.

As the leaves are tossed by the wind and fall you might even, like the girl catch one and make a wish.

Trees are lovely too in winter when they’re stripped of their leaves you can see all the way up to the topmost branches as everything is in its resting phase just waiting for the cycle to begin all over again, as we know it will.

The final spread has some suggestions for tree related things to do.

Walker Books do natural history for very young children beautifully and this book is no exception. Chris Butterworth’s main narrative is supplemented with small print that gives additional tree facts, which can be read alongside or after the child’s descriptions.
Rendered in watercolour and outlined in thick black ink lines, Charlotte Voake’s trees are absolutely superb; your fingers itch to touch the wonderful bark of the oak and make sure you check out the lovely leafy endpapers.

I’ve signed the charter  

Out and About: Mama is it Summer yet? / What on Earth? Trees / Caterpillar to Butterfly

Mama, Is It Summer Yet?
Nikki McClure
Abrams Appleseed

In this board book, a small boy looking through the window asks “Mama, is it summer yet?

His mother’s response explains that it is imminent for the leaf buds are swelling, the animals building nests and the earth is soft and ready for planting, swallows are singing, baby animals have hatched

and trees are blossoming. Very soon, when the berries have ripened in the warm sun – then summer will be well and truly with them.

How fortunate is the infant to have a loving parent who take time to explain all this rather than merely giving a single word reply to her child’s repeated question.

Beautifully designed and with wonderful paper-cut illustrations, predominantly black and white set against a cream background, but with a single contrasting colour on each spread, both visuals and words capture the natural changes while also showing the close bond between mother and child.

What On Earth? Trees
Kevin Warwick and Pau Morgan
QED

Environmental scientist and tree expert Kevin Warwick joins forces with illustrator Pau Morgan in this new addition to the What on Earth? series and as with previous titles it successfully adopts a cross curricular approach with a mix of information spreads, poetry, a plethora of things to do both scientific and arty; there’s even a story about how the Douglas fir came to look the way it does.

In short, this is a great way to encourage children to go outside and connect with nature, invitingly illustrated by Pau Morgan.

Caterpillar to Butterfly
Francis Barry
Walker Books

An attractive fold out, and find out about the life cycle of the swallowtail butterfly is told in a rhyming narrative and illustrated with brightly coloured, circular pages. These unfold to reveal each stage from tiny hatching caterpillar, through to ‘amazing butterfly’. We see the caterpillar munching, growing, shedding its skin, growing some more, then spinning a thread, forming a chrysalis and then after weeks of internal change, emerging as a stunningly beautiful adult.

The design, a big hit with small children, follows the same format as Barry’s Big Yellow Sunflower and Little Green Frogs.

Foundation stage teachers, this is one to add to your minibeast topic box.

Meltdown!

Meltdown!
Jill Murphy
Walker Books

Once again, Jill Murphy humorously explores the relationship between an irrepressible infant and an exhausted parent, on this occasion it’s young Ruby Rabbit and her mum.

Ruby is at that stage of language development when she repeats phrases and she also loves to explore things by squishing, throwing, rolling and generally finding out what she can do with them.

Delighted at the thought of “HELPING MUMMY”, she does all of these when Mum takes her to the supermarket. Mum selects the items, hands them to Ruby to put in the trolley and the young rabbit proceeds to scrunch, toss, and roll, then charge off with the trolley.

Exasperated Mum plonks her in the trolley and continues down the aisles to the cake section. There they spy Ruby’s favourite piggy face cake, just perfect for tea. Into the trolley it goes. Thereupon a certain little rabbit asks, “HOLD the piggy cake?” Mum makes a big mistake as she hands over the item.

That “HOLD it” rapidly turns into “HAVE the piggy cake NOW!” which pretty quickly escalates into a monumental paddy not to mention a great deal of mess, and enormous embarrassment on Mum’s part.

We’ve all either seen it happen or experienced it first hand; Jill Murphy has done the latter: her wonderfully witty story – text and illustrations – is a delight and the finale utterly delicious.

I’m not sure how I missed this one first time around but it’s great to see it now in its paperback incarnation.

I’ve signed the charter  

Board Book Choice

Where is Little Fish?
Count with Little Fish

Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Lucy Cousins who created Hooray for Fish adds two new board books to her undersea titles and they’re absolutely perfect for babies and toddlers.
In the first, Little Fish is in playful mood as he enjoys a game of hide and seek with his undersea friends. The repeat question starting ‘Is Little Fish … ‘ is an open invitation for listeners to join in with the game.
Finding him is tricky as there are all manner of hiding places on the ocean floor – behind the coral, inside a shell or the treasure chest, perhaps even among the seaweed fronds.
Tinies can enjoy discovering his location and meeting some of his playmates by manipulating the flap on each spread.

Here’s one year old Raf. doing just that!

Count with Little Fish is a rhyming suggestion to join in as the tiny creature swims through the water meeting 2 fin-fin fish

3 counting fish, 4 flying fish, 5 fat fish, 6 thin ones, 7 scary sharp toothed ones, 8 shy ones, 9 that have turned themselves upside down and finally 10 fish swimming in a circle.
A fun-filled first counting book.

Who is Sleeping?
Who is the Biggest?

Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Lift the flap fun with classy, textured images of wonderfully personable creatures partially hidden, on spreads absolutely bursting with colour in Petr Horáček’s signature style: what more could a toddler want?
In Who’s Sleeping? they meet a dozing owl, a napping frog, a snoozing crocodile, a sleeping fish and a slumbering Polar bear and a final child in dreamland in this enchanting guessing game.
A variety of descriptive words are introduced as contrasting sized wild animals pose side by side in the half dozen spreads of Who is the Biggest? There’s ‘Brave Lion and Shy Meerkat, Short Penguin and Tall Ostrich, Slow Tortoise and Fast Hare, Heavy Whale and Light Jellyfish, Noisy Parrot and Quiet Mouse and these two beauties …

But the biggest of all lurks behind Big Monkey’s tail. Now what could that be?
Wonderfully shaped wild beasts and flaps to explore add up to hours of visual pleasure and some new vocabulary to learn along the way.

Storytime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Red Reading Hub’s favourite board book character stars in a new addition to Sophy Henn’s lift-the-flap series as he contemplates the possibilities of storytime.
Will it be full of magical wizards with their twinkly spells? Or a stomping dinosaur adventure perhaps. What about a fairytale; Ted loves this one …

but he also enjoys spooky tales; maybe he’ll choose one of those.
Now his animal audience is assembled, and they’re all sitting comfortably, what will their “Once upon a time… “ story be? What would you choose?
Ted and his entourage never fail to delight and so it is here. If you and your toddler have yet to encounter Ted, I urge you to do so right away; he’s utterly adorable.

I’ve signed the charter  

I Do Not Like Books Any More!

I Do Not Like Books Any More!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

How insightful is Daisy Hurst: her account of young book loving monster Natalie’s disillusionment with the whole reading thing when she starts school is absolutely superb and a sad reflection of the sorry state of beginning reading teaching in pretty much every primary school I’ve spent any time in during the last few years.

That’s getting ahead of things though, so let’s go back to the start where we find Natalie and her younger brother Alphonse, thanks to their parents and relations, relishing every book encounter. Not only that, they remember stories they’ve heard and love to invent their own too.

Natalie eagerly anticipates being able to read for herself: “When I can read, I’ll have all the stories in the world, whenever I want them,” she says.

When she gets her first ‘reading book’ though it’s not quite as exciting as she’d hoped. Her teacher tells her to ‘sound out the words’.

Natalie’s frank response hits the nail firmly on the head:

and she goes on to add while trying to read at home … “I can’t … And nothing even happens to the cat!” Alphonse is marginally impressed …

but totally agrees about the nature of the reading material, politely requesting something more exciting …

 

Despite her best efforts the marks on the page of the interesting books continue to ‘look like scuttling insects with too many eyes and legs’: Natalie has had enough …

She storms off to tend her poorly toy elephant with the best medicine she can think of – a story from her own imagination (aided and abetted by Alphonse).

Impressed with their efforts, Alphonse suggests turning the story into a picture book. Out come the pens and when the illustrations are ready, Dad acts as scribe and they staple the pages to make a book and surprise, surprise, Natalie finds that she can pretty much read the entire thing – HURRAH!

As someone who has always advocated and for many years, taught using real books as the medium (alongside child made ones) for helping children learn to read, Daisy Hurst’s book made me both laugh and cry.

Yes, the monster children here have supportive parents who model, encourage and support, but sadly not all children are so fortunate: for many Natalie’s experience of reading at school is ALL they get.

This a brilliant cautionary tale that ought to be read by all those involved in the teaching of reading in the foundation stage and KS1 as well as teachers in training; and, dare I say it, policy makers in the government too.

Say Hi to Hedgehogs! / We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Bugs

Say Hi to Hedgehogs!
Jane McGuinness
Walker Books

Would that we could, is my immediate response to the title of this lovely addition to the Walker Nature Storybook series. I’ve not seen a hedgehog in the wild for a very long time and they used to be fairly commonplace little creatures foraging in suburban back gardens and I know they are now an endangered species.
All the more reason to get to know something about them; and here’s just the book from debut author and illustrator Jane McGuinness to help youngsters do just that.
The main text takes the form of a narrative ostensibly by a small girl pictured at the start of the book. She introduces readers to a particular hedgehog and her babies (hoglets)

and their everyday life, habits, diet …

and behaviour through the year.
This is presented in a large, easy to read font and includes some lovely playful language such as ‘sniffling and snuffling and snaffling … whirring and churring and purring’ making it a great read aloud. Additional, more detailed factual information is set out in a smaller script throughout the book.
The final spread has advice on how to make your home hedgehog friendly, an index, a short bibliography and a list of useful websites.
Hedgehogs are truly endearing creatures and Jane McGuinness’s illustrations, which look to be rendered in pastel, paint and crayon, do full justice to their charms; and her scenes of their nocturnal meanderings are absolutely beautiful.

Jane McGuinness is definitely an illustrator to watch.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Bugs
Walker Entertainment

Following on from the success of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Adventure Field Guide, Walker have added new titles to the series of which this is one.
Before sallying forth on a bug hunt, it’s wise to make sure you’re prepared and the opening page is devoted to so doing,
Thereafter it’s bugs all the way, first in the garden and then further afield into the woods, to the pond and finally, out into the meadows.
Each location introduces several minibeasts and offers related activities and some basic factual information.
Everything is clearly and attractively presented and at the back are several pages of stickers to be used in some of the activities.
This clever and fun book is ideal for children who love to explore the outdoors. It’s just the size for popping into a rucksack and likely to make outdoor forays all the more interesting and rewarding.

Earth Verse

Earth Verse
Sally M.Walker and William Grill
Walker Studio

The earth is a vast entity orbiting in space: haiku as a poetic form is by nature brief and spare. The combination of the two makes for a truly stunning picture book particularly when the artist is a recent Kate Greenaway medal winner William Grill and the author Sally Walker, a Sibert medal winner some years ago.

The book focuses on Earth’s geological and meteorological aspects beginning with its place in the solar system: ‘third one from the sun. / Earth’s blue and white majesty / dwarfs her lunar child.’

We then move inwards ‘fragile outer crust. / shell around mantle and core – / Earth: a hard-boiled egg.’ How cleverly and succinctly Walker introduces scientific vocabulary into her poetry and you’d find it hard to get more playful than her description of minerals and metals as ‘glittery Earth-bling’;

more beautiful than ‘sediment-filled waves / tumble in a frothy foam … / a gull wears sand socks

or more dramatic than ‘hot-headed mountain / loses its cool, spews ash cloud – / igneous tantrum’.

For each of these small poetic gems, and the others, Grill provides a wonderful atmospheric coloured pencil illustration in his trademark style that is frequently more impressionistic than realistic and never overwhelming the words.
Right in the bottom corner of each spread or sometimes page, is a symbol.: earth, minerals, rocks, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheric and surface water, glaciers and groundwater. Each of these links to the final section of the book where additional prose information on the nine topics is provided, and there’s also a list of suggested further reading.
This surely is a book to encourage children (and adults) to pause and to wonder at the awesomeness of the world and all its natural beauty.

The Tiptoeing Tiger

The Tiptoeing Tiger
Philippa Leathers
Walker Books

‘Sleek, silent and totally terrifying’; a creature to avoid when it prowls through the forest; that pretty much sums up a tiger.

Not so Little Tiger though. He’s completely ignored, scares no one with his roars and is laughed at by his big brother. “I don’t think you can scare a single animal in the forest.” declares big bro. but Little Tiger is determined to prove him wrong.

Employing a tiptoeing technique off he goes to sneak up on unsuspecting forest inhabitants, the first being Boar. “I could hear you coming a mile away” says the indolent Boar in response to Little Tiger’s “Roar!!!

He receives similar disappointing comments from Elephant and the monkeys in a tree.

It’s a sad Little Tiger that acknowledges his own shortcomings but remaining determined he heads to the pond. Surely that frog is an altogether better prospect?  Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe …

But the only creature that is in the least bit frightened is the Little Tiger looking right back at him from the water.

Job done! Back he goes to report on his success to that big brother of his.

The whole narrative is beautifully understated and perfectly paced; and the pen and watercolour scenes with that gentle touch of whimsy, the tiptoeing sequences in particular, are absolute delight.

Little Tiger is likely to win almost anyone’s affection from the outset but any waverers will surely be won over by his bold final admission.

Bird Builds a Nest

Bird Builds a Nest
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

Back in the day when I was studying physics at O-level I recall learning things about forces with no real understanding of the concepts as they were never demonstrated practically and I’m sure terms as straightforward as ‘push’ and ‘pull’ were ever used; how I passed the exam is anybody’s guess. It was only when I began teaching young children and everything was done through playful activities that I realised ‘oh so that’s what that statement I recall really means’.

Now here’s a cracking little book that introduces forces through a story about a bird building her nest.

Oh joy, it’s a sunny day and the little creature needs to find a juicy worm to feast on and here she is about to apply a pulling force …

No luck with that particular worm but eventually she finds a suitable smaller, less strong one and out it comes. Yum! Yum!
Breakfast over, she heads off in search of twigs to build her nest. Some inevitably are too heavy but Bird perseveres, pulling and lifting, to-ing and fro-ing, pulling and pushing the twigs into place, over and over until the outer construction is ready.
Then she collects softer, light things to make a cosy lining cup…

And finally the eggs are laid …

Already a big fan of this Science Storybook series of narrative science books for young children, I’m now an even bigger one. It’s so simple and yet so effectively explained both through the main narrative and in the smaller printed factual statements.
There’s an additional investigation on the forces topic using ping pong balls to try at the end.

Once again, Richard Jones has created a series of beautiful mixed media, textured illustrations in earthy tones to complement Jenkins’ text to perfection.

 

Splish, Splash, Ducky!

Splish, Splash, Ducky!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Lucy Cousins has created a lively new addition to her array of cute characters to delight pre-schoolers.

Ducky Duckling is a pluviophile and on this particular rainy day is in high spirits as with a ‘Quack, quack, quack!’ the little creature sets off in search of some friends to play with.

This refrain is a demonstration of happiness and Ducky utters it when hopping with frog, squirming with wriggly worm,

bestowing hugs on bug and slug, playing with the swans, swimming with the fish,

joining the birds in a spot of feather shaking and generally revelling in the feel of all those drips and drops while joining mouse in a game of hide and seek.

Observant listeners will more than likely have noticed that at every turn of the page, the rain is easing off until … ‘No more drips. No more drops.’ Suddenly Ducky feels sad and heads off to find Dad.

Fortunately for his offspring, the mallard knows just the thing for some fair weather fun – a round or two of quack, quack quacks!

With a rhyming text that offers plenty of opportunities for audience participation and a host of absolutely adorable animal characters illustrated in Lucy Cousins’ spirited style, (with more naturalistic representations of the surrounding flora) this is perfect for sharing with the very young.

Not only that but with its simple rhyming text that’s full of word play, this is perfect for those just beginning to read for themselves. Which would you rather offer a child just starting out on their journey as a reader: a deadly dull phonic early reading scheme book or this super storybook? – It’s a no brainer!

When’s My Birthday?

When’s My Birthday?
Julia Fogliano and Christian Robinson
Walker Books

For young children, birthdays are possibly even more eagerly anticipated than any other day of the year and here we have a book that can be shared in the days running up to that special celebration.

Everything about this is sheer delight. First there’s the unusual, attention grabbing shape of the book. Then come the striking but simple candle endpapers, after which begins  Fogliano’s spare chant of a text wherein she captures perfectly the voice of the child.
‘ when’s my birthday? / where’s my birthday? how many days until / my birthday? ’ asks the repeat refrain that holds the whole narrative together as the excitement builds.

That artist Christian Robinson has a deliciously playful sense of humour is evident in the joyful collage style illustrations such as this one with its visual pun on ‘ice-skating’ …

No child’s birthday is complete without other vital ingredients including singing and dancing: ‘will we sing so happy happy? / will we dance around and round? / will we jump and jump and jump?’

Presents and cake too are contemplated: how wonderfully the artist plays with size as here …

and

and these children know precisely what must comprise the birthday tea, but when it comes to the party, everyone is invited both human and animal and any kind of dress is acceptable.

Spirited, inclusive and the ideal gift for a small child whose birthday is fast approaching; a ‘happy, happy day’ for sure.

I’ve signed the charter  

What’s Your Favourite Colour?

What‘s Your Favourite Colour?
Eric Carle and Friends
Walker Books

Herein, Eric Carle and fourteen other picture book artists, many of whom UK readers might be unfamiliar with, share and discuss their favourite colours.

Carle himself, who opens the book, favours yellow, in part because it presents him with an artistic challenge.

The reasons for the choices of others are varied and what they have to say, sometimes surprising.
Take say Jill McElmurry’s Black Garden, an imaginary place where she goes to ‘get lost in my thoughts, dance around, have a good cry, sing a song, paint a picture, or maybe eat a slice of dark chocolate cake. The Black Garden is unpredictable. The Black Garden is the garden of me.’

Some artists such as Philip C. Stead, Yuyi Morales and Melissa Sweet use poetry. Melissa Sweet’s Maine Morning Grey comes in many shades:

Others are more particular. Marc Martin specifies crimson red for the parrot, crimson rosella, which lives in his part of south eastern Australia.

Anna Dewdney’s choice is based on memory ‘When I was a little girl, my favourite outfit was my purple polyester trouser suit, and I wanted purple peacocks in the front garden. When I grew up, I got them.’

The final artist, Uri Shulevitz, doesn’t choose just one colour. ‘A single colour may feel lonely,’ he tells us and so paints a joyful ‘colourful party’ to include them all.

Every spread is worth lingering over and I find it well nigh impossible to choose a favourite but for its brief potency I particularly loved Etienne Delessert’s Indigo: ‘The Tuareg nomads wear long cotton indigo veils. They herd camels and goats and talk to the spirits of the Sahara Desert.’

Thumbnail pen portraits on the final spread provide additional information about each of the contributors.

Fascinating and inspiring, this visual and verbal feast offers an excellent starting point for an exploration of colour with a wide range of age groups from pre-schoolers to adults.

The Mouse Who Wasn’t Scared

The Mouse Who Wasn’t Scared
Petr Horàček
Walker Books

From the cover illustration of Little Mouse clad in stripy boots, gloves and tail warmer, we know we’re in for a treat with Petr Horàček’s latest picture book.

Despite her size, Little Mouse is a fearless creature. That, at least, is what she assures Rabbit in response to his warning about the woods being full of large scary animals.

Off she goes to explore.

Deep in the woods she comes upon something large and grey under the branches of a tree …

and this is what she says, “You don’t scare me … Do you want to play?

Receiving no response from the wolf, Little Mouse continues on her way.

In the shadows sits a very large bear, which Little Mouse addresses in similar fashion. Again no reply is forthcoming.

The moose also remains silent in response to her invitation to play,

so Little Mouse proceeds cheerily and confidently onwards until she spies a little house.

The creature waiting behind the door certainly isn’t big and is more than willing to play with Little Mouse; but …

By means of the textual pattern and atmospheric mixed media illustrations, Horàček builds tension slowly, controlling the pacing perfectly until Little Mouse reaches the house.
When readers turn the cut-down page to open the cottage door, they’re already eagerly anticipating something unexpected though perhaps not what is revealed waiting within.

A great read aloud be that with a nursery group or with individuals.

A Lion Is A Lion

A Lion Is A Lion
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been enchanting young and old alike for half a century. Now there’s a new feline visitor on the block, one with a large shaggy mane.

But, when is a lion not a lion, or does it remain a lion even if it sports a dapper jacket and matching hat, carries an umbrella and skips along the road singing a jolly “Hoobie-doobie-doo” song?

Supposing said creature invites himself into your home, introduces himself and asks you to dance.

Then, what if he decides to stay for lunch and not only consumes all his veggies but the plate as well; and then politely, looking you right in the eye, requests some pudding? Uh-oh!

Could that be when he begins to show his true nature with those gaping jaws and very sharp gnashers and you realise that this particular ‘guest’ is not welcome in your house, oh no most definitely not.

That’s the time to show that beastie who is boss and send him packing out of the door and down the street before you can say LION,

for the crucial thing to remember, no matter what is ‘A LION IS ALWAYS A LION!’

There’s always a joyful exuberance about Polly Dunbar’s books and so it is with this one too, which breaks into rhyme from time to time. Her characters, both feline and human, are totally beguiling with the children showing remarkable insouciance in the first instance; and the whole thing is a lesson in assertiveness and not to be deceived by appearances: after all you never know …

Birdy Board Books

Tweet! Tweet!
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
Five birds have hidden themselves away for toddlers to discover in Sebastien Braun’s latest addition to the ‘Can You Say It Too? lift-the-flap series. Spring is definitely in the air as sparrow tweets from behind the blossom; the dove coos,
a woodpecker taps, crow caws (is it a nosy one perhaps) and a beautiful peacock screeches – a noise the babes have yet to learn.
Boldly illustrated with more to spot and talk about than just the featured garden birds, and fun sounds to copy, this should amuse toddlers over and over.

Five Little Ducks
Illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow
In my incarnation as a nursery teacher the song on which this book is based was always a firm favourite to sing and sign.
Now illustrator, Yu-hsuan Huang brings a delightful story element to the whole thing in four double spreads of animals enjoying the countryside as the number of ducklings swimming along behind their mother diminishes one by one.
There are sliders to manipulate, talking points aplenty not least being where do the missing ducks disappear to and of course, the song to sing along to.
You’re going to have hours of fun when you share this chunky book with your little one, especially if you scan the QR code to get an audio version of the song on your tablet or smartphone.

A Busy Day for Birds
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
Not all board book versions of picture books work but here’s one that is equally delightful in a chunky smaller edition for tiny hands because nothing of the original is missing and there is no feeling of cramping either of text or illustrations.
Young children will find it hard to resist Lucy Cousins’ invitation to flap, hop, peck, stretch your neck, swoop, scratch, stand on one leg, waddle, run, wiggle your bum and make a lot of noise with cock-a-doodle-doos , clucks, tweets, hums, cheeps and tuwit tuwoos.
I’ve already reviewed the original hardback so I’ll say no more other than, ‘It’s time to play: be a bird (or several) today!’

Fiona’s Little Accident

Fiona’s Little Accident
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Years ago I was enchanted by Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby: more recently she has introduced another equally enchanting pair of characters, Fiona and her much quieter friend, Felix.

The guinea pig friends are eagerly anticipating demonstrating their volcano in show and tell. Fiona is so excited that she doesn’t go to the loo before leaving for school; nor does she visit the bathroom before going into class.

Show and tell begins and Fiona starts feeling rather desperate but now the bathroom is occupied. Fiona hears their turn being announced. She dashes back and she and Felix start the demonstration.

Suddenly disaster strikes. Fiona cannot hold on any longer: in full view of the class she wets herself. ‘Fiona knew everyone saw. She wanted never, ever to be seen again.’

Her teacher quickly deals with Fiona’s discomposure …

and Felix reassures her that everyone has accidents, even royalty and that within fifty seconds the whole thing will be forgotten.

Wells presents this embarrassing scenario with an empathetic understanding that must surely help children see that accidents such as Fiona’s are quickly forgotten, as well as being something pretty much universal.

One to include in KS1 classroom collections methinks.

Animals with Tiny Cat / 15 things NOT to do with a Puppy

Animals with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books

Viviane Schwarz’a Tiny Cat of There Are Cats in This Book and There Are No Cats in This Book fame is back and as always, is in a playful mood.

With the aid of a few simple props, our feline friend transforms first into a mouse, then an elephant, followed by a …

a horse, a porcupine …

a snake and a spider.

Suddenly though, the pile of discarded items takes on a life of its own …

Is there anything Tiny Cat can become that will send that fearsome beastie packing? …

Viviane Schawarz’s wonderfully playful imagination has, once again, produced a seemingly effortless performance for her moggy star.

Be ready for enthusiastic squeaking, tooting, neighing, hissing and more when you share this one.
Then, I’d suggest leaving the book in a suitable spot in your early years setting together with a few well-chosen items and see what your listeners turn themselves into.

15 things NOT to do with a Puppy
Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is the latest in Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling’s instruction manual series. Herein the topic is canine care and the two toddler presenters pretty much have the whole thing worked out. Presumably they speak from experience and if you’ve recently added a puppy to your household, then this book has some sound advice.

Hang-gliding, tuba lessons (as if), and getting its paws on the remote control are definite no-nos. So too are taking the pup to some of the children’s favourite places; and gardening is completely out of the question.

Football matches and the library are also definite no-go areas and for safety’s sake keep the animal from the driving seat of the car …

and well away from the sink too. Cafes are off limits as are shopping expeditions.

On the other hand, the dos are relatively straightforward: in a nutshell, love, play, food, drink and sleep work wonders.

The main characters, both human and canine are full of youthful exuberance as are the humorous possibilities of the scenarios presented in Holly Sterling’s illustrations of same.

I’ve singed the charter  

My Green Day

My Green Day
Melanie Walsh
Walker Books

The messages contained in this book are as relevant today as when it was first published in 2010. Yes, almost all of us use our own bags when we go shopping …

but the amount of plastic that often goes into our shopping bags still needs to be dealt with. The home baking advocated by the little girl narrator is one way of dealing with that; however, much more needs to be done by the major supermarkets.

Essentially we share the girl’s day and she talks us through the green things that are her way of helping the environment. Each of her ten green actions is printed in large type and then two or sometimes more double spreads are allocated to illustrating and adding to her narration so for instance we have ‘At lunch … ‘I eat up all my pasta.’ and in small print ‘We throw away one third of all the food we buy. If we bought only the food we actually needed to eat, we wouldn’t have to grow or transport so much food, which saves lots of energy.’ This additional information can be left out if the audience is very young but children are never too young to start thinking about the all important messages herein.

Other suggestions include: adding an extra layer rather than using the central heating, avoiding the use of tumble dryers, composting and re-using materials to make gifts.

Melanie Walsh’s bright collage illustrations, albeit without the die-cuts and cutaway pages, are as fresh and contemporary looking as they were in the original edition.

The Princess and the Crocodile

The Princess and the Crocodile
Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca
Walker Books

Cossetted from the start, the ‘perfect’ being that is Princess Cora is then – once the realisation dawns on her doting parents that she’ll one day be the ruler of the land – scheduled for every single minute of her time for fear she won’t measure up to the task.

A nanny is hired to ensure she’s always neat and clean – a three baths a day regime is introduced; and when she’s not in the tub, her mother is making her life a misery with deadly dull tomes or her father subjecting her to a gruelling fitness regime.

One night though the girl decides a dog might just make her life bearable but neither her parents nor the nanny are willing to entertain such an idea. In desperation the Princess writes to her fairy godmother and then rips the letter to pieces and tosses them out of the window. Here Schlitz injects a lovely magical touch “because it was a letter to her fairy godmother, every scrap turned into a white butterfly and flew away’.

Perhaps though she isn’t sufficiently specific in her request for the following morning what should be at the foot of her bed but a gift-wrapped crocodile.

The two strike a deal. For a day, in exchange for cream puffs the crocodile will take Cora’s place giving her a day of sheer unadulterated freedom.
First though there’s the issue of a suitable disguise: that comes in the form of a frilly frock and mop wig together with a promise not to eat anyone.

The creature keeps his promise while managing to create utter havoc around the palace with an appropriate degree of ferociousness: dunking in the tub and nips for the nanny,

insults and nips for the Queen and lashings, clawings, bitings …

and incarceration for the King, allowing Cora a wonderful day outdoors being thoroughly wild,

getting messy, wet, and even managing to step in a cowpat.

Witty writing and delicate yet energetic, and often very funny illustrations, make for a wonderful read aloud or read alone chapter book. Either way, I imagine a good many listeners or readers wanting to devour this whole riotous neo fairytale in a single sitting.

Enchanting from begin to end. A book that will appeal to those who love princesses, justice, a good giggle and even perhaps, crocodiles. The latter will certainly love the one herein.

The Poesy Ring

The Poesy Ring
Bob Graham
Walker Books

Subtitled ‘a love story’ this truly is, visual poetry.
It tells of a poesy ring engraved with the message ‘Love never dies’. (Such objects have been given since the Middle Ages as symbols of love and friendship.)

We follow the ring from 1830 when it’s tossed away into a meadow by a tearful young horsewoman in County Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland.

Seasons come and go, and the years pass as the ring is once again tossed, by a deer this time.
It gets reburied and eventually picked up by a starling, becomes airborne and then dropped into the ocean depths where a fish swallows it.

Trawlermen retrieve it from the fish’s belly and it’s sold for cash.

We’re now in New York City 1967 where, after a day’s work, two subway buskers with love in their hearts and a pocket full of money, make a very special purchase …

There’s symbolism aplenty in this exquisitely crafted story – a story of history, of life and most importantly, of love.
Graham shows the passing of time masterfully: an acorn becomes a vast oak tree shedding its own acorns, for example;

and through all the changing decades – almost two centuries – one thing remains constant: the ring never loses its shine, for true to its message, ‘Love never dies’; it’s always there if you know how to look for it.
Each of his illustrations is simply exquisite and is worth careful attention to appreciate the fine detail; indeed there’s a whole story in each spread.

A book to return to over and over, to share, to discuss and most of all, to treasure.

The Squirrels’ Busy Year

The Squirrels’ Busy Year
Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
Walker Books

From the creators of Fox in the Night is a new addition to the Science Storybook series, this time about the seasons and changes in the weather.

We start in winter and just like today when I’m writing this, it’s very cold, the pond is frozen and snow covers the ground. The animals are tucked away in warm places until they have to go out and search for food.

Spring brings warmer weather with bird song, croaking frogs, scampering squirrels hoping to find juicy maple buds on the trees or bulbs they can unearth; but they’ll have to be quick for there’s an owl on the prowl.
With the summer come hotter days, the need for shade, and longer hours of daylight with a chance of thundery weather.

Come autumn and the frogs have gone to the bottom of the pond to sleep in the mud;

many birds have flown to warmer climes and the squirrels start collecting for their winter store in preparation for hibernating.
All this is presented through an engaging, at times poetic, text, together with some basic scientific facts, and in Richard Jones’ textured illustrations.
His beautifully crafted scenes work in perfect harmony with Jenkins’ descriptions, his colour palette mirroring the seasonal hues superbly.
Look how perfectly this embodies the hushed arrival of winter’s snow …

A fine example of non-fiction for the very young.

All At Sea

All At Sea
Gerry Byrne and Faye Hanson
Walker Books

This wonderfully warm story is subtitled ‘There’s a new baby in the family’ and chief protagonist, young Liam certainly has his very own way of dealing with the arrival of a new brother.
He plays out his feelings using the small world hippo family – a daddy, a mammy, two little hippos and a tiny, baby hippo – his parents give him when they come back from the hospital bringing with them a new baby brother for him and his slightly older sister.

First he puts the baby hippo in the mouth of a hungry crocodile to be gobbled up. The following evening the tiny hippo is squashed under an elephant’s foot …

and on the third night it ends up down the loo, supposedly swept over a waterfall when out swimming with the rest of the hippo family.

All these actions however result in Liam having bad dreams …

and ending up sleeping in his parents’ bed with them.

On the third night though, something else happens too: Liam has a change of heart not only about the baby hippo, but more importantly concerning a certain Baby Brother.
The following night all is well both with the hippo family and Liam’s.

This is a fine addition to the new sibling genre and an ideal picture book for a young child with, or about to have, a new baby in the family.
It’s beautifully told, the dialogue both child and adult, is spot on and Faye Hanson captures the inherent warmth of Gerry Byrne’s tale, and the emotions of Liam and his mum in particular, in her superb, textured illustrations. Her colour palette – predominantly sepia, violet, inky blue – give the whole story a slightly dreamlike quality.

Few picture books I’ve seen – and that’s a lot – capture the mixed emotions of a young child with a new sibling so perfectly as this one.

Shake the Tree!

Shake the Tree!
Chiara Vignocchi, Paolo Chiarinotti and Silvia Borando
Walker Books

I’ve championed Minibombo books on this blog before and I make no apologies for doing so again. This one is my favourite so far.

It all begins when a hungry Mouse spots a nut high up in a tree and determines to eat it. She gives the tree a shake in both directions but it has no effect on the nut. She dislodges Fox though …

who declares his intentions concerning Mouse in no uncertain terms.

Up the tree scampers Mouse and Fox takes over as tree shaker; but he’s equally unsuccessful in dislodging mouse or the nut: something else drops down though and he too is ravenous. It’s Warthog and the shaking process begins again.

Oh my goodness! Fox, Mouse and the nut hold firm but down comes a very growly creature.
His frantic left and right shaking has the desired effect: down tumbles the entire contents of the tree, leaves and all.

Who or what will Bear going to claim as his prize? …

To emphasise the height of the tree, the book opens vertically, but readers have to keep turning to book to keep up with the narrative shifts from vertical to horizontal as the drama progresses, thus mirroring the tree shaking of the creatures.

A delicious piece of theatre superbly orchestrated by the book’s creators and equally superbly acted out by the animal characters whose narrow escapes will delight young listeners.
Equally, thanks to its repetition and brief patterned text, the book is spot on for those in the early stages of becoming readers to dramatize for themselves. Read it to them first though.

Get Christmassy

Pick a Pine Tree
Patricia Toht and Jarvis
Walker Books
There’s a real glow of seasonal joy to this rhyming journey of a pine tree from a tree lot to pride of place as a sparkling family Christmas tree.
A family visits the snowy tree lot, chooses a tree and takes it home on top of their car.

Once indoors, space is created, the tree trunk trimmed and when the tree is safely standing, out come the decorations ready for when their friends arrive to join in the fun of adding all the fairy lights, baubles, tinsel and finally to complete the transformation, right at the top, the star.

From its opening ‘Pick a pine tree / from the lot – // slim and tall / or short and squat. / One with spiky needle clumps, / scaly bark, or sappy bumps.’ Toht’s text bounces along beautifully – just right for a Christmas storytime session and a perfect antidote to the plastic ‘take apart’ trees that have become so popular in recent times.
Jarvis’ mixed media illustrations have a lovely vintage feel to them and there’s a wonderful magical final scene.

Let it Glow: A Winter’s Walk
Owen Gildersleeve
Wide Eyed Editions
Cut paper collage scenes glow with 5 white lights  as a boy walks home on Christmas Eve clutching a parcel. At each page turn the lights softly shine illuminating a fair, carol singers, a snowy hillside with sledgers, a frozen lake on which skaters swirl and then the exterior and interiors of the boy’s home.
Told through rhyming couplets, and presumably intended to be shared in soft lighting, Gildersleeve’s spreads offer plenty of talking points in addition to the twinkling lights.

Red & Lulu
Matt Tavares
Walker Books
With a USA setting this dramatically illustrated, touching tale tells how a pair of cardinals becomes separated when their tree home is cut down and taken to New York City Rockefeller Centre to be its Christmas tree with Lulu, one of the pair trapped inside.
Red returns from his search for food to discover his home gone and with it his partner.
Superb spreads, some wordless or almost so, then follow his search for her, the birds’ reunion and eventual relocation in a park.

Search & Find: A Christmas Carol
retold by Sarah Powell, illustrated by Louise Pigott
Studio Press
Here’s a novel take on the ever-growing ‘spotting’ books: it’s the second in a series of classic tales to be given a search and find adaptation by Studio Press.
It’s not so much a retelling of the Dickens’ story, rather it’s an unusual way to encourage young readers into the world of Dickens and this tale in particular, especially around the festive season.
The characters are all there and waiting to be spotted in various scenes – fourteen in all.
There are four ghost spreads including The Ghost of Jacob Marley (with a spendidly spooky door knocker) the Ghost of Christmas Past and The Ghost of Christmas Present; two parties to visit – Mr Fezziwig’s and the one at Fred’s house; a rather grim graveyard scene and more.
Engaging and fun.

A Christmas for Bear

A Christmas for Bear
Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton
Walker Books

Can it really be the sixth story to star the unlikely best friends Bear and Mouse? This one really is a cracker despite the grumpiness of Bear – nothing unusual about that, but he seems even more so where the festive season is concerned.
Having agreed to host a Christmas party, his first ever, Bear goes on to declare presents “Most unseemly,” and appears to think Christmas pickles and the odd poem or two are all that’s needed for a successful party.
Mouse meanwhile is focussed on the possibility of presents and goes off in search of same.

Bear then pours further cold water on the notion calling them “Unnecessary hogwash” and announces his intention to read a poem.
This turns out to be A Visit from St. Nicholas –  something children will delight in .
It does of course, include a reference to a mouse and stockings; the latter seems to hold a particular significance that Mouse takes a while to grasp.

Eventually though he does finally fall in and discovers his stocking containing, no not a pickle, but a tiny, shiny silver telescope.
That’s Mouse’s present dealt with, but what about Bear? Surely his best friend can’t have forgotten him, can he?

Priceless dialogue – “Not even one present!” squeaked Mouse. “The pickles are from France!” declared Bear. “But surely – “ said Mouse. “And furthermore,” continued Bear, “I shall be reading a long and difficult poem.”, – and perfect pacing with a wonderful finale, combined with superbly expressive watercolour, ink and gouache illustrations make for an unforgettable seasonal story to share and relish.

Sail Away Dragon

 

Sail Away Dragon
Barbara Joosse and Randy Cecil
Walker Books

The twosome from Lovabye Dragon and Evermore Dragon return as the friends sally forth, with wicker basket, spyglass, banner, box of ‘goodie gumdrops’ and horn, for an adventure on the ocean.

As they sail towards the far-est Far Away they encounter dolphins, spouting whales, Bad Hats …

from whom they acquire a cat and thus sail on in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ style for a year and a day till they begin to despair they’ll ever reach their Far Away destination.

They do however; and thereon they consume the goodie gumdrops, dance, sound their horn and write a note which they place in a bottle and cast upon the ocean.

Thereafter they sleep and dream beneath the stars.

Like all magical adventures though, home calls through their dreams and so homewards they sail, passing wondrous sights

until each returns to separate slumbering quarters – Girl to her ‘pluffy little eiderdown bed’ and Dragon to lie curled above the castle door ‘guarding Girl, his friend forevermore.’

The combination of Joosse’s dreamy lilting text and Cecil’s beautiful, textured scenes is magical. The whole thing has the lingering, haunting quality of a dream one doesn’t want to end.

If you’ve yet to meet this enchanting pair, do try their latest adventure.

I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble / Kick! Jump! Chop!

I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble
Jancee Dunn and Scott Nash
Walker Books

What do your stuffed toys get up to when you go off to school? A whole lot of mischief, if this tale is anything to go by.
Teddy calls his friends over and they have a wild time. Seemingly, if the evidence is right, they make pancakes, use the bed as a trampoline with disastrous results – for the bed that is. The walls become daubed with murals, albeit pretty good ones and there’s been some dressing up too.

Then there was a sliding contest, a spot of sledging, folllowed by a rather sticky but extremely yummy bath.

Unsurprisingly all these high-spirited antics attract the attention of the neighbours, for it’s they who call the cops.
It’s as well that the particular cops who attend the incident are of the sympathetic kind: the two of them know just how to deal with high-spirited, partying toys; but what about their ringleader? Will he too be let off with a warning from Officer Hardy?

Dunn’s narrative takes the form of a crime reconstruction directed to the bear’s owner and of course to readers, and Nash’s accompanying energetic digital illustrations are full of fun. Doubtless youngsters will relish the misdemeanours of the frolicsome toys. They surely have a much more exciting time than a house full of electronic devices, but then again, you never know …

Kick! Jump! Chop!
Heather Ayris Burnell and Bomboland
Sterling

I’m always been a bit of a sucker for fractured fairy tales and pounced on this one when it arrived.
It’s the classic Gingerbread Man story given a ninja twist. Take a look at the cover and you’ll see the illustrations are of cut paper from a team called Bomboland (which is actually an Italy-based illustrations studio): the ninjabread man really means business with that kick move and flying star cookie.
The story begins in the dojo with the declaration “Sparring is getting stale. We need to spice things up.” Sensei then concocts a super-spicy dough and from the oven soon after, erupts a ginger ninja issuing the challenge of the title: KICK! JUMP! CHOP! followed by “As fast as you can. You can’t beat me, I’m the Ninjabread Man!” and off he goes.
His challenge is taken up by, in turn Raccoon …

Cheetah and Monkey, none of whom is equal to the super-sparrer.
Then comes Fox, who appears to be getting the better of his challenger. Is the crafty cookie about to meet his demise in the snappy jaws of his vulpine assailant?

With its super-punchy paper collage-style scenes and spicy punning narrative, this toothsome tale will go down especially well with action-loving listeners, particularly those with a penchant for the martial arts.

Fox in the Night / Snow Penguin

Fox in the Night
Martin Jenkins and Richard Smythe
Walker Books

Billed as ‘A science storybook about light and dark’, this is a narrative non-fiction picture book with a sprinkling of additional facts.
We join Fox as she wakes, sees it’s still daylight outside and so goes back to sleep for a while. Later, at sundown, she leaves the safety of her den and, guided by the moon and street lights, sallies forth across the park towards the town in search of food.

A mouse eludes her so she keeps looking; perhaps something static will be easier prey.
A bumped nose and a near miss from a car later, she’s still searching. Then, turning down an alley, her nose leads her towards something more promising – a barbecue in progress – and it’s here that she’s finally rewarded with a tasty treat to take back to her den.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a good starting point for a topic on light and dark with early years children. I’d suggest reading the story first and then returning to discuss the additional, smaller print, possibly using it as pointers to get youngsters thinking for themselves about why for instance, Fox bumps her nose on the shop window.

Snow Penguin
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Far away in the icy Antarctic, a curious little penguin is restless: he wants to find out more about the chilly sea and the snow. Off he goes alone to explore, unaware that the ice on which he’s standing as he gazes seawards has become detached from the mainland.
On his trip afloat on his little ice floe he sees blue whales, orcas,

an elephant seal and a sea lion with her cub. Suddenly he feels alone and scared adrift on the darkening waters. How will he find his way back to where he most wants to be, back with his family and friends?

Mitton’s assured rhyming couplets in combination with Alison Brown’s engaging depictions of the frozen Arctic seascapes and landscapes make for a gentle cuddle-up adventure for the very young.

On the Night of the Shooting Star

On the Night of the Shooting Star
Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

Bunny and Dog are neighbours living on opposite sides of the fence in homes that match their owners. Bunny’s house is blue and is furnished in suitable bunny style (look for the bed’s rabbit-eared headboard and the chair’s fluffy white tail):

Dog has a red house with red furnishings. (I love the rug border and fireplace tiles.) Both have lake views and signs indicating they want to be left alone as they go about their solo activities.
However first thing every morning Bunny looks through the fence at Dog and Dog looks through the fence at Bunny: neither says so much as hello. They also take the odd peek at one another during the course of the day and at bedtime each checks the light in the window of the house opposite.
Time passes and one moonlit night, unable to sleep, both animals are drawn outside to watch the stars and each decides the other is in need of a friend.
The sudden appearance of a shooting star provides a shared experience:

could this be the catalyst for their friendship to develop at last?

Everyone needs a friend: sometimes we need the courage to reach out and be that friend. This timely message is at the heart of Amy Hest and Jenni Desmond’s softly spoken, captivatingly illustrated book.

How Monty Found His Magic / Starring Carmen!

How Monty Found His Magic
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books

Meet the Magnificent Trio: Monty, his dog named Zephyr and his rabbit named Snuffles. They have ambitions to show their magic in front of a real audience and with Mr Twinkle’s Twinkling Talent Show coming up they’ve a chance to realise their dream.

First though, Monty must overcome his fear of public performance.
The day of the talent show dawns and Monty has a bad attack of butterflies in his tummy. His pals reassure him, “ … we’ll be fine … we’ll be together.
But will Monty be able to remember their words when they’re under the spotlight up on that stage in front of all those people.

This is a tale of finding your inner courage and working together as a team that will resonate with those children in particular who find doing anything in public a trial. Equally it demonstrates that behind every public performance lies a great deal of a gentle kind of magic that comes when friends support each other just because …
With its vibrant scenes of friendship and prestidigitation this should be a winner with young audiences.

Another performance tale is:

Starring Carmen!
Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Carmen is a drama queen of the first order: she acts, sings, dances and even makes costumes.
Her little brother, Eduardo is desperate for a part in her shows, so she gives him a silent role in her latest extravaganza.

Then when her parents ask for an intermission, the showgirl stages an enormous sulk. What good is a stage show when the audience are merely toys?
There’s one member of the family though who never seems to tire of performances and it turns out, he has much to offer when it comes to high drama too.

With its sprinkling of Spanish dialogue – I like the way the Spanish phrases are naturally dropped into the narrative – and brighter than bright illustrations, this story will appeal most to those who enjoy being in the limelight – one way or another.

I’ve signed the charter  

Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing

Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing
Hiawyn Oram and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Snowboy likes to spend his time playing imaginative games with his animal companions. Greenbackboy is riddled with greed. He persuades Snowboy to join him in a ‘better game’ he calls KA-CHING. The game entails cutting down all the forest trees in return for KA-CHING, which seemingly, can be used to get anything they want. With one tree left standing however, the enormity of what they’ve done strikes Snowboy and with the aid of his Cloak of Many Uses, he manages to hide the last tree.
Not satisfied with his ill-gotten gains, Greenbackboy drags his reluctant fellow player off to the oceans, their next target for exploitation.
With all the fish netted Snowboy again has second thoughts and manages to release two of their catch overboard, unnoticed by his companion.

But strongboxes filled with KA-CHING and mountains of tinned fish give no protection from the ravages of a storm that brews up, sweeping the tinned fish into the empty ocean to go to waste.
Snowboy has had enough.

Leaving Greenbackboy with his treasure, he, his Ice Troupers and Polar Bear King trek back across the wasted land, finally reaching that last tree.
Could it just be that with tender loving care, the tree can become their saviour?

Hiawyn Oram’s unusual story has a powerful ecological message: a fable about greed and exploitation of natural resources, it’s a timely reminder of what is happening to our planet.
Birgitta Sif’s beautiful illustrations have a muted luminescence and bring a touch of quirkiness to what is essentially a dark tale.

Gary

Gary
Leila Rudge
Walker Books

Gary is a racing pigeon. He eats, sleeps and dreams of adventure just like the others that share his loft; but, on race days, because he cannot fly, he’s left behind organising his scrapbook of travel mementos collected by his fellow pigeons. He listens avidly to the adventures of his friends as they talk of flight paths and wind directions on their return, noting down what they say in that precious scrapbook.
One night Gary and scrapbook accidentally fall from the loft into a travel basket and are taken, along with the others, to the city the next day.
He watches as the other pigeons take flight and race off into the sky, homeward bound,

leaving him all alone wondering if he’ll be forever lost in the city.
Unable to fly, he might be, but Gary does have a fully functioning brain and his scrapbook. It’s to these that he turns in his hour of need; and little by little with the aid of the book’s contents, he plots his way home, arriving with lots of exciting new mementos for the scrapbook

and a wonderful adventure story with which to regale his flighted friends.
Like Gary, Leila Rudge brings her text full circle, albeit with a slight twist, subtly showing how his differences are also sometimes, a gift. Good on you Gary for doing something amazing and doing it your way.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a wonderful story to share and talk about, and an inspiration for anyone who needs a little boost when it comes to self-belief.

The Boy From Mars

The Boy From Mars
Simon James
Walker Books

When Stanley’s mum has to go away overnight for work, Stanley too decides to leave the family home. From the back garden he blasts off in his spaceship – destination Mars.
Not long after, the spaceship returns and out crawls a smallish martian …

come to explore “your sibilization” he tells Stanley’s brother, Will.
Their “leader” plays along with the martian thing and there follows a wonderful boundaries testing evening. Martians seemingly don’t wash their hands before meals, are unimpressed with earth food (other than ice cream) and definitely don’t have bedtimes. They don’t brush their teeth or wash before sleeping either and they always sleep in their helmets.

If there’s one thing that gets a martian’s temper flaring it’s being challenged about its identity and Stanley’s best pal, Josh is on the receiving end of a martian’s shove. This results in a morning spent sitting outside the head’s office contemplating his behaviour, something Dad learns of when he collects his offspring from school that afternoon.

When Mum returns in the evening, eager to hear how things have gone, a certain little martian decides there’s only one way to deal with the “Have you been a good little martian?” question … a return to base – of sorts.

Simon James never fails to delight and this book is a cracker. The matter of fact, down-to-earth telling is pitch perfect when read aloud – the dialogue is simply superb. The illustrations reveal a space-obsessed little human with an inventive imagination and much else to contemplate and revel in.

I’ve signed the charter