Don’t Be Silly!

Don’t Be Silly!
Scallywag Press

Bouncy Bo and Little Smudge live in a castle with their very serious-minded father, Mr Judge. All the adults they encounter are serious too and whenever the siblings try to enjoy themselves, all they hear is “Don’t be silly!”

After a consultation the two little ones decide that perhaps if they try to be grown up, their father will be impressed. They don what they consider appropriate clothing but their endeavours fail to impress.

One day their father instructs them to put on winter gear and implores them not to be silly as they’re off to visit their grandparents, who have just returned from a very long tour. A big surprise awaits Bo and Smudge when their Grandma and Grandpa greet them thus …

and proceed to carry out all kinds of unexpected and very energetic antics. This pair really do know how to enjoy life but what will be the reaction of their grandchildren?

Padmacandra’s tale, told through a jaunty rhyming text containing that oft repeated titular catchphrase and comical illustrations is a delight. There’s a wealth of detail in every picture, large or small, that provides additional stories for the observant. The message is a vital one: fun is a key ingredient if you are to live your life to the full.

How To Make A Story

How To Make a Story
Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez
Oxford Children’s Books

When Milo asks his mum for a brand new story, she suggests he should make one up for himself. This presents a problem for the boy who worries about getting it wrong but Mum assures him that ‘you can’t get stories wrong’. She mentions the need for a beginning, middle and end, and supplies a prompt to get his ideas flowing.Having named his protagonist Wolf, Milo dashes into the garden in search of ideas and there he finds his Nana. She supplies the next prompt which really gets the boy’s creative juices flowing.

Then back indoors, Dad’s comment about the middle of a story sets him off again, conjuring forth tumbling rocks and hungry monsters.

Further ideas come and by now Milo thinks his story is amazing, but how to end it.

In his room once more, he puzzles over this, recapping and then starting to play with his bricks. Can this further stimulate his creative muse enabling him to come up with a really satisfying ending. It surely can and even better, he finds an audience with whom to share his story, ‘Wolf’s Big Adventure’.

Ana Gomez presents Milo’s tale complete with child-like art on the penultimate spread and the book ends with him finding a safe place to keep his book until next time, but is it quite as safe as he thinks …

What a lovely way to explore story-telling with young children. Naomi’s narrative together with Ana’s illustrations make a superb starting point for children’s own storying.

Let’s Stick Together

Let’s Stick Together
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster

Best friends Bear and Squirrel return in story number three wherein Squirrel suggests they throw a party and Bear, somewhat reluctantly agrees, leaving Squirrel to take the lead in its organisation.

Immediately the bushy-tailed rodent sets about arranging furniture, baking lots of goodies to eat and setting up the music system. Already Bear is feeling less than enthusiastic about their plan but Squirrel reassures him all will be well and continues amassing the necessary items.

By now Bear is overcome with shyness and thinks about heading off up to bed. However, he has second thoughts and agrees to make a quick appearance.

Before long the party spirit engulfs him and he really lets himself go.

Suddenly though it seems that things aren’t quite as they should be: oh no! Squirrel is nowhere in sight: now someone else is having a crisis of confidence. Can Bear save the day, or rather the night?

The essential warmth and gentle humour of the previous Bear and Squirrel stories is evident from the outset. Smriti’s jaunty rhyming telling and Steve’s splendidly expressive illustrations, be they poignant or humorous are enormously appealing; like their characters, the co-creators continue their felicitous partnership..

Bear and Squirrel’s loyalty and friendship no matter what, leaves a warm glow inside the reader long after the book has been set aside. A must for early years settings and family collections.


Mariajo Ilustrajo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

When a polar bear finds himself in a bustling concrete city, he knows not how he got there but he does know that he is totally lost. His attempts to ask for help are ignored – everybody is too busy to take any notice, so Bear joins a queue. Rather than the help he’s hoping for Bear receives take away coffee and discovers it definitely isn’t to his taste.

All he gets from the help desk he tries next, is a tube map that’s thrust into his paw. His North Pole home isn’t marked thereon, so Bear boards an underground train and suddenly he hears a small voice greeting him with a friendly hello.

Bear follows the child and her mother when they leave the train and the little girl leads him into her home. She makes Bear feel welcome but despite the love shown, still he knows this can’t be his forever home.

Despairing that she has no idea where the North Pole is, Bear suddenly spies a book on the shelf, takes it down and shows his host pictures of where he’s from. Soon a plan is formed and equally quickly Bear is wrapped up and air-lifted

all that way back from whence he came. There a snuggly hug (if anything in such a chilly place can be called that ) from his fellow polar bears and he shows them something very special that he’s brought with him from his little human friend.

MariaJo’s story-telling style is a skilful synthesis of humour and touching emotion that conveys the comfort and support that a loving friendship can provide in a way that both children and adults can appreciate.

The book will certainly resonate with all of us concerned about the hostile environment that the UK is currently presenting to those who arrive on our shores feeling completely lost so far from home.

Press Start! Game On, Super Rabbit Boy! / Super Rabbit Powers Up!

Press Start! Game On, Super Rabbit Boy!
Press Start!! Super Rabbit Powers Up!

Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

As the first story opens in this graphic novel series, Sunny, the boy protagonist starts playing his favourite video game – Super Rabbit Boy – and its that storyline which comprises most of the book. The setting is Animal Town, a peaceful place where the inhabitants are fun-loving animals, especially Singing Dog who loves to make others happy.

Enter fun-hating King Viking who aided and abetted by his army of robots dog-naps Singing Dog. Who can save the day? The best chance is to send Simon the Hedgehog, the fastest among the Animal Towners, to get help from Super Rabbit Boy; he who gained his powers by consuming a super magical carrot.

Subsequent chapters take Super Rabbit Boy through six increasingly hard levels each of which has classic, video game–style settings and enemies to defeat.

No matter what happens though, the game player protagonist must not give up. Nor of course must Super Rabbit. Can the latter save not only Singing Dog but Animal Town’s fun.

Two, brightly coloured artistic styles distinguish the two storylines, the human one ending with a “PLAY AGAIN?” to set things up for a new adventure.

In Super Rabbit Powers Up Sunny’s family can get involved in what’s going on in the adventure as the game console is connected to the television. Super Rabbit receives a letter from King Viking informing him that he intends to find the legendary Super Power Up. This is supposed to make the finder invincible.

The race is on to discover its whereabouts. First stop for Super Rabbit is to ask for assistance from Wisdom Tree whose help comes in the form of a map (only to be used in times of great need)

leading to the Secret Dungeon wherein the Super Power Up is hidden. Off he goes but can that Super Rabbit find the three keys and get inside that large door to discover that which he seeks? It might be possible with some help from a friendly ghost (so it says) named Plib the Plob. If so it will stop the dastardly king’s plan to gain immeasurable power.

Just right for those readers just starting to fly solo: paying tribute to the power of video games Thomas Flintham’s series is a treat which imparts the occasional life lesson as each pacy story unfolds.

Puppy Club: Coco Settles In / Dragon Storm: Erin and Rockhammer

Puppy Club: Coco Settles In
Catherine Jacob, illustrated by Rachael Saunders
Little Tiger

The second of the series sees Elsa and her fellow Puppy Clubbers – Jaya, Arlo, Willow, Daniel and Harper – all coping with the ups and downs of life with a new puppy. Elsa especially is finding things tough with two cats in her home as well as her puppy Coco. The cats chase Coco all over the house, Coco chews everything left lying around and Mum seems stressed all the time.

Thank goodness Elsa has fellow club members ready with lots of useful suggestions for keeping Coco out of trouble and ideas for helping her bond with the moggies.

Meanwhile other things on the Clubbers’ minds are the imminent visit to the vets for the puppies’ injections and a class presentation related to an organisation that helps animals. No doubt readers will guess what Elsa et al choose as their subject. However with frequent disasters in Elsa’s home, she cannot help but feel anxious: suppose her mum has had second thoughts about keeping Coco.

With puppy love aplenty, strong supportive friendships, training advice and puppy facts and lots of Rachael Saunders’ black and white illustrations to break up the text, young solo readers with a liking for animals especially, will enjoy this.

Dragon Storm: Erin and Rockhammer
Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

This is the sixth of the fantasy series set in the land of Draconis and it’s another exciting, action-packed page-turner that’s ideal for new solo readers. We’re plunged straight into the drama with Erin in the sand circle facing a number of opponents in some Dragonseer sword-fighting training. A training session it may be but Erin is determined to beat each of the other trainees and this she does. She’s less successful at summoning her own dragon, something that her fellow Dragonseer students seem to find easy – a click of the fingers is all they need do.

As a result Erin is somewhat lacking in self-confidence: she’s fearful of the feelings she experiences when trying to summon her dragon, Rockhammer despite the reassurance that Drun offers her. She becomes even more worried when Lady Berrin, Dragonseer Guild’s chancellor informs her there’s a place just outside the city she wants her to go to that might help with her panic attacks. Despite what she’s told, it seems to Erin that she’s being thrown out just like happened when she was in foster care.

Both Erin and fellow Dragonseer trainee, Connor (who Erin doesn’t get on with) are sent off to Stillness. Perhaps spending time here will help the two build a better relationship and maybe with Connor’s support Erin can succeed in summoning Rockhammer just when he’s most needed.

Courage, friendship and trust are key themes in this powerful tale which ends on a cliff-hanger.

Halle had a Hammer / No Pets Allowed! / Mischief on the Moors

These are new publications in the colour banded Bloomsbury readers series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Halle had a Hammer
Richard O’Neill and Michelle Russell, illustrated by Elijah Vardo
No Pets Allowed!
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Fay Austin
Mischief on the Moors
Stephen Davies, illustrated by Maria Dorado
Bloomsbury Education

At ‘Lime Level’ Halle had a Hammer is a story about a Romani Traveller family whose truck is specially fitted out so that as well as a home, it’s a workshop that can move to wherever they have customers. The workshop is Halle’s favourite place and she’s had instilled in her the importance of putting things back where they belong after use. Having learned how to use tools, she is now teaching Henry, her younger brother tool using skills as they make a wooden box for his toy cars.
When their work takes the family back to the village of Trindle to make some new signs for a race, Halle discovers that her hammer isn’t in her toolbox and Henry was the last person to have used it. Happily though it turns up in time for her to play her part in the sign-making and Henry redeems himself by drawing a map that turns out to be particularly useful. The race is a great success and the following day the family move on to their next assignment.
Another story that provides an insight into an all too frequently misunderstood minority group written and illustrated by storytellers and an artist who are all members of Romani families.

At the same reading level, illustrated in black and white is Chitra Soundar’s No Pets Allowed! wherein we meet Keva and her family – Mum, Grandpa and Grandpa’s pet tortoise, Altas – who live above Grandpa’s pet adoption centre. Atlas goes everywhere with Grandpa until the day Grandpa has to spend time at the hospital for a series of check-ups. The trouble is the hospital has a ban on pets. Keva is determined to change the mind of the seemingly curmudgeonly hospital manager, Mr Sallow. Can she possibly succeed in winning him over?
A funny story that demonstrates the importance of family and of pet powers with humorous black and white illustrations by Fay Austin.

Stephen Davies’ tale is set on Dartmoor and inspired by folklore. Mischief in the Moors is the result of a mysterious creature that sisters Daisy and Liberty encounter when out riding their bikes. Could it perhaps be a pixie like those in the book of local folklore that once belonged to Gran. According to this book pixies play tricks on humans but they also respond positively to kindness.
Suddenly very strange things start happening and with their entries for the local fete to be prepared, that is the last thing any of the family needs. Impish mischief or something else? That is what the sisters need to work out as soon as possible.
A magical adventure imbued with humour and illustrated by Marta Dorado that will keep readers involved as the girls try to solve the mystery. (Grey book band)

If I Were The World

If I Were The World
Mark Sperring and Natelle Quek
Bloomsbury Publishing

By making it sound personal this book really gets across the crucial messages about our precious environment and climate change. Written in rhyme and using ‘If I were the world’ repeatedly to introduce topics including plastic pollution, the toxicity of fossil fuel gases, the loss of animal species for various reasons, over-fishing of the oceans and catastrophe-causing climate change Mark Sperring presents the harmful things we are doing to our planet.

Then comes a rallying cry, “It’s time to take ACTION! We must do ALL WE CAN!” and the focus shifts to what can be done by each and every one of us to heal the damage. Things like recycling our waste, stopping deforestation, the greening of cities by planting seeds really can make a difference. Either we do so or the harm will definitely be irrevocable.

Natelle Quek uses three children to champion the environmental cause showing them first witnessing the harms mentioned in the words and then participating in the actions called for. Her illustrations are powerful and arresting, causing the reader to stop and look carefully at the wealth of detail included in each one

and in so doing extending the already impactful text. A smashing book both to share in primary classrooms and with individuals at home.

A Spoonful of Spying

A Spoonful of Spying
Sarah Todd Taylor
Nosy Crow

Both baker par excellence at her mother’s patisserie in Paris and a somewhat unconventional spy, Alice Sinclair has an exciting double life. In this story she is working alongside a new senior partner Claude.

Now her patisserie skills extraordinaire have taken her to the World Fair being held in Paris, where again she finds herself combining her baking expertise with espionage.

Both artists and inventors are attending the fair and thanks to a chance encounter with Eva, one of the models, Alice finds herself thrown into the world of high end fashion, (the author’s amazing descriptions of the dresses and outfits matches those of the cakes). After employing her brilliant creative artistry to impress designer, Monsieur Fouray, from her vantage point in the fashion hall she is able to continue to work undercover as a spy watching the audience and trying to decide if anyone is acting suspiciously.

With people going missing, it soon appears to Alice that there are enemy agents with different interests: innovative clothing designs and ground-breaking aviation in the form of an aircraft prototype, code-named ‘Daedalus’. Could there perhaps be a connection?

Clues and suspects mount, then Alice makes another young friend, a talented engineer named Sophie who has made a glider. Both Sophie and Eva subsequently come to Alice’s aid just when she needs: Sophie with her glider and Eva on a motorbike. But who are the two students that Alice keeps on seeing and is Sophie too trusting of them? With so much at stake, will brave, determined Alice be able to draw all the threads together and save friends, families and more.

Sarah Todd Taylor gets your taste buds tingling right from the outset, gradually turning up the heat and keeping the reader guessing until the plot reaches its dramatic and satisfying denouement. I really love the way the new characters contribute to this show stopping sequel.

Dig Dig Digger

Dig Dig Digger
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

What begins as an ordinary day at the roadworks, becomes an extraordinary adventure for Digger.
Digger has decided enough is enough when it comes to downward action; Digger decides that she wants to try the new experience she’s recently heard of. No more dark and worm-filled mud: UP is the way to go. However, for a weighty machine such as she, it’s not easy to get airborne,

but eventually, she’s able to take to the air on a solo adventure.

Digger loves the blue but after a while she realises that as well as excitement, up is empty and far from her familiar home ground. Now down is where our Digger wants to be; although perhaps not where she suddenly finds herself. No friends in sight;

but perhaps there is a solution if Digger reverts to her normal downwards occupation …

As always Morag Hood is splendidly silly and her droll humour will delight both children and adults; and the character will appeal strongly to machine-mad young children especially. So will the trail that little ones can follow with a finger as Digger goes down, along, up and down again over the pages.

There’s A Beast in the Basement!

There’s A Beast in the Basement!
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

We’re back in the company of Izzy and her friends for yet another splendidly silly, chaotic tale that begins with their headteacher Mr Graves dashing around the school emptying the contents of every cupboard onto the floor. Strange indeed, so what is bothering him? He even starts sobbing during assembly. Assuredly something is wrong.

The following day they hear talk of ‘missing treasure’. The obvious answer is that hidden away somewhere in their school lies something very valuable. It’s time for the gang to investigate. Led by Gary Pertie (they had to let him be involved because he seems to know things the friends don’t) they start following him to an area that’s out of bounds.

They discover that beneath the school is a basement; add to that those decidedly weird scraping noises and sighs: the assumption is that not only is there treasure down there but also a sinister guardian beastie watching over it.

Probably Mr Graves has his sights set on securing the treasure for his own purposes.

We can always count on the gang to let their imaginations run wild: they certainly do here with wonderfully wild theories coming thick and fast. There’s lots of ‘FREAKING OUT’, a very clever invention or two (that’s down to Gary) and Jodi jostling to take back leading the investigation, all of which result in a hugely entertaining read. All this plus Thomas Flintham’s very funny illustrations, the liberal scattering of capitalised and otherwise adorned words in the text: what more can one ask? A pizza made by Gary’s dad to consume while reading the story, perhaps.

Sometimes I Just Won’t

Sometimes I Just Won’t
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Macmillan Children’s Books

Determined is a word that springs immediately to mind when referring to young children and their decision making, and the small boy in this story surely is being stubborn about quite a lot of things. He won’t share his balance bike; he won’t eat his peas; bedtime is a definite no no 

and bath time brings big problems be it getting in or getting out. Many parents will recognise these scenarios; they certainly can be exhausting for all concerned.

However the opportunity to spend calming down time with an empathetic grandparent like the grandmother herein, especially when she’s so good at cuddles and a chat, work wonders, allowing our protagonist to take another look at some of the things he simply won’t do. 

You never know, they might just turn out to be things he loves to do after all.

As we see, this lad has certainly taken what gran says to heart about him being allowed to choose if something isn’t feeling right; about one or two things though, he remains obdurate…

This terrific follow up to Sometimes I am Furious is written in Timothy Knapman’s jaunty rhyming first person narrative and Joe Berger’s splendidly expressive illustrations capture the emotions with humour that works for both children and adults.

Mort the Meek and the Perilous Prophecy

Mort the Meek and the Perilous Prophecy
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos
Little Tiger

Mindful of the introduction to this tale, lacking a rat disguise I worked on my scuttling and creeping skills, then donned my brown jacket and trousers before settling down to read Mort and Weed’s latest adventure, which like the previous two, begins in the rat-infested kingdom of Brutalia.

Happily for the two of them, or maybe not all that happily, some of the story takes place on a different island named Bonrock. Before that though, the friends meet two girls from Bonrock, Vita and Genia. It’s to this place that, not long after, the best friends are sent on a military mission, which will likely start ringing alarm bells for if you’ve read the first two books, you will know that Mort and Meek are staunch pacifists.

Bonrock seems pretty idyllic; surely the inhabitants won’t greet them with ‘fists of ferocity’ as happens on Brutalia? Are they friendly or as it appears to the two pacifists, intent on inflicting torture on their own people? It starts to look that way to the visitors as Genia and Vita show Weed and Mort around the classrooms and kitchens respectively. However misunderstandings are abundant in this story – I’ll say no more on that topic. I will say though that Weed develops a serious crush.

So much happens before the finale: there’s oodles of excitement, the possibility of a very painful punishment and Brutalia has a new Royal Soup Sayer; but throughout Mort is as determined as ever to promote peace and harmony over fury and fighting.

Rachel Delahaye is a superb linguist – her writing is cleverer and wittier with each new book. The wordplay is wonderful; even the characters get involved in explanations of such things as homophones and this works well. Whether the essence of the story is trusting strangers and fearing soup or fearing strangers and trusting soup, you can decide when you read it.

I’m off to change out of my brown attire and have a bowl of tomato soup. Oh yes and adding to the deliciousness of the book are George Ermos’ black and white illustrations.

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular

Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular
Polly Owen and Gwen Millward
Wide Eyed Editions

Charles Darwin is famous for his contribution to the understanding of evolutionary biology in particular his ‘On the Origin of Species’ but I wonder how many people are aware of his intense fascination with earthworms and the work he did on that topic.

Darwin was convinced that these little creatures were under-rated by the scientists of the Victorian era, many of whom considered them mere pests. So, he set about discovering their ‘superpower’. He tested their eyesight; but realised that worms don’t have eyes, then, their hearing – no ears either. What he found was that rather than eyes and ears, earthworms possess receptors in their skin that can sense not only light and dark but also vibrations.

In addition they could sense the smell of foods they liked but none of these could he really rate as a superpower.

However, Darwin’s abiding interest led him to chance upon the lowly earthworm’s superpower. Their poo helps make soil healthier but he only managed to persuade people after he’d paid a visit to Stonehenge and then received some ‘poo help’ from friends in various parts of the world. Eventually he described them as ‘nature’s plough’ and at last the people at his presentation began to take notice of what Darwin was saying: these worms feed all the plants humans depend upon.

This is such an entertaining way to introduce child readers to the methodical manner in which Darwin conducted his experiments. I really enjoyed the inclusion of a bespectacled worm’s viewpoint on Darwin’s experiments as will youngsters. Polly’s text has the perfect complement in Gwen Millward’s engaging illustrations.

(The final spread gives facts about earthworms in general and includes mention of the Earthworm Society and links to relevant websites) Absorbing and fun, this is science writing for children at its best.

I Am Happy

I Am Happy
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

Here is the third in the series from this author/artist partnership that uses animals to present feelings and emotions to young children.

The little puppy narrator is almost bursting with happiness, so much so that it skips through puddles, chases after bubbles, dances the waltz, turns somersaults, rolls down a mountain, puts on a show and more.

Yes it’s absolutely a flight of fancy but it certainly expresses that unadulterated mood of sheer joy of little humans that we adults love to see.

With guest appearances from the cat that starred in I Am Angry and the squirrel from I Am Hungry Michael’s exuberant rhyming text and Robert Starling’s bold, energetic illustrations will surely act as an open invitation to youngsters to talk about and celebrate their own feelings.

Great for sharing with individuals or in an early years setting. I wonder if the rabbit that pops up and joins in the action part way through the book will be the main protagonist in the next title in this sequence.

Where’s Mrs Panda? / Bizzy Bear: Chinese New Year

Both these board books are from Nosy Crow – thank you to the publishers for sending them for review

Where’s Mrs Panda?
Ingela P Arrhenius

In addition to Mrs Panda, Mr Elephant, Mrs Yak and Mr Leopard are hiding.n this latest in Arrhenius’s popular, fun, find the animals felt-flap book. Little ones are asked to help a bird, a small rodent or a butterfly discover their whereabouts. On the final spread is a hidden mirror for the little humans to see their own reflections.

Simple, effective and ideal for sharing with the very youngest.

Bizzy Bear: Chinese New Year
Benji Davies

We join Bizzy Bear and his pals as they celebrate Chinese New Year together. Young children will enjoy using the five sliders to help Bizzy Bear decide on which outfit to wear and hang up the lanterns in a straight row to welcome guests. That done, it’s time to sit down with his friends for a special meal. Then everyone gathers in the square to watch the firework display light up the sky ready to welcome that special festive dragon.

The simple rhyming text, Benji’s spirited scenes that are full of detail and a slider on each spread, ensure lots of involvement for little ones, who along with enjoying story with its interactive element, will develop their fine motor skills and learn something of how the festival is celebrated. If you’ve yet to introduce your little human to Bizzy et al, this is a good place to start especially as it’s the lunar new year this weekend that starts the Year of Rabbit, which Bizzy’s rabbit friends will love.

I Really Really Love You So

I Really Really Love You So
Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

The adorable little bushbaby returns in a new and altogether different kind of ‘Really Really’ tale. Now the narrator has a vital message to impart; but how best to do it? That is the burning question. This particular bushbaby is prepared to go to enormous lengths to demonstrate love for somebody very important.

The possibilities are many and sometimes extreme including scaling the tallest mountain to write a loving message

and wrestling with a crocodile. More down to earth ideas come in the form of a floral bouquet, a magic trick or a model robot; perhaps studying what other animals do to say ‘I love you’ and copying such loving expressions as stamping and stomping

or squawking might work better. Assuredly there are myriad ways, but sometimes far, far simpler and most definitely the best way is … What do you think?

Karl’s first person rhyming text together with Duncan Beedie’s illustrations, which are bursting with humour, make a wonderfully warm, fun story for reading with young children.

Now We’re Together

Now We’re Together
Nicola Edwards and Jenny Bloomfield
Little Tiger

The world around us is full of wonders – real wonders; but unless we turn off the screens that constantly distract us with their virtual experiences we all miss so much.

The adult in this rhyming story decides that it’s time she and her child start by plunging themselves into darkness, holding hands and venturing outside for a real life adventure. Wow! In the night sky the moon becomes a massive pearl surrounded by stars shimmering like diamonds.

We join the two as uninhibited, they skip, splash, dance, swish and run through puddles and tall grass, into the woods where they pause for a while. Fireflies put on a magical show just for them

and then off the pair go, out of the woods and onto the seashore just as the sun begins to rise heralding the dawning of a new day – just as it does always.

Back through the streets already busy with the morning rush they go, aware that those around them are as distracted as ever by those flickering screens.

Nicola Edwards’ lyrical text and Jenny Bloomfield’s arresting illustrations convey a vital message to children and adults in this heartfelt, uplifting book. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

Blackbeard’s Treasure

Blackbeard’s Treasure
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

This is a swashbuckling adventure set in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century and features real pirates.

Eleven year old Abigail Buckler lives with her father, a plantation owner; she’s being brought up as a young lady wearing the finest clothes and isn’t allowed to play in them or go out alone. Abigail is resentful of the fact that Boubacar, a young slave who is being trained as a clerk, gets more of her father’s attention than she does. 

However all that changes when pirates attack, slaying Major Buckler. Abigail starts to question everything she has come to understand about right and wrong, and ultimately about family, as she and Boubacar embark on the Salt Pig, a ship crewed by pirates and bound for Nassau.

Abigail makes some highly unlikely friends, a surprise revelation is made about Boubacar and both of them face numerous life-threatening situations and ups and downs in their relationship during the next two or three months, with Abigail having to take a number of difficult decisions. 

Will she and Boubacar be able to hang on to their very existence?

What a dazzling cast and where there are pirates there must surely be treasure somewhere; or is there? ARRRR! that would be telling.

This tale will have you on the edge of your seat as the plot twists this way and that, while at the same time providing a wealth of historical detail about the Atlantic slave trade, the damage caused by empire and the human losses resulting from the provision of such luxuries as sugar and tobacco to Europeans.

The Bookshop at the Back of Beyond

The Bookshop at the Back of Beyond
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

This third adventure in the House at the Edge of Magic series sees the travelling house in the magical land of Beyond where Nine, wizard Flabbergast and companions have come to look for Dr Spoon’s partner, Professor Dish.

Their search takes members of the party into various shops; all must be visited and something bought at each one. The shopkeepers are often less than helpful and some shops seem never to be open, most notably the bookshop.
Add to all his the fact that Nine is determined to unearth the secrets her mother left behind. She has a guilty secret too; both Flabbergast and witches also have secrets. Power-craving Aunt Ophidia is determined to get the secret formula that Dish and Spoon have been working on but the others from the magic house are frustrated by the continued non-opening of that bookshop. A showdown seems inevitable.

The entire story fizzes and zizzes with madcap magical happenings and mayhem as the fast paced plot zigs and zags. Amy Sparkes’ world building is superb as ever and I love the way her characters develop in this one. It’s altogether weird and utterly wonderful including Ben Mantle’s cover illustration.

Read this to a KS2 class and they will be entranced.

Monster Hunting: Monsters Bite Back

Monster Hunting: Monsters Bite Back
Ian Mark, illustrated by Louis Ghibault

In this second of the zany adventure series, Jack, his best friend Nancy and grumpy, 200-year-old monster hunter Stoop, head off to Scotland where certain monsters are misbehaving.If you’ve read Monster Hunting for Beginners you will know that when monsters start doing that, it’s the job of monster hunters to sort them out.

The monsters in Scotland are causing trouble and making life extremely difficult for the Sisters of Perpetual Misery, the nuns who reside in the ancient Muckle Abbey.

Said nuns have such apt names as Nun the Wiser, Nun Whatsoever, None of This, None of That, Nun of the Above (what fun the author must have had inventing those and others). If they move from their home, which just happens to be above the underworld, it will be THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.

This task is fraught with obstacles including discontented ghosts, fog goblins, strange loch monsters (maybe they’ll even encounter Nessie) and a newly established and hence rival, hunting agency, which Nancy may or may not join. Not to mention dodgy bowls of cabbage.

Can our favourite monster hunters save the day and hence, the nuns? I truly wish them the beast of Loch with this challenge.

Enormous, or rather monstrous, fun, which is added to by Louis Ghibault’s hilarious illustrations, plus the intermittent lessons about monsters provided throughout the story.

We Are Love / Don’t Mix Up My Dinosaur

These are two new titles from Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

We Are Love
Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott

Animal parents furry, wrinkly, scaly and feathery invite little humans to watch their demonstrations of love for their offspring. Whether it’s leaping squirrels, plodding pachyderms, diving dolphins, waddling penguins or whatever, we can find loving care in a multitude of places. Young children will be reassured to see that the final pages show a mother and her small child showing their heartfelt love for one another.

A clever cutaway design feature enables the second of the two spreads allocated to each loving parent and little one, to show them coming together to form a heart shape. 

A simple rhyming text that flows nicely and Elliott’s textured illustrations of the featured creatures make for a reassuring lap book or bedtime book to share with the very youngest, some of whom may notice that there are other unnamed animal pairs in the background also forming heart shapes and even some minibeasts forming hearts with their wings.

Don’t Mix Up My Dinosaur
Rosamund Lloyd and Spencer Wilson

Five dinosaurs provide tactile fun in this matching game of a book. By turning the wheel little ones can help Triceratops find her missing horn; enable Ankylosaurus to get back his lumpy, bumpy club, make sure Velociraptor and her fluffy tail are reunited, 

put Parasaurolophus’s crest where it should be and put Spinosaurus and her scaly tail together again.

The wheel is easily moved by little hands and young children will enjoy meeting the various brightly coloured dinosaurs – in their correct or mixed-up forms. They’ll also enjoy learning (and trying to get their tongues around) their correct names; these are provided on the back cover though not in the simple repetitive text. Interactive, inventive and appealing.

Maths Words for Little People: Shapes / Sums


Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Books

These are titles in the Maths Words For Little People series that aims to develop young children’s confidence in mathematical vocabulary and early maths concepts.

Set indoors, Shapes begins by affirming that our everyday lives are full of different shapes – both flat and solid. Some are made of straight sides and corners whereas others – curved shapes – have no corners. (Examples of each are given.)

Various kinds of pattern are depicted, as are shape sequences and tessellation.

A simple explanation of solid shape with several examples in varying sizes comes next, followed by a look at (bilateral) symmetry and finally there are a few questions for young children to answer. For adult users are ten suggestions for getting the most out of the book; and the final page has a brief glossary.

Using a similar structure, and a garden setting, Sums has spreads on more and less, add and take away, and part and whole.

A variety of arrangements of five objects (seeds) is presented and little ones are encouraged to count each set. Counting on and counting back are introduced along with a number line for some practice,

followed by a spread with ladybirds that focuses on the +, – and = signs. The notion that order matters in subtraction but not in addition is demonstrated and then we meet zero and how it has no bearing on the answer if zero is added or subtracted.
Daisy patterns are used to explain number bonds for five and the last spreads follow the same structure as Shapes.

Visually attractive, with fun characters and written in an engaging manner, these little books are ideal for one to one sharing at home and should help young children be more mathematically assured in a nursery or other early years setting.

Word Trouble

Word Trouble
Vyara Boyadjieva
Walker Books

Starting somewhere new is often stressful but when everybody else speaks a different language it is likely to be much more difficult. So it is for Ronnie who has just moved to a new country.

Despite his parents’ efforts to equip him with some basic English vocabulary, his attempts at communication when his nursery teacher asks Ronnie to introduce himself are less than perfect. Sadly his classmates seem unwelcoming and Ronnie is upset that everybody giggles at him.

Back home he recounts what has happened to his mum and dad who do their best to reassure him.

The next day begins well and the other children want to get to know Ronnie better, but due to his lack of vocabulary he is unable to respond appropriately to their questions, leading to further confusion and leaving Ronnie as despondent as ever.

A trip to the park with Dad after school opens the way first to some non-verbal communication and then joyous laughter. It’s this laughter that leads Ronnie not only to the beginnings of friendship,

but also a realisation that both laughter and kindness are universal languages.

Illustration too is a universal language as Vyara Boyadjieva shows in her empathetic portrayal of Ronnie’s feelings and the challenges of being in a new country.

Ultimately uplifting, this sensitive debut picture book deserves to be in all early years and foundation stage settings.

Frank and Bert :The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike

Frank and Bert :The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s bear, Bert and fox, Frank, return in a new story again narrated by the latter.

The two pals would dearly love to go on a ‘big bike ride’ but as we see, although things start off satisfactorily, it’s not long before Bert gets the wobbles and something goes wrong.

However one day with Bert claiming that he’ll be just fine, they set off together once more. After a while those wobbles start and oops … 

Frank’s not giving up that easily though and he comes up with a supportive idea … or perhaps not.

Can Frank manage to think up something very special to help his best friend get back into the saddle again? And if so, can the two of them get all the way up to the top of that steep hill and safely down again without a disaster?

With its fun final twist, Chris’s story shows friendship at its best – understanding, trusting and ever patient.

Giggles galore guaranteed when you share this comic combination of words and pictures. I love the measured use of florescent colour and the unspoken commentary on Bert’s efforts provided by the bit part players.

I look forward to further episodes starring this delectable duo.

The Octopus, Dadu and Me

The Octopus, Dadu and Me
Lucy Ann Unwin, illustrated by Lucy Mulligan
uclan publishing

Twelve year old Sashi’s Dadu (grandfather) has dementia and it’s getting worse. He becomes agitated suddenly, sometimes violent, and now doesn’t recognise his family. So, after a very difficult visit to the care home where he lives, Sashi’s Dad has come to a decision: no more visiting.

Sashi is devastated and her relationship with her Mum and Dad becomes increasingly strained: They just don’t seem to understand how she feels or even want to listen to her. Surely they realise what a very special bond she and Dadu (an erstwhile engineer) have built up over the years: how can they not see this decision as a betrayal of that loving relationship, Sashi wonders.

Endeavouring to make her feel better, her parents take Sashi to the local aquarium and there she encounters Ian, an octopus. Like her Dadu, Ian seems trapped in the wrong place, She decides the creature is indicating to her that it wants to be set free. She begins to channel all her feelings into planning so to do and she enlists the help of two really good friends, Hassan and Darcie.

This compassionate debut story shows a girl using her creativity and imagination to help her process her feelings about Dadu

and her character feels totally credible.

Lucy Mulligan’s black and white illustrations capture Sashi’s creativity in drawings of some of her comic strips and other art.
Prepare to be engulfed by the tentacles of this book from the outset and have a box of tissues at the ready as you read.

Ways to Say I Love You

Ways to Say I Love You
Madeleine Cook and Fiona Lee
Oxford Children’s Books

The opening lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 43 How Do I Love Thee? sprang to mind as I read this picture book, which is a celebration of love, and in particular familial love. Madeleine Cook explores some of the multitude of ways love is expressed: it might be the tender, gentle way in which a parent holds a baby or tiny child; perhaps it’s a caress; a shared experience of the natural world when out for a walk. Sometimes it’s being there with a hug when a child is upset, or a playful tickle at feeding time and a book shared at bedtime.

Being shown love helps a small child to develop self belief and the confidence to forge a path in life. Those things come when love is shown by a listening ear and a readiness to talk things over; also through helping a youngster to learn basic life skills, as well as being supportive when a child takes an important big step such as starting nursery or school.

Those who are shown love from the outset are most likely to be loving towards others as they become more independent; love is a choice and a decision. But one thing is certain, love is conveyed differently by countless different people and that is portrayed so well in Fiona Lee’s diverse characters.

Could it possibly be that love has the potential to bind us all together – if only …

This hug of a book is a delight to share.

Granny and Bean

Granny and Bean
Karen Hesse and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

Granny and Bean are out walking on the beach: the sea and the sky are dreary shades of grey and beige, but Granny and Bean are undeterred. Suitably clad in raincoats, warm hats, and boots, the pair make their way along the beach, enjoying their time together. Nothing is going to stop these two making the most of their time together. ‘Their laughter rose. Full of joy, it spilled / ‘cross sand, through mist, / as the curlews trilled.’ As they watch the spotted gulls,

so strong is the wind that their hats are blown off, their hair gets progressively wetter and their ‘cheeks chafed red’.

Still they keep walking, only pausing briefly to greet dogs, slowing while Bean jumps over logs until eventually they find a place out of the way of the wildness and there they stop and sit. Time for some tea: bananas and cakes come out of the bag Granny has brought with her. Then they sort through the things they’ve collected during their walk

and keeping only the best shells and a stone, with the sun trying to break through the clouds, the two head for home.

Karen Hesse’s rhyming text has the ideal complement in Charlotte Voake’s mixed media illustrations, which capture both the chill beauty of the natural environment and the tender, loving bond between grandparent and young child. I love the way the stand-out colours of their clothing helps to focus the reader’s attention on their faces and body language throughout.

Memories are made of days such as this; days spent in the natural world. From endpaper to endpaper, a gently magical book to share over and over, especially between grandparents and grandchildren.

Begin the New Year with a Board Book or Two

Name Your Numbers
Smriti Halls and Edward Underwood
Walker Books

Using a jaunty rhyming text Smriti Halls introduces little ones to eleven different creatures, each of which offers a counting opportunity and is accompanied by a bit part player (or two). Here for instance is Leopard Evan:

Both words and number symbols for one to ten are used and the final spread has a snappy stand-out surprise, no numerals or number words but a chance to take those counting skills to twenty and beyond. Edward Underwood’s illustrations cry out for youngsters to emulate the subject of each spread be that with some bouncing, trumpery-trumping , growling, roaring or whatever.

One slight snag rears its wings however when Billy Bee states with reference to his stripes, “I’ve got three!” Astute observers may well point out that here the image shows the bee with four yellow stripes and three black ones.

Zebra Won’t Wear Spots
Noodle Juice and Mr Griff
Noodle Juice

Zebra detests spots, so much so that she never wears any clothes, until that is, her pals point out that going nude can be thought of as “rather rude!” There’s a snag though, Zebra doesn’t possess clothes of any kind. So, her friends take her on a shopping spree and after an exhausting day, Zebra has clothing for all occasions. Even then, so unused to being clad is our stripy friend, that she gets all in a tizzy when she has to choose what to wear for a trip to the pool; and as for drying herself with a spotty towel – not a chance: nor will she don a spotty sweater in the park as darkness descends

or join in the game of Twister at Giraffe’s birthday party.

However hard she tries though, there are some spots that simply cannot be avoided …

This board book about an aspect of good manners presented in a rhyming text and accompanied by wacky illustrations of Zebra and her friends will certainly amuse little ones who will love the unexpected turnaround.

Two-Headed Chicken

Two-Headed Chicken
Tom Angleberger
Walker Books

This graphic novel stars a two-headed chicken (one head is pretty stupid, the other head, a whole lot cleverer). This strange entity (in part you the reader, in part your sister) is being chased through the multiverse by an angry green moose, Kernel Antlers, determined to capture, fry and consume it.

In each chapter they travel to a different universe in the multiverse, courtesy of the rechargeable Astrocap, invented and worn by the cleverer head. With a “Bzoop.”this device transports them out of every dangerous situation in just 42 seconds, the intention to find a spot where the moose doesn’t exist. The chase has halts in universes that pastiche Harry Potter and Charles Dickens.

There’s a stop in one universe where “lava is actually lukewarm pizza sauce,” and another in which everyone uses “ginormous” old mobile phones. And the hero makes a number of far out friends along the way.

But who will prevail? Will it be that moose or our intrepid hero? That would be telling; or would it.

Then there’s the fact that the less clever chicken attempts to tell the world’s longest knock knock joke throughout the book and there are several crazy quizzes and puzzles.

The author’s boldly coloured art (and some real NASA photos of the universe) tells most of the story and Angleberger gives credit to the joke books of his childhood as inspiration for the brand of humour and the style of drawing.

A ridiculous romp if ever there was one and possibly the most absurd book I’ve ever read. Those with a penchant for craziness of the exciting kind will enjoy this bumpy ride.

Pick A Story: A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure

Pick A Story: A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure
Sarah Coyle and Adam Walker-Parker

The second in this interactive picture book choose your own adventure series offers another array of possibilities.

It’s Gwen’s birthday and Dad has made a cake; not the train shape she’d hoped for but it looked pretty tasty all the same. However with the party about to begin, said cake vanishes. Now what? Readers have three crazy starting points for the birthday girl’s search: could the thief be a unicorn from up in the clouds, a confection-loving robot in robot city

or perhaps a ravenous dinosaur roaming on a savannah?

Sarah’s super-lively text contains alliteration aplenty, a sprinkling of onomatopoeia and generous helpings of other playful language. And, in addition to choosing how the narrative plays out, readers are invited to consider various questions that feed into the action:’What amazing robot ability would you like to have?’; ‘Which cloud cake would you like to nibble?’;

Which ballistic bake would you eat? (in dino-land).
Adam Walker-Parker’s humorous illustrations are equally energetic, full of comical characters and decisions to make on every spread.
Another dead cert winner of a book that gives and gives and keeps on giving as it sends readers backwards and forwards through its pages. And what of the cake? Will Gwen find that which she seeks? I wonder …

A Pinch of Love

A Pinch of Love
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

A little boy and his grandmother love to cook together and they especially like to make the titular pinch of love one of the ingredients no matter what they bake. Through Barry Timms’ rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant acrylic illustrations, that heartfelt love is shared throughout the local community. We see the empathetic little lad out offering fresh cookies to those in the neighbourhood; he seems to know just when there’s a need for a tasty treat that contains that vital ingredient.

Readers will enjoy the ‘sticky moments’ grandmother and grandson share in the kitchen as they too sometimes need a touch of tenderness especially as they prepare for that big neighbourhood fund raising bake sale at the community centre.

Choosing to be kind and loving isn’t always easy, but Tisha’s scenes of the wonderfully diverse community show just what a big difference it can make to be on the receiving end, as well as for the giver.

Love can be a power like no other: that message comes across in both the skilfully mixed text and the illustrations that add further heartwarming details to the words.

A lovely book to share with children and a smashing starting point for a class or local group event along the lines of the one shown in this story: baking/food is both a means and a metaphor for ‘paying it forward’.

My Father is a Polar Bear

My Father Is A Polar Bear
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Felicita Sala
Walker Books

Drawing on his own experience, Michael Morpurgo wrote this story over fifteen years back with the insight of adulthood. It’s hugely poignant as, starting in 1948, we read of two boys, Andrew and big brother Terry and their search for their biological father. Andrew is aware that he has two fathers; Douglas the one the boys live with, and the one who is never spoken of.

When his brother shows him a picture of a polar bear in a Young Vic Company’s dramatisation of the Snow Queen and says it is his father, five year old Andrew is more confused than ever. However, Andrew’s father is an actor. playing the role of the polar bear and it is that which triggers their search. It’s one that takes many years until eventually both Andrew and his brother

find the way back to their birth father and to a healing acceptance.

Michael’s beautiful prose and Felicita Sala’s drawings both capture so well, the child Andrew’s view of the world in this short pensive book.

The Sour Grape

The Sour Grape
Jory John and Pete Oswald

A fault finding fruit if ever there was one – that’s Grape when first we encounter our narrator in this latest addition to the Food Group series. But the grape wasn’t always so, as we hear. Indeed Grape had a pretty perfect childhood growing up in a “close-knit bunch” – a community of about three thousand.

The transition from sweet to sour started when Grape planned a big birthday party to which nobody at all turned up. Thereafter began the personality change, first to a bitter grape, then a snappy one that would hold a grudge at the slightest little thing. This would manifest itself as a scowl that turned Grape’s face ‘all squishy’. Gradually the grudges built until one day, Grape is due to meet his only friend, sour Lenny, for one of their regular ranting sessions. But a sequence of mishaps result in Grape arriving at the venue three hours late. Guess who how holds a great big grudge.

A disbelieving Grape ponders on the situation and then leaves his friend to grumble alone. As Grape enjoys the surrounding nature, there follows a light bulb moment and off home goes the fruit to find and browse through a box of keepsakes. Goodness me! Grape discovers that old party invitation and the date written thereon was ten days after the birthday date. “It was all my fault. I realised nobody’s perfect. Not even me.”

Thus begins a change in the attitude of our narrator who finds that talking, listening to others and working things out calmly is the way to go.

What an important life lesson, and delivered in Jory John’s punny prose and Pete Oswald’s signature style illustrations, make it great fun. A book that adults, as well as youngsters should read; after all as Grape concludes, ‘If you look at things in the right sort of way – and if you remember to be kind, considerate, forgiving and grateful – life really can be pretty sweet.’

Letters to Anyone and Everyone

Letters to Anyone and Everyone
Toon Tellegen, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
Boxer Books

More than twenty short tales each with an epistolary element and all written by a group of animals including elephant, snail, squirrel, ant, carp, bear and mole, are found between the covers of this delightfully quirky and unusual book translated from Toon Tellegen’s original Dutch by Martin Cleaver. You will find a fair number of cakes,

friends aplenty and some wonderful meditations on life itself. Whether or not, like the squirrel, you can convince yourself that it’s possible for a table to write a letter is your decision, but really it’s only a small step from accepting that an ant can attempt to write his memoirs.

It’s impossible to choose a favourite but I really loved the first – Elephant’s letter to Snail:

Dear Snail,
May I invite you to dance with
me on top of your house? Just a few
steps? That’s what I want most of all.
I promise I’ll dance very delicately,
so we won’t fall through your roof.
But of course, you can never
be really sure.
The elephant

Snail responds and this eventually results in the two dancing together, to the pachyderm’s delight.

Others are more surreal and the book ends with all the animals coming together on the final day of the year and writing a very considered letter to the sun. And yes, in case you’re wondering, they do receive a reply.

Jessica Ahlberg’s delicate illustrations bring the letter writers to life and provide a perfect complement to the tone of the text.
This is a thoughtful book to savour and one that will appeal especially to those who enjoy reading something thoughtful with an edge of excitement.

Be Wild, Little One

Be Wild, Little One
Olivia Hope and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘Wake up early, don’t be shy, / this bright world can make you FLY. / Be wild, little one.’ So urges the author in her opening lines of this exhilarating, rhythmic text that encourages children to believe they should go out into the world, explore it imaginatively and believe that anything is possible; in other words, to make the world their playground. Be it climbing trees, swimming in the deep blue ocean, chasing storms, (yes those will eventually go) or running with wolves through snowy mountains,

Daniel Egnéus captures and enlarges the experience with his glorious, memorable scenes of a child embracing the wonders of the natural world and experiencing every opportunity as an adventure. Not only do the words sing but so too, do the illustrations. And what better way to end than with this final spread where readers feel that they really are standing alongside the child under the starry sky ready to relish every moment of that adventure.

Truly a joyous, magical book bursting with encouragement and energy; be yourself in this wonderful world and embrace life imaginatively and fully. What better message could you give a child? A must have for class collections and family bookshelves.

Sophie: My First Christmas / Sophie: Baby’s First Year

These are two new books both featuring Sophie the Giraffe – thanks to Templar Publishing for sending them for review

Sophie: My First Christmas

In this interactive, seasonal board book Sophie giraffe and her friends are having fun in a game of hide and seek. It begins outside in a snowy landscape with fir trees and a snowman as hiding places,

then moves indoors where a huge present and a stocking make good places behind which to disappear and wait for little hands to lift the felt flaps and reveal other animal players.
Finally, with Sophie ready and waiting, it’s time to open her door and see who has arrived – just in time for Christmas.

Simple, fun and an ideal offering for a baby’s first Christmas.

Sophie: Baby’s First Year

The text of this book is written from the viewpoint of the baby and provides a journal wherein to collect all those important details of a little one’s first twelve months. It begins even before his/her birth with three spreads allocated to in turn,’Before I was born’, ‘Being pregnant’ and ‘Family Tree’, which are followed by ‘The day I was born’ and ‘All about me’; and the final spread extends beyond that first year with space for birthday photos until the subject is five years old.
There are spaces for such things as handprints and footprints, envelopes in which to keep mementos and each page is well designed with some animal characters helping to make it visually attractive.

This would make a great gift for new parents or for a child’s dedication or naming ceremony.

Celebrate With Me!

Celebrate With Me!
ed. Laura Gladwin, illustrated by Dawn M. Cardona
Magic Cat

Twenty five creative people including chefs, artists, storytellers and designers from various parts of the world, have a double spread in which to present their favourite festival. Each person provides an introduction telling what makes their chosen festival special for them. Some festivals have a fixed date and others vary each year and the book starts with New Year’s Day and closes with New Year’s Eve. It introduces readers to some of the less frequently mentioned festivals and celebrations as well as presenting some that are well-known including Diwali, Eid-Al-Fitr and Easter. I had not come across Juneteenth before reading baker and food justice advocate, Michael Platt’s spread on the celebration.

Since food is such an important festival component, every one includes a recipe (to be used under adult supervision) – some are sweet, others savoury – as well as an art/craft activity, a story, song, game or something else that for each presenter, is part and parcel of their personal way of celebrating.

The book concludes with a look at some birthday traditions around the world and a spread suggesting readers ask those they know some festival related questions.

Diversity is key in this invitingly illustrated book. It’s a great way to learn about a variety of cultures and to help readers feel connected to the cycle of the year and to other people.

5 Minute Nature Stories

5 Minute Nature Stories
Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Mona K
Magic Cat

Nine lyrically written stories about various key topics demonstrate the interconnectedness of the natural world. Starting with The Mystery of Mushrooms, poet and science writer Gabby Dawnay presents first a story and then the key facts about each of her chosen subjects. Her mushroom story begins with the distribution of spores scattered by the wind across the forest floor where, in the moss they start to create a network that grows and spreads underground until up pop a cluster of little mushrooms ready to start the cycle over again.

Making links with the underground mycelium by means of a partnership called mutualism, are the roots of the trees that also form an invisible subterranean web, we learn of in The Wood Wide Web.

Next to make an appearance is a group of Red Deer that forage on the fruits, bark and foliage of the woodland terrain that gives them a protective environment. These majestic creatures sing The song of the Deer, the chorus of which is, “This forest is ours / and together we’re strong. / In the meadows we roam, / in the woods we belong!”

Meanwhile, high up in the branches is a nest upon which sits an adult starling, until that is, three baby birds hatch from their eggs. Thereafter Mama Bird flies off to seek worms in response to their call for food. That she will do until some months later, they are ready to fend for themselves. Then comes The Flight of the Starlings as this story is called.

Other tales are of the metamorphosis of frogs, the amazing seven year long ‘feast’ of the stag beetle, the honeybee’s dance, photosynthesis as seen through the eyes of a little grey rabbit and finally, we encounter the tiger moth that uses moonlight to orientate and guide her nocturnal flight to find a mate – it’s called transverse orientation.

Each story is illustrated by Mona K whose natural world scenes are an appealing mix of realism and anthropomorphism. A lovely book to share.

A Dancer’s Dream

A Dancer’s Dream
Katherine Woodfine and Lizzy Stewart
Simon & Schuster

Recently out in paperback is this lovely story that combines history and fiction to present the story of The Nutcracker ballet from the viewpoint of Stana, a young dancer at the Imperial Ballet School, St Petersburg. In the run up to Christmas, Stana auditions and on account of her feeling for the music, and her imaginative expression, is selected for the leading role, Clara, in a brand new ballet, The Nutcracker.

Stana’s reaction to her selection is tempered with other concerns. She loves the chance rehearsals (overseen by the composer, Tchaikovsky, himself) bring to escape from worries about her older sister who is in hospital, but the worries are still there especially the cost of her treatment. She worries too about the reaction of her best friend who wanted to play the lead; and of course, is she up to the part? However, she also feels that if she dances well enough, her sister will recover, which is a powerful motivator as well as a huge responsibility.

Although she receives kindness and approval from Tchaikovsky, the first reviews for the ballet are disappointingly negative. ‘Stana’s magic chance to shine melted away’ we read. However, just when she’s feeling that nothing is working out as she hoped, she receives good news and a wonderful, surprising gift. Christmas will after all be brighter than any dream she might have had.

This magical book of kindness, friendship, determination and self-belief would make a smashing Christmas present for readers who already love the world of ballet or are yet to discover it.

Little Bear

Little Bear
Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

One day, a Monday to be precise, a little boy discovers a polar bear in his garden – a very tiny one. So small is the bear that he can sit in the boy’s hands. The boy speaks to the bear and realising he must be lost wants to help him. Over the next few days two things grow – the polar bear and the friendship between bear and boy and by Wednesday, it’s time for the two to set sail.

They embark on a journey that takes until Sunday when the bear is reunited with his family. After a day playing with the polar bears, the boy knows he must say goodbye to his special friend and sail back home. This he does, safe in the knowledge that the bear’s love will stay with him.

With the caring boy narrating the story, and Richard’s wonderfully gentle portrayal of the events and the growing loving bond between bear and boy, we truly feel as though we’re with them throughout. It’s this care and concern that lies at the heart of the story: “Are you lost, little bear. Can I help you?” comes the boy’s first question; then on Thursday we read ‘he had grown too big for my hat … So he curled up tightly, safe and warm in my bag.’ while on Saturday we see this:

Comforting and reassuring, this is heart-winner of a book that lingers in the mind and is open to several interpretations depending on what readers/listeners bring to the story.

A Clock of Stars: The Greatest Kingdom

A Clock of Stars: The Greatest Kingdom
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third part in Francesca Gibbons’ fantastical adventure trilogy.

With Anneshka now in the world of humans searching for the greatest kingdom and Mum’s boyfriend, Mark, dangerously ill in hospital on account of some monsters he accidentally carried home, Imogen and Marie face some enormous problems and the clock is ticking to save Mark’s life.

There’s magic aplenty awaiting as we follow the sisters as they make one final journey through the door in the tree. Their quest will mean they must travel – much further than they’ve ever done before – right into the strange enchanted lands of Nedobyt; giant birds and a lot of flying are involved.

Meanwhile elsewhere, feeling more lonely than ever before, Miro, is also on a journey – to find his mother’s family. Almost thankful to be accompanied by Princess Kazimira, he heads towards the Nameless Mountains where he hopes to track down his two grandmothers.

This is an absolutely brilliant, breathtaking finale with so much at stake. Lots is learned including that Imogen realises she’s not the only one to have ‘worry creatures’, Miro has them too.

I don’t want to reveal too much about what unfolds or it will spoil readers’ enjoyment of Francesca’s truly spellbinding tale. Make sure you take a good look at Chris Riddell’s superb portraits of the characters at the front of the book

With all prophecies fulfilled, the clock of stars has stopped ticking; wither next for this amazing author I wonder.

The Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise

Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise
Helen Baugh and Nick East
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Little Elf can hardly contain his excitement: at last he’s sufficiently grown up to be able to wear one of those red and green hats that are considered a special perk for Santa’s elfin helpers. As the other elves complete the loading of Santa’s sleigh, Little Elf proudly holds in his hands the final ‘Dear Santa’ letter in the entire land and begins to read. So intent is he that Little Elf fails to notice the icy patch in the workshop doorway and whoosh! He slips, slides, thumps and in so doing lets go of that all important letter.

Back on his feet, Little Elf chases the whirling, swirling letter through the snow and ice but just as it’s almost within his reach, the elf takes another tumble. ‘But he HAD to catch the letter! / It just COULD NOT disappear! / Or a child would think that Santa had / forgotten them this year.’ Off he goes again with increased determination.

After further accidents, our Little Elf finally has the letter in his hand and off he hurries back home to read it.

What he discovers as he shares its contents with his fellow elves causes considerable consternation among them and a selfless action on the part of our little hero.

Young listeners will love joining in with the repeat refrains in Helen’s rhyming text and revel in the final surprise. With gentle humour, Nick captures the chaos that is Little Elf’s chase, brilliantly showing his perturbation as he ploughs his way through the wintry landscape.

The Real Dada Mother Goose

The Real Dada Mother Goose
Jon Scieszka and Julia Rothman
Walker Books

I wonder who had more fun, Jon Scieszka, guided by Dadaism turning half a dozen nursery rhymes inside, outside upside down, or this reviewer reading the outcome. It is dedicated to Blanche Fisher Wright, who in 1919 illustrated the The Real Mother Goose and whose art is reproduced throughout the pages here. The whole book is just so clever, playfully subversive and absurd. 

Scieszka and illustrator Julia Rothman transform each nursery rhyme starting with Humpty Dumpty, into six new versions. These renditions are a censored form where key words are covered over, a verbose version, a boring version wherein the King’s horses and men ‘Didn’t really have to do anything.’ Then come a postcard from Humpty to his parents, a version using morse code and finally a version translated into a series of five foreign languages.

Jack be Nimble is given in three coded forms; in Esperanto, there are multiple choice options, presentations as a grammatical exercise, one is given the Spoonerism treatment and a classroom book report.

I love the Jabberwocky version of Old Mother Hubbard 

and in two variations, Old Mother Hubbard has morphed into ‘Old Mother Luvven’ who went to the oven ‘To get her poor iguana some crickets and mealworms.’ and ‘Young Dr Fabratory’ who went to the laboratory, ‘To refit her latest robot with a new, faster and larger memory.’ The two are left pondering however on account of the disappearance of the laboratory. Brilliant mucking about this.

Hey Diddle Diddle becomes a news article in The Daily Goose, a recipe for stew, 

a map of Diddle Town, a knock knock joke, the topic for a quiz and this splendid haiku ‘Hey diddle diddle, / Cat fiddles, Cow moons, Dog laughs / “Run!” says Dish to Spoon.’

And so it goes on finally coming full circle – kind of.

Throughout Julia Rothman has fun cleverly manipulating Wright’s original illustrations and there’s a wealth of backmatter that will please older children and adults be they teachers, parents or interested others. Dadaist delight this.

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers

Detector Dogs, Dynamite Dolphins and More Animals with Super Sensory Powers
Christina Couch and Cara Giaimo, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Walker Books (MIT Kids Press)

This fascinating book introduces animals large and small, each one having been selected because it has the ability to perform a specific task such as testing treated water, or has a special highly developed sense.

There are eight main topics, one per chapter and readers are also given briefer notes on many others. First we learn of a dog named Eba, trained to help a human killer whale biologist track endangered orcas. Eba is ‘possibly the only dog in the world trained to sniff killer whale poop’. Then there’s Cynthia, a ferret living underground in Leicester. One of fifty, their task is to help humans run cables through ‘skinny underground pipes and replacing pipes when they break.’ This they do by means of their whiskers.

Rosita is a goat – a risk abatement goat – one of a herd that climb over the rocky hills of Southern California, eating dried-out bushes, grasses and other dried-out plants, thus removing fuel sources for small fires which could get out of control, as well as creating paths that are helpful for human firefighters coming to put out flames.

Did you know that since 2002 researchers working on the ICARUS project have used tracking tags placed on thousands of animals the world over and monitored from space as a means of predicting earthquakes. One such is a cow named Bertha in Italy; in 2016 she was able to sense an imminent earthquake.

Each chapter is followed by a related ‘activity’ for children to try out. These include simple guided experiments to test their abilities to for instance follow a scent trail or use echolocation.

All the creatures mentioned help their human co-workers tackle real-world problems like pollution and global warming but sometimes there are ethical considerations and the authors don’t overlook these.

In addition to the colour photos, Daniel Duncan provides some gently humorous illustrations;

and the source notes and bibliography are excellent. Altogether an engaging and enlightening book.

Whose Tracks in the Snow?

Whose Tracks in the Snow?
Alexandra Milton
Boxer Books

‘Look! Look! / Tracks in the snow!’ is the cry on each alternate spread in this gorgeously illustrated book that introduces readers first to the footprints and then having described the chief characteristics of the prints, ‘Tracks like hearts, Tracks in two lines’, asks them to guess who left those marks, ‘by the snow-covered pines?’

The black smudgy marks each time are a close facsimile of what children would see in the natural world and a small glimpse of a part of each animal provides an additional clue, in this instance, the dark brown tip of a lighter brown tail. The page turn reveals the answer—‘A shy red deer’—and some information about the creature depicted in all its glory.

The rhyming text with its repeat refrain is a joy to read aloud, the descriptions of the tracks are superb ‘Tracks with lines, / Tracks like a kite’ are those of a waddling wild duck,

‘Tracks like diamonds …’ refer to those made by the bushy-tailed fox’, but it is Alexandra Milton’s exquisite collage illustrations at every turn of the page that are the real show stoppers. Just look closely at the snow with its variations in colour and small portions of shading. Six animals, six landscapes and each a joy to behold.

What a wonderful way to entice youngsters out into the woods on a snowy day for some track-spotting. (The back endpapers show life size tracks of the six animals – pheasant, duck, fox, hare, deer and squirrel.)

The Frost Goblin

The Frost Goblin
Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock
Simon & Schuster

If you don’t think winter’s frost is fun then you should read this book: actually you should read it anyway as it absolutely sparkles with magic and fizzles with enchantment.

One cold winter’s night quiet young Bertie Crash-Wallop’s heart wobble causes him to creep out from his noisy home without his family noticing. As he pauses on the swing, he spots for the first time, a door handle and having investigated further, not only does he get a tingling feeling but he discovers a small door through which he steps, only to hear someone whispering.

Thus it is that Bertie is drawn into a thrilling goblin adventure for he follows one Archibald Frostgobble and a wonderful chocolatey smell and learns that on this, the night of the deepest, most important frost of the year, the goblins must ensure that it’s scattered over the entire town of Clatterstomp before dawn. Before long it seems as though Bertie himself might make some magic; he meets a young goblin child, Ada, and is soon accompanying her on an exciting, magical undertaking scattering frost with his new friend.

Eventually ‘It was as if a giant had breathed silver into every corner of Clatterstomp.’

Goblin magic we discover has the power to transform for not only can it ‘rekindle hope in the sleeping hearts of all those who needed it,’

it also shows Bertie that he does in fact belong in his family and just how much they all love him.

Team Abi (author) and Fiona (illustrator) have created their own magic in this wonderfully heart-warming, moving story that makes a perfect read aloud, especially on the coldest days.


Katharine Orton
Walker Books

With her exquisite descriptions Katharine Orton brings her own special brand of magic to this sparkling fantasy tale.

To live in the shadow of Mountainfell, is to live in perpetual fear be it from witches cursed with hex-magic, the cloud dragon that terrorises the community, or from the earth-shaking tremors rolling down from the wild mountains.

Erskin, a shy lonely girl and her elder sister, Birgit, are the children of the mountain keeper, the guardian of their village of Lofotby; and when Birgit is snatched by the dragon, Erskin knows she must summon all her courage to embark on the journey of a lifetime to find her and bring her back home.

What ensues is a perilous quest that not only tests Erskin’s determination and bravery but some of her long held beliefs and she finds herself searching not only for her sibling but much more besides.

She makes some surprising friends, meets a least one heinous villain and there’s magic aplenty as she finds out more about that supposedly deadly dragon. She also has to try and avert an ecological crisis and learns to accept herself as she is, thanks in no small part to a friend she makes, who accompanies her on her journey.

This is one of those books where you are desperate to discover how the breathtaking adventure turns out, but equally, you don’t want the story to end; it’s just so brilliant and for me Katharine Orton’s best yet.


Heidi McKinnon
Allen & Unwin Childrens Books

Put me in a room with a cat and within minutes I will be wheezing and sneezing and have streaming eyes, so the thought of getting close up and cuddlesome with one is something I would certainly avoid. However, one glance at the alluring image with those big round eyes on the cover showing star of Heidi McKinnon’s book, Floof, is enough to make even this cat phobic reviewer want to spend some time with the creature.

Then to see this

brought on a strong urge to snuggle up and share some of the books in the pile with the ‘furball’. Even better, readers and listeners are able to have a whole ‘busy’ day with the mischievous Floof and in so doing, relish all the mismatches between what the words say and what the illustrations show is actually happening.

Not only is this a smashing book to share with young children, it’s also a good one for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves, preferably after an adult or older child has read it with them.

With humour and delight in equal proportions, this fun book will bring a smile to your face at each turn of the page.

The Heart of a Giant

The Heart of a Giant
Hollie Hughes and Anna Wilson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet young Tom. His mother ‘has gone away’ we read. Not so the hills up which Tom likes to climb every day and beneath which so it’s said, sleeps a giant.

When out walking one day Tom lies down to rest and pressing his ear to the ground, he listens for a heartbeat. Suddenly he feels the earth start to tremble and shake, which sends him rolling downwards. The giant has woken, but having found his feet again, does Tom run away as his instincts first tell him? No, for he realises that the great being is a child too. The giant introduces himself as Abram, Abe as Tom is to call him and thus a new friendship is forged. Abe goes on to tell Tom that more than a century ago his Mammy Giant left him and now he’s grown tired of waiting. Perhaps she’s in need of help, they decide, and so begins their long, arduous trek in search of her. 

Eventually they lose hope, Abe especially, and his outpouring of pain, frustration and fury causes the ground to open. Can Tom, an ordinary human child save the situation and perhaps even bring some cheer to Abe? He’s certainly going to have to draw on his new-found inner strength and resourcefulness.

With themes of friendship, love, loss and bravery, this beautifully written and illustrated book is one that lingers in the mind, especially the thought that as Tom’s mother said to him before she died, “each of them would always be within the other’s heart.’

Hollie’s lyrical, rhyming, self-affirming text has its perfect complement in Anna Wilson’s illustrations with that gorgeous colour palette and which capture so well the emotional roller coaster of a journey both friends undertake.