A Quokka For the Queen

A Quokka For the Queen
Huw Lewis Jones and Fred Blunt
Happy Yak

Having read this madcap rhyming royal romp it’s difficult to decide who had more fun, author Huw Lewis Jones creating his alliterative animal gifts – 40+ possibilities, though only 21 in her majesty’s summing up list, or Fred Blunt illustrating same in his splendiferous playful pictures.

It’s her royal highness’s birthday and she’s already received a vast number of presents when one more is duly delivered, having come all the way from Australia. Imagine her surprise when from the parcel leaps a Quokka, a creature unfamiliar to her highness; but she quickly takes a shine to the animal, deciding that this particular birthday will be different. She and her new furry friend will be the givers of presents.

Now being who she is, the Queen has a lot of people whom she deems must be the receivers of their gifts, from the butler and the baker to soldiers and sailors, and from a poet to the prime minister (really?).

Fortunately for her, the Quokka is a superb suggester of suitable animals, including tarantulas for all those important teachers – hmm!

Mightily impressed by the efforts of the Quokka, she then realises that she’s forgotten about asking her helpful friend to choose something for itself. I wonder what the Quokka’s choice will be …

The perfect picture book to share in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and at any time thereafter.

The Secret Life of Birds

The Secret Life of Birds
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Happy Yak

Following The Secret Life of Trees and The Secret Life of Bees, the same author and illustrator bring us a book on the world of birds. Readers are in the hands or rather wings, of Speedy the swift, that acts as guide and narrator on this varied glimpse into the world of our feathered friends.

Did you know – well so Speedy says – swift chicks do press-ups on their wingtips to make themselves stronger. This is just one of the cool facts Moira includes herein, along with some stories and Vivian Mineker’s splendid illustrations that really help bring both information and folk tales to life. One of the latter comes from India and is called How the Peacock got his Colours. We read how one peacock, full of self-importance despite his plain, dull feathers was tricked into paying a visit to the sky goddess and in so doing acquired not only his stunning tail plumage, but also some kindness and humility.

There’s information relating to avian anatomy, growth and development, feathers and their functions, survival, a close up on beaks;

we meet some nocturnal hunters, find out about bird calls and bird song, visit a variety of nests – swifts return to the same one each year repairing it if necessary, look at the stages in the development of a chick from egg to fledgling, there’s a spread on journeys on the wing, are introduced to some record breakers and discover sadly, that all over the world there are endangered birds and finally are some tips on how to help the birds that live close to our homes.

There’s something for everybody here; it’s a good introduction to the topic and a book to add to family shelves and primary classroom collections.

The Wondrous Prune / Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss

The Wondrous Prune
Ellie Clements
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a terrific, heartwarming story of family love, finding your inner strength and remaining positive against the odds.

Eleven year old Prune, a talented artist, her mum and older brother Jesse, have recently moved into the house Prune’s mum inherited from her parents. It’s on the other side of town and so the siblings are facing the challenge of new schools and a new location. Jesse though, is still hanging out with his friend Bryce, a very bad influence on him- a friendship her mother was hoping would be severed by the move.
Prune really misses her best friend Corinne and at her new school are a group of bullies – the Vile-let girls. The sadness and anxiety Prune feels on account of these things act as catalyst for the fantasy element of the story: every time she’s beset by one of these feelings vivid colours swirl inexplicably before her eyes. Moreover if she focuses on her feelings as she draws, her images come to life. Seemingly this girl has an unlikely superpower and sometimes it lands her in trouble; in school for instance and it certainly alarms her mum when she finds out, demanding that her daughter keep it under wraps.

Meanwhile saving Prune from complete misery is the kindness shown by classmate, Doug, a previous victim of the Vile-lets’ bullying. Then there’s that legend of the Delmere Magic. It’s not long however, before Prune discovers that her brother is getting into deeper trouble on account of Bryce and she realises that she just can’t keep her power hidden. Perhaps if she can learnt to harness it, she might be able to save her brother from an increasingly toxic relationship, deal with those bullying her and restore harmony at home.

Ellie Clements’ wonderful blend of fantasy and realism has at its heart the healing power of creativity and will keep readers turning the pages as they root for the Wondrous Prune. I suspect they will also be intrigued by the boy on the bus Prune notices near the end of the book.

Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss
C.J. Haslam
Walker Books

Here’s another eco-themed adventure following on from Orla and the Serpent’s Curse.
Orla Perry, her Jack Russell dog Dave and her two brothers Tom and Richard are holidaying in Norfolk, staying with their eccentric Great Uncle Valentine. “We’re going to die of boredom,” is Tom’s prediction when they arrive at his place of residence but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Orla has recently discovered her witchy powers but it’s been agreed, no magical witchy stuff from her: this will be a normal holiday; nonetheless, Orla has taken her gwelen along.

Although not on the lookout for trouble, Orla soon learns that the beautiful ancient Anna’s Wood is about to be bulldozed for shale gas by a company called GasFrac.

Despite warnings from her uncle not to venture anywhere near, early next morning she just has to investigate; and she certainly doesn’t like what she finds. Impossible as it might be, the natural magic of the wood has disappeared: seemingly something sinister is afoot. Moreover, Orla rescues a magpie from a trap receiving a nasty gash on her face in the process.

Back at Uncle Valentine’s, she’s told that a magpie’s ‘kiss’ will show what fate has in store and then she dreams of GasFrac’s destruction of the wood’s animals. However all the local people seem convinced that the energy company’s promises of a new shopping centre and country park, either that or sheer indifference. It seems everyone has sold their souls to GasFrac, including the postmistress and local witch. But why the change of heart on the part of the erstwhile protesters? As she starts investigating, Orla soon finds distrust and even dislike for herself and Uncle Valentine. Digging deeper, she begins to suspect there’s dark magic involved here. Then she meets the person behind GasFrac and discovers the truth about his evil intentions …

With magic and mayhem, witches, wizards, ravens and a key role played by Dave, not to mention a ‘not buried’ dead cat, and liberal sprinklings of wry humour, this increasingly fast-paced book will grip readers , right to the final page.

Eye Spy / Bugs

These are two picture books that celebrate the natural world: thanks to Scallywag Press and Little Tiger for sending them for review

Eye Spy
Ruth Brown
Scallywag Press

With her stunningly beautiful scenes and playful rhyming, riddling text, Ruth Brown provides readers and listeners with an altogether different I spy experience that begins at sunrise and ends at sundown with the appearance of the moon in the dark night sky. In all there are a dozen riddles to solve and the same number of objects from the natural world to find hidden in plain sight on the full page illustration on each recto.

Every nature scene is a delight – a veritable visual feast at every turn of the page -and some of the hidden things are much more tricky to find than others, such is the wealth of detail and clever use of colour in each one, be it the wheat field, the verdant meadow,

the stone wall, the autumnal bracken or the close up view of the base of a tree, to name just some of the sights we’re treated to.

No matter though, for the answer to each riddle is given on the following page.
This is a book to treasure and return to time and again: even when you can find all the hidden items there is SO much to see and be awed by in Ruth’s wonderful works of art.

Bugs
Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup
Little Tiger

In a rhyming narrative Patricia Hegarty takes readers and listeners through the year focussing on happenings in the natural world. These are shown in Britta’s bold, scenes that take us close up to a wealth of minibeasts and the greenery on which they land, rest, crawl and sometimes nibble
We see an abundance of new life in the springtime, be it day or night; then come the summer, changes are afoot: the caterpillar pupates and we see a chrysalis hanging from a tree branch.

Turn the page and it’s revealed what has emerged among the richly hued flowers that have burst forth. Now in the sun Ladybird needs to be extra alert for fear of becoming a tasty tidbit for a hungry bird whereas summer nights are all aglow with fireflies flitting to and fro.

Autumn brings dew and plenty of bees are still busy collecting pollen while grasshoppers chirp and leap among the turning leaves and grasses. As the days grow ever colder heralding winter, it’s huddling and hibernation time until once again nature bursts forth once more and the cycle repeats itself.

Peeking through the holes in the die-cut pages allows youngsters to experience more fully the wealth of natural colours, greens especially, that Britta has used throughout her alluring artwork.

Snakes on a Train / Maisy Goes on a Nature Walk

Snakes on a Train
Kathryn Dennis
Walker Books

The sibilant sounds of the hissing train and slithering snakes takes little ones and their readers aloud on a playful railway journey with a group of scaly reptiles. Having handed over their tickets and boarded the train, with the safety checks duly completed, the passengers find themselves encountering such things as a runaway pig on the track, a dark tunnel, a high hill, and a tall bridge before finally reaching their destination just before it’s time to find their dens and have some shuteye.

A fun sharing book illustrated in simple concrete colours and silhouette shapes: tinies will love hissing along to those snakes and that sound of the train.

Maisy Goes on a Nature Walk
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

With her bag duly packed, Maisy meets her friends Tallulah , Charley, Cyril and Eddie for a nature walk in the park. There’s lots to see such as dragonflies flitting above and in which tadpoles and fish swim; woodland animals peeping out from between the trees, many of which are filled with noisy birds. Maisy gets close to the earth to hunt for minibeasts …

before they all stop beside the hives all abuzz with bees in the wildflower garden where Cyril gets out his magnifying glass for a closer look at those little creatures that live around the flowers. Finally comes what all children love to do – build a den together and then have a picnic lunch.

Another bright episode in the life of every small child’s favourite mouse character that’s just right for sharing with the very young.

Who Jumped into the Bed? / The Best Bed for Me

Who Jumped into the Bed?
Joe Rhatigan and Julia Seal
Sunbird Books

On Julia Seal’s serene wordless opening spread we see, side by side, two adults slumbering peacefully. Then first a small girl, then her brother, followed by a cat, a drooling dog, a slithering snake, 

a host of feathered fliers and a creature with an extremely long neck all make their way into the sleeping accommodation designed for two. Finally, bump! Out falls Dad and with bleary eyes makes his way to the kitchen where he sets to work preparing a delicious-looking breakfast. Guess what: when the hoards hear that this is on offer, every single one – be they bed jumper, snucker, wanderer, bounder, slitherer, flier or neck stretcher want to partake of the feast there and then.

I’m sure many parents will recognise at least the child invasion, in Joe Rhatigan’s rhyming narrative whereas young listeners will delight in joining in with the ‘Who —- into the bed? and be amused at the growing number of intruders that so innocently worm their way under the covers.

The Best Bed for Me
Gaia Cornwall
Walker Books

It’s bedtime for Sweet Pea – so says mama – but seemingly this little one wants to delay sleeping. Making imaginative demands of the animal kind – a koala high up in a tree, a puffin tucked into a burrow, 

a bat that dangles from a branch for instance – the child attempts, in between Mama’s efforts with the bedcovers, to emulate the creatures named.

Having gone through a fair number of creature possibilities together with their ways of sleeping, Sweet Pea eventually comes to the conclusion that a “big-kid bed, with a soft pillow and a fluffy blanket … is the best bed for me.” At last it’s time to bid goodnight to a patient, understanding Mama and snuggle down for the night.

In her pencil and watercolour, digitally finished illustrations, Gaia Cornwall shows another female caregiver with a baby affectionately watching Sweet Pea’s stalling tactics. 

There’s a gentle soporific feel to both Gaia’s visuals and telling, along with gentle humour, making this a playful, tender bedtime tale with added animal antics.

One More Try

One More Try
Naomi Jones and James Jones
Oxford Children’s Books

Mightily impressed with the tall tower the squares and hexagons are building during a play session, that Circle invites triangle and diamond friends to co-construct a tower of their own. They soon discover that easy as edifice erecting might appear, it’s nothing of the sort; indeed it’s fraught with problems of the balancing kind.

However circle, diamond and triangle aren’t giving up that easily; they decide to undertake a training regime to build up their strength. Now although this additional strength helps a bit, a tumbling tower soon results. Perseverance is the name of the game where Circle is concerned, so can a bit of studying improve things? It does, but the tower still wobbles much more than that of the squares and hexagons.

Down but definitely not out, Circle takes time out to give himself a new angle on the challenge.

While so doing, he receives a message from above and although it takes a bit of re-enthusing all the others, they agree to give it one final try working with Circle’s plan. Will success be the reward for refusing to abandon their aim?

In a manner similar to The Perfect Fit, the Jones partnership cleverly combine themes of problem-solving, determination, imagination and mental toughness with mathematical concepts relating to shape. Naomi’s amusing narrative with its plethora of speech bubbles, mainly of the uplifting kind, together with James’s shape characters that while appearing two-dimensional on the page, prove themselves to be anything but, work in perfect harmony: it can’t be easy to give simple shapes personalities but this illustrator has certainly found a way.

Rumaysa Ever After

Rumaysa Ever After
Radiya Hafiza, illustrated by Rhaida El Touny
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the bewitching sequel to Rumaysa: A Fairytale. Kidnapped by witch, Cordelia, when she was a baby and kept prisoner in a tower for twelve years, Rumaysa has escaped and is using the power of her purple onyx necklace to lead her to “the one most in need” hoping all the while that it will eventually take her to her long lost parents.

During her travels far and wide, she comes across a boy in need of her assistance. He introduces himself as Prince Aydin and tells her he was fighting off the Winged Beast of Bishnara. Rumaysa soon finds herself heading to the apple-themed home he shares with his sister Saira White

and discovers that the two are the stepchildren of a notorious wicked witch. She discovers much more too including that not everything or everyone is as they seem. 

Now Rumaysa is plunged into another dark and magical adventure, this time with talking animals, strange beasts and a magic mirror, to help yet somebody else in desperate need.

Will she eventually make it to the home of her parents and be reunited? Happily yes, for Rumaysa is a brave, smart Asian girl, determined to be in charge of her own destiny: she’ll not let anything or anyone get in the way of achieving her goals. She certainly deserves her happily ever after. (I just hope this isn’t the last we see of her.)

Along with the fairytale elements, Radiya Hafiza has worked with a splendidly light touch, aspects of her own Muslim culture – clothes, food, colour, buildings, prayer and more, into this fantastic once upon a time tale. Adding to the impact are Rhaida El Touny’s black and white illustrations throughout the story.

It’s so good to see authors spinning stories like this that enable so many more children to see themselves as powerful female heroes.

When Shadows Fall

When Shadows Fall
Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Natalie Sirett
Little Tiger

Massive in impact, – I often read right through a book I’m loving but I had to pause and set this aside and do some deep breathing several times as I read this intensely powerful work, so raw inside did the writing make me feel – and towards the end when I read what unfolded on 18th December I found myself unable to hold back my tears.

Using a combination of very powerful first person recounts, journal extracts, narrative verse (including that of a pair of ravens) Sita’s lyrical tale of love, loss, grief, forging connections is told from several viewpoints, but chiefly that of Kai. We also hear from Orla – she, like Kai lives in the high rise flats, Zak (from the big house on the other side of the wilderness), and later in the book, from Omid (Om). Om is a gifted artist and having gone through loss and trauma himself develops a special understanding of Kai who, by the time Om comes on the scene, has lost his much-loved baby sister Sula causing his family to fall apart. I can’t speak too highly of Natalie Sirett’s hauntingly evocative illustrations that are also interwoven into the story.

Kai, Orla and Zak grow up near an abandoned piece of wild ground, the Rec. where they unearth and restore a bothy. This is a kind of paradise when they’re young but it later becomes the place of Kai’s corruption; but not only that: it’s also the backdrop to incredible creativity by Om and Kai: a place that must be protected and saved from developers by the Greenlands Guardians.

Further adding to the amazing sense of place are Sula’s memorial tree, the nearby Tower, with its resident ravens and the school, with its protective railings.

Is it possible for Kai, who has left behind his childhood innocence and now seems on a path to self-destruction, to be pulled out of his Slough of Despond?

Ultimately those bonds of friendship, forged both in their childhood and later with the coming of Om, prove the more powerful and along with the creativity that Om sparks, lead to Kai’s salvation.

Including several sensitive topics – infant death, attempted suicide, drug abuse and gang culture – the author emphasises the importance of understanding the reasons for the choices made. With its wealth of life lessons, this is surely destined to become a modern classic. I’ll finish by quoting these wonderful words from the epilogue: ‘I take my pen back out of my pocket … to write the new beginning. As I do I’m blasted by the bright, sweet voice of a song thrush. I close my eyes, picturing the words that flow now from my pen as they sing through me.’

Sita Brahmachari’s storytelling has certainly sung through this reviewer; Natalie Sirett’s art too has sung through me. Awesome.

Endorsed by Amnesty International UK

I Love Me! / We Are the Rainbow!

I Love Me!
Marvyn Harrison and Diane Ewen
Macmillan Children’s Books

Narrated by two small children, this enormously empowering book of positive affirmations came about as a result of the author Marvyn’s own child-rearing experience.

Starting on a Monday, it takes us through the week giving examples to back up the powerful statement. So, Monday’s declaration, ‘I am brave’ is demonstrated by using the big slide, superhero play, facing up to monsters and showing courage in new situations.

Tuesday is brain boosting day with showing one’s skill at maths, reading, dressing and potion brewing. And so it continues through the week as in turn the focus word is brave, kind, 

happy, loving and on Sunday, ‘We are beautiful!’ Those though aren’t the only uplifting statements the book contains, as is revealed beneath the fold-out page that comes before the author’s notes for parents and carers.

This book, with Diane Ewen’s bold, eye-catching mixed media illustrations of the affirmations in practice might have originated with black parents/carers and their offspring in mind, but the powerful feelings of self-worth it will engender in children are crucial to developing confidence in every single youngster no matter who they are, making it an important book for all family and classroom collections.

We Are the Rainbow!
Claire Winslow and Riley Samels
Sunbird Books

One colour at a time, this lovely little rainbow of a board book explores the LGBTQIA+ flag, its symbolism and history. The first eight spreads each use a colour to highlight a particular attribute: purple is for spirit, a reminder to listen to your heart, you are unique. Blue is for harmony, ‘Together our voices can change the world.’ Yellow is sunlight – ‘Happiness grows when you let your light shine.’ These important heartfelt messages are for everyone so the next colour, brown, is for inclusivity and this is followed by black for diversity.

Having presented each of the colours of the rainbow plus black and brown, 

we see a joyful rainbow spread: ‘The rainbow is for PRIDE. Pride means being glad to be who you are’. The final spread is devoted to a short history of how the Pride flag developed since it was first created in 1973.

Yes, this is a board book but its messages of acceptance, empathy, kindness, inclusivity and celebrating who you are, are vital for everyone; it can easily be used with older children, perhaps in a circle time or assembly.

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast / The Giant’s Necklace

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast
Sue Whiting
Walker Books

Ten year old Pearly Woe is an inveterate worrier; her chief worry being that she’ll never be brave enough or sufficiently clear thinking to become a member of The Adventurologists’ Guild, a group of stealth adventurers founded by her Grandpa. However she does have talents: she’s a multi-linguist and can even speak animal languages, most importantly with her unlikely pet, Pig.

Quite suddenly she finds herself with very big worries: her parents have gone missing and Pig is pig-napped. After an encounter with villainous Ms Emmeline Woods, Pearly becomes a stowaway on an icebreaker bound for Antarctica, transporting readers along too on a dangerous rescue mission: but then she discovers Ms Woods is actually in charge of the Might Muncher. She also discovers that her parents are not as she first thought, on the ship.

Fortunately for the girl, numbered among his skills, Pig has a finely-tuned snout that can sniff out all forms of trouble; he’s also bold, brave and helps to keep Pearly relatively calm and focussed on the task in hand – and trotter. What a great, albeit unlikely, team they make.

What exactly is Ms Woods’ purpose in undertaking this trip; what is her interest in finding the Great Hairy Beast?

With danger at every turn – next in the form of an Antarctic blizzard – Pearly must muster every possible bit of courage, bravery and initiative if she’s to have any chance of saving the Great Hairy Beast, her parents and a displaced animal.

I shivered my way through every twist and turn of this thrilling, pig-pun scattered, adventure – the first of a new series – with its engaging protagonist and splendidly quirky sidekick – unable to pause until I reached the rules, guidelines, survival tips and ways to survive a sticky situation for Young Adventurologists at the end of the story.

The Giant’s Necklace
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Briony May-Smith
Walker Books

This is a small masterpiece, a ghost story and an adventure about eleven year old Cherry, on holiday with her family. During her time away, Cherry has been collecting cowrie seashells to make a necklace fit for a giant; the trouble is giants’ necks are very large and an awful lot of shells are required. Now it’s the final day of the holiday and despite her mother urging her to leave her creation as it is, (5,325 shells in all) Cherry is determined to add more before they leave the following morning. 

With her mum’s permission, off she goes to the beach to continue her search. So engrossed does she become though that she fails to notice the huge black clouds rolling in and the increasing size of the waves. Now the tale becomes much darker, for Cherry becomes cut off from the cove and at the mercy of the violent Atlantic waves. Her only way of escaping to safety is to climb the steep rock face: can she do that and what of the shells she’s risked life and limb to collect? Then she remembers the mine tunnels her father had spoken of – definitely worth a try. Increasing eeriness now pervades the events as Cherry encounters spirit people and then comes the final shocking twist …

Thrilling and tense with powerful word images and an important message about safety beside the sea; and beautifully illustrated by Briony May Smith who captures the tension perfectly, 

readers cannot help but root for Cherry all the way, hoping for the best but perhaps, fearing the worst.

Thanks to Walker Books for sending these smashing books for review.

You Can’t let an Elephant drive a Racing Car

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for this hilarious book

You Can’t let an Elephant drive a Racing Car
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In their latest crazy collaboration wherein animals’ antics result in madness and mayhem as they try their paws, snouts, tails, trunks, beaks and other parts of their anatomy at activities normally the province of humans, team Cleveland-Peck and Tazzyman present an unlikely assortment of creatures competing in sporting contests. Starting with the titular elephant sabotaging his chances before the race even begins, among others there’s a junior alligator trying her luck as a figure skater, a kangaroo unable to keep control of the bat in a cricket game, an unaware walrus in a bicycle race – an international one moreover, a wombat that gets the wibble-wobbles in a weight-lifting event

and an entire team of agile monkeys attempting to steal the show at the gym display.

In case you’re wondering if any of these entries end in a medal or a cup, let’s merely say participation is what matters and trying one’s best, and there’s nothing better at the end of the day than a communal frothy immersion to ease those fatigued muscles.

I‘m sure Patricia and David’s well-intentioned contenders will have readers falling off their seats in giggles at the absurdities presented herein and likely trying to imagine some further sporting scenarios for their own animal olympics.
I now hand over to author Patricia to tell you about how she works:

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WRITER

I am lucky enough to live in the country surrounded by fields and woodlands and it is no exaggeration to say that on most days I wake up to the sound of birdsong. I usually spend an hour or so having breakfast and pottering around the kitchen before heading to my writing room. I always feel happy entering it. I think my greatest good fortune is that I am doing something I love and something I wanted to do from about the age of ten.

No two days are the same, but it is good to have a bit of a routine. I usually have emails to  answer first, this week they include one from South Africa and one from Australia. After dealing with the most urgent of them, I settle down to write. Sometimes I write articles about things which interest me: these include odd quirky people, textiles, plants and travel. I wrote one going on a dawn picnic with my children to watch the sun rise – something everyone should do once in their lives.

Often though, I am working on a children’s book. For the texts of the Elephant series, because the books are comparatively short, every single word counts. I have sometimes spent a day or more over one word. But if words are the bricks I use, rhyme, rhythm and assonance are the foundations on which I build stories. I often wander around the house crazily chanting rhymes to myself. I love doing it, but it is not as easy as you’d think.

Sometimes I go travelling far away. My writing has secured me many wonderful trips; most recently to the Arctic where I saw the Northern Lights and went dog sledding but also as far as China, Japan and Mexico. Wherever I go I find things of interest which eventually filter through my imagination into my stories.

When I am at home, I try to go for two walks. Sometimes I go along the lane, into the woods and down to a stream. I look to see which flowers are in bloom, listen for buzzards mewing like kittens overhead and keep my eyes open for the deer which live around here. Other days I stroll our own place where I can see our bees, sheep and poultry. These can inspire a story. I remember throwing some spaghetti out and the sight of the ducks with it twiddled round their beaks gave me the idea for a picture book, The Queen’s Spaghetti. Wherever I am there are stories not far away.

Sometimes I write in the afternoon, sometimes I go out and about – but I always spend the last couple of hours of the day looking over what I have written earlier. As a writer you are never completely off duty. I have a notebook and pen next to my bed because sometimes a great rhyme or a great idea will come to me after I’ve put out the light. As I don’t always put on my glasses it can be a challenge to decipher them by the light of day! I have learned the hard way that I never remember these gems if I don’t scribble them down. There are plenty of ideas out there, it’s just a question of catching them as they fly past.

Please check out the other stops on the tour too

Smile Out Loud / Marshmallow Clouds

Smile Out Loud
Joseph Coelho and Daniel Gray-Barnett
Wide Eyed Editions

I’m sure that like me, many others have in the past couple of years of mandatory mask wearing in so many places, wondered how to show somebody that we are giving them a smile. Perhaps if I’d had a copy of Smile Out Loud then I could have performed one of Joseph’s 25 ‘happy poems’ poems in a shop or elsewhere. I wonder what the reaction would have been to The Dinosaur way of walking funny, which is to Pull your trousers up / as far as they will go, / stick your bottom out / and walk like a chicken / … But instead of clucking – / … let yourself roar! / Like a dinosaur, / … a roar dinosaur! Then there’s The Ballerina way that involves a turn, a spin, a leap followed by Plié! Plié! Petit / Jeté / flutter and glide / the day away.

I’m always plugging the power of the imagination so I really like Imagination Running Free where the instructions are to tell the audience for a read aloud of this poem to close their eyes and imagine the scenarios presented by Imagine your legs / are two conker trees! Imagination running free. // Imagine your knees / are stripy like bees! / Imagination running free. // Imagine you’re running with / toes wet / legs wooden / knees stripy! I love too how Daniel Gray-Barnett has clearly let his imagination run free for this accompanying illustration. 

There are poems to read and act out in a group, one or two to inspire readers to create poems of their own, a funny one that uses spoonerisms and lots more besides. Certainly you should find something to help cheer up not only yourself but those who hear the tongue-twisters, riddles and giggle inducers. So, get a copy for home or school and spread a little sunshine thanks to Joseph’s words and Daniel’s lively, inclusive illustrations.

Marshmallow Clouds
Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek, illustrated by Richard Jones
Walker Books

Subtitled ‘Poems Inspired by Nature’, this is a dreamlike, often pensive collection of thirty poems, each a beautiful word picture placed under one of four elemental section headings: Fire, Water, Air, Earth and all intended, as Kooser says in his afterword, to “encourage you to run with your own imagination, to enjoy what you come up with.”

Being a tree person I was immediately drawn to Trees, the final four lines of which are:
They don’t ask for much, a good rain now and then,
and what they like most are the sweet smells
of the others, and the warm touch of the light,
and to join the soft singing that goes on and on
.
Beautiful words and equally beautiful art by Richard Jones, whose illustration here reminded me so much of one of the places where I pause to sit on my walk and look up at the surrounding understory.

Tadpole too is a poem I found great delight in reading, having recently watched a pool full /of swimming tadpoles, / the liveliest of all punctuation.

No matter where you open the book though, you will find something that’s a joy to read aloud again, and again; something thoughtful and thought-provoking, something likely to make you look at things around you differently. What more can one ask?

A little bit of Respect

A Little Bit of Respect
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

In this episode the Ploofers land their rainbow cloud on an island they’ve not visited before and start getting to know its residents. Initially things go well and all is amiable between visitors and residents but then one of the latter singles out Little One making him the centre of attention, which he finds very upsetting and demeaning.

Being called ‘cutie pie’ and told he looks ‘a bit peeky, weeky’ is the last straw; feeling frustrated and insignificant, Little One’s temper gets the better of him.

But then thankfully, he finds support and empowerment from an unexpected source with whom he shares how he’s feeling.

“Well, I don’t like it when you call me cute. It makes me feel small. I may be small but I still need a little bit of respect,” he tells the islander who caused his discomfiture. What will be the outcome of his new found assertiveness? Having stood up for himself, will Little One receive an apology?

With a surprise just before the end, Claire Alexander’s heartwarming tale of self-respect, respecting others and finding a friend to share your problem with, offers another important life lesson to young children, as well as lots of starting points for Foundation Stage circle-time discussion. I love the cutaway rainbow lettering on the front cover and the way Claire captures the feelings of Little One throughout.

Ghostcloud / The Treasure Under the Jam Factory

Ghostcloud
Michael Mann
Hodder Children’s Books

This is a ghost story with a difference, or rather several differences. It’s set in a grim dystopian future London beneath Battersea Power Station, twelve year old Luke and numerous other kidnapped children spend their miserable lives shovelling coal, working for the iniquitous Tabitha Margate.

After two years, Luke is eager to escape and return to his family, believing his only means of so doing is to gain one of the much coveted amber tickets to freedom. Luke is not without friends in this dark place: there’s Ravi and then Jess, an optimist and plumber in the making. There’s also ghost-girl Alma, who Luke saves, another terrific character; it’s she who shows him what it is to be a ghost cloud.

It’s one crisis after another in a prodigious adventure as Luke and Jess, aided by Alma ,attempt to free themselves from the clutches of the evil Tabitha and return to their homes – something that’s even more crucial once Luke has discovered the truth of what the heinous villain is up to. Is it possible? Perhaps with some assistance from the Ghost Council Alma talks of.

Superbly plotted, full of suspense and darkness but also powerful friendships, plenty of problem-solving, hope, determination and humour. Can one ask for more? Perhaps some moments of quiet, but Michael Mann provides those too in this brilliantly inventive debut novel. I can’t wait for the follow up.

Another adventure much of which takes place below ground is:

The Treasure Under the Jam Factory
Chrissie Sains, illustrated by Jenny Taylor
Walker Books

Having dealt with An Alien in the Jam Factory, McLay’s jam factory now faces a new challenge.

With his hyperactive brain a-fizz as always, differently abled Scooter McLay (he has cerebral palsy) can barely contain his excitement at the prospect of the Grand Re-opening with all that jam-themed food ready to be served. However, horror of horrors, all of a sudden something happens that nearly freezes young Scooter’s blood: the door unexpectedly opens and there before him and his parents, stands their hostile adversary, Daffy Dodgy clutching closely Boris, her guinea pig, come to claim what she insists still belongs to her. Surely all can’t be lost at this crucial moment. Time to call on the contents of tiny alien, Fizzbee’s, suitcase perhaps. Either that or find enough money to pay off Daffy once and for all.
Enter resourceful Cat Pincher and she has some more horrifying news for Scooter, news that increases the urgency to find treasure. Is she to be trusted? They’ll have to take a chance on that.

All manner of weird shenanigans take place deep underground when they find themselves face to face once more with Daffy. A deal is struck but it’s not long before Scooter, Cat and Fizzbee find themselves in the stickiest of situations imaginable on account of Cat’s jam-hating Uncle Perry who is intent on sabotaging the factory. Can Scooter’s knowledge of jam possibly extricate them from this? Cat certainly thinks so …

With fun illustrations by Jenny Taylor …

this really is a yummy sequel and one likely to leave Scooter fans licking their lips at the possibility of further encounters. Meanwhile they could always try baking some of the jammy biscuits using the recipe at the back of the book.

Flooded

Flooded
Mariajo Ilustrajo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Full of water, wit and a little one’s bit of wisdom is this debut picture book from Mariajo Ilustrajo, about a city inhabited solely by animals. It happens one summer beginning on a day just like all the others except that the entire place is rather wet. Initially all the residents except one are happy to use the excess of water as a chance to splash about in wellies and carry on with life as normal, merely making it a topic of conversation and a source of fun.

As the water level keeps on rising there remains a lone voice that shows increasing concern as most others become further involved in their own issues, until that is, some of the smaller animals start having problems.

Eventually a small volume of water has become an enormous problem, impossible for anyone to ignore; but is there anybody that knows what should be done? Happily yes and at last that little creature is able to voice a simple (and we readers would think, obvious), solution. With the entire population working as a team …

the plug is extracted and the drowning of the city is finally halted. Yes, new problems arise and have to be dealt with, but happily now community collaboration rules and solves …

This tale of pulling together in times of need is wonderfully illustrated by an exciting newcomer using ink and graphite and digitally coloured. The text is kept to a minimum allowing the wealth of funny details in each scene to do much of the storytelling.

Amazing Activists Who are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who are Changing Our World
Rebecca Schiller and Sophie Beer
Walker Books

Having explained on the opening pages what activism is essentially about and the wide-ranging causes people devote themselves to, author Rebecca Schiller has selected twenty awesome activists, some familiar some less well-known, to present to younger readers. She chooses widely going back as far as the 18th century – William Wilberforce, and including several contemporary figures from various parts of the world, allocating a double spread to each one. Thereon is essential biographical information along with some words about their beliefs, the reasons they acted as they did and why each one remains important today. Included for each activist is a quote that acts as a subtitle to the spread and an activity for readers and a specially nice touch is three words describing the person’s activist powers; for Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a cyclist with a disability these are ‘optimistic, tough, active. 

For environmentalist, Aditya Mukarji, whose focus is reducing plastic pollution and who has prevented more than 26 million plastic straws being added to environmental waste, the words are ‘persuasive, responsible, methodical’ 

and attributed to biologist Wangari Maathai, creator (along with a team of helpers) of a tree planting project, The Green Belt Movement are ‘expert, hopeful, organiser’.

Visually alluring and with Sophie Beer’s striking illustrations, children will meet individuals who opposed racism, slavery, stood up for human rights, women’s rights, female empowerment, disability rights, LGBT+ rights, environmental causes, wildlife and freedom of speech. Offering a wealth of possible starting points for discussion as well as the ideas themselves, the book ends by asking its audience to think about the things they feel strongly about and to identify their own powers.

Leilong’s Too Long! / Albert Supersize / Rita Wants a Genie

Leilong’s Too Long!
Julia Liu and Bei Lynn
Gecko Press

The endearing brontosaurus Leilong is acting as school bus for Max, Maggie, Mo and their friends, taking care where he puts his massive feet and sometimes pausing to fill up on grass cakes on the way. Despite him always looking out for those he might help 

too many accidents are happening on account of his enormousness and with them, numerous complaints and even fines. Consequently the school has to drop the dino-bus and poor Leilong is devastated. He goes off and hides away. Or so he thinks. Not for long though; perhaps with the help and kindness of his little human friends, there’s a new role for Leilong just waiting to be discovered.
Julia Liu’s text (translated by Helen Wang) and Bei Lynn’s child-like, cartoon style illustrations work in perfect harmony. The details in every spread are a delight – wonderfully expressive and playful. Whether or not you’ve encountered Leilong before, I’m sure he’ll win your heart.

Albert Supersize
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke
Graffeg

Tortoise, Albert has big dreams – massive ones sometimes like the time he dreamt he came to the aid of roaring dinosaurs threatened by erupting volcanic action (no, not the type Albert is prone to emit from his rear end). On this occasion though, when he’s aroused from dreamland by his minibeast friends, Albert discovers he must come to their aid too: the roof of their flowerpot shelter is damaged and in need of repair.
Drawing upon his dream, slowly and carefully Albert does the necessary, making his friends very happy. 

“You might have BIG dreams, Albert, but you’re just the right size to help us,” a worm comments.
Full of gentle humour, kindness and creatures, this latest Albert episode told in Ian Brown’s dramatic style and with Eoin Clarke’s hilarious illustrations is every bit as entertaining as ever.

If you’ve yet to meet Albert, I recommend you do so; at the back of the book you can even find out about the real Albert that inspired the author to tell these stories.

Rita wants a Genie
Máire Zeph and Mr Ando
Graffeg

Young Rita’s at it again with those big ideas of hers. Now she wants a being that will, unquestioningly, carry out her every command. Uh-oh! Having contemplated all the possibilities that having a genie at her beck and call would bring, she realises that her latest flight of fancy might not be her wisest after all. For isn’t it so that a genie must obey the wishes of whomsoever rubs the lamp where it lives? …
Andrew Whitson aka Mr Ando transports readers along with Rita to a magical eastern land of golden palaces, peacocks, lush fruits and swirling sand in his scenes for this latest story in the series he co-creates with author Máire Zeph. It’s an important learning journey for the small protagonist and another fun fantasy to share with those around Rita’s age.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
A.F. Steadman
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Thirteen year old Skandar Smith, a modest boy, longs to become a unicorn rider. This would allow him to get away from his grieving father and school bullies; indeed so his dad tells him, his now dead mother once promised him a unicorn.

Forget any previous unicorn notions you might have: the unicorns in this story are either bloodthirsty and wild or, hatched by specially called 13 year olds and then joined together with a magical elemental bond either air, earth, fire or water. Skandar has always yearned to hatch and then bond to a unicorn and now it’s just weeks away from the Hatchery exam that could offer him the opportunity to do just that. c

However on the day of testing, his hopes are dashed when inexplicably, he’s told he cannot take the exam. Back at home in bed that same night, there’s a knock on the door. It’s a woman come to take Skandar secretly to the island Hatchery so he can try to open the door behind which are the unicorn eggs. With barely time for his sister to wrap their mother’s special black scarf around Skandar’s neck and a quick ‘Be better” farewell to his Dad, the boy and woman are off aback a white unicorn. This woman – Agatha – also warns Skandar about an evil being, the Weaver.

Tension builds as Skandar endeavours to work out the Weaver’s plan; he’s troubled when the group of children who see his unicorn hatchling, notice the mark of the deadly forbidden fifth spirit element, which is wielded by the Weaver. Now Skandar must learn to trust his new group, all of whom must keep his dangerous secret.

Prepare yourself for enormous challenges, shocks and betrayal in this gripping, suspenseful story that will keep you on the edge of your seat right to the very end of Annabel Steadman’s terrific debut novel.

How Rude! / How Selfish! / How Messy!

How Rude!
How Selfish
How Messy!

Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec
Happy Yak

How superb! are both Clare’s words and Olivier Tallec’s pictures for the books in this series, each being told mainly through Dot and Duck’s dialogue.
In How Rude! Duck arrives at Dot’s for a tea party. From the start his thoughtless behaviour sabotages Dot’s every effort as he complains about the food and the drink, while Dot does her upmost to keep calm: one can see her frustration mount as her cheeks grow redder and redder until she decides to retaliate.

However, after apologies from both sides, all ends happily with smiles and evidence of an important lesson learned.

Another vital life-lesson for young children is brilliantly delivered in How Selfish! and now it’s Dot who starts off behaving in a problematic manner. First she destroys the flowers Duck is holding. Then claiming it’s her sword, she snatches the stick Duck has found, hopefully for a flag,. A squabble ensues with yellings of “Flag” and “Sword” and grabbings of said stick. Duck then tries a spot of negotiating: “Swap the flag for a rabbit?” to which Dot responds “That’s MY toy!”
Duck then suggests sharing: but clearly Dot’s notion of sharing doesn’t quite fit Duck’s bill.

Is there a way out of this stand-off? Yes there is, for Duck now delivers the most devastatingly powerful of childhood intentions, “I’m telling on you …”
There’s a rapid acquiescence from Dot that means Duck then has all the toys. Dot though has the stick/ flag but that’s not quite the end of this selfish, crazy contretemps. There are grumps on both sides and pretty soon, boredom. A compromise perhaps? … Definitely one to provoke in depth discussion this.

What to do when one person’s messiness is another person’s creativity: that dilemma is at the heart of How Messy! Now Duck and Dot are at the seaside and after a pancake breakfast, sally forth onto the beach to play. While Dot is carefully crafting, placing each item with the utmost precision, Duck gathers flotsam and jetsam and proceeds to make an octopus, which he proudly shows Dot. Totally unimpressed, she tells Duck he’s messy.

“ … It’s not mess …it’s art! I made it for you!” he tells her about his next piece of work and this looks as though it might just win Dot over until …

Now things are indeed pretty messy. Time for a think … followed by a clever piece of collaborative work.

But the best laid creations of Dot and Duck cannot compete with the forces of nature. Could a dip save the day for them both …

Vive la difference! say I.

With oodles of empathy and delightful humour, these books are pitch perfect for foundation stage settings, nurseries and families with young siblings. They’re absolutely certain to result in giggles aplenty and reflections on best how to treat other people.

How To Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto

How to Teach Grown-Ups about Pluto
Dean Regas, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Britannica Books

If you’ve ever wondered why Pluto lost its status as a planet over fifteen years ago, then here’s a book for you. It’s written in an amusing child-friendly style by astronomer, TV presenter and more, Dean Regas, and illustrated with suitably funky, blue tinged, cartoon style art by Aaron Blecha.
Having briefly introduced himself and the work of an astronomer, in his tongue in cheek style, the author explores the contentious case of Pluto and its demotion from being one of the nine primary planets in our solar system, thus losing its status as a full-blown ‘planet’. This was something even he initially found hard to accept.

Before that though we read of Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto; how an eleven year old girl came to name it. But then comes it’s downfall – not literally of course. ‘so small, so far away, so alone, so off-kilter and so cold’ was it that ‘people rallied to defend Pluto against anyone who wanted to take away its planethood, … Never before had the public embraced such an inanimate space object as their underdog’, says Regas.

He then ingeniously goes on to explain how the constantly developing nature of space science means that many youngsters’ knowledge of our solar system is likely to be more accurate than that of lots of grown-ups. Having read this book such youngsters will be able to tell any doubting adults that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and one of five dwarf planets. They’ll be able to introduce them to Sedna too, as Regas does to readers herein.

So cool and utterly brilliant. If this book doesn’t get youngsters interested in astronomy then I might have to eat my own copy, timeline and all.

Uncle Pete and the Forest of Lost Things

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for this new Uncle Pete and Tiny Mouse book.

Uncle Pete and the Forest of Lost Things
David C. Flanagan, illustrated by Will Hughes
Little Door Books

Barely giving themselves time to recover from their magical blanket delivery – but time enough to consume a fair amount of their favourite foods – Uncle Pete and his indomitable sidekick, TM, are off again. Now they want to track down their plane, abandoned when it ran out of stardust; surely it couldn’t have ended up in the Forest of Lost Things could it? And what’s more the two couldn’t really be thinking of entering this alarming-sounding place where it’s recommended nobody sets foot, to search for it could they? 

Of course they could, even when squirrel leader, Shona, is horrified at the notion. Nonetheless she does make sure the adventurers are equipped to the best of her ability before they sally forth, aided and abetted by the Squirrelcoaster. Their journey takes them over land and into peril deep, deep beneath the sea – bother those cans of beans – but thank the universe for those emergency underpants of Uncle Pete’s, one of the more sensible items he stuffed into that rucksack of his. Finally the two, by different means, reach the forest, but then they need to locate one another.

Uncle Pete has an encounter with an owl that’s far from happy about the present state of the forest, an erstwhile peaceful, magical place and now far too full of rubbish. 

Said owl also talks of giant cats, incredibly grumpy ones; the same felines that TM has already met and happily not been consumed by on account of her extreme smallness. Happily too, Uncle Pete and TM are soon reunited and the search for the plane continues. However, there’s also the pressing problem of tidying and decluttering the forest and recycling as much as possible, that the former raises. Recycling though is getting a bit ahead of things as the lost plane must be located for that to happen. On the lost theme too is a little polar bear, Berg, that they come upon and invite to join their adventure.

An adventure about which I’ll say no more, other than that there are further twists and turns, thousands of fireflies, a multi-stage plan fuelled by the thought of feasting on favourite foods- again! – a terrific squash and a squeeze; plus a finale that leads neatly into Uncle Pete and TM’s next adventure. 

Hurrah! say all the readers of and listeners to, this terrific tale with its important environmental theme, as well as the thrills and spills, kindness and consideration one has come to expect from the fearless friends. Not forgetting the quirky drawings by Will Hughes that help to make this an ideal read for those fairly new to chapter books.

Make sure you check out the other stops on this blog tour too.

Do Lions Hate Haircuts?

Do Lions Hate Haircuts?
Bethany Walker and Stephanie Laberis
Walker Books

Leonard might be leader of his pride and king of beasts but when it comes to haircuts, he’s just a big baby that hates even the prospect of a trim. Consequently he searches everywhere in his kingdom for an expert barber until eventually he meets Marvin mouse. Sceptical about the possibility of such a tiny creature being a hairdresser, Leonard finally decides to give him a chance. The result is a
tonsorial work of art that delights the lion so much that he allows Marvin to try out all manner of funky styles and soon the two become best friends.

All is serene in the kingdom until one day Leonard detects a familiar aroma drifting on the air and
his nose leads him, to horror of horrors, his best pal working his magic on another animal. Consequently Leonard decides to let his hair grow and grow, vowing never again to get it cut. But with the increasing growth of his hair comes increasing sadness as Leonard misses his friend. Wiser than their parent, Leonard’s cubs suggest finding Marvin and apologising for the jealous behaviour Leonard has shown but he refuses so to do.

Suddenly Leonard hears a protracted yet familiar sound

and off he dashes to the rescue only to trip and take a precipitous tumble. Happily however, despite some mild injuries Leonard saves Marvin and in so doing finally sees the error of his ways, apologising profusely to the mouse. That isn’t quite the end of the story though for Marvin’s response generates a clever idea in Leonard’s mind and results in an exciting new enterprise. Even that however isn’t quite the end for there’s a clever and fun final twist yet to come …

Hair-raising indeed is Bethany Walker’s comic story of an unlikely friendship with its themes of learning to say sorry and to share. Hilarious illustrations by Stephanie Laberis are full of dramatic moments and laugh-out-loud twists and turns. A story-time favourite in the making methinks.

I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast

I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast
Michael Holland FLS and Philip Giordano
Flying Eye Books

‘Plants are essential to your world. Without them, no other living thing would be able to survive.’ So begins this absolutely beautiful book aptly subtitled ‘A Celebration of Plants Around the World’ that presents much about the truly amazing plants of our planet in glorious colour. With spring well and truly bursting forth around us now, what better time to pay tribute to botanical beauties (and some animals along the way) – were you aware that some plants – the carnivorous kinds – actually feed on insects?

Written in a child-friendly style by Michael Holland, the book is divided into four main sections that together comprise pretty much everything a youngster would need to know and more, starting with what plants are, their parts, their essential processes – photosynthesis, respiration and growth, reproduction (I’m sure readers will be amused to learn of the world’s largest seed – coco de mer, that looks remarkably like a gorilla’s rear) and why they matter. 

Then comes a look at the plant kingdom in general – evolution – did you know all plant species originated from just one type of plant, millions of years back? There’s a family tree, a look at adaptation, 

food chains and food webs.

The latter part of the book explores how plants sustain our everyday lives: there are plant extracts in medicines, in toothpaste, in clothes, cooking oil, soap, plastics and then of course there are all those delicious fruits and vegetables we consume as part of our daily diet.

Despite the huge amount of information in the book, it’s all split up neatly into small sections and paragraphs, making it super-easy to digest and there’s a glossary at the back should you come across unfamiliar botanical terms. Plus, there are a dozen suggestions for some simple plant-based science experiments such as creating cornflour slime and cultivating a wild weed bottle garden. Of course environmental pollution affects plants too so the last part covers that as well as a spread entitled The Future is Green.

Visually stunning with retro-style graphics that provide a perfect complement to the text, this is a must-have book for budding botanists, family bookshelves and class collections. Readers will surely want to dig into it time and time again.

Not a Cat in Sight / Ruffles and the New Green Thing

Not a Cat in Sight
Frances Stickley and Eamonn O’Neill
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Mouse sports a snazzy pair of specs so how come he is completely oblivious to the presence of a very large cat following his every move on this warm, sunny day? I’m sure young listeners to Frances’s splendidly rhythmic, rhyming narrative will, in addition to joining in the repeat refrain ‘with not a cat in sight’, be wanting to shout out to the little creature in best pantomime style, “Look out he’s behind you” as debut illustrator Eamonn O’Neill shows him in his suitably playful scenes dressing and venturing outdoors to spend an almost unimaginably ‘perfect day’.
Determined to make the very most of his day we see Mouse teeter across a tightrope, try a spot of skydiving,

delve deep in the compost for treasure, play at being a pirate, and more besides.

It’s sheer theatrical delight as myopic Mouse frolics hither and thither, his stalker ever on his trail until a comic slapstick moment involving a pooch coming to his aid, almost certainly saving him from a catastrophic demise.

But will our Mouse ever realise that during all of his wonderful adventures something has been right on his tail?

Ruffles and the New Green Thing
David Melling
Nosy Crow

When it comes to canine things Ruffles is pretty much like most other dogs; however he’s somewhat averse to anything new and different. It’s certainly true when he spies something green in his bowl: what ever is this green item unlike anything he’s ever seen before?
His initial sensory investigations yield no ideas but then he’s distracted by the arrival of his pal Ralph. Ralph is the dog that can dig deeper, find bigger sticks and jump higher than Ruffles but they both share a love of …

Having spend some playful energetic time together with his friend, Ralph decides to chomp at the new green thing and then it’s a case of anything Ralph can do … and suddenly the bowl is completely empty. What’s more Ruffles has a new favourite food. So Ruffles loves new things? Errr! …

With its clever mix of droll humour in the illustrations and a straightforward narrative, Ruffles fans will eagerly gobble this new episode up and I have no doubt the adorable pooch will add to his following too.

The Friendship Bench

The Friendship Bench
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford Children’s Books

New beginnings is the theme of this beautiful story that celebrates young children’s creative play.

Tilly has just moved to a new home beside the sea: the setting looks gorgeous but she’s very disappointed when her mum tells her that her beloved dog Shadow can’t go into her new school on her first day. Nothing is the same without her canine friend.
At playtime, Tilly is alone and when her teacher notices this he suggests she try the Friendship Bench. However when she gets there, the bench is already occupied. Back to the teacher goes Tilly who tells her to have another try.

The little boy hasn’t vacated it however, so she joins him and after a bit they both decide the bench needs fixing to make it work. They set to work improving it until …

On the way back from school that afternoon Tilly tells her Mummy about how she and Flint transformed the Friendship Bench and about their future plans.

As always, there’s power in both Wendy’s straightforward, finely honed telling and Daniel Egnéus’ dreamlike illustrations. I love his warmth, the occasional gentle humour in the details and the way he puts readers right close to the action.

One to add to foundations stage/KS1 collections and family bookshelves.

The Light Hunters / Dragon Storm; Ellis and Pathseeker

The Light Hunters
Dan Walker
UCLan Publishing

Prepare to be immediately swept up in this rip-roaring, action-packed fantasy adventure. ‘You ask me what light is? Light is everything. Every single thing . The very fabric of our world is made up of this force – people, trees, … Few can access Light, control it. You are one.’ So writes Professor Medela before the real story begins; but it’s key to the entire thing.

Twelve year old Lux lives with his ailing Grandpa and Miss Hart, his grandfather’s carer (but much more besides) in Grandpa’s clock repair shop. At school Lux, his best friend, tech-loving Maya and their fellow students are drilled in what to do should there be a Monster attack. For centuries the Light Hunters have, for the benefit of the townsfolk of Daven, done battle with these terrible creatures, not always successfully. In one attack a decade back, Lux’s immediate family along with half the town’s residents lost their lives, turning the people against Light.

Lux is on a mission to save his Grandpa’s life and to this end has been told to search for a book called Investigations into Light and Healing by a former Light Hunter. Now Lux himself has a secret: not only is he able to wield light, there’s a possibility he might be the finest Light Healer ever. Against his Grandpas’s strict instructions never to reveal his secret, Lux first uses his healing power for saving Maya when she receives a life-threatening injury from a Monster. However this deed draws to the town, one Deimos, a fallen Hunter determined to harness Lux’s power for his own dark and nefarious ends.
Readers join the hero on a journey with lightships, heart-stopping sights and perils unbounded, in this deft amalgam of relatable real-life emotions, a vividly conjured world, a race against time, humour and some wonderful characterisation. What more could one ask, other than, when is the second episode coming?

Dragon Storm: Ellis and Pathseeker
Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

In the kingdom of Rivven dragons are forbidden. However, hidden from normal people and their King is The Dragonseer Guild, a place for a group of people with a special power enabling them to see beyond the human world. Ellis and his dragon Pathseer are part of this secret league.

Now it’s the Maze Festival in Rivven, and Ellis and Pathseeker are set on being first to complete the three mazes in the the king’s palace grounds and become this year’s tournament winners. But in the mazes they discover a mysterious girl who has her own reasons for wanting to win the tournament and she’s secretly using dangerous dragon magic by wielding a strange necklace.

Now there’s much more at stake for Ellis and Pathseeker. It will take all their courage and expertise to find a path back out of the mazes; yes Pathseeker does eventually discover her power. But can they keep the existence of dragons and the Guild a secret from King Godfic?

This third Dragon Storm adventure is every bit as exciting as the previous two and existing fans as well as new readers will be swept up by the narrative, but want to pause to enjoy Eric Deschamps’ illustrations along the way.

Wanda

Wanda
Sihle Nontshokweni & Mathabo Tlali, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne
Otter-Barry Books

“Intombi mayizithembe mayazithe, Wanda. Be confident. Trust in yourself.” So says Wanda’s Mama in this uplifting story starring a girl with a wonderful head of hair that makes her feel anything but confident as she’s teased by unkind members of her class. Unbeknown to her Mama, who spends ages combing her daughter’s hair each morning, before she goes into her classroom Wanda usually changes her hairdo making the ‘big switch’ so that her teacher won’t call her hair a “bird’s nest”. However on this particular day she’s late and unable to make the alterations.

Mrs Stewart sends her to find an Alice band in the lost property box and this she wears throughout school time.

On the way home she sadly tells herself that maybe after all, she’s not that proud African queen with beautiful hair, ‘strong like clouds’, as her Mama tells her every morning. However on her return she’s greeted by her Grandmother who, after a distraught Wanda has shared how she feels, is able to help her swallow all that sadness, partly by giving her a scrapbook that they look at together. Therein Wanda sees pictures of African women with amazing hairstyles, each one of them beautiful and every one of them, deservedly famous;

then on the final page is her own mother. At last Wanda can truly embrace her own hair, especially with a bit of extra knowledge from her gran concerning the secret of her crown – “Water and 100% olive oil.”
Next morning,, it’s a proud, emotionally strong Wanda who waits at that bus stop.

This heartfelt look at how society can drain the positivity instilled by a loving family, is a powerful reminder that everyone has the right to feel confident to celebrate their culture and that we should all share in that celebration rather than attempt to undermine it. The broad themes of the story – self belief and kindness, with its compelling, vibrant illustrations, make this a book to share with primary classes wherever they are.

A Trio of Board Books

Sophie has Lunch
Sophie Goes to Sleep

Templar Publishing

Designed to foster routines that create happy mealtimes and bedtimes, these two board books feature a giraffe toy from France, ‘Sophie la girafe’.

In the first it’s 12.30pm – time for the little giraffe to have her lunch. Before that though, as per the instructions, she should wash her hooves (the text says, “Before we eat, we should wash our hands.’) Then having done so and helped set the table, we see what foods are on offer – it’s good that there are several vegetables and Sophie tries cucumber for the very first time. Seemingly she enjoyed her first course for her plate is almost empty and she’s ready to choose something sweet and healthy from the fridge.
In addition to the simple main, always upbeat narrative, each double spread has a helpful tip for adult sharers.

In the second book Sophie is almost ready for bed. But first she should tidy away her toys, enjoy a splishy splashy bath, brush her teeth – as per the instructions, then put on her pyjamas. Clever Sophie! She appears to have done this by herself and once in bed, it’s time for a bedtime story and a cuddle before she snuggles right down under her favourite blanket and light dimmed, drifts off to sleep.
With brightly illustrated, textured pages, practical tips from Lizzie Noble and simple home-related language, there’s lots of learning potential for little ones here.

Bizzy Bear My First Memory Game : Animals
Benji Davies and Camilla Reid
Nosy Crow

There’s an abundance of animals large and small to be discovered in the four settings – the farm, the zoo, beneath the sea and in the park – that Benji Davies illustrates in his busy scenes for this large format board book. At each location, Bizzy Bear has a different role: he brings food for the farm animals, acts as ranger driving around visitors to the zoo, is at the helm of a submarine under the sea and enjoys a cycle around the park.

There are three memory games for each location: hide and seek wherein all the sliders start closed and then a little hand should open them one at a time and search in the full page scene opposite for the creature revealed beneath each slider. Matching pairs is game two where memorising the animals’ positions beneath the sliders is required

and the third is a search and find game with three questions, the answers to which are found in the relevant large picture.

With a wealth of fun language possibilities, memory building and more (depending on the age of the child) this is recommended for family enjoyment especially, though I’m sure imaginative early years practitioners can also think of ways to share it with small groups.

Earth, Sea & Stars

Earth, Sea & Stars
Isabel Otter, illustrated by Ana Sender
Little Tiger

This anthology of twenty stories from ancient cultures takes readers on a journey around the world and back in time to when tales such as these would likely have been told among people sitting around a fire. A time when humankind’s respect for, and awe of, the natural world was greater than it is today.

From as far afield as Syria, Scotland and South Sudan, Nigeria and Norway to name just some of the places from which these stories have come, we encounter a life-saving baboon with a lesson to teach a farmer in a Swahili tale,

an armadillo that uses her knowledge of plants to outwit a fox in the Argentinian Pampas, an ant that comes to the aid of King Lion (from Myanmar) and discover how the people came to have light, warmth and power thanks to a spider’s ingenuity, a woodpecker’s strength and a young woman’s bravery (the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Flora feature prominently in The Flower Thief (Syria) that demonstrates the vital importance of stewardship; The Sky Garden – a Dreamtime tale; and from Tahiti comes a beautiful tale of a Banyan Tree with its amazing roots.

After the moving tellings themselves, Isabel Otter offers some background details, a spread of thought-provoking questions to consider (one per story) – great for classroom discussions, and a bibliography. Ana Sender’s stunning illustrations grace almost every spread of this collection that as well as being a joy to read and to share, is a reminder that wherever we are we should treat our precious planet and the living things thereon with the care it needs to survive and thrive.

The Wild Garden

The Wild Garden
Cynthia Cliff
Prestel

Jilly lives in a village called Mirren with her Grandpa and dog, Bleu. Outside the village, as we see in the beautifully detailed illustrations, is a wonderful wild place, a mix of meadowland, woods and ponds, while within the village is a carefully cultivated shared garden wherein people grow row upon row of vegetables and ornamental plants.

It’s the wild place that Jilly, Grandpa, and Bleu, spend much of their time, in spring enjoying the birds and minibeasts and searching for edible greens to eat for supper. At the same time the community garden is a hive of activity. And so it continues through the seasons, one difference between the two locations being that Jilly never knows what their forays might yield,

whereas the results of the labours of the other villagers in their garden are much more predictable.

Then with winter comes a fierce snowstorm after which the villagers decide to enlarge their growing space: a much much bigger garden should result in more and more rows of plants. Needless to say this plan perplexes Jilly and Grandpa: what will happen to the meadows, the nut trees and all those animal habitats? They have to do something to stop the wildlife devastation. Can two people possibly show all the other village residents that a bigger garden isn’t as they think, a better garden?

Perhaps there’s a way that everybody can be satisfied …

Cynthia Cliff’s illustrations of the contrasting growing spaces show that both have much to offer while both these and her story help make youngsters aware of the beauty and vital importance of nature; and how our amazing planet isn’t owned by humans, rather we must share it with the wealth of flora and fauna, respecting and caring for their habitats.

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale
Hannah Gold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Hannah Gold is a wonderful weaver of words. In this story we meet eleven year old Rio who is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small coastal town in California while his musical mum goes to hospital for treatment. Having last met Grandmother Fran over five years ago, and knowing virtually nothing about where she lives, he is reluctant to go but has no choice about leaving his friends and everything familiar.

Then, one day Fran gives Rio a box containing treasures that had belonged to his mum. Inside is a sketchbook of drawings of whales, one of which seems to call to the boy. He discovers she’s named White Beak on account of her distinctive markings. This leads him down to the harbour

and a chance meeting with Marina, a girl around his own age who lives on a boat with her Dad, Birch, and they run whale-watching trips for visitors.

Now, Rio has a focus and perhaps too an anchor, for he feels that if he can find White Beak it will help heal his mother. He discovers that not only has he an affinity for whales, but he is able to hear them when nobody else can.

You’ll likely feel tears welling up at certain places in this beautiful, unputdownable book. The author’s way of embedding information about animals (in this case whales and protection of their environment), within a gripping narrative with brilliant characterisation is awesome. I urge you to dive headlong in, relish the opportunity to lose yourself in this watery world, spot some whales in Levi Pinfold’s illustrations that are as exquisite as Hannah’s writing and notably capture the majesty of White Beak, as well as Rio’s journey both emotional and physical.

The Journey Home

The Journey Home
Frann Preston-Gannon
Pavilion Books

The conservation message of this tenth anniversary edition of Frann’s thought-provoking picture book is even more urgent now than when it was first published.

It begins with a Polar Bear, forced to leave home when the ice has melted and there’s no longer any food. As he swims he comes upon a small boat, climbs in and sets out he knows not where. Soon he discovers a city and there on the dockside is a Panda. The Panda climbs into the boat and they sail off together. Some time later they see an Orangutan, now without any jungle and Panda invites her to join them.

Suddenly Orangutan notices an Elephant that is endeavouring to hide from tusk-stealing hunters. Then there are four packed into that tiny boat and before long a storm brews up carrying then far, far away from all their homes.

Eventually the boat approaches an island upon which stands a Dodo.

The sailors explain their plight, saying that they really want to go home. “Well of course you can go home!” comes the reply … “You can go home when the trees grow back and when the ice returns and when the cities stop getting bigger and when the hunting stops.” What choice do they really have but to stay put and as the Dodo suggests, “Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

We adult readers know what the Dodo’s fate was, but it need not be the same for Polar Bear, Panda, Orangutan and Elephant. Yes the story, with its beautifully executed collage illustrations in a muted colour palette, is pretty bleak; and as we discover in a factual section after the narrative, all these wonderful creatures are either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. However all is not lost thanks to the work being done on their behalf by various organisations and individuals. To that end, the final page has ideas about what young readers and their families (or classes) can do to help the environment.

Sam Plants a Sunflower / Tilly Plants a Tree / Shelly Hen Lays Eggs

Sam Plants a Sunflower
Kate Petty and Axel Scheffler
Tilly Plants a Tree
William Petty and Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, these lift-the flap books each with a strategically placed pop-up are just right for helping young children discover the delights of growing things for themselves.

As Sam cat basks in the sunshine a passing ladybird responds to his “Why can’t the sun shine every day?”with a suggestion that he should plant sunflowers. We then follow the process as he chooses a suitable day, a suitable spot in his garden, plants and waters his seeds and waits. And waits … Beneath the soil (and a series of flaps) an earthworm watches adding comments until a few days later, Sam discovers a row of sprouting leaves. As it gets hotter Sam worries about how to help his sunflowers grow and receives advice from the ladybird. The plants continue getting ever taller until eventually buds appear but still Sam waits for his big yellow sunflowers until at last there to his delight, that of his friends and of readers, they are.

As summer ends the petals fall, the leaves wither and there again is the reassuring ladybird telling Sam to remove the seeds, share them with his pals and plant them the following spring.
If by chance, the story hasn’t made youngsters eager to plant sunflowers, there’s a final page of helpful tips.

Tilly, the main character in the second story is a squirrel. One day she rushes home from school with exciting news; everyone in her class is going to grow an oak tree. Grandma takes Tilly to a woodland full of majestic oaks and beneath Grandma’s special tree the little squirrel finds an acorn. Gran knows just what to do to get the acorn to germinate and after more than a year, with the help of ladybird and worm too, Tilly’s sapling is ready to be planted out in the wood near her Grandma’s.

With its straightforward explanatory narrative and a final page of tips I’m sure many little humans will be eagerly collecting acorns for planting this autumn.
Ideal for sharing with foundation stage children and for home use, both books have bright, expressive illustrations from Axel Scheffler that young children and readers aloud will enjoy.

Shelly Hen Lays Eggs
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the third in the Follow My Food picture book series aimed at helping young children understand where their food comes from. We join a little boy as he watches Shelly a free range hen as she takes a dust bath to get rid of mites, feeds on bugs in the grass and herbs she comes upon, clucks with her friends in the flock, returns to her coop at sundown, settles down in the nesting box and at dawn, lays an egg ready for the helpful little boy narrator to collect along with the other eggs later in the morning. It might even be the one he eats for his tea.
After Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward narrative accompanied by Julia Groves’ bright, cut paper illustrations comes a trail-type quiz based on the facts of the story, where youngsters match words and pictures. There are two further information pages with paragraphs on ‘Happy Hens’, ‘Tasty Eggs’ and Chatty Chickens’.
Food is a popular theme in foundation stage settings so this would be a useful book to add to school and nursery collections.

No More Peas

No More Peas
Madeleine Cook and Erika Meza
Oxford Children’s Books

Given the chance, young Oliver would restrict his meals to pizza, chips, burgers, cakes and other sweet stuff. However his father insists on giving him carrots – hard ones, broccoli (green and puffy) or a plate of roly-poly peas at dinner times. All of these Oliver donates to the dog.

Time to devise a healthy eating plan, thinks Dad.

Next day off they go into the garden where as Dad informs his son, “I grow vegetables here.” Again Oliver comes up with his usual “YUK!” response. Dad doesn’t give up that easily though and proceeds to tell the boy all about the growing process as well as the wealth of colourful vegetables it’s possible to cultivate. Now Daniel is impressed at the possibility of eating a rainbow: seems as though Dad’s plan is starting to work.

That evening Oliver helps prepare the meal:

there are lots of exciting new veggies to try but what will be the boy’s reaction? Is there at last a vegetable he really truly likes? Happily yes: it’s tiny, spherical and green. So why that title? …

Madeleine Cook’s fun, gently educative story of growing your own vegetables, healthy eating and trying new foods is deliciously illustrated in Erika Meza’s scenes that – like good picture books do – convey so much not said in the words; Oliver’s feelings about Dad’s offerings are superbly captured as are those of the other characters.

Whether or not there’s a fussy eater in your family, (or class) this is a terrific book to share with foundation stage/KS1 children for so many reasons and the classroom potential is enormous.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Magic Thief

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Magic Thief
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The fantastic fourth instalment of Dominique Valente’s fantasy series sees young witch, Willow Moss without her magic power that has been stolen by the renegade wizard Silas. Now with Starfell on the brink of disaster and destruction, facing formidable danger Willow and some friends set out a-back dragon Feathering to the Mountains of Nach , where if a story her Granny once told her is right, she will find the legendary beast, the Craegun.

She hopes what’s believed about this powerful being – that it can restore anything that has been lost, albeit at a cost – is so. The clock is ticking and she has only a few days to complete her mission or all the magic of Willow’s world will be forever lost.

It’s a huge learning journey for Willow; by the time this epic tale ends wherein she often recalls her Granny’s wonderfully wise words, she’s learnt to love herself for the awesome person she is; and a lot about magic, it’s might, and what it really means to herself, her family and the Starfell community.

Truly a celebration of friendship, empathy, kindness and consideration, equality, determination and resilience: oh my shrinking giants! – this is such a terrific read, full of memorable moments and so superbly illustrated by Sarah Warburton. Please don’t let it be the last we hear of Willow et al.

Around the World in 80 Trees / Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments

Here are two titles in a Welbeck Publishing series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Around the World in 80 Trees
Ben Lerwill and Kaja Kajfež

Trees are crucial to life on Earth: they release oxygen. They also provide food, medicine, materials and shelter and since Stone Age times have been prized by humans, some cultures even seeing certain of them as holy. So says Ben Lerwill in his introductory spread for this book.

Then having explained the different kinds of trees (coniferous and broadleaf) and their various parts, with the help of Kaja Kajfež’s gorgeous, detailed illustrations, he takes readers, around the globe to find out about some of 60,000 plus species that are found in the Americas, followed in turn by Africa, Europe and Asia, and finally Oceania. Between each main geographical section are spreads on more general topics – leaves,

roots, pollination, flowers and seeds, and the importance of trees.
Do you know what the oldest tree in the world is, or where it grows? I knew that it’s been named Methuselah but not that it’s the bristlecone pine and has been growing in the White Mountains of California for over 4850 years. In the same state is another record breaker, the coast redwood, the tallest known tree. Other locations visited in this section are the tropical Amazon rainforest and the Andes.
Growing in several parts of the African continent is the mighty baobab, six of the seven species of which I read, can only be found on Madagascar.

Such is the strength of baobab bark that it can be used to make nets, ropes, bags, homes even; and happily the bark that’s ripped off is always replaced by new growth.
Whether you dip in and out of this book or read it straight through, you’ll likely learn something new and exciting; but in conclusion, the author provides a stark reminder that it’s important we all play our part in helping the future health of these wonderful plants.

Around the World in 80 Musical Instruments
Nancy Dickman and Sue Downing

No matter where on earth you might go, you’ll always come across people making music; we might call music-making a universal phenomenon. There are many hundreds of different musical instruments to be found all over the world and they are used for many purposes including for concerts, alongside dancers, in celebrations, for religious ceremonies, and even unfortunately, as a form of intimidation or aggression.

In her account for this book, author Nancy Dickman groups eighty of them under four main headings based on how the instruments make their sounds: percussion instruments, stringed instruments, wind instruments

and a miscellaneous assortment she calls ‘weird and wonderful instruments’. She’s also created a very helpful musical family tree discovered by opening a central gatefold.

We read about the various materials used in the making of the instruments featured in each of the four sections as well as the places in which they are played. Although I’ve seen and heard hundreds of instruments and collected a good many in my travels, I encountered many new to me in this fascinating book with Sue Dowling’s bold illustrations large and small; I’m sure other readers will too.

For school collections and interested individuals from around seven.

A Little Bit of Hush

A Little Bit of Hush
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books

Squirrel and her babies live in a big tree; so too do all sorts of noisy birds. Their cacophony is such that the baby squirrels are unable to get to sleep so their mother decides to consult Owl. Having heard her problem Owl brings out a jar containing so he says, “A Little Bit of Hush”. Squirrel is somewhat puzzled that she can’t see anything in the jar so Owl demonstrates the way in which it works and goes on to show her his special invention, a Silence Catcher.

The two of them then embark on a magical journey through the woods with Owl capturing the hush between the Blackbird’s song and its alarm call, and encourages Squirrel who finds some of his own – the hush within a hollow tree stump, a hush deep down in some fallen leaves.

Owl then captures the stillness after an acorn drops before it bounces on the forest floor and even the silence between lightning’s flash and thunder’s roll. All these Owl stows in pockets of peace and pouches of stillness and hush; then back in his workshop he uses these ingredients, creating a special mixture that he puts into a jar for Squirrel to take back to her family.

The noise outside her front door is louder than ever when she returns, but now she has her own bottle of helpful hush. Will it work its unique magic on the five squirrels?

I love this idea and tried it out on my walk after this book had arrived in the post. It certainly made me more mindful of the spaces between the natural sounds that surrounded me as I stopped and sat for five minutes just listening.

With its examples of natural sounds, though interesting in themselves, but which can sometimes becomes distracting, Paul Stewart’s story shows the importance of silence in our busy world. Like Squirrel we all need times without noise either to drift off to sleep or as a kind of sacred space into which we can retreat and be contemplative. In her collage illustrations, Jane Porter beautifully captures the noisy woodland environment of the creatures’ quest for peace and quite, amusingly portraying the various sources of the distractions.

One Tiny Dot

One Tiny Dot
Lucy Rowland and Gwen Millward
Templar Books

The transformative effect of kindness is personified and explored in this tale of what starts off as a small spherical entity and ends up in the same state; but it’s what happens in between that matters and that we discover, as we follow the blue dot for a day.

Starting its perambulations in a busy town street our titular dot encounters a boy proudly wearing a new pair of trainers. Act of kindness number one comes when the boy invites the dot to stay for a while and off they go cheerfully until …

Happily a girl sees the soaked shoes and then comes act of kindness number two accompanied by an increase in the size of our dot. All three proceed on their way together and an encounter with a distressed old gentleman leads to act of kindness number three and a huge increase in girth for the dot.

Through the fields they go, kindness flowing behind them, until there’s a veritable crowd of happy people also exuding kindness and enlarging the kindness dot to a gigantic size. They reach the town and there smiles and goodness soon pervade the entire place attracting the attention of the mayor. Much impressed at what he sees, it’s a case of “ice creams on me”. Suddenly though as they make their way to the beach, this is what they come upon …

Fortunately Kindness knows a thing or two about Anger: but can that blue Kindness dot save the day?

Carrying with it a vitally important message, Lucy Rowland’s rhyming narrative rolls along as well as her main character in this uplifting story. Helping equally to spread that message are Gwen Millward’s inspiriting child-centric scenes. May that dot just keep on rolling. Adult readers aloud, be they at home or in primary classrooms, can help maintain the theme’s momentum.

(Having read the story, teachers might try using a small blue ball in a circle time, throwing it to each child in turn who suggests their own act of kindness for the day).

Max Counts to A Million / Wigglesbottom Primary: The Talking Lamb

These are both very funny books from Nosy Crow – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Max Counts to A Million
Jeremy Williams

Those first days of lockdown in March 2020 are probably still lingering in the minds of many of us in the UK whether we are adults or like Max, a child at primary school. Max, so he tells readers, is an ordinary eight-year old boy living an ordinary life with his father, a hospital doctor, and nutritionist mother. Then Covid 19 happens: like the rest of us he is scared, frustrated, confused, often bored, missing close contact with family and friends, and thinking it can’t last for long. But it does; schools close and for Max it means that his father goes to stay in a hotel to keep family members safe; he’s under his mother’s feet much of the time and his Grandad is briefly hospitalised with the dreaded virus.

Max doesn’t actually plan to count beyond the hundred he’s told to, it just kind of happens when after an upset with his mum he announces, “Fine” … I’ll count to a million.” This extraordinary statement, crazy as it may sound, becomes not the way to distract himself the boy first intends, but a protracted act that over the weeks, with the help of family, friends and neighbours, brings together a whole community and raises vast sums for NHS charities.

Poignant, honest, humorous – I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions – and splendidly told in a chatty style by Max himself a keen observer who shares his ups and downs, this ultimately uplifting book perfectly captures a moment in recent history we’re unlikely to forget.

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Talking Lamb
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor

It’s always fun to be in the company of Miss Riley’s Class 2; in this eighth book are three further lively episodes. The first tells of what Theo Burke decides is probably the best day of his life, a trip to a petting zoo. Having visited and appreciated – mostly – several animals everyone sits down for lunch on the picnic benches beside the lambs. And that’s when the real fun begins: one of the lambs puts in a request.

Or does it? Be it yes or no, the result is considerable chaos, some chastisement and a surprise revelation.

The same is true when a new art teacher arrives. Dev, as she asks to be called, rather foolishly – but then it’s her first encounter with Class 2 – asks them as she sits on the floor, to “Paint! Paint your passion! Paint off the paper!” Enough said …

In the final episode of this book (but hopefully not of the series), despite it being almost the end of the summer term, and Year 6’s final day ever because they’re off on a week’s residential trip, members of Class 2 are surprised when they are approached by the leavers, who pass on instructions that as of now it’s down to them to protect “the school secret”. To reveal what this is would be to spoil the story but let’s just say it involves a very big box and something potentially very dangerous.

Laughs aplenty guaranteed for readers be they the solo kind or adult readers aloud. As always Becka Moor’s illustrations are a hoot and play a significant part in the hilariousness of this series. ( Her portrayal of Dev is splendid.)

Natural History Board Books

Who’s Hiding: In the Garden?
Pintachan and Amelia Hepworth
Little Tiger

Having lost her five babies, Mummy Snail needs help to find them. First she asks Frog and thanks to him, locates the first of her missing offspring. Following Mouse’s suggestion, she discovers baby number two and Puppy’s advice enables her to find the third. With two still in hiding along comes Butterfly as she approaches the strawberry plant. You can guess what’s beneath one of the juicy fruits … and that leaves just one. Now where can it be? …
With flaps for little fingers to manipulate in Pintachan’s bold, bright cut away spreads of the search, a simple narrative with speech bubbles and sounds coming from the baby snails to join in with, Amelia Hepworth’s countdown narrative provides plenty to engage little ones who participate in Mummy Snail’s hunt.

One Little Seed
Becky Davies and Charlotte Pepper
Little Tiger

It never ceases to amaze this adult reviewer how from one tiny seed, a lovely flower can grow, often indeed many, many beautiful flowers. It all depends on what kind of seed whether you get a single bloom or a multitude all blooming on one plant and we see both examples in Charlotte Pepper’s bright, alluring illustrations.
In her text for this biggish board book, Becky Davies’s engaging narrative certainly encourages young children to go outdoors with an adult, involve themselves in nature and use all their senses to investigate the flora, (along with the fauna and natural environment in general) around them,

preferably with the book to hand.
There’s a spread with information about how to grow your own flower from seed, and/or a bulb; another showing some of the delicious fruits and vegetables flowering plants produce; we visit a community garden and finally are reminded of the cycle of life in which every one of us, young and not so young can play a part. With a wealth of flaps to explore – several per spread – with further information – visual and verbal – beneath each, this book will one hopes, motivate little ones to be outdoor explorers.

The Tree Book
Hannah Alice
Nosy Crow

Illustrated by Hannah Alice, this large format book was produced in consultation with Simon Toomer, recently appointed Curator of Living Collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The sturdy, see-through pages contain a considerable amount of information written in a young child-friendly style. Interesting, fun and interactive, it introduces users to the inner workings of a tree.
The cut out, see-through pages allow you to ‘look inside’ each part of the tree – roots, trunk, branches and leaves – and see how it functions and grows. Each page presents a different tree-related topic such as new leaves, flowers and pollen, leaves and photosynthesis,

fruits and seeds, mighty minibeasts, underground roots of different types of trees.
The written narrative, with corresponding stylised but clear pictures, takes us through the four seasons and concludes with a look at the importance of caring for and perhaps planting new trees. Without these wonderful plants, none of us would have fresh oxygen to breath.
Walking in a place that has lots of trees is one of my favourite things to do, and I’d certainly suggest it’s never too early to start fostering a love of trees in children; this book could be a good place to start.

Do You Love Exploring?

Do You Love Exploring?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of this series Matt Robertson’s wildlife adventure takes readers to visit a variety of habitats all over the world.

First stop is the grasslands of Africa where on the savannah roam some grass grazing creatures including zebras, giraffes, black rhinos and elephants. However these have to keep alert as lions lurk, often with the female waiting to spring on unsuspecting prey which will act as food for herself and her family. By means of an illustrated strip we’re also introduced to grassland dwellers from other parts of the globe too. There are some less iconic creatures too including dung beetle; these almost unbelievably are said to be the strongest animals on Earth.

I was amazed to see how many animals, large and small make their home high up in mountainous regions and I’d not even heard of Blue sheep that reside in the Himalayas and other places (a weird name since the creatures are neither blue nor indeed sheep).

Other habitats, each allocated a double spread, include rainforests – one wherein gibbons communicate by singing, wonderful woodlands, islands including the Galapagos, the North and South Poles, searingly hot deserts – watch out for one of the world’s deadliest scorpions – aptly called the Deathstalker,

and a beautiful coral reef deep beneath the ocean.

The final spread presents some endangered animals and the ‘… which … can you spot?’ should send readers back to search for the nine featured thereon.

All of this should convince readers that it’s enormously exciting to meet so many creatures, albeit by means of Matt’s humorous, vibrant illustrations into which a considerable amount of factual information is set.

Sunshine at Bedtime / Let’s Go Outside

Sunshine at Bedtime
Clare Helen Welsh and Sally Soweol Han
Storyhouse Publishing

When inquisitive young Miki realises that despite being told it’s time for bed, the evening is still light and the sun shining. she’s puzzled. As her mum sees her to bed, she begins to explain and the two of them then embark on a journey of discovery that takes them soaring off into the sky far from Miki’s bedroom across land and sea and out into space.

As they travel Mummy explains how the earth spins on its axis once every 24 hours and slowly slowly orbits the sun during the four seasons that comprise a year. Miki notices Earth leaning towards the Sun giving summer to the people residing in the north and Mum fills in that in the south at this time, it’s winter and thus less sunshine and longer, darker nights.
They then watch as the north leans away from the Sun, which is then sharing its light with the south 

and after flying over all the places the sun shines, it’s time to return and for Miki to got to bed.

Told in Clare Helen Walsh’s poetic prose and shown through Sally Soweol Han’s illustrations – a mix of double page spreads, strip sequences and occasional vignettes showing views of earth and space, this story is one to share and discuss now as the days begin to draw out, for UK audiences at least. (More details about the earth and its tilt and the sun are given at the end of the story.)

Let’s Go Outside!
Ben Lerwill and Marina Ruiz
Welbeck Publishing

What joys there are waiting for those who venture outdoors suitably clad of course, no matter the weather. That’s what author Ben Lerwill and illustrator Marina Ruiz make evident in this foray through the seasons as we join the group of friends who make the most of every opportunity. There are hills to climb, forests with their wealth of wildlife to explore and if you venture close to the sea, then you’ll certainly notice the wind in your hair and face. 

It’s always great to feel the warm sun on your face, especially if like the children here you take a rest, lie back and just breathe. Minibeasts in abundance are there for the finding especially if like one or two of the nature detectives herein, you’ve remembered to take along a magnifying glass on your walk.
The gently sloping hills are great places for some roly poly romping and who can resist a chance for
dam making like these young co-operators.

I have to admit I often need to make myself go out when it’s raining hard: not so the group of friends herein. They’re quick to find lots of sploshy puddles to jump in. Whereas a snowy day means snow angels, creating snow sculptures and of course, a game of snowballs.

Whatever the season, there’s plenty to relish and most likely by the end of the day, as it is with the friends in the book who go their separate ways, a cosy home awaits.

The last two double spreads are devoted to some starting points for discussion and questions to tempt young readers, no matter where they live, to leave their screens and embrace the exciting outdoors.

The Eyebrows of Doom

The Eyebrows of Doom
Steve Smallman and Miguel Ordóñez
Little Tiger

Keep alert as you go about your daily tasks for you never know if, like the bear Dave in Steve Smallman’s rhyming story, you might be next to be attacked by the titular hairy facial features (actually slugs).
Said eyebrows once in place upon the unsuspecting ursine character, unleash in him the desire to perpetrate a series of dastardly deeds, before departing to land upon Ron a young seagull. As he takes flight, Ron poop bombs the sunbathers on the beach and then little Molly becomes the next to have a visit from the eyebrows prompting her to give her grandfather a spine-chilling shock.

Meanwhile all is calm and peaceful at the zoo until along come those evil eyebrows whereupon chaos is let loose as the dastardly duo rush hither and thither before Dave appears broom in hand and sees them. Whereupon they seek a hiding place and in their haste select the trunk of Edna Elephant. Not a wise choice for they so discombobulate her that she sneezes them out all coated in snot. Yuck!

Then with a splash they enter the sea, their bothersome behaviour over once and for all; or is it? …

Steve’s bonkers tale is a fun read aloud, which, daft though it is, offers listeners plenty to ponder upon. A perusal of Miguel Ordóñez’s zany scenes of the unfolding drama provides no clues but are likely to cause giggles aplenty. I love the way the speech bubble dialogue between the slugs serves to move the story forward.

Coming Up For Air / Sisters of the Mist

Coming Up For Air
Lou Abercrombie
Little Tiger

When Coco has to move to the seaside town of Piscary where her mum grew up, she’s eager to make friends and learn more about the family her mum has kept from her. What she doesn’t expect is the resentment shown by the community and her mum’s secrets are certainly deep-rooted.

Staying with her reputedly brilliant biologist Uncle Henry who is struggling with ME, Coco is an aspiring film-maker and an excellent swimmer with as she discovers, a talent for freediving.

Within Piscary are factions: the residents born and bred in the town (Fishes), those who have bought property to live in (Cuckoos), and the ‘Zombies’ who come to spend the summer enjoying what the town offers. As Coco explores the rift between her mum, her family and her hometown, making an occasional friend along the way, she becomes more and more determined to bring the town together.

But then disaster strikes when she and ace swimmer/diver Leo and new friend Shiv investigate a cave that involves diving deep and swimming along a tunnel. Will it be a case of tragic history repeating itself or can Coco finally see herself as part of a proper family?

Lou Abercrombie’s powerful, gripping coming of age story is told from the viewpoint of Coco who intersperses her narrative with filmic directions, adding an unusual element to the book.

Sisters of the Mist
Marlyn Spaaij
Flying Eye Books

Frygea Forest is ancient and mysterious; trolls lurk and mischievous changelings scuttle around. It’s also the place on the edge of which three sisters go every summer to stay with their grandmother on her farm.

Kyra and Janna have been eagerly anticipating another chance to climb trees, toast marshmallows and play some silly games in the woods with their big sister Margot who will be starting senior school after the holidays. Things are different this year however. Margot is less enthusiastic about spending all her time with her siblings. But when she’s lured into the midst of the swampy woods by the phantom-like beings in the mist – the Fog Furies – a worried Kyra is determined to help her

and that means facing the frightful Hellhound. What’s actually happening is that on account of the mysterious forces, Margot is being transformed into a young adolescent.

Marlyn Spaaij’s cleverly conceived, dramatically illustrated graphic novel combines swirlingly strange fantasy elements with Margot’s coming of age and starting her periods, both these being aided by the Furies and her understanding grandmother. It’s a good one to give girls especially those around ten before those changes of growing up start to happen, especially as it shows that facing up to scary changes doesn’t have to mean leaving behind the power of the imagination.

A Best Friend for Bear

A Best Friend for Bear
Petr Horáček
Walker Books

As Black Bear wanders alone he decides a friend would cure his loneliness but finding one in a large forest is far from easy. Suddenly to his surprise he comes upon another creature: it’s Brown Bear and co-incidentally that bear too is searching for a friend. Brown Bear agrees to Black Bear’s suggestions that they look together and off they go, both commenting on the difficulty of their mission. The search is occasionally hazardous but exciting

and it’s good to have a fellow creature to help when needed.

After hunting unsuccessfully for a while, Brown Bear suggests they practise with each other by playing hide-and-seek. All goes well until Black Bear is unable to find Brown Bear until …

and then as they sit side by side, a realisation dawns …

Young listeners will delight in being in the know with the author about what’s coming in the two final spreads and equally will love the warmth and on-going humour of the story. Petr Horáček’s arresting, richly textured and coloured, scribbly visuals are truly gorgeous: I love too, the way the bears’ eyes say so much in their search for what’s right there in front of (or beside) them all along.

Bella Loves Bugs / Billy Loves Birds

Bella Loves Bugs
Billy Loves Birds

Jess French and Duncan Beedie
Happy Yak

These two narrative non-fiction picture books are written by zoologist, naturalist and vet, Jess French whose passion for wildlife shines through in both Nature Heroes titles wherein she uses the titular children as narrators.

Bella is an aspiring entomologist who shares a day in her life with readers and it’s certainly a very exciting one with lots of discoveries. Her first task is to collect garlic mustard to feed her caterpillars and then with a few useful bug hunting items she sets out to look for minibeasts and to meet up with some of her fellow nature hero friends.
By following Bella’s interactions with her friends and the additional facts this becomes a learning journey for readers who encounter social insects – ants in particular – a honey bee collecting nectar and others around their hives,

several jumping bugs and then a “fluttery butterfly” (why a non-native monarch?). Their next stop is at a pond, absolutely alive with water creatures on and below the surface; time for some pond-dipping (with an adult close by).
As they go into the forest Bella makes several discoveries – woodlice, a wolf spider with her eggs, and inside her trap she finds a stag beetle and a stag beetle grub. Down comes the rain bringing out the slugs and snails, and then it’s time to head home where something else exciting happens inside her vivarium.
Look out for the spider that makes occasional comments along the way.

Bird loving Billy (in the company of a talking tit) spends a day at forest school, sharing his observations with readers and his friends about the wealth of birds they encounter. There’s a woodpecker, a dunnock nest with several eggs including one of a different colour and there’s great excitement when Billy spies a kingfisher and comes across a beautiful feather to add to his collection.

Eventually he reaches the tit nest box located high in a tree where there are little chicks just preparing to leave the nest.

Bursting with information engagingly presented in the words and in Duncan Beedie’s amusing illustrations, both books should encourage youngsters to go outdoors to investigate and one hopes, appreciate the wonders of nature that’s all around us.

The Royal Leap-Frog

The Royal Leap-Frog
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Written in perfect rhyme is Peter Bently’s very funny version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Leaping Match fable. It tells, and shows through Claire Powell’s splendid, vibrantly coloured illustrations, what happens when a flea and a grasshopper (both convinced they’re the best) compete before the king whom they want to decide which one of them can jump the higher. Along with them to the palace goes a little green frog.
Utter chaos ensues as first flea

and then grasshopper leaps – captured with panache in Claire’s detailed scenes for which she uses a variety of layouts.

Both insects then depart the royal dining room leaving the king flat out on his sofa. However his respite is brief for up steps the frog claiming an ability to out-leap both previous contestants. What will be the outcome of his attempt?

A laugh-out-loud book that’s great to share in the classroom or at home with individuals, whether or not they’re familiar with the original fairy tale.

Human Town

Human Town
Alan Durant and Anna Doherty
Tiny Owl

Holding a mirror up to us is this story wherein elephants Junior, Lulu and their parents visit Human Town. Whereas their parents suggest it’s likely to be a boring place, the offspring consider it cool.

On arrival they first peruse the list of rules and then start wandering around, Dad warning of the potential dangers and unpredictably of humans. They pause to watch people entering shops empty- handed and coming out with bags stuffed full of ‘things’. Things, says Dad, make humans happy. The young elephants are shocked to learn that some humans eat sheep, chickens and cows. “You can’t judge them like us, … they’re wild animals,” is Dad’s comment.

The football game is a disappointment; but even worse is the stream full of rubbish and the foul-smelling air, both the results of human carelessness and hence points out Mum, one of the reasons they are dying out;

so too is the “farting car” Junior spies. The church, cinema and school are completely empty: not a human in any of them; and those outside their homes are shown fighting one another

while inside others watch a boring thing called ‘Teevee”.

Then totally unimpressed, the elephants stop for a family picnic before returning home. First though Junior asks one final question about the likelihood of humans becoming extinct. Mum’s answer along with her young one’s response on the last page are thought-provokingly alarming.

Cleverly presenting consumerism, conflict, pollution and the vital importance of the environment and protecting animals, this book is an excellent starting point for discussions with children on those themes. Yes it’s wryly humorous, but the truths of what we see and read are evident the world over: we can no longer turn our backs on what is happening on this planet that we – humans and wildlife – share.

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue / The Smidgens Crash-Land

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Piccadilly Press

This is the first of a new series about a community of tiny sprite-like beings residing in the depths of Whispering Wood in Hidden Middle, out of sight of the Ruffins (humans) who live on the edge of the woods. Living off the land, seeking out and collecting their food and useful objects discarded by Ruffins, these tiny folk are called Keepers. Early every morning the Keepers head off into Ruffin territory to repair and protect the environment from the actions of the Ruffins.
The main protagonists of this story are Cora and Jax, would-be Keepers in training who are excited about their very first venture in the Big Outside where they’ve been asked to reseed land bulldozed by the Ruffins, and if possible to collect various natural items. They must complete this work by dawn or risk being sent back to school.
The two friends think they’ve plenty of time to do the bidding of Scarlet Busybee, but once in the Outside they’re soon distracted, first by a mother fox and her cubs and then a shiny metal slide and only just make it back in time. They’re given another chance and the following day set out, full of good intentions, with two specific jobs to do.
Again the two are distracted in part by something that’s happened as a consequence of their previous day’s actions. Seemingly it’s going to take more than a mere sprinkling of Cora’s woodland magic to put things right 

but perhaps some timely unexpected assistance by fellow Keepers could yet help save the situation.
Julie Sykes cleverly weaves the actions and consequences thread into her enchanting story while Katy Riddell’s sprinkling of black and white illustrations imbue the telling with a misty magical feel.
New solo readers, especially lovers of nature sprinkled with woodland magic, will delight in this book and eagerly anticipate the further titles in the series mentioned after the ‘create your own wildflower meadow’ instructions that follow the adventure.

There’s more magic with tiny beings in:

The Smidgens Crash-Land
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Since her previous adventure Gafferty Sprout has been very good but this hot-headed young Smidgen seems to have a nose for trouble. In this second adventure it isn’t long before trouble is what she finds as she and new best friend Will take to the air but only briefly; a mishap with their glider plunges them down right by Noah who is out shopping at the ‘Big Folk’ market with his mum.
Even bigger trouble soon turns up in the form of another Smidgen, one Crumpeck, who claims to have discovered the location of the third Smidgen clan’s home, a place called Burrow. ‘… even more Smidgens to get to know – and more friends’ thinks Gafferty. But is it really that straightforward, for Crumpeck steals Gafferty’s precious magical knife and starts heading for the Burrow. What else can she do but follow him, harmless Smidgenologist or not?
However when Gafferty eventually finds a way into the Burrow she discovers that these Smidgens are not the friendly folks she’d anticipated.

Meanwhile the evil Claudia Slymark is on the prowl, still searching for a piece of that magical mirror.
In the end (though happily not the end of the series), Gafferty must rely on Smidgen rule 4 to extricate herself from a very very tricky situation. Can she do it?
Superbly illustrated once more by Seb Burnett, this is another of David O’Connell’s wonderfully exuberant mixes of humour, adventure and magic. It’s sure to leave readers and listeners eagerly anticipating Gafferty’s next adventure: perhaps therein the three Smidgen clans will be reunited – you never know …