Author Archives: jillrbennett

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

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

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

The Space Train

The Space Train
Maudie Powell-Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Little Tiger

Light years from Earth in a space station live Jakob, his robot chicken named Derek and his granny.

Jakob has made a discovery: in hangar 19 is, so he thinks, a huge abandoned rocket.
Granny knows otherwise. “It’s the Space Train,” she tells her grandson … “When I was little, the Space Train criss-crossed the universe on tracks of stardust visiting station after station –“.

Jakob’s excitement mounts as he thinks about all the places they might visit and potential friends he could discover if they fixed the train.

After a week of hard work,

riveting, welding, fixing and cleaning the train was finally ready. Tomorrow they would launch it.
Next morning however didn’t quite go to plan. A resounding BANG and sooty faces were the only outcomes when Jakob pulls the launch lever.

Jakob and Derek are ready to give up: not so Granny, so it’s back to look at the plans again.

Soon, they’re ready to give it another go and this time …

With its space setting, quirky characters, problem-solving, a plethora of flaps to explore as well as Jakob’s logs to study, this unusual story should please young readers, especially those with a liking for things mechanical. Karl’s zany, illustrations are packed with other-worldly paraphernalia, mechanical bits and pieces and the occasional alien. Love the colour palette and the nuts and bolts laying Derek.

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
Angela McAllister, illustrated by Alice Lindstrom
Lincoln Children’s Books

I was one of those not turned off Shakespeare at school despite having to study several plays between the ages of 11 and 16 and my favourite, despite having to ‘do’ it for O-level, remains Twelfth Night. This is largely thanks to an amazing English teacher that I had throughout my time at grammar school, who managed to bring out the magic of the plays we read and now the beauty of the language completely enthrals me. So, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories wherein Angela McAllister retells a dozen of the bard’s most popular plays, both comedies and tragedies.

However, she does it in such a way that young readers will be engaged immediately . Each one is introduced with a quote and a pictorial cast of characters, and the tellings themselves are up to date so that youngsters will quickly find themselves immersed in the story, be that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night,

Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, The Tempest

or any of the others included.

Alice Lindstrom’s artwork, whether a full page illustration, or a smaller one, is absolutely fabulous, really capturing the atmosphere of each tale, drawing in the audience and making them feel as though they’re watching a staged performance.

Also included is a wealth of information about the great man himself, a complete list of his plays and a taster paragraph about each of the twelve plays herein.

Yes, we have lost the Bard’s awesome language here, but instead, what Angela McAllister offers is access to that language for youngsters by way of stories that can be read aloud to an individual or class; or read alone, before the exam treadmill turns them off from the riches that are Shakespeare’s legacy.

Not Yet a Yeti / Froggy Day

Not Yet a Yeti
Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal
Maverick Publishing

High up in the snowy mountains live George and his family.

All George’s family are yetis: “When will I be a yeti?” the little creature asks.

Having consulted in turn, his grandfather, his dad, his big sister and his mum, George concludes that he lacks the necessary qualities for full yeti status. He has no desire to terrorise visitors to the mountain,

leave scary footprints in the snow (his feet are too small anyway), or chase ramblers like other family members.

Suddenly George knows what he wants to be …

Lo and behold as he speaks, a horn grows from his forehead, his limbs grow hooves and he acquires a swishy tail and mane.

Alarmed, Mum consults Dad and a compromise is reached: after all if his other family members continue eating hikers, the human race faces extinction.

An offbeat tale of having the courage to be yourself and acceptance that manages to include the creature that seems to be every young child’s favourite at present – the unicorn. For this reason, if nothing else, it’s likely to become a crowd pleaser. Tony Neal’s entire family of yetis are, despite their claims, thoroughly unscary and totally likeable creatures as is George himself.

Froggy Day
Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Publishing

Imagine watching the weather forecast on the TV and being told “Today is going to be froggy, very froggy!” by the forecaster. That however is what happens in Heather Pindar and Barabara Bakos’ zany book.

No sooner are the words out of her mouth than chaos descends in the form of little green amphibians. They create havoc in the streets, on the bus, the supermarket is over-run with the creatures,

the building site workers are totally bemused, animals stampede and frog horns boom out warning the sailors at sea.
There isn’t a single place in town without an invasion of frogs – imagine the uproar in the classroom.

Then comes the evening weather forecast: now what might that hold in store, I wonder …

Crazy as Heather’s tale may sound, I was once in Udaipur, Rajasthan during the monsoon season and as we emerged from a café into sudden torrential rain, it did seem as though it was raining frogs: the tiny creatures (not green ones but brown) fell in thousands from the rooftops of all the buildings. Goodness knows how they got up there in the first place but the sight was truly bizarre.

Heather Pindar’s play on words is a great starting point for her gigglesome story and Barbara’s illustrations of the frogs’ frolics are a real hoot.

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Here’s a book that leaves you with a warm glow tinged with sadness. Published in time for the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, Michael Foreman presents in his own unique style, the true story of Sergeant Stubby, the dog who served in WW1 and became the most decorated dog of the war.

His story is told by Corporal Robert Conroy, an American soldier who adopts Stubby during training in Connecticut, and with a little help of his friends, manages to smuggle the dog aboard the troop ship and all the way to the front line in France.

It’s a tale that brings home to readers the terrible dangers faced by, and amazing bravery of, those who fought in WW1.

Stubby is badly injured

but manages to survive thanks to the care he received alongside the wounded troops and he’s back in action on the day peace is declared.

It’s an enthralling read, with a happy ending. Sadly though, that wasn’t the case for so many of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in that a brutal war. It’s so important that we continue to remember these men, particularly now as there are so few war veterans remaining alive. It’s through such superbly told and illustrated books as this that one hopes we will never forget.

Thanks to Foreman’s wonderful scenes, Stubby and his soldier friends will linger in our minds long after this treasure of a book has been set aside.

Share it widely, pause to remember, and give thanks for the contribution those who served in both World Wars made to our all too fragile peace

An Anty-War Story

An Anty-War Story
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Of all the residents of Antworld, there’s only one little ant with a name. Meet the new born Douglas. Douglas watches the other ants carrying food and longs to fit in and be part of that ‘beautiful line’. But that isn’t the role the Chief Ant has in mind for him; Douglas’s destiny lies elsewhere. He too will march in line but instead of food, he will carry a rifle. Douglas is to be a uniform wearing soldier charged with defending Antworld and making it a safer place for all the little ants.

Douglas is proud of his uniform and his assigned role, as well as the banner-bearing band that marches behind the ‘rifle carrying ants’. But then war does come.

It comes in human form: shells WHIZZ and with a BANG Antworld is completely obliterated.

Ross shows this in a devastating shift from the colourful pageantry as the explosion spread is followed by a gloomy grey view of advancing WW1 soldiers with mustard gas swirling across the landscape and below a smudge of red in one corner, the words “The end.’

Then follows an equally sombre monument to the fallen.

That only serves to bring home the awful reality of how war can change lives in a single instant – one flash and it’s all over for some, or many.

Sobering and intensely powerful, a reading of this allegorical tale is certain to bring on discussion about war wherever it’s shared.

Moon River

Moon River
illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Oxford University Press

Once again Tim Hopgood has turned an enduringly popular song into a magical experience that feels brand new.
His latest offering is based on Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s song Moon River made famous by Andy Williams. (There’s a sing-along CD featuring the classic song inside the back cover).

Moonlight streaming, river like through a child’s bedroom window gently nudges a slumberer and she embarks on a breathtaking journey of discovery in the company of a white horse and a guitar-playing brown bear.

Together they travel on their small craft through a glowing watery world,

then take to the air flying over not-yet sleeping cities before landing and riding off in search of that illusive rainbow’s end, a place that’s always just that little bit out of reach.

As those notes drift across the pages of Tim’s deliciously dreamy scenes who could resist following them and joining the adventurers as they sally forth into the night on a voyage that will take them they know not where.

Adult readers however, will recognise some of the famous landmarks depicted as they share this gorgeous book with their little ones.

Joy and hope shine forth from every one of Tim’s spreads in this enchanting dream of a book.

How To Make Friends With a Ghost

How to Make Friends with a Ghost
Rebecca Green
Andersen Press

Written in the style of a guide book, this is a fun story to have at Halloween or any other time – perhaps not bedtime though, if you have an impressionable small child.
Herein we learn how to identify a ghost – very important if you want to make friends with one. Those depicted are of the especially endearing, somewhat whimsical kind.

Divided into parts, we look first at ‘Ghost Basics’, starting with, not to flee from a ghost should one choose to greet you – that’s on account of their sensitivity. Instead appear friendly and bestow upon the apparition a beautific smile.
Then, should it decide to follow you home, welcome it in, if needs be helped by a gentle blow (of the breathy variety I hasten to add). And, it’s especially important to keep your hands clear just in case you accidentally put one of them right through and cause the thing a stomach ache.
“Ghost Care’ describes feeding – preferably plenty of its favourite treats – cooking together …

and recommended ghost-tempting fare. Think I’d pass on sharing any of that.

Recommended activities come next. Apparently ghosts have a special liking for collecting items such as worms, leaves and acorns; reading scary stories is another favourite pastime,

and of course, joke telling – particularly of the ‘knock knock sort.

The more obvious Halloween activities are included, naturally. So too are bedtime considerations (eerie hums and wails make great lullabies); places to hide your visitor should someone come calling; hazards – avoid using your ghost as a nose wiper; banning ghost help with the washing and most crucially, ‘Do not let your ghost get eaten! (in mistake for whipped cream or marshmallows perhaps)

Part Three comprises ideas for life together as you both age for, as we hear, a ghost friend is a forever friend. And to end with a quote from Dr Phantoneous Spookel: “If you’ve been lucky enough to be found / by a ghost that calls you its ‘friend’, / Then your friendship will last / for it knows no bounds – / you’ll be friends even after the end.”

Now that’s a spooky, albeit tenderly poignant ending, if ever.

With somewhat sophisticated gouache, ink and pencil illustrations, executed in an appropriately subtle colour palette, even down to the endpapers and some of the printed text, the whole ghostie experience, imbued as it is with a sense of mischief, is enormous fun.

With a debut picture book this good, I look forward to seeing what will follow.

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky
Stuart Atkinson and Brendan Kearney
Laurence King Publishing

I love this idea: an introduction to astronomy courtesy of Felicity the cat. With those alluring eyes, it’s hard to resist the offer of a guided tour around the universe from this enthusiastic stargazer who acts as our nocturnal companion.
Suitably prepared with essential stargazing gear, under her expert guidance, readers will receive a terrific introduction to the wonders of our solar system and much more.

The book is absolutely packed with information presented in such a manner that the reader never feels overwhelmed. Stuart Atkinson’s enthusiasm for his subject shines out from every page, his explanations are clear and lucid and he imparts an amazing amount of information almost without you noticing through the down-to-earth voice of the feline Felicity.

I’ve never been able to grasp the concept of star constellations – those pattern in the sky –

but thanks to Felicity’s descriptions and Brendan’s silvery outlines of the likes of Cygnus: the swan,

Sagittarius: the archer and Aquila: the eagle superimposed on the star patterns, I can’t wait for the next dark cloudless night for a spot of stargazing.

They’ll be all the more easy to spot now I know about the seasonal differences in the night sky.

A super book for your little, and not so little, stargazers.

Halloween is Coming: The Right One / Monster School / Bizzy Bear Spooky House

The Right One
Violeta Noy
Templar Books

New Spanish author/illustrator Violeta Roy presents in bold graphics, a cute story about daring to be different ghost-style: it’s perfect for Halloween, especially for those who don’t like to be scared.

Roderic is the smallest ghost in a very large, ancient family. They all look pretty much alike on account of wearing sheets although Roderic’s is the tiniest.

This diminutive ghost is the last of a long line and he feels more than a little insignificant. None of his family seems to notice his presence. Roderic decides to do something about this. His name is fixed, ditto his family but he can change his appearance. Both a hat, and a scarf prove problematic.

Next morning, deciding a more radical approach is required, our little ghost experiments until finally he’s ready to sport his new gear.

However the reception he receives isn’t quite what he’d hoped, so off he goes to strut his stuff among the city folks. Once again though, nobody notices him at all: poor little thing is now feeling even more invisible than ever.

Back home again he’s given a fresh white sheet but it makes him anything but happy. His frustration causes things to start flying around, one of which just happens to land upon the little ghost and yippee! It feels absolutely right.

What’s more, it looks absolutely right and now nobody is going to stop him from wearing it.
And maybe, just maybe, his new appearance might have some influence on other members of Roderic’s family.

For older readers:

Monster School
Kate Coombs and Lee Gatlin
Chronicle Books

A school it may be, but despite its fairly typical activities – homework for example, there’s a class pet and a regular weekly menu on offer at the cafeteria – Monster School’s pupils are anything but your usual boys and girls; the staff are pretty weird too.

Let’s meet some of them. There’s Stevie the Loser, who manages to lose pretty much anything and everything from backpack, book and homework, to his eyeball, kneecap and arm; what a zombie! He may not be able to find said homework but keen-eyed readers will surely spot it still attached to that missing arm of his.
There’s also ‘a ‘multicultural’ miss – whose family tree comprises giants, witches, trolls and other ghoulies.

Computer Wizard has tech skills aplenty: app creator, program writer extraordinaire, with a mouse that dines on virtual crackers and cheese and a ram that consumes virtual grass; seemingly this guy can do anything so long as it’s not a word problem.
I should also mention she of the amazing hair; it’s entirely reptilian with an abundance of adders, vipers and other venomous twisters and twiners.

Katie Coombs imaginative verses employ a variety of forms that will send tingles down the spines of primary age readers while Lee Gatlin’s creepy illustrations home in on the grim and gruesome with plenty of details of the shivery kind.

For the youngest:

Bizzy Bear Spooky House
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In his latest adventure, Bizzy Bear dons his starry costume and accompanied by his pal, ventures into a spooky house. Therein are plenty of things to make him shiver as he enters the spiders’ web festooned hall, climbs the creaky stairs and discovers a surprise party at the very top of the house.
Benji Davies’ scenes have plenty to amuse and explore and with a slider or tab to manipulate on every spread, this is mock scary Halloween fun for toddlers.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

A History of Pictures for Children

A History of Pictures for Children
David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake
Thames & Hudson

It’s great to see so many art books for children published in recent months particularly since the creative subjects – art in particular – are being side-lined in the curriculum; a ridiculously short-sighted act I believe. We need to foster, nurture and develop children’s creativity rather than stifling it. Being able to think outside the box, to say, ‘what if ? …’ is the root of all development including scientific and technical. The current tick-box mentality and constant testing of children does absolutely nothing for their true development; hoop-jumpers are not what is desirable at all.
Hurrah then for such books as this.

Essentially it is a totally enthralling and immersive conversation between artist Hockney and art critic Gayford, wherein through eight chapters they look at, discuss and ponder upon works of art, providing a condensed history of art that encompasses Hockney’s art, those who influenced his works and some awesome work from others through the ages.

Rose Blake provides terrific additional illustrations of her own that cleverly bring the whole enterprise together.

I opened the parcel containing my review copy the day before I was leaving for 3 weeks in India so I tucked it into my laptop bag to take with me. I showed it to my friend Shahid Parvez, an artist and assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts, at Mohanlal Sukhadia University – Udaipur.
He also shared it with his artistic 11-year-old daughter Saba.
Here in brief are their comments:
Shahid: ‘What a lovely book – very readable and absorbing. It certainly makes you curious to know more about art and you don’t want to put it down until the end. I wish we had books such as this one in India to give our kids exposure to art in such an interesting, easy to understand way.

Saba: ‘Such an interesting book telling me about art history and the different aspects of art. I specially liked the “Light and Shadows’

and ‘Mirrors and Reflections’ chapters

and the Timeline of Inventions. I would love to read more books like this one.’

Altogether an excellent enterprise that will assuredly engage and excite both young readers and adults.

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

Following on from their Penguin Problems, Jory John and Lane Smith present Giraffe Problems. The giraffe in question being Edward; his problem coming in the form of his neck. A neck that is too long, too bendy, too narrow, too dopey, too patterned, too stretchy, too high, too lofty: in short too necky. Said neck causes other animals to stare at him wherever he goes.

It’s not as though Edward hasn’t tried to improve matters; he’s adorned the thing with all manner of scarves and ties and attempted to hide himself away but without success.

Other animals have enviable necks so why is his the object of attention all the time? He has, assuredly, a long-lasting problem.

Then Edward comes upon a creature that is his polar opposite: Cyrus is a turtle but he too has a neck issue. “I’m basically neckless,” he tells the giraffe.

He also tells Cyrus of his yearning for and futile efforts to obtain, a lone banana dangling alluringly from a tree atop a distant hill. “I’ve felt like such a fool as I stretched my neck toward those greedy branches, only to be limited by my own physical shortcomings.”

Said fruit poses no challenge to Edward; in just a few seconds he causes the desired object to land right in front of Cyrus. (gatefold reveal).

Then it’s down to Cyrus to help Edward with his own neck issue. Is it possible that they can both end up feeling good about themselves – perhaps with the help of a small, strategically placed adornment?

Jory John’s entire wry, comical text is in the form of speech- monologue or dialogue – with occasional touches of bathos, and is perfectly complemented by Lane Smith’s retro style, textured artwork executed in earthy tones that cleverly captures the emotions of the two protagonists and showcases their distinctive patterns.

Courtesy of the John/Lane partnership we’ve visited Antarctica and Africa: whither next for animals with problems, I wonder?

Hello, Mister Cold

Hello, Mister Cold
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

The opening paragraph from The second in the Tales from the Hidden Valley sequence repeats that used in the first book before plunging readers into deepest winter. This one however starts not in the winter-engulfed valley but in a distant town.
Enter one Maximillan Cold, ‘child of the richest, most ambitious, coldest family in town.’ To his family’s shock horror, the lad wants to be a musician and so the family disowns the boy trumpeter who joins a band.
Its leader however doesn’t appreciate his TINC-BLIN-TUT improvisations and so fires him instantly.

Maxi boards a train but is soon ejected by some travelling musicians and thereafter lost, he finds shelter in a cave, the floor of which gives way sending him cascading down between precious stones and fossils.
The chilly world in which he finds himself is that inhabited by Yula, just off for her music practice with Sara, and the other assorted characters we met in The Artists.

It’s the tiny, onion-headed ballerina who finds Maximillan lying flat out in the snow. Concerned at his inappropriate garb she opens his suitcase and dresses him in swathes of clothes, making him look like a ‘giant’ Thing.

This Thing accidentally alarms the hurrying Sara, causing her to start and fall down in a faint.

Concerned, Maxi resolves to find a safe place to take her and thus allows himself to be led to a dead tree wherein he deposits her and wraps her up warmly. Meanwhile, a watching raven, alarmed by seeing the little wolf carried away, flies off to inform Sara, thereby starting a rumour that Yula has been kidnapped by a monster.

Sara and her friends then devise a decidedly crazy plan with the intention of hounding out monster Maxi.

After another monster encounter – not Maxi but a totally weird giant worm thing that he himself comes upon, some magical music, the unpacking of Maxi’s suitcase, a realisation on the trumpeter’s part and a further musical rendition,

all ends happily and readers are left to draw the satisfying conclusion that a new friend has been added to the residents of Hidden Valley just in time for the arrival of spring …

Delectably droll narrative drives the plot, which, together with Portas’s quirky portrayal of the fanciful friends in a wonderful mix of scenes large and small, makes for another enormously engaging Hidden Valley flight of fancy. Roll on Book 3.

These stories surely have the makings of a wonderful children’s TV series.

Sing to the Moon

Sing to the Moon
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing

A Ugandan boy relates one unexpectedly magical day spent at his grandfather’s house.

When he awakes it’s to the sound of the rain’s patter and the sight of dark, brooding clouds. He anticipates that none of those wishes he shared at the outset: the flight to the stars; the ocean crossing aboard a dhow to the old spice markets of Zanzibar or the flight on the back of a crested crane culminating in a wonderful forest feast, will come true.

“Sing to the moon” his Jjajja always tells him if he wants a wish granted.

Instead, there’s nothing for it but to go and join his Jjajja in the kitchen as he sips his morning tea, and together they break their fast on porridge.

The boy’s intention is to return to his room and mope but his grandfather has other ideas. Taking the boy by the hand he leads him to the storeroom …

and that’s where the magic begins as Jjajja starts to reminisce about his boyhood days.

As they pack away the peas he talks of his best friend Kirobo with the enormous smile.
Then they move to the veranda where the boy hears of Jjajja’s guava tree climbing, something his grandson also loves.

At sundown, they prepare the ingredients for a fish stew supper while the boy’s grandfather shares tales of fishing expeditions.

By now darkness has descended and then their ‘night adventures’ commence.
Jjajja has a huge stack of books, a veritable tower containing tales of brave kings and crooks; fables of long gone cities full of gold and African kingdoms. He talks of how the sky once rose and fell, as thunder raged.

Then outside they go and to the sound of echoing drums and grasshoppers’ song the lad is reminded that no matter what he’s always loved.
Now all that’s left is to savour the sweetness of the day; the boy safe in the knowledge that nothing could possibly have been as wonderful as their rainy day together, a day rounded off perfectly with Jjajja’s soft goodnight bidding, “Sing to the moon.”

Not only does this beautiful book portray that very special intergenerational relationship, the spellbinding tale also evokes the natural world and life of a distant land that most of us won’t ever visit for real, both through Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl’s rhyming narrative that’s a real joy to read aloud, and Sandra van Doorn’s absolutely stunning illustrations. I’d love to include every single one but hopefully those included here will inspire readers sufficiently to seek out their own copy of the book. It’s a must.

Inside the Villains

Inside the Villains
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Wow! This is a BIG book; it’s also a pop-up, lift-the-flap, pull-the-tab volume wherein we meet three of the biggest villains of fairy tale.

If you’ve ever wondered what really lies behind the three characters, this larger-than-life volume supplies the information. It takes readers deep within and around on a tour of discovery that reveals what’s hidden beneath their clothing, what lurks in their pockets and even behind their ears; and be prepared for a peep at stomach contents.

Each character is immaculately constructed with layers to peel back and investigate. For instance in the wolf (my favourite) we’re shown the working of his grey matter and when you pull a tiny thread, the contents of his stomach – see if you can guess what lies therein – the creature’s been pretty busy of late; either that or he digests his food very slowly.
On the opposite page is a self-written profile of the lupine creature wherein he recounts his dietary preferences and describes himself as having ‘highly developed intelligence, natural cunning and exceptional athletic gifts.’

Unfold the left-hand page and you’ll discover a terrific ‘More About Me’ section with story references aplenty as well as a list of other related tales. Opposite all this is the story of The wolf and the seven little goats.

The giant clearly has several layers of adipose tissue – not surprising as he talks of his ‘insatiable appetite’. Beware his beguiling banter “I’m opening my heart to you’. Hmm! Unfasten his belt and take a look beneath that waistcoat, then have a peek behind his hat.

As for the witch, she sports a feathery cape, perfect for ensuring that the contents of her pocket stays toasty warm. Under her dress and petticoat she has a stash of terrible treasures, so ignore what she says about those pockets full of sweets, if you value your life, her gnashers look evil indeed.
Her hidden story is Alyoshka and Baba Yaga.

Brilliantly conceived and equally brilliantly constructed, Clotilde Perrin takes interactive novelty books to a whole new level.

The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin

The Rabbit, The Dark and the Biscuit Tin
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow

It’s almost bedtime but rabbit is not  ready for sleep. Suddenly, while out in his garden he has a bright idea: If it doesn’t get dark then he need not go to bed at all. Grabbing his best biscuit tin with a single remaining biscuit inside, he heads back outside to find The Dark.
An easy job and Rabbit offers it the biscuit but as Dark reaches out, SNAP goes the lid of the tin: Rabbit has caught The Dark inside.
From inside the box comes a voice chastising Rabbit for his thoughtless action. What about all the animals that get up as night falls: The Dark is vital for them.

Selfishly Rabbit goes inside clutching his tin of Dark. Their conversation continues with The Dark pointing out what his captor will miss unless he frees his prisoner. Rabbit’s mood deteriorates and he stomps back outside clutching his tin tightly.

What he sees and feels – a very hot, sad looking place full of very hot sad-looking animals and even worse, his favourite carrots have all wilted.

The Dark makes one more plea for release: “I want to show you how wonderful I can be …” he says.
This makes Rabbit really think and slowly, slowly he opens the lid to find …

Dark points out some further good things he has to offer, not least of which is bedtime stories. Now though it appears that he’s too tired even for one of those.

Nicola’s lovely story is perfect for bedtime reading. It gently and unobtrusively introduces the idea of nocturnal animals as well as only thinking of oneself.
With gorgeous illustrations and a pop-out surprise to open, this book may well cause little ones to delay bedtime to hear the story ‘just one more time’.

Midnight Monsters / The Ultimate Spell-Caster

Midnight Monsters
Helen Friel
Lawrence King Publishing

Billed as a ‘Pop-up Shadow Search’, this is a really clever take on the search for hidden objects book. To make it work you need these two things:
a) a largish blank wall, and b) a torch (the powerful kind is best).

Now, turn off the lights, stow away any screens that might be lurking (unless you happen to be using your mobile as a light source), place the book on a flat surface, open up the book, power on your torch and prepare to journey to five pop-up scene locations starting with the wild woods’ Therein, lurking among the branches are a jabberwock, a bigfoot, a werewolf, a dingonek and a headless horseman. (Brief descriptions of each are supplied).

Other settings are creepy caves, mysterious mountains, a misty lagoon and a haunted castle, in each of which hides five creepy creatures whose whereabouts you should seek among the shadows cast on the wall.

What a great thing to produce at a Halloween party; it will keep your guests absorbed for ages as they hunt for all those mythical beasties – a grandylow, a krampus, a tikbalan and a grootslang to name just a few.

Perfect after dark reading of the spooky kind: Spellbinding indeed.

The Ultimate Spell-Caster
Mike Barfield
Lawrence King Publishing

Can you imagine a magical book that offers potential witches and wizards more than 60 million spooky spells of the silly kind? No: then you definitely need Mike Barfield’s splendidly interactive, spirally bound volume that provides the means of doing just that.
If incantations are your thing then the five interchangeable strips presented in a variety of fonts, providing spooky or daft phrases along with the occasional contemporary one for good measure will keep you entranced for hours.
Here’s one spellbinding possibility:

And another: ‘Flap of cat and gum of boot, turn your dad into a self-propelling snot bottler.’

Embellished with speckled strips, luminous green endpapers and the occasional splattering of potion, the book has the appearance of an ancient tome.

Why not gather together with a group of fellow spell-casters suitably clad and have some fun conjuring up some weird and wonderful spells this Halloween.

Cackles and giggles guaranteed.

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!
Kes Gray & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Seemingly Frog’s work is never done, at least when it comes to finding suitable places upon which animals can rest their situpons.

Now he’s faced with not just the creature from the title but a whole host of other animals all wanting to know upon what they can sit and even worse, each one has a name that’s impossible to find a rhyme for – try hedgehog, say. Well perhaps the spiky creature could sit upon er, Frog. Ouch! I suspect that’s completely out of the question though. And kookaburra – hmm! Surely there must be another way of approaching this impasse. And happily there is!

Frog is a genius! “… what’s your first name?” he asks the duck-billed platypus. “Dolly,” comes the reply. Easily sorted.

Then, with moral support from his pals – the dog and the cat, our amphibious friend rapidly comes up with places upon which another twenty or so animals can park their bottoms.

That leaves just the matter of Geraldine the kangaroo …

I think this book has ousted any of the other Oi titles to become my very favourite of the seemingly effortless, utterly priceless. rhyming gems Kes Gray produces. Brilliant as they are though, they wouldn’t be quite so fantastic without Jim Field’s side-splitting illustrations.
Unmissable!

Oi teachers, think what terrific fun you could have with your classes …

Speed Birds

Speed Birds
Alan Snow
Oxford University Press

Rather than being awed by his mother’s talk of potentially deadly falcons, a crow chick is entranced when he sees the speed at which a falcon zooms through the air.

Come autumn, the little crows learn that it’s time for them to fend for themselves in the big, wide world. Excited and with his mother’s words “… if you stay curious, use your mind, and believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve” the little bird sets off one morning with the other young crows.
Convinced that there are wonders to be discovered, the little crow urges the others onwards till eventually they stop to spend the night in a lone tree.

It’s here next morning that one little crow makes a most thrilling discovery that is to change his life and that of his fellow crows.

Below the tree is a junkyard full of abandoned vehicles and car parts as well as a shed full of tools, more car parts, trophies and most important, plans and a notebook containing drawings, diagrams and lists.

So begins the project to become the fastest bird in the world.

This is a book that makes nonsense of the notion some primary teachers adhere to that once children achieve reading fluency, they should no longer read picture books. Alan Snow’s illustrations are truly awesome – a combination of fine art and technical drawing with clearly annotated detailed inventories of the car’s and engine’s components and how  the internal combustion engine works as well as the formula for calculating the speed and more.

Mechanically minded adults, as well as older primary children and above, will be enthralled by both the story and the intricate technical details of the art. I wonder if Lewis Hamilton would go even faster with a feather festooned Mercedes?

Coping the Change: Charlie Star / How to Feed Your Parents

Charlie Star
Terry Milne
Old Barn Books

Charlie Star is a dachshund with a difference; he suffers from anxiety and it makes him exhibit repetitive behaviours. The creature is frightened that if he doesn’t do certain things such as checking under his bed and always walking the same side of a tree on the way to market, or lining up his toys neatly every night, something terrible will happen. He uses these routines to hold his anxiety at bay: it sounds to me as though he may have OCD.

One day however, an emergency occurs: his friend Hans is in trouble and is in urgent need of Charlie’s help.

Off dashes the dog not stopping to carry out all his usual routine actions to discover that Hans has his head stuck in a length of pipe as a result of a game of hide-and-seek.

Good old Charlie comes up with a clever way of extricating his friend and thus learns that a change in routine isn’t quite so scary after all.

That day his thought as he goes to bed is “Forgot everything today but things turned out okay.”

But what about the following day? Does he revert to his usual routine sequence? The answer is yes but also no for now Charlie knows that the occasional change isn’t a disaster and perhaps it might lead to something wonderful…

I love the focus on the importance of friendship at the end of the story.
The author/illustrator has a daughter who exhibits anxiety and repetitive behaviour and as a result she wrote this story to reassure other children who might have similar struggles. Assuredly, with its wonderfully expressive illustrations, it’s a good starting point for opening discussion on the topic, particularly in the way it demonstrates that change isn’t really so scary as we might suppose.

How to Feed Your Parents
Ryan Miller and Hatem Aly
Sterling

Matilda Macaroni is an adventurous eater, eager to try new foods, not so her mum and dad. They insist on sticking to half a dozen items – chicken, macaroni, burgers, grilled cheese, pizza and cereal.

In contrast Matilda’s foray into other fare starts when she tastes her grandma’s jambalaya and continues as she tries goulash (at Grandma’s), sushi – at a sleepover and pork paprika on a play date.
She comes to the conclusion that the only way to get her parents to sample different foods is to take over the kitchen and do the cooking herself. With the help of her gran, she soon learns the niceties of knife wielding, cookbooks become her bedtime reading and her babysitter shops at the local farmers’ market for the necessary ingredients.

It’s not long before the young miss has a repertoire of tasty dishes she wants to share with her mum and dad; the next task is to get them to sample some.

She decides on one of their favourites for supper – burgers – albeit with a few modifications.

“There are mushrooms on it. And green things,” protests her mum. But what will be the verdict when they sink their teeth into the only thing on offer that night?

A comic, wackily illustrated role-reversal tale that might even persuade young picky eaters to adopt Matilda’s parents revised attitude at the end of the tale and try anything.

Never Too Young!

Never Too Young!
Aileen Weintraub and Laura Horton
Sterling

Fifty people from different parts of the world and from different times who by the age of 18 have made a difference to society are featured in this volume, each person being allocated a spread.
Their contributions are diverse and range from some well known contemporary figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Serena and Venus Williams, as well as equally well-known individuals from other times such as Joan of Arc who lived in the early part of the 15th century, Helen Keller (activist for the deaf and blind who was born in 1880), artist Pablo Picasso from the same era and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Some of those featured were new to me. One is Yash Gupta, a young philanthropist who after breaking his specs. found it hard to cope in school without them until his new ones arrived and consequently came up with the plan to start Sight Learning, an organisation that collects and distributes old spectacles to students all over the world.

Another new name so far as I’m concerned is Nkosi Johnson who lived only twelve years. The boy was one of 70,000 children born HIV positive, something only discovered when his foster mother tried to enrol him in school aged eight and was told he couldn’t go. However the boy fought against this discrimination and eventually won the right to attend. In a conference speech, aged eleven he said this, “ Care for us and accept us – we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk. We can talk, we have needs just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.” Sadly the boy died not long after and his funeral was attended by Nelson Mandela. An organisation called Nkosi’s Haven was created in the boy’s honour. Wow. Talk about an inspiration to the young (and not so young).

Young women include Muzoon Almellehan, a Syrian activist for girls’ rights and education who became the youngest Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and now lives in the UK.

Another is US trans activist Jazz Jennings, co-founder of Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation; her featured words (there’s a quotation from each person included in the book) are: “Equality is what unites our society, and everyone needs to understand that not only do we all deserve to be loved, but we deserve to love ourselves for who we are.”

All these young people and the others featured herein accomplished amazing things and their achievements will surely inspire young readers to seek ways to help their own communities wherever they are.

Itchy Scritchy Scratchy Pants

Itchy Scritchy Scratchy Pants
Steve Smallman and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

Stories about pants are always popular with young children but what about itchy scritchy scratchy ones like those of the title? They don’t sound a very inviting prospect at all but don’t be put off; this bum-tickling rhyming tale is terrific fun.
It features a gang of five Vikings who are suffering from chilly nether regions on account of their participation in a fight resulting in the destruction of their bum-covering undergarments.
Time for some new knickers they decide and head to the appropriate shop wherein they locate, not the desired knickers but a knitter of same.
She’s sold right out and is unable to meet their request unless they can provide a new supply of wool.

This means yet another quest- a very bleak and chillsome one – for the hardy crew.

Off they set to track down the famous and mysterious yeti from whose wool she can fulfil their knicker order with the warmest ever pants.

It’s certainly an action-packed, hair-raising adventure.

Off the wall – or rather – off the bum – craziness, both visual and verbal will assuredly have enormous appeal for children who will especially love the notion of yeti fleas feasting upon the nether regions of that Viking crew. YEOUCH! Not what anyone wants from their eagerly anticipated new underwear.

Smashing end papers, smashingly silly story and hilarious scenes of Viking shenanigans: Steve and Elina have done a great job to tickle the fancy of young listeners.

The Boy and the Bear / This Book Just Stole My Cat!

The Boy and the Bear
Tracey Corderoy and Sarah Massini
Nosy Crow

It’s not much fun playing alone as the little boy in this story knows so well; he longs to have a friend to share in such games as hide-and-seek and catch.

One day as he sits alone, he spies a paper boat floating towards him; on it is the brief message, BOO! Could perhaps it be from the best friend he so longs for? Messages are exchanged and a meeting arranged.

Bear however isn’t exactly the kind of best friend he so desires. Nevertheless he does invite the bear to play hide-and-seek. The game is not a success, neither are the other activities they try.

Bear however does have other positive qualities that are revealed one morning in autumn. The two then embark upon a collaborative project –

one that once complete results in a special time together.Time doesn’t stand still though and as autumn gives way to winter, Bear has to depart leaving the boy with a realisation of all that he’s lost. But not lost forever: come the spring boy spies not one but three message carrying paper boats …

Tracey’s enchanting tale of the joys of establishing and maintaining a special friendship is illustrated in Sarah’s equally enchanting spreads that show how the friendship develops across the seasons.

A lovely book to be shared over and over.

This Book Just Stole My Cat!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

A certain book seems to have an insatiable desire for furry creatures (and other items on occasion): first it consumed a dog and here it’s become a cat thief. Poor Ben, for it’s his cat that’s gone missing, followed shortly after by Bella who has kindly offered to help in the search.
Along comes a rescue vehicle and guess what …

That leaves only Ben (and a tiny fluffy rodent) to proceed with the rescue mission: Ben however doesn’t last much longer.

Not long after, a message appears requesting the reader’s assistance: tickling seems to be a possible rescue facilitator for said book is bound to respond to a dose of tickly fingers by emitting a rather forceful sneeze.

Yeah! Success! There’s only a slight issue that needs to be sorted now …

Another fun, interactive tale of Ben and Bella for little ones; it’s great for beginning readers too.

Dave The Lonely Monster

Dave the Lonely Monster
Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Dave lives all alone in a retirement cave; his only companion is his guitar.

Back in the day – the bad old days to be precise – Dave had been a huge pest rampaging and roaring wherever he went.

Until that is, the townsfolk, tired of his mess making, exiled him to Echo Rock where he spends the next sixty years, just him, his knitting, the odd poetry book and his old instrument upon which he strummed the night away.
By day the local knights would taunt him and try to engage him in combat, but of fighting Dave would have no part.

One day his slumbers are disturbed, first by a flying cabbage that hits his nose, then a beetroot biffs him in the eye and an aubergine whizzes past.
Out from behind a bush emerges a tiny knight wielding a carrot. “Prepare to meet your doom!” he cries.

Somewhat nonplussed, Dave challenges this lad who calls him a fiendish monster, pointing out that proper knights do not speak so, and that monstrous beasts, like others, also have feelings.
Realising the error of his ways, Percy apologies, a pledge is taken and a firm friendship forged.
The two have the time of their lives

while back in town, on account of the lack of exciting action, boredom and grumpiness have set in. Monster-bashing is what they need, the townsfolk decide.

Can young Percy persuade them otherwise, armed as they are with fistfuls of mouldy fruit and veg.?
Surely there must be a better way to liven things up and bring fun back for those would-be assailants of Dave’s. He certainly thinks so …

Rollicking rhyme that beats out a heart-warming tale of music and friendship – that’s Anna Kemp’s – and delicious olde-worlde scenes of bygone times that might have been but never were, on account of the crazy mix of knights of yore, Dave’s 60s style bass guitar, mini-skirts and dance moves, not to mention a hells angels wooden Harley style bike complete with side car (those are all part and parcel the super scenes created by Sara Ogilvie)  – combine to make a super read-aloud romp with an important message.

Out with rebel-rousing and war; long live love and peace.

This book will have to be one of my ‘secret story-teller’ choices for the autumn term.

Grumpy Duck

Grumpy Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Down at the pond there’s a duck with the grumps but who can blame her since her pond is dry and she’s all alone without a playmate in sight.

Off she goes to seek one, her first request being directed to Dog. Dog is more than willing so long as Duck will join in with some messy hole digging. Duck, having no wish for filthy feathers turns down the offer, thus increasing the size of the little grey cloud that is accompanying her.

Pig’s muddy puddle is deemed too pongy, she doesn’t do ‘cockadoodling’, nor competitive hopping,

peaceful dozing or clothes chomping, so Duck also refuses the suggestions proffered by Cockerel, Rabbit, Tortoise and Goat.

By now, that cloud above her is both black and absolutely ginormous; big enough to cover all those animals whose offers have been rejected and now they, along with Duck, look pretty dejected.

All of a sudden that black cloud, as is the wont of such aerosol masses, decides to burst, precipitating a multitude of BIG SHINY WET SPLASHY RAINDROPS.

Before long the cacophony issuing from their sloshy, sploshy, splashy splishy surroundings is that emitted by seven joyful farmyard residents having the time of their lives.

And the big black cloud? That’s nowhere to be seen; instead the sky is emblazoned with all the colours of the rainbow.

Joyce Dunbar’s patterned text is full of delicious alliteration and a delight to read aloud. I can see this soon becoming a storytime favourite and one that children may well want to try reading for themselves once they’ve heard the story a couple of times.

Petr Horáček’s illustrations are more scribbly delicious than ever. Splendidly expressive and instantly recognisable: I wonder how many listeners, already lovers of Horáček’s vibrant art will bring to mind his Greedy Goat when they see the garment gobbling Goat in this story.

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree
selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
Nosy Crow

Wow! this huge, weighty volume is most definitely something to celebrate. Containing 366 nature poems, one for every day of the year, the collaboration between publishers Nosy Crow and the National Trust is a veritable treasure trove.

Fiona Waters wonderfully thoughtful compilation includes something for all tastes and all moods: there are poems, chants, songs and rhymes including a fair sprinkling from the great anon.

Each month contains a mix of the familiar including timeless classics, and a wealth of new offerings to delight and enchant.

185 poets are presented, both contemporary and from past times, mainly from UK based and American poets including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, William Blake from the UK; and Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, my very favourite poet Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings from the US. Alongside are more modern offerings from Charles Causley, Carol Ann Duffy, Richard Edwards, John Agard, Tony Mitton,

Philip Gross, Benjamin Zephaniah to name but a few and from the USA: Aileen Fisher, Jack Prelutsky, David McCord and Myra Cohn Livingstone.

Almost all the poems are familiar to me (no surprise as I have compiled over 30 books of poetry) but I’ve also discovered some new gems such as Adelaide Crapsey’s November Night:
Listen … / With faint dry sound, / Like steps of passing ghosts, / The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees / And fall.
And Snow Toward Evening by Melville Cane:
Suddenly the sky turned gray, / The day, / Which had been bitter and chill, / Grew soft and still. / Quietly. / From some invisible blossoming tree / Millions of petals cool and white / Drifted and blew, / Lifted and flew, / Fell with the falling night.

Frann Preston-Gannon has done an amazing job with her art work: helping to reflect the beauty of the natural world and the changing seasons she provides a fine complement to the poems.

I found this beautifully bound, utterly enthralling book waiting for me on my recent return from India; I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since, rediscovering old favourites and unearthing some fresh treasures. I suspect I shall continue to do so for a long time yet. It’s an ideal family book, a must for every school and a perfect way to start or end the day (or both).

Come on teachers – what about a poem a day with your class: Fiona has done all the hard work for you.

Mini Rabbit Not Lost

Mini Rabbit Not Lost
John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Mini Rabbit has a particular penchant for cake and seemingly nothing will stop him from getting the vital ingredients he needs to make one. A lack of berries sees him rushing off in search of same with but one thought in his mind ‘Must have cake, cake … cake … cake’.

Turning down offers of help on the way …

the little creature heads down to the beach and off out to sea. What is the fellow thinking? Well we know the answer to that, don’t we.

His search becomes a quest of epic proportions as he traverses dangerous stretches of water, climbs to enormous heights and dangles himself over precipitous ledges.

Far from home Mini Rabbit eventually comes to this conclusion –

That’s when a delicious smell suddenly sends his nostrils into overdrive. He even makes a small discovery that, when he finally makes his way back home, he presents to his Mother. She too has something to present to Mini Rabbit.

It doesn’t quite receive the reception she’d been anticipating though.

This thoroughly delicious story is, unbelievably, John Bond’s debut picture book. He cleverly shows but never tells how on several occasions Mini Rabbit fails to notice berry locations, something observant youngsters will delight in pointing out. They will delight too in the final punch-line, but I won’t spoil it by revealing what that is. Instead I suggest you get hold of a copy of this tasty book and relish the whole thing yourself (along with one or many small listeners of course).

The King Who Banned the Dark

The King Who Banned the Dark
Emily Haworth-Booth
Pavilion Children’s Books

There was once a boy who, like many children was afraid of the dark. The difference here is that the boy in question is a prince.
He resolves that as soon as he becomes King he will ban the dark once and for all.

His advisers are wary of his subjects’ response and so instead their plan is to make the king’s subjects think that getting rid of the dark is their idea.

They start spreading anti dark rumours, which soon have the desired affect. Now all that’s left to do is to ensure darkness never returns; this is done by the installation of a massive artificial sun above the palace and light enforcers.

Soon people have dispensed with their curtains, anti-dark hats are given out, lamps shine continuously and nights are spent in celebrating.

Unsurprisingly this crazy situation is unsustainable: the pleasure of continual celebrating wanes and instead, constant sleeplessness results in extreme tiredness. The people realise they’ve made a huge mistake. (Sounds familiar)
Even the King is affected.
Something must be done: his advisors hatch a plan. So too do the people.

All power to the people say I; and it’s they who finally win through.

To me this reads like a cautionary tale of our BREXIT times. But no matter how you interpret Emily Haworth-Booth’s debut picture book it’s a powerful reminder of what might happen when people act in haste without thinking things through.

Her choice of a predominantly yellow, black and white colour palette is perfect for spotlighting the messages of the story, not least of which are that we have the collective power to influence our future and, to do things rather than to let things be done to us. Could this be the light at the end of the tunnel: bring on The People’s Vote.

A smashing and thoroughly provocative picture book. Wither next for Emily Haworth-Booth I wonder: I can’t wait to see.

Everest

Everest
Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng
Flying Eye Books

The closest I’ve ever come to the world’s most famous mountain, Everest, is a couple of visits to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj and environs, in the Himalayan foothills. It was truly memorable to walk in the forest areas and see some of the incredible wildlife – langurs and other monkeys, rhododendrons growing wild, beautiful birds, many of which are illustrated in two of the early spreads of this superb book –

and which I learn herein are sadly now in danger on account of deforestation.

Yes, many climbers are drawn to climb Everest each year, aiming for its summit, as they follow in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. That in itself is amazing but there is much more in the way of the mountain’s associated history, mythology, wildlife, religion and culture to find out about as Sangam Francis and Lisk Feng tell and show readers of this beautifully presented book.

We’re taken right back to the formation of the Himalayan range out of which, in Tibet and Nepal, Everest rises. Each of these countries has a name for the mountain: for Tibetans it’s Chomolunga or ‘Mother Goddess of the World’; in Nepal, she’s Saramatha ‘goddess of the Sky’.

For many cultures Mount Everest is a sacred place: in the valleys and passes leading to its peak are places of worship and prayer for both Hindus and Buddhists

and travellers will often see strings of prayer flags hanging from chortens such as this one –

Unsurprisingly there are a great many legends associated with the mountain, an especially famous one being that of the hidden kingdom of Shambhala, a place only the pure of heart can enter. The entire legend is outlined in the book.
Higher up the mountain, the landscape changes; the flora and fauna have adapted to survive the extreme cold and wind. Unfortunately though, climate change is affecting crucial habitats so that small, cold-loving creatures such as the furry-footed pika

will be forced to move and perhaps be unable to find the vital food they need for survival.

Everest is the home of five goddesses each of whom rides a different animal and wears a dazzlingly coloured robe. More about them is included on ‘The Five Sisters of Long Life’ spread.

Thereafter comes information about the sometimes perilous, climatic conditions; facts about those who have attempted to reach Everest’s summit including their equipment and climbing garb; the problems of waste is mentioned

and the legendary Yeti also makes an appearance.

Here is the Sanskrit word for Himalaya हिमालय, which translates as ‘the home of snow’: Everest is surely that and thanks to the creators of this cracking book, readers will likely be sucked into its multitude of wonders. Who knows, some may even be inspired to pay it a visit.

Dragon Post

Dragon Post
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

When narrator, Alex discovers a dragon in the basement of his house he quickly realises that he needs help: after all, the thing might set fire to his home. So, he writes to the fire brigade.

Thus begins a sequence of written communications in which the lad seeks expert advice from various other parties with regard to the creature’s feeding and general care.

We have to surmise what the boy writes; but the responses to his missives are presented in the form of small letters, notes and cards, each of which fits neatly into an envelope-shaped pocket.

Alex and his dragon have some amazing times together but eventually the lad realises that dragons do not make ideal pets. So he writes to his best friend Hillary (“the wisest person I knew.”)

Following her advice, Alex reluctantly bids his dragon a fond farewell after one more special day together.
That isn’t quite the end of the dragon though: the boy eventually receives a very special card in the mail …

Author/illustrator, Emma wrote this lovely book based on a story told to her by her husband who had an imaginary friend.

As a child, influenced by my avid reading of pony books I was horse mad; so much so that I would often find myself talking to my own imaginary horse – a beautiful chestnut colour it was and I named him Sorrel.
Sorrel would get me out of tricky situations and would come to me whenever I called his name. I’d sometimes find myself blaming the poor animal for leading me astray, venturing to places I’d been forbidden by my mother such as the overgrown part of my local park.
I also had a fairly large collection of horse statues from various parts of the world.
On a very recent trip to Udaipur, India I was saddened to learn of the likely demise in the city, of the centuries old craft of making wooden rocking horses so I decided to share it with my erstwhile imaginary horse friend.

My Dear Friend Sorrel,
I expect you are very surprised to hear from me after so many years. I hope you still remember me. I’m no longer that mischievous, bookish child you knew; I’m all grown up now, have become a teacher. I visit India at least once a year, mainly to see friends, and it’s something I discovered when I was away in Udaipur just recently that upset me and I want to tell you about it.
For many, many years Udaipur has been a big centre for making wooden toys.
The brightly coloured rocking horses were big sellers.
Now though there are just two men making them and they only plan to carry on for another couple of years. They say, nobody, or rather very few people, want to buy their horses now. Instead people prefer to buy their children plastic toys made in China or let them play on screens a lot of the time.
Here are 2 photos of the two craftsmen in their workshop.

And another of their beautiful horses.

A few years ago my artist friend Shahid Parvez specially ordered 500 plain horses from the two men, These were painted by school children from all over the city and exhibited in the grounds of Udaipur City Palace. Shahid hoped to make parents stop and think and perhaps encourage them to provide toys like this instead of letting them play all the time on tablets and mobiles. For a short while the sales of the horses rose dramatically but now again, nobody seems interested.
I can’t believe that this is nearly the end of such lovely toys and wonder if you have any ideas of ways to help; after all you are a horse and a very clever one.
I’m going back again in a few months so please put on that special thinking hat of yours.
Hope to hear from you soon.

Fond wishes, Jill xxx

What’s For Lunch, Papa Penguin?

What’s For Lunch, Papa Penguin?
Jo Williamson
Scholastic

Somewhere in the Antarctic is a café, the best in the region. It goes by the name of Papa and Pip’s. The only thing on the menu is fish, albeit served in a variety of ways: fried, baked, grilled, boiled; they even offer fish ice cream, lollies and pancakes. Seemingly fish is everyone’s favourite.

One day however, a customer demands something else.Papa Penguin is nonplussed but quick to respond.

He and Pippin set out on a long journey in search of some new culinary possibilities. The pandas certainly seem to relish bamboo shoots, after all they’re very bendy, but the chefs need more.
Next stop is a hot hilly location; the climate isn’t to their taste but the nuts, seeds and dates offered by some camels definitely hit the spot.

On they journey adding bread, cheese, cakes, chocolate shakes and yummy fruits to their trolley before heading back to the café.

Before long they’re ready to re-open with a brand new, lip-smacking menu that’s certain to please their faithful customers. Frank however, – the penguin whose demand for “something different” sent Papa and Pip off on their travels – has a surprise in store when he places his order …

Jo Williamson’s new offering is a taste-bud tickler set to please those with a liking for adventure especially of the comestible kind. Papa and Pip are a great comic team whose antics are sure to delight. Love the colour palette and the interplay between words and pictures.

I’d put this one on my early years menu any day.

Happy / As We Grow / We Are Together

Here’s a trio of books from Caterpillar Books one of the Little Tiger Group imprints that I was excited by on my return  home after three weeks away in India.

Happy
Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey
Caterpillar Books

Mindfulness is a popular theme at present and we’ve had several books on the subject for children in recent months, possibly as a response to the growing concern about the pressures even very young children are under in their everyday lives both in school and at home.

I know from experience that offering youngsters a brief period of quiet, calm time each day when they can be in the here and now away from the stresses and strains of life leads to a happier, more relaxed classroom or home atmosphere.

This beautiful book encourages children to become mindful, offering them some ways to be in the moment, to explore their emotions by tuning in to their senses in a meditative manner. They can listen to the natural sounds around them; or tune in to and focus on their feelings. Tension can be released not only from our minds but also our bodies in a manner similar to that at the end of a yoga session when participants are encouraged to tense and relax the muscles in their bodies one by one until the whole body is completely relaxed.

How many of us really pay attention to what we eat, to savour every mouthful noticing the texture and flavour as we chew: it’s a really great way of being mindful and perhaps more appreciative of our food.

Touch too is a way of connecting and calming, particularly when outdoors in natural surroundings; looking with awareness too works to calm and connect as do smelling and deep slow breathing.

The gorgeous illustrations and gentle, rhyming text herein will surely encourage children to slow down and become mindful, to discover that place of peace that’s deep within us all.

As We Grow
Libby Walden and Richard Jones
Caterpillar Books

This Walden/Jones collaboration is a great way to look at life as a journey full of changes, challenges and joy, that begins as a very tiny babe totally unaware of what is to come as we grow and travel through the years. What we can be sure of though, is that each stage will be different, full of excitement and new adventures. There’s that toddling stage that opens up a myriad of new experiences and quickly gives way to the more assured young child full of imaginative ideas, when language develops rapidly and words are a toy and a tool. Fuelled (one hopes) by mind-opening books a plenty that help with those ‘hows’, whys’ and whats’.

The transformation into a teen is a dramatic one when times are unsettled, restless and confusing, a time of self-discovery prior to adulthood; in the early stages of which independence and challenge go hand in hand before perhaps settling down and maybe even becoming the parent of a new little one.

Like life, this entire book is full of beautiful, memorable stopping points

richly portrayed in Richard Jones gorgeous scenes and Libby Walden’s lyrical text.

We Are Together
Britta Teckentrup
Caterpillar Books

Britta Teckentrup celebrates human diversity through a rhyming text and her inimitable vibrant style illustrations with their peep through cut out pages.

What better way to encourage young children to value togetherness than these opening lines: ‘On our own we’re special, / and we can chase our dream, / But when we join up, hand in hand, / together, we’re a team.’

Readers are then presented with a sequence of gorgeous scenes of children out together in the natural world that will surely encourage positive feelings in youngsters both about themselves and others.

Perfect for sharing in foundation stage settings and a great starting point for a circle time discussion.

Rosa Loves Cars / Looking Good! / Matchstick Monkey: Colours

Rosa Loves Cars
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play

This is one of a new board book series that celebrates the uniqueness of every child; it stars car loving Rosa. She likes nothing better than to do stunts and act out scenarios with her vehicles small and large.

Using her imagination along with some small world toys. she plays with them and her pals in a variety of places such as in the sandpit and on the car mat.
Finally Rosa and friend Samira use a large cardboard box to build a car themselves; it’s a great place for having a snack.
Rosa is a delight and it’s great to see books for the very youngest that promote gender equality.

Looking Good!
Ailie Busby
Child’s Play

We meet five adorable babies who have a characteristic- floppy ears, big eyes, pointy nose, sharp teeth and little toes and fingers – similar to in turn, Elephant, Bush baby,

Fox, Crocodile and Lizard.

Infants beginning to talk will soon enjoy being able to join in the repeat ‘So do I!’ hidden beneath the flap on each spread.
With their various expressions, the babes show off their particular feature that is similar to the animal flap beneath which they hide.

Fun, interactive and great for promoting early language.

Matchstick Monkey: Colours
Ladybird Books

Some people tend to show off and brag about their talents, confident in their ability to be the best no matter what. Others just quietly get on with the job and surprise everyone.
So it is with the simian inhabitants of Matchstick Jungle. Red monkey with his dazzling spins is convinced he’s the quickest and certain to win the race; the swaying blue monkeys think otherwise.

So do the zigzagging yellow and pink monkeys, while loop the looping green monkey thinks he’s the speediest and bouncing orange monkey announces that he’s fastest of all.
But what about quiet, unassuming grey Matchstick Monkey, could it be that he has something to show the others …

As well as enjoying the simple story, toddlers will have great fun using a finger and following the trails of each of the competitors in this Matchstick Monkey teether-toy inspired board book and develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination at the same time. They might also enlarge their understanding of some colour names along the way.

Where Happiness Lives / One Day So Many Ways

Where Happiness Lives
Barry Timms and Greg Abbott
Little Tiger

What is your idea of a perfect house; perhaps it’s similar to one of the three we visit courtesy of their mouse owners each of which thinks they have the perfect home, to begin with that is.

First off we visit Grey Mouse’s residence: it’s just the right size for him and his family and it’s built in the shade of a wonderful oak tree. In short, it’s just perfect.

 

But then out walking one day, he comes upon an impressive-looking residence with a balcony belonging to White Mouse. What more could any mouse want, thinks Grey Mouse. But he’s soon to find out, for his new acquaintance too has his sights set on a bigger, better residence.

Together the two set off to climb the mountain whereon this amazing place is to be found. Herein lives Brown Mouse who is quick to invite her visitors in for a guided tour of her luxurious home.

A surprise is in store though, for Brown Mouse has a telescope and what she shows her visitors through its lens causes them to stop and rethink the whole notion of home and contentment.

Greg Abbott’s mice are truly enchanting and there’s a plethora of cutaways and flaps to explore and delight little ones in the splendid illustrations that accompany Barry Timms’ engaging, gentle rhyming narrative.

One Day So Many Ways
Laura Hall and Loris Lora
Lincoln Children’s Books

None of us adults spends their day in exactly the same way and so it is with children and the latter is the focus of Laura Hall and Loris Lora’s splendidly diverse close up on the lives of some 40 children from different parts of the world over 24 hours. Readers will be able to compare and contrast as they follow the youngsters as they wake up in their various homes, have breakfast and go to school.

We watch them as they learn, play, get together with friends, enjoy quiet times;

eat lunch, engage in sports, participate in creative activities and more.

After school there’s the inevitable homework for many; but there’s also time to spend with the family; time to read, to sleep and to dream.

Every spread in this lightning world tour focuses on a different aspect of the day with bright engaging artwork and brief descriptions. It’s a great book for opening up discussion among primary children and enormous fun to pore over particularly with another person.
Good to have on a family bookshelf or in your classroom library; either way it’s engaging and delivered with style.

Nipper and the Lunchbox / Gently Bentley!

Nipper and the Lunchbox
Lucy Dillamore
Child’s Play

Nipper truly loves his owner, Richard who has to leave him at home all alone when he sets off to work every morning.

One day in his haste, Richard forgets his lunchbox; Nipper spies it on the kitchen worktop and sets forth to take it to him.

Handle in mouth, the dedicated dog journeys through the countryside

and after a somewhat perilous journey with all kinds of mishaps en route including getting completely lost in a market, manages to reach the town; albeit with some timely assistance and locate Richard’s Toyshop.

Once there he has to track down its owner and then finds himself the centre of attention as crowds of people stop to look at the wonderful new window display.

It’s a thoroughly satisfying finale as Richard makes him a partner at his shop and thus there are no more lonely days for Nipper. …

Lucy’s slightly muted, soft-focus illustrations are full of things to spot, particularly in the bustling market square scene where Nipper gets himself lost: there’s the plethora of pants that the creature then manages to get himself entangled with.

Nipper he might be named, but this small canine creature is determined, brave and resourceful. Based on a real life rescue dog, his story is a delight.

Gently Bentley!
Caragh Buxton
Child’s Play

Like most five year olds, young Bentley rhino is bursting with energy, easily excitable and thus, apt to get into trouble. “Gently Bentley!’ comes the oft repeated cry from his mum or dad as the little guy creates havoc in the living room; manages to slop his breakfast in all the wrong places;

he even causes a crack to appear across the ceiling, so exuberantly does he dash down the stairs before school.
It’s much the same at school; he trips and scatters his belongings everywhere, whizzes madly around the playground alarming his classmates. Again it’s a case of “Gently Bentley” this time from his teacher and pals.
Then on the way home he manages to terrorise the ducks.

Once indoors however, he spies Baby fast asleep in the cot. Now we see a totally different side of big brother, Bentley.

Many families and all early years teachers will recognise Caragh Buxton’s Bentley; he’s thoroughly endearing and let’s say, super-spirited. Perhaps though, he could do with a little bit of regular yoga breathing or mindfulness.

Angry Cookie

Angry Cookie
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

Who can resist the words of the chief protagonist on the back cover: “Don’t even think about opening this book, you nosy noodle. I’m warning you. I am very angry.”
Of course, like me you will immediately open the book and discover that Cookie IS angry, very angry and causing him to have daylight flooding into the book and thus his bedroom, is quite simply, intolerable.

However since we’ve already committed that outrageous act and are apparently not going anywhere, the biccy feels bound to share the reasons why he’s so aggrieved.

It’s on account of the previous day – a terrible one by all accounts – that began when flat mate Barbra insisted on playing the same tune on her new recorder over and over. (Cookie has my sympathies there.)

Next came running out of his favourite sweet toothpaste and having to use an unpleasant spicy one instead.

Even worse though was the bad haircut that forced our cookie narrator to wear an ill-fitting hat; unsurprisingly nobody makes hats for cookies, hence the bad fit that makes him a source of amusement to others.

If you can believe it though, the day has to throw in an even bigger disaster. Angry Cookie heads to the ice cream parlour, his heart set on his favourite vanilla sundae topped with all manner of yummy sprinkles and served in a tall glass. But – I’m sure you’ve already guessed – they’ve run out. Can you blame the poor thing for his anger?

Then on the way home along comes a bird that almost makes a meal of Angry Cookie himself;

but perhaps there is one consolation. Could our devotion and friendship be the key to a happier Cookie? After all we have stuck around despite all that the self-confessed ‘grumpy lump, horrid humph’ has said and done, so it’s worth waiting around a little longer to see if happiness is lurking somewhere under that tiny titfer.

What a deliciously quirky, witty tale Laura Dockrill has cooked up. Young children will adore this grump of a character and likely identify with his moody moaning.

Maria Karipidou has done a terrific job portraying Angry Cookie, making him, despite all that ranting, a character one cannot help but love right from the start.

Destined to become an early years storytime favourite methinks, and a great starting point for talking about emotions.

Dark Sky Park

Dark Sky Park
Philip Gross illustrated by Jesse Hodgson
Otter-Barry Books

To say this book is extraordinary is no exaggeration.

Crafted with consummate skill every one of the poems is a gem, not least those that make up the four Tardigrade Sagas. There are, so Philip Gross tells us in a note, over 1000 tardigrade species; they’ve been on earth for 500 million years and are known also as water bears or moss piglets.
Tardigrade in its Element begins thus: ‘This is the kingdom of the Water Bear. / To enter here, you have to shrink / and slow down, down. / A day is one tick of the clock, one blink // of the sun’s eye.’

In Tardigrade in the Cambrian Era we learn: ‘I was there from the off – / the sound of life revving up all over. / This was, oh, a cool half billion years ago.’ Amazing, tiny eight-legged creatures, who can but marvel at such small wonders less than ½ mm. long? Here’s Tardigrade in Focus: ‘OK, so you imagine it: something / a thousand times your size – // a medium village, maybe, or a cloud / with an enquiring mind – // stops. Bends down very close … / Gets out its magnifying glass // and looks at you.’

In complete contrast very recent happenings are powerfully evoked in Aleppo Cat. Herein Gross describes a cat’s wanderings in the ruined city: ‘ First, months / of flash, thud, shudder. // then the wailing … // Months , // that’s half a young cat’s life’ … ‘Where the bread smells came from … // Gone. //And where the fish man // tossed the bones. // Gone. // Where the children chased her // with fierce cuddles, too young // to know their strength. // Gone.’
I have Syrian friends who came from that city a couple of years back with their two young children; this one made me shudder.

There’s humour too however, as in Extreme Aunt who ‘set off to school // with her four huskies, mush, mush! // to outrun the polar bears’; remembered as being ‘poised // on the diving board, the top, //with the wind in her hair. // She had to go further, further and it seems, // too far.’ Now she’s vanished and presently there’s a submarine searching for her.

There’s an Extreme Uncle and Extreme Dining too, if you’re fond of things in the extreme: the latter, a French establishment boasts ‘Pick our Own. // The whole garden’s underwater, a mangrove swamp. // You pay your money, you get your canoe, // (in the shadows, dark ripples and a sluggish // splash … ) your Swiss Army knife and harpoon.’ … Seemingly ‘It’s true // what the menu says: Our food’s so fresh // it bites. Eat it before it eats you’.
I think I’ll give this place a miss; it definitely doesn’t sit well with my vegetarian sensibilities.

Instead I’ll head over to The Extreme Music Festival and perhaps listen to The Storm Harp: ‘Tune up the mountain to the pitch // of music. Set each blade quivering. // Turn up the wind // until the hillside shudders like an animal // shrugging its pelt to scratch an itch.’ // Hear its sigh. Bring on the bad maraccas / of the slipping scree. The landslide starts.’

So vivid, as is, Moon Music: ‘She longed for night. // Now she sits with heavy // curtains open just a chink – a slant, a glint, a cool spark // in the darkened room, // hears how light pings // a prism off the mirror’s edge, // her glass of water tinkling // at its wink.’ Awesome.

Gross invites children in a footnote, to imagine their own kinds of extreme music noting, “The fantastical answers may turn out to say a lot about a real place, or person”.

This is a book to make its readers wonder, imagine, look, look and look again, listen and then wonder more. Gross’s poetic voice is enormously enriching, sometimes challenging, but always accessible.

Illustrator Jesse Hodgson has done a fine job illuminating many of the poems; her inky drawings are on occasion funny, beautiful, arresting or even downright scary,

sinister even.

If you want children to be tuned in to the magic and music of language, and who doesn’t, then this treasure trove is your book.

Stories of the Night

Stories of the Night
Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

Here’s a gorgeous little book to share at bedtime that reminded me a tad of one of Arnold Lobel’s stories in Mouse Tales. It begins with Little Bear requesting three stories from his Mother as she tucks him into bed and she’s happy to oblige; seemingly this is part and parcel of their usual bedtime routine.

The first tale is “The one that says it’s time to go to sleep,” as Little Bear describes it and features a Night Guardian – an oldish, long haired woman who goes about the forest banging her gong and announcing to all the forest animals that they must cease what they’re doing for bedtime has arrived and they must sleep.

Then having put all the creatures to bed, she returns home and she too sleeps, but not before she’s banged her gong (very gently) just one more time.

The second story is of a sword-carrying child, Zhora who gets lost in the forest while out picking blackberries and is given shelter for the night by her bat friend, Jacko Mollo.

The third is also seemingly a familiar story, “The one with the man in a big coat who never sleeps!” as Little Bear describes it. This character, Bo, keeps his coat on all the time and has in exchange for his silver watch, been allowed to take up residence in a nest that once belonged to a grumpy old owl. An absolute delight, this tells how the sleepless Bo is persuaded by Otto otter to go for a swim in his overcoat, gives away his hat and finally gets himself a wonderful night’s sleep.

Kitty Crowther uses some beautiful sleep inducing recitations such as “The sky is all black now. But we can count on the stars to lead us into tomorrow.” and “Choose a star to lead you into tomorrow” that I can envisage being used with little humans as well as Little Bear.

Crowther’s pink glowing, textured scenes are an absolute delight, infused as they are with warmth and love, be that between Mother Bear and her infant, or the other characters in the tales she tells.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of stories, this is a small gem.

Norbert

Norbert
Joanna Boyle
Templar Books
Why would anyone with a whole lot of friends and family decide to uproot himself and set off for distant shores? That’s what penguin Norbert decides to do when he discovers one day, a flyer about a musical in the big city.
None of his fellow penguins shows the least bit of interest in joining him so, sad as he feels at their lack of enthusiasm, Norbert sets sail on a somewhat perilous voyage of rough waters and seasickness

that finally takes him to an enormous city.

Perhaps it’s time to write home, he thinks but the sight of the theatre sends the notion clean out of his head. Instead he heads straight inside where he is quickly spellbound by the performance.
Immediately, Norbert knows he too wants to be on the stage. He joins a long line of auditioners – singers, all.
The judges are seemingly, impressed; but the role they allocate Norbert isn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.

He does get a chance to try his flippers at various other jobs too; plenty to tell those at home, yet still he doesn’t write.

Then one day, the star of the show –something of a prima donna – quits and guess who is asked to step in.

Norbert wows the audience; he’s a star. Life as a famous singer comprises rounds of party going, being a passenger in a limousine and singing in every Broadway musical you can think of. Still he doesn’t write that letter home.

When he wins a prestigious award, the star penguin suddenly feels there is something he really must do – right away.
Letter of apology duly penned and posted he waits for a response.

Meanwhile back in the Antarctic his penguin pals have been busy organising something special to welcome him home.

What could it be? They’ve certainly been inspired by their friend and are eager that he return to their midst.

Joanna Boyle has created a super story of determination, difference, following and fulfilling your dreams and friendship. Imbued in turn with pathos and humour, her illustrations both large and small are staged with impressive style.

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror
Dan Metcalf, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Maverick Arts Publishing

This, the second in a series of four, will be welcomed by those who relished The Rise of the Raptors but equally, new readers will quickly be sucked in to this new adventure of Adam Caine, sister Chloe and friends. They’re still on that quest to obtain all four Dilotron crystals and thus disarm the lab. producing the biological weapon that will wipe out all dinosaur life on their planet; the lab. with the computer that Adam had accidentally activated. Thus far the adventurers have two of those crucial catastrophe-preventing crystals and the hunt is on – urgently.

Their possible location is Pteratopolis, city of pterosaurs, unknown territory for Adam and his gang.There’s a slight snag though, these particular dinos. are flying creatures and Pteratopolis is a fortress with enormously high, wooden walls. Climbing skills are crucial if the friends are to enter. Or, alternatively what about Dag’s suggestion that he makes use of his heli-kit, albeit with some modifications to the metal blades. In other words, the proposal is that Dag turns himself into a living saw mill; it might just work.

adventure,

It does; now all they have to do is locate the next crystal. What could be easier?

A spot of tree-scaling is needed and inevitably, adventurous Adam is on his way up before his companions can utter, “… break his neck”. But then having reached his destination, he finds himself, courtesy of imprinting, the adopted mother of a newly hatched pterosaur. Oh dear! Consequences again Adam …

Co-existence, co-operation, kindness, diplomacy and daring are all part and parcel of this absorbing, fast-moving,  turning twisting tale; so too are Aaron Blecha’s super comic style illustrations that are scattered throughout the story.

As for securing the object of their quest? You’ll need to secure yourself a copy of the book to find out what happens when Adam and Chloe enter the labyrinth …

Errol’s Garden

Errol’s Garden
Gillian Hibbs
Child’s Play

Urban tower-block-dwelling Errol loves to grow things; he knows he’s good at the job as his family starts running out of space in their cramped home. The green-fingered lad dreams of having a real garden to cultivate and one day discovers the perfect spot: a flat roof on top of the very block he lives in.

With the help of his Dad and small sister, he researches

and then enlists the help of all his friends and neighbours and together they draw up a plan.

Everyone has something to contribute …

and they each take on a different aspect of project garden until together they create a smashing green space that’s full of plants both edible and beautiful to look at.

What joy to be able to harvest produce from right there atop their very own place of residence

and to have a place that’s constantly changing and surprising them.

As well as a celebration of cultivating a community garden, this smashing story celebrates diversity and co-operation.
Errol is both enterprising and inspiring: a lad to emulate no matter whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural environment.

I am at present living in a house in the country with a huge garden, so I know the enormous pleasure of being able to consume home-grown produce – plums, apples, strawberries, beans, tomatoes and chard – to name just some of its bounties, for several months of the year. You can’t beat that and it’s what bursts forth from Gillian Hibbs’ super spreads.

Thoroughly recommended for families and classrooms.

Mae’s First Day of School / No Frogs in School

Mae’s First Day of School
Kate Berube
Abrams Books for Young Readers

I loved the author’s Hannah and Sugar book and this one is equally charming.

It’s Mae’s first day at school and she definitely does not want to go.
En route while her mum enthuses about all the fun things school has in store, Mae worries about all the possible bad things that might happen: the other children won’t like her, she’s she only one unable to write; she’ll miss her mum.

Once at school she hides in a large tree, refusing to come down; but then somebody else joins her; it’s Rosie another reluctant new pupil.

After a while, some of the other children go inside; not so the tree climbers. Suddenly up the tree comes a tall lady, Ms Pearl.

It’s also her first day and she too is worried. Suppose the children don’t like her, supposing she forgets vital spellings; suppose she misses her cat …

As well as her list of worries though, Ms Pearl has some reassuring words for Mae and Rosie. Perhaps rather than becoming tree dwellers they should venture down and go in together for their first day …

A reassuring, first day story that’s perfect for those just starting in a reception class. It’s full of charm and gentle humour; Kate Berube’s expressive illustrations portray those first day nerves wonderfully well.

No Frogs in School
A LaFaye and Eglantine Ceulemans
Sterling

Pet loving Bartholomew insists on taking one of his animals to school every day. On Monday it’s Ferdinand frog but the creature causes havoc in the art lesson so teacher Mr Patanoose bans frogs.

On Tuesday Sigfried salamander needs company so off he goes with Bartholomew (after all he’s not one of the banned animals). However he too causes classroom chaos and is put on the banned list along with all other amphibians.

Wednesday sees a hamster in the classroom via the pocket on Bartholomew’s bag but the creature gets out and the consequence is a ‘no rodents in school’ rule.

A snake is Thursday’s school visitor and the outcome is a ban on reptiles.

Friday is show and tell day but ‘no pets’ is what Mr Patanoose firmly insists. Now surely it wouldn’t hurt to take Rivka rabbit along would it, thinks Bartholomew.
But can he get away with taking a soft furry mammal for the event? After all he’s something of a rule subverter …

Fun and also informative is this story of classroom chaos and a pet-loving boy who tries to keep one step ahead of his teacher. The energetic illustrations are zany and full of things to enjoy.

Polonius the Pit Pony

Polonius the Pit Pony
Richard O’Neill and Feronia Parker-Thomas
Child’s Play

Having taught many Traveller children in various London schools, I was thrilled to have this new addition to Child’s Play’s books that feature travellers and their way of life.

This one tells of an erstwhile pit pony that escapes his underground life and gets in with a group of horses belonging to a Travelling family. Initially there’s some reluctance on their part to accept a pit pony: Grandad in particular wants to send him back to his fellow pit ponies but eventually he is persuaded to keep the animal and his granddaughter, young Lucretia volunteers to help look after the newcomer.

Polonius is quick to adapt to Travelling life and the children love him. Now all that Polonius wants is to be thought of as a hero.

One day his chance comes when the entire family has a large order of wooden stools to deliver to the docks in Daddo’s brand new truck, in time to be shipped to the USA the very next afternoon.

Next morning though, when they are due to set off, the family is engulfed in a thick blanket of fog that’s come down overnight. Could there be another way to make that important delivery? Perhaps with Grandad’s cart, so long as they can find an animal willing to brave the thick fog and lead the way to the docks.
It looks as though Polonious’s chance to thank his new family and be a hero has come …

Romany storyteller, Richard O’Neill introduces readers to a wonderful, hardworking, loving Traveller family. With a sprinkling of traveller dialect he roots the family in its culture, an early 20thC industrial countryside, although some of the words are still used today. Readers and listeners will be able to work out the gist of the meaning of the occasional unfamiliar words from the context.
Feronia Parker Thomas’ scenes of a bygone rural life are painted with delicacy and really show the warmth of family feeling for one another and for their animals.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Monster Mystery / Princesses Save the World

Winnie and Wilbur:The Monster Mystery
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

In the latest Winnie and Wilbur adventure we find the witch regretting not having trimmed back some of the forest of trees that now surrounds her house, and pondering upon the maker of a trail of footprints across her garden.
Wilbur is reluctant to investigate fearing it’s a monster but even so they both sally forth.
Trip hazards lead the pair to mount the broomstick but that only ends with Wilbur crash-landing upon, so he thinks, ‘a big hairy monster’. Suddenly he’s surrounded by green hairy beasties that, having removed the debris from his fur,

turn out to be friendly; not the footprint makers then, decides the moggy.

Winnie meanwhile is hunting for her cat and soon resorts to her wand with which she magics a maze-like path

that eventually leads her to the object of her search.

Time to head home but that still leaves the question of the forest surrounding their house with darkness.

Tada! Winnie has an idea: if you can’t move the forest, maybe there’s another way; and out comes her magic wand once more …
As for the foot-print maker: well, we’d better ask Wilbur.

Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades never fail to delight and so it is with this one, which has a rather greener look about it than most of Valerie and Korky’s books in this series.

Princesses Save the World
Savannah Guthrie, Allison Oppenheim and Eva Byrne
Abrams

The pants-wearing princesses have a mission. When Princess Penelope Pineapple learns that Princess Sabrina Strawberry is in trouble on account of a lack of bees she knows she must help. The crops have failed and so there’ll be no fruit at all.

Fortunately however, Penny has plenty of bees that she cares for and so summoning her princess pals she promises to return.

The task in hand is one requiring co-operative teamwork and a conference is called and it seems that others too have had a bad fruit yield.

They gather supplies, construct new hives to house Penelope’s bees and then all that’s needed is the little insects themselves.

To get them buzzing into the hives the princesses create a deliciously aromatic scent that soon gets them swarming.

Thereafter it’s action stations and off they go back to Strawberry Shores where the bees are released and …

As the author reminds her readers on the final page, Sabrina Strawberry’s bee crisis is now one that due in large part to harmful pesticide use and environmental changes, has become all too common and honeybee numbers are on the decline. If Savannah and Allison’s story inspires young readers (who will doubtless delight in the jazzy outfits Eva Byrne has dressed the princesses in) to get involved in the cause of these crucial little creatures, then in addition to providing an enjoyable tale its creators will have done their bit to raise awareness of the bee crisis.

The Queen’s Lift-Off

The Queen’s Lift-Off
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Those of us who watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics will probably recall that Her Majesty the Queen was, so we were led to believe, parachuted into the stadium.
Who would have thought that just a few years later she’d find herself blasting off into space aboard the rocket she’s just helped the little prince and princess to build?

WHOOOSH! goes the Queen, zooming faster than the speed of light, first to Mercury. After which, comet-like she soars to Venus,

before coming to land on the Moon’s surface

from whence it’s merely a matter of a single giant leap to the Red Planet.

Then she boldly takes flight towards Jupiter before she’s off again to spin rings around Saturn.

Zipping on past Uranus and Neptune, not forgetting little Pluto, she’s suddenly sucked into an enormous black hole.

Surely that cannot be the end of Her Royal Highness?

Not so: thank the universe then, for a passing spaceship that succeeds in safely beaming her up and depositing her safe and sound and none the worse for her awesome adventure, back in the palace garden, where it just happens to be afternoon tea-time. Hurrah!

And who, or what, should be there to serve it up …

Into his seemingly simple story Steve manages to weave some wonderful textual references to Star Trek and the American moon landings.

As always however, it’s the awesome illustrations that carry not just one, but many stories (as well as visual starting points for children’s own storying). However many times one looks at them there always seems to be something new to discover and enjoy. In this story there’s the ever -increasing number of loyal companions the Queen has on her journey, as well as a little alien and his flying saucer which appear from time to time.
Oh and of course, in each and every scene there’s a royal corgi complete with space-helmet, looking as though he’s thoroughly enjoying every minute of the adventure, Oddly enough, her highness just happens to have some dog biscuits (along with her lippy, perfume spray, specs and the various other necessities she carries in her handbag).
I’m guessing since its near loss, she’s never parted from this vital article of personal storage.

I think this series just keeps on reaching new heights; this one is my favourite thus far, although I was probably predisposed so to think because I was lucky enough to have my review copy signed and handed to me by Steve himself. You can’t get better than that – until the next one, perhaps.

Board Book Friends: Guess How Much I Love You:Here I Am! A Finger Puppet Book / Maisy’s House

Guess How Much I Love You:Here I Am! A Finger Puppet Book
Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
Walker Books

Here’s a super-gorgeous finger puppet board book about everyone’s favourite Little Nutbrown hare and his adoring Big Nutbrown hare.
To delight all little ones and their adults the two engage in a game of hide-and-seek in the environs of their favourite tree.

Little Nutbrown hare likes to play over and over, hiding in different places and eagerly responding to Big Nutbrown hare’s “Where are you …? with a cry of “Here I am!”.

The game continues until Big Nutbrown hare is tired out and in need of a good rest: still though the little one has boundless energy as shown with the final … HERE I AM!”

What better company for a game of peek-a-boo with a baby or toddler, than the adorable plush finger puppet Little Nutbrown hare: total delight throughout.

Maisy’s House
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy’s House is I think, a board book reworking of a much larger pop-up book published some years back.

Ever popular with tinies, Maisy Mouse invites them to visit her house and share her day. It’s a day she spends with Panda and Little Black Cat as they wake up, brush their teeth, dress and have breakfast.

Then Maisy gets creative,

plays and bakes some yummy cupcakes for the visitor due to arrive soon.

Before long, rat-a-tat; there’s Tallulah and it’s time for tea and more fun together.

With its fold-out play scene with pop-out pieces of Maisy and her pal, this simple, brightly coloured story is smashing fun for little ones. They may well need a little assistance manipulating the small removable parts and slotting them together.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer
Il Sung Na
Chronicle Books

Pig, an admirer of birds has a dream; he too wants to fly.

He’s a determined creature and having watched them fly south he sets to work to discover the secrets of flight. With the help of his friends – assorted feathered ones, a horse, a rabbit and a pink pachyderm – he amasses information, develops plans, fails …

modifies, perseveres and finally, he is triumphant. Ambition achieved: he can fly like a bird.

Still not satisfied, the sky’s the limit, decides Pig as he sits staring up at a large round object amid the stars.
His achievements inspire others the world over

and yet … ‘in my beginning is my end’ to borrow some words from T.S.Eliot; and so it is with this story that ends as it began, “Once, there was a pig who admired birds.’

This is a beautiful tale made all the more so by the fact that the book was inspired by Il Sung Na’s own life journey towards becoming a creator of picture books. He clearly has a sense of humour as is shown in his somewhat whimsical ink and pencil, digitally composited illustrations. I love the scene of Pig sitting beneath the tree with an apple falling before his eyes a la Newton; and that of the friends also gathered under that same tree with an apple precariously balanced on a branch ready to drop.

Dream big, work hard, seek advice, never give up and eventually with determination and imagination, success will come. So it was for Pig, so it will be one hopes, for young children who share in his story. It’s simple yet profound.

Peace and Me

Peace and Me
Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi
Lantana Publishing

Inspired by a dozen winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Ali Winter and illustrator Mickaël El Fathi celebrate the lives of these amazing people, allocating a double spread each to the recipients.

The first award was made in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel himself who designated five categories for the award he instigated; and brief background information is provided about him at the outset.

We then embark on a chronological journey of the inspiring prize-winners, starting in 1901 with Jean Henry Dunant who founded the organisation that became the Red Cross,

and ending with Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 winner who stood up to the Taliban in the cause of girls’ education. (There’s a visual time line at the beginning, and a world map at the end showing in which country the recipients live/d.)

We meet familiar names including Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu

and my all time hero Nelson Mandela, as well as some perhaps, lesser known recipients, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Fridtjof Nansen and Wangari Maathia to name three.

Information about the life and times of each is provided, along with an outline of their contribution to peace.

Mickaël El Fathi illustrates the characters beautifully using textured, patterned digital artwork, cleverly embodying the essence of the recipient’s life’s work into his portrayal of each one, and incorporated into which is an appropriate catchphrase.

The book concludes with a list of actions that together might form a definition of peace and a final question to readers: ‘What does peace mean to you?’
These provide a great starting point for discussion with a class or group as well, one hopes, as an encouragement to lead a peaceful life. After all, peace begins with me.
From small beginnings, great things grow: that is what each of the wonderful exemplars featured herein demonstrates.

I’d like to see a copy of this book (it’s endorsed by Amnesty International) in every primary classroom collection and in every home.

There’s Room for Everyone

There’s Room For Everyone
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl

The narrator of this book, whom we first meet in his mother’s womb, takes us through his growing understanding of the notion that no matter how small or large, space can always be shared, so long as those involved are empathetic, understanding and willing to accommodate others.

The boy observes the plethora of toys that fit into his bedroom, the sky that contains all the stars and the moon, the garden that has room for all the birds and the library that can hold all the books he wants to read and more.

As a grown-up, he takes to the sea exploring the world. On his travels he sees the plethora of fish (and whales) the sea can contain; the places on land that are home to vast numbers of animals.

Sadly however, he also observes humans fighting for space – on public transport,

at places of work, in loos even; and much worse, fighting wars over territory.

However, his travels have, as travels do, widened his horizons and his understanding of the best way to live, and it’s that crucial understanding he shares on the final spread.

I read this book on a lovely sunny morning, having just returned from Waitrose where I observed in the car park an interaction between two car owners. One belonging to an elderly couple, who had parked their car in one of the comparatively few spaces allocated for those with infants and pushchairs. (The rest were already in use). The other was a large estate car driven by a man (presumably with a child on board, though I couldn’t see). He was blocking the access to all the parking spaces while in the process of being extremely verbally abusive to the couple just getting into their car: the language he hurled at them isn’t fit to be included here. The car park had plenty of other empty spaces. I thought to myself how ridiculous and unthinking the guy was being, swearing horribly at the two, who were just getting back into their car anyway. Yes, perhaps technically they were in the wrong; but surely it was a demonstration of what the essence of Anahita Teymorian’s heart-warming, and oh so true picture book is showing us and what its narrator shares on the final spread: ‘If we are kinder, and if we love each other then, in this beautiful world, there’s room for everyone.’

Looking further outwards though, the book is also a pertinent reminder of our sad, for some, inward-looking BREXIT times, as well as of the way our country now appears a hostile place for those looking to live here, be that as refugees and asylum seekers, those with medical skills, seasonal workers, musicians, artists or whatever.

Beautifully illustrated with a quirky humour, its messages of kindness, peace and understanding, of altruism and sharing what we have, are crucial reminders for all who care about humanity at large, rather than just their own little niche.

Let’s break down boundaries, not only here but in other parts of the world where barriers, real and virtual, are set up for selfish, inward-looking reasons.

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions

Daniel discovering some amazing inventions …

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

What struck me immediately while reading about the amazing inventions in this book, is the crucial role of the imagination in each and every one of them; something all too many of those who’ve played a part in side-lining or cutting completely, creative subjects in schools seem to have overlooked or disregarded.
Without the power of imagination none of these ground-breaking ideas would ever have been conceived let alone come to fruition.

Weird and wacky-seeming, for sure: this book is brimming over with quirky, illustrated facts about all kinds of inventions and discoveries from penicillin to plastic-using pens; the matchstick to the microwave.

What about a nanobot so tiny it could swim inside a human body to perform medical procedures;

or non-melting ice-cream that retains its shape for hours .You can buy the stuff – it’s called Kanazawa – in Japan.

How super to have a pair of super-light, super-strong trainers made from spider silk that can be composted once they’re finished with.

Or perhaps a garment made of fabric that can be cleaned by holding it up to the light. Aussie scientists have manufactured such a fabric and it contains tiny structures that release a burst of energy that degrades stains; yes please.

Certainly the roads around the country could do with making use of the self-healing concrete developed by Dutch microbiologist, Hendrik Marius Jonkers. It uses bacteria to heal cracks in buildings and roads.

Even more surprising than some of the inventions themselves is the fact that they were accidentally discovered, penicillin being one, superglue another.

Hours of immersive, fun-filled learning made all the more enjoyable by author James Olstein’s quirky, retro-style illustrations on every spread.