Author Archives: jillrbennett

I am an Early Years teacher in a multicultural school in outer London and also act as a consultant for Early Years education/RE and literature/literacy. I have an MA in Education and my particular interests are picture books and poetry. I'm also the author of Learning to Read with Picture Books (Thimble Press).

Having spent all my time in education furthering the role of literature as a vehicle for literary (and literacy) development I have become increasingly concerned over the past few years with the narrowly conceived, prescriptive views of literacy being promoted to teachers and hence, to children. With this present pre-occupation in schools with a largely functional approach to, and the mechanistic aspects of literacy, it is all too easy to forget the unique and fundamental role literature has in developing the imagination – in children's meaning making.

Essentially I see a story as a kind of sacred space: a place from which to become aware, to contact the spirit – that essential spark within. However for literature to act as sacred space it must take centre stage in the curriculum and be viewed, not primarily as a way of doing but rather, as a way of being or of helping children to be and become.

Maya & Cat

Maya & Cat
Caroline Magerl
Walker Books

I’m not sure whether it’s the words or pictures of Caroline Magerl’s moggy story that I love better; both are absolute delight.

Through gorgeous poetic language and wonderfully whimsical watercolour and ink illustrations, the author/illustrator conveys the tale of Maya and what happens then she hears Cat ‘rumbling a rumbly purr’ out on the wet roof and decides it needs rescuing.

Having lured it down with a fishy treat, with Cat following behind her, she sets out to discover the whereabouts of its home.

She tries many places but Cat isn’t the right fit and then, with Cat leading the way, they eventually find … home.

It’s time for Maya to hand over her charge: is this story to have a sad ending for the determined little girl?

Maybe not …

With her trailing feather boa, fluffy hat and pompom on a stick, Maya is a delightfully quirky character that readers are sure to fall in love with; and Cat too is adorable, even to this cat-allergic reviewer.

Each spread of the book has a wealth of enchanting detail that’s well worth spending time poring over and when read aloud, the gently humorous tale is a treat for both adult and children.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. So begins Robert Frost’s famous poem Mending Wall, and so it is too, with Jon Agee who has cleverly constructed a fable with a high brick wall running along the book’s gutter, with the action unfolding on either side.

The story opens with, on the verso, a small knight carrying a ladder approaching the wall while on the recto stand menacingly, a rhino and a tiger. ‘It’s a good thing. The wall protects this side of the book from the other side of the book’ the knight tells us as he stoops to pick up the displaced brick to mend said wall. On the other side, the crew of angry animals has increased.

Up the ladder goes our knight oblivious to what is happening behind him and asserting, ‘This side of the book is safe. The other side is not.’

By this time, the bond with the author is firmly established and readers and listeners will be revelling in the superb interplay between words and pictures, asking themselves, are our narrator’s words altogether well- founded?

Next we learn of the most dangerous thing on the other side of the wall, an ogre.

This ogre however is not quite what the little knight is expecting. Indeed other things too are not at all as he’d anticipated.

Brilliantly expressive – look how the faces and body language of all the animal characters speak without uttering a single word while much of the feelings of knight and ogre are conveyed wordlessly, serving to emphasise the verbal/visual antagonism.

Agee’s pacing too is superb, but best of all is his inherent theme that preconceptions about people from elsewhere are often wrong. In our troubled times of erecting boundaries, walls in particular, rather than building bridges, this timely book will strike a chord with many readers and is a fantastic starting point for opening up discussion.

Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!

Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!
Sally Doran and Rachael Saunders
Andersen Press

So proud are they of their daughter Princess Hannah, on account of her impeccable manners, that King Monty and Queen Alice decide she should receive the very best birthday present ever. And what could be better than a huge pudding-making machine?

Come the evening and her birthday ball, the princess soon has delicious cakes and puddings issuing from her fantastic birthday gift. The machine however has a most unwelcome upshot where the birthday girl is concerned, for it exposes the fact that she’s never before been asked to share.

This is something the Queen is ready to acknowledge.

Fortunately though, her young guests are quick to deal with the issue and while the princess is throwing a tantrum, they start pressing the buttons. Then before you can say “blackbird pie” everyone is happily playing together, turning cogwheels and pressing knobs, concocting the most delectable sweetie treats, not least of which is a massive meringue nigh on 20 feet tall.

All is most definitely well that ends well on that particular night as the guests depart thoroughly impressed with young Hannah; and as for the meringue, well that certainly took some eating.

Told in delicious unfaltering rhyme – how debut author Sally Doran managed to sustain it so well throughout is amazing – this is a totally yummy confection. Perhaps it’s down to her penchant for meringues.

A right royal romp for sure made all the more scrumptious by Rachael Saunders’ effervescent scenes of partying and puddingy treats. I’m still drooling.

#Goldilocks

#Goldilocks
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

This series of Jeanne and Tony’s on Internet safety for children goes from strength to strength; #Goldilocks is number three and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Subtitled ‘A Hashtag Cautionary Tale’ it is exactly that with Jeanne delivering her vital message in the jaunty manner of a 21st century Belloc.

Like so many children these days, Goldilocks has a smartphone and is active on social media. Anxious to gain more likes for her posts, the young miss starts posting photos of her family and much more.

After a while though her followers’ enthusiasm wanes and she becomes desperate: something shocking is required to revive interest.

Off she skips to a certain cottage in the woods and takes a selfie as she breaks in;

another #PipingHot and a third breaking a chair #Fun!

And she doesn’t stop at that.

Inevitably it all ends in disaster for Goldilocks who receives a stint of community service at a certain bears’ residence; but worse than that, those photos she so recklessly posted of her thievery and destruction live on for all to see. And that takes us to the final moral words of caution: ‘ … think twice before you send!’

Absolutely hilarious both verbally and visually – the two work so superbly well together – this story is written from an understanding of the attraction for children of social media and is ideal for sharing and discussion at home or in school.

Above all though, it’s a smashing book.

Hello Lighthouse

Hello Lighthouse
Sophie Blackall
Orchard Books

Standing on ‘the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world’ is a lighthouse; it beams out a guiding light for ships at sea.

To this lighthouse comes a new keeper to tend the light, maintain the logbook, paint the round rooms.

He also finds time to fish for cod through the window, make tea, cook his meals and write letters to his wife, which, enclosed in bottles, he tosses into the waves.

It’s a lonely existence but one day a ship arrives bringing not only supplies but also his wife.

A fog descends covering everything; the keeper rings a warning bell, but one night a boat is wrecked and he has to rescue the sailors.

When the sea turns to ice the keeper is sick so then, in addition to acting as his nurse, it’s the wife who tends the light and keeps up the log.

Before long there’s an addition to the family – also logged.

Then one day. the coast guard arrives with a brand-new light that is run by machine: the lighthouse keeper’s job is no more. It’s time to pack and leave, ‘Good bye, Lighthouse! Good bye! … Good bye! … Good bye!’

The dispassionate present tense chronicle reads like the keeper’s log and the vertical rectangular format of the book reflects the external form of the lighthouse itself. Opened out there’s space a-plenty for Sophie Blackall’s dramatic Chinese ink and watercolour seascapes, as well as scenes of life within the confines of the tall circular building. The perspectives she uses, many viewed from above, or seemingly seen through the lens of the keeper’s spyglass, echo the circularity of the rooms and some of the furnishings.

I found myself reading and re-reading these pictures, discovering ever more domestic details, and wondering at the power and majesty of the ocean and the amazing talent of this illustrator.

With its look at a bygone era, this book would be a wonderful addition to any topic about the sea: the author provides detailed notes contextualising many of the events in her story on the final pages.

Follow Me, Little Fox

Follow Me, Little Fox
Camila Correa and Sean Julian
Little Tiger

A city dweller, Little Fox loves his urban home but occasionally feels overwhelmed by its pace. His mother is eager for him to experience something different; the place where the city ends and the wild begins. “Let’s go back to nature,” she says.

Off they go on a journey away from their den to discover the sights, sounds and smells of the wonderful outdoors.

Yes, at times it can be scary but nature offers a wonderful place to play, to roam and to howl; a place that makes your heart sing.

Unsurprisingly, come nightfall Little Fox is reluctant to leave. He asks to spend the night beneath the stars. Then, having informed him that what he sees are actually the city lights twinkling in the distance, his mother helps him formulate a plan to bring some of the amazing natural world much closer to their home …

… and together they put project transformation into action.

This book is a wonderful reminder of the importance of getting outside into green spaces for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Lyrically written, Camila Correa’s text evokes the wonders of the great outdoors and Sean Julian brings it to life with his beautiful cityscapes and scenes of the natural world.

Nibbles Numbers / Little Fish and Mummy / Where’s Mr Duck?

Nibbles Numbers
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Emma Yarlett’s little yellow book-eating monster Nibbles is back and now he’s got his teeth into a board book. One might think that chomping through card would be a challenge too far but no. Once released the little fellow immediately starts sinking his gnashers into the pages and even has the audacity to nibble into the numerals leaving fairly sizeable holes.

Moreover he’s sabotaging our counting practice and just when we think we’ve cornered the little munching rascal, he makes a dive for it and disappears through the final spread, only to emerge on the back cover with a satisfied grin on his face.

Smashing fun and what a delight to be able to introduce my favourite little monster Nibbles to a younger audience.

Little Fish and Mummy
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

The latest Little Fish book is narrated by none other than Little Fish who is particularly excited about sharing with listeners a ‘Mummy Fish and me’ day.

This special day is spent on lessons in swimming and bubble blowing, splishing and splashing with all the other fish, a game of hide-and-seek just with Mum and a look inside a deep down cave.

What better way to end such a great day than with a round of kissing – ‘Kiss, kiss, kiss!’

Irresistible if you know a little one who’s a fan of Lucy Cousins’ endearing spotty Little Fish, and I certainly know a lot of those.

Where’s Mr Duck?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

The latest felt flap hide-and-seek board book in this deservedly popular series is set around the pond. In its environs little ones can discover Mrs Butterfly, Mr Frog,

Mrs Worm, Mr Duck and finally as the creatures look on, him or herself.

With its characteristic question and answer format, a wealth of opportunities for developing language, bold bright art and satisfying conclusion it’s no wonder the series is such a success; this one will be as popular as its predecessors.

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali & Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking

Little People, Big Dreams: Muhammad Ali
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Brosmind
Little People, Big Dreams: Stephen Hawking
Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Matt Hunt
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Following the huge success of titles celebrating amazing and inspiring females, the publishers have decided to add positive male role models to their picture book biography series and these are the first two.

First on the list is Muhammad Ali who as a boy known as Cassius had his new bike stolen and was told by the police officer that if he wanted to face the thief as he’d said, he had better learn to fight. So begins his journey to becoming a champion boxer.

Having taken a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics he was determined to turn professional and win the world heavyweight championship,

which he did, defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

Cassius however was not just a boxer; he was fierce defender of African-American rights speaking out against racial discrimination. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

His refusal to fight in the Vietnam war, a war he considered unjust, resulted in him being stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years.

However he came back and won three more heavyweight titles; and after his retirement spent his time in the service of others.

With their illustrations, the Mingarro brothers, aka Brosmind, bring a gentle humour to the account of this legendary man.

Published in March is a second title, Stephen Hawking, about the scientific genius who overcame THE most enormous odds and went on to become the most brilliant scientist of our time.

We read how while studying physics at Oxford University Stephen first began to be clumsy and then having moved to Cambridge University to do a PhD, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and told, aged 21, that he had just a few years left to live.

Rather than spending his time dwelling upon his lack of control over his body, he decided that in order to study the universe, he needed only his mind.

Black holes became the focus of his attention and Stephen proved that rather than being wholly black, there was a tiny light escaping from them; this was named ‘Hawking radiation’.

We’d all do well to remember Stephen’s words, “however difficult life may seem, there is always something that you can do and succeed at.” An inspiration he truly remains and this is what writer Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrator Matt Hunt convey so well herein.

Add these to your primary school collection.

Molly’s Moon Mission

Molly’s Moon Mission
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing

I have to admit to spluttering with giggles all through this story. From the outset, the idea of Molly the moth attempting to fly to the moon struck me as totally ridiculous but that’s what makes this such a fun book.

Young Molly has an indomitable spirit and despite residing in the back of an old wardrobe, her determination knows no bounds. Her mother’s discouraging words about the slightness of her wings notwithstanding, the little moth trains hard until she’s ready for the countdown to blast off.

After a couple of setbacks due to wrong destinations,

the tiny creature lands up at a lighthouse where at least she receives some words of encouragement for her venture.
Fuelled by same, she relaunches herself skywards until finally …

Success!

Moreover, there’s a role for Molly as assistant to the astronauts before they all set off earthwards with the little bug proudly sporting her newly awarded lunar mission patch.

When she finally reaches home once more, she’s greeted by her mum who on learning of her little one’s adventure, responds, “My Molly, the only moth ever to fly to the Moon!” Thus far maybe, but Molly has plans …

From his The Bear Who Stared debut I’ve loved all Duncan’s picture books but with this one he reaches new heights.

A Little Bit Brave

A Little Bit Brave
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Luna and Logan are great friends but they’re very different. Luna loves outdoor adventures while Logan never sets a paw outside declaring it much too scary.

One day Luna tries her best to persuade her friend to join her in the great outdoors but her invitation is turned down and she goes off in a huff telling him that sometimes, he just has to be a bit brave.

The morning proceeds with Logan engaging in several of his usual activities but he feels upset about what has happened and decides to puts things right with Luna. The trouble is that means going outside.

Into his bag go a torch, a snorkel and a tin of freshly baked biscuits, and with scarf wrapped around him, off Logan sets on his very first adventure.

It’s scary in the woods and he needs to find his friend so he calls her name as loudly as he can. There’s no response from Luna but Logan’s cry summons a host of other woodland animals. From them he learns more about the brave things his friend enjoys.

If he wants to find her, it seems Logan has no choice but to follow the mouse’s advice …

Logan’s search opens up three new worlds to him; his snorkel, scarf and torch come in very useful

but of Luna he finds no sign. Nevertheless, astonished at what he’s done, he’s just about to reward himself with a biscuit when suddenly he hears a familiar voice shouting out.

Terrifying as the sight that meets his eyes might be, Logan knows he has to act fast or his friend will become the wolf’s next meal.

Could it perhaps be time to make use of that other item he has with him …

Nicola’s colour palette is gorgeous; there are woodland greens, oranges and browns with a plethora of eye-catching flora and fauna.

This is a great confidence-bolstering tale perfectly seasoned with frissons of fear and surprises; and who wouldn’t love a story where biscuits play a crucial role?

The Big Angry Roar

The Big Angry Roar
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger

No matter how mindful we are I’m sure we all feel angry at times, but it’s how we respond to our angry feelings that is crucial.

As the result of a spat between siblings, Jonny Lambert’s Cub is feeling so angry he thinks he might pop.

All the other animals have their own ways to deal with their anger. Zebra and Gnu let theirs out by stamping and stomping; Rhino bashes and crashes; Hippo splatters and splashes but when Cub tries he ends up with an injured paw, an unpleasant aroma and even more anger.

His next encounter is with Elephant’s backside and a furious face off ensues.

Their tooting and roaring precipitates a massive …

Fortunately for all concerned Baboon is on hand ready to offer a lesson in anger management, which does the trick,

leaving Cub with just one more thing to do.

There’s a perfect balance of words and pictures giving the latter plenty of room for maximum impact in every one of Jonny’s eloquent scenes. Cub’s eye views of the animals – a forest of legs and looming bulk – are executed in his signature textured collage style.

The text, punctuated with plenty of onomatopoeia, exclamations, and variations in font size are a gift to readers aloud who enjoy putting on a performance – and who could resist with such a script.

Another must have for your collection from one of my favourite picture book creators.

Bear Moves

Bear Moves
Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyūz
Walker Books

The purple ursine character from I Am Bear returns and, sporting his sweatbands, he’s in groovy mood.

With Bunny on DJ duty it’s time to show off those funky moves. First off it’s Furry Breaking – wow this guy certainly has attitude!

Next we have Running Bear, quickly followed by the Robot and there’s even a spot of limbo.

Should this character be auditioning for the next Strictly Come Dancing series one wonders as he grabs himself a partner and switches to ballroom mode with a foxtrot

This he follows with a doughnut fuelled Belly Dance,

a quickstep – oh no that’s his pal squirrel attempting to beat a hasty retreat – and next, bums a-winding, everybody do the twist.

Even then, this dance enthusiast isn’t quite done but for his grand finale he requires an altogether sweeter partner …

It’s pretty exhausting all this dancing so you won’t be surprised that Bear’s last move is into sleep mode zzzzz …

You can really feel and hear the beat in rapper Ben Bailey Smith’s (aka Doc Brown) rhyming text, while Sav Akyūz shows the action both frenzied and smooth, in bold colours outlined in thick black lines

Great for child participation is this zany offering.

Wisp

Wisp
Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

Down in the jungle, Anteater, Tortoise and Monkey are in playful mood when they’re spied by Little Crocodile. He’s eager for them to join him in a game of Kiss the Crocodile. The rules are pretty straightforward – the clue’s in the name – but the proviso is that the little croc. pretends to sleep and must not be woken up.

Are they brave enough?

Seemingly so, and first to make a move is Anteater.

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

Only Monkey remains and having summoned up all her courage, off she goes – uh oh! She’s in for a big snapping surprise.

The game is over, but will Little Crocodile abide by the rules or is it the end for Monkey?

It’s not only those jungle animals that are in playful mood, so too is Sean Taylor. His present tense telling has just the right amount of mischief, suspense, some delicious onomatopoeia and that frequently repeated imperative title – a perfect storytime recipe for entertaining your little ones.

Equally irresistible are Ben Mantle’s comical, wonderfully expressive scenes of the action – giggles guaranteed on every spread.

Two Sides / Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise

Two Sides
Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Talib
Stripes Publishing
Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise
Swapna Haddow and Alison Friend

To help bridge the gap between picture books and assured fluent reading of chapter books Stripes Publishing are creating a short fiction series with a colour illustration at every page turn; these are the first two titles. Both are beautifully designed and illustrated.

Two Sides explores a friendship between total opposites, Lenka and Lula. Born on the same day, the former is neat and tidy, a cat lover and enjoys drawing; her best friend is a dog enthusiast, messy and something of a chatterbox.
A perfect twosome it seems and so it is until the fateful morning when Lula oversleeps after which everything goes terribly wrong.

Lenka’s forgotten pencil case containing the coloured pencils she needs to complete a competition entry, but now lying on Lula’s bed and a rejected present made by Lulu for Lenka lead to a fierce row and by the time their bus reaches school, a special friendship has fractured.

School feels a totally different place; the two girls sit far apart in the classroom but then their teacher allows the class a play stop en route for the library.

An opportunity for the rift to be healed perhaps …

The author acknowledges that even the very best, closest of friendships can have their ups and downs; and words said in the heat of the moment can really hurt. This is something young readers will definitely acknowledge as they lap up Polly Ho-Yen’s story with Binny Talib’s expressive scenes of the girls.

Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise opens with a bored Little Rabbit whose Mama, siblings and friends are all too busy to play with her. But then her grandfather invites her to become his assistant for the day and the young rabbit is in for surprise.

Instead of merely spending all his time with his friends, Big Rabbit devotes himself to altruistic activities, the first of which concerns Mole’s dark tunnel and Little Mole’s imminent birthday party.

Next comes a visit to Granny Hedgehog who is suffering from a bad case of the snuffles.

Dormouse too is in need of help: his little ones are hungry and their nest isn’t big enough to accommodate them all.
And then there’s Squirrel. She’s injured her paw and so can’t forage for food for her children.

It’s all in a day’s work for Big Rabbit but by the next morning it seems that Little Rabbit’s been infected by her grandfather’s enthusiasm for helping others and her friends too are willing to lend a hand.

Celebrating kindness, Swapna’s gentle telling in combination with Alison’s adorable woodland watercolour illustrations make for a delightful read alone, or a read aloud to younger children.
Readers will close the covers of both books with a boost of confidence having enjoyed a longer story: thoroughly recommended for home reading and for classroom libraries in KS1 and early KS2.

Hat Tricks

Hat Tricks
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

This isn’t the first book Satoshi Kitamura has created about an amazing hat; around ten years back there was Millie’s Marvellous Hat about an imaginative little girl and an invisible hat.

Now we have Hattie and she too has a hat – a magician’s hat; so take your seats everyone, the show is about to begin. And what’s a magician’s favourite way to start a spot of prestidigitation? With a wave of the wand and the magic word ‘Abracadabra’; in this case followed by ‘katakurico’ and the question ‘What’s in the hat?’

In the first instance it’s a cat; but there’s more to come. Hattie repeats the words and out leaps a squirrel.

And so it goes on with Hattie producing ever more unlikely and larger animals, none of which appears happy to see its fellow creatures.

Then one of the creatures being conjured gets stuck, unable to extricate itself entirely from the hat. It becomes the centre of a rather painful tug of war

until eventually … out it comes.

Surely there can be nothing left in that hat, now, can there? Well, the grand finale is yet to come … ta-dah!

I’m sure little ones will respond by calling for an immediate ‘encore’ after you’ve shared this book with them. My listeners certainly did.

This is a splendid piece of theatre. Satoshi’s animals are presented with panache: the gamut of eloquent expressions is sheer genius.

Dragons in Love / Bagel in Love

Dragons in Love
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures

Dragon, Drake, as some of you may know from Dragons: Father and Son is a troglodyte residing with his father at the bottom of a steep valley. He frequently leaves his cave and ventures forth into the town to play with the children and so it is on this particular day. But although he may know a bit about playing, kissing is entirely new to him. So when his friend Violet lands him a smacker on the snout he feels all hot and bothered.

On reflection however, he realises no personal harm has been done but avoiding Violet is the best plan henceforth. Not easy as it means avoiding all his favourite haunts.

Drake talks to his dad who explains that the fire is a dragon’s natural way of showing love and tells what happened when he and Drake’s mom were courting.

This is all very well for dragons but what about human Violet? Poor Drake feels at a loss to know where to go; but then he hears noises coming from the nearby park. Violet is being bullied, he discovers. It’s time to act, thinks Drake and so he does …

Friendship fully restored, what will be Drake’s next move … ?

Badel’s ink and watercolour illustrations are full of detail with a wealth of wonderfully humorous touches. I love the early spread with the football being kicked and ending up way out of reach in a tall tree.

Beautifully droll as before, Lacroix’s story is sure to strike a chord especially this season when love is in the air, though with its standing against bullying message it’s a good one to share with young listeners at any time.

Bagel in Love
Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik
Sterling

Bagel is a talented dancer: his spins and swirls, taps and twirls make him feel anything but plain. The trouble is however that he doesn’t have a partner and so can’t enter the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest.

Poppy, the best dancer he knows tells him his steps are half-baked: Pretzel says his moves don’t cut the mustard and from Matzo he receives a flat refusal.

Not one to give up easily, Bagel heads to Sweet City where things aren’t actually much sweeter when it comes to the responses of Croissant, Doughnut, and Cake. But then outside the café, Bagel hears music coming from the contest venue and he breaks into a tap routine.

To his surprise a tapping echo comes right back. Has he finally found the perfect partner?

Natasha Wing has thrown plenty of puns into her narrative mix with its underlying message about determination and not giving up on your dream, while Helen Dardik treats readers to a plethora of sticky confections and some salty ones too in her digitally worked, richly patterned scenes.

A sugary romance for Valentine’s Day this surely is. Anyone want to dance?

With Your Paw in Mine

With Your Paw in Mine
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger

Otter pup Miki loves to float snuggled up on her Mama’s tummy but after a swimming lesson she goes off hunting leaving Miki alone safely rolled in seaweed.

As she waits, Miki notices another similar ‘furry parcel’ and paddles across to meet pup Amak who is also waiting for his mother. Acknowledging the loneliness of waiting, Miki suggests holding paws and waiting together.

That becomes a regular occurrence and the two cubs become inseparable.

But one morning a fierce storm blows up and the two friends become separated briefly, manage to re-link paws and even to join up with other otters to form, paw in paw, a raft to weather out the storm

until, joy of joys Miki hears her very favourite voice calling to her.

The author’s message is clear: we all need someone (or perhaps more than one someone) to hold on to in stormy times. Essentially an endearing story of friendship, the book also includes some information about mother otters and their young.

In her chilly acrylic scenes Jane Chapman really captures the vastness of the ocean but at the same time focuses in on the otters and their feelings making this a lovely book to share with individuals or a nursery group.

Duck!

Duck!
Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom
Walker Books

Not a lot happens in this book until right at the end but nonetheless it’s absolutely hilarious throughout.

So, without further ado, let’s head over to the farm where one afternoon, horse is swishing his tail; cow is chewing the cud; pig is wallowing in mud and sheep is sheeping on the grass (love that).

Into this tranquil setting charges Duck, yelling a single word, “DUCK!”

Needless to say the other animals don’t appreciate this intrusion into their peace and each in turn attempts to explain to the noisy creature that they are not ducks; he is.

However, Duck’s message merely grows more strident.

By the time accusations of rudeness and lack of understanding have been hurled at the little animal, Nathaniel Eckstrom’s deliciously droll illustrations are foreshadowing the impending catastrophe that the chastisers are oblivious to but savvy audiences will be eagerly anticipating. To divulge more about this would spoil the grand finale.

With a simple misunderstanding at its heart, Meg McKinlay’s telling is enormous fun and the self-descriptions of the disgruntled animals absolutely wonderful, while the repeated “DUCK!” exclamation cries out for loud audience participation.

In addition, expect a plethora of giggles when you read this cracking story aloud, and be prepared at the end, for cries of “again!” from listeners.

Lots of Frogs

Lots of Frogs
Howard Calvert and Claudia Boldt
Hodder Children’s Books

Tommy Fox has a box – a box full of frogs. The expression ‘mad as a box of frogs’ sprang instantly to mind on reading this and there’s more than a little madness in Howard Calvert’s story.

Back in the day, dare I admit it in these days of environmental awareness, children (including myself) liked to collect frogspawn and take it into school where we’d watch the jelly blobs become tadpoles and then frogs. This clearly isn’t Tommy’s intention since he has the fully formed frogs (and toads) in his box but he does take them into school for show and tell. A risky enterprise you might be thinking and it’s certainly so.

Before you can say ‘atishoo’ those little amphibians have escaped and are leaping about causing utter chaos in the classroom,

silliness in the staffroom …

and havoc in the hall.

Tommy has to get all those frolicsome frogs back into his box but there’s one of their number – Frank by name – that has headed to the gym and is certainly eager to give young Tommy a run for his money.

Debut author Howard Calvert’s zany rhyming story bounces along with gusto. His main protagonist Tommy is a delight and Claudia Boldt has captured his enthusiasm and energy superbly. Equally the havoc-causing frogs – every one different – are utterly hilarious.

Spring has surely sprung in one particular classroom and I loved it.

Shhh! I’m Reading

Shhh! I’m Reading!
John Kelly and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

I cannot imagine how many times I’ve uttered the title words to people in my time. Now though it’s Bella spending a wet Sunday afternoon engrossed in her book who resents being disturbed.

First to show up is Captain Bluebottom the Flatulent wanting her to join him for a Windy Pirates adventure. He receives a firm refusal.

Next comes Maurice Penguin announcing ‘Showtime’ and tempting her with a sparkly outfit. He too and his entourage are told to sit quietly.

Emperor Flabulon’s challenge receives similar treatment

and finally peace reigns allowing Bella to finish her book. Having declared it the best ever, she then invites the intruders to join her and go adventuring.

Their instant response comes as something of a surprise; or does it? …
Game, set and match to Bella! And to the power of stories, books and the imagination.

John Kelly’s funny tale will resonate with all those who like nothing better than uninterrupted reading time. It’s a smashing read aloud that celebrates the delights of losing oneself in a good book.

Elina Ellis captures both the humour of the chaos caused by the intruders and Bella’s responses to same with terrific brio and  reminds us that, with all good picture books, reading isn’t just about the words.

I Am So Clever

I Am So Clever
Mario Ramos
Gecko Press

Oohh! If there’s one thing I do love it’s a new take on the Red Riding Hood story, after all this blog takes it’s name from a play on the story’s name.

The wolf in question herein has an enormous thirst for power, not to mention an insatiable hunger for meals of the human kind.

On this particular morning the lupine creature is in jovial mood as he converses with Little Red Riding Hood complimenting her on her appearance and warning her of the dangers of walking alone in the woods.

Now the little girl may be small of stature but she most definitely isn’t short of brains. She takes no time in demolishing the wolf’s “You could meet some ferocious creature … like a shark!” with an immediate riposte, “Oh, come on Mr Wolf, everyone knows there are no sharks in the woods,”.

Despite the put down, the wolf is already anticipating his feast as he rushes off ahead of Red Reading Hood to Grandma’s house.

Discovering in the bedroom only her nightie,

he hastily dons it as a disguise but then, rather than leaping into bed and hiding to await Red Riding Hood, he manages to shut himself the wrong side of the cottage door.

Now instead, it’s the woods he attempts to hide in. The disguise though works pretty well and he manages to dupe the hunter:“Gadzooks and dogs’ droppings!” said a voice. “Oh good morning Grandmother. Excuse the bad language but I’ve dropped my glasses. Would you please help me find them?”

And not just him: Baby Bear, the three little pigs, the seven dwarves, and one of the gentry searching for Sleeping Beauty are also hoodwinked.

There follows a desperate struggle on the wolf’s part to extricate himself from the nightie but he fails and finds himself face to face with his planned first course.

The girl’s reaction however throws the creature completely – quite literally.

“No iff not funny!” he whimpers. “I’ve broken all my teeff! And I’m twapped in diff terrible dweff!” Pride definitely came before a fall here.

The ending comes as something of a surprise: I won’t reveal what happens but Ramos’ final scene is one that might provoke some pathos on your audience’s part.

Thanks to deliciously droll illustrations throughout, an enormously satisfying story full of comic tension and wonderful dialogue, Ramos’ wolf goes ever on: I for one hope to see him again.

Grobblechops

Grobblechops
Elizabeth Laird and Jenny Lancaster
Tiny Owl

Many young children imagine monsters under the bed and sometimes use their fear of same as a tactic to delay bedtime.

In this story based on a Rumi tale it appears that young Amir is genuinely scared in case there’s something lurking in the darkness of his bedroom – a terrible huge-toothed, hungry something that growls like a lion.

Dad’s advice is to reciprocate but be even more alarming This precipitates even more fears: suppose the monster’s dad has an even bigger frying pan for whacking than his own dad;

suppose his mum’s umbrella isn’t sufficiently scary and the end result is that the entire family become targets for monster consumption …

Perhaps it’s time for a different approach: Dad suggests he leaves the hostilities to the parents (human and monster) while Amir and the little monster play with toy cars together. It might even lead to a peaceable discussion between the grown ups.

Now that sounds like a very good idea; but there’s one thing Amir is determined not to share with any little monster and that is his precious Teddy.

Finally, having safely tucked the boy into bed with ted, there’s something Dad wants to know and that’s the name of Amir’s monster: the clue is in the title of this smashing book.

Elizabeth Laird puts just the right amount of scariness into her gently humorous telling. Her perceptive observations of the parent/child relationship underscore the entire tale and her dialogue is spot on, ensuring that adult sharers as well as their little ones will relish the story.

Jenny Lucander employs a fine line in her richly coloured, textured illustrations. Their wonderful quirkiness, especially in the portrayal of the monsters makes them endearing rather than frightening while her human figures give the book a contemporary look.

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)
India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer (trans. Solange Ouellet)
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The story opens with the 15-year-old narrator telling us, as she and her parents walk down the hospital corridor, “In just a few minutes, they’re going to tell me how much time I have left to live.”

It’s five years since she was diagnosed with leukaemia and as she awaits her prognosis she shares with readers her years of treatment with the threat of death hanging over her. We hear of the sadness she feels over the death of her best friend Maxine which was “definitely not because she wasn’t strong enough or didn’t fight hard enough”; and are shown how her grief renders her temporarily limp limbed.

She talks of the hospital sounds, smells and colour scheme, how her parents react to her illness – her father’s jokes;

her mother’s insistence “that she had so much confidence in me, and she knew I’d get well …’ in contrast to her own it isn’t ‘ a battle…because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.”

There are high points too: she goes to a party, meets Victor and experiences her first love.

And finally, as we know from the title, the news the doctor gives is good; the narrator is going to live.

This no-holds-barred story is a real emotional roller coaster but the first person telling serves to bring a sense of calm to the whole sequence of events, be they dark or bright. Ferrer’s almost dreamlike, at times, surreal visuals, highlight the intensity of feeling, moving from predominantly grey to plum and claret when ardour prevails.

The author was asked by a ten year old cancer patient she met on a hospital visit to write a cancer story that ends happily. This is the result and serves to remind readers that 8 out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer are cured, and to give hope to any child who has cancer.

Pirate Pug

Pirate Pug
Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Their latest adventure sees Pug and Lady Miranda holidaying in Pebbly Bay.

They’re just preparing to indulge themselves in a hotel breakfast of some rather yummy jam tarts when in through the window flies a parrot. Showing a distinct lack of interest in the tasty fare on the tray, the bird takes off with a teaspoon.

Thus begins a seaside sojourn, which might be a bit of a challenge, for Pug is scared of water.

Things don’t go too well and before long, the dog is flat out in the vet’s operating theatre on account of an unlucky accident.
Lady Miranda’s comment on his being given an eye-patch to wear sparks one of her good ideas and soon Pug is also sporting a pirate’s hat.

Meanwhile in the town square crowds are gathering for a rehearsal of the Pebbly Bay Parade.
It’s in celebration so the mayor tells Lady Miranda and Pug, of the day the town was freed from pirate rule.

As she’s showing them her special gold chain of office, down swoops that pesky parrot Rio who seizes the chain and flies off with it.

Is Pug brave enough to sail the high seas and join the others on a boat trip across to Finders Keepers Island to rescue the treasured item?

Arch-enemy Finnian and his gang are already on the ocean in their own craft so it looks like trouble is in store.

With the usual brand of charm, humour, fun and frolics, Pug’s fourth book is ideal for new solo readers and a fun read aloud. Make sure you give your audience time to see Eglantine Ceulemans’ engaging illustrations if you share it.

In Blossom

In Blossom
Yooju Cheon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Spring is in the air. A gentle breeze is blowing and blossoms are blooming as Cat sits down on a bench beneath a tree with a picnic basket.

Singing a little song, she begins to eat her lunch.

Soon after, along comes Dog with his book.

Cat makes room for him; he sits down and starts reading.

Suddenly the breeze blows a singe petal onto Cat’s nose causing a tickle, a sniff,

and a ‘Poof!’

The petal drifts across onto Dog’s nose. Another tickle, a sniff and Poof! …

A little later, Cat’s offer to share her lunch is accepted and thus, one assumes a friendship begins to blossom.

Yooju Cheon’s telling is spare and it’s definitely her exquisite, delicate inky illustrations that steal the show here. Look out for another developing friendship between two little birds as well.

Short and sweet and beautifully expressive sums up this gentle offering from an author/illustrator who is new to me.

Pip and the Bamboo Path

Pip and the Bamboo Path
Jesse Hodgson
Flying Eye Books

Thanks to deforestation, poaching, an illegal pet trade and accidental trapping the red panda population is critically endangered.

It’s on account of deforestation that little red panda Pip and her mother have to leave their Himalayan forest home and go in search of a new nesting place.

“Find the bamboo path on the other side of the mountain. It connects all the forests together and will lead you to safety.” So says an eagle, and the two pandas set off on a trek through the mountains in search of the path.

Their long, perilous journey takes them high into the cold shadowy mountain regions

and across a rocky ravine until eventually they reach the edge of a brightly lit city.

It’s a chaotic place but is it somewhere they can make a nest? And what of that bamboo path: do the fireflies know something about that? …

The spare telling of Jesse Hodgson’s story of endangered animals serves to highlight their plight and her illustrations are superb.

From the early scene of sinister silhouettes of the tools of destruction,

shadows and inky darkness powerfully amplify Jesse’s portrayal of Pip and her mother’s journey in search of safety.

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things

The Everyday Journeys of Ordinary Things
Libby Deutsch and Valpuri Kerttula
Ivy Kids

Children, especially young ones, are tremendously inquisitive, asking endless questions about how the world works. What happens to my luggage when I catch a plane to go on holiday? Where do those bananas mum’s bought at the supermarket for my lunch box come from?

Or What happens to my poo when I flush the loo?

The entire processes that answer these questions and seventeen others are presented, one per double spread by means of Valpuri Kerttula ‘s flowing style graphics and Libby Deutsch’s succinct paragraphs of text.

Not all though are physical processes: ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ follows the journey of a film idea right through to shooting.

Where does the water in the tap come from?’ presents the water cycle while ‘The invisible Movement of Millions’ takes readers through the change from commodity trading, through coin currency to bring it right up to date with the electronic transfer of money via computer.

With its engaging visual and verbal narrative, this is just the book to have on the shelf to answer some of those How? … posers your children bombard you with be they at home or school.

Pop-up Moon

Pop-up Moon
Anne Jankeliowitch, Olivier Charbonnel and Annabelle Buxton
Thames & Hudson

Earth’s moon has long been a source of fascination and inspiration to both children and adults, and with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing later this year, as well as the Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January, this is a timely publication.

In just eight spreads, engineer and scientist Anne Jankeliowitch has packed a considerable amount of information, but it’s Olivier Charbonnel’s four spectacular pop-up visuals that steal the show.

Readers can find out about how the moon came into being; what its surface and atmosphere are like; why it apparently changes shape and how it can have an effect on the tides.

There’s a look at eclipses and their cause; as well as space exploration including the Apollo landings.

Non-scientific ideas considered by many to be mere superstition, receive a mention too.

Space enthusiasts or not, children will be excited when they open the book and images such as this leap out at them from Annabelle Buxton’s illustrations.

The spectacular nature of some of the paper engineering is likely, I think, to result in such enthusiastic handling that this is perhaps more suitable for home than classroom use.

The Song of the Dinosaurs

The Song of the Dinosaurs
Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Hegbrook
Caterpillar Books

Dinosaurs are endlessly fascinating to young children and for every book on the topic published there’s a new audience ready to lap it up.

This one with its rhyming narrative and alluring die-cut illustrations immediately transports readers back to the prehistoric world with Patricia Hegarty’s opening lines, ‘I am the song of the dinosaurs, / For millions of years my tune filled the air … / In the whisper of leaves, caught up on the breeze, / Travelling unseen, but I was still there.’

They are introduced to a line-up of dinosaurs set against richly coloured landscapes and the cleverly placed die-cuts on each spread invite the reader to turn the page forwards.

Thomas Hegbrook’s vibrant scenes are a visual treat for your little dino. enthusiasts as they follow the evolutionary story from the depths of the sea, up into the skies and over land, ‘through rocks and sand.’

The back endpapers show an illustrated time line.

Patricia’s lyrical text is both atmospheric and factual; and in combination with Thomas’ illustrations, creates an exciting educational adventure to share at home, nursery or school.

Hugs and Kisses / Love from Pooh

Hugs and Kisses
Sam Hay and Emma Dodd
Egmont

The opening line of the Joni Mitchell’s classic song Both Sides Now popped into my head as I saw the cover of this book bearing the words ‘There are two sides to every story …’

Start from the front and there’s Big Blue Whale feeling, well blue on account of the fact that he’s the only creature in the ocean without someone to hug.
Several kind-hearted sea animals do their best to give him that longed-for hug but the whale’s size is an issue, as is his ticklishness

until he encounters an old shipwreck wherein lies a woeful Wiggly Octopus. Could she perhaps be the one …

Flip the book and we meet Wiggly Octopus in desperate need of a kiss better on account of a bumped head sustained while playing bubble ball. Her long, sucker-covered tentacles are a distinct disincentive to her fishy friends and the starfish she passes and one odd-looking creature merely swooshes right down into the depths away from her.

It looks as though it’s time to hide away in the old shipwreck and feel miserable, all alone and unkissed …

We all love a happy ending but this cleverly constructed book provides, depending on how you look at it, not that, but a happy middle; or alternatively, two happy endings that just happen to take place in the middle.

However, no matter which way you go, there’s a smashing pop-up encounter in the middle of Sam and Emma’s enchanting twist in its tail book.

Just right for Valentine’s Day or any time when someone needs a hug and a kiss.

Love from Pooh
A.A.Milne and E.H. Shepard
Egmont

Read one per day and you have an entire month’s worth of original quotations on the theme of love, from the one and only Pooh Bear. Unsurprisingly being as it’s his greatest love, honey features in a good few. Here’s one entitled ‘Frustrated Love’ to set those taste buds a-tingle: ‘He could see the honey / he could smell the honey, / but he couldn’t quite / reach the honey.

If you want to put a smile of delight on a special someone’s face this Valentine’s Day then this assemblage of delicious A.A. Milne snippets together with some illustrative gems from Ernest Shepard is just the thing (perhaps along with a pot of Pooh’s favourite sticky stuff).

Non-Fiction Miscellany: Ambulance Ambulance / Weird Animals / Castle Adventure Activity Book

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

An ambulance crew responds to an emergency call out: a boy has come off his bike and ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar …’ off goes the ambulance to the scene of the accident.

On arrival the paramedics make the necessary checks, put a splint on the child’s broken leg and carefully lift him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

Then with horn honking and lights flashing, off they go racing to the hospital, “Quick, quick quick. ‘Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar … ‘

Once the boy is safely inside and the hand-over complete, the crew are ready for a rest, but it’s not long before another emergency call comes and so off they go again …

Team Sally and Brian are already well known for their previous picture books such as Roadworks and Construction. Non-fiction loving little ones delight in these books and will doubtless relish this one with its bright illustrations, especially since its rhyming text comes with opportunities for joining in all those ‘Nee nar’ sounds. Share at home or in a nursery setting and watch the response …

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

The world of nature is full of strange and wonderful creatures, large and small, a dozen or so of which are featured in Mary May Carson’s Weird Animals. The author specialises in writing non-fiction for children and those with an insatiable appetite for the fantastically weird will enjoy her latest book.

It explains the whys and wherefores of some amazing adaptations, those odd characteristics that help these creatures survive and thrive.

Take for example the Pink Fairy armadillo with its oversized feet and fluffy underside that helps keep the creature warm through cold desert nights.

The frightening-looking fauna from different parts of the world include insects, reptiles, birds, fish, mammals, with explanations for their appearance. Weird and wonderful they surely are.

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

Children should find lots to explore in this engaging historical activity book. There are mazes, matching games, word searches, colouring pages that include things to spot of a medieval kind. Observation skills are also required for matching games, determining the winner of a joust, searching for rats in the castle kitchen and more.

There are medieval scenes to complete by drawing and adding stickers as well as a number of crafty projects. Some, such as making a sword or a conical hat for a princess, require additional items – paper, card, scissors etc. and may also need adult assistance.

Some simple maths, words to unscramble and a scattering of jokes are also part and parcel of this themed compilation that’s a fun alternative to constant screen use.

Monster Match

Monster Match
Caroline Gray
Hodder Children’s Books

A host of zany-looking monsters each make a pitch to be chosen as a child’s special pet but is there one that stands out from the crowd?

First to strut its stuff is a tricky creature that advocates a daily run – now that’s a good idea.

Second comes a mock scary pink thing happy to do the frightening but wanting a little bit of snuggle room should it suffer from nocturnal fears.

Or what about a monster of the cuddly variety like this pamper-loving sweetie?

I’m not sure I’d advocate a monster that emerges from the rubbish bin covered in slime and stinking something dreadful; nor the snack guzzler who’s taste is for all kinds of gross looking ‘treats’,

especially not one that offers a dip in a drool pool. YUCK!

That’s almost all, but there are still one or two I won’t mention apart from to say that they join the others in claiming they’ll ‘be good, just like we should.’ Really?

Is there to be a winner? Which would your little monster choose I wonder …

Rhyming fun with a final twist: expect a few ‘EUGH!’s and “YUCK!’s when you share this one. Caroline Gray’s debut picture book most definitely offers plenty to talk about.

I’ll Love You …

I’ll Love You …
Kathryn Cristaldi and Kristyna Litten
Andersen Press

I doubt little ones these days are familiar with the phrase used on the opening page of this rhyming book, ‘I’ll love you till the cows come home’ but they’ll love the silliness of the whole thing. There are already countless books whose theme is the love a parent has for a child but this one is altogether zanier, without the saccharine sweetness that many of the sub’ Guess How Much I Love You’ kind have.

The nine verses each tell the reader they’ll be loved until … with each of the scenarios becoming increasingly outlandish. ‘I will love you till the frogs ride past / on big-wheeled bikes going superfast … // in a circus for seahorses, shrimp and bass. / I will love you till the frogs ride past.’

Or ‘till ‘ the deer dance by’ (sporting dapper top hats); till ‘ the geese flap down’ (with gourmet marshmallows);

till ‘the ants march in’ and then some, for there’s no end to this love.

The litany concludes as all good just before bed tales do, in a sequence of perfect bedtime scenes.

The catchy rhythm of Kathryn Cristaldi’s telling combined with Krystyna Litten’s portrayal of the animals’ exuberant activities make this a wonderfully silly way to assure your child they’re forever loved.

Alternatively, with Valentine’s Day coming up you might also consider it as an altogether different way of telling that special someone, ‘I’ll love you forever.’

Amazing

Amazing
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

The boy narrator of this wonderful picture book has a pet dragon named Zibbo. Zibbo can fly thanks to the boy’s teaching; and our narrator, thanks to his pet, knows exactly how to …

The two are pretty much inseparable and a terrific hit with the boy’s friends. Zippo is ace at hide-and-seek though basketball is at times troublesome, depending on who is catching the ball.

A true party enthusiast, Zippo can on occasion get just a tad over-animated, or should that be over-heated …

No matter what though, as different as he may be, Zippo is the very bestest best friend a child could possibly have: it’s a case of ‘no holds barred’ when it comes to challenges in the company of the tiny dragon, who in the narrator’s closing words truly is AMAZING! Just the way he is. The boy though doesn’t actually have the final words – those are left to Zippo …

Amazing too is the book’s creator, Steve. His joyously inclusive portrayal of boy and pet is a cause for celebration: it’s rare to find a mainstream trade publication with a disabled child as its main character, let alone one so prominently portrayed on the front cover. Even more important though, is that the narrator’s disability is incidental with the celebration of friendship taking centre stage.

Having taught in both mainstream and special education, I know for sure that the likelihood of students who are different being picked on by ignorant or thoughtless individuals, increases the further through the system they go. Young children are in my experience far more open and accepting of differences of all kinds, just like those in this story. However it’s the place to start when it comes to developing those open-hearted attitudes.

A must for all nurseries, early years settings and primary schools as well as the family bookshelf.

Rosie Is My Best Friend

Rosie is My Best Friend
Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster
‘Rosie is my Very Best Friend. And I think I’m hers.’ So says the narrator of Ali Pye’s new picture book.

We then hear how a little girl and a small dog spend a brilliant day together. Rising early they play quietly before breakfast so as not to disturb the grown ups …

Then after a spot of training the two set about helping with some jobs – gardening, shopping and tidying, none of which receive due adult appreciation. Instead they’re packed off for a long, albeit rather muddy, walk in the park

that concludes with an encounter with a large, extremely scary looking dog.

Safely home, having had tea, the friends spend some time in imaginative play before nestling up together in their very favourite place.

‘… tomorrow could be even better’ says the narrator anticipating another wonderful day and re-stating as the two snuggle into bed, ‘Yes, Rosie is the Very Best Friend …’

But there’s a twist in this tale that listeners may, or may not have been anticipating, as we learn who in fact the storyteller has been.

Who can resist the two faces looking out and drawing readers in from the cover of this wonderfully soft-hearted story of a special friendship? Ali Pye’s characteristically patterned illustrations of child and canine friend are adorably cute without being at all sentimental; even this very dog wary reviewer immediately warmed to the small black and white pooch.

When Sadness Comes To Call

When Sadness Comes To Call
Eva Eland
Andersen Press

Sadness can come at any time, right out of the blue and no matter how hard you try to avoid it or want to hide it away; it can become so overwhelming that you feel as though it has completely taken you over, mind and body.

In this, Eva Eland’s debut picture book she portrays Sadness as an amorphous physical entity, somewhat resembling a Babapapa, that comes a-knocking at the front door of a child.

Better than shutting it away and letting it frighten you, is to acknowledge it by giving it a name, then just let it be for a while. Perhaps there are things you can enjoy doing together – drawing, listening to music or drinking hot chocolate, or venturing outside for a walk.

Changing your response to this feeling is what’s required, rather than trying to change the feeling itself: be mindful of the sadness for things will get better.

Children’s mental well-being has become head-line news of late with more and more children, even young ones having problems with mental health. There are plenty of picture books about anger and how to cope with it, but far fewer on the topic of sadness or melancholy so this book is especially welcome. It’s sensitively written, empathetic and ultimately uplifting.

Eva’s hand-drawn illustrations for which she uses a three colour palette effectively portray the child’s changing emotions.

Her endpapers too show two different responses: in the front ones people are ignoring their sadness and look depressed, while the back endpapers show the same characters interacting with sadness and feeling better.

A book to share and discuss at home or in school. Armed with the knowledge offered therein young children have a tool to use with their own sadness next time it comes visiting.

Mole’s Star

Mole’s Star
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books

Mole loves to watch the stars; they help to alleviate his feelings of loneliness that are sometimes brought on by the dark. Every night he sits on his favourite rock star gazing and enjoying their lights that twinkle in the sky.

One night he sees a shooting star and makes a wish. Finding himself immediately surrounded by tall ladders stretching all the way up to the sky, it seems his wish to own all the stars in the world can really come true.

Up and down the ladders Mole hurries, as he fills his burrow with starlight, giving not a thought to the consequences of his actions.

So much does Mole love the new brightness of his home

that it’s a while before he pops his head out of the molehill again. Total blackness meets his eyes; then he learns how his actions have affected the other woodland animals.

Ashamed of his thoughtlessness Mole wanders deep into the forest where he suddenly comes upon a dim light glinting in a puddle.
Voicing his regret at his ill-considered action has a surprising effect; the faded star twinkles and …

Mole knows exactly what he must do and happily his friends are ready to lend a paw, hoof or wing to help him.

Picturebook star Britta Teckentrup’s magical story highlights the importance of sharing, demonstrating how the wonders of the world belong to all its creatures. Her characteristic digitally worked collage style illustrations show the beauty of the natural world, while in this instance her sombre colour palette allows the night’s twinkling lights to shine through with dramatic effect.

Happy To Be Me

Happy To Be Me
Emma Dodd
Orchard Books

Emma Dodd’s simple rhyming celebration of all kinds of human bodies as presented by the six small children in her new book, is both wonderfully upbeat and inclusive.

The toddlers are happy in their own skins with mouths for smiling and laughing, wiggly toes, fingers and thumbs that can do so many different things

as well as hands that touch and hold; ears for listening; eyes for seeing; a head bursting with good ideas, arms for hugging, a nose for smelling; a tongue that tastes; legs that can fold up to make a lap – just right for a cosy napping place for a pet.

Thanks too, go to lips and teeth for facilitating eating and drinking; but most important of all to our hearts that let us love. And love is what shines forth from every spread.

With its adorable little individuals and two supporting adults, this book provides a great way for adults, either at home or in a nursery setting, to talk with very young children about their bodies and being thankful for the amazing things they can do.

Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Let me introduce Peter, although as narrator of Helen Bate’s debut graphic novel, he introduces himself in this true story of a six year old Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War 2.

Peter always makes the best of things; he trims the sides off newly baked cakes and frees buttons from his mother’s coat to use in his play

but when his beloved Roza (who lives with the family and helps his mother) has to leave as she’s no longer allowed to work in a Jewish household, the lad is bereft.

That though is only the start of the upsetting things that happen but Peter’s story is not all dark and bleak. Despite the fact that under Nazi rule, Peter’s family were forced to leave their home, split up and had then to live in hiding in constant fear for their lives, there’s humour too; it’s rightly subtitled ‘Courage and Hope in World War Two’. Indeed with its fine balance between horror and humour, it’s pitched just right for 9+ children.

Thanks to enormous good fortune and the amazing kindness of individuals including a soldier,

Peter and his parents escaped a number of nightmarish situations and survived, although (as we learn in the afterword) his grandmother, aunts and uncles were killed in concentration camps.

Moving, accessible and offering a less well-known perspective on WW11 and the Holocaust, with its skilful balance of illustration and text, this is definitely a book to include in a primary school KS2 collection.

With Holocaust Memorial Day coming shortly, if you missed this poignant book when it was first published, it’s worth getting now. It could also open up discussion about other children, victims of more recent horrific events, who on account of their ethnicity or religious faith for instance, find themselves victims of persecution and perhaps forced to become refugees.

Particularly in the light of recent and on-going conflicts in various parts of the world and the current upsurge of nationalism, we would all do well to be reminded of Amnesty International’s endorsement statement on the back cover, ‘ it shows us why we all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety.’

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece

So You Think You’ve Got It Bad? A Kid’s Life in Ancient Greece
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

Chae Strathie knows just how to make history interesting and fun for children as he demonstrates in his latest So You Think You’ve Got It Bad title published in collaboration with The British Museum.

The first topic (of ten) Clothes and Hairstyles contains some tasty or perhaps rather yucky, snippets of information such as the fact that one source of purple clothes dye was insect larva (maggots to most of us); though actually, yellow was a favourite with girls.

Suppose you were a boy in Ancient Greece; you’d wear merely a short tunic; yes it was probably pretty warm much of the time but even so a sudden gust of wind, especially in winter, would probably expose your nether regions. Brrrr!
Moreover, young men training in the gymnasium or participating in a sporting event did so in the altogether and it was considered absolutely normal so to do.

Young girls fared slightly better; they too wore only a single garment – an ankle length dress called a peplos but at least it was belted.

Zips or buttons hadn’t been invented although people used brooches, pins, cord or belts as fasteners.

Girls had a pretty grim time of it back then and female babies were often left to die on account of the dowry system, which meant that it could cost parents a fortune when a girl married, something that could happen as young as thirteen and to a complete stranger.

Girls fared badly too when it came to education: boys went to school when they were seven but girls –rich ones only – were home educated, the focus being how to run a home.

Inequality was everywhere with slaves making up around a third of the population of Athens.

Talking of education, tablets were used for note taking in lessons – no not the electronic kind; these were made of wax-covered wood on which you wrote with a stick-like stylus.  Sticks were employed for another reason too – for beating those boys who didn’t learn quickly enough in class. Yeouch!

Pets were popular with families with snakes, goats, swans, ducks and geese numbering among the favourites along with dogs (the very favourite). Try taking geese out for a walk!

Oh my goodness! Even the homes of the very richest were without a loo. Imagine having to poo in a pot every single day. No thanks. There’s even a depiction on a painted vase of a small boy sitting having a dump on a tall potty-like object that apparently doubled as a high chair. Hygienic it surely wasn’t.

The largest room in a typical Greek house was devoted to partying – men only again. Female readers are probably fuming by this time.

Health and medicine introduces physician Hippocrates, often called the founder of modern medicine but before he came along much of ancient Greek medicine relied on magical prayers and charms.

Diet, myths and legends, ancient gods and fun and games complete the thematic sections.

The layout of almost every spread differs with information presented in paragraphs of text, in speech bubbles, via diagrams, and through Marisa Morea’s amusing illustrations, which make the book even more engaging.

Readers will surely finish reading this with a big smile and almost without noticing will have gained insights into an important ancient civilisation as well as a greater appreciation of their own lives today.

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!
Ruth Quayle and Deborah Allwright
Nosy Crow

Here’s a book that takes a different slant on piratical tales with the all-absorbing nature of imaginative play at its heart.

When Sidney Green receives a letter urging him to stop playing and become a proper pirate he likes the idea but as he tells his playmate, dog Jemima, they have an important race to take part in first. “I’ll come in a minute,” is his response to Captain Shipshape and off he races, whoosh!

Race successfully completed, he forgets all about being a pirate until, in through the window flies a scarlet macaw that repeats Captain Shipshape’s summons.

Sidney’s response is the same as before. and he and Jemima plus the macaw set off on an expedition to Africa.

Once again a ‘rip-roaring time’ is had by all and the pirate business is forgotten.

He’s reminded however by three pirates, who come banging on his door disturbing the project Sidney is engaged in. Building a castle seems more interesting than returning whence they came so the three join in with the project.

It’s thirsty work and as the builders stop for some liquid refreshment who should appear on the scene but Captain Shipshape himself.

His dismissal of the friends’ activities as ‘just playing’ and his instruction to join him, have an unexpected outcome.
Before you can say ‘Proper pirate’ something heavy hits him on the head and he finds himself a member of Sidney’s crew blasting off into space to track down some dangerous aliens.

The outcome is another rip-roaring time …

How will this adventure end? You’ll have to unearth a copy of this treasure of a book for yourself to discover that. (That sentence holds a clue). Suffice it to say that there’s more than one way of being a ‘proper pirate’.

I love the way Ruth’s story highlights the importance of children’s imaginative play in this enormously engaging tale that is packed with action, has plenty of dialogue for readers aloud to let rip on, and some satisfying repetition for young listeners to join in with.

Deborah Allwright packs plenty of action into her digitally worked scenes of cars and corners, boats and a birthday celebration, castles and crocodiles, diggers and dinosaurs, and much more, making this a super story to share with your little ones.

A Year of Nature Poems

A Year of Nature Poems
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd
Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s the perfect book to start off 2019 and give us all something to look forward to other than the doom and gloom that issues forth whenever one turns on the TV or radio news and current affairs.

Award-winning performance poet Joseph Coelho has penned twelve poems about the natural world, one for every month of the year. Each is introduced with a brief prose paragraph to set the scene, and beautifully illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd in folk art style.

Joe is one for creating powerful images in his writing and it’s certainly so here.

There are reflective poems, several of which seemingly stem from the author’s own childhood, one such is April. ‘ When there was electricity in the sunset / I’d lay in the sky-hug of our balcony hammock / and swing. The rain was always welcome / each drop a cold thrill/ that relaxed and washed away.’

Reflective too and exquisitely expressed is his account of creating a pond and its visitation by mayflies in May.
‘They’re quick to shed their awkwardness. / The dead pond, I couldn’t bring myself to fill-in, / explodes into an exultation / of fairy dust / and angel light / of dancing tears / and sparkling goodbyes / as wild life fills / the hole we dug.’

In its final verse February laments the decline in amphibian numbers but before that we’re treated to a lyrical description of frogspawn: ‘Soft pond jewels are forming / in sunlit forest pools. // Expectation and hope / balled-up in clear jelly. Frog-baby crèche.’

Many of us as youngsters indulged in a spot of scrumping but my partner has never grown out of this activity and still enjoys liberating apparently unwanted fruit as summer gives way to autumn. So, I was amused to read Joe’s fruitful account of childhood exploits of so doing in his August poem.

You can almost smell smoke so vivid is the description of leaf fall and the autumnal hues enjoyed by a young Joseph with his mother one October: ‘The leaves were piled / bonfire high / whizzing russets, shooting oranges, exploding yellows /that she scooped in armfuls / and cascaded over me / in a dry-leaf firework display / of love.’

A year as seen through Joe Coelho’s poems offers a terrific sensory awakening to put us all in mindful mode, and perhaps inspire children to pen their own responses to the beauty of the natural world.

The Girls

The Girls
Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie
Little Tiger

When four little girls meet under an apple tree, little do they know that the friendship they form will over the years, grow and deepen into one that lasts into adulthood.

We follow the four through the good times and the down times,

with the girls sharing secrets, dreams and worries as they grow into women

and by the end readers feel they too share in this friendship so well do they know the foursome.

There’s Lottie the adventurous one; full of ideas, Leela; practical Sasha and Alice, the one who is always able to make them laugh.

We’re really drawn in to this wonderfully elevating account of long-lasting female friendship that Lauren describes and Jenny Lovlie so beautifully illustrates.

Like friends everywhere, these four are totally different in so many ways but no matter what, transcending their differences, is that enduring bond between them symbolised by – what an apt metaphor it is – the growing, changing tree that embodies strength, support and above all, permanence.

Here’s hoping that all the young readers who encounter Lottie, Leela, Sasha and Alice within the pages of this inspiring book will, like those characters, find not only reassurance and emotional strength but the joys of true friendship in their own lives.

Jungle Jamboree

Jungle Jamboree
Jo Empson
Puffin Books

The jungle is alive with anticipation. The coming of dusk is the opportunity for all the animals, great and small, to show off their beauty; but which one will be judged the most beautiful of all?

One after another the creatures dismiss their natural beauty: Lion says his mane is too dull; bird’s legs are too short; zebra’s stripes are too boring; leopard’s spots too spotty and hippo’s bottom is well, just too big.

None of them expects to win the crown.

A passing fly is interested only in his lunch and while the other creatures all set about getting themselves ready for the jamboree, he happily sates his appetite.

At last all are ready but they’re hardly recognisable with their fancy adornments and new-found confidence.

The fly, in contrast talks only of the beauty of the day’s ending.

Finally the long-awaited hour of dusk arrives. Judges and creatures assemble ready to strut their stuff; but all of a sudden the clouds gather and a storm bursts upon them.

The animals are stripped of their flamboyant accoutrements and left standing in darkness as the storm finally blows itself out. Now it’s impossible for the judges to see who should receive that crown of glory.

Then the little fly speaks out, offering light, for this is no ordinary fly.

How wonderfully one little firefly illuminates all the creatures, now clad only in their natural beauty; but which will be declared the most beautiful of them all?

Jo’s story is funny, thought provoking and a superb celebration of kindness, self-acceptance and every individual’s unique beauty: her electrifying illustrations are a riot of colour and pattern and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts.

Tooth / Big Kid Bed, Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle, Mix & Match Farm Animals

Tooth
Big Kid Bed

Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

Baby, the star of several previous board books including Toot returns in two further amusing and appealing episodes.

Tooth begins with the star of the show exhibiting some distress about a strange feeling in the mouth. Before long we discover that Baby is getting a tooth, shiny, white, hard and sharp. Not just a single tooth though, there’s another and then two more follow.
Having shown those shiny gnashers, Baby demonstrates some things good and not so good that can be done with the teeth.

Very important too is taking care of teeth and we see how even one so small is conscientious about dental hygiene.

Brushing twice a day and flossing (with Daddy and Mummy’s help) are part of the little one’s daily routine.

Patricelli’s straightforward first person text combined with scenes of the adorable Baby is irresistible.

The same is true in Big Kid Bed. Here the toddler tells of bedtime preparations for a sleep on ‘my new big kid bed!’ How exciting; but the bed is so big and the toddler so small it’s as well that Mummy and Daddy are on hand to make things easier, piling up pillows around the bed in case of a fall and bringing in Baby’s stuffed animals to snuggle up with.

Comfortable as Baby might be, there’s the possibility of getting out of bed again to investigate what other members of the household are doing during the night, until finally, YAWN; sleepiness takes over and it’s time to return to the warmth and cosiness of that new bed for a good night’s sleep.

Who could ask for more from a bedtime book for the very youngest?

Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In this adventure Bizzy Bear finds out what life as a knight is like when (with a bit of help from small fingers that slide the helmet visor up and down) he dons a perfectly fitting suit of armour and visits a castle.
Once kitted out and inside, Bizzy tries his paw at brandishing a sword

and then on the next spread, at jousting before finally sitting down to participate in a delicious-looking banquet.

As with other titles in the series, the engaging simple rhyming text, brightly coloured illustrations with just the right amount of detail (look out for the dragon) and those interactive features – sliders and tabs that are easy to use, make this well-constructed book ideal for toddlers.,

Mix & Match Farm Animals
Rachael Saunders
Walker Books

With the same innovative design as previous titles in this mix & match series (a tiny board book within a small one) young children are invited to match the larger surrounding page with its ‘Who says …?’ question to the appropriate smaller inset animal spread showing the animal that makes the sound.

The animals featured in the smaller book are all adult while on the surrounding pages young animals are depicted, as well as other appropriate clues, for instance there’s a calf, a bull, a barn and a bucket of milk on the ‘cow’ spread.
On the final ‘sheep’ spread we meet a farmer and sheepdog in Rachel Saunders’ illustration.

A clever format, and a playful and enjoyable way to introduce or re-enforce farm animal sounds to the very youngest

A Home on the River

A Home on the River
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

When Bramble Badger discovers that he has no water and neither have his friends he looks beyond his own front door.

Heading down to the river, he finds the riverbed is completely dry – there’s not even enough for Tipper Toad to take a dip.

Determined to help his friends, Bramble follows the dry river bed deep into the woods manoeuvring over and around obstacles and startling some of the woodland animals; he even takes an unplanned dip in a freezing lake, until eventually he comes upon a blockade.

Thinking the young squirrels have been up to mischief he goes to investigate.

What he finds though isn’t squirrels but a wooden house on an island.

The house is inhabited by one Sam beaver who doesn’t realise that his actions have caused problems further downriver.

Fortunately he’s ready to make amends and so Bramble shows him the perfect spot he’s discovered close by and all ends happily with water flowing once again.

Peter Bently’s rhyming story of friendship, sharing and caring for the world around us is the second to feature Bramble and his community of animal friends. Again in his lovely illustrations, Charles Fuge brings out both the warmth of Peter’s tale and the beauty of the natural world.

The Kiss

The Kiss
Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Little Tiger

Right from Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s inviting cover, this is a superbly uplifting book about one small expression of love and the life-changing consequences such acts of loving kindness can have.

It starts with a kiss blown by young Edwyn to his departing Grandma.

On her journey home, she shows this kiss to a sad-looking old man – with dramatic effects …

and blows him a kiss of her own as her bus leaves.

Walking through the park, she comes upon a woman shouting unkindly at her daughter. Again the sight of Grandma’s kiss has transformative effects –shared laughter between lady and child and an increase in the size of Gran’s kiss.

A surprise in the form of a rich and greedy man desirous of procuring her kiss awaits Grandma as she reaches home. Her refusal to part with it does nothing to deter the man who tries several ploys to get it but Grandma stands firm.

Finally the man resorts to theft and having stolen the kiss he stashes it away, for his eyes only, in a silver cage inside his tower.
Its incarceration has drastic effects on the kiss, on the elements and on the rich man’s mood, so much so that he returns what he’s taken to its rightful owner.

Instead of chastising him, Grandma shows him nothing but kindness, even bestowing upon him a mood-lifting farewell kiss.

I wonder what effects Edwyn’s big hug will have …

Linda Sunderland’s story is such a wonderful demonstration of how much more power for good a small act of kindness such as sharing has, than the grabbing greed of acquisition, as well as that It’s impossible to put a price on simple, heartfelt expressions of love.

Rising star Jessica’s illustrations are totally gorgeous; her delight in the natural world is evident in her vibrant, richly patterned scenes.

Perfectly Polite Penguins

Perfectly Polite Penguins
Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan
Little Tiger

As this story states at the outset, penguins are ALWAYS perfectly polite. Always? Surely that’s just too good to be true isn’t it?

Certainly most of them have excellent manners but there’s always an exception to the rule; in this case it’s Polly.
Polly penguin finds politeness boring and shows it by her actions.

She butts in when others are speaking, doesn’t think about the feelings of her fellow penguins; is untidy and bad-mannered especially at meal times.

When this lack of politeness infects others in the household, the resulting mayhem upsets Baby Peter so much that he shuts himself away.

Fortunately though Polly knows exactly how to put things right.

Is she now a reformed character? Errr! You know how it is with little humans: so it is with little penguins and perfection would be extremely boring wouldn’t it?

Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan’s fun demonstration of the importance of appropriate behaviour and consideration of others is great to share with young humans, especially the Pollys among them. I love the bold colour palette Ekaterina uses. Her portrayal of the antics of the penguin waddle as their behaviour deteriorates into penguin pandemonium is splendidly subversive; expect giggles galore.

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

As Douglas sits beneath a tree taking stock of his spring collection, it’s suddenly added to in an unexpected manner. A nest of eggs plummets into his lap, closely followed by a squirrel that informs Douglas it belongs to Swoopy Bird. The eggs are fine but the nest is rather the worse for its tumble.

Kind-hearted as ever, Douglas volunteers to mind the nest and its contents while its owner builds a new one but it seems a long wait.

One of the Funny Bunnies suggests egg hugging is a good way to keep the eggs warm – decidedly preferable to being sat upon by Douglas’ large rear – and it isn’t long before the eggs are ready to hatch.

The next challenge is to get the eight little hatchlings safely up to the new home Swoopy Bird has finished in the nick of time.

Once installed it’s hugs all round.

As always it’s perfectly pitched for young listeners but with sufficient humour – visual and verbal – to satisfy adult readers aloud too.

With its signature final double spread (here it’s things to spot on a spring day) and some crafty suggestions, this new story will please established fans, and make the huggable Douglas a lot of new followers.