Zoom: Ocean Adventure & Zoom: Space Adventure / Where’s My Peacock?

Zoom: Ocean Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Sam Rennocks
Zoom: Space Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Susanna Rumiz
What on Earth Books

These are two titles in a new board-book non-fiction series for curious toddlers.

In the first we meet Noah and join him and his turtle on an ocean adventure as he takes his boat out to sea, dons his diving gear and plunges into the water.

His first location is a coral reef, a good place for a game of hide-and-seek with some fish. Next stop is a seagrass meadow with its seahorses, dugongs and a wealth of other creatures, some of which emerge from the kelp.

Danger suddenly looms in the shape of a hungry great white shark from which Noah must make a hasty escape by climbing into his submarine and diving down to the darkest depths.

There’s also a sunken pirate ship with treasure and more to discover as Noah heads for the Antarctic and an iceberg with penguins atop, made all the more dramatic by its large die-cut shape,

Indeed die-cuts are a feature of every spread and with their clever placing each one offers a different view depending on whether the page is turned forwards or back.

The Space Adventure is Ada’s and begins with her (and her cat) boarding her rocket ship and awaiting the countdown which is delivered through wordless die-cut illustrated pages shaped as the numbers 5 through to 1.

Then the rocket blasts off skywards towards the moon, docking at the International Space Station to make a delivery and for Ada to perform some urgent repairs before making a lunar landing to collect scientific samples.

Thereafter, the rocket explores the Solar System viewing all the different planets before heading home once more.

Characteristic of both, rather longer than average board books are: the surprise pop-up on the penultimate spread, the wealth of visual details in Sam Rennocks and Susanna Rumiz’s vibrant illustrations, the die-cut pages, the relatively short narrative and the fact that both Noah and Ada actually experience their journeys through their imagination.

Sturdily built, these are well worth putting into a nursery collection or adding to your toddler’s bookshelf.

Where’s My Peacock?
Becky Davies and Kate McLelland
Little Tiger

In their latest touchy-feely, hide-and-seek board book, thanks to Becky Davies’ simple repeat patterned and Kate McLelland’s alluring patterned art, toddlers can follow the trail of footprints and discover a long tailed lemur, a feathery owl and a brightly hued toucan before locating the dazzling tailed peacock that has almost, but not entirely, hidden himself away.

Tactile fun for tinies and the possibility of learning some new vocabulary.

Mermaids Rock: The Floating Forest / The Time Travel Diaries: Adventure in Athens

Mermaids Rock: The Floating Forest
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger

This is the second title in Linda Chapman’s Mermaids Rock series featuring some animal-loving mer friends. They have formed their own special Save the Sea Creatures Club, their aim being to come to the aid of animals in trouble.

As the story starts Coralie and Dash enter a whirlpool and find themselves in a wonderful forest with sea lions. Therein Coralie discovers among the fronds a bottle containing what looks like a rolled up message.

On returning to her friends she learns from Marina (whose dad is a marine scientist) that the place she’s just visited is a kelp forest. The others are eager to see it too so they schedule a visit the following day.

In the meantime Naya manages to open the bottle; inside is a map with a rhyming message.

Next day with 4 clues to solve, operation treasure hunt begins.

But one of their classmates, the sneaky Glenda is determined to find out what the others are up to and starts watching their every move.

The following week when the club members return to their search they discover that the kelp forest has been destroyed leaving the animals unprotected and in great danger.

Saving them becomes much more important than the treasure hunt but can they do it before it’s too late?

Mirelle Ortega’s expressive illustrations add further interest to the narrative and help break up the text for newly independent readers.

After the story are pages with information about the kelp forests and the animals living there, as well as some marine-related jokes.

A tale that’s ideal for young nature-lovers and environmentalists who like their adventures bubbling with mermaid magic.

For slightly older readers, also the second in a series:

The Time Travel Diaries: Adventure in Athens
Caroline Lawrence
Piccadilly Press

With her outstanding, expert knowledge of classical history and superb storytelling skill, Caroline Lawrence immerses readers in ancient Athens circa 400BCE when her heroes Alex and Dinu, on a luxury holiday in Athens, time travel – at the behest of Solomon Daisy – to the time of Socrates. Unbeknown to the boys, Dinu’s younger sister has followed them through the time-travel portal and is also swept up in the adventure.

It’s no time at all before having arrived at the Temple of Athena, Alex and Dinu are taken by the Scythian archers – the equivalent of the police in ancient Athens.

As with the previous book, the story is pacey, gripping and rich in historical detail.

Here’s what Daniel (nearly 11) thought:
‘This book was action-packed and a great read. The plot involves a group of characters who travel back in time in search of Socrates, the wisest man in the world. The main characters are really interesting because of their individual personalities.
Through their journey we learn about an ancient time and some historical dates. My favourite part is when the main characters go inside a public house and they play music through holes in a bone.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to 9-11 year olds.

Say Goodbye … Say Hello / The Happy Lion Roars

Say Goodbye … Say Hello
Cori Doerrfeld
Scallywag Press

Change is inevitable no matter what, and young children often find transitions tricky.

Through her gentle, lively illustrations and soft-spoken, simply expressed text, Cori Doerrfeld offers little ones a story exploring  the nature of change and the possibilities that embracing it can offer.

Stella, while reluctant to leave her mum and board the bus, soon discovers a new friend, Charlie, once she gets to school.

Before long the two are almost inseparable. We follow them through the seasons and goodbye summer means hello to autumn and goodbye to outside means hello to inside;
’Goodbye to snowmen … is hello to puddles!’;

and through the days when “goodbye to long walks, butterflies and the sun … is hello to long talks … fireflies and … the stars.’

But then, comes something much more difficult for Stella to cope with: the need to say goodbye to her special friend, when Charlie moves away and holding tight must be followed by letting go.

Physically yes, but not completely, for Stella is soon busy writing and posting a letter to her friend.

There’s also the possibility of someone else on the horizon, not a replacement for Charlie, but perhaps a new friendship for the making…

Splendidly expressive illustrations show both the ups and downs of change, as well as the passage of time. Ultimately however, however difficult some changes might be, as the story closes we’re given an indication of Stella’s resilience as she greets a newcomer …
A gorgeously warm portrayal of friendship, loss and the possibilities of new beginnings.

Completely different but also with a focus on friendship and new beginnings is this oldie but goodie:

The Happy Lion Roars
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

Nostalgia rules in this Happy Lion story I remember from my childhood. In this book the Happy Lion is most definitely not living up to his name, spending much of his time looking downright miserable, so much so that a doctor is called. He merely prescribes pills and departs; but the medication is totally ineffective in the face of loneliness for that is what is wrong with the Happy Lion.

Then one day into town comes a small circus and he and his friend Francois go to watch the acts. However, the Happy Lion has eyes only for the Beautiful Lioness in her cage.

Suddenly his sadness is a thing of the past and one night he goes to the cage of the Beautiful Lioness, opens the door and together they walk through the park back to his home.
A search ensues,

followed by some subterfuge, the Happy Lion’s loudest ever roar, and finally, thanks to Francois, a deal leaving not one, but two felines exceedingly happy.

Superb art and a lovely story where friendship and freedom reign supreme, characterise this classic re-issue.

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Bernard the robot, aka No-Bot, is back with a new botty but now again it seems to be giving him trouble. Not however by its absence; rather there are all manner of strange sounds apparently emanating from his rear as he plays on the park equipment with his pals.

Bernard is surprised until he turns his head to discover what looks like his very own, potentially explosive bum.

Bear decides it needs removing which leaves our robot pal in a bot-less state once more.

Reassuringly his friends are ready and willing to assist in finding a replacement but it’s not an easy task as they soon discover, for the bot needs to satisfy certain criteria – right colour, appealing smell, comfortable for sitting

and not too heavy. Will Monkey, Bear, Dog and the birds ever find a bot that it just right or is Bernard to remain in a permanent state of bottomlessness?

Finally, it appears Bernard isn’t the only one having bottom trouble …

Like the first No-bot story this one is delightfully daft and full of the kind of humour that definitely appeals to little ones. Yet again team Sue and Paul have a winner with this one; I certainly know a fair few fans who will be keen to get their hands on it.

Impossible! / I’m Sorry

Here are two recently published picture book from Little Tiger:

Impossible!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Dog runs a laundry in a busy city but has a longing to see the ocean.

One day he comes upon Ocean Magic, a new kind of washing powder. The product promises ‘seaside freshness with every wash’ but apparently there’s something else within the box too.
Into the machine goes the powder and out later, along with the clean washing, emerges a crab suffering from a bad attack of nausea.

Dog and Crab discuss the situation over a cuppa

and eventually after declaring several times that driving Crab all the way back home is impossible, Dog lets himself be persuaded to undertake the trip.

Off they go together on a journey that takes several weeks during which they create a special memories map of their trip.

En route they encounter other travellers with seemingly impossible challenges of their own.

Now it’s Dog’s turn to utter the ‘nothing is impossible unless you say so’ maxim and with the assistance of their new friends, Dog and Crab finally reach their destination.

Both are delighted with the ocean paradise but then Dog declares he must return to his city job – or must he?

Follow your dreams and don’t allow obstacles to stand in your way, is the message Tracey’s tale imparts to youngsters. Equally the ‘it’s only impossible if you say so’ message is one we all need to remember especially in challenging times.

Tony Neal’s bright, lively, illustrations inject additional humour into the telling offering fun details to enjoy on every spread.

I’m Sorry!
Barry Timms and Sean Julian

In Walnut Wood live best friends, Scribble (squirrel) and Swoop (owl) and each morning they walk a considerable distance bringing their special things to their regular meeting spot.

Scribble has a special pencil that acts as word assistant in his play script writing, the finished dramas entertaining his friend. Swoop’s special thing is a toolbox that enables her to build anything and everything.

One day they decide to move in together; their place has ‘room for two and a little left over’.

It’s the left over bit – the veranda – that causes a rift, for each has designs on it.

A huge row ensues over the ownership of this: should it be a stage or a workshop?

Scribble decides to try and make amends with the aid of his trusty pencil but can a single word apology fix things or is something else needed?

There’s food for thought and discussion with little ones in this story that demonstrates that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sean Julian’s beautifully expressive watercolour illustrations are for me the true show-stealers in this book.

Now Wash Your Hands!

Now Wash Your Hands!
Matt Carr
Scholastic

Hand washing was never more important than now during the current COVID-19 crisis and here’s a timely picture book from author/illustrator Matt Carr showing young children the vital importance of keeping their hands super-clean and hopefully free of those invisible nasties aka germs.

This crucial message is delivered in Mrs Moo’s class by a very important visitor, Doctorpus Doris, who talks to the pupils about the vast numbers of ‘TEENY WEENY germs’

and what they can do to send those nasty beasties packing.

The good news is that the way to do it is something as simple as washing their hands thoroughly. Doris gives several examples of times when this is especially a must-do activity. For instance after visiting a farm, working in the garden, using the loo

and before having lunch as they all do after her talk. For Doc. Doris this germ-extermination is, of course, a rather protracted process.

With his light touch, bouncy rhyming narrative that includes a song and funky bright illustrations,

Matt delivers what all foundation stage teachers and early years staff will be constantly reminding youngsters to do, ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS!’.

To that end this book will be an absolute boon – a must have. (for every copy sold 50p will be donated to NHS charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal). Perhaps our government could add to their list of things to do: buy a copy for every school/nursery to share. Maybe I should tweet the PM and await his response …

Urban Forest School

Urban Forest School
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

Wow! What an absolute treasure trove of ideas this is for anyone who wants to include forest school and all that this has to offer into an urban school or nursery setting. That, one hopes (unless it’s already embedded into their curriculum) includes all early years and primary teachers and other staff.

Equally during this time when many parents are faced with home schooling their children, this book by a husband and wife team totally dedicated to outdoor learning, offers a wealth of activities across the whole curriculum and most could be used with a very wide age range.

After an introduction explaining what urban forest school actually is and where to look for urban nature, why it’s important to do so, and giving instructions on how to tie some useful knots, the main body of the book is divided into four sections.

We start with In the park or garden (a quiet street or a porch would suffice) where one of my favourite activities is shadow painting. Strangely enough as I was walking with my partner the other day past a patch of stinging nettles I remarked that their shadows looked much more striking than the actual plants. Then two days later I found this idea in the book. I’ve had children draw around their own or a friend’s shadow many times but never thought of using plants – love it!

Moving further afield Around the city or town has a nature focus and includes such things as cloud spotting and I really like the idea of the city sit spot – an opportunity for mindfulness of whatever your surroundings might be. From that sit spot or walking around, children can begin to get to know about the trees and the flora and fauna close by.

The third section – Home crafts – offers a wealth of creative activities: the leaf watercolour printing can be fun in its own right but also the starting point for other arty projects. I can’t wait to try the leaf bunting activity with children – I have to admit to having a go myself with some leaves and hole punches.

Recipes comprise the final section and there you’ll finding such diverse ideas as stinging nettle smoothie – this one might be an acquired taste, and spiced blackberry sorbet – more up my street I think, but the blackberry plants are still at the flowering stage just now.

Packed with enticing illustrations and photos, and covering so many areas of the curriculum, this bumper book includes something for all ages from the very young upwards, and is a fantastic encouragement to get children outdoors learning about and through nature.

Like the Ocean We Rise

Like the Ocean We Rise
Nicola Edwards and Sarah Wilkins
Little Tiger

Our planet is vast and it’s beautiful too,
But it needs our help; it needs me, it needs you.

Assuredly it does. I was absolutely astonished and horrified to read in the paper apropos World Oceans Day about the large percentage of microfibres in our oceans that are a result of washing synthetic clothing.

It’s never too early for young children to begin thinking about some of the ways they can help to reduce the negative impact we have on our planet and consider how everybody can help to prevent climate change.

A good place to start is with this smashing rhyming picture book.

Most of us know of the impact Greta Thunberg has had in galvanising what has become a global movement involving student protesters from over 120 countries; and Nicola Edwards’ narrative celebrates the contribution of young people; but there is a lot still to be done.

No matter where in the world we are,

we can all in our own way become eco-warriors

just like those children portrayed in Sarah Wilkins’ vibrant peek-through illustrations that use the ripple effect of a single raindrop to add to the impact of the text’s simile.

I love her final scene that shows this wave-making movement really is a global one in which we all can, indeed MUST, play our part.

The final spreadsheet provides  a brief explanation of  climate change and why it matters and some ‘What Can We Do?’ suggestions .

Monkey’s Tail

Monkey’s Tail
Alex Rance and Shane McG
Allen & Unwin

Since his retirement, due in no small part to a serious knee injury in an Australian Rules football game, Alex Rance has written another story in his series of children’s picture books.

This one, Monkey’s Tale, as the author says, is the story of how he got through the traumatic season of his injury in 2019.

It tells of Howler Monkey, one of the jungle’s very best climbers until one day while out with his pals, the branch on which he was climbing snaps sending him flying out of the tree to crash with an enormous thump right on his tail. YEOCH!

How that tail hurts and scares Howler Monkey but instead of letting on to his friends, he clowns around trying to make them laugh.

He may have fooled them but the Howler Monkey can’t fool himself and unable to climb he sits around thinking and becoming increasingly sad.

Then one day the very wise Oldest Monkey sits down beside Howler and asks what’s troubling him. Who better to confide in than Oldest Monkey so, full of self-doubt Howler Monkey reveals his secret worry: am I still a monkey if I can no longer climb?

A discussion ensues with Oldest Monkey asking some key questions that help Howler Monkey realise that no matter what, he can still make his friends laugh; he can still help them;

he still has a loving family and he can still make them proud – just in a different way. In other words, his actions do not define who he is and motivation for those actions is a key factor. Is this enough for Howler Monkey to regain his confidence and self-respect?

Resilience is key in Alex Rance’s story, illustrated digitally by Shane McG and as Oldest Monkey concludes ‘keep on being the best (monkey) you can be.’ Sage advice indeed.

A Trio of Activity Books

Viking Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

The latest in the series of Button Books unobtrusively educational, history activity books, illustrated by Jen Alliston, has a Viking theme.  If you have a child in the lower part of KS2 this may be part of their history curriculum. Whether or not this is so, books such as this are a particular boon in these days when many youngsters are not at school full time, if at all; and the activities and illustrations in this particular book are more appropriate for a younger (under 8) audience anyway.

It’s packed with a wide range of over 70 Viking related, fun things to do such as making a Viking helmet, beard and shield,

baking some cupcakes to decorate with Viking runes, and using maths to work out your Viking name. There are plenty of puzzles, mazes, counting, matching, anagrams, codes, jokes and more.

Also included are four pages of stickers.

All in all this will engage and entertain youngsters who, along with some Viking learning, will also hone their observational and fine motor skills.

Keep Calm!
Studio Press
Dr. Sharie Coombes, illustrated by Katie Abey & Ellie O’Shea

Aimed at primary age children, this is an activity book written by Sharie Coombes an educationalist and psychotherapy expert, that aims to help youngsters stay calm and cope with uncertainty during, and following, the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are a variety of creative ideas to help with the emotional roller-coaster we’re all sharing, including drawing, writing, and crafty activities.

There’s also mindfulness, calming breathing techniques and yoga (I know from experience they work).

The final few pages comprise tips for parents and carers on self-care and managing children’s emotions.
This little book could well be a boon during these tricky times.

For the same age range, to help combat boredom, especially if your child is stuck indoors, is:

Beano Puzzle Book
Studio Press

Dennis, Gnasher and Minnie the Minx have dug into the 1990-1994 Beano archives and unearthed a host of fun things such as word searches and other word games, mazes, drawing, comics and maths challenges that will help turn young users into word WHIZZ-ARDS and number GNASH-ERS.

Nothing required other than a pencil (or 2) and a switched on brain.

The Perfect Shelter

The Perfect Shelter
Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland
Little Tiger

Clare knows how to write about areas many people find difficult, her last book being the beautiful story The Tide, featuring a loved family member with dementia.

The new book, The Perfect Shelter is also based on personal experiences, this time of cancer. It’s equally beautifully told and illustrated and it’s evident immediately that a great deal of thought and loving care has gone into its creation.

As the story starts a family shares what the little girl narrator calls ‘the perfect day’, just right for her and her older sister to build a den in the woods – the perfect shelter.

Suddenly though as the evening draws in, it’s evident that something is not right with big sister.

Back home comes the news, her sister is ill.
A storm rages but the den repairs must continue as the narrator’s beloved sibling undergoes an operation.

But then come the questions, “How did it get there? … Why MY sister?”

Eventually although the den seems beyond fixing, the narrator’s internal storm begins to abate as big sister starts to regain her strength and with it her determination: there’s a new perfect time and perfect place to build a new shelter …

And with it come smiles, new plans and that wonderful feeling of togetherness.

Although we share in the gamut of emotions of this family, it’s optimism that is key in the poignant telling and Åsa Gilland’s slightly quirky illustrations capturing the family sharing a difficult time are superbly expressive of all the uncertainty inherent in Claire’s story. I love the way she adds gorgeous tiny detail and patterning to every scene.

That there is no mention of any specific illness makes this a book that will help untie the knot of emotions in many families when one of their number (Or indeed a close friend) is diagnosed with a serious illness.

44 Tiny Secrets

44 Tiny Secrets
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King
Little Tiger

There are actually even more secrets than the 44 tiny ones in the title of this captivating book and some of them are pretty big ones.

Betsy Bow-Linnet is the daughter of two internationally famous concert pianists who spend a fair bit of their time jetting off to play abroad leaving young Betsy in the care of her Grandad.

Betsy has set her heart on becoming famous like her parents but no matter how hard she practises, she lacks the natural talent of her mother Bella and father, Bertram and feels she’s a disappointment to them both.

One day she discovers a letter on the doormat bearing only her name. Inside she finds a letter written by one Gloria Sprightly. The woman claims she has a special method that will make Betsy’s next performance ‘completely, totally, stupendously stunning’ and it isn’t necessary that the two of them meet. The other requirements are that the Method is a secret, and plenty of pumpkin seeds.

Needless to say Betsy jumps at the opportunity and posts off her acceptance right away.

Another letter follows instructing her to look inside the parlour piano and to await a parcel.

Sure enough, the following morning on the doorstep is a large parcel inside which is a box containing the titular tiny secrets in the form of 44 pygmy mice.

Betsy is baffled: how can the tiny reddish-brown creatures help her improve her piano playing and how can she possibly keep all those mice a secret?

Moreover, who is this Gloria Sprightly?

Woven into this quirky story are some wonderful verbal images: Betsy’s mother has a particular penchant for ferns and there are pots of the things everywhere in their home. She even looks and smells like a fern we’re told.

Before the end there are some unexpected revelations of more than one kind and the sharing of some rather yummy cream cakes but all ends happily. Not ever after however for there’s promise of a new story of Betsy and her 44 rodent friends coming soon. Hurrah!

A delight through and through, made all the more so by the splendid visuals provided by Ashley King whose offbeat illustrations underscore the humour of Sylvia’s telling.

Nervous Nigel

Nervous Nigel
Bethany Christou
Templar Publishing

Bethany Christou’s follow-up to Slow Samson is another winner, even if her young crocodile protagonist is not.

Nigel comes from a long line of water-sport champions and like the rest of his family, Nigel loves to swim and his favourite spot for relaxing and thinking is in the water.

However once he has to start following a training regime, he gets butterflies in his tummy and his tail is all a-tremble, but he daren’t let on to the family.

Then comes the news. Nigel is to take part in his very first competition:

no wonder he has a sleepless night and no matter what he does or says there’s no getting out of it.

When race day dawns Nigel is a complete nervous wreck.

There’s absolutely no way he can take that dive from the starting blocks, so what will he do?

Is there perhaps something else water-related that he can enjoy

and at the same time make his family proud without winning medals?

Suffering from anxiety is part and parcel of growing up so most little ones will appreciate Nigel’s plight; so too will adult sharers who, one hopes put children’s happiness and self-fulfilment above reflected glory.

Bethany Christou’s wonderfully expressive, warm illustrations have a gentle humour that underscores her message about allowing children to be themselves and follow their own paths.

This is Crab / The Bedtime Book

Here are two titles from the Little Tiger group that are just right to share with preschool children:

This is Crab
Harriet Evans and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books

This is another interactive book from Harriet Evans and illustrator Jacqui Lee and this one has an ocean floor setting and a googly-eyed red crustacean as its central character.

We join and assist Crab as he wanders around the sea bed encountering in turn, bit part players in the form of an octopus,

some coral, sea turtles, fish of various kinds and hues as well as a Decorator Crab that our meanderer gets a tad cheeky with.

Bright alluring illustrations including several spreads with die-cut overlays will certainly engage visually, while eager fingers will enjoy responding to such instructions as ‘shake your finger at Crab, please’; ‘Try tickling Crab so he lets go’ and ‘Tap on Crab to make the crack larger’ and they’ll assuredly delight in the revelation of Crab’s new pink shell once they’ve helped peel off the cracked red one.

Words such as ‘drumroll’, ‘scuttle’ and ‘pincers’ are introduced as the action proceeds, so will likely be absorbed by youngsters as they react to the prompts to facilitate Crab’s perambulations through the story.

The Bedtime Book
S. Marendaz and Carly Gledhill
Little Tiger

Like little humans, Mouse has a favourite bedtime book. Who better to help her find it when it goes missing than Frank the dachshund but he’s just snuggled down for a peaceful night’s sleep in his kennel.

Cosy as he might be though, Frank’s not one to leave his friend to search alone so off they go together ‘scurry, scurry, scurry … pant, pant, pant’ on a book hunt. They follow a trail that leads them to Bella the cat.

What Bella tells them has all three of them scurrying and panting off again but still there’s no sign of the missing book.

Owl overhears their conversation and reveals that he had it but it’s now set to be the next bedtime story for Baby Hedgehog.

Kind-hearted Mouse won’t hear of trying to retrieve it and instead goes sadly back to bed. So too does Frank although instead of falling asleep he has a wonderful idea that soon sees him back at Mouse’s residence

where in lieu of Mouse’s book, we’ll leave the two friends snuggled together under the stars having shared Frank’s bedtime favourite …

This sweet gentle story is likely to become a bedtime favourite for pre-schoolers who will love to snuggle down and make some animal friends thanks to Carly Gledhill’s delightful portrayal of the nocturnal happenings.

Pippi Longstocking, Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard & Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Pippi Longstocking
Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford University Press

I absolutely loved these stories as a child more years ago than I care to remember, and thanks to these new editions splendidly illustrated by Mini Grey and translated by Susan Beard, I find that red-headed rule-breaking Pippi – the ‘strongest girl in the world’ –clad still in her odd (one black and one brown) stockings, has lost none of her wildness and charm.

Nine-year old Pippi lives sans parents in Villa Villekulla – mum is an angel and dad a South Sea Island king she proudly announces. With Pippi lives her monkey Mr Nilsson (a present from her dad), while on her veranda lives her very own horse.

In the first book Pippi meets and makes friends with neighbours Tommy and Annika, gets the better of some bully boys, outthinks some police who come a visiting, is persuaded to go to school (briefly) and gets a bit carried away with her drawing, does some entertaining up an oak tree,

rides bareback at the circus and more.

The second book sees Pippi joining school again – but only to provide the ‘jollification’ on an outing. Other adventures include a face-to-face encounter with a tiger and a surprise visit from Pippi’s dad. Finally Pippi has the chance to accompany her father on his travels. Will she bid farewell to Annika and Tommy and sail away or remain at Villa Villekulla? It’s a difficult choice to make …

The third title is the last of the original Pippi books. Herein Pippi organises a quiz

and then as autumn turns to winter, she invites Tommy and Annika, (both recovering from measles), to accompany her on a trip to the island where her father is king.

As always there are escapades galore including when Pippi seizes a shark, gives it a good telling off and then hurls it back into the ocean. She also manages to protect the island pearls from a pair of would-be thieves and generally have a wonderful time – until Tommy and Annika decide they want to go home for Christmas. They don’t actually make it in time but as always, Pippi finds a way and they don’t miss out altogether on the festivities.

(Happily the mention of cannibals from the original tales has gone but the anarchic Pippi – celebrating her 75th anniversary this year – will surely never lose her power to delight.)

Little Bear’s Picnic / Peek-through: Around Town & Peek-through: Jobs We Do

Here are some new Little Tiger board book treats for toddlers:

Little Bear’s Picnic
Sebastien Braun and Kathryn Smith
Little Tiger

Picnics are the best fun if you collect some of the components on the way and that’s what happens in the second in the Cook With Me! lift-the-flap series.

Little Bear’s pretend play gives Big Bear an idea. The adult bear puts some items into a basket and off they go through the vegetable garden, pausing there to harvest some delicious veggies for the picnic.

By the stream Little Bear asks about another green plant and learns that it’s watercress – another tasty item to add to the basket.

The buzzy bees in the woods lead them to discover a honeycomb in the trees and then it’s time to settle down to a lunch.

Suddenly down comes a shower of rain so they gather up their things and dash for cover. Soon, sheltered beneath the canopy of a large tree the two bears watch as a rainbow appears in the sky and they tuck into their yummy ‘Rainbow Wraps Picnic’.

There’s a recipe for these beneath the final flap inside the back cover of the book.

Seb. Braun’s attention to detail is as always superb, so there’s plenty to get involved with including flaps to explore and a question to respond to on every spread such as ‘Can you help Little Bear pick some watercress?’

Toddlers will enjoy the playful picnic game and have fun guessing what the book contains as well as trying out its recipe.

Peek-through: Around Town
Peek-through: Jobs We Do

Jonny Marx and Zoe Waring
Little Tiger

Dusty the dog is a bit of a snooper so tired of being cooped up inside (familiar?) off he goes to explore what the town has to offer. Starting with the café, he visits the bookshop – hurray!,

the clothing store, the music shop, the sweet shop, the greengrocer and at the end of the day, meets up with a friend in the restaurant.

Roxy Rat also likes exploring and meeting others. Her perambulations take her to the police station, the fire station, a restaurant kitchen, a clothes shop, a garage, the bank and the hospital. That’s her final destination for we discover on the final spread that Roxy is a nurse whose turn it is on the night shift.

Both titles have a question on each recto above which is a peek-through flap to open and find the answer.

There’s a wealth of vocabulary development potential if toddlers share these chunky board books with an adult or older sibling.

A Friend for Bear

A Friend for Bear
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

When Little Bear wakes from her long winter sleep she cannot wait to embrace spring with all its exciting possibilities for running, flower smelling, tadpole tickling and twirling.

It’s the twirling that causes her to trip and fall flat. What she fell over wasn’t in fact the stone she thought but a tortoise.

Tortoise is excited to hear about Little Bear’s plans for roly-polying, tree climbing and making new friends but knows his short legs are no match for Little Bear’s.

Bear offers Tortoise a piggyback and away they speed, with the former anything but aware of potential new pals and sweet smelling flowers they pass, right up to the top of a small hill.

After a downhill tumble the two narrowly miss hurtling into a tree. Tortoise just wants to sit and allow his head to stop spinning.

Unmindful of Tortoise’s predicament Little Bear hoists Tortoise on her shoulders again dashing up the hill only to zoom straight back down to the water’s edge. Once again Little Bear doesn’t stop long enough to allow Tortoise to finish speaking and in they leap.

Poor Tortoise can take no more. With a waterlogged shell and worse, he spells it out to Little Bear. “You never stop to listen, or think, or make friends.”

At last Little Bear pays attention to what’s being said; friendship wins through and both creatures eagerly anticipate another day in each other’s company.

Caroline Pedler shows the cuddly bear cub, with Tortoise holding on for dear life, dashing through verdant meadows and sunlit woods alive with spring flora and fauna. Like Little Bear, little humans (and big ones) can all benefit from slowing down and enjoying being in the moment as Steve’s protagonists finally demonstrate in his telling.

Little Turtle and the Sea

Little Turtle and the Sea
Becky Davies and Jennie Poh
Litte Tiger

In this story we follow Little Turtle as she emerges from a nest on the sandy shore and heads to the safety of the sea, right through to maturity.

The turtle grows to love the ocean as she herself grows larger and one day she reaches the other side of the world where she lives for many years foraging and feeding.

Then comes a time for her to make the long journey back to the beach from whence she came .

Now however, it’s different. Things are not right: the colours of the reef are fading and instead of familiar friends, all manner of weird-looking new creatures (plastic bags) float everywhere.

The strangeness increases and ‘The ocean no longer felt like a friend.’

Little Turtle is alone and entangled in a drifting net of detritus.
Fortunately just when she fears her journey is over forever, two divers appear and set her free, going on to clean up the rubbish.

Once more the bubbling ocean is a beautiful place to live.

Becky Davies keeps her narrative lyrical and gentle as she describes the changing sea shown in Jennie Poh’s beautiful mixed media illustrations, saving the starker factual information about the terrible effects of pollution on our oceans to the two final ‘note from the author’ double spreads after the story.

The Funny Life of Sharks

The Funny Life of Sharks
James Campbell and Rob Jones
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Full of gill-slittingly silly stuff unrelated to the particular elasmobranchs of the title as well as plenty of real sharkish information too, this bonkers book is one to dip in and out of – unless that is, you are a total shark addict and then you might go for total immersion.

Or perhaps you’d rather make your own way through using the different options signposted on almost all the spreads. Trying to do that left this reviewer’s brain starting to feel like not-properly-set jelly.

Another consideration is one of how to classify the book: is it non-fiction or fiction. It’s really hard to decide and anyway, does it really matter? It’s hilarious either way and cleverly interactive to boot.

Moreover it includes pretty much everything you would ever need to know about sharks and a whole lot more you definitely wouldn’t;

but you may well end up so befuddled that you’re unable to tell which is which.

Take for instance, that there are three main kinds of shark attack:  the hit and run variety (I can’t quite work out who or what might be doing any running however); the bump and bite type during which the decision is made about whether or not you become a shark’s dinner and thirdly, there’s the deadly sneak attack.

Apparently great white sharks catch seals using that method, approaching them at 50kmph.

Of course no self-respecting shark book would omit what is frequently child readers’ favourite topic – poo; so James Campbell has obligingly included a poo spread. Thereon you’ll discover that shark poo is ejected ‘like a liquid bottom burp.

Moreover shark poo is an important part of the ecosystem. Really truly.

To finish, let me just say, this whole inventive compilation – liberally littered with Rob Jones drawings – is cartilageniously crazy and particularly perfect for selachimorphaphiles as well as bibliophobes who need their reads in easily digestible bite-sized chunks.

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter
Emily MacKenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Bibliophile, young Ralfy Rabbit loves nothing better than to find a peaceful place to snuggle up with a good book (or several).

However things have changed in Ralfy’s home: there’s a new addition to the family, baby brother Rodney, whose presence means that the household is anything but quiet, and the bigger baby Rodney gets, the more noise he makes.

The impossibility of finding a quiet spot at home drives Ralfy to one of his favourite places – the library. Bliss. Peace at last.

But when Ralfy settles down with his book he gets the surprise of his life. A very large hole has been chomped right through it.

Fortunately the librarian is sympathetic but suggests Ralfy should try to track down the book biter.

Back home Ralfy dons his detective gear and starts his investigation. It can’t have been any of the grown-ups for they’ve all been too busy. It surely can’t be Nibbles – he belongs elsewhere.

Ralfy moves to the bookcase where, OH NO! the book biter has been at work on another of his books. In fact not just one, but all Ralfy’s favourities – disaster!

Then he hears some strange sounds coming from the direction of another large volume …

Finally it seems Ralfy has caught the culprit. But what does he do about it? That would be telling …

As with her previous Ralfy story, Emily’s illustrations are fabulous– witty and full of amusing details. She’s clearly had some punning fun playing with book titles. Ralfy’s collection includes Stick Bun and on the library shelves are Rabbitson Crusoe, Jane Hare, Pippi Longears and The Burrowers, which will be appreciated by older book enthusiasts sharing the story.

With Ralfy’s visits to both the library and a bookshop, this is sure to become another favourite with adults who want to encourage book loving in little humans, as well as the target audience of young listeners.

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Martha and Laura’s four intrepid bunny hunters are ready for another expedition and now they’ve donned piratical gear ready to search for treasure. So it’s YO! HO! HO! all aboard and off they go to a desert island looking for gold coins.

As they sail they encounter some swooshing, swishing dolphins before landing on a sandy shore.

Then off they go again, carefully avoiding getting their toes nipped;

but they’ll need our help or they might miss some of what they seek, right beneath their feet.

The search continues, first at a rock pool, then beneath the coconut palms –

we know what might be hanging above their heads ready to strike – and across a rope bridge to another beach. There a somewhat scary encounter awaits.

So ‘Quick, quick, quick’, it’s time to head for their boat and sail back home.

Seemingly, once on dry land again, there’s one final thing to find: what could that be, I wonder.

With Martha’s rhythmic, rhyming, onomatopoeic, repeat pattern narrative, this is an ideal read-aloud to enjoy with pre-schoolers who will doubtlessly relish joining in as you share it, pausing on alternate spreads for individuals to lift the flaps and see what’s hidden beneath. Of course, they’ll need all their 10 fingers ready to keep a count of the coins too.

Equally with those 3Rs of reading – rhythm, rhyme and repetition – built into the text, this is an ideal book for children in the early stage of becoming readers to try for themselves.

Either way, bursting with summery sun and with plenty of flaps to lift, Laura Hughes’ lively scenes of the search provide plenty of gentle visual humour and opportunities to spot the wealth of flora and fauna on every spread.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons

The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons
Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Piccadilly Press

Dragon dreamer Tomas is back for a fourth tale. Now his special dragon Flicker has gone to live in his true dragon home in the frosty North and only comes on occasional short visits but the dragon-fruit tree in Grandad’s garden has just produced a bumper crop of fruits and that means more potential dragon adventures.

As this story starts Tomas and another of the superhero squad, Ted, discover an unhatched fruit on the ground that narrowly escapes being squashed to oblivion.

When it eventually hatches, a tiny sky blue and silver creature suddenly whizzes into action appearing to be super-charged as it zizzes about like there’s no tomorrow. There is of course, and one of the things Tomas must do is to nurture all those little dragon-fruit seedlings to keep alive the hope of another dragon-fruit tree that actually grows dragons.

Before long it’s evident that the recently hatched, havoc wreaking blue dragon has taken a liking to Tomas and is sticking with him.  Little sister Lolli, aptly names the creature Zing.

Not only has Tomas to contend with Zing, there’s also the question of his own dragon costume for the school dress up day and then a new girl shows up wearing an absolutely amazing one.

To further add to his troubles, two of the squad, twins Kat and Kai announce that they’re shortly moving to China and next day Aura claims to ‘know all there is to know about dragons.’
Her claim soon leads to an explosive outburst from Tomas.

This results in the revelation of a secret he’d intended to keep quiet about, the details of which I won’t divulge. Instead I’ll mention that streams of sweet-scented farts and a fair spattering of poo are part and parcel of subsequent events.

Like the previous adventures, this is a delightful mix of zany humour, warmth, mayhem, touches of magic and more. Once again Sara Ogilvie’s wonderful illustrations add to the book’s appeal and another good thing: by all accounts, the series isn’t over yet.

School for Dads

With Father’s Day in mind and because I missed this one when it was published:

School for Dads
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

Like a number of others, punctuality isn’t a strong point for Anna’s dad; indeed when he turns up late to collect her from school yet again, she strikes a bargain with him. “I’ll forgive you if you go to School for Dads,” she says.

Time for a spot of role reversal. Next morning it’s all the tardy dads who have to spend the day as pupils and their teachers aren’t going to make things easy for them. First of all some bad behaviour needs sorting out: “Don’t ignore us when we’re talking, and stop looking at your phone.”

That’s only the first of the list of misdemeanours, and they must definitely never answer “NO.”

The dads have to use the little chairs, and sitting on the floor proves pretty challenging too. On the plus side though, playtime is fun and the art session releases their inner creativity.

Come lunch time, the hall turns into a rowdy place where sweet treats are off the menu; and the afternoon’s PE lesson is let’s say interesting …

By home time, it isn’t only the pupils who have had a trying day; everyone – children and adults – have learnt a lot. On reflection, Anna decides that dads really deserve to be celebrated for all the great things …

This witty, reflective rhyming tale has a great read aloud rhythm and is just right to give dads a good giggle on Fathers Day especially. Assuredly they’ll enjoy too, Ada Grey’s lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour of the Guillain’s telling.

Creature Features Oceans / I thought I saw a … crocodile!

Creature Features Oceans
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

For the third in her Creature Features series Natasha Durley plunges beneath the ocean to present some spectacular sea creatures. Organised onto eleven double spreads, all have an attention-capturing, alliterative heading.

Each spread has an explanatory introductory paragraph relating to the specific characteristic – for instance in Gorgeous glow, ‘In the darkest depths of the ocean, there is still light to be found. Some animals, like the toothy anglerfish, create their own light to lure in prey. Others, like the hawksbill turtle, soak up light and reflect it back as a different colour.’ There’s a also a question that leads neatly into the next double spread; here it’s ‘Which creature glows and has a shell?’

Among the gorgeously glowing, youngsters will love encountering the likes of the Atlantic footballfish and the Cookiecutter shark, along with the only one familiar to me among the array, krill.

Animals with Super shells – molluscs and crustacea – show themselves on the next spread, the only one where some of those included can be seen on the beach.

Other than at Bold black & white, no matter where you choose to open the book, super-bright colours as well as incredible shapes meet the eye.

So, be prepared for youngsters to be wowed and linger long to observe the Spectacularly spotty, those with Funny faces, perhaps made so by bulging foreheads or long snouts, an array of Amazing arms, a host of animals sporting Stylish stripes, Fantastic fins or Terrific Teeth. Did you know that those of a Great white shark are about 7cm long? Yikes!  Definitely a lot more alarming than the incredible four-eyed fish on the final spread that are able to see both above and below the surface of the water at the same time.

This sturdy, large-format board book isn’t just for the very young: it would be great for small groups of slightly older children to sit and discuss the weird and wonderful.

Imagine what a smashing jumping off point for some oceanic art it would make too.

I thought I saw a … crocodile!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing

A playful crocodile inhabits this fun little book. Supposedly it’s part of a team of builders but the creature has abandoned the drill and gone AWOL.

Using the slider mechanism on every spread, little ones can engage in a game of hunt-the croc. as they listen to the repeat “I thought I saw a crocodile … Is it …?’ spoken by other members of the crew at the building site.

But does that mischievous creature ever get back to work? What do you think?

Clever, stylishly portrayed interactive fun for tinies who will likely learn some new location specific words and hone their fine motor skills too.

Kevin’s Great Escape

Kevin’s Great Escape
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press

Roly-poly pony Kevin returns in a new adventure with Max and his family; he’s still as biscuit-obsessed as ever, his particular penchant remaining custard creams.

In this story Max’s sister is totally obsessed with pop idol Misty Twiglet, so much so that she persuades Kevin (guess how) to take her to see Misty’s new abode about thirty minutes flight time from Bumbleford.

Misty seems to be a charmer, but the consequence of this visit is that Kevin is pony-napped. That leaves Max and Daisy to devise a rescue operation – aided and abetted by some of Kevin’s magical creature friends perhaps.

There are some terrific new characters to meet, not least a cardigan-loving faun unsurprisingly called Cardigan Faun, a bespectacled mermaid named Iris,

Cedric the centaur, gorgon, Zola (groan) and a tiny dragon, Belling – all captive too.

But we mustn’t forget Misty’s manager, the dastardly, devious Baz Gumption

and her enormous butler Lumphammer; oh! and the character on page 10, Nobbly Nora is definitely not to be missed.

Philip Reeve’s story is just as magical and just as hilariously brilliant (read aloud or read alone) as The Legend of Kevin (another must read if you’ve not done so). Once again Sarah McIntyre’s two-colour illustrations are totally terrific and as yummy as all those biscuits that actually were not why Kevin Goes Pop in the final chapter.

Bloom

Bloom
Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Tiny Owl

Beneath the window of a large house grows a beautiful flower and every morning as they walk to school with their mum, a brother and sister stop briefly by the flower. The little girl would go up close to savour its beauty with her eyes and nose and address it thus, “Good morning, beautiful flower … I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.” She’d then proceed happily into school.

This went on until one morning having woken earlier than usual the man living in the big house saw what was happening and shouted threateningly at the girl and her brother.

Consequently they decided to change their route to school.

Next morning although the sun came out, the flower didn’t. The poor gardener is blamed for improper watering and the man does the job instead – but still the flower stays closed.

Perhaps it’s shade the flower needs the angry man thinks but again it fails to make a difference. No matter what he does or says the flower remains firmly shut and increasingly droopy.

Totally exasperated and full of complaints, the man calls his gardener again. Despite not knowing what the matter is, the gardener is observant and tells the man exactly what the little girl had done every day.

Finally after consideration, the man goes to the school gate, waits for the girl and her brother and tells them tearfully what has happened.

The little girl offers him some advice and the man rushes home. Instead of self-centred, self-interested orders, can kind, heartfelt words succeed in making his flower bloom again?

With echoes of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, Anne Booth’s ultimately uplifting fable demonstrates the power of words and the importance of considering carefully how what you say will impact upon others: positivity is key.

Robyn Wilson Owen’s finely textured, mixed media illustrations show the contrast between the children’s nurturing home environment and that of the man’s lonely existence as well as documenting the changes in the flower through the story.

My Nana’s Garden

My Nana’s Garden
Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Templar Books

This is one of the most beautiful picture books about love and loss I’ve seen in a long time.

The little girl narrator visits her beloved grandmother through the different seasons of the year. Together they savour the joys of the tangly weeds or ‘wild flowers’ as Nana insists; harvest the bounties of fruit trees and wonder at the wealth of minibeasts and small animals that find their way among the jungle of brightly coloured flora.

There’s a crooked tree that’s home for an owl and a multitude of other creatures.

Evening is a lovely time too with both starlight and light from their bonfire to illuminate them as the two snuggle up together and bask in the warmth.

In late summer there’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables and seeds to collect,

but with the onset of autumn Nana starts to look frail.

Come winter it’s clear that like her garden, Nana is fading, letting go her hold on life and by the time her garden is clad in snow, only a robin sits on her chair. (A nod to John Burningham by Jessica perhaps there.)

The wheel of life never stops turning and eventually a tiny snowdrop peeps through. The little girl realises, that along with that revolving circle, her precious memories go on and on. Grandma is still there in the blossom on the trees, the smiling faces of the flowers, the starlit bonfire and in the wild abundance of all that flourishes in her garden. A garden that is now a refuge too, and a place wherein we see evidence of other changes in the narrator’s family.

Tremendous sensitivity is inherent in both Dawn’s lyrical rhyming text and the rich tapestry of flora and fauna and the Nana/child relationship shown in Jessica’s illustrations, which together epitomise that ‘a garden is a lovesome thing’.

Meet the Grumblies

Meet the Grumblies
John Kelly and Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger

The three Grumblies are an argumentative lot as their name suggests, and that’s despite having an easy life with food readily available courtesy of the bread bushes and fruit trees, and a constant supply of fizzy juice from the pond.

This primitive trio lead a low-tech existence and like nothing better than to bicker about the relative merits of the stick, the rope and mud.

These articles are put to the test when suddenly a huge and very hungry Gobblestomp breaks into their clearing and proceeds to devour their precious crops and slurp up their bubbly beverage.

Sticks bounce harmlessly off the hairy pachyderm;

the rope fails to slow it down and as for mud, it’s far too shallow to halt its progress.

Time for Grumble-Stick, Grumble-Rope and Grumble-Mud to cease squabbling, pool resources and come up with a plan perhaps; and so, overnight, they do.

The trio’s teamwork proves highly successful stopping Gobblestomp in its tracks

but there’s more than one change afoot in the village for it’s not only the Grumblies who see the error of their ways …

John Kelly’s daft neanderthal tale demonstrates the importance of teamwork and there’s plenty to giggle over in Carmen Saldaña’s animated artwork.

The Worst Class in the World

The Worst Class in the World
Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s official : class 4B belonging to Mr Nidgett is LITERALLY the Worst Class in the world . It must be so because that’s what rule-fanatic Mrs Bottomley-Blunt, headmistress of St. Regina’s Primary has declared and she ought to know.

She has plenty of examples of their outrageous behaviour to quote such as when Marvey Barlow smuggled a penguin back on the bus after the class trip to Grimley Zoo; or the Show and Tell session when Manjit’s dog, Killer sated its hunger on gel pens, not to mention a pair of Mr Nidgett’s shoes (luckily not those on his feet at the time).

And there was that playground-tunnelling incident too.

One can hardly blame Mr Nidgett threatening on more than one occasion to leave teaching and become a lion tamer instead. Funnily enough it was a challenging Y4 class that brought me close to the edge too, but by the final term I ended up absolutely loving them despite everything and wouldn’t have swapped them for anything. A bit like pupil Stanley Bradshaw, who introduces us to 4B and acts as narrator of the two episodes The Biscuit King (with its FOOLPROOF PLAN) and the aforementioned Show and Tell in which those shoes and pens are not the only things that get eaten, but on that topic I’ll say no more.

Instead let me suggest you get hold of a copy of this splutter-inducing book with its crazy chaotic classroom atmosphere superbly portrayed through Joanna’s gigglesome narrative and Rikin Parekh’s illustrations that are equally entertaining. How long, one wonders did it take for Mrs B-B to compile her list of 50 rules.

That’s rule no. 9 duly broken

Not that long, I suspect, and I bet not a single one was on account of a transgression by a member of class 4A.

Finally, a FOOLPROOF PLAN, if you happen to be a primary teacher, buy several copies – one to keep for cheering you up when you feel down, or to share with your class, others as solo reads for youngsters around the age of Mr Nidgett’s pupils and thus likely to have similar preoccupations as Stanley, Manjit, Lacey Braithwaite, Bruce Bingley et al

and declare it OUTSTANDING.

My First Book of the Cosmos

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

Team Ferrón (physicist and writer) and Altarriba (graphic designer and illustrator) have a special skill of presenting highly complex topics to children in a manner that is accessible, entertaining and educative.

Their latest book, My First Book of the Cosmos again does just that, managing to compress the vast Universe between 56 pages taking us on a trip through the life of the Cosmos from its birth to its possible end time. Incredible!

What then is this Cosmos or Universe? The author sums it up thus ‘the Universe is everything that exists: it is all space and time, and it is where all mass and energy is found’: awesome and mysterious for sure.

First off is a look at gravity and we’re presented with the gravitational models of Newton and Einstein, followed by a look through ‘Gravitational Lenses’, the first being thought of by an amateur scientist, Rudi W. Mandl. A gravitation lens, as defined here is one that ‘works like a powerful telescope that magnifies and distorts light’.

Having examined beginnings, topics include Galaxies, and the vexed question of The size of the universe.

Then there’s an explanation of How a star is born; it’s formed from interstellar clouds of cold gas and dust called nebulae.

Next comes a look at the different types of stars – I didn’t know there were so many – as well as the life of a star from its birth to its death including how and why these happen.

Plus if you’ve ever wanted to peer into a black hole or discover the mysteries of dark matter – a very tricky matter indeed,

and those of dark energy – that which ‘separates galaxies instead of bringing them together’ – in other words, it causes the Universe to expand ever faster, you can do so here.

Mind-blowing, imagination-stretching stuff!

The Crumbling Castle / Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape & Sage Cookson’s Snow Day

The Crumbling Castle
Brenda Gurr
New Frontier Publishing

In these pandemic, physical distancing days lots of people have found a new delight in baking but how many would have this, or similar, said of their efforts:
‘Her cakes are out of this world! But please answer me this. Who is Zinnia Jakes?’

Daughter of globe-trotting food critic father, nine year old Zoe Jones has a special expertise inherited from famous pastry chef her mother (now dead). It’s she who uses the Zinnia Jakes alias to keep her identity hidden, for young Zoe has a real flair for cake creating, something she’d discovered when she baked her Aunt Jam a fabulous birthday cake a couple of years before the story begins. Hugely impressed, her aunt had suggested Zoe should start her own cake-making business. Only her best friend Addie is in on the secret, for orders are always delivered when nobody is watching.

Now Zoe has a new order: a medieval history professor is launching her new book at the medieval fair in two days time and wants ‘an authentic medieval castle’, a crumbling one, to display on her stall.

Zoe has just two days to create something truly impressive. Can she do it in time? Perhaps with the assistance of Coco her cat with special powers and STEM whiz, Addie. But then of course, she still has to deliver the order covertly.

This, the first book of the new The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes series is aimed at newly-independent readers.  Mix together an action-packed narrative, lively characters and sprinkle with magic: the result? A fun offering; and the icing on the cake is that the author has allowed Zoe to share her secret recipe for medieval gingerbread with readers. It sounds yummy.

Also from New Frontier Publishing for youngsters hungry for more books with a cooking theme:

Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape
Sage Cookson’s Snow Day

Sally Murphy

Sage Cookson is the daughter of popular TV chefs, who travel all over Australia tasting new foods, acquiring new techniques and serving them up to their adoring television audience. The good thing is that the Cooksons take Sage with them. That means she misses her friend Lucy, but now her parents have given Sage a mobile of her own so she can keep in touch. She also keeps up with her education by attending local schools or having a tutor.

In the first adventure Sage accompanies her parents to Western Australia where they’re to be guest judges at a cooking contest. Before that, they’re offered a tour of a chocolate factory belonging to chocolatier Marco. The chocolate they taste is absolutely divine but intuitively Sage feels something isn’t quite right, especially when Marco talks of his cocoa plantation. In the Australian bush? Really?

Things hot up when the Cooksons find themselves in an extremely sticky situation and without a phone signal. Will they be able to judge the 10th annual Newhaven Cooking Contest after all?

With its chocolately theme this is a tasty read for young solo readers who will be delighted to discover the Cheat’s Chocolate Fondant recipe after the story.

The second book sees Sage and her family off to Snowy Village in the Australian Alps. Now Page has promised to steer clear of danger. So what will a caring young miss do when she learns that her friend Kyle has gone missing with his snowboard?

Again there’s a recipe after the story – the rather more sophisticated ‘Easy Mille-Feuliie’. This one along with other recipes and activities can be found at Sage’s own website where I also found that Snow Day is actually story number 8 in the series.

Kitty and the Treetop Chase

Kitty and the Treetop Chase
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
Oxford University Press

Kitty’s parents have invited their friends the Porters to visit. With them comes their son Ozzy who is Kitty’s age. “I sure you’ll find you have a lot in common,” Kitty’s mum assures her daughter.

That night the two children have a sleepover in Kitty’s tree house and during the night a tapping at the window wakes Kitty. It’s Katsumi asking for her help on account of the frenetic canine-caused chaos at the bakery. Now, even though Kitty’s somewhat unsure about Ozzy, she must share the secret of her cat-like superpowers with him. She’s more than a little surprised when he announces that he too is a superhero; a fact confirmed by Ozzy’s owl friend Olive.

Kitty, her cat Pumpkin, Ozzy and Olive, accompanied by Katsumi, venture forth across town to The Sticky Bun Bakery to find out exactly what’s been going on.

Little by little in the course of their investigations,

Kitty and Ozzy realise that two heads are better than one and they become a proper team. It’s pretty tricky though when both young superheroes find dogs claiming to belong to the bakery.

Like the previous ones, Paula’s fourth adventure of Kitty and her feline friends is pitch purr-fect for new solo readers; and now with the friendship forged between Kitty and Ozzy, not forgetting Kitty’s cat crew and Ozzy’s owl squad, the superheroes seem set fair for further adventures as a team.

As always Jenny Lovlie’s adorable illustrations contribute to the overall magic of the book; and there’s a final Super Facts About Cats spread for readers with a particular penchant for moggies.

Amazing Islands

Amazing Islands
Sabrina Weiss and Kerry Hyndman
What on Earth Books

In this, the first in the new Our Amazing World series, author Sabrina Weiss and illustrator Kerry Hyndman present a gallimaufry of facts and scenes of islands of all sizes and their inhabitants both human and animal.

After spreads defining an island and giving some related terms such as archipelago and ait, and relating how islands are created, there’s a look at some environmental threats.

Thereafter readers are taken on a tour of individual islands in various parts of the globe starting with the Galapagos archipelago.

Madagascar is another stopping point, the world’s fourth largest island we read, whereon 90% of the animals including several kinds of lemur, and a wealth of plants, are endemic.

One of the topical spreads is devoted to islands that have been used as prisons including Robben Island where my all time hero Nelson Mandela was kept for 30 years.

Readers with a particular penchant for statistical information will enjoy the fold-out world map locating all the islands mentioned in the narrative and it also provides several ‘island top tens’ including the ten largest and those countries with the highest number of islands.

Of the islands I’ve visited, Hong Kong is featured fairly early and several spreads later, Sri Lanka

followed by Great Britain. These are the only ones I can claim to have spent any time on other than Mauritius, which merits only a brief paragraph that includes the fact that is was once home to the dodo.

Each spread is alluringly illustrated with realistic depictions of the relevant flora and fauna, and organised with sufficient variety to maintain the reader’s interest.

There’s also a glossary, pronunciation guide, an index and a final sources page that includes web sites, should readers wish to research further themselves.

A book to dip into, either in school or at home.

Flyntlock Bones: The Sceptre of the Pharaohs

Flyntlock Bones: The Sceptre of the Pharaohs
Derek Keilty and Mark Elvins
Scallywag Press

Here’s a piratical tale with a difference – the first of a proposed trilogy.

When young Flynn applies for the role of cabin boy having been kicked out of Baskervile orphanage by its matron, he discovers the crew of the Black Hound are pirates. Not your usual kind of pirates though; oh no me-‘arties, aboard this ship are, so he’s told by its captain ‘the cleverest pirate investigators ya ever set eyes upon’.

After securing a week’s trial aboard Black Hound the lad is taken under the wing of young Red. She has already served a year on the ship so knows the ropes pretty well. Flynn has a lot to learn including that the poop deck isn’t what he thinks.

Almost immediately Captain Watkins calls a meeting and informs the crew of the note he’s just received from a Miss Kristina Wrinkly, curator of the Gypshun Museum on the ancient Isle of Tut, requesting his help.

The museum has been broken into and priceless ancient artefacts including the Sceptre of the Pharaohs stolen.

Excitement starts to bubble within young Flynn but it’s quickly squashed by the bullying Drudger; but is he something much worse than a disgruntled bully?

The following morning Flynn is awoken by Red informing him that they’ve reached the Isle of Tut and are about to drop anchor.

Then, it’s a case of in at the deep end when some of the crew including both Flynn and Drudger are instructed to head to the museum.

The visit is brief but Flynn discovers a useful lead,

and the Black Hound is just heading off again searching for more clues when into view sails another ship. It belongs to ‘the cunningest, evilest pirate that ever sailed the seven seas – Captain Jim-Lad Morihearty’. Uh-oh!

Toss into Keilty’s brew an ancient prophecy, poisonous snakes, an amulet said to contain dark magic, wailing mummies and a traitor and what you have is an entertaining swashbuckling adventure, with some memorable characters, plenty of playful language, and at almost every turn of the page, a terrific, finely detailed, etching-like illustration by Mark Elvins

to add to the dramatic impact.

Llama Glamarama

Llama Glamarama
Simon James Green and Garry Parsons
Scholastic

You can tell from the cover of this book that one llama at least is going to be deliciously, daringly divergent, and so it proves.

Not in front of his fellow llamas though, for Larry, like the other barn resident llamas, remains calm and rule-abiding by day.

Under the cover of dark however while the others are fast asleep, he dons his glamour gear and leaps into action with his iconic dance moves.

One night, as he’s twisting and stamping with gay abandon

flouting all llama laws, he realises someone is coming.

It’s not just one someone though; Larry is confronted by three incredulous llamas and pretty soon the game is up.
Rather than face the music Larry decides to disappear

and as he wanders disconsolately along he contemplates quitting the whole dance thing. But then he comes upon a sign that changes his mind.

After a joyous day grooving and hip-hopping among other like-minded creatures at the dance extravaganza, Larry returns to the barn, to own up and face the music with pride.

The reception he receives isn’t quite what he is expecting however …

What a simply splendid celebration of being yourself, being different and being proud of who you are. Bursting with joy and exuberant colour, Garry’s illustrations perfectly complement Simon’s fabulously funky rhyming story that is an absolute joy to read aloud.

A wonderfully affirmative book to share as widely as possible.

The Big Trip

The Big Trip
Alex Willmore
Tate Publishing

In these days of physical distancing, self important Bear would most definitely be in serious trouble from the powers that be.

Said creature was anything but a respecter of personal space,  showing no concern for other animals as he perambulated around the forest barging and trampling his way wherever he chose to go.

One day while out strutting his stuff as usual he encounters Moose blocking his path. Unlike the smaller creatures, Moose stands his ground

forcing the arrogant Bear to divert from his chosen way and causing him to take an extremely uncomfortable downhill tumble … YEOUCH! … and land unceremoniously in stinky subterranean surroundings.

Pride most definitely came before a fall in Bear’s case.

Talk about humiliation: the other animals are hugely amused but then Moose speaks out.

Perhaps it’s time for every one to pull together, but will that self-aggrandising Bear finally come to see the error of his ways and start to become a bit more community minded?

Alex’s modern cautionary tale is a timely reminder of the power of co-operation especially now when it seems to be the only way forward.

The Big Book of Football

The Big Book of Football
Mundial and Damien Weighill
Wide Eyed

I have several young relations who are ardent fans of the game and have taught countless soccer-mad children but  I have to own up to knowing very little about football and never watch it either live or on TV. However I know that this large format book will excite, entertain and perhaps educate a huge number of readers, be they football mad or merely somewhat interested in ‘the beautiful game’.

In over 100 pages, international soccer magazine Mundial has put fascinating facts to ponder and everything you need to know to talk about or play a good game of footie.

Divided into ten sections the book kicks off with two spreads dealing with the basics and the lingo, including illustrated definitions of such skills as nutmeg, cross and dribble, an explanation of the offside rule, red and yellow cards and such strange expressions as park the bus and Fergie time.

The History of Football includes a timeline and traces the origins of the game through to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which was watched by an estimated 1 billion people; there’s also a look at the evolution of boots

and the all-important ball.

Next comes Mundial’s pick of a ‘superteam’ of legendary players from history, both men and women with a short, illustrated biography of each player.

Of particular interest to aspiring players will be the masterclass How to … section giving instructions on iconic moves such as How to take the perfect shot like Ji So-YunHow to take the perfect set piece like David Beckham and How to do nutmeg like Luis Suárez

Weird and Wonderful the final section surely is with its look at some strange haircuts, celebratory gestures, and other bits and pieces of soccer stuff that make it SO much more than a mere game. All are illustrated with Damien Weighill’s bright graphics making for an informative and entertaining resource book to dip in and out of at home or in school.

Have Fun With Feelings on the Autism Spectrum

Have Fun With Feelings on the Autism Spectrum
Michelle Garnett, Tony Attwood, Louise Ford, Stefanie Runham and Julia Cook
Jessica Kingsley Publishing

Young children with ASD often find it difficult to understand and control their emotions/feelings and they seldom use emotional expressions. Here’s a CBT activity book compiled by five clinical psychologists with considerable experience of working with people who have autism to help in these respects. It’s intended to be used in conjunction with another JKP publication, 10 Steps to Reducing your Child’s Anxiety on the Autism Spectrum: The CBT-Based ‘Fun with Feelings’ Parent Manual, but is a helpful publication for analysing and exploring commonly experienced feelings and emotions, in its own right.

There’s a common pattern for each feeling and the book is divided into six ‘booklets’ each introduced by a friendly funky fruit character representing a positive or negative emotion.

The first is smiling Happy Henry the Honeydew with his Emotional Toolbox of special Happy Tools. Our happy host talks about the importance of self-awareness and ‘Awareness Tool(s)’ reassuringly stating ‘Together we are going to become very smart about you, your feelings and your tools.’ There’s a thermometer for measuring different levels of happiness, followed by a page of small pictures of things that might be used on the subsequent three pages.

The text says ‘Cut out the pictures of the things that make you happy and stick them on …’ those three pages. Now this book is a high quality production and personally I wouldn’t advocate cutting it up. Rather I’d stick to the other two suggestions – to draw and search the internet for things.

The other five booklets – Sad Sally the Strawberry (who can be helped by Henry), then Worried Wanda Watermelon and Relaxed Ryan the Raspberry who can work together; and Angry Allan Apple and Loving Lulu the lemon all follow a similar pattern. Each, like Henry has a toolkit that includes a thermometer as well as a ‘We are all different page’ and a Mr Face’ to complete.

Wearing my yoga teacher hat, I was particularly drawn to Ryan and his relaxation tools, most of which I’ve used with early years and KS1 classes in general, rather than with a specific child who has autism.

This activity book could really help parents who have a young child on the autism spectrum; but equally in a nursery or KS1 setting, it could be used by a key worker/classroom assistant who has specific responsibility for a child with autism.

Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

David Tazzyman brings his wit and scribbly artistic enthusiasm once again to Patricia Cleveland’s pretty preposterous suggestions for animal emergency responders and equally zany reasons why none is suitable for the task envisaged anyway.

Thus you should never ‘let a hairy highland cow / operate the snow plough …’

unless you want the gear box ground to pieces that is; and as for calling out the lemming crew to rescue a hiker stuck on a hill – best not to think about it, they’ll likely forget the drill and the whole operation will end in disaster.

Moreover an anteater hasn’t the courage to come to your aid should you be trapped in a dark cave; the cowardly creature will surely wet his pants and you can guess what he’d consume to console himself.

All these as well as the titular pachyderm, a chimpanzee, a sloth, a penguin, a llama, a panda, a chicken and a porcupine are to be avoided should you be in trouble.

What though is to be done with all these creatures if they can’t be employed in the emergency services? Now that would be telling …

Zany animal capers to giggle over with youngsters who will likely be able to make their own silly suggestions too.

Invisible Nature

Invisible Nature
Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book to amaze and inspire youngsters, one that looks at the invisible natural forces that have an enormously powerful influence on life on our planet. In it Catherine Barr covers such diverse topics as microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light waves, electromagnetism, ultrasound and smells.

Say the word ‘microwave’ to young children and most will think of the small oven in the kitchen used to heat food quickly. But there are also microwaves in space and scientists have invented machines that make microwaves that are put to many uses: in medicine, in computers and mobile phones, as well as in navigation by airports and ships.

Each topic has two double spreads, the first explaining how animals use these remarkable powers, the second discusses how humans too have learned to exploit them.

Did you know that some animals rely on UV light for their very survival? For instance it makes lichens glow enabling reindeer to find this much needed food in barren Arctic habitats of Canada, while Sockeye Salmon are able to spot the plankton they feed on when it shows against the UV light of shallow waters.

Much more familiar is the importance of UV in the creation of vitamin D, so vital for maintaining strong muscles and bones in humans.

In all there are fourteen alluring and wonderfully coloured spreads by illustrator Anne Wilson displaying the ways in which these unseen mysterious powers impact upon life on earth

– that ‘secret world beyond our senses’ – making this a book to fire curiosity and ignite the imagination of primary children.

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro
Jessica Wilson and Tom Rawles
Tallawah Publishing

Here’s a book that seeks to celebrate diversity and to provide young readers with some insights into the several styles and the cultural significance of afro hair through the daydreams of one girl as her mother styles her hair.

For young Sofia, Sunday afternoon is the time when her mother washes, combs and styles her hair. It’s also the time when she becomes drowsy and drifts away to other places and other times.

First she visits a Rastafarian in Jamaica.

The following week as her mother fashions another style, Sofia travels to Los Angeles where she meets a black panther. “My hair is a symbol of POWER” the woman tells her, “I stand for equal rights, freedom and justice.”

In the third Sunday’s dream Sofia encounters a proud and beautiful woman – an ancestor in Ethiopia with a similar style to her own –

and learns the name ‘canerows’ as they talk among the straight rows of sugarcane being cultivated.

On the fourth Sunday, Sofia is poorly, her hair remains untended but while dozing she learns important lessons about the power of love.

Jessica Wilson’s thoughtful poetic honouring of afro hair presented through magical realism has the perfect complement in talented illustrator Tom Rawles; his stylish paintings – some are truly stunning – beautifully weave together the fantasy threads with a weekly event of Sofia’s life.

With the dearth of BAME books for young audiences, this is a welcome publication that one hopes will find a place in every primary school collection.

Kids Can Cook

Kids Can Cook
illustrated by Esther Coombs
Button Books

During the lockdown period many more people have taken to cooking, be they adults or adults and children together. If you’re looking for an introduction to cooking then this is a good starting point. Similar in style to Plant, Sow, Make & Grow, it’s very visual and really does get down to the basics with techniques such as how to crack an egg, how to beat it and how to test if a cake is cooked.

Before any of that however comes a contents page, a vital page of safety instructions and another showing and listing essential equipment for the recipes included.

The main part of the book has three sections – Breakfasts, snacks and breads; Main meals and sauces, and Sweet treats.

All the recipes are straightforward starting with a list of ingredients, are clearly illustrated and provide step-by-step instructions.

A word of caution however, if you’re a vegan family then some of the recipes won’t work for you unless you adapt them; but in other cases vegan alternatives are suggested. For example in ‘Breakfasts, snacks and breads’ the fruit smoothies,

tofu skewers and the easy-bake bread are definitely suitable

and the veggie sliders in the second section are really tasty. However, no self-respecting Indian cook would tell you they are serving up ‘Curry’ as such – veggie or otherwise.

I have to admit that my favourite section is the ‘Sweet treats’, which includes fruit lollies and scrummy flapjacks (I’d want to use a non-dairy spread instead of the butter though).

If you’re currently home schooling Kids Can Cook ticks a lot of educational boxes: there’s maths in the weighing, measuring and counting; science, and of course, literacy, not forgetting fine motor skills such as pouring, kneading, chopping, whisking, rolling out and more.

I’m Sticking With You

I’m Sticking With You
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster

As Smriti’s ursine character tells it in her lively rhyming narrative, Bear and Squirrel are best buddies, pretty much inseparable. ‘Wherever you’re going, I’m going too./ Whatever you’re doing./ I’m sticking with you’ insists Bear.

However, debut artist Steve Small’s illustrations, paint a different picture: this friendship is problematic.

Well- intentioned Bear is huge, clumsy and oblivious to the effect his actions have on his bestie as he unknowingly breaks Squirrel’s teacup, sneezes the roof right off his house and nigh on flattens him as they share a taxi ride.

Then, as they sit squashed inside an igloo, Squirrel’s forbearance cracks causing him to speak out, ‘Erm … actually Bear … I think I need to be on my own. … It’s getting a bit crowded in here.’

The deflated Bear disappears reluctantly leaving his pal to enjoy the space. Physically things seem great

but pretty quickly Squirrel realises that his friend’s absence has created huge gap to fill in his heart and mind … ‘I MISS BEAR!’ comes the cry and out dashes the rodent imploring Bear to return.

Squirrel’s hugs and imploring win for as the small creature says, ‘When we’re unstuck, / we won’t fall apart. // How could we ever? / We’re joined at the heart. … and I LOVE YOU / A LOT!’

Steve Small’s illustrations, spare as they are, convey a great deal of feeling and a gentle humour that work well with Smriti’s story that rolls nicely off the tongue.

A lovely portrait of the ups and downs of friendship.

Mrs Noah’s Garden

Mrs Noah’s Garden
Jackie Morris and James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

The terrific team that is Jackie Morris and James Mayhew have created a sequel to Mrs Noah’s Pockets that moves forward in time with the Noahs now safely aground high on a hill where Mr Noah is hard at work fashioning a home from their enormous ark.

Mrs Noah meanwhile is missing her garden and as the story opens has just found a place to start creating a new one.

She enlists the children’s help, first in building walls and terraces on the hillside and then in planting. For not only had the ark carried animals two by two but also all manner of plants – bushes, bulbs, trees and shrubs. And in those deep pockets of hers Mrs Noah had even thought to stow away seeds.

With the planting done, she sets about creating a beautiful willow bower complete with gorgeously scented honeysuckle and jasmine. The children are expecting the seeds they’d help sow to start bursting through the warm earth right away, so Mrs Noah pauses to explain that germination takes a while.

After a day hard at work outside Mrs Noah has more to do, this time with fabric; what can she be making? Mr Noah thinks he knows.

Time passes and the garden thrives becoming alive with both flora and fauna till Midsummer morning arrives. Now nature’s own magic has truly done its work

and there’s a very special surprise awaiting Mr Noah when he follows the children outside. What could it be?

With themes of fresh beginnings, nature’s bounties and enjoying the safety of one’s abode and its surroundings, (and there’s new life too), Jackie Morris’ beautifully crafted fable has a magical feel to it.

Alive with magic too, are James Mayhew’s fantastical illustrations. Using a mix of collage, paint and print techniques he makes many of them absolutely dance on the page. At other times, the richly textured images and colour palette conjure a feeling of peace and tranquillity as in this Midsummer’s Eve scene.

The Big Book of Blooms

The Big Book of Blooms
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

How much joy can be packed between the covers of a book? An infinite amount when it comes to Yuval Zommer’s splendiferous botanical offering. I put my hand up to being a botany enthusiast having studied the subject at A-level and spending a gap year working in the herbarium at Kew so have an abiding interest in the subject but I defy anyone not to be bowled over by this visual stunner.

Topically organised the basics are covered in the first few spreads – floral families, plant anatomy,

pollination and reproduction, followed by a look at some of the useful things flowers provide.

Next is a zoom in to some specific kinds of flora: the carnivorous Venus flytrap (there’s just a single species and it grows wild in swamps and bogs on the East coast of the USA); roses – I was astonished to read that it takes 15.4 litres of water to produce a single flower; the ancient proteas that could be found as long ago as 90 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth; cherry blossom trees with their delicate pink and white flowers that delight so many of us in the springtime; tulips, giant water lilies and another carnivore– the Pitcher plants.

Some flowers, despite their striking, sometimes beautiful appearance, smell something rotten. That’s to attract carnivorous pollinators such as carrion flies; but to my vegetarian sensibilities, their ‘rotting meat smell’ would be a huge turn off: the ‘Stinking Flowers’ spread was the only one I didn’t linger long over: I could almost smell the odour emanating from that parasitic corpse lily that lacks roots, shoots, stems and leaves.

Despite the exotic nature of a number of the flowers featured I think my favourite spread of all is that devoted to wild flowers, some of which are flowering abundantly very close to my home as I write.

The final few pages are allocated to seed dispersal, plant defence, there’s a spread devoted to Kew Gardens and some of the work that goes on there both inside and out; a plea for the protection of vital habitats and some suggestions for becoming a gardener without a garden.

There’s also a final glossary and index.

With the wealth of fauna on every spread, Yuval injects just the right amount of mischievous humour into his illustrations.

To add further interest and to ensure that readers study every page with the close attention it merits, he’s planted a golden bulb to search for on fifteen of the spreads .

Written in consultation with experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. this is a must have for family bookshelves, classroom collections and anywhere that budding botanists might be taking root.

Absolutely BLOOMING BRILLIANT!

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Flying Machine

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Flying Machine
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing

As another term approaches for best friends Good Knight (Godwin) and Bad Knight (Berk), they are hard at work helping friends Warrick and his twin sister Willow fix up Pitchkettle Cottage when Warrick decides to speed things up with a touch of magic.

Suddenly things get just a tad out of hand and before you can say ‘daub’ there’s a gloopy mix of straw, clay and very pongy poo flying everywhere.

The next thing the siblings know is that they’re banned from spell making, hexed by their mum and they’re all made to spend the weekend clearing up the stinky, magic-induced mess.

Rather than achieve fame by being ‘the only wizard in the world who covers everything with poo’ as Willow teases, Warrick realises he needs another way to find fame.

Perhaps something he’s seen in Berk’s book with pictures of flying things might just do the trick (unfortunately written in Italian – a nod to Leonardo da Vinci there), something such as a flying machine for instance.

With the help of his friends and Willow (who seems to have focused much of her attention upon finding and taming the very large, very stinky dragon that harbours a rather large grudge), Warrick must to find a way to prevent any further disasters during his test flights.

All the more so when Godwin’s island is raided by Boog and his barbarians. Now a flying machine that actually stays airborne is vital.

Toss into all this the thoroughly unpleasant teacher Sir Dane, some tapestries that mysteriously go missing, a rather clever chicken and a couple of jars filled with fire beetles and what you have is a madcap Medieval romp to entertain young readers with a thirst for derring-do and riotous revenge. And it’s all brilliantly illustrated by Tom himself.

Moreover there’s a glossary at the end of the book explaining some delicious new words including ‘fopdoodle’, hoddypeak’, ‘fauntkins’ and I guarantee readers won’t be left ‘mubblefubbles’ having read this somewhat bonkers book.

Ori’s Stars

Ori’s Stars
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster

Far, far out in the deepest darkest depths of space lives a lonely being going by the name of Ori.

In an attempt to keep warm, Ori rubs her hands together and in so doing creates a beautiful shimmering entity that she names star. So delighted is she that she continues creating star after star.

Suddenly into the light that she’s created around her something moves, reaching out for one of her stars.

Ori is somewhat taken aback but agrees to teach Bella, the newcomer, how to make a star too.

It’s not long before many, many more things appear from the darkness congregating around Ori and Bella and all eager to become star-makers.

Together they create incredible coloured starscapes all around …

But then Ori considers the possibility of other lone entities far out in the inky black feeling the same loneliness that she had once felt.

Knowing the joy of friendship, she persuades her friends to join her in an endeavour that will ensure that no-one need ever feel alone in the dark.

Can she succeed in dispelling that fear of isolation and replace it with friendship across the entire universe?

How much we all need to emulate Ori and her newfound friends by reaching out to others during these seemingly dark times. This beautifully told and illustrated story of reaching out to others is just perfect to share with little ones at any time but especially just before bed.

Build Your Own Mars Colony

Build Your Own Mars Colony
illustrated by Jana Glatt
Laurence King Publishing

What better way for youngsters to spend some lockdown time than trying out a bit of space exploration? By means of the contents of this nifty box of cardboard sheets they can do just that, blasting themselves into the deepest depths of beyond in a rocket and then coming to land on the red planet aka Mars.

The scope for imaginary play is terrific once all the pieces from the ten sturdy sheets have been assembled and the colony constructed. What does it feel like enclosed in a space ship hurtling through the pitch-blackness? How does life on a new planet feel compared to that on earth?

The laser cut, double-sided pieces pop-out easily providing all that’s needed for an entire mission Mars colony to be built.

Survival and all that entails have been considered here: there’s a dome-shaped habitat that can provide shelter, half a dozen human characters and some animal ones, a variety of vehicles and the ‘technical manual for interplanetary pioneers’ giving basic plans, unfolds into a base on which to put all the splendidly detailed parts once slotted together.

For adults looking for ways to keep their children engaged, this has great potential; it ticks a host of educational boxes but best of all, it’s terrific fun and encourages those all important flights of fancy.

Samuel (just 5) enjoyed assembling the pieces

and once he’d done so, he and his sister (7) played together with them, and Emmanuelle, having added a few items of her own, wrote a chapter of her story about one of the characters setting up a school on Mars.

Hotel Flamingo: Fabulous Feast

Hotel Flamingo: Fabulous Feast
Alex Milway
Piccadilly Press

It’s always a huge treat to pay a visit to Animal Boulevard’s  Flamingo Hotel where now as winter recedes Anna and T. Bear are outside enjoying themselves while hoping that business will pick up after a slack period.

Suddenly into their midst from high above crashes their first new season guest in the form of a stunt pigeon named Alfonso Fastbeak.

Over a warming cocoa in the lobby Alfonso explains that he was working on his routine for a forthcoming record-breaking attempt when things went a little awry. Hence his unexpected mode of arrival.

Mightily impressed by the hotel, Alfonso decides to book a room for the duration of his recuperation and this prompts Anna to realise something needs to be done to improve business – something like a ‘Battle of the Chefs’ competition. Their very own chef Madame Le Pig is the greatest chef in town; they just need to prove her superiority over the chefs of rival establishments.

Ever the grumpy one, Madame Le Pig needs a bit of persuasion but having won her round, Anna and T.Bear set about the task of getting Peston Crumbletart and Laurence Toot-Toot on board too.

Meanwhile Ms Frangipani is enlisted to facilitate the recovery of Alfonso

and T. Bear finds a judge for the cooking competition.

As news of the event with its promised accompanying feast spreads, room bookings rise rapidly and pretty soon guests start showing up.

A pretty demanding lot they prove to be too. There’s Norman and Petal Horntop intent on sampling all the regional grasses, not to mention octopus Simon Suckerlot who insists on having a constant supply of brine. But even the most exacting guests must have their needs attended to, even if that means getting rid of any cowpats that appear on the carpets at the most inopportune moments

and procuring large amounts of precious sea salt from the kitchen.

When the competition eventually gets underway, things get pretty tense especially when Madame Le Pig gets an attack of stage-fright.

But who will be declared the final winner? And what of guest Alfonso: he too needs to summon up all his confidence for his big day.

Camaraderie, determination and self-belief are key in this deliciously offbeat drama. Add to the mix a generous garnishing of Alex’s brilliantly expressive two colour illustrations (20 with bees hiding in plain sight to find) and the result is a mouth-watering read that’s sure to satisfy young readers.