Wulfie Saves the Planet

Wulfie Saves the Planet
Lindsay J Sedgwick, illustrated by Rosa Devine
Little Island

You can never be sure what might happen next when you have a best friend like Wulfie with those super powers of his. That’s how it is for Libby who in this third book has a rather challenging school project that requires thinking up some new fun ways to make people care about the environment. Moreover she has only three days to think of something amazing.

However what Libby lacks in ideas (she doesn’t have many but is desperate to make her stepmother Veronika proud and beat her annoying ‘sibling’ Rex) is in complete contrast to Wulfie. He is positively bursting with ways to save the planet – he could be a superhero no less and to that end the purple wulfen decides getting much bigger might be useful, along with adopting the name Wonderwulf, donning a red cape and wearing socks – on his ears – as well as adding one of Veronika’s sleep masks, or maybe not.

Later on, Libby is just settling down to tea, when something on the local news catches her eye, something that gets her heart all a-flutter. Surely it couldn’t be – or could it? Then come sightings of a purple bearded masked superhero …

Libby and her friend Nazim are hot on the trail.

Shall we say, the best laid plans of mice and men… or rather those of wulfen and girl – don’t work out exactly right. Time for Wulfie to employ that nose-tickling, sneeze-inducing feather he keeps behind his ear …

But is it too late for Libby to complete her winning school project and protect not only the planet but her very best purple eco-friend?

Let’s just cross our fingers and say, ‘WonderWulf: For All. For Ever’.

A madcap romp with Rosa Devine’s funny black and white illustrations that will make primary children giggle throughout, and at the same time remind them of the vital importance of doing all they can to protect our precious planet

The Light That Dance in the Night

The Lights That Dance in the Night
Yuval Zommer
Oxford Children’s

With a lyrical narrative and stunningly beautiful illustrations Yuval Zommer allows the dancing lights to tell their own glorious story of their journey from being ‘specks of dust blown to Earth from the Sun’, passing close together through clouds and snowstorms as they discover their purpose as the Northern night-dancing lights.

As they travel, the lights fill the land with happiness and joy, and the air is filled not only with their brightness but also with the singing of whales and ringing of bells.
Their dance also delights the ox and Arctic fox, 

wolves and wild cats, reindeer herds and forest birds.

Humans too are entranced and some of them weave the magical beauty of the lights into their tales. 

Eventually the entire Arctic is united in song and wonder, love and hope beneath the sky wherein those miraculous lights continue to perform their transformative dance.

Truly readers – certainly this one, are transported and uplifted as they turn the pages, reading, looking and feeling awe at the gorgeous scenes Yuval conjures before our eyes.

This is the perfect wintry book to share with children while drinking hot chocolate and snuggling together; or better still, wrap up warm and take it outside to enjoy under the stars : you never know, those magical lights might just appear, dancing across the sky above.

No One Is Angry Today

No One is Angry Today
Toon Tellegen and Marc Boutavant
Gecko Press

Herein (translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer) are ten philosophical short stories – kind of fables but without the morals – illustrated by Marc Boutavant, that explore anger using a cast of animal characters whose emotions are more than a little similar to those of humans, with anger taking various forms – fury, sadness, ridiculousness for instance.

There’s a firebelly toad whose anger is expressed through inflicting pain on other creatures by attacking them viciously, arousing the recipients’ extreme fury – so he hopes.

Then there’s a squirrel, sad that his ant friend has gone away almost definitely not to return; squirrel can’t be angry but waits patiently for his friend— strangely however his anger is displaced, showing itself by means of the walls of his home.

With his birthday imminent, Cricket sends Bear a strange invitation letter listing all the annoying things Bear does on such occasions, but concluding that he’d like it very much if the ursine creature came along. perhaps Bear will feel some anger too …

When Squirrel agrees to dance with Elephant one summer’s evening the former is already contemplating the possibility of having his toes trodden on, but agrees not to get angry if it happens, and almost inevitably, it does and Squirrel feels the pain, but keeps his word. After a series of toe treadings and even getting bashed against a tree, Squirrel’s anger remains quiet while Elephant is ecstatic.

Each of the brief tales is a small piece of drama however the anger is expressed, and interestingly it tends to be the male animals whose anger is aggressive while females show theirs in other ways.

Marc Boutavant’s illustrations are superb in the way he captures each animal’s expressions – facial and body language – as well as the detail of the woodland settings of the tales.

I’d suggest using these as starting points for community of inquiry discussions with primary children.

At the Height of the Moon

At the Height of the Moon
edited by Annette Roeder, Alison Baverstock and Matt Cunningham
Prestel

This book draws on artistic and literary traditions from all parts of the world, going back centuries to offer children a pre-bedtime experience that presents works of art alongside poems and short pieces of fiction including the occasional rather eerie folktale.
There are six thematic sections: Twilight, Dreamland, Moonlit Menagerie, Creepy Crawlies and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Minds Ablaze and, Midnight and Magic.

The editors have clearly cast their literary nets far and wide including recent poems from Simon Armitage whose To Do List is set opposite Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare which I think if I looked at it for too long, would give me a nightmare, James Carter’s The ReallyReallyReallyTrulyTrueTruth About … Teddy Bears which faces The Bear Family, for me, a much more alluring painting by Alexej von Jowlensky,

Benjamin Zephaniah’s Nature Trail, about wildlife in his garden, and Wendy Cope’s Huff set opposite Paul Klee’s The Goldfish. Then there are others that go way, way back: Sappho’s Fragment V1 ’Nightingale, herald of spring / With a voice of longing …’ ; Shakespeare is represented by lines from The Tempest beginning ‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.’ It’s good to see Australian Judith Wright’s Rainforest sharing a page with that.

Two of my favourite poets that I first came across way back when I was at school, are here to my delight; there’s Robert Frost’s After Apple Picking, and Edward Thomas’ The Owl, beneath which is a well known anonymous owl poem.

(There are seven anon. pieces including a somewhat scary fairy tale from the early Mansi hunting people and another fairy tale from Siberia.)

Among the artists’ reproductions are works from Vincent van Gogh, Henri Rousseau’s Carnival Evening, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, Georgia O’Keefe’s A White Camelia and in the same story, Ladder to the Moon. Not all the art will be to any one reader’s taste, though I’m sure everyone will come across images both verbal and visual that they will treasure (although the entire selection is rather Eurocentric and could have been rather more inclusive): I came across some delights new to me including Linda Wolfsgruber’s A Lullaby for Bruno juxtaposed with an extract from Alice in Wonderland wherein the White Rabbit speaks.

Microbe Wars

Microbe Wars
Gill Arbuthnott and Marianna Madriz
Templar Publishing

Despite this book not being a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changing our lives considerably, said pandemic seems to have spawned a number of books for children on the topic of microbes. But we humans have waged war on these micro organisms – only visible by means of an electron microscope – for thousands of years as they’re responsible for the spreading of the most deadly diseases in history. However it’s not only humans that fight microbes, sometimes it’s a case of microbes versus microbes, or humans fighting each other with microbes. Did you know that there are around a trillion microbe species in all, many of which are as yet unknown?

After a couple of introductory spreads mentioning some of the microbes from Protozoa to the bird flu virus, there’s a double page on the Black Death aka the plague, 

followed by another with information about several other diseases caused by microbes: Spanish flu, malaria and smallpox – it’s possible that Pharaoh Rameses V died of smallpox, a disease which happily, thanks to Edward Jenner’s vaccination, and the determination of the WHO, has since 1980, been exterminated.

As yet this isn’t so for COVID19 despite the vaccines now being rolled out, and perhaps never will be; but not all microbes are bad. Indeed there are many helpful ones: we wouldn’t be able to digest our food without those microbiomes in the gut. 

Other microbes help in the production of popular foods such as yogurt and cheeses, while still others are used in medicines for the treatment of diabetes and even some cancers. Indeed, the scientific innovations continue to bring hope and one never knows what the next amazing step on this life-changing journey will offer. That’s the message that emerges from this fascinating, sometimes funny book by one time science teacher, author Gill Arbuthnott, and illustrator Marianna Madriz whose lively, often gently humorous illustrations infuse the information with drama.

The World Book

The World Book
Joe Fullman and Rose Blake
Welbeck Publishing

This book arrived at a tantalising time when India, the country I most want to visit in the near future isn’t issuing tourist visas. So like most readers of this chunky book, for the time being, I’ll have to remain an armchair traveller and make a whistle-stop tour of the countries of the world (and some territories) finding out something about each one.

Having acknowledged in his introduction that the recognition of countries isn’t universally agreed, author Joe Fullman takes readers, one continent after another, starting with those in North America, to stop at 199 countries, plus Antarctica and the Overseas Territories.

Each country is allocated a double spread, single page, or occasionally, a half page whereon we have a key facts box showing the flag, a location map and 5 facts: capital, official language or languages, (surprisingly the USA doesn’t have one while Bolivia has 37), currency, population and area. There’s an introductory paragraph for each stop off and paragraphs of salient information and observations as well as a handful of Rose Blake’s stylised vignettes.

We read about culture, food – you get nigh on perfect hummus in Lebanon, and Germany has more than 300 varieties of bread,

natural wonders, festivals and celebrations and wildlife – India is one of the most biodiverse countries with animals including elephants, peacocks, flamingoes, king cobras, tigers, rhinos, sloth bears and snow leopards.

However, Fullman doesn’t hold back from mentioning civil wars or political tensions. Syria we read is sadly, ‘currently in the midst of a traumatic civil war which has resulted in many Syrians losing their lives or taking refuge in other countries.’

While of South Sudan, Fullman writes, ‘South Sudan is one of the world’s newest countries. It broke away to become independent from Sudan in 2011 following a war of independence. It then entered a period of civil war from which it has only recently emerged. The future looks more hopeful, as the people move towards peace.’ Apparently the popularity of wrestling is something that is helping bring the country together.

All in all, this volume, as well as being interesting in its own right, will perhaps prompt readers who have alighted in a country that particularly interests them, to widen their explorations. (Index and glossary are included.)

The Good, The Bad and the Spooky

The Good, The Bad and the Spooky
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper

With more than 150 spooky stickers for youngsters to have their own fun with, this is a Halloween themed continuation of Jory John and Pete Oswald’s popular series presented by a sunflower seed, aka The Bad Seed.

Now despite Halloween being the Seed’s favourite time of year he’s in an extremely bad mood on account of not being able to find a truly awesome costume for the big night. Nothing he’s tried seems to hit the spot or come anywhere near things he and his friends have dressed as on previous occasions and now everybody seems to want to be independent.

It appears that there’s only one thing to do and that’s to make everyone else think the big holiday event has been postponed. Seed looks as though he’s making a return to his baaad ways: an announcement is made.

Then, enter stage left a good neighbourly pumpkin seed proffering some words of wisdom for our narrator Seed to consider … What will he do – sabotage the whole event and spoil the fun for everyone or focus on what the evening is really all about?

With Jory John’s witty, pun-punctuated narrative that delivers some life lessons and Pete Oswald’s hilarious illustrations, this is a thought-provoking charmer that’s just right for pre Halloween sharing.

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found / Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

With four separate, interconnected stories amusingly illustrated by Emily Hughes, this is the fifth book in a series featuring two young siblings, that is just right for children just moving into chapter books.
In the first story it’s Mouse’s blanket that is lost and he’s feeling sad about it. Charlie offers to help him look in ‘all the somewhere’s” -all day if necessary. They search the house but Blanket isn’t there, nor is it in the garden, nor the playground. Blanket is nowhere, Mouse concludes but then Charlie from ‘Somewhere’ produces the lost object – hurrah!
While engaged in doing Errands with mum, the brothers discovery of a lost something they’ve always wanted, makes their day – and many more to come …

Story three sees the something recently found being called Silly and said Silly has now become a much loved part of their family although possibly not by their moggy, Kittenhead. A walk will give the feline some welcome respite but the outcome of the walk is less welcome when the children return home to discover they need to bid farewell to Silly.

In the final story, Boop, the siblings still sad at the departure of Silly, agree with their Dad that she was “a lot of dog” but the prospect of ice cream cheers them up somewhat. Then while consuming same, the boys see something considerably smaller that might just work as a replacement for Silly.

Silly but sweet, playful family tales, these are as delightful as ever.

Also huge fun for new solo readers, though with a rather more spooky feel is

Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet Books

The story starts with Auntie Departed, resident of Crumbling Manor, receiving a phone call from her sister Auntie Witch inviting her and Ghoulia et al from their abode, to spend their summer holiday at Fancy Manor where she resides with Cousin Dilbert on the shore of Lake Mystery. With mounting excitement, bags are packed and three days later driven by albino greyhound Tragedy, off they go.
They settle in well on arrival;

however they then discover a problem: on account of the run-down state of the Fancy Manor, the town council, thinking the property uninhabited, plan to auction it off, unless that is a living heir comes forward. Panic immediately breaks out but Dilbert comes up with a plan in the form of a Back-to-Life potion.
Then it’s down to Ghoulia and Dilbert to collect the required ingredients and once they have, to brew the potion, making it sufficiently powerful to ensure it lasts long enough for Auntie Witch to convince the town planner, not only of her identity but also that her house is fit for human habitation.

No pressure then!

Mock-scary comedic fun, appropriately weirdly populated, this 4th Ghoulia tale works both as a read aloud and a solo read that will delight monster-loving youngsters. Don’t miss the final ‘extra-special fun’ pages.

The Burpee Bears

The Burpee Bears
Joe Wicks and Paul Howard
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Written in partnership with author Vivian French and illustrated by Paul Howard, this is PE teacher to the locked-down nation, Joe Wicks’ debut picture book. Here too he encourages youngsters to keep fit through the Burpee Bears, a modern ursine family who make every day exciting – a day for adventure.

We first meet the Burpees as Daddy Bear, wide awake already, rouses in turn Bella, Frankie and Baby Bear and having done a quick stretching sequence, off they all go to wake Mummy Bear from her slumbers, before leaping into playful action, zooming hither and thither while Daddy Bear prepares a delicious breakfast.

Then it’s off on an adventure in the woods to make the most of the sunshine that awaits; once Mummy Bear has persuaded Frankie that would-be astronauts benefit greatly from walking in the fresh air, and the others have got themselves organised.

En route Bella needs to recharge so Daddy Bear gets the little ones doing a small work out that helps them reach the top of the hill with sufficient energy to start building that rocket ship Frankie SO wants to make.

However it’s not all ups with this Burpee brigade, for no sooner have they finished building than down comes the rain.

Where better to shelter though, from all those drips, drops, whooshes and swishes than Frankie’s rocket. It’s a great place for preparing a healthy dinner too; one that’s eaten under the stars for the downpour stops just in time.

All fun days have to end though and so it is with this one;

so back they go more than ready for us to bid them goodnight as they close their eyes and perhaps dream of a trip into space courtesy of Frankie’s rocket.

As you might expect, after the story Joe provides warm-up and wind-down exercise routines, the latter being yoga based – just right for little humans.

As you might expect too, Joe’s story is suffused with that Wicks’ energy throughout and it’s a book that families with young children can share over and over, enjoying not only the telling but Paul Howard’s splendid illustrations. These are full of life and capture so well the general up-beat nature of the characters as well as the times when somebody needs a bit of a boost.

If you like the sound of the Burpee Bears’ meals, then you might want to try the recipes at the end of the book.

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker
Michal Skibiński, illustrated by Ala Bankroft
Prestel

This moving, hauntingly beautiful book, set in and close to Warsaw, tells the story of the author around the outbreak of WW2.

Assigned a summer project by his schoolteacher, unaware that war is soon to come, eight year old Michal Skibiński writes a single sentence in his notebook every day. ’15.7.1939 I walked to the brook with my brother and our nanny. ‘ ’27.7.1939 I found a big caterpillar and brought it to our garden.’

Each sentence is given its own double spread with a painting – a natural landscape and unpeopled scenery – by Ala Bankroft. Readers truly feel they’re seeing things as Michael saw them: a church window behind a shadowed stone wall; a verdant woodland – green hues prevail in what is at first, an idyllic time.

After sequences of several spreads of Ala Bankroft’s awesome paintings, the pages of Michal’s notebook written in Polish are photographically reproduced, with translations below.

Little by little though, the boy’s observations start to include images of a war slowly approaching. Then comes a stark ‘The war began’ on 1st September followed five days later by, ‘They dropped a bomb near us.’

Adult readers know that awful things are coming, as Michal still somewhat innocently says on 14th September, ‘Warsaw is defending itself bravely.’ the wooded illustration for this now having an orange sky.

Throughout, the boy’s single line entries intensify the impact of the colours used in the paintings.
Indeed it’s only by reading the notes at the end of the book that we know that his 29.8.1939 ’Daddy came to visit me.’ was to be the last time Michal saw his father. He was a pilot and leader of a Polish bomber squadron, and lost his life in a plane crash on 9th September. This powerful resonant revelation brought a lump to my throat when I read it. Here we also learn that today, Michal Skibiński lives in a retirement home for priests and a photo on the book’s back inside cover underscores just how real this story is.

Yes a thing of beauty in its own right, but this unusual, splendidly designed book would also make a good starting point for a class theme on World War 2.

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Seahorses Are Sold Out
Katja Gehrmann and Constanze Spengler (translated by Shelley Tanaka)
Gecko Press

Mika is eager to go to the lake with her dad but he’s busy with his work telling her to go and play. However, quickly bored by playing alone she makes a deal with him: let me have a pet and I’ll let you work in peace. Her preoccupied Dad hands Mika his wallet and off she goes to the pet shop where she chooses a mouse. Not convinced that she should be making a purchase alone, the shop owner phones Mika’s Dad to check she’s allowed to buy the creature and Mika overhears Dad say, “Just sell the kid whatever, …”

Back home Mika has a fun time with her new acquisition but the following morning the mouse has gone missing. Dad suggests she go and seek help at the pet shop and while there Mika makes another purchase – a puppy. After all dogs have sensitive noses and can sniff out anything. The puppy does the job

but makes a mess in the bathroom. Off goes Mika again to the pet shop where she’s seen a seal – just the thing for solving the toilet problem and said seal can also act as a loo supervisor.

Several more trips to Pet Kingdom result in a penguin to teach the mouse how to swim in the bath,

a parrot to cheer up the penguin, grumpy on account of the TV being turned off, and a baby elephant to drown out the parrot’s squawking and chattering.

Totally oblivious to the menagerie his daughter has amassed,

Mika’s Dad finally completes his project and is ready for that promised lake visit. And the pets? They might enjoy it too …

This crazy concatenation caused by a bored but persistent child, her workaholic father and a pet-shop owner who knows when he’s on to a good thing, is presented in a sequence of hilarious double spreads by Katja Gehrmann, that lead towards a fun finale; and Mira’s delightfully droll first person narrative chronicling the events. Young listeners, pet lovers especially, will relish this.

My First Book of Microbes

My First Book of Microbes
Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón and Eduard Altarriba
Button Books

From the award-winning team whose previous titles include My First Book of Quantum Physics, this new STEM title explains the intriguing world of microorganisms – good and bad -to upper primary children and beyond.

They start by saying that these minute organisms come in all manner of different shapes and sizes, and using a rice grain for comparison show alongside it, a bacterium and a virus; then go on to explain the role of electron microscopy in observing such things as viruses.

Diving deeper into the hidden world of microbes, viruses, bacteria, fungi and more, they explain what these things are, where they are found, why many of them are vital to our very existence, as well as looking at the infections some microbes can cause, with a historical overview of the major epidemics and pandemics – including one we all know about, the devastating effects of COVID 19, which has its own double spread.
A number of topics are explored including algae, protozoa, phages,

archaea (only discovered in 1977), how viruses cause infections, the importance of hand washing, the role of antibiotics

and how some bacteria can develop a resistance to them, the way our immune system protects us, vaccines and their role in immunisation and the eradication of some diseases such as Smallpox.

A number of key scientists – Louis Pasteur (who pioneered modern microbiology), Robert Koch who discovered the bacteria causing tuberculosis and Edward Jenner developer of the first vaccine are featured, and the important role of teamwork in this area of science is discussed.

As always with this series, every spread is well-designed with a clear layout, diagrams and fact boxes that augment Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón’s thoroughly engaging text; and Eduard Altarriba’s colourful, sometimes playful illustrations help bring to life in an accessible manner, a topic that is sure to excite many youngsters, be they budding scientists or not.

The Fox and the Forest Fire

The Fox and the Forest Fire
Danny Popovici
Chronicle Books

We’ve heard a lot about the ravages of forest fires in various parts of the world in recent months and here debuting as a picture book author-illustrator, Danny Popovici, a former firefighter who recently had to flee from a forest fire in the region of his home, writes from the heart.

His story is narrated by a boy who has just moved from the city with his mum to a new home in the country. Initially he misses the hustle and bustle of city life, and on a hike with his mum, watched by a fox, declares country life is not for him. Little by little though the lad comes to appreciate his new surroundings as we (and the fox) are witness to his change of heart. “I feel welcome in my new home” he says.

Then one morning, there’s a strange quiet everywhere and in the distance the boy sights a tower of smoke rising up: the forest is on fire. He dashes back home to warn his mother and as the surroundings turn a fiery red, the two are forced to flee their home. The forest animals do likewise.

Eventually rain comes though it’s a long time before mother and child are allowed to return, but when they do, their house is no more. Happily however, safe and secure they begin to plan their new home, the boy stating ‘While things don’t look like they did before, the forest knows what to do after a fire.” and the final spread shows new beginnings for both displaced humans and forest creatures.

Told and illustrated with a sensitivity that comes from a deep understanding and love of nature, Popovici shows ( and after the story ends tells in a note ,) ‘naturally occurring’ forest fires can benefit a forest, while also emphasising the danger of those caused by careless humans, and global warming, as well as the need to protect our environment.

A book that offers a powerful starting point for talking about the affects of wildfires.

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers
Anna James, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi
Harper Collins Children’s Books

As this 4th instalment of the wonderful series about Tilly Pages and her book wanderings opens, her grandfather Archibald unwraps a package from Italy and discovers an Italian edition of The Wizard of Oz;.But after handling it, looking at the card within, with its strange symbol, he falls fast asleep and two weeks later, still hasn’t woken from his deep slumbers.

Meanwhile Milo, who lives on board the Sesquipedalian, his Uncle Horatio’s magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel both through Story and the real world, book wanders into The Railway Children, meeting its three child protagonists and getting involved in the action therein. This happens while the train is en route to the Archive, from where his Uncle, who has undertaken a dangerous new job, wants to get his hands on some special Records that are in the care of Artemis, the Archive’s Bibliognost.

It’s there that Milo too ‘borrows’ a scrapbook of particular interest to himself. He also learns that his Uncle needs assistance from Tilly in securing the particular book he seeks: next stop Pages & Co, London. There, Horatio discovers that the reason Tilly’s grandfather is still asleep is that he’s been poisoned, something he can hopefully remedy but only in return for Tilly being allowed to go with him on her own. Moreover, the task she’s to perform is exceedingly dangerous. Next thing Milo knows is that having handled a copy of The Wizard of Oz, his Uncle too falls asleep.

Time to blow that whistle and get things moving. Amost immediately both Tilly and Milo are embarking on a desperate race against time to save two poisoned people.

Can they work out what on earth and in biblio-world, is going on? First comes hot chocolate,
then a journey that takes them to the Emerald City where they meet Dorothy.

Piece by piece they begin to assemble the puzzle that takes them ever closer to the Alchemist. Next stop on their mission is Venice.

Talk about stories within stories within … the story Anna James has woven is utterly enthralling. I love the wonderful booky comments in the exchanges between Milo and Tilly “that’s why all reading is magical’’ … “the books we read help us choose who we want to be” … “I guess we’re all built of stories”.
If this high drama doesn’t create even more young bibliophiles, then, along with some toasted marshmallows, I’ll eat my copy of The Book Smugglers, but then of course I’ve already devoured its contents.

The Bear and her Book

The Bear and her Book
Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor
UCLAN Publishing

“The world is big and there’s much to see, / And a bear must go where she wants to be.” So says the curious bear one moonlit night and having decided to visit somewhere she can gaze at the starlit sea, she packs just one thing, her ‘Bear’s Big Book of Being Wise’ and off she goes.

Soon she reaches that sandy shore with its starlit sea and there she meets a crab with a claw that needs attention. More than willing to assist, Bear sits and refers to her special book wherein she finds just the cure needed to fix the crab’s claw.

Then, as the two sit looking into the star-spangled darkness bear decides she still needs to see more of the big wide world and bidding farewell heads off to the jungle.

Having prescribed a cure for the crocodile with a cold and enjoyed a swim, she sets off again.

In the desert she helps a lizard with a swollen eye

but now she yearns for somewhere without land. Our traveller finds a port, jumps on a ship and stows away in a box.

When unpacked, she discovers close by, a place with books galore and she gets a wonderful surprise. Actually not just one surprise …

Frances Tosdevin’s rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain, and Sophia O’Connor’s gorgeous scenes documenting bear’s travels and her deeds of kindness are sheer delight: a tribute to the power of books and a lovely demonstration of going where your heart takes you.

Where is the place you most want to be, I wonder.

I Am Courage

I Am Courage
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams

The sixth in the I Am series looks at the topic of inner strength and resilience, things we’ve all needed to draw on in the past eighteen months or so.

This book is presented by a child narrator on a bike ride. The ride (like life) is full of challenges, but despite being faced by such obstacles as a dark path, a bridge across a deep gorge, even meeting with a frightening dog,

the child believes in their own strength and resilience, drawing on it to keep going. This sometimes entails asking for support from other people and sometimes it means giving support to others. Resilience is shown first on the child’s T-shirt, then as a bonfire and then on flags that the narrator gives to others, each time taking the form of an iconic flame symbol that helps them to find their own inner strength. 

That friends are key in the whole process of keeping the flame alive no matter what, is shown in the final two spreads where we see the narrator and friends creating a large sail and sailing off on a raft with the symbol hoisted aloft.

Peter H. Reynolds uses different colour backgrounds, each one vibrant, in keeping with the range of feelings the characters show on their faces during the course of the journey.

After Susan Verde’s first person narrative, she offers an author’s note wherein she suggests some yoga poses and breathing techniques that should help youngsters in affirming the brave, confident and courageous humans that they are.

Rita Wants a Witch

Rita Wants a Witch
Máire Zepf and Mr Ando
Graffeg

Rita is a small girl with a very big imagination and she uses it to ponder the possibilities of having a witch in the family. The witch she desires is of the wild sort and thus, instead of sending her off to bed she’d allow the child to whizz around all night on a broomstick; no household chores would be required, only her assistance with spell brewing. But said witch would never ever do mean spells, only ones like this –

she’d never give her bad dreams or scare off her pals.

What though if on the other hand, this witch turned out to be inept at tending to a poorly Rita, a meanie who wanted her apprentice to follow her unpleasant example, and whose cooking was decidedly unappetising.

There’s absolutely no knowing what might transpire if such a witch came into Rita’s life.

Better perhaps to have another think, toss out those notions of magic potions and settle for something much safer …

In addition to being a fun book for sharing with foundation stage children around Halloween time, this is a story with a maternal theme that shows just how much mums really do for their little ones. The vividness of Rita’s imagination that emerges in Máire Zepf’s first person narrative is mirrored in Mr Ando, aka Andrew Whitson’s humorous, sometimes mock scary scenes of witchy prospects for which he uses suitably bright garish hues.

Billie Swift Takes Flight

Billie Swift Takes Flight
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

This story is set in 1942 and yes World War 2 is a period fairly often used in children’s fiction. but this is something altogether different.

Twelve-year old Billie Swift would much rather spend time in the company of her mum’s chickens than with other humans. She finds school boring, though she’s bright and a quick learner with an avid interest in planes.

One day when out cycling with her favourite chicken Susan, Billie suddenly sees a Spitfire crash in a field. Knowing better than to go close up and investigate in case of fire, she dashes home thinking to herself, “That is the second time you’ve murdered someone” and she’s not proud of herself. However she remains concerned about the fate of the pilot as well as her brother’s bike (which she needs to retrieve); but when she returns to the site, there’s no sign of the plane.

Before long she’s managed – not entirely honestly – to become a member of the ATA cadets, meeting lots of pilots – men and women – who against the odds, fly planes from factories to the front lines; and she too learns to fly. At the airfield she meets all kinds of people including the person she thinks was piloting the ‘crashed’ spitfire whom she begins to suspect is a Nazi spy.

On a mission to find out the truth and to clear her friend Nancy’s name,(accused of smuggling)) Billie finds herself in increasing danger and towards the end of the story there are some very frightening moments that left me with my heart in my mouth.

Truly inspiring, full of the spirit of the time and with so many real life people who were the inspiration for Iszi Lawrence’s characters, this is a book that brilliantly evokes a part of history where relatively little of the fictional focus has been on women. It helps to bring their contribution to the notice of today’s readers, many of whom won’t be much younger than Billie herself.

Definitely a book I recommend for anyone learning about WW2 at school, either as a class read aloud or a solo read; and for home reading by children who love an exciting tale.

I’m Sticking With You Too

I’m Sticking With You Too
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Having delighted us with I’m Sticking With You, Bear and Squirrel are back and if possible, they’re even more thick as thieves than when last we saw them.

Enter Chicken with a large case asking politely to partake of their seemingly idyllic lifestyle. An immediate rebuffal by Bear, backed up Squirrel doesn’t deter the feathered one, who continues pleading while also unpacking that case and bringing out and playing assorted musical instruments. Sadly however Bear tells her in no uncertain terms, with support from his bestie …

and the pair depart leaving Chicken to pack up her gear and move on.

While waiting for a cab she notices a poster that seems to offer just what she desires and hopes high, off she goes …

Little does she know what schemes are afoot but fortunately for her those two naysayers suddenly get wind of what might be about to happen. Could it be that after all, a change of heart is forthcoming? Perhaps that tight twosome might just become even better if they accept a third into their groovy fun-loving band.

Smriti’s bouncy rhyming narrative scans well and with its three distinct voices, is huge fun to read aloud. Young listeners will be on the edge of their seats as that taxi drives off into the dark heading Chicken knows not where, and will definitely delight in what comes thereafter.

Steve Small’s illustrations are splendidly expressive, alternating between the poignant and the comical. The way he uses the white space intensifies the focus on the characters; while the use of a black background on some of the latter spreads heightens the dramatic impact.

Most definitely a book that youngsters will want to stick with, demanding frequent repeat performances too.

The Boy Behind the Wall

The Boy Behind the Wall
Maximillian Jones
Welbeck Children’s Books

This story is the launch book for Welbeck Flame, a new fiction imprint of Welbeck Children’s and it’s published using the fictional author name Maximillian Jones (the copyright is Tibor Jones Studio Ltd).
It’s a fantastic read, set in Berlin in the 1960s with two main boy protagonists: Harry Rogers, son of an American diplomat who has recently moved with his parents to West Berlin; and Jakob Fiedler, the ‘adopted’ son of the very strict Hans Eberhardt, a powerful, high ranking Stasi officer and his wife Margot.

Shortly after moving to Berlin, Harry witnesses the shooting of a boy trying to escape over the Wall into the West.

Not long after he floats a helium balloon with a message attached and it’s found by Jakob who seizes the chance to reach out to him asking for help to find his real mother who is somewhere in the West. At first Harry had thought the message was blank but it smelled of lemon and then he remembers something he’s seen in a spy comic given to him by Dieter, owner of a comic-book store he visits as often as he can.

The boys continue their correspondence cleverly making it look as though they’re just two pen friends in order to get their letters past the watchful authorities. At the same time both Harry and Jakob have issues with their fathers in particular both of whom are challengingly manipulative and Harry’s father appears to be hiding something from his wife and son. In the meantime Jakob has made friends with Dana, a girl who introduces him to her musical group.

Both Harry and Jakob realise that with The Wall as the main obstacle, a hidden tunnel is the only possible way out. However, time is running out with the Stasi on their trail seemingly with eyes everywhere. With an atmosphere of fear and distrust all around, whom can they really trust? Each other? Parents? Other ‘friends’?

Full of tense moments, this is a riveting page-turner about a part of recent of history not often visited in children’s fiction. This adult reviewer couldn’t put it down.

Inside Cat

Inside Cat
Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books

Brilliantly playful is Brendan Wenzel’s Inside Cat wherein rather than the cat being an object viewed by other creatures as in They All Saw a Cat, this cat is the subject doing the looking.

Readers share with said cat its view of the outside world through all kinds and shapes of windows. No matter where the moggy wanders, or the condition of the window(s) there’s something of note be it small or large upon which to fix its gaze and wonder – downward, upward or side by side.

There is SO much to behold, to watch – fluffy rats, roaring flies …

Consequently inside, Cat is a veritable fount of knowledge with all this information amassed from various vantage points.

But … then comes a startling surprise. It’s certainly one for the protagonist but readers faced with that final spread will probably wonder what took our feline friend so long to widen its horizons …

The story is told through a seemingly simple, carefully considered rhythmic, rhyming text and a sequence of brilliantly constructed, equally carefully considered mixed media illustrations that demonstrate how our own experience and our emotions shape our view of the world and the personal narrative we construct.

Assuredly this is one of those books that readers will want to return to over and over, with the possibility of new discoveries emerging on each reading. Equally it’s a wonderful starting point for children’s own creativity or a community of enquiry discussion.

Albert and the Wind

Albert and the Wind
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke
Graffeg

This is a playful story about Albert, a tortoise who struggles to get his message of thanks across to the various creatures that come to his aid, rescuing items of his meal that are blown away by the swooshing wind.

First to help is a bee that proffers the leaf he’s just bumped into on the wing, Albert responds thus, “To make sure it does not blow away again, I am going to sit on it.” Before he can add his words of thanks, the bee has buzzed off.

Other helpers are in turn, a spider, a snail and a worm,

followed by a whole host of other creatures from all over the garden, some of which bring items that hadn’t been part of Albert’s meal.

The wind continues to blow and Albert and his food items are reunited, little by little until the whole meal is ready and waiting for eating.

However, Albert is still concerned that he’s not been able to show any of his helpers how grateful he is. Can he find a way to deliver his words of thanks to everyone at the same time? Ingeniously yes, thanks to the last few items left unconsumed …

This amusing tale ends with a blast that will delight young listeners and I suspect, adult sharers. With a factual page about Albert and other tortoises, and Eoin Clarke’s quirkily humorous, larger than life illustrations of the various helper minibeasts, as well as the protagonist, this is a book that readers aloud will enjoy giving voice to as much as listeners will enjoy hearing it.

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Walker Books

Delectably dark, this is the second classic fairy tale to which, with his rhyming magical touch, poet Joseph Coelho gives a new spin.

Here we meet young animal lover and stuffer of animal skins, taxidermist Bryony, and a King – King of all Mythica who, thanks to her father’s boasting of her supreme skills, carries Bryony away to his palace where he wants her to bring creatures back to life. The first is a wolf brought to her room by one Yeltsin Thorogood who announces himself as the Tongue of the King.

This is the first of three tasks – impossible ones – that the King issues to Bryony. There then appears through a door within a door, a hairy child-sized creature smiling mischievously and offering to help her. However his assistance doesn’t come without cost.

Not then, nor for the next two tasks, the first involving a polar bear,

the second of which is more unthinkable than ever; and guessing the creature’s name is the price demanded for this.

In the meantime though Bryony will achieve much as queen of a realm where animals and humans live side by side harmoniously; but then back comes the little creature, come to collect his happiness …

Totally brilliant, Joseph has seamlessly stitched together this tale with its two elements, Frankenstein and gold-spinning Rumpelstiltskin: I especially love that no matter what, Bryony stands up for what she believes, forcing the King to produce a vegan menu, as well as calling him a monster at one point. Superb too, at every turn of the page, are Freya Hartas’ black and white illustrations.

Lovers of fairytales, fractured and otherwise, will adore this book.

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet
James Carter and Alisa Kosareva
Little Tiger

‘Beneath our feet / way deep and down / are beasts asleep / in the cold, dark ground … / They’re skeletons now … they’re fossils, bones. / They’re silent, still; / in a prison of stone.’
Poet James Carter then invites us to dig down deep, visit the various layers of the Earth while also being a time traveller able to meet all kinds of exciting creatures on our prehistoric adventure.

First come the trilobites, erstwhile crawlers on the ocean floor. Next come the scary-looking pointy-toothed metoposaurus, a fish-eater somewhat resembling a crocodile. None the less, I wouldn’t fancy a face-to-face encounter. More to my liking is the Meganeuropsis, the biggest ever bug, buzzing around – an early giant dragonfly this.

Next are the dinosaurs be they the herbivores such as Diplodocus; the bones crunchers such as T.Rex and the winged Archaeopteryx that may have been able to take to the air on its feathery appendages.
Moving north to chilly climes of everlasting winter lived herds of wooly mammoths with heir super-thick coats and ginormous tusks.

All these beasties have become extinct, wiped out on account of earthquakes, floods, disease, comets maybe, or even the poisonous lava of volcanoes.

All this information has been unearthed thanks to the work of palaeontologists investigating fossil evidence and now as James reminds us in the final part of his rhyming narrative, we can see some of these fossils in a museum; or perhaps find our own by taking a spade and digging deep.

The last spread is a kind of visual timeline of our prehistoric adventure showing all the creatures mentioned in the text.

The countless young dinosaur lovers will relish this time-travelling foray into Earth’s ancient past with James’ lyrical descriptions that really bring the creatures back to life, and illustrations by Alisa Kosareva, whose magical, dramatic scenes of all those mentioned in the text and more, are superbly imagined.

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle
Jordan Kopy, illustrated by Chris Jevons
Walker Books

Ten year old Theodora Hendrix the only human resident of the Monstrous League of Monsters )MLM) mansion returns in a second funny adventure that is surely bound to lead her into deadly danger. At present Theodora loves her life with her fiendish family and is pretty certain she can cope with anything; but can she handle an Egyptian-themed adventure. She thinks so until that is, she encounters the nasty Inspector Shelley and her even nastier pet rat. 

(Mary) Shelley and Ratsputin have come to spy on the Monstrous League of Monsters, and are hell bent on shutting them down for an alleged breaching of the MLM charter – punishable by banishment to one of the darkest, dankest prisons in Transylvania or being sent to live with humans, perhaps.

Having demanded that the temperature of their room doesn’t go above four degrees Celsius, the foul pair prowl through the mansion, examining everything for evidence of rule-breaking. To have any hope of success, and prevent Inspector Shelley from becoming the new head of the London MLM, Theodora must enlist the help of her loyal friend and classmate Dexter Adebola (who has also had some difficulties with school). They have to stop her finding the Mummy’s true name and thus gaining control of her mind and that means tracking all her movements. Then Theodora makes a discovery of her own in The Ancient Curse Breaking Room: a cursed scarab beetle. 

This she must destroy urgently and without attracting the inspector’s attention.

Then comes news that the school has been chosen to host upcoming Halloween celebrations; can they get rid of the inspector by then? With the friendship between Dexter and Theodora strengthening in this story, they form an unlikely alliance with trouble-making, bullying Billy; this they do in what they term S.R.R.T. (Stop Rumple’s Reign of Terror) – Rumple being the ghastly, fun-hating headteacher of Appleton Primary who does her utmost to make the children’s lives a misery.

What do Theodora’s torat cards have to say about all this? Will good triumph over evil? That’s the question throughout.

With their superb characterisation and quirky amalgam of horror and humour, team Jordan Kopy and Chris Jevons have another winner here.

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief / Skeleton Keys: The Wild Imaginings of Stanley Strange

These two books both from Little Tiger imprint Stripes Publishing are ideal for reading in these dark evenings – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief
Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

The second rhyming story starring Trixie and Midnight, her black moggy born at the stroke of midnight with a nose for trouble, along with Trixie’s Dad and her Nan. Once again the lovable kitten brings a sparkle of mischievous magical mayhem to a tale that is pitch perfect for youngsters at that stage between picture books and assured independent reading.

It all begins with a tampering with time by the moggy to allow more minutes together before Trixie has to leave for school. Time during which both Trixie and Midnight look in the mirror with surprising results that start a concatenation of chaos all through the house, as left to her own devices, Midnight unleashes double the trouble when a breakage occurs.

Is there any chance that Nan, just off to her yoga class – so she thinks – can step in and curtail the pandemonium,

perhaps even putting paid to that reflection’s rioting and placing it back where it ought to be?
Sparkling with excitement and humour, made even more so by Elissa Elwick’s wonderfully expressive illustrations of the drama, this tale is irresistible.

Skeleton Keys: The Wild Imaginings of Stanley Strange
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

The spooky narrator Skeleton Keys – he of the door-opening ‘fantabulant fingers’ is ready to regale readers with the fifth of his darkly comic ‘tall-but-true’ tales. This one features young unimaginary Lucky and when we first encounter him, he’s decidedly chilly and wandering alone on a hillside looking for his friend Stanley who has unaccountably disappeared. So desperate is Lucky that he’s even resorting to asking sheep if they’ve seen his pal, the actual human that imagined him.

Soon though, Skeleton Keys and his partner in problem-solving, Daisy discover Lucky and they’re determined to reunite the small creature with his human imaginer. The hunt is on but where can the vanished Stanley be?

Lucky mentions The Door to Nowhere as a place Stanley wanted too see and that sparks something in the mind of Skeleton Keys. Their search takes them first to said door and thence into the Kingdom – a hidden world for unimaginaries, the first rule of the place being ‘no human allowed’. So what in Kingdom’s name is Stanley doing thinking of entering. And what about Daisy? Nevertheless, SK is determined and in they go.

It’s a totally weird place full of unimaginaries brought there by SK himself – ‘a haven he calls it, ‘ a sort of retirement home for unimaginary friends.’ They scour the streets encountering trolls and other weird things before visiting Lady Byrd, in the hope she can help. Hmm. Maybe but maybe not.

The next encounter is with a dreadful dinosaur but once that’s been ‘disappeared’ there are robots on the rampage. YIKES! When is this all going to end – hopefully before the whole place becomes nothing but heaps of rubble. Surely we must all be dreaming – or maybe just somebody is …

Brilliantly imagined by author and illustrator, this is perfect reading for the longer evenings that are now upon us; yes it’s bursting with wild happenings but at the heart of the tale lies friendship, and finding your place.

It’s Mine!

It’s Mine!
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

In Emma’s new book, the ‘thing’ referred to, shown atop a hill is a mystery spherical object. Mouse is first to come upon it and deciding it can be his next meal, carts it away in his wheelbarrow claiming, “That fruit … is mighty fine. … That fruit … is mine, all mine!”

However, Frog, in need of a new wheel for his tricycle, spies the thing,

pays a call on Mouse hoping to procure the object for himself and tells him, ‘That wheel, is mine, all mine!’


Fox sees it as just the perfect new ball for a game of footie

and popping up near Frog, proceeds to claim ownership.

Then there’s Bear in need of a new chair, who decides Fox has the ideal item and says so, taking it off to use as a sit-upon.

So there we have four creatures, each strongly asserting, “It’s MINE!”.

Suddenly the thing gives a wobble, a crack, a crunch and …

Someone else is waiting in the wings to claim ownership but who is it? Well ,that would be to spoil the ending; let’s merely say that Mouse, Frog, Fox and Bear are more than happy to concede.

With its surprise ending, highly effective simple repetitive text, deliciously droll illustrations and die-cut circles ( not the work of Emma’s Nibbles character I hasten to add, they’re too regular for that) on alternate spreads, this is enormous fun to share in a story time session with young children, as well as for beginning readers to try themselves.

Wild Animal Board Books

A Cub Story
Kristen Tracy, illustrated by Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

The titular bear cub acts as narrator in this board book taking us through a year of its life showing readers its features, sharing its activities – sitting still in a favourite springtime spot by a waterfall being one; rolling downhill right into blackberry bushes is the favourite summer pastime and come autumn fishing is THE thing to do and that takes him through to the winter when it’s time to snuggle with family in their den for a long sleep. As each season starts, the cub compares his attributes with those of other creatures in the location: he eats a lot compared with a hedgehog

but little compared to a moose. In the meadow he’s much slower than the elk whereas by the pond, he moves super fast leaving the snails far behind.

With Kristen Tracy’s playful text that introduces positional vocabulary and lots of words relating to the natural world and Alison Farrell’s engaging mixed media scenes that have just the right amount of gently humorous details, this is a delightful book to share with the very young.

Wake Up
Pau Morgan
Little Tiger

This sweet addition to the little nature series features four animals that are or have been hibernating and are now emerging from sleep ready to eat and perhaps to play. We meet dormice, a bear and her cubs, a pair of lemurs

and finally, a tortoise and there’s a final ’Do you know any other animals that hibernate?’

I really like this series with its grainy card pages, peep-holes and Pau Morgan’s beautifully coloured, textured scenes of the creatures; like others in the series, it’s great for sharing and effortlessly educative.

Who Said Twit Twoo?
Yi-Hsuan Wu
Little Tiger

Toddlers are introduced to eleven different creatures as they turn the pages and look beneath the flaps to discover the answers to the Who said … followed by a sound – ‘Twit twoo!’ for instance, the question being asked by a sleepy squirrel who continues opposite ‘Was it Fox?’ with the correct answer, ‘No, it was Owl!’ being given beneath the flap.
The next three spreads are similarly presented with ‘Aaaooh!’, ‘Grrr!’, ‘Squeak!’ as the creature noises to identify

and the final spread has a shiny mirror opposite which some of the animals ask, ‘What do you say?’
Lots of fun learning potential herein.

Winnie And Wilbur:Winnie’s Best Friend / Barkus:The Most Fun

Favourite characters return in these two books:

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

After more than thirty years during which witch Winnie ’s original fans have likely introduced her to a new generation, we have a story that takes us right back to the time when she met her constant and faithful black moggy companion, Wilbur.

But even that’s getting a bit ahead of this story that starts with the newly qualified witch living in that black house with which we’re now so familiar, but she’s all alone until that is, she decides to invite her three sisters to come and stay to help. They certainly alleviate her loneliness but it’s not long before sisterly squabbles begin, soon followed by cat fights. Enough is enough for Winnie so off they go but then she’s lonely once again.

A wave of her wand results in a parrot but that’s a short-lived visitor and her next attempt brings forth a little dragon though obviously with it comes danger of the fiery kind.

Will Winnie ever find an ideal companion to share her home and her life? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one …

Delivered with their characteristic verve and humour, team Thomas and Paul have conjured forth another magical Winnie and Wilbur story that will delight readers young and not so young.

Barkus: The Most Fun
Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

The lively, lovable dog, Barkus, is back in a third sequence of four lively, entertaining episodes, along with his human family – the child narrator, her mum and dad plus little moggy, Baby.

In the first story, the family set off for a camping trip leaving Baby in the safe care of Miss Daley, or so they think. However, on arrival at the camp site it’s revealed that Barkus has been harbouring a secret – a tiny feline one – and to the surprise of the rest of the family, the stowaway appears to enjoy camping just as much as all the others.

The second episode – a springtime one – sees the entire family visiting grandfather Jess on his farm. Barkus seems drawn to the cows and they to him and is especially happy when a baby calf is born to Dora.

Autumn is a special time for Barkus on account of the fun he can have with the fallen leaves; he also steals the show at the annual parade.

The final adventure has a chilly, wintry feel as the family take a trip to their cabin for some skiing but a big storm keeps them snuggled up indoors enjoying some storytelling.

With its mix of humorous colour illustrations and engaging text this is just right for readers just starting to fly solo.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Super Spy / Sky

These are both additions to popular, established series: thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Super Spy
Brenda Gurr
New Frontier Publishing

With cooking programmes on TV as popular as ever, I’m sure there are many young aspiring Zinnia Jakes, aka Zoe who will relish this the third in the series about baking and the challenges it presents to nine-year-old Zoe, her best friend Addie, her Aunt Jam a musician, and Coco the seemingly magical cat that appears at specific times, some of which are exceedingly inconvenient.

In this story we find Zoe coping with the annoying shenanigans of the moggy especially when it invades lessons, the forthcoming school sleepover for Year 4 and the challenge of making a fabulous spy-themed Cake for the Parents’ Association party this coming weekend.

On receiving the cake request sent as usual to Zinnia Jakes, Zoe’s mind immediately goes into over-drive; but how will she manage delivering a cake in secret without revealing the identity of Zinna Jakes, especially as Aunt Jam will be otherwise engaged? Perhaps her dad might help as he’s going to be at home on the night of the sleepover, so he tells Zoe.

First though Zoe has to decide on a design for the cake and with suggestions from Jam, Addie, not to mention Coco, she finally settles on a combination of their ideas.

However, things begin to go downhill when she received news from her dad -he’s been delayed; and then she overhears one of the organiser’s mention of spy traps – supposed to be part of the fun but not of course for Zinnia. Is her identity after all, destined to be discovered?

Full of surprises, this tale of teamwork and friendship, determination and resilience will go down especially well with younger readers of chapter books; it would also make a good, short read-aloud for KS1 classes. Don’t miss the recipe for a ‘hidden secret cake’ at the end of the story.

Sky
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

This is the latest in the author’s Winter Animal series that have a time slip and a creature linking the two periods.

When Lara and her parents arrive in the Scottish Highlands to spend the Christmas holidays with her grandparents, she’s surprised when Grandad tells her of a snowy owl he’s seen. Then both Lara and Grandad spot her again and despite the snow that’s fallen overnight, Lara insists on going out the next day in the hope of seeing the bird again; and see Sky as she names the white bird, she does. It leads her all the way to the Big House before disappearing but Lara notices that the Christmas tree in its window has real candles burning brightly.

The following morning, Lara is drawn back to the house and as she approaches, there at the edge of the driveway, she comes upon a sobbing girl in a long white dress lying on the snowy ground.

A girl from another era who says her name is Amelia and is surprised that Lara is dressed in, as she calls her trousers and jacket, ‘boys’ clothes’. Lara in turn is amazed at Amelia’s ‘old-fashioned, fancy clothes’ especially her underwear that she sees when Amelia takes her into her bedroom in the big house. Now Lara is convinced that, thanks to that magical owl, she’s gone back in time.

With lots of lovely black-and-white illustrations by Jo Anne Davies, this is a gorgeous wintry tale that primary readers, especially animal lovers will adore, either around Christmas, or really, at any time.

Britannica First Big Book of Why

Britannica First Big Book of Why
Sally Symes and Stephanie Warren, illustrated by Kate Slater
Britannica Books (What on Earth Publishing)

Children are forever asking ‘why’ questions and adults quite often scratch their heads to give appropriate answers; now comes this jumbo book that should help both questioners and responders. It contains a lot of information and seemingly being aimed at slightly younger children than usual, with a single question per spread, is far less overwhelming than is often the case.

Organised into eight sections: minibeasts, pets, wild animals, the body, food, how stuff works, earth and finally, space, each part has fourteen questions of the kind youngsters might well ask. In addition to the question, every spread has a paragraph of text in response, accompanied by either a ‘wacky fact’ or a ‘who knows?’ bubble, one or two large illustrations – some are photographs, others are bold bright art work by Kate Slater.

And, each section concludes with a “Wow! What’s that?’ spread containing half a dozen coloured images for children to match with their names from the six listed.

Back mattter comprises a comprehensive glossary and index, source notes in case readers want to know more about a topic, as well as a ‘meet the Why team’ page and the answers to the matching game.

So, if you know a child who might ask such questions as ‘Why do flies like poo?; ‘why do frogs croak?’; ‘why does music make me want to dance?;

‘why do cakes puff up in the oven?’;

‘why don’t skyscrapers fall over?; or perhaps ‘Why does Saturn have rings?’ then you definitely need to keep a copy of this book to hand, be that at home or in your KS1 classroom. It will also go down well with slightly older, visual learners.

Count

Count
Melvin Burgess, illustrated by Chris Mould
Andersen Press

This is award winning author Melvin Burgess’s first book for younger readers and what a hoot of a story it is.

Meet Brandon an inveterate boaster: strongest in his class, super at soccer, tops in every subject in class, in fact, according to him, he’s the best at everything. It’s only his younger sister who believes his claims, and his teacher, while approving of his having a wonderful imagination, points out that continuing with such wild pretences will result in people not accepting a word he says.

Then to go one (actually many many) better than his best pal Waris, Brandon announces that he can count to – wait for it – TEN MILLION!

Off he goes and to his surprise, once he starts counting he finds himself totally besotted with numbers, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else.

Even being sent to the headteacher, Miss Hexx who he flatly refuses to obey when she tells him to stop counting. A special staff meeting is called but oddly quite a few of the teachers actually find Brandon’s counting ‘rather beautiful’ or similar. The teacher part of me fell about to read Mr Wyke’s comment: “This is a school. You’re supposed to learn how to do things – you’re not supposed to actually start doing them yourself until you’re grown up.”

Calculations are made and the boy discovers that to reach his goal will take a whole year, so what about Christmas, which would involve his entire family?

Will this love affair between Brandon and numbers ever stop? Assuredly it’s having an effect on everyone at school and the boy’s fame is spreading far and wide.

Nobody quite knows what will happen next …

Brilliantly anarchic and pricelessly funny – made even more so by Chris Mould’s comical black-and-white illustrations, I envisage countless children reading this in a single sitting eager to know how the story ends; all I’ll say is that they’re in for a surprise. It would also make a smashing class read aloud, so long as KS2 teachers aren’t worried about putting ideas into the heads of their charges.

More for primary age readers please Melvin.

You Can!

You Can!
Alexandra Stick and Steve Antony
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book that began with children: those children from diverse backgrounds who responded to Alexandra Strickland’s question what they would say to their younger selves to inspire, reassure and enthuse them about the future. This wonderful book with Steve’s brilliantly inclusive illustrations using fourteen child characters, represents their answers.

We then follow these characters as they grow from babies (on the front endpapers), to toddlers, to young children, to older children and finally, into young adults (on the back endpapers). The cast of characters truly is diverse, as their wide variety of interests, identities, friendships and futures develop as readers turn the pages.

It’s definitely no holds barred: you can be anything you want, do anything you want (including ‘love a good picture book whatever your age’) hurrah! –

safe in the knowledge that it’s fine to be sad or angry, to talk about your feelings and discover what makes you happy.

Equally, it’s important to have big dreams and pursue them using whatever path it takes, be a leader or a follower, not forgetting to make time for playfulness and silliness along the way.

It’s important to realise that those fears of yesterday will be today’s challenges and tomorrow’s achievements, practice can be fun and learning should be enjoyable.

We see that seemingly small individual actions can inspire other people and together all those small somethings can and do make a difference. Equally though everybody has rights.

Not everybody needs to do things in the same way, but all honest ways must be equally valid: doing something differently is doing it nonetheless.

On this journey through life, it’s crucial to know that making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process; it’s important too, that you forgive yourself as well as others, and ask adults for help if you need. Be yourself, for yourself, determined, supportive, an individual who doesn’t allow others to categorise you, is kind and empathetic: self-belief is key probably now more than ever.

Hugely empowering and inspiring, this a book that needs to be in every home and classroom. Children and adults will love the gentle humour and playfulness in Steve’s illustrations: each spread deserves close study.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Margarita Kukhtina
Nosy Crow

If you’re looking for a beautifully designed gift edition of this Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, look no further than award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling with its gorgeous art work by Margarita Kukhtina.

I loved the story as a child and have continued to do so since; I’m sure this version will create a new generation of readers equally fond of the tale of Indian born Mary Lennox who is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in England, to be brought up in Misselthwaite Manor, a disquietingly gloomy building.
There she meets housekeeper Mrs Medlock

and the kindly servant, Martha. There is a huge culture shock for the spoiled girl who’s more than a little angry at the situation she now finds herself in. She’s lonely too though, until she discovers a walled garden that has been kept secret for years.

In that garden, she meets Ben Weatherstaff, an elderly gardener and his friend Mr Robin. Later she unearths the key and with it unlocks the wonder that lies beyond the garden walls.

First though she finds the gentle Dickon who talks to animals and birds and the sickly Colin: through them she also discovers that making friends like these two can be every bit as life-enhancing as a magical garden.

With Geraldine McCaughrean’s supreme story-telling skill and totally captivating illustrations as rich as the text, this tale of light and darkness is destined to be the go-to way to introduce the story to children of today.

Watch Out Wolf! There’s a Baddie in Your Book

Watch Out Wolf! There’s a Baddie in Your Book
Jude Evans and Lucy Semple
Little Tiger

Who is lurking near the enchanted Wood, with a shadowy shadow, pointy ears, a furry tail and sharp claws? No doubt you’ve guessed correctly, but the rabbits aren’t in the least bothered by that presence; indeed they beg his help informing him, “There’s a beastie in our book.”

The ursine creature scoffs , telling the rabbits that he’s the only beastie in this book. A lot of chattering, shouting, huffing, puffing and stomping ensues resulting in a certain angry animal breaking a book and in so doing getting well and truly stuck. Temporarily only though, thanks to the rabbits forcefully shoving him out, whereupon he stomps off to persecute the three little pigs. You’ll know the threat he issues to them, but all they do is ask for some assistance with house construction.

Mr W. is truly amazed at what he sees on the construction site

but continues to maintain that he is the only big beastie around, and definitely the sole beastie in his book.

Off he thunders, next stop Granny’s cottage, where she too is unfazed by the visitor but upset by the damage that’s been done to her precious vegetable patch. Determined to procure his help, Granny grabs the creature’s tail and he ends up assisting her with several tasks after which he’s rewarded with some refreshments.

Then a realisation dawns upon our Wolf: he’s definitely no hero, and off he dashes hotly pursued by Granny, the pigs et al muttering about a beastie to himself as he stomps over a rickety bridge and takes a tumble riverwards. OOPS! The troll is sniffing the air as he too talks of – well you and our lupine friend know what. Off storms the latter to eject him from his book and soon finds himself entering a rather spooky cave.

Now what on earth, and in storybook land, could be inside?

With a scattering of peep-holes, flaps and fold-outs, Lucy Semple’s fun-filled, dramatic scenes accompany Jude Evans’ equally dramatic telling that’s full of humour, fairytale frolics and has a wonderful final twist.

Time to Move South for Winter

Time to Move South for Winter
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

This gorgeously illustrated book follows the migratory journey of a tiny Arctic tern from the chilly northern climes to a warmer location in the south where it will spend the winter.

During this flight we also encounter several other creatures also moving south for winter. The first are whales, then as the tern flies over land it follows the tracks of caribou also seeking a warmer place. Also taking flight is a flock of geese riding the wind on their giant wings, wanting to find a summery lake location.

Next, as it flies over the coast the tern sees a turtle looking for jellyfish and summer in the ocean

and moving upwards once more the tiny tern finds herself surrounded by Monarch butterflies on the move to their mountain forest destination in Mexico. After a rest the tern takes flight eventually sighting a colony of fellow black cap terns that have also moved south for the winter and are now nesting. Time at last for our tiny winged traveller to rest in the sun on the shore of the Antarctic for the next few months before returning to start her own family back in the north.

With additional factual information at the end of the lyrical main text, map and Jenny Lovlie’s gorgeous textured, detailed illustrations, this is a lovely narrative nonfiction book to share with young listeners at home or school.

Ratty’s Big Adventure

Ratty’s Big Adventure
Lara Hawthorne
Big Picture Press

In the rainforests of Papua New Guinea is Mount Bosavi, the collapsed cone of a volcano that hasn’t erupted for more than 200, 000 years. This is the setting for Lara Hawthorne’s book which is a flawless fusion of fact and fiction and the home of Ratty, a giant woolly rat and one of the biggest creatures residing in the volcano.

Ratty lives a peaceful slow-paced life until one day while climbing up to the top of a tree to procure a juicy-looking fruit he sees before him the most awesome sight he’s ever set eyes on: the world beyond his crater where there surely must be more delectable fruits, sweeter-singing birds and larger, brighter, better dancing insects.

Eschewing the invitation of his friends to join their games Ratty hurries off in search of more interesting playmates. Following the stream to the wall of the crater, he finds himself swept into a dark cave and eventually out of the crater, leaving the warning echoes of his friends behind. Finding himself in a fast flowing river, Ratty clings to a piece of floating bark as he passes fruit trees, birds and insects not very different from those in the crater.

Eventually Ratty finds himself face to face with the biggest creature he’s ever seen: a huge, sharp-toothed, almost overly friendly animal that invites the traveller to join her for dinner.

At this point Ratty realises that after all, it’s a case of east, west, home’s best; assuredly there’s no place quite like his own. Back he goes but what will he say to his friends?

This gorgeously illustrated story was inspired by recent scientific breakthroughs at Mount Bosavi, in which over 40 new species of flora and fauna including amazing butterflies and exotic birds, were identified. many of which are included in Lara’s superbly detailed scenes.

Additional factual spreads at the end give details of the Bosavi woolly rat, a pictorial map of the researchers’ journey and ‘did you spot … ? showing more than ten of Mount Bosavi’s unique animals.

The richness and diversity of life are something we all should celebrate and this book will encourage young listeners and readers to do just that as they follow Ratty’s journey, which outlines the journey of the team of researchers that found their way into the volcano.

The Stardust That Made Us

The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía
Big Picture Press

Written by Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and illustrated in Ximo Abadía’s show-stopping surreal style artwork, this visual exploration of chemistry is the third STEM collaboration by this pair.

Despite chemistry being one of my a-level subjects I was totally bored most of the time and certainly never really got to grips with the periodic table: I certainly could have done with this book back then: the author’s explanations and the visuals really bring the elements and that table to life. I love the way he defines them as ‘ingredients’ in nature’s ‘unseen cookbook full of recipes for making everything …’ from fish to fingernails.’ Now that’s the way to get children intrigued. These ingredients aka chemical elements are currently 118 in number, some of which occur in nature, others – the synthetic ones -26 we read, were made by scientists during experiments.

Nor did anyone ever tell me that the inventor of those bunsen burners we used in so many lessons were invented by Bunsen the German scientist who also discovered two alkaline metals as well as a spectroscope. This information is part of the ‘alkali metals’ spread on which we also read that caesium, one of the elements Bunsen discovered is important in our everyday lives: it plays a crucial role in GPS satellites, and caesium clocks are used in our mobile phones.

All this is getting a bit ahead of things though. The very earliest element came into existence when the Big Bang occurred almost 14 billions years ago, followed very quickly on account the fusion process, by helium, lithium and beryllium.

No matter which spread you read, you’ll surely find something exciting and much of the information is presented with a gentle humour that makes it all the more enjoyable. I laughed at the paragraph about making the synthetic elements being incredibly difficult – ‘Aiming the particles at the target is a hard thing to get right – a bit like trying to throw marshmallows into someone’s mouth.’

Despite the significant part women played in the discovery of elements, only two are named after women, one being curium (after Marie Curie and her husband), the other meitnerium named after Lise Meitner.

This enormously engaging book is an excellent one to give to older primary children and beyond; it will surely inspire them, and who knows where their enthusiasm might lead – perhaps one of them will add a new element to the five heavy elements discovered in the last 20 years; especially once they discover, as the title says, it’s stardust that made us..

Tales from the Ocean

Tales from the Ocean
Chae Strathie, illustrated by Erin Brown
Little Tiger

With Erin Brown’s colour illustrations on every spread, this is a collection of twenty original short stories about sea creatures large and small by Chae Strathie.

The oceans are teeming with life whether it be in the tropical waters of the coral reefs, the coastal waters and shallows, tropical and temperate waters or those of the Arctic and polar regions, the four locations in which the author sets these tales.

First we meet a rather impatient young Giant Clam. He’s in a hurry to find a place to settle and grow his shell. Will he listen to the advice of others that have made far from perfect choices?
In the shallows, Hermit Crab too, needs a new home on account of a shell, but hers has become too tight; now she’s on the hunt for one that ‘feels just right’ and in so doing she helps two other crabs find something that’s ‘a better fit’.

Out in the warmer waters Ocean Sunfish is suffering from a bout of itchiness on account of not finding a cleaner wrasse to nibble off the irritating parasites tickling her skin.

Resigned to having to put up with the discomfort, she sets off jelly hunting and by late afternoon although her appetite is sated, her itchiness is worse. Another sunfish makes a suggestion but this fails to rid her of the wretched irritants. Maybe the seagull can help …

In the immense whiteness that is the Antarctic, living in a colony of Adelie penguins is Small Penguin. Despite his size compared with the Emperor penguins that live close by, Small Penguin has big ideas about himself and is more than ready to take up the challenge of one of the Emperors: ‘first penguin to catch a silverfish is the best’. Which penguin will be the victor?

It’s impossible to choose a favourite tale: that will depend on listeners and readers. Each one ends with a verse from the marine protagonist and with the author’s infusion of gentle humour and lots of incidental learning built in, as well as Erin Brown’s gorgeous illustrations this is ideal for sharing with younger children or for older ones to read independently. (The book concludes with two finals spreads with paragraphs of additional details about each of the twenty creatures featured.)

A Natural History of Magick

A Natural History of Magick
Poppy David and Jessica Roux
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

To provide an element of authenticity, a letter at the beginning of this book introduces it as a ‘precious scrapbook’ from 1925 by one Conrad Gessner, grandfather of Alfie to whom his opening letter is addressed.

There follows a first person narrative from the professor, purporting to be his research into magick practices starting with that in Ancient Egypt and going right through to modern magic in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s a look at magick from the African continent, used still to this day for such purposes as healing the sick and helping crops to grow. However, magick knows no boundaries and respects no borders, so we’re told on the ley lines pages whereon there’s a world map showing how they all connect. Also referred to briefly on the same spread is Machu Picchu.

After the brief history come spreads devoted to overviews of single magickal forms including divination, cartomancy, numerology, alchemy and the making of potions. (Should you wish to try it, there’s even a recipe for a potion from one Guilla Tofanus who fled to France, said to conjure up fairies and sprites.)

Then you might need a wand, in which case the kind of wood from which it’s fashioned makes all the difference: for example if you happen to be a healing wizard, then a wand from a restorative tree is what’s required but so I read, it’s not entirely up to you for ‘in wand lore, it is magic that pulls a wand and its bearer together.’

It’s useful to have an amulet or talisman, an object containing magical power, to keep close at hand all the time, they’re popular even today; some examples are shown here …

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Roux in pencil and watercolour, with a muted colour palette, this book is assuredly a fascinating read but I’m not sure who the target audience is. I suspect you might find it in the Hogwart’s lending library so fans of the Harry Potter stories may well go for it.

A History of the World in 25 Cities

A History of the World in 25 Cities
Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg
Nosy Crow and The British Museum

If you want to be a time traveller as well as a world tourist, then this is for you.

In collaboration with experts from The British Museum, authors Tracey Turner and Andrew Donkin, present a brilliantly conceived and executed large format book, superbly designed and illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg. Featuring 25 detailed city maps, it takes readers on a historic world tour visiting locations from every continent at a specific moment in time, and in so doing offers a look at the development of humankind.

‘Cities are full of possibilities.’ say the authors in their highly thought-provoking introduction, ‘… They are where big ideas are born, because they welcome people from far and wide, bringing them together to live and work, and to swap skills, inventions and thoughts.’

We’re taken first to the walled city of Jericho around 8500 BCE and as well as a map (carefully researched), there are pages vividly illustrating life then(and now) as well as bite-size paragraphs giving details of same. (for instance ‘Being close to the salty Dead Sea meant that the people of Jericho could trade salt for other goods.’ There’s also, bordering one page an ‘In Numbers’ feature.

Other cities featured are Memphis circa 1200 BCE, Athens 500 BCE,

Xianyang 212 BCE , Rome 100-200 CE, Constantinople, Baghdad, Jorvik, Beijing, Granada, Venice, Benin City, Cuzco, Tenochtitlán circa 1520, Delhi, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, Bangkok, London, Saint Petersburg, New York City, Berlin, San Francisco and finally, Tokyo of today – now the world’s most densely populated city and originally a small fishing village.
Through the wonderful visuals and text it’s possible to imagine walking at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the ornate gardens of 1400s Islamic city kingdom of Granada; wandering the beautiful palm-oil lamp-lit streets of medieval Benin in the West African rainforest; or roaming within the walls of capital city Delhi in 1660 with those packed bazaars of Chandni Chowk and its impressive buildings such as the Red Fort. (it’s not all that different today).

Another of the featured cities I’ve visited is one of my very favourites, Amsterdam, where in the 1670s the 100km canal system was key in transporting goods to buyers around the city and beyond.

With a final look forward to the cities of tomorrow in the hope that they will become increasingly green, this amazing book bursting with historic detail, maps and engrossing illustrations, is one for class collections and for giving to youngsters who want to broaden their horizons.

My Mindful A to Zen / Being Healthy / Learning

My Mindful A to Zen
Krina Patel-Sage
Lantana Publishing
As the author/illustrator points out after presenting twenty six haiku ‘for happy little minds’, each of the entries in this book highlights one or more of the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, known to boost mental health and positivity: connecting,

being active, taking notice, keeping on learning and giving.

No matter whether youngsters prefer the great outdoors and all that has to offer,

or to stay indoors getting lost in a good book, or being creative with their favourite materials,

or perhaps spending time in the kitchen cooking a yummy cake (even if it doesn’t quite go to plan), done mindfully, it can be part and parcel of getting the very best out of life.

With its diverse cast of characters bringing to life this alphabet of contented being and doing, Krina Patel-Sage offers youngsters much to think about, talk about and act upon. This teacher/yoga teacher and reviewer heartily endorses this well-being picture book.

Also for fostering children’s wellbeing:

Being Healthy
Learning
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Book

These are two new titles in the Big Words for Little People series that offers a very useful resource to early years teachers and other practitioners as well as parents of young children.

Using age-appropriate language, Helen Mortimer takes little ones through the day doing those activities that should foster their Being Healthy. There’s personal hygiene washing and tooth brushing, eating ‘wholesome’ food and drinking plenty, taking exercise that works their muscles, as well as engaging in mood boosting activities, getting out in the sun whenever possible. There are also spreads on allergies, doing things in your own way, being aware of and avoiding potential dangers, the helpers who might provide treatment when there’s an accident or illness, and finally, very important comes sleep.
Inclusive, engaging and interactive, as is Learning. This is a huge topic that begins at birth and continues throughout life but to get the most from it, that learning needs to excite the learners and that’s what this little book aims to do. It encourages questioning, problem solving, taking advantage of technology, developing good concentration, trying hard and taking risks with learning, as well as keeping the mind open to new ideas. Like previous titles, both books have Cristina Trapanese’s lively illustrations, a spread with helpful ideas for adult users and a glossary.

Earth Friends: Pet Protection / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch

Both books are additions to popular Nosy Crow series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Earth Friends: Pet Protection
Holly Webb

This is the fourth story about four friends who try to make the world a better place.

Emily longs for a pet of her own but her home doesn’t have sufficient room. Having explored various possibilities with her friends Poppy, Maya and Izzy, she decides to offer her services helping at the Appleby Animal Rescue centre nearby. With her Mum’s permission and approval of the person in charge, it’s agreed that Emily will help out at weekends. But then she learns that owing to lack of finance, the centre is under threat. Emily resolves not to let that happen and straightway starts thinking of ways to raise funds, starting with a tenth birthday party for the centre: no pressure there. First of all they need to find a suitable venue and that in itself is a tricky task.

Then there’s the question of Emily’s new dog walking business, certainly one way to get some cash but what will her Mum say about that?

However Emily is one determined girl and when her mind is set on a good cause, she’s not easily deterred. Can she and her friends ensure that the animals don’t finish up homeless? It’s certainly a challenge … Be prepared for a few surprises in this one.

With an additional focus on girls’ friendships, this is a heartwarming, inspiring story that will appeal especially to readers who want to make a difference.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

I’m a big fan of Mabel Chase aka Magnificent Mabel who returns in three new funny as ever episodes. The first is set at Halloween, a time Mabel loves almost as much as Christmas especially with the opportunities it offers for free sweets. Others in the locality are similarly hit by Halloween fever. But then it seems that an urgent family matter might prevent her from trick or treating, unless that is, Great Aunt Bridget can be persuaded to participate in the festivities.

Next, Mabel’s school has a worry box in the playground. Sure that she’s seen aliens in the vicinity, Mabel posts a note about her concern at the possibility of an alien attack on the school. Having convinced herself that they’re homesick, she enlists the help of her understanding headteacher and the two of them build something to help said aliens go back from whence they came. But that’s only part of the story: the best is yet to come.

In the final episode Mabel has a monster living under her bed but despite that, Mabel’s parents continue to ignore her earnest pleas for that much-wanted ‘up-high’ bunk bed. So she decides to use her initiative and monster blocking skills: will those get Mabel what she wants? …

A chucklesome book with spirited black and white illustrations by Julia Christians that contribute to the drama which follows Mabel no matter where she goes. Share with foundation stage listeners, while slightly older children just flying solo could try reading it themselves.

My Green Cookbook / Polly Bee Makes Honey

My Green Cookbook
David Atherton, illustrated by Alice Bowsher
Walker Books

Hot on the heels of his excellent My First Cook Book, Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton offers around forty vegetarian recipes. No matter if you’re looking for a tasty meal, snacks, a sweet treat or an attractive cake (several, even), there’s something here.

Like the author, I love walking in the forest and looking up at the trees so was immediately drawn to the yummy-looking Autumn Woodland Cake, though as a vegan, I’d want to make one or two slight tweaks to the ingredients list.

The Curry Korma Bowl too caught my eye right away. Indian food is one of my favourite kinds of cuisine. Having been unable to travel to India since fleeing that country at the start of the pandemic I can’t wait to go back but with all the necessary ingredients for this dish already in my cupboards, this is one of the recipes I’ll try first.

And, having requested a large amount of haldi from an Indian student studying here the last time he returned to the UK, I have lots of turmeric and so next week intend to have a go at making the Bread Crowns – they look really fun and tasty too.

Among the Sweet Treats, I was attracted to the lemon and pear muffins as the young relations who often visit, are fond of muffins of many kinds. We can try making those together. (Maybe we’ll do two batches with me using a vegan egg substitute in one).

David’s enthusiasm shines through in this recipe book wherein he also explains the impact ‘eating green’ can have on health and well-being, and on the environment. With occasional touches of humour, Alice Bowsher’s illustrations add extra allure to the recipes.

Buy to keep and buy to give.

Honey was used in several of David’s recipes, now here’s a book all about that delicious ingredient/food.

Polly Bee Makes Honey
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the second book in the Follow My Food series. Here, a girl follows worker bee Polly as she (and her ‘sisters’) work hard first collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers in a meadow

and then taking it back to the hive where the nectar is squirted into the honeycomb and some of the pollen acts as food for the baby bees inside the hive.

During the narration we also meet the drones (Polly’s brothers), the queen (the egg layer) as well as the beekeeper who cares for the hive and harvests the honey,

helped by the girl narrator who is shown happily and appreciatively tucking into a slice of bread spread with delicious honey.

After the main narrative come a ‘pollen trail’ and a factual spread giving further information about bees.

With Deborah’s straightforward narrative and Julia’s bold, bright illustrations, this is a good starting point for youngsters especially if they’re working on a food (or perhaps even minibeast) theme in a foundation stage classroom.

The Wind May Blow / Someday

Here are two beautiful picture books kindly sent for review by Little Tiger

The Wind May Blow
Sasha Quinton and Thomas Hegbrook

With its cut away pages and tender illustrations this is a beautiful book – both visual and verbal – for adults to share with little ones.

The voice is that of an adult speaking to a young child, “On the day you were born the sun rose brilliant and bright and beautiful,” in a place where “the sun rose and kissed your toes as warm roses bloomed in each cheek.”

Time passes, the child grows to face a life that inevitably isn’t all filled with sun and roses: stormy times are likely to occur. 

What’s required then is to stop, pause and take time to breathe deeply 

in the knowledge that you have the inner strength, life skills and whatever is needed to face challenges, overcome adversity and emerge out of the storm. The moon will be there burning brighter down on you and when the sun rises next morning, so too will you. There’s always the possibility of a new beginning.

So goes the seemingly simple, gently affirming wise message of this cleverly designed book with its die-cuts strategically placed throughout.

Altogether a splendid amalgam of words, pictures and design that is just right for many occasions: adults will know when it’s appropriate to revisit this timely picture book after a first reading.

Someday
Stephanie Stansbie and Frances Ives

When a little bear cub tells his mother one morning that it wants to be just like her, she likens her little one to a sapling that will soon be a tree. This doesn’t quite satisfy the cub, for that so mummy says, won’t be tomorrow. First they have lots of things to do together – memories to make – of happy hours and days spent frolicking through grassland, jumping over rocks, climbing trees in search of juicy berries, splashing and swimming among fish in the fast-flowing waters.

And all the while growing stronger and learning to cope with things that might at first seem frightening.

Then will come the possibility of meeting a mate and producing a new family. As they sit beneath the branches of a spreading tree, Mummy Bear talks of the cub’s memories acting like the tree’s roots keeping it “strong as you grow and flourish and bloom.” It’s their togetherness that prompts the little cub to express happiness in the here and now, with the promise of many many wonderful tomorrows.

Frances Ives’ illustrations capture the warmth and love between ursine mother and offspring; but as it is with bears, so as this lyrical book implies can it be with human parent and little one: memories to cherish as a child grows up and finds his/her way in the world.

New in the Bloomsbury Readers Series

Scratch and Sniff
Margaret Ryan, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Wings of Icarus
Jenny Oldfield, illustrated by Bee Wiley
Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Amberin Huq
Maggie and the Moonbird
Katya Balen, illustrated by Pham Quang Phuc
Bamba Beach
Pratima Mitchell, illustrated by David Dean
Ping and the Missing Ring
Emma Shevah, illustrated by Izzy Evans
Bloomsbury Education

These are additions to the Bloomsbury Readers series: banded book stories that aim to foster independent reading at KS2, all written by award-winning authors and illustrated in black and white and definitely worth offering to children for home or school reading.

The titular Scratch and Sniff are dogs belonging to PC Penny Penrose. Said constable frequently gets given the boring tasks and this is so on the day we meet her counting traffic cones outside the police station while her colleague Sergeant Snide is off investigating a burglary at the furniture store. However when her two faithful pooches learn of this, they decide it’s time for the ‘doggy Secret Service’ to get to work and they too head off to the scene of the crime. There, they decide to look around outside leaving the sergeant to do his detecting inside and that’s when they’re party to something highly suspicious in the form of two men struggling to carry a heavy sofa, something with a very valuable cushion, that they put into a van belonging to the department store and drive off. Time to use those cones and to alert Penny …
With plenty of funny drawings this is assuredly, a fun cops and robbers tale for those readers just beginning to fly solo.

Wings of Icarus is Jenny Oldfield retelling of the classic Greek myth about the daring boy Icarus, imprisoned with his dad Daedulus on the island of Crete by King Minos, but determined to make their escape – one way or another. When the sea proves too much for their first plan, Daedulus decides that while their captor might be Lord of Earth and Sea, he certainly isn’t ruler of the skies. Hence their only chance is to take to the air … While Icarus sleeps his father builds wings from feathers collected and next morning after warnings from his father, the boy is so excited he takes off alone … Compellingly told and enticingly illustrated.

As Sindhu and Jeet (along with Sindhu’s parents) leave Chennai bound for London the best friends have different agendas for the holiday. The pair have formed Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency but all Jeet wants to do is relax and be a tourist whereas Sindhu has brought along her young detectives’ handbook – just in case. Before they’ve even boarded the plane Sindhu spots something she thinks is suspicious behaviour. Almost the next minute the two friends find themselves trapped between a wall and two baggage burglars. Time to try some of their Kabadi skills … Will the plane wait even if they can extricate themselves from this and the next very tricky situation?
Happily yes, but that’s only the start of their adventures: next stop the sights of London, first off The Tower of London itself. So begins another exciting investigation where again the friends’ ace powers of observation and a liberal sprinkling of imagination, along with determination are called into play.
Even then they’re not quite finished with detecting. After a day of rest, they visit the Natural History Museum where Mum has a special interest in the conch collection and one conch in particular. However when they get to the cabinet where it’s supposed to be, there’s a label saying the item has been ‘temporarily removed’.When next they look, there’s a conch back in the cabinet, but is it the right one? Mum doesn’t think so … This holiday is turning out to be anything but boring after all decides Sindhu. There are plenty of thrills and tension to keep readers turning the pages in this one.

Pratima Mitchell’s contemporary story Bamba Beach immediately transported me to some of the many wonderful holidays I’ve spend in Arpora, Goa just off the coast. The setting is a fishing village where young Hari lives with his family. Times are hard with almost no fish left in the bay on account of the tsunami and to catch those further out, the family needs a boat with a flat bottom and an outboard motor rather than their old dilapidated one made from coconut wood. Hari knows full well they can’t afford it but the good-hearted lad is desperate to do something to raise money for his family. He’s not a boy to give up even in the face of village superstitions and family feuds; and when he’s offered a bi-weekly job washing local headteacher, Brother Angelo’s car, it’s at least a start. From small beginnings … though even with several more customers Hari reckons it will take fifteen years to make the capital needed to set up a shop. What else can he do?
Seemingly plenty, for it’s not long before unexpected help comes from somebody Hari has helped. A highly engaging and interesting look at a culture most young readers will not be familiar with.

In the same reading band is Katya Balen’s magical moonlight adventure Maggie and the Moonbird featuring a girl who instead of going bird-watching with her dad as she really wants, has to visit the zoo with her aunt and two annoying little cousins. There she sees a bird that despite its information label, doesn’t match her own knowledge or the description of the Silverfinch in her bird book. Nonetheless she picks up one if its feathers and takes it home. That’s where, after she’s in bed with the feather tucked under her pillow, the magic takes flight … Altogether an enchanting and timeless fantasy read that will surely get readers’ imaginations soaring.

The most challenging story is another contemporary one, Ping and the Missing Ring. Ping the protagonist and her family are Thai and live in Bath. The custom is that Thai people are calm, composed and polite, which Ping sometimes finds tricky to maintain.
So when she’s invited to stay with her cousins in West London in a house full of traditional Thai furniture and crafts, she promises her mum to be on her best behaviour; definitely no adventures or mystery solving. But, after a visit from Isabelle who has money troubles and a sick husband, Aunty Lek’s engagement ring is missing. She thinks Isabelle has taken it but Ping thinks otherwise: she can’t stop herself going into detective mode. Exciting and with lots of interesting details about the traditional Thai way of life, this like all the others, is an engaging read though herein the illustrations act as chapter breaks, as do those in Bamba Beach.

Moose’s Book Bus

Moose’s Book Bus
Inga Moore
Walker Books

With a dearth of storybooks among his friends, Moose who has exhausted his repertoire of new tales to tell his family after supper, sets out to find the town library. he’s fortunate to discover a wealth of exciting books await him and Moose borrows all the librarians’s s suggestions and more.

That same evening, no sooner has he settled down to regale his family with one of the storybooks than Bear brings her cubs along to hear his Little Red Riding Hood rendition.

Word spreads and it’s not long before Moose’s evening story times become exceedingly popular

with his living room rather crowded ‘like being in a sardine tin’. Now what’s a bright creature like Moose to do next …

Ingenious creature that he is, Moose finds a wheeled solution and it’s one that benefits his entire community in more ways than one.

This is a brilliant book, paying homage as it does to the power of story, of books and of libraries (something not every community is fortunate enough to have nowadays). With her somewhat whimsical cast of woodland characters, Inga Moore’s soft-edged, earthy rural scenes with their wealth of detail and gentle humour draw the reader in from the start.

I can’t wait to share this terrific book far and wide; it’s my favourite Inga Moore story so far.

How It All Works

How It All Works
Adam Dant and Brian Clegg
Ivy Press

There’s a mind-blowing amount of information broken into bite size portions packed between the covers of this chunky book, revealing to readers the ways in which complex science laws and phenomena affect our daily lives. Science in action it surely is.

Divided into thirteen chapters (plus an introduction and reference section of key figures and an index of the laws) it starts in the kitchen, gradually spreading out into the house, the garden, the Science Museum, and other places that may be found on a walk along the street from the town square.

It then moves into the countryside and to the coastline, the continent, the earth, the solar system and finally, the entire universe with every chapter starting with one of Adam Dant’s incredibly detailed illustrations.

Embedded within each of these are forty six different laws and phenomena behind the featured objects and activities. In his introduction Brian Clegg puts it thus: ‘What these illustrations and their short descriptions will show is the way that everything we do, in everything we experience, we are witnessing and taking part in scientific phenomena, guided and linked by scientific laws. Science is not just something we do at school or that professionals undertake in laboratories, it is at the heart of how everything works.’

Following each large illustration are close-up labelled sections taken from it, every one accompanied by a paragraph in which Clegg succinctly describes the relevant phenomenon (P) or law (L)


I really wish I’d had this book when I was studying science at school for it makes complicated principles/ laws easy to understand, something that spending hours every week in a physics or chemistry lab, failed to do: nobody even tried bringing in a bicycle pump and relating it to Boyle’s Law for instance.

Of course you don’t have to work your way straight through this book section by section. There are lots of ways to enjoy it: you might take one law illustrated in a section and then search for other examples throughout the book. You could use something that sparks your interest as a jumping off point for further research using other sources. Alternatively some might enjoy spending ages poring over just one of the large scenes, each of which has a different colour or hue.

The potential audience for this unusual book is wide – from KS2 through to adult and it’s most definitely one to add to a family collection as well as those of primary and secondary schools.

SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles

SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles
Michael Catchpool and Emma Proctor
Lantana Publishing

Life as a young superhero able to do pretty much anything is hard work, that’s the conviction of SuperJoe; he’s equally sure though that superheroes don’t do cuddles – even from their mums. Well, let’s see …

Despite having to wear his scarf (Mum insists on that), in just one day SuperJoe rescues tourists from a ferocious and very hungry tiger, (that’s before tea);

stops a runaway train, (that’s before bath time) and saves people crossing a collapsing bridge over a raging river in the depths of the jungle (just before bed),

each of these potential calamities being engineered by his arch nemesis, the Grey Shadow.

Before he sets out on each undertaking, our young superhero evades his Mum’s attempts to get a cuddle although at her behest, he does have to don a vest, a belt to keep up his superhero shorts and, that scarf.

Come bedtime however, a sleepless Joe, having eschewed a warm drink, decides that there is just one thing that he really, really needs, something he must never let Grey Shadow know about…

What a lovely story of independent thinking, the power of the imagination and maternal love, this gently humorous book will delight young would-be superheroes as well as their parents/carers. Emma Proctor’s illustrations wittily and cleverly complement Michael Catchpool’s telling, showing for instance, the uses to which SuperJoe puts the items his mum insists he ‘wears’, and those double bedtime scenes reveal much too.

Journey to the Last River

Journey to the Last River
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Teddy Keen edits a spin-off from The Lost Book of Adventures, an Amazon adventure presented in the form of a scrap book journal belonging to ‘The Unknown Adventurer.’ Smudgy, apparently finger-marked pages and ‘handwritten’ text add authenticity.

Again the written account grips the reader from the start as you learn that the adventurers (the writer, and Bibi who grew up somewhere in the region) are staying in a wooden outhouse belonging to a local villager, preparing for their six week canoe trip into the rainforests. They’ve got the original map ‘borrowed’ from The Geographical Society to help them search for that Last River and discover its secret. The writer hasn’t mentioned this to his companion; instead he’s led her to believe that he’s an artist adventurer.

There’s certainly drama aplenty including an unexpected encounter with a man who draws the supposedly non-existent river in the sand with a stick and Bibi recognises a few of his words including ‘wait’, ’rains’ and ‘guide’ before disappearing again. The two travellers are heartened and eager to continue however.

Continue they do and just over two weeks into their journey they acquire a new crew member, a squirrel monkey that they name Nutkin.

The days pass and the two begin to despair of ever finding what they’re searching for; but then comes the lightning followed by torrential rain.

Suddenly a realisation dawns: perhaps their journey isn’t in vain after all …

Brilliantly illustrated with powerfully atmospheric scenes of the Amazon flora and fauna,

as well as the elemental spreads, there’s a lot to learn from this book with its important final conservation message. Readers will be enthralled by the detail included in both the words and visuals, as well as by seeing the transformative effect the trip has on the ‘writer’.

A superb book that offers huge potential to upper KS2 classes in particular.