Let’s Chase Stars Together / Courage in a Poem / And Everything Will Be Glad To See You

Let’s Chase Stars Together
Matt Goodfellow
Bloomsbury Education

Matt Goodfellow’s is a relatively recent voice in poetry for youngsters but his is one you won’t want to miss. Included here in this new book is something for many occasions and almost every mood.
There’s a good balance between reflections and celebrations of everyday school life and friendship, and presentations of deep personal issues such as divorce in the family. The latter is discussed in A Thousand Hours (spent with Dad) when on the occasion of a walk with ups and downs, ‘he tells me/ it wasn’t meant to be like this / we were supposed to be a family / a proper family / but somehow, y’know, things got in the way’. This concludes on a more upbeat note thus: ‘… right then / it doesn’t feel like he’s a dad / I’m only allowed to borrow …’
On a more humorous note is I Hope It Rains Today set in a classroom where the teacher on duty makes the decision to announce a ‘wet play’ thus allowing one member of the class at least to enjoy the opportunity to head to the school library and therein find space to read.

Courage in a Poem
Little Tiger

Courage in a poem? How is that possible? In a multitude of different ways as you will discover if you read this wonderfully empowering collection that includes work from two dozen word weavers.
Courage is most assuredly found as Elizabeth Avevedo says, when leaving the place you call home and after emigrating ‘attempt to bloom and blossom / and brighten a new place. … unfurl to the possibilities / of the new place you call home.’
On the other hand it might be that by sticking ‘kind words’ onto ourselves, ‘like pollen to the knee of a bee’ we might cover ourselves with the same kindness ‘nectar’ as poet Matt Goodfellow. Or perhaps as Rachel Plummer suggests, by emulating the beech tree she so wonderfully describes being fully itself in its own shape; that is the way to be ‘nothing but myself’ safe in the knowledge ‘I am. I will grow.’ 

Another way of finding that inner courage is through movement as the dancer in Mandy Coe’s The Cancan tells us, ‘Because when I dance I can, can do anything / when I dance.’

Equally it might be as Sophia Thakur tells us in Mother’s Eyes to see ourselves as a mother does
and with such certainty as hers to love ourselves with the same strong belief. 

To immerse yourself in this book is to be inspired and delighted, awed and perhaps mesmerised, by the powerfully uplifting messages and accompanying illustrations

And Everything Will be Glad To See You
selected by Ella Risbridger, illustrated by Anna Shepeta
Nosy Crow

This bumper volume contains more than one hundred poems and is a wonderful celebration of women writers of poetry. (There are also a few anonymous works) Taking a stand for equality now and in the future, Ella Risbridger’s main reason for this book is that historically men have been paid ‘lots more attention’ and ‘that’s not fair’! Consider this, in the UK our Poet Laureate list numbers just one woman (Carol Ann Duffy) among twenty men.

Herein you’ll likely find work by familiar writers but you’ll also be excited to make lots of new discoveries. As an erstwhile compiler of poetry anthologies I came upon a fair few I too have included in collections but rediscovering these poems in a different context brings fresh delight: one such is Beatrice Schenk de Regniers’ Keep a Poem in Your Pocket, another is Eleanor Farjeon’s Cats.

On the day of writing this I was drawn to works by Carol Ann Duffy, in particular Don’t Be Scared which opens thus, “The dark is only a blanket / for the moon to put on her bed. / … The ark is the wooden hole / behind the string of happy guitars.’

Sheer delight too is the very first poem, Nikita Gill’s brilliantly inclusive, 93 Percent Stardust, the final lines of which are ‘with souls made of flames, / we are all just stars / that have people names.’
Being unfamiliar with the work of Joy Harjo it was a wonderful surprise to come upon her exhortation to Remember

as I certainly shall this poem, It’s one I shall return to over and over.

Anna Shepeta has done an awesome job illustrating every spread. Her mesmerising artwork thoughtfully compliments the poem or poems found at every turn of the page. Beautifully presented, this is a truly inspiring book to own, to share and to give.

You certainly won’t regret adding any, or all of these books to your poetry shelf.

The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

This the first of the publishers new Protecting the Planet series looks at the effects of climate change on the much loved giraffes of Niger; its inspiration was the work of climate activist and film maker, Kisilu Musya.

Once some time back giraffes were very much a part of everyday life in Niger: and considered a blessing in the same way as the birds, the trees and the rain. The children saw them browsing the trees on their morning walk to school or when they brought home the cattle at night; the giraffes had a strange fighting regime and communicated in a language of grunts and snorts.

However the number of these graceful animals sadly started to decline as more and more buildings, roads and farms filled the land and then on account of climate change the rains began to fail too. The result was terrible droughts that parched the land causing much suffering to both animals and humans.

Soon very few giraffes were left in Africa but in the country of Niger, there was still time to save the few that remained. The humans stopped hunting, protected the trees giraffes fed on as well as the creatures’ favoured places and gradually, then more rapidly, the giraffe population increased. So much so that some have been transported by truck to other parts where they live under the watchful eye and care of wildlife rangers and scientists. The hope is that one day these beautiful animals might be able to return to the places they once roamed.

Nicola’s story of optimism shows how with resolve, we humans can change things for the better; it’s gorgeously illustrated by Emily Sutton who captures both the grace of the animals and their homeland, and the lifestyle of some of the people of Niger.
(There’s additional information about giraffes, climate change and what we can all do to help both causes.)

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

This sumptuous volume brings together Braun’s Wild Animals of the North and Wild Animals of the South taking us on a world tour that begins in North America, moving in turn to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica.

Magnificent art takes the forefront in an awe-inspiring introduction to an array of creatures great

and small of the land, sea and air. Sadly some – the Asian elephant, the Emperor penguin for instance – are on the endangered list, others are threatened, though this isn’t stated in the book.

Dieter Braun manages to encapsulate the very essence and spirit of every one of the hundred and thirty plus animals portrayed. Some have an accompanying factual paragraph, others leave the labelled illustration to speak for itself. (Both scientific and common names are given.) A great gift for young wildlife lovers.

Mind Your Manners, Dinosaurs! / One Little Bug

These are two recent board books from Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

Mind Your Manners, Dinosaurs!
Danielle McLean and Gareth Williams

A fun book with cutaway pages that introduces toddlers to some basic table manners as one by one five little dinosaurs assemble around the table for their dinner. On the recto of each, one of the five dinos is introduced and beneath a flap, which is an integral part of the illustration, is a sentence that moves the action forward. Turn over and on the verso that same dinosaur is now seated and showing how to ask politely for something, while on the recto we meet dinosaur number two. This same pattern continues until all five little dinosaurs are sitting ready to eat and Mother Dinosaur reminds them all of a few additional basic manners and wishes them ‘Bon Apétit’.

Cleverly constructed, cheerily illustrated and with a simple upbeat text that praises the little ones appropriately, this offers interactive learning for the very young.

One Little Bug
Becky Davies and Jacob Souva

This lift-the-flap board book offers a good way to introduce very young children to minibeasts, along with of course, seeing the real things in the wild. Little ones will discover the best places to look for bugs and how to collect some for observation. There’s information about the amazing homes some bugs construct, for instance, black garden ants build nests with different chambers for different purposes, as well as a look at how humans can build a bug hotel – a safe insect habitat to be used for living or hibernation purposes. Readers also find out about the abilities of some of our back garden dwellers: did you know for example that a cockroach is able to live without a head for up to a week and also survive under water for more than half an hour?

There’s plenty to explore on every spread as a lot of additional information is hidden beneath the flaps and adults will need to help them digest some of the text, so this is definitely not a book to hurry through.
Altogether a beautiful introduction both visual and verbal, to the natural world.

My Family and Other Families / Some Daddies

My Family and Other Families
Richard and Lewis Edwards-Middleton, illustrated by Andy Passchier

In this story we follow Liam and his family on their visit to the funfair. Leo is super-excited at the prospect of riding on the big wheel, but with his ticket tucked into his pocket, we wonder if he’ll ever get to the wheel on time. There are so many other families there who all want to stop and chat – families that don’t necessarily look like his own but who all show loving care to their children just like his own. Suddenly Liam realises that his ticket is no longer in his pocket and he frantically retraces his steps asking the other visitors if they’ve seen it. 

Nobody has but everybody offers to join in the ticket search and eventually Liam has a ticket clasped tightly in his hand and he heads over to where a man is making that last call for riders to board the wheel. Now there’s one final opportunity for kindness so that all the children are able to have a ride.
The final sentence in the book, ‘A family is people who care about you’ sums up the authors’ crucial message of diversity and nicely rounds off the story.

Shown inside the front cover and hiding in plain sight in vibrant illustrations are thirteen hidden surprises that young children can search for during the telling. A book to add to collections in early years settings.

Some Daddies
Carol Gordon Ekster and Javiera Mac-lean Álvarez
Beaming Books

“Every daddy is different!” So goes the repeat refrain in this celebration of fathers of all kinds and their styles of parenting. Some are early risers, while others take a while to get going in the morning. Some drink coffee, some drink tea, some prefer a smoothie or water. Some wear suits, some don uniforms, and some work from home in their pyjamas! Some daddies are arty, some like growing things, some love to read. 

Daddies might be good cooks or they might rely on take-aways; some will bid you goodnight with a song, others with a bedtime story. Some are yours from the moment of your birth, others are not a biological relation and choose you later on, some share you with a mum, others with another dad. Yes there are many, many different ways that daddies can look, eat, work, play, and be; however there’s one thing all daddies have in common: daddies are special people who love their little ones.

Brightly coloured, slightly quirky illustrations support the upbeat text with its key message about similarities and differences.

The Great Cake Race / Sindhu and Jeet’s Missing Star Mystery / Time Travel at Puddle Lane

These are three additions to the Bloomsbury Readers series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

The Great Cake Race
Teresa Heapy, illustrated by Erica Salcedo
Sindhu and Jeet’s Missing Star Mystery
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Amber Huq
Time Travel at Puddle Lane
Emma Shevah, illustrated by Laura Catalán
Bloomsbury Education

In the first story Jamila sees a note announcing The Great Cake Race ‘fastest cake wins’ she reads. Now she knows that she’s a fast runner but something of a novice at cake making. However she resolves to create a cake like no other and to do so in honour of her beloved Nani. With her name on the list of entrants all that remains is to learn how to bake. With her dad to help and memories of what her Nani used to say, off she goes but her initial attempts are pretty disastrous. Maybe that box containing Nani’s baking books might just be what she needs. With Nani in her mind, can Jamila create something truly spectacular and beat the person who has won the title for several years in a row?
An unlikely story but one that with its determined little girl as main character is great fun especially for those readers just starting to fly solo. Erica Salcedo’s black and white illustrations are a delight.

Rather more challenging is the second set of adventures of detective duo Sindhu and Jeet. The first of the three mysteries involves working out which of two wills of a deceased neighbour is the valid one. The outcome can make a big difference to one human and a lot of rescue dogs.
The second story involves a missing film star, Ranjith Kumar who disappears on the day he is supposed to make a TV appearance. Where has he gone and why has he vanished? Readers may well be surprised when they find out.
In the third story a precious emerald ring is missing on the day of the wedding although the bride-to-be swears she put it safely away in a wooden box the previous evening. Can the children discover what has happened to it so that the wedding can go ahead as scheduled?
Readers will find out something about South Indian traditions as they read these three enjoyable episodes.

Time Travel at Puddle Lane refers to what two friends, Ariella and Yusef, suspect their school librarian is doing when they notice the sooty state of her clothes and her filthy fingernails on several occasions. They decide to investigate using the same means as that they suspect Miss Riche uses – by taking an artefact from the school’s collection kept in a cabinet in the library and going through a door that’s always kept locked. The soap dish the children use transports them to early 19th century London where they have an exciting adventure, are helped by some very kind people, meet their school’s founder when she was just a child and discover things about slavery. An unusual tale that will likely leave KS2 readers hoping for further time travelling adventures of the friends, perhaps in the company of their school librarian.

Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a new large-format edition of Jackie Morris’s ode to bears. It begins with a large brown bear nose to nose with a teddy bear and the words, ‘Let me tell you something, something about a bear.’ Readers are then introduced to eight kinds of bears through stunning watercolour illustrations and a poetic text.

Each turn of the page takes us to the natural environment of one sort of bear or another starting with Brown Bear watching salmon in a river. On a mountainside in China, a Panda is shown nurturing its child ‘Born as soft and small as peaches.’ Next we see a Sloth Bear carrying her cubs on her back set against ancient Mughal architecture; a Spectacled Bear with cubs high up in the canopy of a South American jungle;

from her nest an enormous Asian Moon Bear waits and watches, all set to go a-hunting. Now you might be surprised to learn that Polar bears are not white – their fur is ‘hollow’, their skin, black. Nor is the American Black bear always black; it could be cinnamon or honey coloured and even, rarely, white.

The very essence of each one of the magnificent ursine creatures is captured in Jackie Morris’s awesome paintings and it’s incredible to see the range of browns she uses. A considerable amount of information is included in the main narrative, which eventually comes full circle to the two we met on the first spread, closing with the words, ‘the very best bear of all is YOUR bear. Two further spreads give additional notes on each bear featured. A terrific gift book for bear lovers of all ages.

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers

The Curse of the Tomb Robbers
Andy Seed and James Weston Lewis
Nosy Crow

In this puzzling adventure set in ancient Egypt 1422 BCE readers are asked to assist apprentice scribe Nub and his friend Iteti to stop a gang of robbers intent of stealing items from the tomb of Queen Neith.
To do so the two friends need to discover the exact location of the burial place and halt the robbers before a terrible curse is unleashed. 

When they try to find Iteti’s father the vizier to let him know of the robbers, they are told he’s away, so leaving a message with a trusted servant telling him to go with soldiers to Queen Neith’s tomb. they decide to go ahead and follow the robber gang to the pyramids.

There’s a hieroglyph puzzle to solve on most spreads and lots of ‘Did You Know’ information bubbles as the story proceeds, as well as the possibility of whether or not there really was a curse to ponder upon. If you find yourself stuck over any of the puzzles all the solutions are at the back of the book as is a glossary, a codebreaking guide, hieroglyph charts and a list of 70 Egyptian words with their English translations.

Written in collaboration with The British Museum, readers will learn a lot as they participate in this adventure and James Weston Lewis’s stylish illustrations do an excellent job of capturing life in Ancient Egypt. KS2 readers, especially those with an interest in history will enjoy this and it’s a good one to add to primary school libraries too.

Always, Clementine

Always, Clementine
Carlie Sorosiak
Nosy Crow

Clementine is a mouse, an extraordinary one. On account of her altered DNA, from the day of her birth she’s been thinking about prime numbers, sometimes uses Latin and is able to sign to her friend. This amazing book is made up of imaginary letters written from this mega-intelligent mouse to her much-loved chimpanzee friend, Rosie, left behind when she escapes from a research lab. This is thanks to a research assistant who feeling guilty about her treatment, smuggles her and another mouse out of the lab, depositing them in a nearby mailbox. Clementine’s series of reports to Rosie, tell of the wonders of the outside world.

She’s discovered by the kindly Pops and his grandson Gus who on hearing of the large reward being offered for the return of the mice, resolve to keep their whereabouts a secret. This is particularly difficult when they receive a visit from the lab, on account of Clementine’s raspberry aroma. Having considered possible options, Pops decides in an unlikely consultation with Clementine that the best plan is to teach the mouse to play chess and then televise a match, with the intention of creating a public outcry against the lab. A few days later Clementine defeats not one, but five human players simultaneously. Is she now safe?

Clearly interwoven with the main storyline are other issues. The other mouse escapee, Hamlet, also has an amazing talent that is slower to reveal itself than Clementine’s; however it turns out he’s an amazing architect and using wood chips constructs a model of Notre Dame. Thus another issue to ponder is that of alternative kinds of intelligence. So too is why Pops, an erstwhile chess champion, hasn’t played for many years. We discover the reason is a personal one as we do that Clementine too has an image issue.

Friendship and love are key in this poignant, sometimes gently humorous book, as are the importance of social justice and what true goodness really means. Be prepared to lose your heart to Clementine as she bares her soul in her letters. The book ends on an optimistic note and a realisation that each of us must work out our own definition of goodness. Truly awesome writing.

Granny Pip Grows Fruit / 2023 Nature Month-By-Month / The Earth Book

Granny Pip Grows Fruit
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

The focus for this fourth title in Deborah and Julia’s ‘Follow My Food’ series is fruit. It features a grandmother who grows various fruits in her garden, and the granddaughter who assists her. There’s lots of work all year round and we start in the autumn with composting the soil and planting – first raspberry plants and then a gooseberry bush.
Winter is the time to cut back apple tree branches and prune the pear tree. When spring arrives bringing showers and sunshine, there’s weeding to be done to create space for planting strawberry seedlings. Once in bloom these will need to be protected by netting to prevent marauding birds spoiling the fruits as they begin to form.

Watering the soil is vital in the hot summer or the plants will wilt and the crops be lost. Because various fruits ripen at different times, Granny keeps a watchful eye so she knows the perfect time to harvest each kind. Summer’s end is when the apples and pears are ripe and even the windfalls are delicious.
What a rich bounty and as well as consuming lots of fruits almost as soon as they’re picked, there’s plenty either to cook or use for jam-making.
The book concludes with a matching words to pictures spread and a final one with information about the importance of watering, a paragraph on sustainable eating and another on choosing the best place for planting.
With just the right amount of detail and Julia’s simple, bright, bold illustrations this is an ideal narrative non-fiction book to share with younger primary children around harvest festival time or as part of a food topic.

2023 Nature Month-By-Month
Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The National Trust, this backpack sized almanac is written by nature lover Anna Wilson and illustrated in bold colours by Elly Jahnz. With something to do on every day of the year, it’s bursting with exciting outdoor and indoor creative activities,

games, cooking and crafts, recipes, gardening ideas, wildlife to hunt for in various habitats, with relevant facts, and information on special events, festivals, celebrations and anniversaries.
Great for those youngsters already interested in the natural world as well as those you want to encourage to develop a connection with nature. For the latter, this fifth edition is a good place to start.

The Earth Book
Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook
Little Tiger

In his conversational, accessible style narrative, author Jonathan Litton takes readers on an extensive tour of our planet presenting topics such as how the earth was formed and its physical makeup; he examines forms of life tiny and enormous, both extinct and present now; investigates various ecosystems including rainforests, oceans, deserts and islands; and finally, looks at the impact humans have had and are still having on the planet through a focus on populations and migration.
Thomas Hegbrook’s soft-textured illustrations encourage readers to pause and marvel at Earth’s many wonders, an Earth that is way more fragile than many would acknowledge, let alone work to protect, for much too long. Whether you dip in and out or read it in its entirety, this is a book to add to home and school collections.

When the Storks Came Home

When the Storks Came Home
Isabella Tree and Alexandra Finkeldey
Ivy Kids

This is a charming, fictionalized retelling of the successful reintroduction of the white stork at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, a UK native bird that has been brought back from extinction.

Herein we meet eight year old Beanie, a bird lover, who when she has a new baby brother, is curious to see on some of the baby cards, a bird that she’s never seen before. This bird is the white stork and encouraged by her mother, Beanie asks her friend Andy who works at the nature reserve to tell her about the storks. He tells her about their unfortunate disappearance from the UK on account of them being hunted for food.

Upset and angry, Beanie becomes passionate about encouraging the White Storks back. She does some research, makes a discovery and then with the dedicated help of lots of the village people who help with fundraising,

she eventually succeeds in her mission to provide a new home for some storks from Poland.

That’s not quite the end of this lovely story, but it does end happily and shows how one determined girl can really make a difference. Alexandra Finkeldey’s colour pencil artwork is superb and helps to highlight Beanie’s love of and engagement with the natural world. The book ends with a factual account of the White Stork Project.

Beyond the Frozen Horizon

Beyond the Frozen Horizon
Nicola Penfold
Little Tiger

Prepare to be chilled to the bone and not just on account of the setting of this gripping story.
The setting being a hopeful 2030 when humans have taken huge leaps to avoid climate disaster, passing Universal Climate Laws and creating Wilderness Zones to save wildlife and absorb carbon. However, the recovery is still all too fragile. Rory, who is finding life at home and school difficult, accompanies her environmental geologist mother, to the Arctic Wilderness Zone to approve Greenlight’s plans to extract from there, the rare earth metals which will be used for ‘clean’ transport and technology. So she believes when she accepts this once in a lifetime opportunity for herself and Rory, who will be able to see those northern animals she’s dreamed of.

The local people in the town of Pyramiden, who live in harmony with the beautiful, harsh and dangerous environment are becoming increasingly suspicious of Greenlight’s activities and Rory struggles to try and fit in with them. However eventually after experiencing some supernatural happenings, she makes friends with one local boy, Mikkal, and together they strive to discover the truth about what is really happening and pass it on to Rory’s increasingly stressed mother before it’s too late. Perhaps in so doing they will be able to bring peace to the ghosts of the past.

This is such a powerful environmental story, full of atmosphere, a build up of tension you can almost feel, with some dangerous events and some totally credible characters. Most important, it’s a brilliant portrayal of corporate greed and ‘greenwashing’ that is surely a wake-up call to all of us: the precious environment must be protected and we must change our ways before it’s too late. Anyone who cares about the Arctic and the environment in general will want to read this, but then pass it on to those who have yet to wake up to the crisis.

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant
Briony May Smith
Walker Books

Philippa Pheasant lives in the forest close to Fairhurst village. Whenever she tries to cross the Old Oak Road in search of juicy blackberries, she’s almost knocked ‘pancake-flat’ by the cars that speed past seemingly out of nowhere. One day she decides that enough is enough; her friend hedgehog suggests writing to the Mayor, which Philippa does but her letter receives no reply.

The following day as she wanders along the lane near the school Philippa notices something that interests her greatly. A woman wearing a bright yellow uniform is standing in the middle of the road stopping the traffic so that the children can cross safely outside their school. This gives Philippa an idea; right away she sets about making something

and the next morning there’s a large gathering of woodland creatures waiting to hear what their pheasant friend has to say. Why is she wearing that strange attire?

Suddenly Philippa is thrust into the local limelight.

And the rest, shall we say, is full of surprises.

With her wonderful portrayal of rural life by day and by night, and a brave, determined avian protagonist, Briony May Smith has created another winner. I love the autumnal tones of the scenes, the wealth of amusing and interesting details, and the way Briony has used light and shadow to give her illustrations extra depth, all of which make the story even more of a delight.

Agent Llama Alpaca Attack!

Agent Llama Alpaca Attack!
Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

It’s good to see llama super-spy Charlie Palmer in action again with a new mission. Somebody is intent on world destruction using can you believe – a ‘Pasta-Splat Machine’. Already spaghetti-filled streets are being reported as far afield as Delhi and Dublin, schools are shut and the streets awash with sauce.

Grabbing her gadgets from their subterranean hiding place, Charlie revs up her turbo engine and off she zooms, on mission halt that pasta doom, destination a popular beach resort that is currently under attack.

Almost immediately on arrival so too is she, from above and below, but our Charlie is not one to give up as she starts to perform some show-stopping feats.

However, having scaled the heights our agent gets the surprise of her life: I instantly thought of a drama currently showing on BBC tv wherein a politician has his identity stolen, for that is what appears to have happened to our intrepid Charlie Palmer.

There before her, once his disguise is removed, stands none other than one time agent, rogue alpaca Harley Hacker. What Charlie learns next is potentially catastrophic. Can she crack that vital code, halt one billion drones and thus save the solar system’s central star?

Full on drama indeed and I have no doubt young listeners will absolutely love it. Angela Woolfe’s high octane rhyming text trips nicely off the tongue and Duncan Beedie’s comic style illustrations are just brilliant.

Little People, Big Dreams: Marcus Rashford / Little People, Big Dreams: Laverne Cox

Little People, Big Dreams: Marcus Rashford
illustrated by Guilherme Karsten
Little People, Big Dreams: Laverne Cox
illustrated by Olivia Daisy Coles
both written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

World famous soccer player and campaigner against child poverty, Marcus Rashford is a truly inspiring person. Coming from a loving family in Manchester he spent much of his childhood practising with his football. His mother did everything within her power to ensure her children had enough to eat, though the family still had to rely on free school meals supplemented by food charities. Supported by his mother he followed his soccer dreams, was scouted and joined the academy at Manchester United where he worked hard to become a great forward, eventually becoming at just eighteen years old, the youngest player to score for his country in his debut match.

However, every single time he played he believed he was doing it not just for himself but for everyone who had shared his dream; and he never forgot where he came from. During the 2020 school closures on account of the Coronavirus pandemic children no longer had free school meals and Marcus’s social conscience led him to start a nationwide campaign so that no child would go hungry.

With powerful illustrations a timeline and additional information, this is an inspiring addition to the series.

One of twins, Laverne Cox experienced considerable bullying as she came to terms with her gender identity. She received no support from her mother, turning to dance to find some joy in her life.
Eventually she gained a scholarship to Alabama Academy of Fine Arts where youngsters were encouraged to be true to themselves. At last Laverne was able to express herself as she was and to make real friends. While studying ballet in New York she was offered a role in a play, discovered a love for acting, went into film and supported by friends who had already made the journey, developed sufficient confidence to start her gender transition.

A very useful book for younger primary age children to learn about the importance of acceptance and respect for others as well as being true to oneself.

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness / The Lola Bee Bop / The Snotty Dribbler

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness
Ben Clanton

School has never been so much fun as it is when having followed the fishy pupils (love their names) of the Aquatic Academy to their place of learning, Narwhal and Jelly find that lessons are cancelled on account of staff sickness and volunteer to become substitute educators – Narwhal as Professor Knowell and Jelly as his ‘sort of super teacher’.

The first subject the best friends offer is Wafflematics – a tasty way of learning about basic addition if you’re a fish

(and a splendid incidental vocabulary lesson for readers of this sixth Jelly and Narwhal book). Next up is a spot of science, which takes the form of a fact-finding scavenger hunt with the class split into two teams and a yummy surprise for the winners.

Break is spent playing a game of Tag and then, when it’s a toss up between Jelly’s art and Narwhal’s writing as the next lesson, what better way to settle their difference of opinion than with a comic, co-created by teachers and class members – a new episode of the Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick Comic series involving a teacher-eating mucus monster. Everybody has so much fun that the day whizzes by in the flash of a fin: assuredly the teaching is unconventional (something that often works well if you happen to be doing a bit of supply in an unknown school); and of course, each lesson is taught with Jelly and Narwhal’s own brand of humour and positivity (further requisites of supply teaching, I suggest). I wonder what grade Narwhal receives from his teacher – that you’ll have to find out from this fun-packed, fact-filled book.

Some of the fun comes from the way that when one fish says something, each of the others responds with a synonym or variation on the word – incidental learning of the memorable kind for young readers. A gigglesome delight from start to FIN!

The Lola Bee Bop
John Dougherty, illustrated by Pauline Gregory
The Snotty Dribbler
Effua Gleed, illustrated by Kamala Nair
Bloomsbury Education

These are additions to the Bloomsbury Young Readers series.
Told in rhyme the engaging jaunty The Lola Bee Bop tells of Lola, a bee that just can’t resist waggling her bottom in bee bop time as she works hard among the flowers. When distaster strikes in the form of their favourite flowers being mown, at the queen’s behest Lola joins her fellow bees in search of more blooms from which to collect nectar and pollen. Eventually they find just the ideal field, collect the necessary and return to the hive. But how will they ever find the way back to those flowers again?

Could this be where Lola’s waggling really comes into its own?

Lots of fun, some gentle scientific learning and splendidly expressive illustrations by Pauline Gregory.

The Snotty Dribbler is seven year old Blay’s name for his baby sister who at fifteen months old frequently annoys her brother intensely especially with her snot, dribbles and fits of crying just when it’s his TV watching time. Oh how Blay wishes for some time apart from this little person. But then when something happens causing baby Bethany to need to spend the night in hospital with his mother, he really starts to miss her; clearly he doesn’t mind her as much as he’d first thought.

A new sibling story, sweetly and simply related with Blay’s emotions evident throughout, made all the more so through Kamala Nair’s bold illustrations.

That’s Nice Love / Dare We Be Dragons?

That’s Nice, Love
Owen Gent
Book Island

We’ve all seen it many times and probably on occasion been guilty of what the adult in this book does when she accompanies her small child to the park. So distracted is the parent by her mobile that she fails to take a single scrap of notice of anything the excited child says about climbing the big tree.
As the boy ascends he has the most amazing adventures – or perhaps flights of fancy. First a multitude of butterflies dance before him as he gazes skywards; then comes an orchestral recital by a group of squirrels,

followed by a scary moment with snakes. To compensate for that though, a troop of monkeys crowns him king, he helps a super-sleek leopard and becomes its friend and finally, he flies with a bird. As he excitedly informs his parent of each event the child receives merely the response, ‘That’s nice, love.’

On the way home, the boy tells the parent that he sometimes feels distant despite their physical closeness and when the two eventually reach home, the child seems to have got through to the adult by revealing a few items he’s collected.
He’s then invited to regale the entire adventure again. Will that parent do what is promised on future excursions; I hope so …

Portable screens may seem amazing but are no match for the richness of a child’s imagination, stimulated by the wonders of the natural world that may be found in the branches of a single tree.
Owen Gent gives his imagination full rein in a series of sublime sequences that explore and expand the spare verbal narrative.

Also celebrating the imagination is

Dare We Be Dragons?
Barry Falls

As a father prepares to bid his daughter goodnight, he embarks on an exciting sequence of flights of fancy, each of which arises out of seemingly ordinary everyday things or events. For when these two go adventuring together even such things as a grassy hill walk becomes a huge erupting volcano, tree trunks morph into giants’ legs and a playground swing is the means for launching them on a moon flight and a sandy shore becomes a place whereon lions play.

There’s a sequence of spreads where Barry Falls splits each one into two : the verso shows the everyday reality and the recto, a show-stoppingly imagined fantasy that occupies the entire page drawing the reader right into the adventure.

Along with a wealth of wonderful worlds to explore so vividly shown, there is a more understated portrayal of the loving bond between parent and child. For this is a playful, supportive father who promises always to be there through the years that constitute that wonderful adventure called life; and so he says in the rhyming narrative that complements those splendidly spirited illustrations.

Darwin & Hooker

Darwin & Hooker
Alexandra Stewart, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This biography of two friends who became two of the most eminent naturalists of the 19th century is a fascinating exploration of their discoveries and of the birth of science as we know it.
Most people know something about Charles Darwin, his theory of evolution and his seminal work On the Origin of Species but I suspect far fewer know more than the name Joseph Hooker. This book published jointly with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, tells the story of Charles and Joseph (who was once Kew’s Director), linking Darwin with Kew.

Divided into four parts, the book takes us on a journey through the early lives of Charles and Joseph, their adventures on their respective voyages, the start and progression of their close friendship, and the amazing legacies they left behind. Little did either of them know that when an erstwhile shipmate of Charles introduced him to his companion in London one day as the latter was preparing to depart for Antarctica, this meeting would gradually evolve into one of the most important ever friendships for science.

It’s incredible to read that very soon after Joseph’s return from his voyage of what turned out to be four years, he received his first letter from Charles – a congratulatory one but in it he also asked the botanist to examine his Galapagos plants and over the next forty years 1,400 letters went backwards and forwards between the two.

A fascinating, compelling read that shows young readers the importance of curiosity, determination and teamwork in scientific endeavour. Joe Todd-Stanton’s enticing illustrations break up and illuminate the text, helping to make it accessible to older primary school readers.

Nibbles: The Bedtime Book

Nibbles: The Bedtime Book
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger

‘Once upon a bedtime, / it was getting very late, / And a book monster called Nibbles / Was sleeping in his crate …’ So begins this latest adventure of our favourite book devouring monster but anybody who knows Nibbles will immediately realise that sleeping will not be what he’s doing. Instead he’s off in search of favourite tales to chomp through.

The first to receive the toothy treatment is The Ugly Duckling (retold by an anagrammatic alias of Nibbles’ author). Having made waves in that

he proceeds to try his luck with a certain fairytale glass slipper try on and ends up showing his rear end to the newly weds as he exits their ceremony.

Thank goodness then for the next volume he discovers – a book of lullabies.

Can those starry wonders up above the world so high, prevent Nibbles from sinking his gnashers into every single planet in the solar system and sated by their galactic singing, transport him back into bed in time for young readers to bestow upon him one goodnight kiss before he finally drifts off to dreamland? Or maybe some other place … you never know with Nibbles.

A wonderful bedtime read, but equally enjoyable whatever time you choose to share it with young children. Adult readers aloud will have fun identifying their favourite childhood stories among those on the shelves in the book-filled room.

Lord of the Forest

Lord of the Forest
Caroline Pitcher and Jackie Morris

‘Tiger was born fluffy and small, with his eyes tight shut.” So begins this gloriously lyrical fable about a tiger cub that doesn’t fully appreciate until he reaches maturity the meaning of his mother’s words, “The Lord of the Forest is …”.

Roaming the forest where all is new and exciting, or playing with his brothers, the little tiger’s focus is the sounds around: the sap rising in the trees, the slither of snakes, the Monkey’s whooping; he’s even aware of the curling of Chameleon’s tongue and little Gekko’s gulps, the flip of fish and Water-snake sliding down from the logs. His mother says, “When you don’t hear them, when silence burns and time stands still, then my son, be ready.” It’s then he’ll know the Lord of the Forest is present.

As he walks alone, grown considerably now, the tiger still listens and waits for the coming of the Lord of the Forest; but who is he? 

He asks the other forest creatures about this Lord, and the beautiful peacock, the rhinoceros and the enormous elephant all arrogantly claim the title belongs to them. However, Tiger understands that screeching, bellowing, roaring beasts such as these, couldn’t possibly be the one that his mother has readied him to meet. 

He continues searching but it’s not until he’s fully grown, with a mate and cubs of his own, that he discovers the identity of the beast he’s been seeking.

Elegance and humility reign both in Caroline Pitcher’s lyrical telling and Jackie Morris’s awesome art.
Jackie’s stunning watercolours immediately breath life into the creatures she portrays: the dignity and grace of the tiger in particular is palpable, while Caroline Pitcher’s poetic narrative truly transports us to the forest habitat with its magnificent sights and mellifluous sounds.

This enlarged edition of a book first published 18 years ago seems even more beautiful than the original. Sheer joy to read aloud, it’s one to add to family bookshelves and classroom collections.

An Unexpected Thing / Hello Autumn

An Unexpected Thing
Ashling Lindsay
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Little Fred is a fearful child. Unlike most of us who feel frightened from time to time, Fred is fearful almost always, so he spends his days and nights in fear of such things as unexpected loud noises and shadowy shapes
Surprisingly one day a spot appears and unsurprisingly Fred hides himself away, too afraid to look directly at it. Coco also sees the same spot when standing close by in the garden, but her reaction is quite different for what she sees is totally different.

She decides that she can help Fred by trying to get him to see things from her viewpoint. For instance if Fred sees a moon blasted from its orbit whereas Coco sees it as a wind born bubble bobbing along: Fred sees a catastrophic comet, Coco a balloon bearing a birthday wish. Eventually after some discussion, fearful Fred and fearless Coco agree that the spherical object could have been anything.

As a result Fred now feels ready to face his fear.
When something else unknown comes along Fred is able to do something he’d never have done without Coco’s support: he joins her in a voyage of discovery. A friend can make all the difference when it comes to facing things that make us feel unsure or frightened.

This smashing story about finding the courage to go out and explore the world is touching and empowering. Ashling’s use of different perspectives for her beautiful scenes underscores the different viewpoints of the two characters.

On a similar theme is

Hello Autumn
Jo Lindley

This story (the second in a sequence) features four friends – the Little Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form. As the book opens they realise that Summer must hand the weather crown to Autumn so the new season can begin. Doing so triggers changes such as the appearance of a chill mist and the heavens turning from green to golden yellow; the friends feel the call of adventure.
Some fun games ensue on the way to the Tick Tock Tree for a leaf romp but the sighting of ripe juicy blackberries causes them to pause and three friends start feasting. Not so Autumn: he worries about such possibilities as pricking a finger, or becoming entangled in the brambles.

A similar thing happens each time one of the others suggests trying something new: what his friends see as fun games, Autumn sees as worrying situations. His weather crown weighs heavy.
When the four reach the Tick Tock Tree with its abundance of fallen leaves, Autumn’s fear mounts even higher as a cascade of terrifying ‘what-ifs’ invade his thoughts. Suddenly there’s a cry for help. Summer is stuck on a branch. What happens after that involves teamwork, resulting in a jumbled tumble and a fear-releasing realisation for Autumn. What a relief; now he’s ready to face the world.

Vibrantly coloured scenes accompany an important message about facing your fears with the support of friends. A cute story and also some gentle learning about seasonal change that’s just right for sharing with foundation stage children.

The Mooncatcher’s Rescue / The View from the Very Best House in Town

There are two fiction titles for older primary age readers from Walker Books – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

The Mooncatcher’s Rescue
Karen Lamb, illustrated by Lia Visirin

Something of a loner, River is a boy who likes going mooncatching, skimming his net over the reflections of the night sky in the Bigdeepby village pond. One night while so doing he accidentally awakens the ghost of Mona Brightly and learns that she drowned in that spot and is now searching for her lost treasure so she can go and join her erstwhile husband Raphty. She suggests River dip his net again and what does he pull out but a badger. Not the toy he first thinks it is but a real one that Mona says is an old friend of hers called Boot and that River should take it home with him.

Next morning there’s lots of talk outside class about ghosts in the pond, but then in the classroom is a new girl Kaleisha, who serves as a temporary distraction from the ghosty discussion and gives River hope that he might finally have found a friend in this new girl.
Next time River meets Mona, she talks of a dastardly pirate, one Dashbuckle Fearless, also on the hunt for her treasure and the lad becomes determined to find Mona’s lost treasure before the pirate.

Absolutely full of heart, this magical, sometimes funny adventure is superbly imagined and shows that sometimes friendship can be found in the most unlikely places. Lia Visirin’s splendid black and white illustrations add an additional sprinkling of enchantment to the telling.

The View from the Very Best House in Town
Meera Trehan

Sam and Asha have been best friends for years; they both have an autism diagnosis and each has a special, intense interest. Sam’s is in killing Screech-Leeches in his favourite Househaunt game, Asha’s obsession is with architecture, in particular that of Donneybrooke, the mansion that overlooks the town where she lives. Said mansion is home to Prestyn who is Asha’s arch enemy. (Asha has been banned from visiting since an incident at a party some years before).The story is told from three viewpoints, those of Sam, Asha and the mansion, Donneybrooke.

When Sam is accepted at the prestigious Castleton Academy, everything starts to fall apart between the two friends. After they work together on a school project, Prestyn appears to be befriending Sam but has she a hidden motive in inviting him to her home? Sam feels conflicted: he’s not telling his mother where he really goes instead of football and he knows he’s starting to ignore Asha, but finds Prestyn’s invitations to Donneybrooke hard to resist; she’s certainly very manipulative. It’s when her mind games put Sam in real danger that he realises there’s only one person he can really trust. That person is Asha and he calls out to her.

I felt myself growing increasingly angry at the unkind way some pupils, and adults too, treated both neurodivergent youngsters, but sadly this does reflect real life and this story – a friendship tale with a thriller element is definitely one that will make readers ponder upon what makes a true friend, as well as what is a real home. Powerful indeed.


Rebecca Smith and Zoe Waring
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young Daisy is an aspiring princess and really feels like a fairy princess when she dons the pink gown and crown from her dressing up box. This make-believe helps Daisy to forget about the less happy parts of her life, for this little girl has cancer and often needs to go and stay in a hospital far from her home to have medicine that makes her feel sick and weak. Worse though is that the medicine causes her hair to fall out.

Then back at home she rediscovers that forgotten pink sparkly wig and when she puts it on, Daisy is transformed into Daisy the Superhero complete with flowing cape and matching shimmery mask. Wearing this amazing attire Daisy transports herself to the town zoo where she comes to the aid of some lemurs being cruelly frightened by a boy.

She goes on to rescue a bear trapped beneath a fallen tree in the forest and to help a little girl at the seaside who has dropped her ice-cream in fright when a seagull came too close. Now when she’s back in that ward for treatment Daisy wears her pink hair, bolstered by the knowledge that her kindness power has made her a superhero able to face anything.

Eventually Daisy’s hair grows back: the wig has done its job and more.

This inspiring, uplifting rhyming book based on a true story is published in support of the Little Princess Trust, which supplies wigs for children with cancer. With its plethora of pink touches as well as that wig in Zoe Waring’s illustrations, this is definitely one to share with youngsters like Daisy undergoing cancer treatment (or perhaps sick with another serious illness).

Rosie Raja: Churchill’s Spy / The Secret School Invasion

Rosie Raja: Churchill’s Spy
Sufiya Ahmed
Bloomsbury Education

Set in Word War 2 this is a thrilling read, a historical adventure that presents the oft-overlooked role of Indian people in the war and is told from the viewpoint of young Rosie, a strong-willed, brave Muslim girl who until early in 1941 lived in a palace in India, the princess daughter of an English father, a Captain in the British Indian army and an Indian mother. As the story opens her Mama has died and she’s in England with her father, unhappy about her new restricted village life and often left alone by her Papa.

So when she overhears a discussion between her Papa and his guests during which she discovers that he is about to depart for France to spy for the British government, she seizes the chance and stows away in his plane to occupied Paris. Her Papa decides not to send her back to England and Rosie finds herself surrounded by secrets, lies and spies; but Rosie is an eager, fast learner who is ready to give her all to the cause of what is right.

Vividly told, there’s action aplenty, much bravery and a betrayal. We also learn something of the Indian Independence movement including the role of women, in particular Rosie’s aunt, Rani-K, as well as the actions of those in the British Empire. An enthralling story and one that would make a wonderful class read for upper KS2 classes studying WW2.

The Secret School Invasion
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

Always expect high drama when in the company of Izzy and her friends Jodi, Zach and Maisie. Now they are faced with yet another far out crisis: their school is to be amalgamated with St Balthazar’s, their ARCH-ENEMIES. Shock horror! Followed almost immediately by chaos and shortly after by the sound of marching feet and Mr Graves’ whisper of “They’re here. Save us all.”

In come the new pupils with their perfect blazers, shiny shoes huge creepy smiles. Even worse though is when our four friends enter their classroom and discover that sitting at their desks are four of the newbies. Let’s say that Miss Jones’s comment “… I know this isn’t ideal” does not go down well with Izzy et al. especially as it’s obvious that said teacher is actually freaking out at the present situation. So too are Izzy, Jodi, Maisie and Zach when they notice that four of the newcomers look pretty much identical to them. Time to call an urgent secret meeting.

But that is just the start of things: these new ‘Super Pupils’ definitely need investigating, if as it seems, they’re not just spying but planning on taking over the entire school. And that must be stopped at all costs.

As always Pamela Butchart shows to perfection the way her young characters allow their imaginations to run wild, conjuring up the most preposterous possibilities, possibilities that Thomas Flintham underscores in his zany illustrations that add another layer of crazy fun. A splendid, frequently hilarious, back-to-school read.

Leila The Perfect Witch / Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches

Leila The Perfect Witch
Flavia Z.Drago
Walker Books

Young Leila is a multi-talented little witch with awards for fast flying, cunning conjuring, sneaky shape-shifting and crafty carving. However, there’s one trophy she longs to add to the display cabinet – her dream is to win the Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off. Leila comes from a long line of baking experts and this year she’s at last old enough to enter the contest and has high hopes of claiming the prize. Then comes a big shock: in contrast to her other endeavours, Leila finds that the requisite skills for becoming an expert in the Dark Arts of Patisserie elude her. Not so her determination however. She eschews having fun with her siblings and devotes her time to creating that perfect recipe – with disheartening results. What will her family think? It’s not what she anticipated.

Instead, her sisters offer to help. Leila accepts, learns a lot and thoroughly enjoys the time they spend together.

When the night of the event arrives, she overcomes her nerves and does her best.
Leila doesn’t win that trophy but she does learn something very important: there’s more than one way to feel like a winner and sharing an experience and being supported by a loving family are wins for her.

Take one little witch, a supportive family, a froggy friend, a bowlful of whimsy, lashings of visual humour, spoon in a visitor from another picture book, mix them all together and the result is a very sweet, satisfying story with an agreeable message.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Winnie and Wilbur have been enchanting children for about thirty-five years and still the magic holds good. Now it’s time for the two of them to have a holiday – a very special one on an island in the middle of the ocean. So, with suitcase packed off they fly to the Festival of Witches. It’s an amazing event attended by witches from all over the world and a considerable number of cats too.

There are opportunities to learn new spells, dance, sing, eat lots and generally have a great time. When she’s about to depart, Winnie receives lots of invitations from other witches to come and pay them a visit; these Winnie stashes in her suitcase. Now this had happened on previous occasions but Winnie had never responded to any such invitations. However after a few days in her own home, Winnie begins to miss the company of the other witches. Out come those invitations and she goes through them.

Selecting four places to visit, Winnie and Wilbur go first to a tree house, then to a mountain top residence, a seashore castle owned by three witches and finally, a lighthouse.

Once again though, the peace and quiet of home on their return is a tad underwhelming; but then …

Korky Paul’s vibrant, richly detailed illustrations of the diverse witch community and their interactions will keep youngsters entertained for hours, long after they’ve heard this thoroughly enjoyable story read aloud.

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed / Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever

Sona Sharma: A Friend Indeed
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

Sona is in a state of emotional turmoil. Her family is busy planning a first birthday celebration for her little sister Minmini causing Sona to feel left out and her class teacher has just announced an election for their class leader. Sona puts herself forward to stand as she wants to prevent Pradeep from becoming their leader but this has caused her to be at odds with both of her best friends. Joy has also put herself up as a candidate and Renu seems to be taking her side. This is one of those instances when Sona has acted before thinking things through and now she must face fighting against her best friend whom she knows would be a great class leader.

Can her beloved stuffed toy Elephant and the President (Sona’s other grandmother) help her decide what to do so that the rift between the three girls can be healed allowing them all to enjoy doing something special for Minmini’s birthday?

Set in Tamil Nadu, as always with these stories warmth, loving relationships and gentle humour are key ingredients, and readers also learn something of the traditions and foods of Sona’s Hindu family. A delightful addition to this series of illustrated chapter books for younger readers.

Barry Loser Worst School Trip Ever
Jim Smith

The Barry Loser series reaches its stupendously silly ninth book with this one. Now with baby brother Desmond most decidedly ruling the household at breakfast time, Barry sets out for school anticipating a dreadfully boring visit to a museum with his classmates; the aim being to find out about the history of television.

It seems as though Barry’s worst fears about the trip will be realised unless he and his mates can pull off their plan; the intention being to sneak out of the museum and onto the set of Future Ratboy

What unfolds is not quite what Barry hopes but there’s a plethora of daft pranks, one involving a gathering of grannies in a loo queue, a grossness of egg and cress sandwiches of the minuscule kind and a large spattering of jokes about bodily functions, as well as a crazy cartoonish drawing on each page, all of which fans of the stories will love.

The Island / Sarah Rising

These are two picture books that deal with current political events and issues.

The Island
Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin

This is probably even more pertinent today than when it was first published in the UK around fifteen years ago.

Washed ashore on his inadequate raft is a man, different from the islanders, which causes them to fear him, but a fisherman persuades the others to take him in. Reluctantly they do so but immediately send him to a deserted part of the island, locking him in a goat pen and leaving him alone. One morning though, the man appears in the town and again is met with hostility except from the fisherman who suggests the possibility of finding a job for the stranger. Excuses pour forth

and the man is returned to the pen but the islanders are increasingly hostile and eventually they reject him completely, savagely driving him with their farming implements, back into the sea.

They turn on the fisherman too, setting fire to his boat and fuelled by their fear, they erect a huge wall around their island to deter further newcomers.

With his brilliant combination of words and deliberately ugly unforgettable images, it feels to me as though Greder is holding up a mirror to the all too many people – including some in positions of power – who are unashamedly hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers. They are the ones who really need to read this book with its themes of prejudice, racism, xenophobia and human rights. With those intensely disturbing scenes of viciousness to another member of the human race, it’s impossible not to feel disgust and shame at such attitudes.

Sarah Rising
Ty Chapman and DeAnn Wiley
Beaming Books

This first person narrative is presented by young Sarah whose day starts in the usual way having breakfast, feeding her insect pets and packing her things in her school bag. But then her Dad gives her some news that changes things completely: he tells her that the police have ‘killed another Black person.’ “They’re supposed to serve and protect us … but they hurt us instead.” ‘ He takes his daughter along to a protest; she joins the throng demanding justice and in so doing she sees for herself the cruel way a police officer attacks a harmless butterfly. Sarah rescues the butterfly left lying on the ground

and rejoins the marching crowd but suddenly realises that in so doing she’s lost her Dad. However with the help of a kindly woman who sees her distress, together with her own inner strength, she gradually overcomes her fear and is eventually reunited with her Dad. A scary experience for first time activist Sarah but one that will surely be the first of many demonstrations of dissent designed to make a crucial difference.

Vividly illustrated by DeAnn Wiley whose scenes include one showing murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were brutally killed by the US police – a vivid reminder of these terrible events. If a girl like Sarah can make a difference so can youngsters everywhere: backmatter includes some suggestions of ways to create change in a community.

Gross FACTopia!

Gross FACTopia!
Paige Towler, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

Prepare to be disgusted as you delve into this compilation of foul facts, every one of which is cleverly linked to the next and every one verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica. Should you choose to start at the beginning you’ll find yourself back in 1858 beside the Thames which at that time was clogged with utterly obnoxious smelling human waste so bad Government thought about moving. Follow the smelly trail and you’ll learn that that was not even the worst smelling place on planet earth. That award goes to Seal Island, just off Cape Town and home to 75,000 Cape fur seals whose poo pongs of rotting fish. There’s a whole lot more about poo

and sewers including that back in ancient Roman times, women sometimes used crocodile poo as make-up. To be sure your olfactory lobes are going to be subjected to an onslaught of gross aromas if you let your nose lead you through the pages.

Of course there are many other ways to go depending on your taste – oops! make that interest takes you. Assuredly you’ll find lots of funny things you didn’t know previously on such topics as gastronomic goriness, what seems like sporting stupidity and much, much more, all somehow connected.

Where Have You Been, Little Cat?

Where Have You Been, Little Cat?
Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

On returning after a day outside, a little cat’s owner is eager to learn what the moggy has been doing. ‘Where did you go?’ she asks, going on to pose a series of further questions. These comprise almost all of the simple straightforward text. What we’re shown in Richard Jones’ storytelling sequence of illustrations offers one possible way of filling in the gaps left by his words. It involves a coming together of cats,

a crown, a special event suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a canine intruder, a confrontation,

a resolution and finally, a return home with a very warm welcome.

Young readers and listeners pouring over the playful pictures still have room to imagine their own interpretation of the events or indeed, invent their own stories. They will surely notice the bit part players – three small red birds and a tiny mouse.

Rich in possibilities, this is a story that children will enjoy returning to over and over again.

Eco Girl

Eco Girl
Ken Max-Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Eve loves the forest beside her home; she loves the animals and birds, but most of all she loves the trees, her favourite being the Baobab tree. Do those trees talk to one another, she wonders wishing that she could be a Baobab and hence talk to the other trees. To be a tree is to be patient her mother tells her and later her father says that each tree plays its own special role in caring for the living things in the world.
Soon after, on a pre birthday visit to her Grandma deep in the forest, after remembering to be patient on their long walk, Eve asks her grandmother, “Would you talk to me if I was a Baobab tree?” Delighted by the response and Grandma’s mention of the next day being a special day, Eve can hardly wait.

Next morning, she gets a magical surprise. Carrying something, Grandma leads her into the forest.

What could it be? It’s something very special that Eve must plant, love and take care of, something that will connect her for ever with the forest she so delights in. That, she proudly assures her Grandma, is something she definitely can do. Many happy returns of the day, Eco Girl.

Heart-warming and inspiring, this is a lovely demonstration of the importance of planting and nurturing trees wherever you live in the world. I love the vibrant colours of the illustrations, especially the variety of greens in the forest landscape.

(After the story are some tree facts including a mention of Wangari Maathai who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.)

Amari and the Great Game

Amari and the Great Game
B.B. Alston

In this second book starring Amari Peters, the young magician turned thirteen and almost a year has passed since she proved that magicians can be good. Now as a Junior Agent at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, excited to be there for her summer internship, she has another mystery to solve. Following a time freeze that’s over in a moment, the Supernatural World Congress is trapped in time as are many of Georgia’s schools. Who can be responsible for such a terrible happening – a powerful magician? That is definitely the belief of the new temporary heads of the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.

Turning to the secret League of Magicians in the hope of receiving help, Amari receives instead the
offer of the Crown of Count Vladimir. However she doesn’t feel ready to accept the powers that come with this and so turns it down. This allows another to step forward, someone with very dangerous plans. Nevertheless, in a determined attempt to save her brother from the curse he is under and to prevent war between the League and the Bureau, she agrees to face the other challenger in the Great Game, the winner of which takes the crown. So begins the deadly competition. Fortunately for Amari, her best friend Elsie (who, she has just learned, is heading off to Oxford for a year) and some other allies are there to help her save the world again.

Combining magic and realism, B.B. Alston’s superbly crafted first person narrative is a terrific sequel, adroitly interweaving magic with real-world issues of discrimination and mis-information. Exciting and hugely satisfying, this is a truly immersive read with some wonderful characters.

The Huddle

The Huddle
Sean Julian
Oxford Children’s Books

When albatross chick, Alba, feels the time is right she spreads her wings and taking advantage of the wind, takes to the air. Her flight takes her away from everything familiar and as she searches the sea beneath for food, she fails to notice the huge wave coming up behind. Crash! Alba lands up on a rocky shore but her wing is damaged to that it won’t move. Exhausted and in pain, Alba falls asleep.
When she wakes, she sees a penguin close by. The penguin drops a fish beside her.

Over the days and weeks, more friendly penguins come sometimes bringing her fish, but always making Alba feel cared for and safe from potential harm. Alba loves the playful penguins and little by little she forgets about flying through the sky. Then one day at sundown she notices that her friends look troubled. Dark storm clouds are brewing and there’s a chill wind. The penguins huddle protectively around her

and eventually she falls asleep encircled in their love. After many days the storm abates and Alba wakes to see lots of excited penguin activity as the sun begins to come up on the horizon. Her friends stretch out their wings expectantly, not to fly but to feel its rays. For Alba though, with her wing now mended, it is departure time. Difficult though it is, she stretches out her wings and lifts off to the sound of cheering penguins. Penguins that she will never forget; she’ll cherish those memories and use that love she felt in their company as a model for raising her very own little chick.

The care and concern shown by that penguin colony is a wonderful example of how a simple act of kindness can make all the difference to a struggling individual. Despite its Antarctic setting, this story leaves you with a wonderful warm feeling inside. Sean Julian’s illustrations convey so well both the chill of the landscape and the compassion of the penguins.

When Mino Took the Bus

When Mino Took the Bus
Simon Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books

When he turns eight weeks old, young chipmunk, Mino must bid his mother farewell and set out into the world alone. With the instructions he’s been given running through his mind and his ticket at the ready, Mino excitedly boards the bus to the very last stop. He can hardly wait to reach his destination where he will find his future home, plant his seeds and watch them grow. To help pass the time Mino chats to the driver, shows him his leaf collection and asks, “How can you spend all day waiting to arrive?’ Guido responds thus, “ I often think the journey is just as important as the destination.”

As the journey continues other passengers come on board. First there’s Béatrice who shares her snacks with Milo and receives one of his seeds in return; then others who treat Milo with varying degrees of friendliness. Sometimes the bus stops to allow the passengers to have a little walk and perhaps find something of interest to show each other and especially Milo.

The hours aboard the bus pass almost without notice as Milo is surrounded by his new friends and he decides to collect the memories they share with him. Some passengers depart

and eventually the bus comes to its last stop. None of the remaining passengers hurry to get out and embrace the future but eventually each one leaves and having had to retrace his steps and give the driver something, Mino sets off to find that new home.

What matters most in Simona’s uplifting story so enchantingly illustrated, are the small moments the friends have shared, those are the ones they will remember and cherish.

Big Questions About the Universe

Big Questions About the Universe
Alex Frith and Alice James, illustrated by David J. Plant

Written in conjunction with experts from London’s Greenwich Royal Observatory this book addresses both the common and some of the less common questions children ask about outer space and the universe. Readers join two inquisitive children and a friendly robot programmed to do just that; though to answer ‘… where does gravity come from?’ help is required from Albert Einstein.

It starts with the basics: Where is space? What is in it? How far does it go? Where does it begin? Here and throughout the book, the bot is up front about the answers given, saying that it’s not always entirely possible to give a straight answer to such questions; then going on to show how to approach those that are unanswerable. To their question ‘How BIG is the universe?’ comes this opening to the response, ‘Unknown. Completely unknown.’ Further explanation follows of course including that the universe is constantly expanding. There’s a spread about telescopes of various kinds, another looking at the spherical nature, or not, of things in space, a look at how the universe began, big bang – or not?

The next chapter is devoted to the solar system. Did you know that 1300 Earths could fit inside Jupiter, or that astronomers have discovered over 200 moons in our solar system and that Jupiter has at least 80 of them? So far as we know Earth is unique in having so much water: why this is so is a tricky question and it leads on to a mention of what scientists call the Goldilocks zone – I love that name.

Stars and their secrets has a whole chapter, as does ‘People in space’ and ‘The Biggest questions’ are left to the last chapter. I like the way readers are left to answer for themselves whether or not the vast amount of money spent on space research is worth it; what the authors do is put forward the spin-offs such as air and water purifies, mobile phone cameras and instantaneous world-wide communication through satellite networks.

Though packed with information, its presentation with photos, diagrams, cartoon style illustrations, dialogue boxes and blocks of text, is never overwhelming and draws the reader in and through its pages on a fascinating journey of exploration and discovery. Perfectly pitched for upper KS2.

Mouse & Mole Clink, Clank, Clunk!

Mouse & Mole Clink, Clank, Clunk!
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of Mouse and Mole and this book contains three brand new stories. In the first, Clink, Clank, Clunk, Mouse, relaxing in his hammock with a book suddenly hears a horrible noise coming from the direction of the shed. There he finds Mole tinkering with their motorbike. Informing his friend that one is supposed to do this from time to time, Mole proceeds to dismantle the entire machine and try as they might, the two just can’t put it back together. Along comes Fox who offers to take it off their hands giving them instead a balloon each. Is that the last the friends will see of that motorbike though?

Next, Mole is very troubled about the possibility of Something on the Roof, talking of sleepwalking, a bird nesting in the chimney and others of his thoughts. Can a ripe rosy apple help such notions to disappear?

In A Frisky Fluttery Ghost Mouse has to wait a very long time to share the crispy buttery toast he’s made for breakfast and so while his friend continues to slumber, he hangs out some washing. Once again Mole lets his thinking turn into worrying when he eventually wakes up, looks out of the window and even causes Mouse get an attack of the frights.

Just the thing to share with young children as well as for those beginning to read independently to try as a solo read. Either way, James Mayhew’s superbly expressive illustrations capture the ups and downs of the characters’ everyday life together just perfectly. A delight for both children and adults.

The Circles in the Sky

The Circles in the Sky
Karl James Mountford
Walker Books

After reading this intensely powerful fable-like picture book I needed to sit quietly and just be for a while.

Having spent a night hunting, Fox is reluctant to leave his den, despite the disturbing chorus of birds outside; but follow the sound he must so strange and different does it sound. He follows the birds across the rushing river, past the forgotten house and through the old woodlands to a place where many kinds of flowers grow: an entirely new place for Fox. He also misses the birds huddled in a circle on the ground till they suddenly take to the air, but one is left there, lying quite still. Nothing Fox tries can make this broken Bird move but unbeknown to him his attempts have been watched by Moth.

Moth starts to talk to Fox; she talks of the moon reflecting the sun’s rays, even long after sundown. Fox remains puzzled until Moth explains that the bird is dead. “I was trying to be kind,” she tells Fox. “Sad things are hard to hear. They are pretty hard to say, too. They should be told in little pieces. Bird isn’t here any more … because … Bird is dead.” As the realisation dawns for Fox, Moth offers him comfort and the two sit and share their sadness for a while. Further understanding follows for Fox – like the moon always remembering the sun, he can remember Bird.

Yes, death is a confusing time for those left, as Mountford shows, but equally he offers through Moth a model of being there for the grievers, a simple ritual for saying goodbye and most important of all, hope.

Using earthy hues of the natural world that starkly contrast with the black of sinewy Fox, Moth and Bird, geometric shapes including circles aplenty, straight lines and angles, James’ art captures so wonderfully both the stillness of things gone and the movement of living things.

Not a single hint of talking down to children is there in this awesome book, just a beautiful message beautifully presented.

You need To Chill! / I Believe in Me

You Need to Chill!
Juno Dawson and Laura Hughes

The narrator of this upbeat rhyming picture book has an older brother, Bill; but her friends haven’t seen him for a while and want to know what has happened: where is he? They put forward all manner of possibilities that could account for his absence but from our narrator come denials that all end “And, hun you need to chill.”

However these friends are persistent, caring and determined, till finally comes the revelation, “… The truth is that my brother Bill … is now my sister Lily.’ Yes it may have been something of a shock initially but despite her new name and looks, much remains the same: she’s still as kind, funny and clever as ever; her family all love her.

Both Juno Dawson’s words and Laura Hughes’ pictures are full of warmth and a gentle humour: with its themes of identity, kinship and acceptance this inclusive story beautifully conveys its message in a manner that allows young children to take what they need and ask questions if they want further explanations. Fiction books such as this one are a very good way of opening discussion with primary children in PSHE sessions: such discussions help children learn that differences make the world a much more interesting place.

I Believe In Me
Emma Dodd
Templar Books

In conversation as the two swim together through the swampy landscape, a little crocodile speaks of the self belief the Mother crocodile has instilled in her offspring. Knowing one can do anything if only you try; the importance of never giving up if something goes wrong, as well as telling yourself that those dark days are always followed by brighter ones if you keep reaching for the sky, are key for little humans as well as little crocodiles. That way keeps the entire world open for you to forge your path through life, optimistic and confident in yourself. So says this inspiring little book through Emma’s simple rhyming text and bold digital illustrations, some with gold foil, that perfectly capture the little croc’s sentiments. 

Finger Sports / Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain

Finger Sports
Anna Bruder

Fun and creativity at your fingertips is on offer in Anna Bruder’s second set of interactive and inventive activities inspired by a range of sports. I suspect with the success of The Lionesses in the European Championships that many youngsters will turn first to finger football; or enthused by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, perhaps finger athletics might be the first go to sport of the eight included. Make sure whichever one your participants engage in they remember to do some finger warm ups first as instructed by Anna.

Whoever thought that fingers could become so competitive – although that need not be the case; a challenge could be to make an activity co-operative if played with a friend or sibling. I wonder how that might work with the dog assault course. No matter what, a player’s dexterity is likely to be enhanced after participating in these playful sports be that at home or even in a school break. Anyone feel like an aerobics session?
A super little book to explore and share with and between youngsters.

Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain
Emily Hawkins and R. Fresson
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a large format interactive game book wherein the reader embarks on a survival adventure story that unfolds after an emergency landing high in a remote Alpine mountain region and thence must make a series of life and death decisions to make it home.
The location is fraught with dangers of all kinds: you have to deal with blizzards, altitude sickness, an avalanche, frostbite, a bear attack, raging torrents, cross a glacier and that’s not all. There’s the necessity to find food and water, and navigating so you don’t become even more lost.

The text is full of survival information such as making a snow hole shelter where you can be safe and keep warm during a blizzard, how to judge distances and what to do when hiking in bear country. 

Then there’s the inbuilt lesson on the risk/luck relationship and the vital importance of making good decisions when in a mountain region with life threatening situations to face. Having made your choice when faced with each threat, your decision is further tested by using the pop-out spinner provided, which acts as a pointer to the idea that there is always an element of chance in dangerous situations.

As well as Fresson’s Hergé-like illustrations showing the drama of the journey, each spread contains diagrams and there are insets of newspaper clippings featuring real-life survivors too. 

Very engaging, lots of fun and with a large amount of factual information, this book provides a great way to spend time away from screens.

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World / Human Kindness

Stories of Peace & Kindness for a Better World
Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Otter-Barry Books

This book contains Elizabeth Laird’s lively retellings of seven folktales from various parts of the world – Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and China – each of which is intended to inspire hope and reconciliation following recent conflict or war; and each of which is elegantly illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. In view of the on-going Russian attacks on Ukraine it couldn’t be more appropriate and timely.

In the first story from Ethiopia a fight between two dogs, one small, one large quickly escalates into a battle between two clans wherein lives are lost on both sides. Can the words of a wise old man show the fighters the error of their ways?

It’s the discovery of buried treasure, and an act of forgiveness that ultimately lead to a reunion of a father and the younger of his two daughters in Allah Karim, the tale from Sudan.

A Palestinian shepherd tries and succeeds in showing a rich sultan what real kindness is; and a camel is fundamental in an ageing father’s choice of an heir to rule his kingdom in Yemen. There’s a selfish Emir ruling a great kingdom in Afghanistan: can the angel that appears in his dream cause him to change his ways and become a caring ruler? From Syria comes a tale wherein a woodcutter ventures onto an island, persuades the resident lion to allow him to take away some of the wood to sell thus saving himself and his family from starving, only to spurn the lion when he tries to join a party he’s hosting: what does that mean for the woodcutter/lion friendship? Finally in the Uighur story from China the Khan’s nine princess daughters eventually bring peace and happiness to the kingdom of Kashgar and best of all is the fact that it’s done without fighting.

Rich in pattern, the illustrations are infused with a gentle humour that subtly convey both the futility of hostility and fighting, and the joy brought about by peace.

Human Kindness
John Francis and Josy Bloggs
What on Earth Books

Starting with some examples from his own life, author and Planetwalker John Francis explores aspects of kindness before moving on to look at the history of kindness from the times of prehistoric humans to the present. He uses evidence from archaeological findings and ancient texts presenting a variety of versions of the ‘Golden Rule’ from different world views.
One section of the book is devoted to stories of kindness from all over the world and include such people as Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman, Harold Lowe (a junior officer on the Titanic), healthcare workers and healers, people who have raised money for various charities concerned with education, hunger prevention, healthcare provision and animal welfare. Did you know that there are inventions that arose out of the imaginations of individuals who saw the need for creating a means to make life better for humans, for animals or for the planet?

There’s also information on the science of kindness – how being kind and compassionate benefits our health and happiness, and some examples of ways children can be kind.

Be they large or small, acts of kindness make the world a better place so, with its warm, bright illustrations by Josy Bloggs, this is a book that I’d like to see in primary classrooms and on family bookshelves.

Whisper on the Wind / Iceberg

These are two picture books from Allen & Unwin – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Whisper on the Wind
Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

A gorgeous, lyrical cumulative tale celebrating the ocean and its wonders with equally gorgeous watercolour illustrations that perfectly capture the words and spirit of Claire’s writing.
Young Ren lies asleep dreaming in her lighthouse bedroom: ‘This is the whisper / in Ren’s dream’ we read, as the wind captures that whisper whisking it across a moonbeam lit dreamscape filled with playful fish and dolphins diving in the swirling sea.

It reaches a small sailing boat whereon a sailor with a net catches the whisper, fathoms its message and knows just where she must go. And so she does in good time for a perfect start to the day for two people, for love has a special power of its own.

Childhood magic is encapsulated in both Claire Saxby’s multi-layered text and Jess Racklyeft’s powerfully evocative illustrations that together gently pull you into the ocean’s depths and back to safety on land once more.

By the same creators, and now in paperback is

Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

In a poetic text sophisticated and yet accessible, Claire presents the life story of an iceberg through the changing seasons of its Antarctic location. To read it aloud is music to the ear; to gaze at each richly layered illustration is to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of an awe-inspiring landscape. To experience the two together is artistic richness indeed.

As you open the first page prepare to be taken on a journey above and below the ocean: you will see penguin tracks, orcas’ shadowy shapes and spy seals and seabirds – terns and cormorants – and a multitude of other life forms that are all part and parcel of an environment that is at the same time seemingly endless, full of life, capable of renewing itself, yet frighteningly fragile.

Such a brilliant gatefold illustration

This stunning book draws our attention to the melting Antarctic snows, suggesting subtly during the journey and asking much more strongly in an afterword, that we humans do everything within our power to address the effects climate change is having and will increasingly have, and thus protect and preserve the fauna and flora of an environment that is unlike any other.

It’s the Journey not the Destination

It’s the Journey not the Destination
Carl Honoré, illustrated by Kevin & Kristen Howdeshell
Magic Cat

The author of this book urges readers who undertake any of forty adventures here to take their time. That’s the only way to discover what makes each place special and worth a visit. I’ll never forget one time I was staying in Jaipur when a group of tourists from the USA rolled up to the hotel and one of them said, “Hey, what country are we in now?” Their whistle-stop tour to several parts of the world certainly wasn’t about the amazing people, the sights, sounds and smells – the real things that makes each place special, which they were going to miss out on with this attitude. It’s a pity they’d not been able to read what Carl Honoré has to say before setting out.

The book has four main sections: Journeys on Foot, Journeys by Bike, Journeys by Boat and Journeys by Train. These slower modes of transport have been deliberately chosen by the author as being most suitable for those who want to savour the sights, sounds and smells both of the places they stop at and what they pass as they travel. Every section starts with a world map locating each journey.
No matter which of the Journeys on Foot you choose, doing it with mindfulness will make all the difference. Otherwise you’ll likely miss the possibility of seeing a sloth hanging upside down or even better, swimming in the blue waters of Costa Rica’s Tenorio Volcano Park, a dazzling tropical rainforest. And you’ll most certainly not feel the ancient spiritual power of the enormous Uluru stone monolith or notice how its colour changes with the angle of the sun.
I have visited India’s Rajasthan state almost every year for at least two decades doing a lot of exploring on foot but cycling from Jodhpur to Udaipur (my favourite of the three cities mentioned) to Jaipur is too great a challenge for me though I’ve met people who have done just that.

Each of the cities and environs offers an astonishing mix of ancient and modern; a sensory cornucopia for sure.

Another of my favourite cities, Amsterdam, is included in the Journeys by Boat section. Here you can explore the wonderful canals and elegant architecture, perhaps in a pedalo, savouring every moment of the experience.

When readers turn to the final section, in particular the ‘Hail the Highlanders on the Jacobite Steam Train’ spread they may well recognise the Glenfinnan Viaduct illustrated; that’s because the Hogwarts Express travels over it in the Harry Potter films. However the entire journey offers a visual feast with those amazing mountains and valleys.

No matter which of the journeys you put on your ‘to do’ list, make sure to read carefully the author’s 12 ways to travel ‘Slow’; it could make all the difference to your experiences. Till then you can become a world traveller without leaving your sofa by slowly reading this beautifully illustrated book; but think of what you’re missing.

Alcatoe and the Turnip Child

Alcatoe and the Turnip Child
Isaac Lenkiewicz
Flying Eye Books

I am a huge fan of vegetables but those grown underground are just not my thing. Nonetheless, I immediately found myself rooting for the Turnip Child in Isaac Lenkiewicz’s magical story told in comic format.

The setting is Plum Woods where spells come alive and witches gather for the Annual Harvest Festival to celebrate the season. Therein among others, resides reclusive Alcatoe the witch who acts as narrator for the tale. There’s also the grumpy Mr Pokeweed, reputedly half goblin who has his eyes firmly set on the main prize at the harvest festival pageant and the local children, three in particular – Emma, Chris and Holly – who are determined to beat him.

Fortunately for them, they come upon a hat belonging to Alcatoe on their way to school and that gives them a perfect reason to visit the witch and enlist her help in growing a prize-winning turnip.

Happily Alcatoe knows just the right ingredients to make magic happen and she wants to get her own back on the one in charge of the pageant; but the three children must gather the items for themselves. Off they go in search of the tail hair of a copycat, the sneeze of a donkey and a chocolate bar.

However, operation champion turnip works just a little too well, astonishingly so for the children.
Can disaster be averted? Perhaps, but only if Alcatoe comes to the rescue – again!

Start with a large amount of creative talent, add several spoonfuls of magic, umpteen vegetables, sprinklings from the condiment containers, drams of determination and the result is one cute character, a fair bit of mayhem and a wonderfully funny, tremendously tasty tale.

All the Animals Were Sleeping / Amazing Animal Treasury

All the Animals Were Sleeping
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Author Clare and illustrator Jenny transport readers to the dry, grassy plains of the Serengeti where a little mongoose makes his way back to his burrow. As he scurries beneath the darkening sky he encounters in turn giraffes, vervet monkeys, zebras, a herd of elephants – ‘The Elephants’ ears draped like sails. Their trunks muzzled in the dry, dusty ground.’ 

storks, a monitor lizard near the riverbank, 

spotted butterflies and a cheetah family, all of which are sleeping, each in their own way. Finally under a star-filled sky, the little mongoose reaches the burrow where he joins his sisters and brothers curled up with a parent and then he too closes his eyes and at last it truly is a case of All the Animals Were Sleeping.

Lyrically written and strikingly illustrated with gorgeous details of the featured fauna and background flora, this is a gorgeous book to share at bedtime or indeed any time. (After the main narrative are three pages with information about each the animals featured in the story and about the Serengeti itself.)
Add to KS1 topic boxes and family bookshelves.

Amazing Animal Treasury
Chris Packham, illustrated by Jason Cockroft
Red Shed

This large volume brings together all three of Chris Packham and Jason Cockcroft’s titles: Amazing Animal Babies, Amazing Animal Homes and Amazing Animal Journeys.
Chris uses a simple, direct and clear writing style appropriate for the intended young audience and there’s an absolute wealth of information here as readers join a group of explorers who travel the world observing various creatures and in particular their young. There are froglets, baby Komodo dragons, albatross chicks as well as baby earthworms, tiger cubs and meerkat pups and we learn something of how they feed and attempt to stay alive.

Just like we humans, animals need somewhere secure and safe to be a family, a place that is home.
It might be in a building already constructed, it could be underground, in or near water, in a tree but some creatures – banded snails for instance – have ready-made homes. 

Certain animals live in colonies, African termites are one example but others have to work hard to create a safe place just for one (a Bark spider, say). There is so much to discover about Animal Homes and this is a great place to start.

With just the right amount of detail as before, Journeys explains why animals migrate and presents some of those that do including the ‘masters of migration’ – leatherback turtles, red crabs, wildebeest, free-tailed bats, the monarch butterfly and blackcap birds as well as others that make much shorter, but vital, journeys.

For young animal enthusiasts and school collections; it’s ideal for the foundation stage and just beyond.

My First Baking Book / Kids Can Cook Vegetarian

My First Baking Book
David Atherton, illustrated by Harry Woodgate
Walker Books

Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton has a new cookery book for young cooks and it’s bursting with exciting recipes, each with a healthy twist. It’s divided into five sections – breads, cakes, sweet biscuits and bites, pastries and finally, some extra special ‘showstoppers’ but first of all David offers users some helpful tips, ‘tricks’, a few facts and an equipment list.

I’ve certainly never thought of baking a loaf in a flowerpot but this is one of the ideas in the bread section and it was interesting to find chocolate chip buns in the same section – a recipe to try when I have young relations staying; that’s if I can tempt them way from all the alluring cakes in this book. The chocolate garden cups remind me of when we visit Udaipur, Rajasthan where the owner of our favourite cafe would quickly rustle up chocolate cup cakes (sans gummy worms) for us when they’d run out of the pre-baked ones. I think those were cooked actually in the cups rather than a baking tin like they are in David’s recipe.

My very favourite idea is the show stopping focaccia sunflower picture. This is actually a flatbread that looks like a work of art in Harry Woodgate’s illustrations. It’s the perfect thing to offer any Ukranian guests you might be hosting, or to bake with a primary school class where there are Ukranian children.

As with his previous books David puts exciting, creative twists on baked goodies that might otherwise seem relatively ordinary and there are plenty of those in this book, each one clearly and alluringly illustrated by Harry Woodgate.

Kids Can Cook Vegetarian
illustrated by Esther Coombs
Button Books

Comprising an introduction giving information on safety, equipment and basic techniques and more than thirty recipes divided into three sections, this is for a vegan like myself, a very welcome addition to the Kids Can cooking series.

First come the ‘snacks and sides’ – savoury treats and three dips. Main meals is the largest part and includes breakfast burritos, falafels – my mouth is already watering at the prospect of making these, a yummy sounding roasted vegetable bowl, bean burgers and carrot hot dogs – now there’s another great idea. 

For those with a penchant for pasta, several of the recipes in this section include some kind of pasta, though I rather like the thought of courgetti, which looks like a noodle dish but uses long thin strips of courgette. This is definitely going on my list to try.

There are six ‘sweet treats’, two of which are for pancakes (blueberry and banana) but the recipe that is top of my must make treat list is the courgette brownies.

With easy to follow, step by step instructions for each recipe, illustrated by Esther Coombs, this book offers hours of fun in the kitchen (under the watchful eye of an adult) and an assortment of goodies to look forward to consuming. Wash those hands, put on your apron and off you go.

I Remember

I Remember
Jeanne Willis and Raquel Catalina
Nosy Crow

George’s grandma, Kathleen, is having trouble remembering things, even recognising her grandson. When he visits her one afternoon she’s forgotten that the last time he called was just the previous day. George however, is full of love and acceptance of his grandma’s forgetfulness and they share a wonderful time together as they eat a chocolate biscuit between them and go to play outside in the garden wearing their blue coats. Kathleen has a problem with her buttons

and then as they walk out together she explains how she is able to recall being five but is unable to remember what she did just five minutes earlier.

In the garden George involves his gran in some pretend play with her as an astronaut, himself as pilot of their spaceship (the garden bench) and the pigeons as aliens. When George climbs a tree, Kathleen suddenly becomes anxious but he quickly comes to her rescue and they go in together. There’s further confusion and George reminds her who he is as they look at a photo of when they were both younger.

After shedding a few tears, Kathleen joins her grandson in a song and dance until they’re both in need of a rest.

All ends happily with George knowing that even though her mind might forget, her heart never does: that shared love will always be there transcending all else

This is an important and beautifully told story of the effects of dementia, memory loss and confusion ,, the effects of which some children may well recognise in people they know and love. George’s way of dealing with how Kathleen is affected will reassure youngsters and Raquel Catalina’s brilliantly expressive illustrations portray the intergenerational love between the two characters perfectly. A real treasure for sharing at home or in school.

The Odd Fish / How to Spot a Dinosaur

Introducing two recent Farshore picture books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

The Odd Fish
Naomi Jones and James Jones

The inspiration for this eco-tale came from the author and illustrator’s then two year old son watching Blue Planet 11 and being unable to differentiate between the real fish and the plastic floating in the ocean. Equally unable to do so is the helpful Little Fish out swimming with her family who comes upon Odd Fish bob, bobbing along alone and assumes that he’s become separated from his family and must be lonely. She suggests she and her shoal help find them and while searching they come upon a seashorse who says that if they follow the current they will find others like Odd Fish. They swim on and come upon and untangle Octopus caught up in a fishing net, have a narrow escape, come to the aid of a turtle endeavouring to eat a plastic bag

and finally there in front of Little Fish is a whole school of odd fish of various shapes, sizes and colours: ‘There’s too many odd fish to count! Where did they all come from?’

The placing of text and images ensures this gentle story flows along beautifully and it’s impossible to avoid the fact that sadly we humans have to take responsibility for what Little Fish encounters – a huge mass of plastic that is a constant danger to the creatures of our oceans. Naomi reminds readers of this on a final spread stating that around 12,000,000 tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and asks everyone at home and in school to help reduce this terrible, potentially deadly, pollution.

How to Spot a Dinosaur
Suzy Senior and Dan Taylor

In Suzy Senior’s bouncy rhyming tale of dinosaur hunting in the park we join two dino-enthusiasts, a sister, and her brother who acts as narrator,. Armed with a book of dino-facts and binoculars, the siblings are sure they’re going to find a fair few of these stomping, roarsome creatures. However after several incidences of mistaken identity,

their enthusiasm turns to disappointment and despair; but then the snack man suggests another location to try. Off they go again until they reach a huge building and lo and behold …

Suddenly a fearsome “ROAAAARRRR!” sends them fleeing for their lives, so they think, but perhaps this too is a case of mistaken identity that can only be relieved by slices of cake and cold drinks. Perhaps then the siblings could be persuaded to take another look inside that large building they dashed from.
After an exciting day it’s time to head for home, safe in the knowledge that there’s no need to bother looking out for dinosaurs as they died out long, long ago …

There’s a gentle nod to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in this lively quest for prehistoric reptiles that continue to be many young children’s favourite storybook creatures. Such dino-fans will definitely love the various misidentifications shown in Dan Taylor’s humorous scenes of the determined dinosaur seekers.

More Board Book Fun

These are recent board books from Gecko Press and Nosy Crow – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Lionel Eats All By Himself
Lionel Poops
Éric Veillé

Lionel is a lively little lion and in the first story he’s endeavouring to become an independent eater cheered on by a paternal voice as he consumes his peas, his pumpkin, a slice of cake, a banana and some kind of pudding, using either his paws or a spoon. After each food, although most of it has gone into Lionel’s mouth some has splattered onto his mane making it increasingly blobby 

until it’s almost entirely covered. Then after a hearty roaring burp that sends the blobs on his mane flying every which way, the little creature makes it known he wants to get down and as he walks away from his high chair we see a trail of food.
Doubtless little humans will enjoy seeing Lionel’s increasingly messy mane as he receives repeated praise for his eating.

In the second book Lionel is trying to get to grips with pooping in the appropriate place but as he bounces on his trampoline the urge comes upon him and he contemplates dumping elsewhere: on some passing cows, a pair of wild cats, tennis balls, a couple of polar bears, a bus, even the Eiffel Tower and the sun. However with each passing possibility he receives a loud ‘NO, LIONEL, NO!’ aside and it’s that which causes him to seek another possible place on which to poop. Eventually our infant lion bounces right onto his potty and there, not only does he drop his pile of poo but he also has a wee – hurrah! A rousing cheer comes from all the animals and landmarks Lionel very nearly pooped upon. 

Veilllé’s vibrant scenes of the mischievous Lionel in combination with the simple texts with their repeat refrains will delight young humans and will surely make adults laugh too.

Who’s Hiding?
Satoru Onishi

Those who play the Who’s Hiding? game with this book will meet eighteen different animals. For each of the double spreads Onishi uses alternately white or a brightly coloured background. On each of the coloured spreads readers are asked to work out the answer to the titular question with the missing animal(s) merging with the background, although the black and white facial features – eyes, nose and mouth – are still visible.
After the first, which introduces the named characters, on all the spreads with white backgrounds, a creature (or more than one) is in turn, crying, 

angry, with horns, facing backwards, sleeping, facing backwards (the answer is different this time). Finally out go the lights: this spread is black save for eighteen pairs of eyes and the question is “Who’s who?’
An engaging and entertaining alternative to the usual seek-and-find books through which little ones can sharpen their observation skills, for attention to detail is vital and memory is also important. Why does zebra appear to be suffering from the grumps on every spread, one wonders. Is that its normal nature or has something upset this particular animal?

National Trust: Big Outdoors for Little Explorers: Woods
Anne-Kathrin Behl
Nosy Crow

Young children will meet a multitude of creatures in the woodland habitat visited in this book. There’s a woodpecker that creates a loud tap, tap sound as it pecks at the tree trunk with its sharp beak (the slider really demonstrates this well), while among the trees lurks a fallow deer and a hedgehog scuttles by. Minibeasts aplenty are there too – munching caterpillars, ladybirds and a beautiful blue butterfly. Turn the page and a couple of moles have popped up from their tunnels and rabbits hop hither and thither.

Night has come on the final spread bringing out some foxes from their dens and owls are a hunting.

A lovely introduction to some of the fauna, and indeed flora, of a wood.

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Well-known for her adaptations of classic tales into comic strip format for younger readers, Marcia Williams has chosen ten heroes almost all of whom are male to present in this collection and all having the requisite characteristics – strength, looks, charm and brains. Marcia lists ten heroic essentials on the opening spread then goes on to introduce the gods of Olympus, they who hold in their hands the fate of every would-be hero, most importantly those we meet in this book.

I love the way a cheeky Pan puts down his musical pipes and moves around the beautiful borders augmenting Marcia’s comic strips with his interjections, as readers meet first Perseus, slayer of the gorgon Medusa; Bellerophon destroyer of the Chimera, who loses his winged horse Pegasus in so-doing, and then Atlanta – she who uses her spear to kill a monstrous boar.

The remaining encounters are with Jason, Achilles – he of the vulnerable heel; daring Heracles who spent ten years undertaking the ten labours set by King Eurystheus; Theseus, the stunningly beautiful Psyche, tragic lovers Orpheus and Eurydice and finally, Odysseus of Trojan horse fame who blinds the Cyclops, resists the song of the Sirens is captured and kept for seven years by a nymph, Calypso and finally returns home to his wife Penelope who has trouble recognising him after so long apart.

This is enormous fun for individual readers and a terrific primary classroom resource.

Dead Good Detectives / The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger

These are exciting detective stories recently published by Farshore – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.

Dead Good Detectives
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Chloe Dominique

Here is something completely different from the author of the fabulous ROAR series and it’s way more than ‘dead good’, this is dead fantastic. It features twelve year old Sid Jones who lives with her dad who runs the miniatures museum in the the town of Fathom. Sid has a terrific imagination, a liking for maps and spends a lot of time hanging out in the graveyard with her best friend, the clever, eccentric Zen. Sometimes though she gets embarrassed by his behaviour and slowly starts to avoid his company particularly when she accidentally calls forth a 300-year-old pirate ghost, Bones, by means of a Crunchie bar and a red gel pen as her town prepares for its annual Pirate Day extravaganza.

Bones starts to follow her around, calling her magical for releasing him from his imprisonment in Halfway House, and irritatingly talking of his lost treasure. The peculiar establishment is full of lost souls in limbo trapped by landlord Old Scratch, a truly menacing character and now Sid’s help is required to assist Bones in his search for the treasure, thus allowing him to leave the world of the living at long last.
Time is running out: can Sid and Zen help Ezekiel ‘Bones’ Kittow before it’s too late.

A super piratical adventure – in the words of Bones, ‘a rollicking caper’ it certainly is, but it’s also a tale of being strong enough to be your true self as you grow up, however unconventional that may be. The dead good news is that there’s more to come of the DGD soon, meanwhile chips with curry sauce are the order of the day.

The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger
J.T.Williams, illustrated by Simone Douglas

Set in London towards the end of the eighteenth century, this is a riveting tale from author J.T. Williams who is new to me,. It’s particularly unusual as the two main protagonists are black girls, Lizzie Sancho, age twelve, and her new friend from an aristocratic family, Dido Belle. We follow the girls as they try to discover who attempted to murder Lizzie’s father, Ignatius, as he was about to make his debut as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. (Both Dido Belle and Ignatius Sancho were real people.)

There’s high drama indeed as people they know start disappearing; it’s difficult for the girls to know who to trust but they do know there’s a tall shadowy figure lurking and watching them. There are surprises for Lizzie when she discovers things about some of her own family members she wasn’t previously aware of.

Through these enormously likeable, determined people we learn something of the experiences of Black British people in the 18th century, the British slave trade and how some people were striving towards the total emancipation of people of African descent.

A vivid, superbly told historical adventure that is fast paced, unpredictable and filled with genuine peril. With super black and white illustrations by Simone Douglas, I definitely recommend it for older primary readers and beyond. At the end of the book something happens that sets the scene for Lizzie and Belle’s next adventure: I look forward to it eagerly.

The World at your Feet

The World at your Feet
Karl Newson and Clara Anganuzzi
Studio Press

What a wonderful title for this book, the theme of which is hugely important for children in these times of increasing uncertainty about so many things in a world that I know for some of them, feels scary and out of control.

On the first spread we see a small child standing alongside a group of friendly-looking animals accompanied by Karl’s words that open the dialogue, ‘Who? What? Where? Why? I don’t really know but I’ll give it a try.’
The child/creature conversation continues throughout the book assuring youngsters that it’s okay if you don’t always have the answers. 

What is important is to try your best, be your best self and yes there will be things that don’t work out; there will be things and people that you’ll leave behind or, perhaps lose, although their memories remain, ready to be triggered, sometimes unexpectedly.

There’s a big wide world out there waiting to be shared, to be explored and to be appreciated for its beauty and its diversity. 

All this and much more are conveyed both through Karl’s empowering rhyming narrative and Clara’s stunningly beautiful scenes of the child exploring that world with those animal friends we met on the opening spread.

A superb combination of words and pictures that gently encourage youngsters to go out, discover their potential and to be creators of their own story. A gorgeous uplifting book to share with the children in your life be that at home, in school or anywhere else you can.

A Flash of Fireflies / Space Blasters: Suzie Saves the Universe

Two recent fiction titles from Farshore – thank you to the publisher for sending them for review.

A Flash of Fireflies
Aisha Bushby

We join twelve year old Hazel Al-Otaibi as she travels from Kuwait to England to stay with her great aunt (Grant as she calls her) in her fairy tale cottage in a village until her parents join her. She also has to attend summer school three days a week. Adjusting to her new, strange-seeming life triggers the return of Hazel’s fireflies that had constantly troubled her with demands and challenges when she was younger, leading her once again into compulsive, repetitive behaviours.

At summer school the project is fairytales and the teacher talks of the themes and typical tropes that go along with these popular tales and Hazel and her friend Ruby start their research into the deep dark forests, curses and enchantments contained therein. Hazel feels herself drawn into a frightening adventure of her own where she needs to fulfil increasingly challenging tasks and quests.

Adult readers see that this is the author’s brilliant and sensitive way of presenting what it’s like to live with the despair and compulsions of OCD, while younger readers are given the space to interpret what they are ready for as Hazel’s real and fantasy worlds intertwine. Hazel herself has support from Ruby, her teacher and Grant, who has ways of her own to deal with similar challenges.

By delving into the fairy tale world and exploring its tropes and patterns through new lenses, Hazel feels able to begin to take control and change her narrative: finding the inner strength to share her own story with Ruby and Grant is a vital step to challenging the hold the fireflies have on her.

Thought-provoking, magical, totally original and utterly compelling.

Space Blasters: Suzie Saves the Universe
Katie & Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Amy Nguyen

Meet young Suzie Wen with her head absolutely bursting with amazing ideas but feeling down because her best friend has recently moved right away and with a ban or supposed ban on building any new inventions, she is certainly not enjoying the school holidays. To liven things up she starts watching Space Blasters, her favourite TV series but before you can say ‘Super 3-D TV Gizmo’ she finds herself actually in the series aboard an actual spacecraft, TUBS. A surprise for Suzie but equally for the crew, Captain Jane, Spaceman Jack and Five-Eyed Frank the green alien. However they welcome her, with the exception of Frank who seems put out by the unexpected arrival of a small human, calling her a spy.

Before long though Suzie is feeling part of that crew and on an exciting mission, for it transpires that three moons have gone missing. This enables her to visit three planets, each with weird inhabitants. Then a situation occurs that means Suzie has to step up as Jack and Jane are unavailable for action, perhaps now she can win over Frank at last and play a vital part in finding those moons and saving the universe.

As the story concludes Suzie receives an invitation to remain aboard the spaceship for one more universe saving mission, which nicely sets us up for the next book.

Emphasising Suzie’s inventive talents, this is a fun story sprinkled with Amy Nguyen otherworldly black and white illustrations and with fact boxes of science information to spark readers’ interest.