My Brother George

My Brother George
Kelly & Zoe Allen and Tara O’Brien
uclan publishing

The creators of My Momma Zo, LGBTQ+ parents Kelly and Zoey Allen and illustrator Tara O’Brien, have collaborated on a new picture book about having the courage to be different.

Molly acts as the narrator and tells how her slightly older brother, whom she dearly loves, has long hair that confuses some people; they think he’s a girl and thus her sister.

Molly now feels sufficiently confident to stick up for George, pointing out that he’s her brother. This receives mixed results and one woman’s comment about him being ‘too pretty to be a boy’ angers Molly, who for once is unable to find the right words to respond.

Hurrah for George though: he replies thus, “I think you should get to know someone before finding out their gender.” and ever since her brother has gained more confidence. He plays with dolls, borrows his sister’s clothes, enjoys baking and is a fan of zombies; he also is an expert at nail adornment.

Despite still getting called a girl and being the source of amusement at times, he knows everything he does is just part of being true to himself and so he endeavours to help others understand, often under the watchful eye of Molly who is always there for him should she be needed.

Stylishly illustrated in bright colours by Tara O’Brien and frankly told in a heartfelt manner by Kelly and Zoe Allen, this is another empowering story that encourages everyone to be who they truly are, and to feel confident and comfortable in themselves. With too many adults quick to be judgemental about those they perceive to be different, we need this book and more similar ones in primary classrooms, libraries and homes.

Luna and the Treasure of Tlaloc

Luna and the Treasure of Tlaloc
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books

At the start of this, the fifth of the Brownstone Mythical Collection series, Professor Brownstone introduces readers to Luna Brownstone, the most cunning of all the Brownstones. Daughter of renowned and respected adventurers known for their selfless acts, Luna decides after her parents were robbed and left abandoned while on a mission, that she would look after nobody but herself. This is just what she did: running away from home as soon as she was old enough, Luna began stealing priceless treasures from all over the world.

On the hunt for her next treasure, she goes to Aztec America and there learns of a young girl, Atzi, who has volunteered to undertake a journey, taking an offering, to the Aztec rain god Tlaloc and imploring him to save her village from drought. Luna decides on a cunning plan: she’ll befriend the girl, take her map and find the rain god on her own.

Their journey to his home beneath a sacred mountain is full of hazards including strange creatures

and they have to solve a riddle to discover the entrance to the palace. Luna realises that she must work with Atzi to navigate powerful waterfalls and evade hungry creatures, avoid dangerous ice shards and much more. Suddenly as they near their destination, Atzi is in peril of her life. Luna finds herself unable to let her die, though she doesn’t abandon her plan to steal the gold offering.

But is there something else that matters more than treasure and self- interest: Luna is soon faced with a crucial decision: does she have within her the power to change?

Luna is a rather different protagonist from others in the picture book cum graphic novel series – an anti-hero – and as always, Joe Todd-Stanton’s richly coloured illustrations for this thought-provoking story are full of wonderful details to pore over.

The Goat and the Stoat and the Boat

The Goat and the Stoat and the Boat
Em Lynas and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Sit back, sail along and enjoy the rhyming fun from the team who gave us The Cat and the Rat and the Hat; the text for this one is every bit as funny and lively and Matt Hunt’s highly energetic scenes of what turns out to be a fair bit of rocking and rolling, which inevitably leads to some pretty catastrophic consequences, are just superb.

It all begins with Stoat floating merrily along in his favourite boat when along comes Goat. Goat too wants to float in that same boat so on he leaps.

The problem is that although Stoat is well aware of the way to keep safe therein, Goat most certainly is not. All he wants is to have fun too. Pretty soon however, things start to turn nasty. Stoat seizes a pencil and lays claim to the boat, which develops into a pencil power dual.

That is when, in addition to the rocking and rolling, the boat starts wibbling and wobbling, tilting and tipping and it’s not long before there’s a big splash in the moat. You’ll quickly guess the cause of that. Now the thing is that Goat in that colourful coat is able to stay afloat; not so however, Stoat. Is it time for a truce?

Adult readers aloud will need to take care their tongues don’t get into a twist when they share this cleverly constructed tale. Young listeners will delight in the cumulative chaos that the animals cause; Matt Hunt’s expressive illustrations portray this with panache..

Ingenious Edie Master Inventor of Tiny Town

Ingenious Edie Master Inventor of Tiny Town
Patrick Corrigan
Flying Eye Books

Meet young inventor Edie, one of the tiny inhabitants of Tiny Town. She loves nothing better than to create new contraptions and her aim is that each new one is even better than any of her previous inventions. She always keeps what she’s working on top secret – no help from anybody else, ever.

However that is until the arrival of Magpie; he with a particular penchant for all things shiny and a plethora of disguises. Edie decides this marauding meanie has to be stopped so she sets to work inventing clever Magpie traps but none is successful in doing the job. 

The girl is distraught especially after needing to call for assistance from her friends to extricate herself from entanglement engineered by Magpie. 

As she sits sobbing at her failures, first Ladybird and then others of her pals suggests that this is an occasion when they should all work together if they want to trap the thief.

The following day there appears on Tiny Town’s street something ‘new and mysterious’. Surely an irresistible attraction for any creature on the lookout for shiny objects. Could this be a case of community action winning the day?

That the power of the imagination and creativity play a vital role in scientific, technological and engineering discoveries and advances is demonstrated so well in Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations of Edie’s inventions. I love the miniature world created in this story, the demonstration of the importance of community action and wholeheartedly recommend sharing it with young children at home and in the classroom.

Welcome to Our Table

Welcome to Our Table
Laura Mucha & Ed Smith, illustrated by Harriet Lynas
Nosy Crow

Poet, Laura Mucha and chef cum cookbook writer, Ed Smith, will make your taste buds tingle with their food related descriptions of dishes from all around the world. Inevitably there are some that didn’t make this vegan reviewer’s mouth water for, in addition to the fruits – several double spreads are devoted to these and tomatoes get an entire page – vegetables (green and otherwise), spices, herbs, nuts and sweets, there are eggs, fish (including the dangers caused by over-fishing) and meat of various kinds.

After a look at the various tools people in different parts of the world use to eat their food, followed by a consideration of taste, smell

and texture of foods, the authors focus our attention on staple savouries: ‘Remarkable rice’, ‘Amazing Maize’ ‘Brilliant Bread’, ‘Noodles, Noodles’, among which are not only spaghetti and vermicelli, but also Ukrainian lokshyna.

As well as entrees

and side courses in abundance, the authors look at milk including non dairy kinds, sweet pastries and puddings and ice creams. Foods of the future – those grown in laboratories are pondered upon, as is the possibility of more people turning to insects and seaweed for food.

On the final pages children wearing national costume demonstrate how to give appreciation for what you have eaten and how to say goodbye to those who have shared your food; there’s a world map surrounded by flags of some of the countries whose foods were mentioned; the countries and places featured are listed and then it’s ‘The end’ in 20 languages.

Harriet Lynas images are brightly coloured and every spread includes a child or children – a diverse lot – interacting in one way or another with the food presented thereon.

A lovely celebration of difference, showing how we are all linked by the fact that we eat and for the most part, enjoy so doing.

Did You Do This Poo?

Did You Do This Poo?
Lucy Rowland and Gareth Conway

A little unicorn turns detective when walking in the forest one morning, on account of a strange aroma that on further investigation turns out to be a rather large, slimy poo. He asks readers to join him in a search for the poo perpetrator.

First to be questioned is Rabbit who happens to hop by, but responding to the interrogation thus, “My poos aren’t so slimy. They don’t have that smell. In fact, they’re so nice that I eat them as well!”, it’s obvious that Rabbit is innocent. So too is Wise Owl – a splat clears that creature. Then Badger appears and on being asked like the others, ‘did YOU do this poo?’ does turn a tad pink but is quick to point out that he uses a special latrine in which to drop his excretory matter. Bear, Bat and Deer’s poos don’t match the pongy turd either.

It appears that somebody is not being truthful, but who could it be?

Suddenly Badger advances and explains that earlier that morning, he’d gone to his latrine, found it engaged and unable to hold on, did a dump elsewhere – the very one that they’ve spent so long trying to identify.

Now with the culprit having owned up, the animals – now poo experts – turn their attention to examining what was left in Badger’s pit. Will they solve that case? Have you?

Let’s just say this poo leaver has no option but to own it with pride.

With her combination of unicorn protagonist and poo, rhyming expert extraordinaire, Lucy Rowland, is surely on to a winner with young children, even more so with Gareth Conway’s hilarious scenes of the animals’ search for the pooing culprit. A smashing whodunit for story time sharing; you might want to have some air freshener at the ready.

Forest School Handbook

Forest School Handbook
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

It’s great to see husband and wife team Naomi and Dan, who run Outback2Basics bringing their passion for the outdoors to the pages of another book.

As a teacher, I’ve long been a firm believer in the vital importance of outdoor education for children right from their early years and consequently many of the activities in this handbook are not new to me. Nonetheless, it’s always good to be reminded of things as well as to discover fresh ideas.

After an introduction, which talks about the purposes of forest school activities and the benefits from playing outside and interacting with the natural world, the book is divided into ten sections, each with an abundance of colour photographs, and the age appropriateness, time, materials and tools needed for every activity.

Controlled risk taking and developing social skills, both of which are fundamental to forest schooling are two of the most vital elements of education and the sessions this book offers are so much more worthwhile than being cooped up all day in a stuffy classroom. What would you rather your child(ren) did: make charcoal (and perhaps use it to draw with), build a shelter from the materials lying around in the environment or spending hours staring at a screen?

One activity that appealed to me especially from he ‘Things to do with conkers’ spread is creating conker animals, in particular a conker caterpillar.

Making soap from conkers also sounds interesting .

Altogether a smashing little book that deserves to be in every family and class collection.

Rita & Ralph’s Rotten Day

Rita & Ralph’s Rotten Day
Carmen Agra Deedy and Pete Oswald

Separated by several hills, best friends Rita and Ralph live quite some distance apart but they have established a daily routine, a ritual really. They both go ‘down the hill, and up the hill, and down the hill, and up the hill’ to meet under the apple tree between their houses. There they ‘high-five, pinkie-shake, do a cha-cha-cha, play zombie tag, and make daisy chains.’
One day though, they decide to play a new game, Sticks and Stones. Ralph accidentally knocks Rita who ends up with a very sore bump on her head and they both run off back home, Rita angry, Ralph sorry for hurting his best pal.

He wants to apologise so he makes the entire journey to Rita’s house. What a walk! ‘down the hill and up the hill … ‘He arrives feeling a tad grumpy and his apology doesn’t come across as very genuine so Rita’s door remains closed. Off storms Ralph back home leaving Rita feeling the need to say sorry. Off she runs – you know how it goes –

but her thoughts en route anger her and she also leaves without apologising. Now the two children are both mad and sad. What a rotten day and it’s followed by a sleepless night.
A new day begins and Rita and Ralph head out to their usual meeting place. Can peace resume? Of course it can for ‘best friends always find a way… ‘

Thoroughly engaging and what fun this will be in a story time session with all that upping and downing of hills, high fiving, pinkie shaking, cha-cha-cha’ing. The author provides a note showing how to play the ‘Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle’ hand game after the story, a story which shows how anger can sometimes cause ridiculous behaviour and saying sorry to a treasured friend is a vital, often up and down, process. Pete Oswald’s digitally worked gouache illustrations skilfully uses the format, showing the hilly landscape, the contrasting homes of Rita and Ralph, not to mention occasional guest appearances of Ralph’s cat and Rita’s dog, and humorously depicting the feelings of both children in their constantly changing expressions and body language.

Rory’s Room of Rectangles

Rory’s Room of Rectangles
Ian Eagleton and Jessica Knight
Owlet Press

With Father’s Day coming up Rory’s class are making cards but he is feeling conflicted. His Dad no longer lives with him and his Mum, who has a live in new boyfriend Tony. Rory sees his Dad at weekends; the rest of the time is spent at home with Mum and Tony, whom he likes a lot, but inevitably he misses Dad very much.

So who should he send his card to? Anger takes over and at home time the boy tears his card in two and puts it in his coat pocket.

On Father’s Day as he sits with his Mum and Tony, Rory remembers that card still stashed away in his coat. Is Dad feeling lonely, he wonders as the rain falls. Tony is a perceptive man; he notices Rory’s change of mood and suggests the two of them go outside together saying, “I’ve been saving up some money for a rainy day.”

Off the two of them go together, and make their way to an art gallery with wonderful paintings of all kinds. They stop and sit in a room full of rectangles of different colours where Rory feels as though his clashing feelings are being reflected back to him. As the colours wield their power, the boy finds his eyes filling with tears.

The empathetic Tony responds with these words, “ I guess life is like an art gallery … sometimes it’s full of happiness and joy, sometimes it’s scary, and sometimes it’s sad But that’s OK. Whatever you feel is OK.”

Outside once more, as the sun sets, Tony has one more surprise for Rory … As the day ends Rory realises, on their walk back beneath a beautiful sky, that there is no need for him to feel torn.

Inspired by author, Ian Eagleton’s own experiences of being a new adoptive father, this powerful heartfelt tale of a blended family is sensitively illustrated by debut book illustrator Jessica Knight, whose portrayal of Rory’s roller coaster of emotions and his supportive adults is in perfect harmony with the telling.

A Bed of Stars

A Bed of Stars
Jessica Love
Walker Books

This beautiful demonstration of how powerful knowledge can be, begins with the child narrator telling readers that the immensity of the whole universe makes him feel so small as to be insignificant. This thought would keep him awake at night, but then one morning over breakfast his father announces, “We’re going camping you and me.”

The two pack up what they need and set out for the desert in the old family truck. The smell changes from ‘rubber and french fries’ as they leave the city and head into the mountains where it smells sweet and smoky. Dad talks of the flowers they pass and when they reach their destination, he points out the tiny beetle footprints in the sand. The two then jump in the dunes,

lie back and observe and name the birds and set up camp together. They build a fire, sing songs and watch the sunset.

Come bedtime, as they lie gazing skywards, the boy reiterates his fear of going to sleep because of the vastness of the universe. ( I love how beautifully this is mirrored in the blanket.) Dad knows just what to say and explains in his calm, thoughtful manner that stars are made of energy, “Same as you. Same as the beetles and crows and coyotes. We’re all friends and family in this universe. Maybe if you learned their names, they wouldn’t feel so much like strangers.” Then snuggled up together, the two give distinctive names to every star they can see and with fear transformed, the child drops off to sleep.

The next day, after hot chocolate and a greeting to the desert flora, the two are ready to return, The child repeats en route, the names of “all the new friends I’ve met… beetles, cacti, coyotes, stars,” At home Mum shares a surprise of her own making. Now at last, the child feels ‘at home in the universe.’

This tender, reassuring story with its scattering of small word pictures, shows just how a parent’s empathy and undivided attention allows his child to gain a different perspective on the universe. Jessica Love’s delicate watercolour, gouache and ink illustrations convey both intimacy and vastness making this contemplative story perfect for bedtime sharing (or any time), especially for anyone experiencing a lack of confidence similar to that of the child narrator.

Playing and Learning with Board Books

Little Bear Where Are You?
Little Dog Where Are You?

Ekaterina Trukhan
Nosy Crow

It’s true to say that babies enjoy playing with mirrors and this new Where Are You? series has a mirror on every spread.
Taking inspiration from the hugely popular Family Finger rhyme, Little Bear introduces in turn little frog, little deer, little rabbit and little bear by means of a text with a repeat pattern: ‘Little —— , / Little —— , / where are you? // On the opposite page, comes the reply, ‘Here I am! Here I am! / Where are you?’ When the animal’s face is flipped down we see the words, “There you are!’, and a mirror is revealed for little humans to see their faces.
The final spread shows all four animals and beneath the fold, the titular character addresses the baby whose face is reflected in the mirror.
The large card flaps are easy to manipulate and sufficiently sturdy to stand up to the frequent use the books are likely to have.
Using the same structure, in Little Dog, illustrator Ekaterina Trukhan portrays first little hamster, followed by little bird, little cat and lastly, little dog (sporting a bobble hat).

Peekaboo Lion
Camilla Reid and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

This latest in the novelty series with sliders and a final mirror, features wild animals, although they look deceptively friendly in Ingela’s vibrant, patterned illustrations. The playful rhyming text comprises two words per page and introduces animals large and small; and there are opportunities to meet both adult animals and their young on some spreads.
A fun way to develop tinies’ language and manipulative skills together with a surprise finale.

Don’t Mix Up My Puppy
Rosamund Lloyd and Spencer Wilson
Little Tiger

Little humans will enjoy getting their paws on this mix-and-match doggie delight, with its five different puppies depicted, one per spread, in Spencer Wilson’s bold illustrations.

First we meet a Dalmatian with a spotty, dotty tail, then a velvety tailed dachshund, next comes a sly terrier whose tail is fancy and flowy; the white poodle’s tail matches his cute, curly self and finally there’s an Irish setter with a fluffy, furry tail.

Toddlers can have fun turning the wheel, finding each pup’s tail and feeling the respective tactile rear end appendages. Just right for developing hand-eye coordination too.

My Bollywood Dream

My Bollywood Dream
Avani Dwivedi
Walker Books

Friday nights are special for the little girl narrator and her family, who set off through the hectic city streets of Mumbai, destination the cinema. En route in their car, the girl uses her camera to capture the sights and sounds of the city and in so doing imagines a movie evolving all around her, with action,

dance sequences and songs. Seemingly she has aspirations of becoming a movie director.

Once at the cinema, she immediately feels the excitement building in the audience until a hush descends and the film begins. It’s a typical Bollywood love story with lots of Hindi songs and dancing but it’s not just the actors that dance. Caught up in the music, up leap members of the audience and start moving in time to the beat, united briefly, by the hypnotic rhythms.

Our narrator concludes in upbeat mood, saying, “Bollywood movies are filled with many dreams and adventures that I haven’t yet had. … but one day I know I can create my own.”

Author/illustrator Avani Dwivedi has based her debut picture book on her own experiences of growing up in Mumbai and she really captures the vibrancy of Mumbai streets although I found it rather more chaotic on my most recent visit than her portrayal here. She captures too the magic of those movies, as they were, as they are and probably always will be, hopefully though with more women directors

The Thief of Farrowfell

The Thief of Farrowfell
Ravena Guron, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio

Twelve year old Jude Ripon is part of a criminal family and so desperate is she to impress the other family members, in particular the patriarch Grandleader, that she steals some rare magic from the Westons, one of the most powerful families in all of Farrowfell. Surely that will make them take notice of her so they’ll allow her to do more than keep watch while they carry out daring heists.
However, she learns that the magic – which can seriously impair her family’s business – is protected by a curse that can only be lifted by returning it to the rightful owners. This though isn’t possible, as Mr and Mrs Weston have been missing for more than a year.

Reluctantly, Jude joins forces with the Weston children to find their parents and break the curse. While doing so, she begins to question her loyalty to her own family and consider whether she really wants to be a true Ripon at all.

The three children search for clues and piece together evidence, taking care to evade any Lilthrum, the blood-thirsty monsters formed from raw magic, whose deadly attacks on people have recently been increasing at a disturbing rate. The more time Jude spends with Eli and Fin, she cannot but appreciate and enjoy their kindness and friendship, things she’s never before experienced. This makes her feel even more at odds with her upbringing in a criminal household.

With edible magic (I’ve not met that before), a flawed hero and a twisting, turning plot with Alessia Trunfio’s interesting chapter heading illustrations, this is the first of what will become a series; it’s hugely exciting and full of dark humour. I envisage children around Jude’s age will be eagerly anticipating the next adventure; this reviewer certainly is.

Lola Saves the Show

Lola Saves the Show
Katherine Halligan and Guilherme Karsten
Walker Books

Created in association with The National Theatre, this fun adventure set on opening night, has most of the action taking place behind the scenes.

With the play soon to begin, best friends Lola and Oliver wait backstage and with necessary business done, Lola is about to enter stage left. But disaster strikes when she notices that a vital prop is not among those assembled on the table.
The only way to save the show is for Lola to find the Very Important Handkerchief. Off she dashes with Big Ed (her minder) and Oliver in hot pursuit, stopping to create mild chaos in various departments.

Lola is unstoppable even scaling the heights of the theatre when suddenly she remembers something and knows she must retrace her steps at top speed.

Back where she began, Lola finally finds that which she seeks and with not a single moment to spare, she makes her entrance before the waiting crowd. What a shining star she proves to be, but after her performance, something is lacking which makes the show’s saviour very sad. Happily however, Oliver knows just what is needed and all ends happily.

Guilherme Karsten’s funny, vibrant artwork is suitably dramatic and the fact that Lola is not a human is shown, but never mentioned in Katherine Halligan’s text makes the book all the more amusing. I love the names of the places Lola visits in her search for that missing article. (Further information about theatrical terms is given after the story)

Mermaid Academy: Isla and Bubble / The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

Mermaid Academy: Isla and Bubble
Julie Sykes and Linda Chapman, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Fans of the Unicorn Academy books will love this, the first of a magical new series set beneath the waves of Wild Sea. Just as the pupils of that establishment have captured the hearts of countless younger readers, I’m sure those of Mermaid Academy, led by headteacher, Dr Oceania, will do likewise, starting with Isla and the twins, Isobel and Cora who join the school on the same day.

Once the new pupils have been allocated their dorms, rather than lessons, they all participate in a treasure hunt intended to enable them to get to know one another, the dolphins and their new environment. Isla is a spirited character with a tendency to be headstrong, so when it comes to saving the woolly seahorses, even if that means breaking one of the Academy’s strict rules and venturing beyond its walls, she feels compelled to do so, however much danger that puts her team in.

Can she perhaps use her bubbliness to extricate them all from an emergency situation?

With adventure, friendship and discovering their magic and bonding with a special dolphin awaiting, (not to mention Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations) who wouldn’t want to join Isla as she dives into this underwater world and helps protect its fauna and flora.

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure
Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Mark Beech
Hodder Children’s Books

The Faraway Tree is a series of popular children’s books by British author Enid Blyton. Blyton’s classic The Magic Faraway Tree, first published in 1939, was Jacqueline Wilson’s own favourite book as a very young child. Now the accomplished, popular contemporary children’s author, Wilson, has woven a new story that revisits this much-loved magical world in A New Adventure, that is just right for the next generation of young readers.

Those familiar with the original classic will remember some of their favourite characters, Moonface, Silky the fairy and The Saucepanman who loves to make up songs (and is now selling his wares on-line); but it’s the turn of a new family to experience what the magical tree has to offer.The family – dad, mum and three children are to spend their six week holiday staying at Rose Cottage and almost immediately, Birdy the youngest of the children meets a fairy outside her window. She invites the little girl to the Faraway Tree and so begins their adventure.

The next day Milo (10, the oldest), Mia about a year younger and Birdy (fourish), led by a talking rabbit, venture into the Enchanted Wood where among the whispering leaves stands the Faraway Tree: the tree that offers those who climb to the top, the opportunity to discover extraordinary places. Newly created by Jacqueline Wilson, the places the children experience are the Land of Unicorns – Mia absolutely loves this one,

the Land of Bouncy Castles, the Land of Princes and Princesses and finally, the Land of Dragons where a dangerous encounter awaits one of their number. This fourth story ends somewhat suddenly, I suspect to leave the way open for another Wilson sortie into the Enchanted Wood.

While keeping a strong sense of the original place, Jacqueline Wilson has challenged the stereotypical Blyton attitudes and language, one example being the way Mia is quick to admonish Mr Moonface: “Why on earth should it be Silky’s job to clean up after you … It’s terribly old-fashioned to expect a woman o keep a house tidy, … My mum and dad share all the chores and we have to help too.”

Also helping to give the book a modern feel that is just right for 21st century readers are Mark Burgess’ lively, often gently humorous illustrations.

More Peas Please!

More Peas Please!
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

One supper time – on a Tuesday to be precise – Milo and Molly are sitting having their supper of lasagne and peas. Having wolfed down his lasagne Milo jumps up with a shout of “Finished!” His sister tells him otherwise and a conversation ensues, with Milo giving all manner of reasons why he can’t possibly eat the tiny roly objects, relating to their greenness, shininess and bounciness, as well as their sheer number.

Molly listens carefully and then gives her side, speaking of their strength-giving properties, as well as their ability to make Milo taller and super-smart. 

She then seizes her brother’s plate but can she manage to persuade him to return to the table and polish off those peas? He certainly appears to be having a change of heart about them …

With Milo’s fanciful food notions about harmless little spherical seeds and a surprise twist, this amusing story, hilariously illustrated by the author, is one to share with young picky eaters especially, though it will more than likely please the palates of other young children too. I especially love the way Tom McLaughlin brings Milo’s imaginings to the page. 

Broccoli anyone?

Daddy Do My Hair: Deji’s Haircut

Daddy Do My Hair: Deji’s Haircut
Tolá Okogwu and Chanté Timothy
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Author and hair-care educator, Tolá Okogwu, celebrates Afro hair again in her rhyming story, this time focusing on the relationship between a father and son.

The tale begins on the morning of Nana’s wedding and she declares that both father (who is giving the bride away) and son (who will act as page boy) are in need of haircuts and right away.

We follow Daddy and Deji as they race against time to find a barber’s shop that is open when they discover their usual one is closed. Daddy calls relations and friends for advice, all the while remaining upbeat about getting to the wedding on time.

Eventually they find one that offers haircuts accompanied music, and with pets allowed. Dad is done first and looks the business but then a moggy takes a leap causing the barber’s hand to slip.

The page-boy to be is distraught but his dad offers to fix his haircut and at home gets working with the clippers; but will they make it to the wedding on time?

After the story, Tolá talks about her desire to create ‘mirrors and windows’ that give children an opportunity to read books that reflect their lives and cultures; she does exactly that in Deji’s Haircut, although the rhyme creaks slightly a couple of times. Echoing the author’s desire, Chanté Timothy’s vibrant illustrations are stylishly cool.

Also included are haircare tips for Afro hair from the author.

Big Cat / Winston and The Indoor Cat

Big Cat
Jess Racklyeft
Allen & Unwin

Meet seven year old Catherine, an adventurer and investigator who likes everything to be ‘just so’ : her papers are organised by colour, her trainers always at the ready and her compass close at hand.

When she learns of Big Cats prowling near the city, she’s intrigued and next morning she wakes with a Big Cat hunt already in her mind. So, with essentials in her backpack, she sallies forth leaving ‘lures in the wildest place she knew.’ When her search yields no success, she sits alone to finish her snack and suddenly finds she’s face to face with a large, satisfied feline. This creature is totally unlike Catherine – lawless and chaotic

– but nonetheless the two bond, discovering they both love adventures. Catherine tells her new friend of her discoveries and Big Cat helps her make exciting new ones. The story ends on a wonderful note with Big Cat carrying ‘a little bit of Catherine in her pocket’ and Catherine keeping ‘a big piece of Big Cat in her heart.’ I love that.

Jess Racklyeft created this lovely story during lockdown in Melbourne where as she says in an introductory note, “ I discovered new places close to home … took new paths, looked for magic in the mundane” – and found it with the increased sharpness of cat-like eyes.

The book, with Jess’s detailed watercolour illustrations, pays tribute to small adventures, making new discoveries and appreciating what is around you. I think these are things a great many of us found close to home during those lockdown times. It also shows how spending time in the company of someone very different from yourself is often beneficial to both parties.

It is certainly true for the characters in this story

Winston and The Indoor Cat
Leila Rudge
Walker Books

Friendship and individuality are explored in this tale of Winston the outdoor one and the Indoor Cat, very different moggies indeed that form an unlikely friendship.

Winston’s outdoor existence suits him perfectly with its opportunities to explore freely and have exhilarating experiences. Then one morning he is surprised to encounter The Indoor Cat, albeit behind glass and decides to free the pristine, leisure loving creature. Winston goes on to show The Indoor Cat all the great things about outdoor life and his new friend has to agree, it is thrilling

but not really what he wants.

Back home he goes, inviting Winston back for lunch, after which he shows him all the wonderful things about life indoors. Yes, it’s a life of leisure and luxury, Winston agrees but not the life for him, most of the time anyhow.

This simple tale of respecting differences, staying true to yourself and being open to new experiences is told with a simple, straightforward text and gently humorous watercolour and pencil illustrations. Ideal for sharing with very young listeners.

Total Splashdown / Press Start: Super Rabbit Racers!

Total Splashdown
Beth Garrod & Jess Hitchman, illustrated by Chris Danger

This is two stories in one book and features those five inflatable pool float pals, Flamingo, Cactus, Donut, Watermelon and Lynn Lilo, residents of Have a Great Spray Water Park.

The first, Do-Nut Panic sees the friends, led by Donut on an epic quest to find the one and only remaining Cookie of Contentment, thus preventing the closing down (so they think) of the Slip ’N’ Slice Pizza stall. Said quest is perhaps THE most dangerous on earth and certainly in the entire inflataverse. Needless to say their journey is fraught with dangers,

not to mention a fair few disasters as the puffed up pals head towards the desert island whereon said Cookie is heavily guarded by not one but three protectors, Fickle Pickle, Energetic Enchilada and Unimpressed Pretzel.
Could our questers be on a hiding to nothing? It certainly seems so when they fail dismally to sweet talk the three into handing over their keys. But our friends don’t give up that easily: let the show begin. Crumbs! That pretty much sums up the next few spreads but all ends let’s say, pretty tastily.

However before they’ve had time to digest those cloned goodies, the gang are off on another mega daft adventure: The Splash of the Titans. Bring on those Air-lympic Games – the most competitive day in the inflate calendar and bring on Team Watermelon. Needless to say there’s a lot of shenanigans from some of the other entrants but which team will emerge victorious, winners of the much coveted Golden Pump?

Replete with puns and jokes, these super-silly stories with those mega-dramatic black and white graphics will have readers rolling around at the delicious daftness of this graphic novel.

Press Start: Super Rabbit Racers!
Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

Book three in the Press Start graphic novel series follows along similar lines as the previous two, only Chris has joined Sunny and Rue to play the Super Rabbit video game, Rabbit Racers, which is new to him.

Obviously the main conflict is between the racers, with King Viking determined to win the Super Cup (a special power up that gives the winner the power of super speed) and he’ll go to any lengths to do so. However there’s also a bit of bad feeling at one stage between Sunny and Rue over an accidental sideswipe. With four races in all, who will be the victor in the Super Cup Grand Prix?

Like the previous books this fast moving tale is ideal for new solo readers with a penchant for video games.

Zeki Goes To The Park / Grandads Are the Greatest

Zeki Goes To The Park
Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
Alanna Max

Another wonderfully loving little book starring the adorable Zeki. It’s a hot, sunny day and we join him and his Mummy as they set off for the park. There they meet up with some friends, Yu, her mummy and little baby sibling.

Zeki and Yu do the usual things that toddlers do in such situations such as use the swings (with parental help of course), build sandcastles

and bury themselves in the sand before sitting down with the others for a yummy picnic under the trees. Come sundown, they bid farewell to one another and set off home with their respective parents.

Anna McQuinn’s use of joyful, sometimes exuberant language as befits Zeki and Yu’s rides on the springy horses and their splashing in the cool water is a delight to read aloud and every one of Ruth Hearson’s illustrations radiates the wholehearted playfulness and focussed concentration of small children when engaged in activities they enjoy.

Perfect for sharing with toddlers around the age of Zeki and sufficiently robustly constructed to stand up to all the re-readings the book will surely have.

Grandads Are the Greatest
Ben Faulks and Nia Tudor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s the day of a special picnic – Grandads’ Summer Picnic – and it’s being held in a large field full of wild flowers and trees; an idyllic spot for each child to introduce his or her own very special grandad. This they do through Ben Faulks’ jaunty rhyming text and Nia Tudor’s wonderfully warm, inclusive illustrations, each with a wealth of details and an evident abundance of joy being able to share that special intergenerational love.

One grandad is a baker, famed for his yummy cakes, another is a retired builder; there’s an explorer,

an inventor, a barber, a fisherman who likes to tell salty tales, a magician who appreciates help from his young apprentice, a hang-gliding enthusiast, and a grandad who spends lots of time sharing books and singing songs with his young grand-daughter, someone who’s always there when a bit of extra comfort is required. Every one of them is different but all show an abundance of love to his grandchild.

Ideal for sharing with a grandparent on their special day in early October, but equally one to read with young children on Father’s Day coming up in June. (in the UK)

We’ve Got This!

We’ve Got This!
Rashmi Sirdeshpande with EmpathyLab, illustrated by Juliana Eigner
Words & Pictures

One of the most important life skills children need to develop is empathy and this book is intended to help them do that. How exciting it is to have a book emphasising the power of reading to boost empathy and to read this in Sir Michael Morpurgo’s foreword: ‘ Books and stories to me are the key to empathy and understanding everyone. They are the pathway to understanding people as individuals. Read books. Enjoy books. And, most of all, learn from books.’

Readers of this particular book will assuredly do so. Empathy, we read at the outset is a ’real superpower’ and herein youngsters are offered a six-step process that uses case studies, empathy exercises and activities, to supercharge their empathy. Participating along with readers on this exciting journey are members of the Sharma family – mum Shivaji and her children, Isha and Rahul.

There are pieces by a number of well-known authors – Cressida Cowell, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson, Sue Cheung (aka Sue Pickford), Jen Carney, Manon Steffan Ros, Ben Davis, Patrice Lawrence, Nadia Shireen,

Abigail Balfe, Dom Conlon, SF Said and Joseph Coelho, all of whom are affiliated with EmpathyLab. And there are examples from books by other writers in the fourth step Learn to Recognise Emotions, where one of the ideas is to be an emotions detective as you read. From the next section, I love this example of ‘super questioning between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.

The text is chatty and child-friendly, and Juliana Eigner’s inclusive, often gently humorous illustrations are engaging. (Further resources are listed at the back of the book.)

A must for all KS2 school children, classroom collections and I think lots of adults would do well to read it too.

The Frog’s Kiss

The Frog’s Kiss
James Mathew and Toto

I was knocked out by the beauty of Toto’s misty illustrations for this LGBTQ+ retelling of the frog prince story: it’s such a wonderful debut as a picture book team James and Toto.

The book begins with a frog sitting atop a lily pad when suddenly something falls into the pond. Frog investigates and discovers a book; a book that shows a frog very similar to himself being kissed by a princess. The image of the kiss stirs his froggy heart and he decides to search for a special somebody too.

His quest eventually takes him to a castle surrounded by gorgeous gardens wherein there is a pond with a fountain just like that of the book he’d found.

Having washed off the dust from his travels, frog sits and waits and waits. As the moon rises, three princesses appear, come for the summer ball. Unbeknown to frog, one, so the king and queen hope, will become the bride for their son.

Devastated by what the three princesses say when it’s suggested they might kiss a frog, our frog sits once more on a lily pad feeling stupid. All of a sudden who should approach but a prince who addresses him and having received consent, tenderly picks up the frog and kisses him. And the rest, of course leads to a happily ever after fairy tale ending. After all, everyone deserves that.

It’s no exaggeration to say James and Toto have done the Grimm tale proud. This is a stunner.

Welcome, Rain!

Welcome, Rain!
Sheryl McFarlane and Christine Wei
Greystone Kids

Directly addressing the rain, a little girl pays tribute to its wonders – the fresh, happy smell, the muddy puddles it makes for splashing in, and the water it provides for seeds and plants to grow.

Moving indoors she says thank you for the tap water for baths, cooking in and washing up, and for making tea. Having paid tribute, the child then moves on deciding as she watches while hugging her dog reassuringly, that, ‘maybe that’s enough for now, Rain. The creeks and lakes are full and the birds are huddled in our trees …’

As is nature’s way, the rain does stop eventually and fun outdoor activities restart, until that is the hot weather becomes too much to bear. Then again comes a change of tone: ‘We miss you, Rain, … and the trees and flowers that drink you up miss you more than we do.’

Coming full circle, the rain returns and I love how the young narrator curled up in bed says, ‘Good night, Rain. You are a bedtime pitter-patter lullaby playing on the roof. … a drip-drop song of raindrops singing in the trees.’

Christine Wei’s beautifully patterned images and her dense hues bring her landscapes to life in Sheryl McFarlane’s upbeat poetic celebration of what is for many of us, an increasingly unpredictable facet of our lives, the rain.

Rubbish? Don’t Throw It Away!

Rubbish? Don’t Throw It Away!
Linda Newbery and Katie Rewse
Otter-Barry Books

Members of Dragonfly Class are having an upcycling day and they’re all excited. Lucy found lots of pine cones in her grandad’s garden and she and her friends decide to turn them into owls. 

Yasmin’s mum has donated lots of old coat-hangers – just the thing to use for making mobiles and paper plates are ideal for masks.
Ali’s dads have brought along a large sink and this makes a splendid pond; 

others have brought a leaf collection; this becomes a collage; Mohammed’s enormous box is perfect for a fort ; a length of fabric is fashioned into lots of different items. 

Christmas wrapping paper becomes all manner of funky hats 

and the parents and care-givers involve themselves in creating a mosaic for the garden; the garden is also where old tyres become planters while back indoors odd socks are super puppet bases and there are lots of clever ways to put other old items to use again too.

Not only have these children had terrific fun, they are never going to look upon ‘old rubbish’ without thinking, what can this be turned into?

This inclusive community of adults and children are a great demonstration of working together for the good of our precious environment. After sharing author and environmental campaigner, Linda Newbury, and illustrator Katie Rewse’s story, why not hold a similar event in your early years setting.
(Simple instructions for each activity are provided at the end of the book as almost all of them will need adult assistance.)

Round and Round Goes Mother Nature

Round and Round Goes Mother Nature
Gabby Dawnay and Margaux Samson Abadie
Wide Eyed Editions

The circles of life keep on turning and change is part and parcel of all life, happening constantly around us in the world; it’s in the turning of the season, sometimes it’s as rapid as a hatching egg, sometimes it’s as slow as an imperceptibly growing or diminishing mountain. This gorgeously illustrated book, divided into four sections – Animals, 

Plants & Fungi, then moving beyond biology, Earth and finally, Space – presents forty eight life cycles, starting with the fleeting appearance of a mayfly and ending with a black hole: a massive scope indeed.

Readers will be fascinated at some of the details, for instance the male seahorse carries the eggs deposited by the female in a special sack in his abdomen, which then acts rather like the womb of a female mammal. Imagine being a female rattlesnake; such creatures are ready to have babies around the age of four and will continue mating and giving birth every two years for the rest of its life up to twenty five years; that’s an awful lot of snakelets.

I was astonished to read that it’s possible for the peanut-sized seed from a lotus flower to remain dormant for decades and one has survived for two thousand years.

There is a fair bit of written information for each life cycle and the illustrations show such close attention to fine detail that you will want to spend time looking carefully at each spread.

Recommended for both home and classroom use; this will keep a child engrossed for hours.

Monster Support Group: The Werewolf’s Tale

Monster Support Group: The Werewolf’s Tale
Laura Suarez
Flying Eye Books

Being true to yourself and celebrating difference are key themes in this the first of the new Monster Support Group series.

The book begins with Lowell entering an underground room where a meeting is being held. He sits down and begins his story.
We hear that he has recently moved to the village with his family and is struggling to fit in at his new school. He is rather different and has become the target for the bullies, Cassius Steel and his cronies. Then the changes started. Initially Lowell thought these were just ordinary, growing-up kind of changes: becoming hairier, moodier and smellier but then came the stranger changes that despite his best efforts, cannot be hidden.

After a particularly bad day at school he shut himself in his bedroom but his twin sister, Lys appeared on the scene, just as Lowell was morphing into a werewolf. This it transpires is on account of an ancient family curse. The following morning the twins visit the library to do some research about werewolves 

and come upon several books containing legends about them including the one his father had mentioned the previous night; each one mentions possible cures for the curse. 

These he tries but despite apparently having beaten the curse, the very next month on full moon night, it’s evident that the cures haven’t worked.

Back to the library go Lowell and Lys where they discover the Monster Support Group. Lowell joins the group and shares that story. Can anybody there help him with his ‘furry’ problem? Or is he happier being his unique self?

Drawing on mythology, this is a vibrantly illustrated, enjoyable story with a vital message about being yourself and that works for anyone; but those who see the werewolf trope as a metaphor for a boy’s transition from puberty through adolescence, into maturity, will find it somewhat strange that although the blurb says Lowell is twelve, he is portrayed as several years younger.

A Dinosaur at the Bus Stop

A Dinosaur at the Bus Stop
Kate Wakening, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon
Otter-Barry Books

Like her previous books of poems for children, Kate Wakeling’s new collection is full of musicality and playfulness: every one of the almost forty offerings cries out to be read aloud either to yourself, family members or school friends. As the subtitle says, there are ‘Poems to Have Fun With’. It’s certainly true of My Cold (which it’s suggested is read ‘aloud while pinching your nose’). Here’s how it begins; ‘I’ve got this cold / and it’s terrible. // First I had a tickle / in my throat. // Then came a trickle / of gunge / out of my left nostril.’

How many children will have thought of naming their toes, I wonder. They might after reading The Names I Give My Toes: 1. Tiny Tara / 2. Wilbur the Wonky / 3. Mr Medium /4. Fancy Fiona (who wishes she was a finger / 5) Big Angry Bob . The other five are also named and equally funky

I can’t see many people reading The Washing Machine Jive and doing as the author says ‘pull up a chair’ . I certainly couldn’t: rather I found myself needing to be on my feet moving around as I read: ’Your pyjamas are bopping, / your socks can’t stop hopping, / your T-shirts are wriggling, / and your pants? Yep, they’re jiggling.’

Much gentler is In the Quiet of the Trees, my favourite of all the poems herein and it describes beautifully the way I feel in a forest: “The forest is a special kind of still. // In the quiet of the trees, / I breathe deep as roots. // … and in the quiet of the trees / I become / a special kind of me.’ 

You’ll also find riddles on the theme of oceans and mini-beasts – great to inspire children to try writing their own. Also great for getting children writing is Eleven People on the Bus and there’s even a fart poem – a sensible one so we are told.

Eilidh Muldoon’s drawings augment but never detract from the inventiveness of the poems and will certainly appeal to young readers.

A book I strongly recommend adding to home bookshelves and Foundation Stage and KS1 class collections.

Holey Moley

Holey Moley
Bethan Clarke and Anders Frang
Little Tiger

Gus the Goat must surely be in the majority when, on encountering a mole who introduces herself as Mavis, he guesses that she lives in a hole. ‘A mole in a hole. / A moley in a holey / A holey moley!’ Not so however; and there follows a hilarious exchange between the two characters with Gus suggesting various other places where Mavis must live and the mole naysaying each one. It’s certainly not on a pole, nor in a sausage roll, 

or any of the increasingly outlandish places he puts forward.

Mavis remains cool, calm and collected as Gus gets carried away with his anarchic silliness, eventually showing the goat her home. 

That’s not quite the end of the story though but to see how the story concludes you will have to get yourself a copy of this super book.

Deadpan humour abounds in Anders Fang’s illustrations, several of which include other silent bit-part players enjoying the duo’s conversation. I absolutely love the hole-arious rhyming narrative from debut author Bethan Clarke who really has done herself proud here with her guess obsessed, rhyme obsessed Gus and long-suffering Mavis. And what a gift she offers KS1 teachers who will not only have their children laughing aloud from the outset, but also wanting to join in with Gus’s rhyming guessing, relishing the tale’s final twist and perhaps adding some of their own ideas – once the story is finished. Anyone who wants to get across the ‘language is fun’ message to young children needs to share this, though I anticipate cries of ‘Read it again’ when you do.

I’m Not Scared: A Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Adventure

I’m Not Scared: A Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Adventure
Britta Teckentrup

When Little Hedgehog wakes one morning early, Big Hedgehog is nowhere in sight. “Big Hedgehog, where are you?” comes the cry. No answer: of course Little Hedgehog is not at all scared as it sets off to search. Could that noise coming from the basement be that of Big Hedgehog? Yes it is and with a picnic basket packed ready for an adventure for two.

The adventurers set out into the forest, Big Hedgehog whistling cheerfully to keep their spirits up but strangely the whistling continues even after Big Hedgehog stops the song. Now both Hedgehogs feel a little bit scared,

but not once the other whistlers become visible.

After a while there comes a powerful smell: it’s a fox. The two curl themselves into spiky balls and roll away down the hill and Little Hedgehog tries to convince Big Hedgehog all is fine – no fears at all. They play in the meadows then discover that the picnic basket is still in the forest. Oh those hunger pangs!

As dusk begins to fall and the two wend their way home there’s another scary moment as they cross the path of a moving car, only to realise that they’ve gone the wrong way.

When their friend Black Cat appears out of the fog, they recount their adventures and then accept the offer of a ride home. I wonder what Little hedgehog had to say on the way …

A lovely demonstration of navigating childhood fears that will help little ones understand that, be they big or small, everyone feels scared from time to time and it’s better to share how you feel than keep it to yourself.

From a rather gloomy basement to a misty meadow and a dark, shadowy landscape. Britta’s beautiful, richly textured illustrations created from different perspectives, are full of atmosphere and detail. The book has a longish text but it’s not one to be hurried through: this artwork needs to be savoured.

Between Night and Day

Between Night and Day
Sean Julian
Oxford Children’s Books

Pongo is an orangutan of the ‘safe-in-the-day’ kind. One day when picking a mango for breakfast, she comes upon Bulu a tiny bat – a ‘safe-at-night’ sort of bat. Narrowly missing becoming a passing eagle’s next meal as it swoops through the forest, Bulu tells his new friend of his dislike of the daytime. His fear is palpable as we see in Sean Julian’s illustration and Pongo senses the bat’s panic right away, deciding to take the tiny creature back home to his dark cave.

En route the orangutan shows her companion some of the things she loves about the forest but all the while Bulu is afraid.

Even more so when they stop for a drink at the pool and he’s confronted with a face staring out at him. His fear turns to pleasure however, and as the two proceed, both of them are enjoying themselves.

At Bulu’s dark cave, it’s Pongo that becomes fearful but he accepts his friend’s invitation to view his home. Now Pongo’s imagination runs wild and it’s Bulu’s turn to allay his companion’s fears

and continue inwards till they reach the bat’s favourite place.

Eventually it’s time for the two to part company but every sunset Pongo fondly recalls their meeting. Is there a way the friends can be together again?

Sean’s tale of friendship and seeing things from another’s viewpoint is beautifully illustrated with scenes that powerfully evoke its steamy tropical rainforest setting and the feelings of the two animals.


Ross Montgomery
Walker Books

Used to going unnoticed, even by her parents, an ordinary twelve year old, Evie, wakes from a weird dream of being in a theatre where it pours with rain and the audience sleeps, other than the five in the front row, an odd assortment of people who happen to be the last members of a secret magical organisation, the Order of the Stone. Its leader, Wainwright tells the others, that he has discovered a sorcerer who may be their last hope in defeating an evil magician intent on finding the Spellstone and unleashing the dark magic contained within and destroying the world. He then proceeds to introduce Evie.

After school that day, feeling even more unseen than ever and despairing that she’ll ever find her own people, Evie takes the route home along the canal towpath. Suddenly a cyclist comes too close causing her to fall over, but she’s helped by a man whom she recognises from her dream. He introduces himself as Wainwright and tells her about Emrys, the Spellstone, which he’s been tasked to keep hidden and an evil magician determined to find it. He hands Evie a rusty old piece of metal on a chain, saying it’s precious and she must keep it hidden until she’s ‘with the others’. Before she has time to ask who is the mysterious Alinora he’d mentioned, he dashes off hotly pursued by a number of men.

That evening there comes a scratching sound at her bedroom window and Evie discovers the cat from her dream, a cat that can talk. A cat that tells of smoke men coming and insists they leave right away. Evie follows her, eager for answers, and she’s led to a narrow boat, the hideout of the members of the Order – the people from her dream. “She’s here! I’ve got her! We’re safe! announces the cat.

Thus begins a breathtaking adventure in which an unsuspecting girl is plunged right into an ancient battle against a dangerously power-hungry magician intent on unleashing on an unsuspecting world the evil bound within the Spellstone. You’ll surely find your heart racing as Evie struggles to discover her magic power before it’s too late. She needs to find the hidden Spellstone and do to it what’s needed before it once more unleashes darkness upon the world. All this with an army of evil Vale’s smoke men always on the watch.

Again storyteller extraordinaire, Ross Montgomery, has created an amazing world: this fantastic tale will grip readers as a determined Evie and the other Members of the Order face danger after danger. It’s imperative that they work as a team if the mission has a chance of succeeding. Can good overcome evil and will Evie finally be reunited with her parents?

50 Words About Nature: Animals, 50 Words About Nature: Bugs / I Want To Be A Lion, I Want To Be A Monkey

These are all books for very young children, – thanks to the publisher Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review.

50 Words About Nature: Animals
50 Words About Nature: Bugs

Lily Holland and Debbie Powell

As an advocate for using the correct scientific terminology with young children I was excited to see this pair of books – the first two in the new series 50 Words About Nature – doing just that.
Animals takes a look at the whole of the animal kingdom – mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and molluscs giving examples of each including a tiger, alligator, dolphin, frog, beetle and octopus, in the process defining such words as carnivoreherbivore, vertebrates, invertebrates, primates, habitat, zoologists and extinct.

In similar fashion Bugs explores first insects, then arachnids and next returning to insects, focuses on several different beetles, including some like fireflies that are nocturnal. There’s a spread featuring nocturnal moths, another looking at pollinatorsand the final one introduces entomologists. Terms used include exoskeleton, antennae, proboscis, metamorphosis, arthropods,

elytra, carapace and telson. I don’t think I met those last three until I started studying biology at secondary school. However in my experience, small children love big words, will assimilate these in context herein and enjoy impressing adults by using such terms as bioluminescence and pollinators.

Integrated into the text, Debbie Powell’s illustrations are both arresting and realistic.

I Want To Be A Lion
I Want To Be A Monkey

Pintachan and Katie Woolley

It’s time to move with two additions to Pintachan and Katie Woolley’s Move and Play series for the very young. Get your little ones, be they at home or in an early years setting, pouncing, 

creeping, rolling, running, hiding away and yawning like a lion. If you’re at home cut out the mask, add string and your child will be even more lion-like especially if they also start with a few very loud roars.

Alternatively they might prefer to emulate a monkey; in which case the starting sound is ‘Ooo-ooo-ah! after which comes the more active scampering, rolling scratching, munching (bananas of course), climbing , swinging, leaping all of which can be combined into a lively monkey dance. What are you waiting for? …

Stuck for ideas? Scan the QR code inside the front covers. Pintachan’s bright art work and the engaging texts support the development of children’s imagination and their physical development, but above all they are fun.

My Dad is a Tree

My Dad Is a Tree
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

When Dad, busy sweeping up leaves, notices his small daughter, Madeleine standing arms outstretched he wants to know what’s she’s doing and why. ‘Because a tree gets to stay outside all day long’ comes her reply. The wily lass then urges her dad to emulate a tree too; he does so ‘But only for a minute!’

Dad however proves to be a very realistic tree. To begin with a baby owl falls asleep on his shoulder, then a robin builds a nest in his hair and he has also attracted insects, 

an arachnid and a squirrel. Moreover he gets hit by a kite, drenched by a sudden shower and is still standing arms outstretched when darkness descends. No matter what he says, Madeleine assures her dad that trees don’t mind; they aren’t afraid of the dark.

Eventually though Dad has had enough; apparently the little owl feels the same and returns to its parent. His daughter has the final words though: ‘We definitely are not trees. But that’s OK We got to stay outside all day long!’ And tomorrow – that’s another day.

The lengths some children will go to to get what they want and the way some dads will go over and above the call of duty for their little ones: told and illustrated in a dead pan style, Jon Agee’s small drama is sure to resonate with fathers and small daughters especially.

Penguins Don’t Wear Pink / Missing Violet

Penguins Don’t Wear Pink
Jeffrey Turner
Beaming Books

Henry the penguin has a passion for pink things but best of all is his pink peaked cap, which he wears to school every day. The other animals’ teasing causes him to do some thinking 

and he decides to wear a hat of a different colour. Nobody comments on his green hat the following day, nor the blue one or the orange one on the next two days. Henry has another think and decides that no matter what his fellow students might say, he’ll wear the pink hat again on the fourth day. Will the response be any different this time? What do you think?

Brightly illustrated this is a sweet story about having the confidence to be yourself, able to wear any colour you choose, no matter who you are or what others think.

A helpful book to start a discussion with young children.

Missing Violet
Kelly Swemba and Fabian Faiallo
Beaming Books

The young narrator of this story talks of her best friend Violet, as ‘an expert at spreading sunshine. Her healing hugs made falls hurt less.’ So when Violet becomes very sick and then dies unexpectedly, the narrator experiences ‘a swirl of feelings all at once’. 

We share her emotions ‘My heart pinched. My insides ached’ first through a rainbow of swirling colours 

and then when she visits a counsellor, through separate colours: orange for bewilderment, red for anger, blue for deep sadness.

When she turns to her mum for further help, the two of them paint pictures of the two girls together and decorate a special box in which to keep them. Still the tears come so she tries talking to her classmates and discovers that they too miss Violet. They decide to say goodbye to their friend by writing notes to Violet and blowing bubbles in the school playground in a gentle farewell ritual. 

With its hopeful ending, this story of loss and grief is pitched just at the right level for young children.

One Button Benny and the Dinosaur Dilemma

Thank you to Little Door Books for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for the new Benny story; please check out the other participants’ posts.

One Button Benny and the Dinosaur Dilemma
Alan Windram and Chloe Holwill-Hunter
Little Door Books

It’s great to see robot Benny back for a third adventure and what an eventful one it is despite the fact that it’s set on a Friday, which should be more relaxed as it’s when he and his fellow robots get together for their weekly dance party. Moreover, during the last week Benny hasn’t needed to press that large red emergency button on his tummy even once.

Having spent the party morning working on their dance moves, the robots decide they need a bit more practice so off they go to the park. There they hone their boogieing, 

then take a super-high jump, landing simultaneously. This causes a massive THUMP and the ground opens under their feet causing them all to cascade down, down into a deep dark hole.

Time to press that red button, decides Benny; the result being they narrowly escape being smashed to smithereens.
Seemingly however, that is just the start of their troubles for, from the surrounding blackness comes first a grumbling sound 

and then a tremendous ROARRRR. You can probably guess what was making those sounds.

Can Benny’s emergency button save them once again? And can they get back from whence they came in time for that funky Friday night dance party?

Chloe Holwill-Hunter’s engaging illustrations really do turn the robots, especially Benny, into real characters able to dance the night away and to empathise with anyone in need..

Who’s for apple pie?

The Selfish Crab

The Selfish Crab
Anya Glazer
Oxford Children’s Books

Claude is a hermit crab and he’s exceedingly proud of his shell, justifiably so as it’s the most beautiful of all the hermit crab shells on the beach where he lives. However, hermit crabs don’t keep their shells forever; when they outgrow them, they have to search the seashore for empty replacements. What this particular group of hermit crabs do is that when a suitable one is found, the crabs all come together, line themselves up in order of size and one by one move along and into the next biggest shell. 

However, Claude decides he’s not going to participate in the exchange line up and flatly refuses so to do. 

His fellow crabs muddle along but life remains peachy for inconsiderate Claude with that special shell of his although it does start to feel a tad on the tight side, whereas Alphonso, a tiny crab has to put up with a shell that is way too large.
But then as the two chat about things, Claude mentions birds 

and before you can say, beware! the two crabs are seized and find themselves in circumstances they wouldn’t wish on any fellow crustacean, let alone a supposed friend. Could this perhaps be an opportunity for Claude to let go of his selfish ways and start thinking of the other hermit crabs?

This story is based on real hermit crab behaviour (details on the final spread). Anya Glazer uses speech bubbles to add further humour to her telling and the illustrations, which are a mix of the naturalistic and comical, will induce lots of giggles from children.

Marvellous Margot / Nila’s Perfect Coat

Marvellous Margot
Lou Peacock and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Margot has a big heart and is always ready to lend a helping paw to her friends; she’s also aware that cake and kindness are the ideal combination. With that in mind, one sunny morning she bakes a special cake for her pal Oscar, places it in her little wagon and sets out through the city to Oscar’s home. 

On the way though she encounters several other friends each of which is either upset, cross or frustrated. Now Margot has a fix-it attitude and stops to assist each one, also offering them a slice of Oscar’s cake once their problems are solved. 

You’ve probably guessed what has happened to the cake by the time she arrives at Oscar’s but he greets her with a big hug, kind words and a surprise.

Lou Peacock’s wonderfully warm story with themes of friendship and kindness and the repeat refrains for joining in with, is charmingly illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius with sufficient detail and bright colours to keep youngsters engaged.
Share with little ones at home or in a foundation stage setting. Teachers, there’s lots of potential if you read it in the classroom.

Also with themes of kindness and friendship is

Nila’s Perfect Coat
Norene Paulson and Maria Mola
Beaming Books

Nila enjoys ‘treasure hunting’ in charity shops and one day when out shopping with her Mum, a coat catches her eye. It’s warm and a perfect fit but her mum tells her that she doesn’t need another one. However she is willing to let her buy it using birthday money given to her by her Dad, if he agrees. Meanwhile it must go back on the stand. Dashing out to catch the bus the following morning, Nila forgets her coat, only to find there’s another girl, Lily also sans coat. This means both girls have to stay inside at playtime as it’s cold. Nila’s invitation to Lily to join her in a game is turned down: in fact Lily seems distant and the mention of a coat by their teacher at hometime upsets her.

Having spent the weekend with her Dad and getting the go ahead for the purchase of the coat, they go back to the charity shop and Nila makes the purchase. As they walk past Lily’s home, she notices a For Sale sign outside and Dad says “Her family is going through a hard time,”.

Back with her Mum, Nila contemplates her new coat 

and says that there is somebody who needs it much more than she does. Her decision about what she should do means that nobody has to stay inside during playtime on Monday.

This gentle lesson showing the difference between needing and wanting something, and the role of charity shops in reducing waste, is told in a non-preachy, sensitive way, and equally warm are Maria Mola’s illustrations

A Child Like You / People Power: Peaceful Protests that Changed the World

A Child Like You
Na’ima B. Robert and Nadine Kaadan
Otter-Barry Books

Beautifully illustrated and presented, speaking directly in a sensitive, heartfelt manner to young readers, author Na’ima and illustrator Nadine celebrate the four children featured, whose actions will surely act as a rallying cry for all children, showing that no matter what, there is always hope.

Inspired by young campaigners and activists, Greta Thunberg, Yusra Maardini, Marley Dias 

and Iqbal Masih, the book highlights the issues of climate change, the refugee crisis, the under representation of black girls in children’s stories, child labour and enforced slavery. 

These four youngsters show the way that other children too – children like them – can also be the change, make the change happen and inspire others to make changes, to speak out strongly on behalf of the dispossessed and the oppressed – to stand up for human rights and make our world a better place for everyone.

A book for all KS1 classrooms.

People Power: Peaceful Protests that Changed the World
Rebecca June, illustrated by Ximo Abadia

Rebecca June and Ximo Abadia provide readers with a close up look at thirteen revolutionary movements that protested peacefully in various parts of the world, allocating two spreads to each one.

It’s amazing to think that in the UK women have had the vote for less than a century; ‘Votes for Women’ was the battle cry of the women’s suffrage movement on a march through the streets of London one rainy, wintry day in 1907 in what became known as the Mud March; but it took more than twenty years of protesting to achieve their goal.

It was women too, who campaigned peacefully by surrounding the US airbase in the English countryside where nuclear cruise missiles were stored. Their actions were an inspiration to anti-nuclear movements throughout the world.

There are examples of people power from other continents such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott where in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white woman and the boycott, which lasted a year, forced the city to change its rules on racial segregation on its buses. Sadly racial discrimination is still with us, both in the USA and throughout the world; hence the necessity for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations prompted by the unlawful killing of the African American, George Floyd by a police officer.

Environmental activists too have a place in this book with Greta Thunberg and her Fridays For Future movement involving young people; but new to me are the ‘Defenders of Pureora Forest’ whose protests against deforestation of this New Zealand tropical rainforest, an important site in Maori culture, saved the forest and led to the ending of felling by the New Zealand Government of all native forests owned by the state.

These and the other movements featured are described in Rebecca June’s straightforward, engaging but never preachy text, and Ximo Abadia’s stylised, often arresting illustrations, both of which convey the message that peaceful protest can effect change, every single voice matters and nobody is too young to start getting involved to make the future better for all of us; what’s needed is optimism, determination and a strong sense of hope.

An important book for primary classrooms everywhere.

The Secret Life of Oceans

The Secret Life of Oceans
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Lineker
Happy Yak

In this book, which is a mix of science and traditional stories from various parts of the world, we’re in the company of Tia the green turtle, famous for her swimming prowess and beautiful shell. Having introduced herself and told the story of how she was born, Tia takes readers on an exploration of some of the secrets of marine flora and fauna starting with those relating to sea turtles like herself and other turtles that live in the world’s various oceans (there’s a map showing these).

Diving down through the zones of the ocean all the way to the abyss, we encounter marine inhabitants large and small from giant squids and blue whales

to microscopic zooplankton and phytoplankton and sea-horses, to mention just a few.

Other topics are included such as ways of communicating – did you know that bottlenose dolphins each have their own unique whistle sound or that blue whales make low rumbling sounds that can travel as far as 3200 km through the water? There’s a look at the ocean’s gardens, the chilly, slippery stormy spots formed of ice and snow, an encounter with fearsome creatures with ferocious-looking teeth. And, we find out something about ocean currents, some special coastal features, what it’s like living and working by, and with, the sea.

Many of the spreads have a ‘can you spot’ feature to encourage younger readers to use their powers of observation. The two final spreads are devoted to the endangerment of turtles and what we humans can do to help them. There are also five traditional stories from various parts of the world.

With bright, bold illustrations infused with humour, and a thoughtfully presented, engaging text, this is enjoyable learning for primary children.

The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have

The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have
Edward van de Vendel and Anton Van Hertbruggen
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

In a woodland landscape, lives a boy named Nino. Nino has a dog – but he doesn’t – or only in his imagination. His mum can’t see the creature, nonetheless the boy, whose dad, – a pilot – is away much of the time – knows said dog listens to his dad’s long distance calls. When Nino goes into the woods, the dog copies the actions of the squirrels, it jumps on to great-gran’s lap when they go to visit her, likes the taste of salty tears

and dives into the lake when the boy goes boating.

Then one day that dog disappears and a different one with other interests takes its place; a soft, sweet pooch everybody can see.

Things feel rather different for Nino now, but nonetheless the presence of a real dog doesn’t stop him imagining a whole host of other animals and even several additional dogs.

Nino is highly imaginative – using his imagination to fill the void his father leaves during his absences and to navigate change; he’s also resilient and loves the outdoors.

This unusual, contemplative story is strange and gently powerful; the detailed illustrations predominantly in green and brown hues, brilliantly evoke a time in the recent past when children were able to play safely in the countryside without adult supervision.

A thought-provoking demonstration of the power of the imagination to help and perhaps heal in difficult times.

Pause, Breathe, Be

Pause, Breathe, Be
Megan Borgert-Spaniol and Lauren Kukla, illustrated by Aruna Rangarajan
Beaming Books

Subtitled ‘A kid’s 30-day guide to peace and presence’, this handbook comprises thirty challenges divided into three sections – first Pause, then Breathe and third, Be. The authors intend readers to take the challenges one per day, in an order that most suits each individual.
The Pause section has reflective activities to help personal reconnection including sitting sans phone for ten minutes looking through a window with a good view, staying alert and silent to let deeper thoughts become conscious ones.

One Breathe challenge is to try and spend an entire day without using a screen of any kind. I really like the idea (in part two) of spending a day trying to ‘see beauty and humanity in the ordinary and imperfect.’ as well as the ‘Today choose generosity over judgement’ in the final section; it’s all too easy to slip into that ‘he’s so weird’ , ‘how stupid is she’ way of thinking.

Each section has quotes from famous people; the Dalai Lama speaks in the final one,

and several authors in the previous two.

I’ve seen what happens when primary schools put enormous pressure on year six children to achieve good SATS scores, seeming to be much more interested in their statistics than the mental well-being of their pupils: children in a constant state of anxiety unable to relax and enjoy themselves. This mindfulness book could make a lot of difference for those undergoing that enormous stress; better still if they got a copy at the start of Y6. it should assuredly help users build their self-esteem

Mabel’s Topsy-Turvy Homes / Simon the Hugger

These are recent publications from Beaming Books – thanks to Suzy Senior and the publisher for sending them for review.

Mabel’s Topsy-Turvy Homes
Candy Wellins and Jess Rose

Many children find themselves facing a situation similar to that of Mabel the protagonist in this story. Her parents are separated and as a consequence she has to move back and forth between her mother’s and her father’s homes. With different layouts and different routines she finds this rather difficult to cope with.
When it’s Mabel’s turn to care for the class pet iguana for the weekend, having read the accompanying diary, she cannot help but compare her existence with that of a creature that is passed between many different homes and also has lots of fun adventures. In so doing she realises just how much fun she’s had and how having two homes has its advantages as well as downsides.

The book ends on an upbeat note, ‘… two houses means double the fun.’

With the diverse cast of characters shown in Jess Rose’s vibrant, expressive illustrations, the story provides children with a safe space within which to think about some of the unsettling feelings – positives and negatives – their own parents’ separation causes.

A useful book to have among class resources for a topic on families or homes.

Simon the Hugger
Stacy B. Davids and Ana Sebastián

Simon the sloth loves to hug: he hugs pretty much anything and anyone from his friends and family to flowers and rocks, he even hugs himself.

But then one day his friend Elsa the jaguar doesn’t want his farewell hug at the end of their game, Trixy the owl turns down his congratulatory hug for her art prowess and when he tries hugging the baby Tamarin, Bingo, she too says “NO!”

Confused and upset, Simon makes himself a sign asking others to hug him. Along comes Ricky porcupine to do just that but as he advances, Simon realises that for the very first time he doesn’t want to be hugged. Ricky however is happy to offer an alternative way of showing friendship. That, and a cry of hurt from Elsa, help Simon realise that not everyone is in hugging mood at exactly the same time and the other person must always give their consent prior to a hug.

Cartoon style illustrations and a simple, straightforward text convey the important message about invading another’s personal space without their permission.

In the back matter, the author offers a guided discussion and questions that teachers and caregivers could use to discuss the topic with young children.

Ning and the Night Spirits

Ning and the Night Spirits
Adriena Fong
Flying Eye Books

Ning, a quiet boy, lives in a little town in a lush valley at the edge of a forest. Each evening he helps his parents light lanterns to ward off the night spirits. Ning wants to know if the spirits really are scary but he’s unable to ask the other children as he finds making friends as scary, or more so, than any spirit he could imagine.

Bothered by his parents’ reaction to his lack of friends, Ning creeps out of the back door one night and into the forest 

where he finds himself face to face with a night spirit, a creature that looks anything but scary. Indeed Ning realises it’s the creature that is scared of him. The two quickly become friends and the cute little creature shows him the wonderful forest animals and the secret world of the night spirits. Ning discovers that rather than being scary, the spirits are scared, scared of the bright flames of the townsfolks’ lanterns that hurt their eyes, causing them to take refuge in the forest.

The boy knows that he must try and help his new spirit friends, but to do so he needs to find the courage to speak to the other children and enlist their help. Can he do that? Back home he works on a plan …

Adrian Fong has created a magical world in a far eastern setting for her debut picture book that tells a story about friendship, gaining the confidence to confront your fears and not making prejudgements about others. When you share the book with young children at home or in school, take time to look closely at the illustrations of the inside of Ning’s home and the parade through the town, they’re rich in cultural detail.

Unicorn Not Wanted

Unicorn Not Wanted
Fred Blunt
Happy Yak

Acknowledging that there is already a plethora of unicorn picture books on the market, Fred Blunt offers something rather different: a cowboy story set of course, in the Wild West – or does he?

Unfortunately, despite the author having declared this book a unicorn-free zone, a one horned ungulate – a female one – and a pug in disguise have managed to sneak themselves in and once there make it their mission to find acceptance in the narrative, no matter what.

Little by little they wheedle themselves more and more into the limelight with stunts involving aerobatics,

wrestling and superhero-ing until the storyteller resorts to a costume cover-up.

But is it a success? Umm …

The main characters are an absolute hoot, their body language and facial expressions are superbly silly and brilliantly done, while the banter between the two and the narrator is highly entertaining.

All in all so much better that a run-of-the-mill unicorn story that will be enjoyed by young unicorn lovers, NOT unicorn lovers, and adult sharers, who can have enormous fun reading this aloud. This one certainly did. YEE HAW!

A Damsel Not in Distress

A Damsel Not in Distress
Bethan Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books First Editions

Regular readers of this blog may already know that I’m a fractured fairytales enthusiast and Bethan Stevens has chosen to turn the traditional Rapunzel story inside out, throwing the stereotypical helpless princess trope right out of the window. Our damsel states from the outset – or tries to – that she certainly is not distressed, nor is she trapped in her tower by a curse. Indeed she lives with her grandma and the castle moat is full not of horrific monsters, but ducks and frogs. In fact she seems pretty satisfied with her lot, except for the fact that her story is being spoiled at every turn of the page.

When her peaceful yoga session is interrupted, 

she cleverly predicts the fate of the first gallant knight that comes to rescue her from the massive dragon that has appeared. The brave Prince Charming is equally unhelpful but who’s this? A gnome with acrophobia supposed to scramble up the brambles to the top of a tall tower – really?

Our protagonist has had enough and is determined to turn the story around so its finale is to her liking? Can she do so and how? Hot chocolate anyone?

This is huge fun with Bethan’s text and illustrations working really well together, and the expressions on the faces of the characters are hilarious be they human or animal.

Small Stanley’s Big List of Scary Stuff

Small Stanley’s Big List of Scary Stuff
Angie Morgan
Otter-Barry Books

We all worry from time to time but I doubt many people have lists of worrying things as long as Stanley’s. Though this small boy’s world feels bursting with horrors, he longs to be brave like the superheroes he reads of. Instead however, he compiles a ginormous list that never stops growing, for wherever he goes, whatever he does, Stanley thinks of another item to add to his list

– even not having his list with him. It’s no surprise then that he stops playing with his pals – it’s just too difficult; but eventually things get totally out of hand.

Off goes Stanley to consult his Grandad who suggests a walk in the fresh air. In itself this is a good remedy for worries; but no sooner had they ventured out than a wind gets up. Another scary thing and one that snatches the list right out of Stanley’s hand, up and away.

Needless to say the wind pays no heed to the boy’s cries but as they walk back home, he feels strangely lighter and decidedly playful. He even goes so far as to accept his friend’s invitation to play. Hurrah! And now playing with friends has replaced list making, though very occasionally Stanley does wonder what happened to that tally of terrifying items.

The book concludes with Stanley’s short list of helpful hints about feeling scared, for those who read his story.

Angie Morgan’s mixed media illustrations are full of amusing details that both children and adults will appreciate though the former may need help reading the tiny writing on some of Stanley’s lists. Her vibrant artwork really brings to life Stanley’s emotions; and the interconnectedness of the words and pictures works splendidly.

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig

The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig
Emer Stamp

If you didn’t read the original black and white edition of this crazy story when it was published some ten years back, then you need to know that Pig’s assertion, ‘I is 465 sunsets old’ definitely needs updating although the creature does supply a kind of get out clause in his introduction. This version has colour on every spread : I’m not sure if that makes it even sillier but it certainly makes it a whole lot brighter. Pig’s grammar hasn’t improved however.

Essentially it’s a hugely funny book written in diary form by a farmyard pig called Pig who has a best friend called Duck, another so he thinks friend, Farmer, and some dastardly enemies, the Evil Chickens. They, Duck reports, are secretly building a space rocket from a broken tractor. A trocket, so the Super Evil Chicken informs Pig and proceeds to ask the porcine diarist to fly the thing to Pluto. 

At first Pig refuses but then, having learned something horrifying about Farmer’s intentions, decides to reverse his decision and grab the chance to escape the terrible fate that otherwise awaits.

Now this machine is poo powered so rest assured there will be a fair bit of poo involved in the story, farts too, so if that bothers you and you choose not to read the book, you are missing a treat. It’s exuberant and so well imagined, Yes, the mission goes somewhat awry but all ends satisfactorily for Pig and Duck, more or less, anyhow.

Animal FACTopia!

Animal FACTopia!
Julie Beer, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

You never quite know where your inquisitiveness might take you in this engaging and informative book. And you’ll assuredly find yourself laughing at some of the zaniest zoological facts you encounter, every one of which is verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica and every fact is linked to the next. Herein you will encounter – one way or another – creatures scaly, feathery, furry, silky smooth, from the microscopic to the massive, some friendly and others downright dangerous.

You will discover something about skin shedding spiny mice of the African kind, whistling walruses, purple-blooded peanut worms, blue-tonged skinks and lots more – weird and wonderful animals assuredly.

Coincidentally I came upon examples of bioluminescence three times in a single day: the first in this book:’ microscopic male crustaceans called ostracods vomit glowing mucus’ to attract partners.

Then the topic was mentioned in a David Attenborough programme I watched in the evening as well as in the novel I am currently enjoying.

Were you aware that certain monkeys floss their teeth with bird feathers? I wasn’t; nor did I know that ghost crabs have teeth in their stomachs to facilitate digestion or that Western painted turtles are able to hold their breath for four months. Amazing!
With a mix of photographs and Andy Smith’s cartoonish illustrations this will surely satisfy curious KS2 readers and entertain a great many adults too I suspect.

The Great Fox Heist

The Great Fox Heist
Justyn Edwards
Walker Books

Justyn Edwards really ups the stakes and the tension in this sequel to The Great Fox Illusion. Desperate for answers as to her father’s whereabouts following his disappearance, Flick Lions has little choice but to go to the town of Linth in Switzerland and there with her best friend Charlie, take part in another TV competition, The Battle of the Magicians, for the Great Fox, whom she already distrusts but has promised to help. All the Fox (forever in his mask) is interested in is being elected the new chancellor of the Global Order of Magic and winning the competition would enable him to secure that position. That and having the right to know the workings of any trick in the world. But does he have another agenda?

We follow the friends as they find themselves tasked with something that seems an impossibility: stealing some twenty-five million euros worth of diamonds from one of the most secure bank vaults in the world. 

If you’ve read the first story though, you will already know that despite her prosthetic leg, Flick is a character with a steely resolve; she’s astute, highly observant and loyal.
It’s clear that as the plot thickens, the author expects readers to keep their wits about them just as much as Flick and Charlie. What is the significance of the Bell System that appears everybody wants to get their hands on?

Without divulging too much I’ll just say that with danger lurking everywhere, loyalties are tested and the final twist will make you gasp. A fascinating and enthralling read.

Fairytale Ninjas: The Glass Slipper Academy / Slugs Invade the Jam Factory

Fairytale Ninjas: The Glass Slipper Academy
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Mónica de Rivas
Harper Collins Children’s Books

You’ll meet some favourite fairytale characters in this, the first of a new series, starring friends Red, Snow and Goldie who are pupils at the Glass Slipper Academy; Red rather reluctantly as she considers there are plenty of more exciting things to do than learning how to pirouette – things such as fighting trolls and riding dragons.

It quickly becomes evident that Red is a headstrong character who doesn’t always think before she acts; so when she grabs Snow’s penny and throws it into a supposedly broken wishing well, it might just be a case of be very mindful of what you wish for.

Once inside the academy, Red continues with her thoughtless behaviour and one of her wild acts results in her discovering a secret door in the studio behind which is a small storeroom full of clothes, silver armour, swords and a rolled up carpet. Just the kind of things for an adventure, thinks Red.

Madame Hart catches them red-handed and as a result agrees to give them sword-fighting lessons, telling the girls that the moves are very similar to dance moves. She also tells them that the most important thing she can teach them is self-belief.

Some weeks later during a lesson, Madame Hart is arrested for supposedly kidnapping little Prince Inigo and a group of soldiers take her away. Before you can say Diamond Palace, the three girls have stashed what they think they’ll need in their backpacks, ninja suits included, and along with wolf pup, Tufty, are off to find the real villain responsible for the young prince’s abduction.

Highly enjoyable either as a read aloud or as a chapter book for emergent readers, especially fairy tale fans, who will delight in discovering some of their favourite characters in different situations. Black and white illustrations by Monica de Rivas add to the fun.

Slugs Invade the Jam Factory
Chrissie Sains, illustrated by Jenny Taylor
Walker Books

This is the third adventure for inventor, Scooter McLay, his little alien chum, Fizzbee and his human friend Cat Pincher. Between them they have transformed McLay’s jam factory into a tropical jam glasshouse wonderland.

Now they have a problem: an attempted take over of the sluggy kind. In fact the slimy creatures have found several ways to infiltrate and moreover appear to be well-organised. How on earth is this possible?

Equally seemingly impossible is that Scooter’s mind has gone blank: he doesn’t have one single idea that might help the situation. With slugs leaving their slimy trails everywhere, feasting on the fabulous fruits and most likely causing the factory to fail its imminent hygiene inspection, on account of slug infestation, the situation is pretty desperate.
Daffy diagnoses Scooter with having creative block but has no knowledge of how this might be fixed; but could some of Fizzbee’s Cocoa Bean Creativity Jam help?

Something needs to be done and fast to thwart chief slug, Mucus’s plan to turn their factory into the first ever slug cafe and wellness spa. He seems to be taking the place over completely so the jam clan must pull out all the stops to halt his dastardly scheme and save their beloved establishment..

Did anyone say Brussels Sprouts? And be prepared for a surprise announcement before the end.

Hugely funny and equally silly, with Jenny Taylor’s illustrations adding to the enjoyment, this tasty offering concludes with a spread giving information about cerebral palsy, the condition that Scooter has.