He’s Not Naughty!

He’s Not Naughty!
Deborah Brownson, illustrated by Ben Mason
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Taryn and Jake are best friends, they’re almost inseparable, similar in lots of ways but also rather different for Jake has autism, and Taryn has taken it upon herself to explain for young readers (as well as teachers and other educators, carers, parents and family) what this means.

It most definitely does not mean, despite some of his behaviour, that he’s naughty. Far from it; rather his sensory processing disorder might result in him feeling explosive inside so that he flaps his hands and screams rather than participating in a supposedly fun activity.

Or, his tactile sensitivity might make him cast off his uncomfortable-feeling clothes or shoes and run around without the offending article(s).

Perhaps he might be so engrossed in his own world that it appears he’s ignoring another person; although there are ways to get around this, as there are ways of coping with other ‘mistakes’. After all, everyone– neuro diverse or not -, learns through their mistakes. For example, many grown-ups expect a child to look directly into their eyes when being spoken to; for children such as Jake, listening to and looking at a person at the same time, asks them to use one sense too many and as a consequence, to listen well he looks down at the floor. This is not being rude (a mistake many unknowing adults make); it’s merely coping with being different.

Taste and how food looks, reactions to strangers, taking things literally, feelings, speech (including communicating with sign language and by means of PECS);

making friends, choosing an appropriate school and routines, as well as famous people who have or may have autism are also covered.

This excellent little book is a real gem, written from first-hand knowledge and from the heart – its author is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum – and ought to be shared in all classrooms and by every family bringing up a child with autism.
Moreover, the artist Ben Mason has Asperger’s and his illustrations too are heart-felt and insightful.

Hair Love

Hair Love
Matthew A.Cherry and Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

‘A celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere’ says a line on the cover of this book but it’s much more than that. It’s also a celebration of individuality, perseverance, collaboration, and a loving family.

Young Zuri’s hair is a mass of curls; her dad calls it beautiful and this makes the little girl proud. It lets her be herself as it ‘kinks, coils and curls every which way’, no matter if she feels like being a princess or a superhero.

On this particular day though, Zuri needs a very special hairstyle but she knows her Daddy is particularly tired after having undertaken the whole responsibility for her care. Deciding he needs a break, the child allows him some extra sleep while she investigates styles on a tablet. Her good intentions however are thwarted;

he’s woken up and ready and willing to assist.

Dad tackles the job confidently but comes up with a series of hairstyles that just don’t work for Zuri, as we see in Vashti Harrison’s splendidly expressive digital illustrations and hear through debut author Matthew Cherry’s apt narrative,

until the dutiful dad pulls a bobble hat down over her eyes.

Zuri’s “We can do better than that” response however sees the two working together, she providing encouragement and an on-screen lesson, he collecting the tools and developing his artistry until finally … Success! ‘Funky puff buns’ that satisfy everyone …

Our little girl is ready just in the nick of time for a very important ‘welcome home’ celebration.

Just right for an early years storytime and for family sharing, this is a smashing book that knocks gender stereotypes out of the window as well as reinforcing the ‘be proud of who you are’ message.

Christopher Pumpkin

Christopher Pumpkin
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Who or what would you ask for assistance if you were wanting to throw the scariest ever, totally unforgettable party? Perhaps not a pile of almost forgotten cooking ingredients that just happen to be lying on your kitchen floor; but then you are not a witch with a magic wand like the one in Sue and Paul’s crazy magical rhyming tale.

This witch decides to spell a heap of pumpkins into life, name them – Gnarly, Grizzly, Grunty, Roar, Snaggletooth, Stink Face and err – well she never gets to give a name to the last one for he cheerily informs her that he’s called Christopher Pumpkin and invites his fellow pumpkins to a group hug.

Can this thoroughly ill-fitting, non-scary animated member of the pumpkin fraternity possibly fit in with the witch’s scarifying plans? She decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, albeit while keeping her beady eyes upon him.

Task one is to create decorations that will bring dread and fear into all who so much as glance at them.
Easy peasy thinks Chris but the witch and other veggies are let’s say, underwhelmed. They’re equally unimpressed with Chris’s musical proposition …

So what about the party fare? Of course it’s cooked up in the cauldron and seems suitably disgusting until in walks our pal Chris proffering err, some pretty pink confections.

The witch gives the guy one more chance – be scary or be soup.

Can Chris come up with a scary solution before the following morning: he has just the hours of darkness to work something out or he’s in the pot.

Oddly enough, come morning, there’s an empty bed where Chris had been and the witch is ready to throw open the door to let her guests in …

Terrifically silly but terrific fun, this tale is perfect for showing little ones the importance of being themselves and not letting anyone push them around or make them into something they’re not.

It’s a smashing read aloud that slides and slithers over and off the tongue like yummy pumpkin soup. And as for Nick’s scenes of magic, mischief mayhem and the occasional menace, they’re a totally tasty treat to feast your eyes upon.

What’s not to love? Perhaps though, that rather depends on whether or not you have a penchant for things puffy, pretty and pink.

Secret Agent Elephant

Secret Agent Elephant
Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins
Orchard Books

Ever thought about becoming a secret agent? That’s what the large pachyderm in this story has set his sights on; but can he get through the required training course? There’s a pretty rigorous selection process.

The first rule is secrecy about the role: that’s something Elephant definitely needs to do some work on. Hiding is a vital skill but if that’s not possible, perhaps a disguise might do instead …

Our elephant candidate surely does look pretty dapper in that tuxedo: seemingly the tailor can after all, perform the odd miracle.

So, it’s ‘Agent 00-Elephant’ welcome to the Secret Service and now on to your very first mission in double quick time before the dastardly feline Vincent Le Morte, notorious international supervillain presses that big red button of his and wipes out the entire world.

No pressure then Agent Elephant.

It’s time to take that enormous leap.

Hurrah! Vincent’s super-secret hideout located.

All that’s left to do now is discover the whereabouts of Vincent himself without letting your purpose be discovered.

Agent Elephant gets a sighting so he begins tracking his prey who just happens to be heading for that red button.

There’s the occasional hazard en route – sharks for instance as well as the odd distraction of the edible kind.

Oh my goodness, it seems as though someone is expecting a visitor but hang on a minute. Could it be that the latest recruit to the spy fraternity might just be about to save the world …

A pizza-fuelled piece of comedy theatre of the tastiest kind is this picture book collaboration between Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins.

Every spread is sure to induce giggles and the way the text works in tandem with the visuals is masterful.

Adults will have great fun sharing this with young audiences; I certainly did.

The Missing Bookshop

The Missing Bookshop
Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman
Stripes Publishing
This smashing story from debut author, bookseller Katie Clapham took me back to my days working in a children’s bookshop on Saturdays and during school holidays, a job I loved and which always made me want to own a bookshop just like the one Katie has written about. It never happened though: I’ve stayed in education, albeit with a house full of as many books as some bookshops.

Mrs Minty is the owner of the one here, a place young Milly loved to visit especially for the weekly story time sessions when she’d sit transfixed on one of the cushions on the rainbow carpet listening to Mrs Minty read from a book, often in response to Milly’s ‘one with … in’. Times when Milly has saved sufficient pocket money to buy a book of her own were especially exciting.

On one such day Milly notices that both Mrs Minty and her shop have lost some of their sparkle, particularly whens she compares Mrs M. with the picture hanging on the wall behind the counter.

As she sits with her mum in a café after their bookshop visit, Milly expresses her concern, asking, “What do you do if something is old and creaky?”
Mum’s response about careful treatment and the possibility of replacing it with something new upsets the girl who considers Mrs Minty irreplaceable despite her “You’d make a wonderful bookseller,” words to Milly.

The next week, having watched the bookseller at work, Milly’s fears grow: the woman is a veritable encyclopaedia when it comes to knowledge about books – nobody could do better and after the session as she and her mum sit together they talk further about the bookshop’s future. So worried is Milly that she then runs back to tell Mrs Minty about her bookshop’s irreplaceability.

After the weekend the shop is closed when MIlly and her mum pay a visit. It remains so for the rest of the week until a sign appears in the window ‘CLOSED DUE TO UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES’ followed the next week ay the even more concerning ‘CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’. What on earth can have happened?

Another week passes and a van appears outside the bookshop full of items from inside; then a woman gets in and drives away before Milly has a chance to question her. Doom and gloom descend upon Mllly and deepen when a FOR SALE sign appears soon after.

It’s time to launch operation Save Minty’s Bookshop decides Milly and she gets busy right away.

A few days later her mum returns from a supermarket visit with exciting news …

As a lover of local independent bookshops, especially those specialising in children’s books, my heart went out to Milly and Mrs Minty in this smashing story that flies the flag for such establishments. I loved Milly’s resilience and determination as well of course, as the fact that she’s a bibliophile at such a young age.

Kirsti Beautyman’s expressive illustrations portray so well, young Milly’s changing emotions as the story progresses towards its thoroughly satisfying finale.

Another cracking addition to Stripes’ series of full-colour fiction for newly independent readers; it’s bound to be devoured by book and bookshop lovers especially.

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

The cast from Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do and I Do Not Like Books Any More! are back in another smashing story.

Natalie, Alphonse and family reside in a flat, on the seventh floor. The child monsters love driving their double-decker bed, playing around their large green chair, tending their sunflowers and performing somersaults down the hall and generally junglifying their surroundings until Natalie cries out “OW, ALPHONSE, you’re STANDING ON ME… and there’s MUD on the CEILING!

At this point Dad intervenes pointing out that their shenanigans are unsuitable indoor play. Natalie (who has an answer for everything) counters this with complaints about their lack of a wild jungle garden with a tent for sleeping in.

Eventually Natalie decides the park is where she want to be – alone.

Off she goes and there her explorations lead her to a bush with a hole wherein she finds …

Then, guess who arrives on the scene. A truce is called and a deal struck involving sausages and blackberries, and at Natalie’s insistence, a bundle of sticks.

Turns out there’s more than one place where you can be wild in the jungle, camping and tucking in to tea. Perhaps even sleeping too.

Another acutely observed, vibrantly illustrated tale from Daisy Hurst; these stories go from strength to strength. Everything about this book is quite simply brilliant.

I suspect adult sharers will adore it as much as the youngsters they read it with; this reviewer surely did.

There’s a Spider in My Soup

There’s s Spider in My Soup!
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

I was expecting it to be a picture book version of the nursery song of the same name but how wrong was I. Megan Brewis has dished up a playful tale of a little spider that gets a high five from me for her risk taking.
Little Spider resides with Mum Spider and Dad Spider on their web from which, despite parental warnings, she loves to swing.

One afternoon while her parents are having some shut-eye, our intrepid Little Spider decides to take advantage of their lack of watchfulness to work on her swinging skills, arcing high and low and having great fun until …

Is she about to become part of Mr Moustache’s veggie soup lunch?

Fortunately she manages to alert her would-be accidental consumer by some loud assertions concerning her identity.
Happily Mr M. is a kindly soul and after administering some TLC, puts Little Spider safely back onto her web.

When aroused from their slumbers, her Mum and Dad give their little one a good telling off but then they learn what had taken place while they snoozed.

Maybe being adventurous isn’t such a bad idea after all, is their verdict before setting off to meet Little Spider’s saviour.

With an abundance of onomatopoeic sounds, speech bubbles and spirited, mixed media illustrations, this is a smashing story to read aloud with little ones. It could, one hopes, deter them from squashing spiders and instead releasing them into the great outdoors, should they encounter them inside; and let’s hope too that risk averse parents and others might be persuaded to give young children a little more freedom to take risks and perhaps learn from their mistakes too.