Problems, Plans, Perils and Parties

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Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon
Rachel Valentine and Ed Eaves
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Marmaduke just hates being different. Unlike the other (purple) dragons his skin is faded orange, his scales stick out and his ears are positively elephantine. Protecting princesses is definitely out of the question, so the other dragons laughingly tell him when he asks for their assistance. However, Marmaduke is not only different; he is also determined. So too is Princess Meg and when she gets herself lost in the deep, dark woods, Marmaduke seizes the opportunity to dash to her rescue.

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When he finally spreads those unusual wings of his, Meg declares them “Fantastically different!” as they shimmer and sparkle in the sky.

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So, does he become her protector? Suffice it to say that although Meg is a strong- minded kind of princess, she does need a friend.
Yes, it’s sparkly and spattered with pink but here is a divergent princess who refuses to fit into a mould and what’s more she accepts and appreciates difference in others. And of course both she and in the end, Marmaduke, show strength of character.
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Shh! We Have a Plan
Chris Haughton
Walker Books
I’ve been a big fan of Chris Haughton since A Bit Lost some four years ago but this, with its intriguing title, is I think, my favourite so far.
Essentially four woolly-hatted friends, nets a ready, (hence the title) spy a colourful bird as they are out walking. The approach of the smallest is a friendly ‘hello birdy’, quickly ‘shhed’ by the others, those with a plan, a catching plan of course. Slowly, they creep, tiptoe, tiptoe … Oops! Missed.
Plan B involves a ladder and a balancing act;

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ready… whoopsie! …
Plan C – these are determined characters – paddling upstream … stretching forwards, ready, one, two, three…

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splash!
Time for a different approach, the little one’s this time; he knows just how to tempt a bird

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or two or … O OHHHHH!
Dry humour, quirky characters, a slightly ridiculous, perfectly paced, skillfully suspenseful tale and distinctive, limited colour palette; add to that an eye-catching typeface, images and shapes – the result? Another Haughton must have –I’d get more than one in fact.
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The Big Blue Thing on the Hill
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing pbk
Howling Hill stand far from the city, a quiet peaceful place during the day, alive with the sounds of foxes, and weasels, boars, badgers and bears, wolves too, each making a characteristic rustle, snuffle, sniffle, growl, or howl. Then one night, there comes a rumble, a ROAR and a dreadful vision atop the hill. Wild speculations on behalf of the frightened animals ensue and off they dash to hide in the Great Forest. Back they creep next morning; the trouble remains. Speculations run wild – “a big blue elephant!” say the weasels, ‘a big blue dinosaur!” is the badgers’ decision. (Echoes of The Six Blind Men and the Elephant here). “It’s a BIG BLUE THING” is the foxes’ correct assertion. All agree however that the thing appears to be awake and should be left till it sleeps.
At dusk the animals return to HOOOWWWLLL – the wolves suggestion this –

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GRROOOWWLL – that’s the bears; HUFF, PUFF, PUSH and SHOVE – the boars try that. But does the Big Blue Thing budge? Not one single centimetre. Burying, a seemingly possible ploy, is foiled when the Thing makes a “WAKING UP” sound. Off flee the animals to consult the Wise Owls. An attack of the BUZZING WHIZZING ZOOMING kind delivered by a BIG BUG FLYING SQUAD ensues as the sun peeks over the Hill.

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Peace and quiet resumes until …

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Foolishly funny: those fearful animals with their troubled countenances and plucky plans are an absolute hoot and the surprise ending has caused much mirth among my young listeners who relished every moment of the tale.
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Two Speckled Eggs
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books pbk
Ginger wants to invite the girls in her class to her birthday party, all except one – Lyla Browning. Lyla is different, smelling ‘like old leaves’, carrying a magnifying glass and she’s not much of a talker.

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Ginger’s mum insists she’s included. On party day, the first to arrive is Lyla but once the others come, things begin to go rather differently from Ginger’s expectations. Ava invents new rules for Blind Man’s Buff, Pin the Tail on the Donkey becomes pin the tails on each other and the egg and spoon and Three legged races are disastrous. Moreover, the silver-and gold cake is anything but a hit, except with Lyla, who until then has stayed in the background. Poor Ginger. But then she starts to think that perhaps she’s misjudged Lyla;

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maybe she is actually rather cool.Assuredly her present – a tiny bird’s nest, hand-made and containing two speckled eggs (chocolate caramel-cream and Ginger’s favourite no less) stands out as wonderfully thoughtful and serves as a symbol of a new friendship. Being different is a good thing after all, Ginger decides or perhaps the two of them aren’t really so different anyway.

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How good to see a quietly strong, divergent character such as Lyla ; all the more so as her independence of thought and openness come to be appreciated by Ginger. Jennifer Mann’s slightly scruffy crayon outlines filled with soft waterolours, stand out against the largely white backgrounds of the pages
As well as in their facial expressions, a considerable degree of emotion is conveyed through the artist’s perfect placing of particular characters on the page.
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Farmer John’s Tractor
Sally Sutton and Robyn Belton
Walker Books
Thoughts of the recent floods came right back to me as I started to read this rhyming tale of how Farmer John’s tractor – a rusty orangey-red one kept locked in a shed – comes into its own when the river breaks its banks after a very rainy winter.
Down by the river a car is stuck fast: the family inside shouts for help. They manage to climb onto the roof as a series of vehicles — a speedy jeep, a tow truck,

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and a fire engine, siren blasting — rush to the scene one by one. Each ends up more firmly stuck than the last. Time to see if Farmer John’s ancient tractor, might still be up to the job?
Belton’s muted watercolour pictures are just right for the prevailing wetness of the countryside setting and Sally Sutton’s strong, rhythmic, rhyming text just right for conveying the power of the swirling, twirling, rushing, gushing water and the muscle power of Farmer John and his chugging tractor.
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Dinosaur Roar!
Paul Strickland and Henrietta Strickland
Doubleday Children’s Books
With a host of opposites dinosaur-delivered, but even more importantly, the powerful message that early reading is (or should be) fun, this rip roaring rhythmic rhymer really packs a punch. What young child can resist the lure of Paul Strickland’s roaring or squeaking

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lunch gobbling beasties be they fierce or meek, fast or slow, above or below, weak or strong, short or long, sweet or grumpy, spiky or lumpy …
After twenty years, with its glorious pictures and a cleverly catchy text
this one is still a real winner.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!
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Find and buy from your local bookseller:http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

4 thoughts on “Problems, Plans, Perils and Parties

  1. Excellent and engaging reviews of new publications. Jill Bennett’s regular posts are a boon to anyone looking for books that will enchant babies and children across a wide age range. The books reviewed above all sound great fun. I look forward to seeing them for myself. There is also a wealth of other headings covering a variety of specific themes on the website which are well worth dipping into.. If you are new to RRH then do take time to go back over these and you will surely find much that your children will love.. . . .

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