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.

Eva’s Imagination

Eva’s Imagination
Wenda Shurety and Karen Erasmus
New Frontier Publishing

When a little girl announces that she’s bored her mum’s, “What’s happened to your imagination, Eva?” response triggers a wonderful adventure in which she and her canine companion Chops go on a search, although Eva doesn’t know what an imagination actually is.

It’s a search that takes them all over the house as they journey into a forest,

climb mountains, explore a cave, visit a rainforest full of colourful creatures – some a bit scary. They discover a long-lost toy rabbit and some books …

but don’t find Eva’s imagination, or do they?

Eva certainly declares it “the best adventure”.

A wry look at the importance of allowing children to be bored, for that is when the all-important imagination often kicks in. After all, It’s that ability to stand back and say, “suppose that …’ or what if …’ in other words, the power of the imagination that has led to so many discoveries be they scientific, mathematical, technological.

Karen Erasmus clearly understands that as she transforms the interior landscape of Eva’s home into some wonderfully exciting places for the two searchers to explore.

Hurrah for an author and illustrator who understand just how crucial imagination is.

All About Ben / The Giant from Nowhere

All About Ben
Dorothy Markham & Aileen O’Donnell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a little book for children from around five to the age of Ben, the narrator who is eight, particularly those who have attachment issues, but equally for children who have a Ben character in their lives either as a friend, member of their peer group or relation. It aims to help children like Ben understand their feelings and emotions and how these cause them to behave in certain ways; and to develop the confidence to open up to an adult who can help them manage all their different parts.

Ben introduces himself, part by part: his action parts and nine feeling parts.

He goes on to talk about and give examples of, how different situations cause him to feel different parts – when playing with friends he feels his happy part whereas falling out with a friend brings his hurt part into play;

when he helps others he feels his caring part; and it’s the combination of all these different parts that makes him who he is.

Readers are then asked about their own feeling parts to add to Ben’s lists and we learn how feeling parts affect action parts (cause and effect) – which is important for children’s self understanding.

The final pages are devoted to the crucial roles of talking and listening (including the role of a trusted adult) in the development of a secure, integrated, happy and confident person able to understand and manage his/her emotions.

Reassuring and helpful, this is a useful book to have in primary school classrooms.

The Giant from Nowhere
Frances Dickens and Peter Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When the Giant from Nowhere sets out to find a place with some company, little does he know that his sheer size is going to cause him problems. So it is in the little village of Somewhere. Its residents are terrified when he appears in their midst, and tell him in no uncertain terms to go away. His angry response causes damage to their homes and the Giant departs.

The villagers then decide to hunt him down and put him on trial. After a newspaper report and a police search, the Giant is found and eventually a little boy succeeds in getting him to answer some questions.

A trial follows and the defendant pleads guilty. The boy speaks up for him and the judge decides on a community sentence.

To reveal what happens thereafter would spoil the ending but suffice it to say all ends happily for everybody.

This is an insiders and outsiders story that should encourage plenty of discussion on such themes as empathy, mutual understanding and inclusivity.

A class of primary children could have fun acting it out in addition to participating in some of the activities included at the back of the book.

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder / Forgiveness?

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder?
Alyson Mountjoy, illustrated by Kelly Davies
Can I Tell You About … Forgiveness?
Liz Gulliford, illustrated by Rosy Salaman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

These are two recent additions to the excellent Can I Tell You About series aimed at primary school audiences, their families, teachers and others who work with them.

Each illustrated book has a child narrator, and in the Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) book it’s Amy who herself has the disorder. After an explanatory introduction for adults, she talks about how the condition affects her; how she got her diagnosis and how she is supported both in school and at home.

We also learn that APD isn’t the same for all those affected: one of her friends, Tom has the condition too but has different challenges to cope with. Amy’s dad also has APD but received his diagnosis after his daughter.

One of the most important things for teachers to know is the emotional strain that children like Amy are under and in addition to this being a helpful book for young readers, it’s one teachers should read too.

Amy herself ends on an upbeat note: having described both her own and Tom’s particular strengths she says, “Work hard, believe in yourself, and you can make your dreams come true too.” How adults can help a child make this so are listed in the final pages.

Forgiveness, as author Liz Gulliford states in her introduction, is a complex, frequently misunderstood concept. It’s one that she has researched for many years. Liz feels it’s important for children not to be made to apologise automatically after a dispute between classmates for instance, something that can happen in schools or between siblings at home

Here she uses Joseph as her narrator and together with his family offers a story designed to stimulate discussion on forgiveness at home and school.
Joseph talks about different scenarios – his best friend telling others something Joseph confided in him, thus breaking his trust in Billy.

He then goes on to talk of an instance when he took his sister’s ball without asking and lost it, which required not only Joelle’s forgiveness, but also self-forgiveness on his own part.

There’s also the important consideration of another of Joseph’s school friends, George who is being bullied. Perhaps forgiveness in this instance is not appropriate in case the perpetrator then goes on to bully another child. Could a degree of compassionate concern, at least from Joseph be better?

These are some of the ideas explored in this book that will certainly be a valuable resource in starting explorations of forgiveness in PSHE lessons at KS2. To this end the final pages are devoted to notes and key learning points.

Geronimo

Geronimo
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

When a new hatchling penguin going by the unlikely name of Geronimo bursts into the snowy world of the Antarctic he’s fuelled by a determination to become airborne, despite his father’s assertions that penguins can’t fly.

His first attempt sees him plunging headlong into the freezing-cold ocean. Unabashed he relaunches himself, this time using a seal’s enormous belly as a springboard, only to nose dive into deep snow.

But Geronimo isn’t ready to give in that easily: he has the ingenious notion of placing his bottom over the blowhole of a whale. This rather reckless rear end rest results in his needing beak-to-beak resuscitation from his pa.

Thoughts of flight now fill not only his every waking moment but also his dreams – every single night it’s the same …

Eventually, the Emperor emperor penguin instructs his Dad to tell Geronimo once and for all he’s to stop trying. But surely that can’t be the end of his aeronautic antics?

Perhaps not, with the collective brains of the colony working overtime …
After all there is more that one way of looking at things now isn’t there? It’s certainly so if you happen to be a yogi, or at least, like the adult penguins in the story, able to stand on your head.

Totally crazy but then this is David Walliams with his off the wall humour. Tony Ross adds his own brilliant touches of zaniness with a sequence of hilarious spreads of Geronimo’s efforts and the optical delusion that finally makes his dream come true.

Hold fast to your dreams – what a great message for young children.

Jingle Spells / Meg’s Christmas

Jingle Spells
James Brown
Simon & Schuster

Unlike other witches, young Trixie is not excited at Halloween, it’s Christmas that she loves and she’s determined to show her fellow witches why.

Who better to help her in her mission to demonstrate that the magic of Christmas is the best of all than Santa himself?
Seemingly though witches have a bad reputation within the walls of Santa’s workshop so her letter receives a firm refusal from his head elf.

Determined to prove that she isn’t ‘naughty’, Trixie sets off to see Santa nonetheless.

What she discovers on arrival at the workshop isn’t the hustle and bustle she’d expected. Instead there’s a decided lack of toys on the elves’ shelves and worse still, it’s not only the elves who are suffering from bad colds, Santa too has succumbed to a very bad attack of the wheezes and sneezes.

Time to mix a special curative potion but will it work; in fact will the smitten even take so much as a sip of Trixie’s warming brew?

It appears to be the only way that Christmas can be saved …

A fun, elf-filled festive frolic featuring an endearing little miss who brings her own special brand of seasonal magic to the Christmas season: James Brown’s Trixie has an irresistible charm.

Meg’s Christmas
Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books

After all these years Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg, Mog and Owl star in their very first Christmas adventure and the magic still holds good.

When a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve flooding Meg’s residence, there’s only one thing to do and Meg does it: ‘Find us somewhere dry to stay but bring us home for Christmas Day!’ she chants.

Before you can say “magic spell” the broomstick whisks them up and away to …

Instead of hanging up their stockings in the comfort of their own home Meg, Mog and Owl do so in the very spooky room where they spend the night.

Come Christmas morning the three are anxious to be off to meet the friends they’ve invited to their Christmas party. Can they be ready in time for their guests? …

The magic of the threesome never wanes: this seasonal offering will be enjoyed by parents who loved the early Meg and Mog adventures, as well as by their young offspring coming new to the stories penned by David Walser.

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton
Egmont

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.

I Was Made For You

I Was Made For You
David Lucas
Andersen Press

As soon as a woman finishes knitting a soft toy cat, “Why was I made” asks the creature. “It’s a surprise,” comes the response.
The woman gift-wraps the cat with a “no peeping” instruction. The woolly animal remains curious as he’s placed under the Christmas tree.

All is darkness and quiet. Cat peeps out of his wrapping and discovers a gift tag bearing the name DAISY. He’s puzzled for that is not his name and once more asks as he looks out at the darkness, “Why was I made?’

Surprisingly DARKNESS responds telling him to wait until morning. Cat isn’t willing to and having freed himself entirely, wanders through the door and out into the night in search of a satisfactory answer. Unbeknown to the answer seeker though, he catches a thread on a nail protruding from the floor.

He continues asking the same question to steps (down which he skids); the whirling snow, rock, stars, wind, and trees.

Thoughtful responses come from each one, until day dawns and then in the morning light, Cat realises that he’s growing shorter; he’s barely half of what he was.

Sun is the recipient of his final existential “Why was I born?” From the ensuing dialogue, Cat deduces that he’s intended as a gift for Daisy.

By now though, all that remains of our answer seeker is a long, loose woollen thread.

Meanwhile back in the house, presents are being opened, but there’s no present for Daisy. There are clues though which mother and child follow through the snowy landscape with Mummy winding the strand into a large ball.

This she uses to make Cat ‘good as new’.

David Lucas combines a folklore style narrative with folk art style illustrations, many beautifully bordered as in A Letter for Bear to fashion an unusual, seemingly simple tale that is likely to generate philosophical musings on behalf of young listeners and readers.

This would make a gorgeous offering for a thoughtful child this Christmas season.

Silent Night

Silent Night
Lara Hawthorne
Lincoln Children’s Books

One of the world’s favourite Christmas carols, composed 200 hundred years ago in Austria and now with UNESCO cultural heritage status, is given a beautiful pictorial rendition by author/illustrator Lara Hawthorne.

Her beautiful, richly patterned illustrations stand out against an inky, star speckled night sky telling the nativity story using just the English translation of Joseph Mohr’s words.

We see Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, settle themselves in the stable and the baby – the holy infant – is born.

Thereafter come spreads of the announcement of the birth to the shepherds by a heavenly host

and their visitation to see the Christ child.

The Three Kings’ journey following the star and their presentation of the gifts take up the next three spreads

and in the final three we see animals of all kinds, drawn to the stable over which the star shines and joining the humans in a joyful celebration.

Any one of Lara’s spreads would make a superb Christmas card.

The book concludes with notes about the origins of the carol and the words (though not the music) of the carol.

A gorgeous Christmas offering.

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree / All Aboard for Christmas

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow Books

Pip and Posy are a duo much loved by countless under fives and now they star in a lovely new tale that’s a great seasonal treat.
It’s Christmas Eve and the best friends bring home a Christmas tree. Once installed in a large pot, they set to work decorating it.

First off they bake some festive biscuits to hang on it. Then Posy goes to get the candy canes but when she comes back, one of the biscuits has mysteriously vanished.

The same thing keeps happening: each time she turns her back to find more goodies to add to the tree, there’s one less decoration when she returns. Hmm!

Young children will of course relish seeing what Posy doesn’t. Nor does she realise what’s been going on until she finds Pip flat out on the sofa with a rather bulging tum and saying he’s feeling sick.

Posy keeps quiet and allows Pip time to confess and then the two work together towards a satisfying solution to their lack of tree ornaments

and for listeners especially, there’s a lovely, even more satisfying finale come Christmas morning.
An enormously appealing festive addition to this ever-popular series of Axel’s.

All Aboard for Christmas
Andrew Kolb and Nichole Mara
Abrams Appleseed

There’s a train full of seasonal fun just waiting at the station – it’s Santa’s Christmas train with a gingerbread driver. Inside (lift the flaps to see within) it’s packed full of brightly coloured things to look for and to discuss, questions to answer and most important, lots to enjoy. There are elves and reindeer, penguins, pies and plenty of other good things to eat, toys and other treats.

Once extended, the train is over a metre long and you can reverse the extended carriages to see the frozen, snowy landscape through which Santa journeys, all the while searching the carriages for his missing boot..

With its die-cut windows, there’s plenty to engage little ones who take the ride on Christmas Eve.

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

What a gorgeous introduction to the festive season for a little babe is the latest in Lisa and Edward’s Baby’s First Cloth Book series.

Baby Boo, suitably clad is taken outdoors into the snow where, to the song of a bird, Daddy and infant build a snowman. Back inside the fire gives a warm glow, the Christmas tree lights sparkle and soon Santa will come with a special gift for Baby Boo.

With its crinkly pages and buggy handle, this book in a box would make a lovely gift for a new parent this Christmas.

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

The mouse elves are all prepared; it’s time to start decorating. Out come the lights, the garland, the baubles, and the star.
But why sunglasses and hot chocolate and surely a map and air freshener aren’t needed to adorn a tree?

Eventually in a fun twist, Ethan Long reveals all. It’s a turbo-charged sleigh those elves have been busily decorating: now who might that belong to? …

Just right to share as you and your toddler set about decorating your tree.

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Unlike other titles in this series where you can make an entire scene, the press-out pieces from this festive book slot together or are used separately to make twenty seasonal decorations – Santa, a reindeer, an angel, snowflakes and a star, bells and baubles, candy canes and a Christmas tree to hang on your tree.
There are also pages with instructions for making paper chains and wrapping paper, recipes for gingerbread biscuits and snowball truffles, the words of the ever popular Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and those little ones who like messier things can use their hands and feet to print a reindeer’s head: (if done on thick paper or card these might be turned into Christmas cards).

Helpfully the decorations can be dismantled and popped back into the book to keep them safe until next year.

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ag Ford
Chronicle Books

Christmas is almost here but the construction vehicle team has one final job to complete: they’re building a very special house and they really must get it done.

Into action roars Bulldozer first and for his trouble he receives a special thank you gift.

So it is with Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck and Crane: each one gets a special ‘thank you’ surprise at the end of the day.

Then across the snow comes the fleet of fire-trucks, bells a-ringing. What awaits this merry ‘fire crew’ as they come to a halt for the night? …

Full of the seasonal spirit of friendship and kindness, the rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain “Merry Christmas! … Goodnight.” together with richly coloured spreads of the construction vehicles against a snowy townscape make for a truck-lovers delight.

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

If you’ve ever wondered what happens between the time Santa drops off the last Christmas present and the time he starts his deliveries the following Christmas Eve, then here is the answer. In her inimitable zany style, Elys Dolan gives a month by month account of the activities that take place in Santa’s workshop and a final exposure of one never to be forgotten Christmas Eve.

This is a total hoot from start to finish and every page in between too: Elys has totally let her imagination run riot with this one.

Take January for instance when we learn that already, the nice/naughty list has gone missing – hiding in plain sight as a loo roll; then by May the elves have become a tad too creative on the toy production line.

June brings a malfunctioning of the ‘Present-o-matic machine – it starts churning out toasters and come August everyone is down with a dose of flu.

Surprisingly everyone makes it through to Christmas Eve (although not without a spell of trouble with the police) but just as Santa is about to leave on his delivery round the missing bear suddenly reappears causing a catastrophe.

Can Christmas be saved? Let’s hope so or the Easter Bunny will be the one having the last laugh. Or should that be a certain polar bear?

Completely and utterly bonkers, there’s just SO much going on that I’d advise not starting to read this unless you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy the shenanigans on every spread.

How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

How to Hide a Lion at Christmas
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books

It’s Christmas Eve and Iris and her beloved Lion are eagerly anticipating spending Christmas together at Auntie Sarah’s. But then her parents announce that the lion must remain behind. After all, a train journey with a large lion would be unthinkable and anyway he might frighten the local residents. Seemingly no amount of hiding is going to work: Lion will be left all alone.

It’s an unhappy Iris who sets off to catch the train but unbeknown to her, they aren’t the only ones to leave the house.

A certain lion, having managed to hide himself during the train journey, falls fast asleep and remains so when Lucy and her family reach their station.

When he finally wakens from his slumbers the train has reached the end of the line and there’s nobody about.

The lion’s not going to give up easily; but will he manage to locate the house where Iris is celebrating the festive season

and if so, how will he make his presence felt to her?  …

Yes, this story has a very snowy setting, but it’s full of warmth and humour and a lovely festive addition to the Iris and the lion-hiding series.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

What bear is anticipating as he snuggles up in his favourite chair before a warm fire is a calm cosy Christmas. Suddenly his peace is shattered by a loud horn sounding outside and at his front door he discovers a very excited frog clutching a hotel brochure. The little creature’s map reading skills leave a lot to be desired but kind-hearted Bear can hardly turn his distressed caller away. Instead he invites him in to spend Christmas at his home and then goes to bed worrying that what he has to offer won’t quite live up to the promises of the hotel brochure Frog’s brought with him.

Early next morning Frog can’t wait for the ‘Christmas Extravaganza” to begin.

Instead of the ‘all you can eat North Pole breakfast’ the pair bake biscuits together

and the promised singing Christmas tree is replaced with a huge outdoor one and yes it does sing – or rather the birds therein do.

Best of all though is the stunning sight of the Northern lights that totally eclipses the strings of flashing lights shown on Frog’s brochure.

The two characters, complete opposites in every way end up spending a wonderful time together and the best Christmas gift of all is really not the contents of the large parcel they discover on Christmas morning, rather it’s the friendship forged between the pair.

A lovely demonstration of the true spirit of Christmas; the inherent warmth of Tracey’s seasonal story is underscored in Tony Neal’s scenes of Bear and Frog’s joyful time together.

Grandpa Christmas

Grandpa Christmas
Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field
Egmont

When one of my very favourite authors and favourite illustrators come together in a seasonal collaboration, the result is, so I anticipated, something special. And this is truly something very special; it’s not just a Christmas book, but one for all times.

Herein, narrator mum Mia tells how every Christmas she shares with her family a letter from her Grandpa, (sent one year instead of a Christmas card or present) kept safe in her diary. The reading of this letter, inspired by visits to his home from a much younger Mia that brought him joy, has become part and parcel of their family day.

Grandpa’s letter tells of his deep concerns about our fragile planet and its wildlife. He talks of the rapid rate at which its precious resources are being depleted and makes a prayerful plea for a new world and time where ‘we grow and eat only what we need … and learn to share all we have, so that no-one anywhere goes hungry again’; a world without pollution

and global warming,

where wild animals live free, and war and waste are no more.

Morpurgo’s poignant words are a powerful antidote to the gross consumerism and waste that the Christmas season has become, and a stark reminder of the original message of goodwill and giving.

Jim Field’s illustrations echo the deep sadness inherent in the text but at the same time bring out both the hopefulness in Grandpa’s heartfelt litany

and the loving bond between Mia and her grandfather.

This treasure of a book is, I think, my favourite Christmas publication of the year.

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny
Fred Blunt
Andersen Press

When you see the name Fred Blunt you know you’re in for some deliciously silly nonsense and so it is in this holiday themed picture book.

How on earth have the Easter Bunny and Santa managed to get themselves into the same book was my immediate reaction to this one especially as neither of them seem particularly pleased to see one another.

Oddly enough though, the two are neighbours: Santa is inclined to jolliness, the Easter Bunny to the grumps. Grumps brought on by the fact that the Easter Bunny does the entire Easter egg job totally alone from chocolate making to delivering the eggs.
Moreover, nobody gives him so much as a thank you for his mammoth efforts. Can you blame the guy for feeling down?

In contrast Santa has a huge army of elf helpers in his toy factory and all those reindeer to whizz him around the globe when it comes to delivery time. And then there are all those wonderful gifts left for him by grateful children the world over. Fairness just doesn’t come into it.

Time for some strategic planning thinks Bunny and after a while into his furry head comes a spendid Santa-sabotaging plot.

Having set the plan in motion, our long-eared pal cannot wait for Christmas to come and on the all-important eve his head is awash with eager anticipation.

Next morning, yes, there’s some truly shocking news on the TV;

but what of the children’s reactions? And furthermore how will Santa respond?

It’s all yummily satisfying, not only for the characters concerned, but equally for readers who will relish this smashing story no matter the season.

Guaranteed giggles at every turn of the page with Fred’s crackingly comical illustrations.

Animal City

Animal City
Joan Negrescolor
Chronicle Books

I’m always on the lookout for books that celebrate story telling and reading, and this one does just that. The stories in this book however have a most unusual setting and an unlikely audience.

Without further ado let’s go to Nina’s favourite place, a secret jungle city where lost objects might be discovered, though now its only inhabitants are plants and animals, for nature has completely taken over.

Nina loves to observe the animals and they love to see her too bringing with her as she does, storybooks to share with them.

Different kinds of stories are favoured by her audience: the monkeys like space adventures; the flamingos’ taste is for myths and legends while the snake has a penchant for sea-related poetry.
All however agree that the very best story of all is one featuring themselves in their wild ‘animal city’ as Nina calls it in this metafictive turn.

Where has the storyteller come from? Why is she there? What has happened to cause the humans to leave their urban homes and where are they now?

These questions immediately come to mind as one reads the brief text, although a fascinated child audience will likely come up with a number of others, for each of Joan Negrescolor’s striking spreads offers much to explore and speculate upon.
His chosen striking colour palette and flatness of the illustrations serve to emphasise the strange, somewhat dystopian nature of the entire book.

A Hug is for Holding Me / Mummy Time

A Hug is for Holding Me
Lisa Wheeler and Lisk Feng
Abrams Appleseed

As a father and child stroll together, the former invites the little girl to become a nature observer. ’Look around and you will see / all the things a hug can be.’

The adult likens what they see to aspects of the natural springtime world and the child then responds. They notice a nest of speckled eggs, cocoons:
‘Cocoons are strong / yet gentle hugs, / and then, / surprisingly … // the air is filled with wondrous wings! / Your hug amazes me.’

… flower buds and seashells

during their meander that is lyrically described by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Lisa Feng in attractive stylised spreads of the two humans enjoying one another’s company among the flora and fauna.

Embrace nature, embrace one another, that is the essence of this book to share between parent and child.

In complete contrast is the outing shared by parent and infant in this story where engagement between adult and child appears non-existent :

Mummy Time
Judith Kerr
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This ironic tale of a mother totally absorbed in a conversation on her mobile while in the park with her toddler is something of a departure for the amazing Judith Kerr.

It certainly isn’t the gentle mummy time story one might anticipate from the cover picture and opening page – far from it.

Almost the entire verbal narrative takes the form of mum’s mobile conversation with a friend as she leaves the house for the park with her little boy for some ‘mummy time’.

Ensconced on a bench, she chats away about a recent party, the people who were there, the food, the changing fortunes for the better of her hosts and the ill-fortune that seems to dog her own life.

Meanwhile, as the pictures show, the toddler is engaged in a real life encounter with a large dog,

a spot of pigeon and duck food sampling, an unplanned dip in the pond, a ride on a swan, a treetop tumble,

a close encounter with a minibeast and a comforting cuddle from that dog again.

Strangely these parallel worlds of mum and toddler collide for mum’s conversation becomes a commentary on the pictorial action so beautifully portrayed by Judith Kerr.

An altogether intriguing book and a side-swipe at the human obsession with mobile phones. ‘Mummy Time’ seems to be just that, not time for mummy and toddler together.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty

 

Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

A Year in Nature
Hazel Maskell and Eleanor Taylor
Laurence King Publishing

Subtitled ‘a carousel book of the seasons’, this opens out into a four-part carousel that is sure to engage and impress.
Detailed scenes of a woodland in spring, summer, autumn and winter leap out from finely cut out pages revealing the glories of each season.

These woods are home to a family of foxes and we share the growth of the tiny cubs over a year as they explore their surroundings.
In spring there are nesting birds in the branches of the trees and new life begins everywhere.
Come summer, visiting birds have arrived; there’s an abundance of butterflies recently emerged, as well as bees, dragonflies and grasshoppers to find.

By autumn the young foxes are almost full-grown; now they hunt for their own food among the fungi under the golden brown canopy while squirrels are busy overhead gathering nuts to store.

Winter sees many of the trees without any leaves but berries still add brightness to the forest-scape.

Eleanor Taylor’s lush artwork is absorbing, bringing a place of beauty to life – the next best thing to visiting a forest for real, and Hazel Maskell provides brief snippets of information that are set among the forest branches along with things to hunt for in each scene.

This book would look great as part of a display in schools, no matter the season and would also make a great gift for a young child, particularly an urban living one.

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

Thanks to David Hawcock’s amazing paper-engineering, Owen Davey’s prehistoric creatures literally leap back into life as you open the pages of this sturdy little book. Showcasing fifteen popular and less well known beasts from Pachycephalosaurus to Pterodactylus, Ichthyosaurus to Iguanodon and Ankylosaurus to Tyrannosaurus,

Davey’s illustrations with their designs of spots, splodges and stripes are arresting in their greys, tans, browns, greens and blues.

A smashing introduction to the world of dinosaurs, with the name and pronunciation of each provided for each one. Doubtless adult sharers will delight in the book almost as much as the young target audience of aspiring palaeontologists.

The Elephant that Ate the Night

The Elephant that Ate the Night
Bing Bai and Yuanyuan Shen
Everything With Words

It’s always a pleasure to discover talented writers and illustrators I’ve not come across before and so I was especially happy to receive this animal tale from Everything With Words, an independent publisher that is also new to me.

Let’s head to Dark Mushroom Forest wherein live three friends, Duoduo a little bear cub, Zhazha the porcupine and monkey Taotao. These three have something in common: they are all scared of the dark fearing that it might SWALLOW them up just like it engulfs the entire forest.

One day, into the forest comes Awu the elephant, but this is no ordinary elephant for he doesn’t eat grass or leaves; he doesn’t even eat bananas. Instead, Awu’s diet consists entirely of DARK NIGHT and he eagerly anticipates his meal every morning.
When he’s approached by the little bear cub’s mother with a request to swallow up the night he is happy to oblige on account of it being so he says, ‘ … yummier than bananas, … tastier than grass, crunchier than bamboo. It’s the best thing in the world and it’s got my name on it!’

Come the animals’ bedtime, Awu visits the bedrooms of, first Duoduo,

then Taotao and finally Zhazha. Can you guess how he gets rid of the dark? He sucks it right up his long truck.

The little animals rush outside and dance together in celebration while Awu ensures there isn’t even a smidgen of dark left anywhere in the forest.

Initially the little animals are thrilled with this endless day that allows so much playing time. Before long however, the elation pales as yawns and tiredness take over.

All the animals, even the trees and flowers want the dark back.

Can the night-consuming elephant be persuaded to restore the natural rhythm of day and night?

Reassuring and funny at the same time, this is a cracking bedtime (or any other time) tale especially for those children who, like the little animals herein, have nocturnal fears. I absolutely love Yuanyaun Shen’s deliciously quirky portrayal of the animals, large and small.

Oskar Can …

Oskar Can …
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel

This blog has been a fan of Oskar, Britta’s little raven character from his first appearance a couple of years ago. Now he’s back in a celebration of all the things he can do.

His achievements are diverse and beautifully visualised in a series of very amusing scenes of jumping, counting, making a cuppa brewed to perfection to share with best pal Mo,


singing, digging holes – show me a youngster who doesn’t love that; then there’s creating pebble towers (his are always super tall), ski-ing, ice-dancing,

swimming (almost unaided) and riding a tandem with Mo. The list just goes on.

He’s even a bit of a yogi. (I love his downward facing dog –and balances); perhaps he should try a crow pose next, I’m sure he’d soon add that to his ‘can do’ list.

With its inherent message about celebrating what children CAN do rather than forever pressurising them into constantly feeling the need to perform, be it at school or home, this is a smashing little story to share with little ones.

Alternatively for those in the early stages of reading, it’s an ideal ‘I can read’ book. I know whom I shall offer it to for that purpose next time I see her.

I always tell children ‘I don’t know CAN’T’ so it’s a huge HURRAH! for little Oskar with all his positivity.

The Secret Woodland Activity Book

The Secret Woodland Activity Book
Mia Underwood
Button Books

A wealth of activities await those who foray into the magical world created by Mia Underwood.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes inhabit this Scandinavian-style woodland: numbering among them are Stardust (snail), Hopper (a bird) and Nisse (a bearded sprite). There are also a forest spirit (an invisible magical being with a protective role), trolls, minibeasts, owls, bears, foxes, an occasional baby dragon; you might even come upon a unicorn or a yeti.

These feature in such activities as mazes, story writing, maths, word searches,

mobile making; there’s also a recipe to make bird feed balls and lots of opportunities for imaginative thinking.

Wonderfully quirky and engaging, this 64-page book includes a plethora of stickers to add to some of the woodland scenes.

With the darker nights upon us, and holidays fast approaching, it’s a super way to distract youngsters from their screens for a while.

Polar Bear Island

Polar Bear Island
Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos
Sterling Children’s Books

A tale of our troubled times if ever there was one is this separatist fable from Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos.

Polar Bear Island is a peaceful place but it only allows polar bears to reside there, a rule strictly enforced by its mayor, Parker. As the story opens said mayor is completing a sign: WELCOME TO POLAR BEAR ISLAND, NO OTHERS ALLOWED. As he does so into view floats penguin Kirby with her large suitcase.

Disregarding the sign, the penguin steps ashore where an angry-looking Parker immediately confronts her.

Grudgingly the mayor grants her a single night ashore.

It isn’t long however, before the visitor is impressing the other polar bears with her foot warming, double-sided ‘Flipper Slippers’. These clever inventions serve both as snow waders and ice-skates,

and because of their popularity among the residents, Parker grants her leave to remain.

Kirby’s enthusiastic letter home results in the arrival of her family with more inventions to wow all the bears with the exception of Parker, but he allows them a week’s stay nonetheless.

Then a self-induced anger accident causes Parker to change his attitude towards outsiders and exclusivity. Time to amend that sign too he decides: better together is his new motto.

Cinta Villalobos’ portrayal of the curmudgeonly Parker is hilarious, contrasting beautifully with the other island residents who are open minded and ready to learn from the new arrivals.

Mission Defrostable

Mission Defrostable
Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney
Sterling

As their third adventure begins Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are concerned about the extreme frostiness of their fridge domain threatening their subjects.

Suddenly out of the shadows steps one, Agent Asparagus wielding his ID and asking for their help to track down the dastardly villain responsible for the deadly freeze.

However, just as they set out on their mission, Agent Asparagus is mysteriously kidnapped. This leaves Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast with no other option than to ask old arch enemy Baron von Waffle to come to their aid.

But who is double-crossing whom? For the next thing that happens is that Pancake and Toast find themselves captured and shackled in curly fry chains and brought face to face with the real culprit. Is this doom for the daring duo?

Thankfully not: the plot takes another turn for this is a tale of feeling isolated, forging friendships and forgiving.

Action packed, fast paced and rhyming with panache, Josh Funke’s twisting turning telling is splendid. Equally splendid are Brendan Kearney’s busy giggle- inducing scenes of the crazy cast whose expressions he portrays so well as they play out the high drama unfolding inside the fridge.

Despite its chilliness, this is a tale to melt your heart as we see that the desperate lengths characters go to are on account of feeling excluded or friendless.

Bedtimes Dramas: Night Play / How to be a Supercow!

Night Play
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books

This is billed as a bedtime story in three acts and as the presenter states as the first act opens, it stars Arlo (a little boy) and Friends (his soft toys). That is the intention but as the boy tells us, he is already feeling sleepy and while the toys – a big cat, lemur, rabbit, fawn and two birds are engaged in planning Act 1, the boy falls asleep.

The excitement builds as props are gathered, costumes tried and hastily abandoned on account of their itchiness and weight; sound effects are debated, moves worked on and further sounds added …

till all the noise eventually reawakens the slumberer.

Then with full cast reassembled, the curtains are opened in a dramatic gatefold to reveal …

and the entire show concludes with a bow and (instead of the suggested Act 4) the actors’ sleepy denouement.

Beautifully satisfying, this truly is a theatrical performance with clever design that promotes close attention to detail as well as using a similarly striking pattern for the stage curtains and Arlo’s pyjamas. I particularly like too, the changing backdrops for each spread with additional bit part players and other details for aware viewers to spot and enjoy.

A lovely introduction to theatre for little ones and perhaps, an inspiration for some to have a go creating their own dramas.

How to be a Supercow!
Deborah Fajerman
Barron’s Educational

Here’s a little rhyming book that will resonate with a good many parents.

Three tired little calves attempt to sweet talk their mother cow into allowing them to delay bedtime with accounts of their secret must-do supercow activities.

There isn’t much these lively creatures can’t turn their hooves to. There are dragons to rescue from angry princesses;

there’s gold to liberate from pirates, not to mention call outs to attend to, troublesome machines to fix and much more. Quite simply with such drama, there isn’t time for sleep.

Mum knows just how to deal with her young offspring however. She acknowledges their super powers but beguiles them into donning their night attire,

brushing their teeth, washing and delaying all those vital heroic actions till morning. Oh! there’s also a promise of a special treat  too.

All this crazy action is wonderfully illustrated in spirited scenes of totally endearing bovine characters that will amuse both little humans and their long-suffering adult ‘putters to bed’.

The Snow Rabbit

The Snow Rabbit
Georgiana Deutsch and Alison Edgson
Little Tiger

Bear is a grumpy creature; he avoids company, resents any intrusions onto his territory and has a growl like no other.

One day however, a jolly little rabbit decides that Bear needs cheering up and builds a snow rabbit close to Bear’s front door.
It doesn’t receive the response the little rabbit was hoping for. Bear’s furious roar shakes the trees resulting in one snow-sodden Bear and a squashed snow rabbit.

Next morning it’s an even grumpier Bear that resolves to discover who the builder was.
He questions his neighbours (love Alison Edgson’s animal expressions as they’re confronted) eventually learning that Rabbit is the culprit and rather surprisingly he demands that the little creature helps him fix the ‘massive mess’.

As the two do so, it appears that Bear might be about to shed his grumps …

Bring on that happy ending.

Little ones will relish the extreme grumpiness of Georgiana Deutsch’s Bear as portrayed by Alison Edgson and especially enjoy following the speech bubbles and changing expressions of the other characters as they watch the events unfolding between the two main players.

The Afterwards

The Afterwards
A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Let me say at the outset, this is a remarkable book; intensely moving and quite unlike anything else, even the author’s previous stories, The Imaginary and The Song From Somewhere Else.

The story starts with best friends Ember and Ness who are pretty much inseparable but then comes an announcement in school assembly. There’s been an accident in the park and one of the pupils has died; it’s Ness.

For Ember, the world is unimaginable without her bestest buddy. Then, through another grieving person, she becomes aware of a strange grey afterworld and there she finds Ness again. Can she bring her back? That is Ember’s plan but should she fail, it seems she too will have to remain in that eerie place, leaving behind her Dad and Penny, his partner.

The push and pull between the two worlds presents Ember with a dilemma that is unbearable, especially when she discovers that Ness is not the only one of those she loves in the netherworld.

I’ll say no more about the story itself except that I urge you to read it.

A.F. Harrold’s writing is totally gripping, dark, profound, occasionally scary, and suffused with grief; but it’s also full of love and tenderness, and there’s hope too. There’s also a cat that keeps putting in an appearance. Does that sound a little familiar?

Emily Gravett’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text, making one’s reading experience of The Afterwards feel like a seamless whole.

Little Bear’s Big House / There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Little Bear’s Big House
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Tired of his uneventful life in the forest Little Bear leaves his Mama, Papa and Teeny Tiny bear to embark on a big adventure, “far from the forest” so he says.

His exploratory intent means that he turns down invitations from his forest dwelling friends, to keep moving
till eventually, as night falls he comes upon a huge, amazing-looking house in a clearing.
The door is ready to be opened so Little Bear, acting like a little boy, decides to enter.

Once inside the real adventure begins …

“Being on my own is so much fun!’’ comes the cry until there is an enormous BANG! Little Bear dives beneath the bedcovers and his imagination runs riot.

What ensues is something of a surprise but suffice it to say that when Little Bear finally reaches home after an adventure that proves a little too much for the young ursine character, he learns that he isn’t the only one with an exciting story to tell about a big house.

Hilarious scenes of Little Bear and his antics as he seeks a modicum of independence, offer plenty for little humans to pore over.

There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
Wade Bradford and Kevin Hawkes
Walker Books

Mr Snore, an extremely tired musician checks into the very grand-looking Sharemore Hotel hoping for a good night’s sleep. No sooner has his head hit the pillow however than he discovers that his bed is already occupied. He demands a new room and there are plenty of options starting on the second floor but he has no intention of sharing his slumber time with a pig so he calls the front desk again.

And so it goes on until despite the knowing porter’s unfinished warning, Mr Snore ends up at floor number thirteen. The bed is definitely gigantic and might at last prove satisfactory.

Now however, it isn’t Mr Snore who makes a call downstairs to the front desk …

With its crazy finale, nicely contrasting main characters and Kevin Hawkes’ zany illustrations, this romp of Wade Bradford’s truly is a bedtime tale with a difference.

I’ll Love You For Ever

I’ll Love You For Ever
Owen Hart and Sean Julian
Little Tiger

Using the perennial theme of adult/infant love Owen Hart and Sean Julian offer a delightfully illustrated rhyming book for sharing with the very young.

Together with an adult polar bear and a little cub we travel through the very different seasons of an arctic year starting with the stark wintery snow and ice. ‘Come look at the snowflake / and I will explain: / In spring it’ll melt / but my love will remain.’

Spring brings flowers peeping through to wonder at and warmer seas for swimming together.

By summer the meadows have turned green, flowers bloom in abundance and bees hum gently.

Then in autumn the trees glow golden and flowers fade away heralding once more the onset of winter. ‘When cold, winter winds / blow the leaves far and wide, / You’ll cross the great icebergs / with me by your side.’ So says the affectionate parent bear before the two animals snuggle up together ready to sleep.

As the seasons change so too does Sean Julian’s colour palette, but what remains constant is the look of love on the adult bear’s face, making this a reassuring read for little humans that isn’t overly sentimental.

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

No matter whether Ingela P Arrhenius is working in large or small format, her retro-modern style is always eye catching.

In her latest large scale offering Ingela has chosen to explore London. She takes readers on a whistle-stop tour to visit all the popular tourist destinations in the capital showcasing each with a double spread of labelled images and an introductory sentence or two.

First stop is Buckingham Palace after which we visit the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and its neighbour. Tate Modern.
Then, it’s on to London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park – a great place for a picnic; followed by the London Eye (taking in the National Theatre). Phew!

If shopping is your thing, then you might take a stroll to the famous Carnaby Street, or perhaps take a trip to Harrods, Liberty or Hamleys toy shop, by which time afternoon tea will be the order of the day.

Covent Garden, with its street performers, stalls and cafes (one of my favourite parts) is the next venue.

You can enjoy a virtual visit to all these and other famous places, including Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory, which is slightly further out that most of the other locations Ingela has chosen to showcase.

A great book to use in nurseries, or to give to a young child who is from outside the capital before a visit.

The Boy on the Bench

The Boy on the Bench
Corrinne Averiss and Gabriel Alborozo
Egmont

Observe young children in a playground, be that at school or in a park: there are many who love to be at the centre of the action and others who lack the confidence and linger on the sidelines watching and wondering how they might join in. That author Corrinne Averiss has done so is evident in her story of Tom, who is one of the watchers.

As the story opens he sits with his dad on a bench in the busy playground.

When Dad suggests that with dinnertime approaching he should take the opportunity to use the equipment, “In a minute …” is Tom’s response as he looks for somewhere he might find a space he can fit into.

One of the children starts playing at being a fireman, soaking the others as they come down the slide.

Tom is amused and clearly would like to join in the fun but still lacks the courage to do so.

It’s only when a little girl’s teddy is stranded atop the climbing frame as a result of the rescue game suddenly switching focus

that Tom leaves the bench and little by little, starts climbing until …

At last Tom has found a friend and that makes all the difference.

So much so that when his dad tells him it’s time to go home, he’s so comfortable in the Tom-shaped space he’s finally found, that his “In a minute!’ reply signifies something totally different.

Gabriel Alborozo too must have been an avid playground watcher judging from his beautifully observed scenes detailing Tom’s transition from nervous watcher to confident participant in the playground activities.

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence
Eddie Ayres and Ronak Taher
Allen & Unwin

Imagine living in a world without music; it’s almost unthinkable but that’s how it is for young Sonam in Eddie Ayres’ story set in Kabul, Afghanistan at the time when the Taliban forbade the playing of music.

Ayres is himself a musician and broadcaster who spent a year teaching music at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, formed after the 6-year Taliban-imposed ban was lifted.

One of the pupils he met was named Sonam and it is she who inspired his story.

When Sonam, who lives with her mother, two brothers and a sister, turns seven her older brother tells her she is no longer a child: now she must cover her hair and start working, selling chewing gum on the streets of the city.

On the way to work, the girl hears a wonderful sound and follows it to discover, sitting in a room among the pomegranate trees, an old man playing music on a rubab. Sonam is captivated.
The old man tells her that “There is music everywhere, ‘In the wind, in the earth, in the trees. Music is forbidden, but that’s when we need it most. But you can only hear music if you listen with all your heart.”
He gives Sonam his instrument and now although she continues working, the sounds of fear she felt are replaced by the music running through her entire being.

Then one day her brother discovers the girl humming and he takes away her instrument and forbids her to sing. Now her music has been silenced, Sonam’s world is full only of sounds of war.

Desperate she goes to the old man’s garden but he is no longer there; however she finds just one pomegranate. That she picks intending to plant its seeds in her own garden.

As she does so she unearths something that makes her heart sing. Her brother has in fact hidden her rubab to protect her.

Returning to the old man’s garden she sits beneath a withered tree remembering and as she does so, sounds of the old man’s music replace those of fear emanating from the city. Gradually she comes to understand that now, the old man and the music is within her, and deep inside it will always be.

Seemingly simple this is a profound, heartfelt tale of resilience, love and hope made all the more impactful by Eddie Ayres’ use of the present tense; and by Ronak Taher’s powerful mixed media illustrations. These are multi-layered and intricate with backgrounds carpeted with fragments of petals, leaves and grasses in autumnal shades over which are placed the storytelling images and the sinister silhouettes of war.

Like the music that plays such a big part in the story, this book is such that it reverberates in the mind, long after it’s been read.

Emmett and Caleb

Emmett and Caleb
Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon
Book Island

Emmett and Caleb are neighbours and good friends. Despite having totally different morning rituals, they manage to spend much of their time together going for walks and enjoying nature.

Come summer late riser Caleb is unusually, awake early and he wants to give his pal a present to celebrate their long-standing friendship. Having pondered hard, he decides to write Emmett a poem: ‘Emmett, you look handsome in your hat and you’re not fat.’ and give it to him after they’ve consumed their meal. This however, doesn’t quite go as well as he hopes: Emmett focuses on the superficial errors rather than the content of the message and so finds Caleb’s effort funny, which upsets the writer who snatches back his work, taking drastic action.

Emmett ponders, gently admonishes himself and decides to make recompense. By sunset the two are reconciled

Autumn brings forest walks, damp earth and the harvesting of nature’s bounties – a truly golden time for the pair.

Then in the winter it’s time to celebrate Caleb’s birthday with a party, presents, a special cake and dancing;

it even snows as midnight strikes.

This celebration of friendship, life’s simple pleasures and the gifts of nature, translated from the author’s original French by Sarah Ardizzone, is enchanting. In her illustrations, Delphine Renon beautifully captures the warmth between the two characters as well as the inherent beauty of each season.

A quirky delight to read aloud or equally, a lovely book for those just taking off as independent readers.

Treasure of the Golden Skull

Treasure of the Golden Skull
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Mildew and Sponge learn of the possibility of their school’s closure, despite being less than enthusiastic about almost all aspects of Maudlin Towers, a thoroughly gloomy establishment, the two boys do regard it as home and resolve that something must be done. The money supposedly stowed safely away by Reverend Brimstone to cover much-needed repairs to the place has been stolen (along with the chair he stashed it in) and now the school coffers are empty and the governors totally unwilling to help – anything but in fact.

The two boys conclude they’ll be sent to separate places of education if the school is shut down and that’s unthinkable; a rescue mission must be put into action forthwith.

It’s a mission that begins with a surprising revelation concerning a pirate connection and continues with a hunt for buried treasure, the onset of green parrot sightings by Sponge and a new boy going under the name of err, Newboy who manages to bend the will of others to his own.

Add to this the fact that Sponge’s predilection for biscuits shows no sign of abating, as his pal points out in the staff graveyard, “Your head is full of biscuits. Buck up, Sponge. How are you ever going to detectivate? Finlay Feathering wouldn’t let a bit of biscuitlessness bother him”.

Oh and there’s also an entire new set of very strange replacement staff.

Throw in a floating eyeball and a werewolf (both feature in the plethora of delicious line drawings herein) to satisfy spooky-loving readers and the result is a sequel to Curse of the Werewolf Boy that is every bit as silly and entertaining.

And the treasure? Let’s say ‘busted’ about covers it.

Seems there’s to be a third biscuit-fuelled adventure somewhere on the horizon … eagerly anticipated by countless Maudlin Towers fans I have no doubt.

Josie’s Lost Tooth

Josie’s Lost Tooth
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books

Josie shines at pretty much everything she turns her hand to at school, but when it comes to losing a tooth, she’s way behind all her classmates.

Her best friend Richard proudly tells of rewarding visits from the tooth fairy, which makes Josie determined to hasten the falling out of her slightly wobbly tooth. Despite her determined efforts – dangling upside down, chomping a particularly crunchy apple and chewy carrot sticks,

and the rather more drastic string pulling technique – the tooth remains lodged in her gum.

The prospect of having baby teeth for life makes Josie glum so Richard suggests a cheering-up game of sharks and squid chase.
The result is that Josie loses her tooth – literally – leaving her with nothing to hide under her pillow for the tooth fairy.

Richard kindly offers his shark tooth but it just won’t do. Instead Josie writes a note appealing to the Tooth Fairy, leaving it along with the shark tooth under her pillow.

Next morning what Josie discovers isn’t money but a very special surprise gift – a wonderful tribute to friendship, demonstrating the donor’s understanding of what is really important.

Jennifer Mann’s digitally worked pencil, pastel and collage illustrations have a delightful child-like quality and her dialogue is akin to that of children, making this an engaging tale of friendship run through with gentle humour. Those at the first tooth-losing stage in particular will love this.

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery / Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou

Little People, Big Dreams L.M.Montgomery
Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Anuska Allepuz
Lincoln Children’s Books

This is an excellent series of books each featuring a woman who made a significant contribution to society. The latest features L.M.Montgomery whose books I loved as a child.

Maud, as she was called, had a rather sad, lonely childhood. After her mother died, her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents on Prince Edward Island, Canada. She was forced to create her own happiness and books became her best friends. She dreamed of becoming a writer, something her grandparents discouraged, but nevertheless at night Maud began writing in secret, creating both stories and poems.

As an adult, Maud first became a teacher, a job that gave her time to continue with her writing and later on she was offered a job on a newspaper.

In less than a year, her grandfather died and she was forced to return home and care for her grandmother.

However she continued writing combining it with working at the local post office; before long 30 of her stories had been published in the newspapers.

One day she found an old newspaper with a story that became the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables. Through this story, Maud rewrote her own childhood as she wished it had been and after numerous rejections and a period of two years, Anne of Green Gables was finally published.

The illustrations of Anuska Allepuz are an absolute delight – wonderfully expressive and bringing out Maud’s joy in simple things and her determination to become a writer.

A super addition to the series.

For those with a particular interest in writers especially, is another of the series that I missed earlier:

Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou
Lisbeth Kaiser and Leire Salaberria
Lincoln Children’s Books

Maya Angelou grew up in the American South in the 1930s – a time of racial tension and segregation.
The hardships she endured – racism, gender prejudice, and abuse by her mother’s partner which resulted in the child losing her will to speak,- would have been too much for many people. Not so Maya who found her voice again thanks to a friend of her grandmother and the power of reading aloud.

At school Maya was told she wouldn’t amount to anything but her determination “There’s nothing I can’t be.” was proved right.

She grew up to become a singer, dancer, actress, poet, novelist, and eminent Civil Rights campaigner. Her fortitude and compassion changed the lives of countless people the world over: her legend lives on.

Like all titles in the series, the book concludes with a time line.

Eloquently illustrated by Leire Salaberria, Lisbeth Kaiser’s pen portrait of Maya is a must have for primary schools.

Time for Play with Nosy Crow: Alphabet Street / Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set

Alphabet Street
Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

It’s the alluring design that immediately attracts young children to this concertina alphabet book though I don’t imagine any wanting to let go once they start exploring inside. It’s terrific fun, folding out to make an entire street of shops – thirteen in all – each with an apartment above; and all are populated with animal characters either shopping or doing something of a homely nature.

For instance we might choose to stop at Coffee and Doughnuts café outside which two elephants are enjoying a drink and a snack.
Lift the flap and inside we have ‘Dd D is for Dog, who is drying a dish’, an illustration of same, and two more customers drinking.
Above them in the apartment … ‘Cc C is for Cat, who is cooking some fish.’

The shop names make up the entire alphabet ending with

In between are all sorts of wonderful places to visit, not least of which is this one:

Jonathan Emmett’s cleverly constructed, fun alliterative rhyming text, together with Ingela P Arrhenius’ bold, bright, retro style illustrations make for a splendidly interactive book and even more clever, on the back is a complete fold-out park scene which can be used as a backdrop for small world play. So too can Alphabet Street itself which could perhaps be used in conjunction with a play mat. The learning possibilities, in addition to the obvious alphabet element, are enormous.

Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

This set includes a board book copy of Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon and a set of nine jigsaw puzzle building blocks.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, essentially it tells what happens when Pip lets go the string of his prized shiny red balloon and it floats away. The best friends give chase but the balloon bursts. Fortunately Posy is ready and willing to provide cheer in the form of bubbles – lots of them. And if they pop, well it doesn’t matter for that’s what bubbles are supposed to do.

The blocks can be used to make 6 different scenes from Pip and Posy stories: toddlers may need some help with this activity but a pictorial guide is provided.

If you’re looking for a fun present for a little one, this gift set might well fit the bill: Pip and Posy are a delightful duo.

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse
Mara Bergman and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

There are two residents of the tall house atop the tall hill; one human, the other a mouse. The tall man and the small mouse lead parallel lives, the man doing tall (and often caring) things that need doing, the mouse doing small things that need doing after which she falls fast asleep in a cosy, comfy place.

One day the man has a fixing task concerning the town’s clock – it’s no longer going tick or tock; but try as he might, the tall man cannot get inside that tickless, tockless timepiece and so, silent it remains.

Back home he researches but his books yield nothing so eventually he falls fast asleep.

The mouse meanwhile is up and about creeping hither and thither till she goes off to sleep inside a tall boot.

Next morning when the man discovers not only the mouse in his boot but also a all his missing things, he’s delighted and enlists the little creature’s help.

After searching high and low inside the clock, the mouse finally discovers the source of the problem.

With assorted bits and pieces, she soon has those bells ringing out once more making the two residents of the house on the hill (as well as the townsfolk) extremely happy.

Thus a new camaraderie is forged and a new partnership as well.

Told in rhyme, Mara Bergman’s fable of fixing and friendship is a quirky delight, made all the more so by Birgitta Sif’s adorable illustrations. Full of her wonderful whimsy every one, large or small, is an absolute treat; such a gorgeous colour palette too.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy / Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books

The team who gave us I am Yoga and I am Peace now explore what it means to be human.

Humans have a playful side and find joy in relationships, we hear; but on the negative side sadness brings a heavy heart. This though, is countered by a reminder that part of being human is the ability to make choices.
Positive actions – such as compassion and helping others, being fair and treating all people equally, bring a feeling of connectedness with fellow humans.

In keeping with the child narrator’s mood, Reynolds changes his colour palette from bright to a dull bluish grey as the actions switch from positive to negative.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes but Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s little book of empathy is perfect for starting a discussion with young children about making good choices. To this end, there’s also a loving-kindness meditation to share.

Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Featherstone (Bloomsbury)

Most young children will bring up the subject of death either at home or in school, or both, and many adults are unsure of how to engage in a discussion about it. This book, written in child-friendly language by a teacher, will for those adults especially, prove extremely helpful.

Each double spread – there are a thirteen in all – takes a different aspect and almost all start with a question such as ‘Are there different words for death?’; ‘What might you feel when someone dies?’ …

‘What do people believe happens after death?’ and, the only one that isn’t prefaced by a question, “To remember a person who has died, you could …’.
There’s a brief ‘It’s important to know’ paragraph at the end of most sections and Sarah Jennings has provided bright, appealing illustrations (often including speech bubbles).

The tone of the entire book – both verbal and visual – is spot on for the primary audience and is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn
Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

Unicorns are very much THE favourite among young children at the moment but I’ve never come across one with quite such a winning expression as Oscar.

Having eaten himself out of house and home – literally – the chubby creature is on the hunt for a new place to live.
The trouble is, his habit of sinking his teeth into pretty much everything he sets eyes on, means he’s far from popular with the witch, the pirates, the fairies and the dragons he encounters.

The giant is willing to accommodate Oscar but not quite in the way Oscar hopes, so his home certainly won’t do.

That leaves just one option: he has to try his luck on the other side of the bridge.

This doesn’t look too promising however …

Fortunately though, a certain young princess Oola just happens along and she’s been on the lookout for a unicorn FOR EVER. So maybe …

With its sparkly cover and Oscar’s irresistible allure thereon, Lou and Nikki’s character and his all-consuming escapades will satisfy lots of unicorn-hungry little ones; my review copy has already been appropriated by one such.

Tiger Walk

Tiger Walk
Dianne Hofmeyr and Jesse Hodgson
Otter-Barry Books

Tom’s visit to an art gallery and Rousseau’s famous painting, Surprised! inspire the boy to create his own large tiger picture.

Little does he imagine though that this is to lead to an amazing nocturnal adventure, for out of the shadows in his bedroom appears a large, stripy animal inviting him on a moonlit walk.

Somewhat fearful by nature, Tom mounts the tiger’s back and off they go into a forest alive with bears, foxes and lions.

In the tiger’s company they turn out to be playful rather than the scary creatures Tom has anticipated.

The adventure continues with a river crossing,

a fairground ride and an encounter with what seem at first to be frozen tiger forms.

All of these too engender fearful feelings in the boy, but somehow with his own tiger friend beside him Tom is emboldened. He swims, flies round and around aboard a merry-go-round and dances in an icy cave till sleep overcomes him and it’s time to return home.

Your senses are immediately stimulated as you start to read Dianne Hofmeyr’s dramatic present tense telling of this entrancing tale of a little boy’s transformation from fearful to fearless; and with the side lining of art in the curriculum it’s fantastic to see a painting such as this one of Henri Rousseau’s used as the starting point for the story. Suspense is built by variation of sentence length and conjunctions strategically placed at page breaks, while Tom’s anxious “I’m a little bit scared of …’ iteration followed by tiger’s assurances add to the power of the narrative.

Jesse Hodgson’s arresting tigerish scenes are more mannered, bright and colourful than Rousseau’s windswept, storm-tossed jungle and have just the right balance of ferocity, realism and reassurance as befits a bedtime story.

Only One Of Me

Only One Of Me
Lisa Wells, Michelle Robinson and Catalina Echeverri
Graffeg

Less than twelve months ago at just thirty-one, Lisa Wells, mother of two young children, was diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver cancer. Instead of letting herself become overwhelmed by gloom, Lisa was determined to leave something very special to show her abiding and unconditional love for her two little girls, and also to help other families in similar situations. Part of this is Lisa’s Army UK and the other is Only One of Me, the book, which, thanks to co-writer and friend Michelle Robinson, illustrator Catalina Echeverri and crowd funding, was completed in a matter of months.

Speaking in rhyme to her children Lisa wistfully acknowledges that her time left is all too short and insufficient to do all that she’d hoped with her little ones.

Instead, with the loving support of those left behind (family and friends),

the remainder of her message is one of enormously inspiring positivity: ‘Be kind! Be Brave! Be free! Remember all our joy and fun / When you remember me. Love you always, Mummy xxx’ she tells the girls.

The love this mother has for her family shines through in every one of Catalina Echeverri’s beautiful illustrations.

There’s also a version of the book – ‘A love letter from Dad’ illustrated by Tim Budgen and both artists waived their illustrator’s fees and like the co-authors are giving their royalties from sales to We Hear You (WHY) and Mummy’s Star charities.

Powerful, poignant and comforting, this is a book that nobody wants to have to use, but one that could offer essential reading for families facing and coping with, impending bereavement.

Grandma Bird

Grandma Bird
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster

As an avid fan of Benji Davies’ world of Noi books, I was eagerly anticipating this new one and it certainly lives up to expectations.

Noi is off to spend the summer with his Grandma whose home is on a windswept rock across the water. He’s less than enthusiastic at the prospect of this solitary place and the idea of Grandma’s seaweed soup. Worse, he discovers they have to sleep head to toe in her small bed where Grandma snores loudly and the blankets itch; and during the day she’s so busy she has no time to play with her grandson.

The boy decides to explore the seashore alone. Suddenly he spies something shining in the distance and discovers a large hole-filled rock – the perfect place for some imaginary play.

The wind lashes outside, the sea beats against the rocks and suddenly out of the storm a little bird drops at Noi’s feet.

Knowing it needs help, Noi tries to make his way back across the rocks towards Grandma’s home and as he battles against the lashing storm he sees the bright red sail of a little boat.

Grandma has come to his rescue and once safely aboard her boat, boy and Gran gather up more bedraggled birds which they take back to dry out indoors.

Eventually the storm abates and the birds depart, all except one. Could it be that Grandma feels lonely sometimes in her solitary existence, Noi wonders.

Then for the remainder of the summer two humans, one young, one old and a feathered companion spend their days exploring the tiny island together.

Despite the remoteness and bleakness of the setting this is a story full of warmth and tenderness. Gran’s apparent absorption with her daily routine doesn’t prevent her from keeping a watchful eye on Noi from a distance and she’s quick to act when the storm blows up, while the notion that his Gran might be lonely occurs to the boy as the rescued birds depart.

Such is Benji Davies’ way with words that they alone paint wonderful images in the mind, while every one of his illustrations, large or small merits close attention. I love Grandma’s upturned boat of a cottage and its cosy interior complete with’ One Hundred and One Uses for Seaweed’ book, not to mention her skill at stone balancing and yoga; all of which can be relished during the course of this tender tale.

When the Whales Walked / Rivers

 

When the Whales Walked
Dougal Dixon and Hannah Bailey
Words & Pictures

By means of thirteen case studies, readers can discover how for example, dinosaurs evolved into birds and how whales were once four-legged creatures that walked on the land. These are just two of the fascinating evolutionary journeys told through a mix of annotated illustrations by Hanna Bailey, superbly illustrated scenes and family trees.

Did you know that way back in time snakes too had legs and crocodiles were warm blooded?

Written by evolution and earth sciences specialist, Dougal Dixon, this is a book that will broaden the horizons of dinosaur mad readers and, with evolution now a topic in the KS2 science curriculum, it’s one to add to primary school collections.

Rivers
Peter Goes
Gecko Press

In his follow up to Timeline, Belgian illustrator Peter Goes takes readers by means of a series of large size maps, on a continent-by-continent tour of all the world’s great rivers.

Those featured flow across  predominantly monochromic double spreads that are illustrated with images of iconic structures – bridges and buildings, vehicles, people, deities, monsters, wildlife and physical features.

Factual information – historical, geographical, biological, mythical, cultural – is provided in snippets (the book is translated from the original text by Bill Nagelkerke) through and around which each river meanders from source to sea.

I’ve visited relatively few of the rivers featured (though various parts the River Thames have always been part and parcel of my life and I’ve visited locations along the Ganges). Some including the River Onxy in Antarctica that flows only in summer, I’d never heard of.

This super-sized book has made me want to do some more river exploring; perhaps, like its creator I’ll start closest to home, in Europe.

A fascinating book for young would-be travellers and school libraries in particular.

Find My Rocket / Elephants on Tour / Egypt Magnified

Find My Rocket
Aleksandra Artymowska
Laurence King Publishing

Aleksandra Artymowska is a terrific illustrator; I first came across her amazing work through another maze book, Amazed. Now it looks as though the same boy from that book has returned needing help in another puzzling adventure. This time having sent his red rocket jetting off into space he needs our help to locate it in eleven differently themed maze scenes. It’s easy enough for readers to spot the whizzing spacecraft but finding the right way through the intricately detailed possible pathways presents a real puzzler.

Every one of Aleksandra’s scenes be it the paper cranes, the building blocks, the toolbox or the teddies,

is packed with wonderful small objects, visual jokes and more – love the alliterative manoeuvres the lad performs during his search– catapulted through the cars, dodged all the dominoes, for instance, before he finally succeeds in retrieving the object he launched.

A great book to immerse oneself in as the evenings draw in; if you’ve yet to discover Aleksandra Artymowska, then this is a great place to start.

Elephants on Tour
Guillaume Cornet
Laurence King Publishing

Having packed their trunks, five elephants are ready to embark on a world tour and we’re invited. First though we need to get to know something about our fellow adventurers: there’s the highly organised guy with his bags full of maps and tickets. He’s accompanied by a food connoisseur; the arty one, the photographer and the energetic one who insists on taking his skateboard along.

Having done London aboard a red double decker, the next port of call is Amsterdam with its canals and cycle lanes to explore. No doubt they sampled the syrupy waffles, a speciality of the city.

I’m sure they would also have tried the blinis in St. Petersburg and kayaked along one of the rivers or taken a ride on the Mongolian railway.

After visiting sixteen locations on five continents the final stop in their frenetic journey before returning to home shores, is Paris.

Along the way we receive a running commentary from the five travellers and for each location a fact file and other useful information. We’ll definitely need all that because at the outset, we are asked to make sure we find each of the elephants and their favourite belongings at every stopping place. No easy task with so much to look at. (Answers are supplied at the end of the tour.) My head is spinning after that.

With Guillaume Cornet’s intricately detailed scenes, this search and find journey is totally engrossing; those cityscapes are mind-boggling.

Egypt Magnified
David Long and Harry Bloom
Wide Eyed Editions

One possible way to get youngsters interested in times past, especially those who can’t get enough search-and-find books is this offering from Long and Bloom. Readers are invited to travel back through the centuries and visit sixteen Egyptian scenes, including the Great Pyramid and Tutankhamun’s tomb that are absolutely teeming with tiny figures.

Once in ancient Egypt, there are  ten items or people to spot in each illustration and on reaching the end, readers are encouraged to go back and hunt for another 57, plus a hidden mummy on every spread. (There’s a magnifying glass to facilitate the search inside the front cover, because, so we’re told, every Egyptologist needs one.)

The Mud Monster

The Mud Monster
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What on earth is the terrible mud monster that is sending all the animals into a panic? Despite the fact that not a single one of them has seen it, they know for sure it’s huge and horrible.

One day as the monkeys are playing among the creepers they spy something: “Help! It’s the mud monster!” comes the cry. Despite being covered in mud, it isn’t a monster, merely five flamingos, mire-bespattered and desperately in need of a bath in the river. The monkeys are happy to carry them there.

They’re not the only animals to ‘see’ the Mud Monster though. Warthog and rhinoceros also mistakenly identify the moving creature as that which they fear before they too join the throng heading to the river.

When they finally reach their destination, there before them is something huge and exceedingly muddy: surely it couldn’t be that which they dread …

Hilariously illustrated and full of fun, this second tale set in the African rainforest to feature the five flamingos, is one of teamwork and overcoming imaginary fears, and comes from Jonnie and Brita, two people who have a special interest in Africa and its wildlife. Jonnie’s royalties are donated to support conservation projects in Africa, details of which are given at the back of the book.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

You’re Snug With Me

You’re Snug With Me
Chitra Sounder and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

Chitra Soundar sets the follow up the You’re Safe With Me in the wintry wilds of the Arctic.

Her tale of care and protection begins in a den dug into a snowdrift by Mother Bear where she gives birth to two cubs.

As they grow they become more curious: “What lies beyond here?” they ask. Their mother tells them of the frozen lands without, lands where, thanks to the hard snow, it’s safe for them to walk; but “only where the land will let us walk . .. “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

Longer nights bring restlessness to the growing cubs and a reassurance that “As long as the ice stays frozen, we will never go hungry.”

From then on, Mother Bear gently teaches her little ones about the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of nature: the ice will only melt “if we don’t take care of it.” …

“We should only take what we need.”

In between times she answers their questions, telling of the approaching spring; of Earth’s place in the cosmos and the other animals they share the land with. All the while punctuating her lessons with the reassuring refrain, “But hush now, you’re snug with me.”

By the time there’s a whiff of spring in the air outside. Mother Bear has taught her cubs all she knows, thus preparing them for their independence.

Now it’s time to venture outside and welcome the new spring – Mother and cubs together.

The environmental message is soft spoken in Chitra’s mellifluous text but she adds a final page spelling out her hopes that readers will take on a stewardship role when it comes to caring for our precious planet. We’re also given some additional information about polar bears and I was surprised to learn that new- born cubs are only the size of guinea pigs.
Inspired, I think, by Indian folk art patterns and repetitive block print motifs, such is the mesmeric quality of Poonam’s intricately patterned images that you find yourself transfixed by every spread and her colour palette is absolutely gorgeous.
Picture books don’t get more beautiful than this.

A winter blanket, a hot chilli chocolate and Chitra and Poonam’s book – bliss on a chilly day.

Story Box Animal Adventures / My RSPB Nature Craft Box

Story Box Animal Adventures
Claudia Boldt
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

With the twenty sturdy, double-sided puzzle pieces, users can create endless stories: the pieces are interchangeable and when all are used it’s possible to create an adventure stretching out across 2.4 metres.

Brimming over with narrative possibilities involving a polar bear and his animal friends, wicked pirates, a party throwing tortoise and much more, this is a terrific resource for developing language, especially children’s oral storytelling, either in a classroom or at home. It’s especially good for those (adults included) learning English as an additional language.

Here’s Alesha having fun creating her own stories

The potential is terrific and if used by several children together, turn taking, negotiation and other skills also come into play.

A smashing resource, with illustrations by picture book artist Claudia Boldt, that allows a different story to be told every time it’s used.

My RSPB Nature Craft Box
Sarah Edmonds
Walker Books

This is a collaborative venture with the RSPB. Within the chunky box you’ll find a book full of crafty ideas relating to the natural world: you can for example, discover how to make a nest, birds to sit on it and binoculars for bird watching.

Illustrator/designer Sarah Edmonds also offers minibeast-related ideas, masks to make, instructions to construct a forest diorama, ways to create cards, wrapping paper, baking recipes and more. There’s a ‘you will need’ list for each activity as well as visual prompts.

In the box too, are a dozen activity cards that relate to the activities in the book, 4 mask outlines and 5 metres of pre-cut bunting with natural world images to colour.

All in all it’s a great way to encourage your little ones to get outdoors and explore the natural world.

Little Wise Wolf

Little Wise Wolf
Gijs van der Hammen and Hanneke Siemensma
Book Island

Little Wolf is renowned for his wisdom and it makes him proud. He’s so busy studying that he has no time to answer the questions of others.

One day he receives a visitor: it’s the king’s crow bearing a message from his highness. The king is ill and believes that only Wise Wolf can make him better.

Reluctantly he agrees setting out next morning on his bicycle. The other animals are concerned about the distance Little Wolf must travel.

The journey is very long and the terrain hilly. Little Wolf abandons his bike and watched by several pairs of eyes, continues on foot.

Come nightfall he’s exhausted, cold and very hungry; but even worse, he’s lost. On the point of despair he notices a light in the distance. It’s coming from the campfire outside a tent and bubbling away is a pot of soup.

Sated, Little Wolf falls fast asleep.

Next morning another surprise awaits: it’s the other animals. They encourage Little Wolf to continue alone and eventually, totally worn out, he reaches the castle gate and after some persuasion, enters the king’s bedchamber.

A single spoonful of Little Wise Wolf’s herbal medicine is all that’s required to cure the patient.

The grateful king makes him a tempting offer but his decision to turn it down and return to his friends, whom he acknowledges have much to teach him, shows that Little Wolf now truly does deserve to be called wise.

Wise words too from the author: for a bibliophile it is all too easy to become engrossed in books and decide one is too busy for other things and that spoke to me; but what I enjoyed particularly was Hanneke Siemensma’s art.

Using a largely muted colour palette, she portrays the red-booted lupine’s journey to real wisdom in a series of wonderful spreads, each of which offers details to amuse and delight. In addition to the standout red wellies that draw the eye immediately, there is a white dotted line tracking the path Little Wolf takes. Peer into the depths of each scene and you’ll discover much more.