Human Journey / Prehistoric Pets

Human Journey
Professor Alice Roberts, illustrated by James Weston Lewis
Red Shed

Readers may recall the BBC documentary series researched and presented by biological anthropologist, Professor Alice Roberts about a decade back called The Incredible Human Journey and now at last we have this superbly presented illustrated book Human Journey for children.

In a dramatic telling, that includes sufficient but never an excess of detail, we’re taken on a journey way, way back to the beginning of time to trace our ancestors. Did you know that at the Dawn of Humankind, our early human ancestors lived on the grasslands of Africa some two and a half million years ago?

It’s those people whose migrations it’s possible to trace to other parts of the globe, and that’s what this fascinating, highly accessible book does. We follow the spread of humankind to Asia, then to Australia; then around 50,000 years ago to Europe where Homo sapiens encountered the Neanderthals.

Then come several spreads on the Ice Age after the peak of which, human hunters began to colonise the Americas – first North and then South.

There’s a map at the end tracing the entire human journeys; journeys where there were perils to face in the form of deserts, climate change, oceans, volcanoes, enormous creatures, floods

and even more. Incredibly however, the people adapted and invented, survived and thrived.

If you’ve ever pondered upon what it means to be part of the human race, this book is one to read. It’s one too where, with their wonderful details, the illustrations of James Weston Lewis merit close attention. There’s also a useful timeline and glossary.

For family bookshelves and school collections from KS2 on.

Prehistoric Pets
Dr Dean Lomax and Mike Love
Templar Books

If you’ve ever wondered what your moggy or your pooch’s ancestors long, long ago were like, then this book is for you. And even if you haven’t or perhaps don’t own a pet but are interested in the branch of science that is concerned with fossil animals and plants, called palaentology as is the author Dr Dean Lomax, then this book will fascinate you.

Herein Dr Lomax has selected seven animals, four of which are mammals: representing the rodents is Ernest the guinea pig, the Felidae is Flossy the cat; there’s Toby whose Canidae family first evolved some 40 million years back,

while horse, Pippa with her thick keratin hooves to help her run on both hard and soft ground, is the Equidae representative.

Each of these creatures, as well as budgerigar Lucky, Jasper the corn snake and Goldfish, Bubbles that belongs to a group of ray-finned fish that first appeared some 415 million years back – wow!

Every one has a double spread with a gatefold that opens to reveal, not only lots more fascinating paleontological information including a fossil file, but also an exciting, sometimes alarming pop-out creature, its prehistoric ancestor, which virtually springs to life before you.

Illustrator Mike Love provides the visuals and has done a terrific job in making every page alluring and exciting; indeed the design of the whole book is terrific.

Last: The story of a White Rhino

Last: The story of a White Rhino
Nicola Davies
Tiny Owl

This story of Nicola Davies’ is a fine example of how a relatively few, carefully chosen words can have a very powerful impact.

Nicola’s tale, narrated by a rhino was inspired by Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino from Africa that died in 2018. From his captive state in a zoo situated in a grey city, the rhino talks of looking for another animal like himself before remembering his earlier life that was full of colour. A place where other rhinos roamed free and he stayed close to his mother by day and night

until the fateful day when a hunter came and shot her dead. The young rhino was captured, put in ‘a box’ and transported to a dreary place without flora and where ‘Even the rain smelled empty’.

There he speaks of being among many other ‘lasts’ that spend their days cooped up pondering upon their plight

and the state of the world where this is allowed to happen.

Then one day something wonderful happens; something that seems almost too good to be true for the rhino is taken back to his life in the wild and joy of joys, he’s no longer alone.

This is the first book Nicola has illustrated herself and her illustrations too are enormously potent, particularly the stark contrast between the captive grey environment and the colour-filled homeland and the finale.

There’s a page about the illustrations at the front of the book, which I won’t re-iterate in full but just mention the inspirational quote from environmentalist, Paul Hawken and endorse Nicola’s own “I believe that the world can change for the better, but it will change one heart at a time. Change your heart, change the world.’

I truly hope that this story will move others as it did this reviewer, to be part of that change.

I Am One / Our Little Kitchen

I Am One
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s never too soon to introduce a young child to the idea that s/he can make a change in the world and this gorgeous book by a team whose books I greatly admire, shows the way.

Subtitled ‘A book of Action’ this one is clearly much more focused on being active than several of the others in the series and it’s a pitch perfect demonstration, given by a child of how seemingly simple actions can make all the difference.

Here we witness the planting of a single seed, a brushstroke, a note ‘to start a melody’, a step to set off on a journey, and I particularly love the “One brick to start breaking down walls’ sequence of actions

so pertinent in our increasingly troubled times.

The harmony between Susan Verde’s words and Peter H. Reynolds’ signature style illustrations is what truly makes this such a special introduction to social activism; it’s tender, inspiring and uplifting.

Furthermore, Peter has dedicated the book to Greta Thunberg and in the final author’s note, (that also contains a beautiful meditation) Susan writes that her inspiration came from a quote from the Dalai Lama: what more can one ask?

A conversation opener, but equally or more importantly, an impetus to seize that inner power and take action.

Also about taking action – singly and as a community is:

Our Little Kitchen
Jillian Tamaki
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Inspired by her own experience of volunteering in a community kitchen, here’s a really tasty, deliciously diverse, offering from Jillian Tamaki. Now, with hands washed and aprons on, we’re ready to go in the community kitchen. We’ll create a meal – something that happens every Wednesday and it’s a bit of a squash to accommodate all the enthusiastic volunteers.

Luckily, they have their own little garden so there’s no need to look too far afield for ingredients; and there appears to be a fair bit stored away that needs using up and there are donations from the food bank. (Beans again – can they be creative?) It’s definitely a case of waste not, want not (although the odd item is clearly no longer fit for human consumption.

This team clearly makes its own music as they work: ‘glug, glug, chop chop, sizzzzzzzzle, pick! Peel, trim, splash! Toss, squish, mmmm!’ Then comes the shout, “Fifteen minutes!’

The countdown is on as the hungry start coming in; they clearly know one another – there’s plenty to chat about while they wait.
Eventually the leader gives the order “Let’s go!” and in comes the food – yummy and very ‘SSSSSSLLLLLUUUURRRRRPPPP!’- worthy.

Speech bubbles abound, providing a running commentary by the workers and the recipients of the bounty produced by the team; indeed, the entire atmosphere is cheery and relaxed,

made so evident by Jillian Tamaki’s vivid colour palette and the fluidity of her lines. In fact the entire book is a veritable feast for all the senses. There are even recipes on the front and back endpapers.

Shhh! QUIET!

Shhh! QUIET!
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Little Fox is a quiet creature, a close observer of the wildlife around her about which she loves to make up stories. The trouble is though that her friends are exceedingly noisy and their boisterous activities drown out all her attempts to regale them with one of her tales.

One day Raccoon becomes aware that Fox is looking especially sad, tells the others to be quiet and asks Fox what’s upsetting her. Happily Owl, Squirrel and Raccoon are all lovers of stories and ask to be told one there and then.

Of course, Fox is ready to oblige and starts her tale of a bear; but no sooner has she spoken the word ‘bear’ than the others are off roaring and pretending to be bears up in a large tree. Back on the ground below Fox notices some claw marks that look suspiciously like those of a real bear.

But are her friends ready to listen? Oh dear me, no: instead they frolic in the river then cavort across a bridge while Fox grows increasingly alarmed.

Will she ever get them to stop and heed her words? And if so, who will listen while she tells her story?

Nicola’s narrative is a super one for adult readers aloud to let rip with, as well as for youngsters to join in with the noisy exuberance of Fox’s friends. This exuberance spills out into her illustrations of the drama and she has included some diverting details including Fox’s book, the minibeasts and Bear’s teddy comforter.

Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister / Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak

Here are two terrific young fiction titles from Walker Books

Sona Sharma Very Best Big Sister
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun

Young Sona Sharma lives with her family in the Tamil Nadu city of Chennai.

As the story opens, she’s getting increasingly agitated about the forthcoming birth of a new baby sibling, an event about which the rest of her household and extended family seems obsessed. (It’s also one that children in a similar situation to Sona might find difficult adapting to).

Sona most definitely needs the sympathetic listening ear of Elephant, her best friend and constant companion (except at school). Everybody seems set on Amma having a baby boy and when talk of the naming ceremony comes up, Sona resolves to help her Appa find the perfect girl’s name (her Amma is ‘looking for boy names’ he tells her.) Nobody in the family is allowed to know if it’s a boy or girl until after the birth.

Even with this important task, sharing is still a big issue for young Sona: can it be resolved before the baby arrives?

Can Sona become the very best big sister and live up to that family motto ‘Iyavadhu Karavel’? (Always help as best you can.)

I totally fell in love with Sona and the rest of her family and community (how great to have a woman auto driver). Through Chitra’s absolutely gorgeous story of welcoming a new arrival into the hearts and home of a loving community, told from Sona’s perspective and beautiful line drawings by Jen Khatun, readers/listeners will encounter some of the traditions

and rituals – cultural and familial – of this large Indian Hindu family which may well be new to them.
I can almost smell the jasmine and feel the steamy heat as I’m transported to one of my most favourite parts of the world – one I can’t wait to revisit once this terrible pandemic allows. Till then I have this warm-hearted tale to re-read over and over (until I can bear to pass it on). More please.

Agents of the Wild: Operation Icebeak
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens

Now permanent SPEARS field agents, Agnes and her partner Attie receive an emergency call and before you can say ‘penguins’ the two of them are disappearing down a speed funnel, destination Antarctica. It’s from there, sent by the team at the marine outpost, that the distress call came.

What is causing the seismic tremors being felt within and around the vicinity of the treatment centre, outpost 22? Why are all the Adelie penguins behaving in such an odd fashion? And, what on earth is the celebrity presenter and rare bird expert Cynthia Steelsharp, (one of Attie’s heroes) doing in a tent in the middle of the ice fields?

Moreover, why is she so interested in the little shrew’s trinoculars (that he’d needed to pass a two weeks training before being allowed to use in the field)?
Looks as though it’s a case of ‘operation species rescue’ for the SPEARS partnership (even though it may also mean an operation rescue of one of the pair).

Once again, team Jennifer (author) and Alice (illustrator) successfully interweave ecology and biology into an exciting and very funny story making it both enormously entertaining and educative (not a hint of preachiness at all).

Established Agnes and Attie enthusiasts (and I know a fair number) will devour this, likely in a single sitting; but you don’t really need to have read the first book to love this one, though if you’ve missed it I’d recommend getting hold of book Operation Honeyhunt and then move on to Operation Icebeak.

If you’re a teacher of 7s to 9s and would like to encourage your children to become eco-warriors, either book makes an enormously enjoyable class read aloud. (Back-matter includes information about the fragility of the Antarctic ecosystem and how readers can help reduce global warming.)

A word of warning – two actually: first -never say the word ‘onesie’ to your partner, let alone one clad in a watertight thermal body suit with SPEARS emblazoned across it; second – it doesn’t always pay to trust little lizards with the ability to change their colour.

Yellow Dress Day / What’s In My Lunchbox?

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for sending these two recent picture books:

Yellow Dress Day
Michelle Worthington, illustrated by Sophie Norsa

Ava has a particular penchant for dresses, dresses of all colours and she chooses which of them to wear according to the feeling she has about the day, when she greets it each morning.

The red dress is reserved for warm, sunny days; on pink dress days her garden is all abuzz with bees enjoying the flowers; purple dress days are those when rainstorms are around;

snowflakes swishing, swirling and sparkling in the sky signify the need to select her blue dress, while yellow dress days have a whistling wind that shakes the tree branches and send their leaves all a-scatter.

On one such whirly, windy day, Ava’s dress isn’t to be found in any of its usual places …

but then she recalls that the previous day had been similar. Oh dear! Now she can locate its whereabouts but she can’t put it on in the state it’s now in.

Perhaps her mum can find something of the appropriate colour for her to use instead so she can go out and enjoy the day playing with her pup.

Michelle Worthington’s story with a scattering of onomatopoeia  that young listeners will love, is great to read aloud, and equally fun illustrations by Sophie Norsa, capture the different moods of the days beautifully.

What’s In My Lunchbox?
Peter Carnavas, illustrated by Kat Chadwick

This book really made me laugh. I was expecting it merely to be a story about a picky eater but it’s SO much more than that.

The boy narrator is something of a fusspot when it comes to the contents of his lunchbox – he eschews the apple; fish is a definite no-no – I don’r blame him on that one;

ditto the egg. I’ve no idea how what emerges on day four has managed to hide itself in a container with so small a capacity, and even more so the item for day five.

I imagine day six’s lunch item would definitely discombobulate any self-respecting boy …

so what about day seven? Could something therein on that particular day perhaps cause a rethink on the narrator’s part?

WIth its repeat patterned text, every page of this story is a starting point for another story – one that a child creates in response.

Ideal for those in the early stages of becoming readers to try for themselves, or for class sharing, when anticipation will be high throughout, and with Kat Chadwick’s terrific illustrations, this is such a fun read. Make sure you sample the front inside cover too.

Interview with a Tiger

Interview with a Tiger
Andy Seed and Nick East
Welbeck Publishing

Ever fancied getting close up and chatty with some clawed creatures? Probably not but nevertheless, the creators of this book, author Andy and Nick (illustrator) would have readers believe that is just what they’ve done. Courtesy that is of a unique invention named a tranimalator that enabled Andy at least, to speak directly with ten creatures of the chelate kind. (Maybe Nick had his own ‘viewing from afar’ machine to facilitate creating his funky illustrations.)

Now, without further delay, let us too meet the interviewees, starting with a Bengal tiger hailing all the way from the wild grasslands and jungles of India.

The questions are tailor made for each animal, so our tiger is asked about her stripes, hunting, food preferences and catching thereof, offspring, her partner, her ideal day, dislikes, adversaries and rivals. Oh! And apparently, Def Leppard is her favourite band.

Other big cat interviews are with an extremely rare Snow Leopard; a (don’t call me spotted, call me rosetted) Jaguar from the Mexican wetlands, (3rd biggest in the cat ranking order); and the mighty African lion(ess).

There’s a yellow-eyed wolf that only howls to keep in touch with pack members or scare off other wolves. Apparently, such animals eat not only the flesh of their catches but also pretty much every other part too. Cheeky creature this one, talking of the online ordering habit of humans.

If you prefer bug-munchers then head straight to the Giant Anteater pages where you’ll discover how they extract their next meal – ants or termites – by licking up the tasty treats from their holes with their long, sticky-spit covered tongues. Interestingly anteaters lack teeth and have tiny mouths.

Or, why not try meeting the tough, fearless Honey Badger (though it will eat all manner of plant and animal fare) but it’s pretty small (think little dog size).

Don’t miss the chat with a Polar Bear, or the Giant Armadillo and the final, Three-toed Sloth either. The last one clearly has a sense of humour and will make readers laugh at his responses. Tee hee!

This is such a fun, hip way of presenting information – a considerable amount of it – in a memorable fashion that will appeal particularly to young humans that prefer a touch of light-heartedness to their learning.

I Really Want to Shout!

I Really Want to Shout!
Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti
Templar Books

Author Simon Philip and illustrator Lucia Gaggiotti deliver with high energy and humour, a third in their series of life’s vital lessons.

The opening lines of the little girl narrator go like this: ‘Sometimes I find it really tough / to make sure I’m not in a huff / because there’s simply so much stuff / that makes me want to shout.’

Well, it is pretty infuriating to have to eat all your ‘green and yucky’ things before having your pudding, as well as when you have stacks of things you want to do, your parents insist it’s bedtime.

School’s no better – getting blamed for someone else’s meanness is assuredly, a letting off steam with an explosive scream occasion.

Thank goodness then for a best friend with whom to share all that angst, somebody to make you laugh and offer rage-coping strategies – even if the teacher’s less than impressed.

Thank goodness too for an understanding Dad who will comfort and put forward other shout-control suggestions – not a total panacea but assuredly they go a long way towards solving the anger conundrum.

We all get angry occasionally, perhaps more often than normal at the moment, but like the determined protagonist here, knowing what to do about it makes SO much difference.

Youngsters need books like this rhyming, high octane drama more than ever right now: ones that offer ways forward in a fun non-preachy style that you can share and enjoy over and over.

The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief
Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater
Scholastic

Much as I hate to admit it, there are already signs that autumn is upon us and yes, it is as Squirrel says at the outset of this story,  ‘a wonderful time of the year’ with the sun shining through the leafy canopy ‘red, gold, orange … ‘

This particular squirrel however, is a highly observant creature for suddenly comes the cry …” one of my leaves is missing! Where is it?’.

So distressed is Squirrel that implications of stealing follow as first Bird

and then Mouse are interrogated, all the while the former attempting to convince Squirrel that it’s merely seasonal change that’s occurring.

The following morning though, with more leaves missing, Squirrel starts up again and after more accusations, little Bird suggests some relaxation techniques.

These at least calm Squirrel temporarily but next day poor Bird is on the receiving end of Squirrel’s ‘leaf thief’ allegations.

It’s time for the frustrated Bird to provide a fuller explanation about this ‘Leaf Thief’ and convince Squirrel once and for all about what has been happening.

Finally Squirrel seems satisfied and heads off for a good night’s sleep. What though will happen the following morning? …

Let’s say no more, except that the finale almost had me spluttering my hot chocolate everywhere.

Actually not the absolute finale, for on that spread Alice gives information about some of the seasonal changes that happen every autumn. Her story, told entirely through dialogue is a smashing one to read aloud (so long as you can manage not to giggle too much).

Nicola’s autumnal scenes provide the perfect complement to the telling, showing with aplomb, the high drama unfolding, and turning the characters into a talented cast of actors no matter whether they’re playing a major or minor role.

A Poem for Every Autumn Day

A Poem for Every Autumn Day
ed. Allie Esiri
Macmillan Children’s Books

Allie Esiri has selected 61 autumnal poems for this terrific poetry collection to take readers through from 1st September to 30th November.

For this poetry-loving reviewer much of it was a trip down memory lane, some of which, including Christina Rossetti’s Who Has Seen the Wind?, William Blake’s The Tiger, Someone Came Knocking (Walter de la Mare) and Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem took me right back to my primary school days when I learned them by heart.

I’m back in my secondary classroom with my English teacher reading us Edward Thomas’ Digging, Hardy’s Drummer Hodge, Betjeman’s Diary of a Church Mouse and Robert Frost’s The Runaway with that beautiful soft Welsh lilt to her voice.

Then I’m up on the stage in my final year at the same school performing those lines from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.

Some of my favourite poems are included: there’s Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 ; and Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken; I can think of no better way to start October than with that.

It’s great to discover new things too.
Surprisingly I’d not comes across John Agard’s terrific poem about bullying, The Hurt Boy and the Birds, beginning ‘The hurt boy talked to the birds / and fed them the crumbs of his heart’ , the final lines of which are, ‘But the hurt boy talked to the birds /and their feathers gave him welcome – // Their wings taught him new ways to become.’

Bang up to date is Michaela Morgan’s Malala: the opening verses  are: ‘A girl with a book. A girl with a book. / That’s what has scared them – / A girl with a book. // They get on to the bus. / They call out my name. They aim. And they fire. / A shot to the brain.’

I was greatly moved by all the war poems chosen for November, and by James Berry’s Benediction, also new to me, that goes like this:
‘Thanks to the ear / that someone may hear // Thanks for seeing / that someone may see // Thanks for feeling / that someone may feel // Thanks for touch / that someone may be touched // Thanks to flowering of white moon / and spreading shawl of black night / holding villages and cities together’

Reminding us of the way smell and taste can bring back long forgotten memories, Crab Apples (Imtiaz Dharker) is another exciting discovery for me: ‘My mother picked crab apples / off the Glasgow apple trees / and pounded them with chillies / to change / her homesickness / into green chutney.’

Much as I really don’t want the summer to end, this treat of a book will assuredly help me feel my way through the shortening daylight hours as I read A Poem for Every Autumn Day.

Butterfly Brain

Butterfly Brain
Laura Dockrill and Gwen Millward
Piccadilly Press

Gwen Millward’s cover for this book is absolutely delightful; don’t be beguiled by this however. What’s inside is a story about a boy dealing with his grief. There’s even a warning on the first page informing readers that what follows is ‘rather strange and gory.’

Time and time again, Gus gets into trouble; he breaks the rules at school, is rude to his teachers, angry towards others and is always leaning back on his chair, taking not one scrap of notice of warnings about injury from those in school or at home whose anger he’s aroused.

Then one day, the inevitable happens …

CRACK! and that crack becomes a large gap through which Gus’s brains with his dreams, understandings, feelings and memories are exposed for all to see.

A butterfly appears – his very own brain butterfly – a guardian guiding light, it says, but that too flies away. There’s only one thing to do.

Out of the window and up into the night sky goes the pyjama clad boy in pursuit.

During their journey Gus learns how important memories are, be they good or bad, including those buried deep within. He revisits long gone, alarming dreams, learning of one that should not be left behind, and discovers the vital importance of the imagination.

Is he ready finally to own the secret and the painful fear of loss?

Enormously moving, forthright, and written in rhyme, this is a truly heart-rendingly incredible book that can speak to everyone, child and adult, through its words (Laura’s) and its powerful pictures (Gwen’s) rendered in mood-invoking hues.

A definite keeper this.

The Goody

The Goody
Lauren Child
Orchard Books

We’ve probably all met them – the goody goodies; but Chirton Krauss is by all accounts, ‘the very goodest’. He even does good things without being told. He consumes his least favourite vegetable, broccoli, washes his hands thoroughly after using the loo and goes to bed on time without so much as a murmur.
His sister Myrtle on the other hand is anything but a good child. She never cleans out the rabbit hutch when it’s her turn – why would she when Chirton will do it for her?

Nobody invites her to parties any more and she’s been told she’s not good so many times, she now has a reputation to live up to. Moreover their parents have given up trying to make her do the good things her brother does without question.

But then he does start to question: why should Myrtle not have to eat her veggies and why should she be allowed to stay up late watching TV, stuffing herself with choco puffs and dropping them all over the floor?

Maybe, just maybe, being a goody isn’t actually so good after all.

Could it be that a change is about to come upon our erstwhile goody, goody boy? And what about Myrtle? Might changes be afoot in her too? …

Delivered with Lauren Child’s unique humour and charm, and her idiosyncratic illustrative style she presents a smashing ‘goody versus naughty’ story that demonstrates how important it is for children to be allowed to be themselves and to be kind.

Whatever way youngsters present themselves to the world, they’ll love this book with its wonderfully textured art, credible characters and wry look at family life Krauss style.

Honey for You, Honey for Me

Honey for You, Honey for Me
collected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Walker Books

I danced around the kitchen and leapt in glee on opening the parcel containing this book from the team that gave us the anthology A Great Big Cuddle.

It’s an absolutely stonking first book of forty nursery rhymes and one of the very best gifts you could give a baby or toddler.

Michael has always been fascinated with nursery rhymes calling them ‘surprising little dramas, full of mysteries and unanswered questions.’ Like this reviewer he’s been an avid collector of books of nursery rhymes and in this new one of his, Michael has put not only popular favourites and playground chants, but also some rhymes that have lain forgotten perhaps for a generation or two.

From cavorting elephants en route from Wibbleton to Wobbleton, wibbly wobbly jelly and frizzle frazzle sausages,

as well as dancing ones summoned into life by a whistling boy, a mop-consuming dog and a ton weight of a giant who’s all a-tremble at the mere sight of a mouse – we know we’ve entered that magical land of topsy turvy where playful language is loved for the sheer delight it offers both to those who hear it and to those who utter it.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations are outstanding, making the characters utterly memorable in a new way, be they of those you might already have met such as the all in black clad Miss Mary Mack and Little Poll Parrot or some delightful revelations that for me were the hiccup remedy …

the hungry frog and for the sheer joy of sharing something delectably new and bouncy to boot, ‘Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, doe, / Give me a pancake and I’ll go. // Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, ditter, / Please to give me a bit of fritter.’

For utter adorableness, Chris’s character illustration that completely stole my heart was The man in the moon.

Guaranteed to become a favourite in any household with young children, in nursery and early years settings and with anybody who wants to promote a love of language and art for their own sake (surely, that’s pretty much all of us), this is joyful magic from cover to cover.

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator
Seaerra Miller
Flying Eye Books

Aspiring paranormal investigator, Mason Mooney resident of the terrifying town of Grimbrook is determined to discover the cause of legendary freaky phenomena affecting the neighbourhood.

It all begins when he receives a letter from Iris a recent purchaser of Tanglewood Mansion telling of strange goings on in the old house and the threat of a curse written on her sister’s mirror.

Off he sets with his investigator’s gear on the allegedly fateful morning of 1st October; but his first impression of Iris is far from favourable and her big sister seems thoroughly unpleasant.

Luckily Mason is well prepared but things quickly ramp up a notch with the appearance of a new message.

Mason decides to hold a séance and is soon confronted by …

Then who should turn up but Mason’s worst nightmare, the cocky Trent Reilly and his Paranormal Society whose team Mason had failed to become part of.

The fact that Mason carries his heart around in a jar,

three cursed spirits to contend with and that deadline to beat, who will prove to have the real talent? Perhaps Iris herself with a single selfless action might just be able to break the heinous curse and save her sister?

But what of that involving Mason’s heart? A loophole maybe? But that’s for another time, for where one story closes, another one opens …

This graphic novel with its underlying theme of sibling jealousy, the combination of weird characters, lurid art, and an accursed setting, make for a decidedly spooky read,

The Inkberg Enigma

The Inkberg Enigma
Jonathan King
Gecko Press

Meet Miro and Zia, residents of the small fishing town, Aurora, nestled in the shadow of a mysterious castle.

Miro is an avid reader; school acquaintance Zia takes her camera everywhere. A chance encounter between the two characters sets them off on an adventure with Miro reluctant at first to get involved.

Zia’s response to Miro’s comments about Jules Verne and the term adventure, ‘What do you think this is? This is an adventure. This is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them … You don’t just READ books about them!’ still don’t persuade him yet somehow Miro finds himself sucked into attempting to unravel a mystery that involves historic corruption, some extremely shady characters currently running the town, not least the somewhat sinister mayor, and some decidedly weird sea creatures.

Something very odd is going on but what?

Driven by a powerful narrative, exciting, humorous and scary in parts, this plot twisting page-turner is skilfully delivered in graphic novel style by Jonathan King who has a background in filmmaking; indeed it would make a smashing film.

What’s not to love, especially since, for one of the characters, books play a vital role in the story. KS2 readers and beyond, especially those with a preference for visual story-telling will simply gobble it up.

The Little War Cat

The Little War Cat
Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain
Macmillan Children’s Books

This story was inspired by a real man ‘the cat man of Aleppo’, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a truly kind individual who set up a sanctuary that became home to hundreds of cats in his home city after his family left for safety.

It became a place not only for the cats; adults young and not so young also came ‘to help and play, making it a place of love and hope for everyone’. So Hiba tells readers in a note at the end of her story, a story that begins with a little grey cat living a contented life in Aleppo. But that was before the war which brought with it terrible changes including those tramping big boots and a lack of food for the little cat .

As time passes, the scared creature kept to the shadows, his hunger inceasing.

Then one day she sees someone different – a gentle, soft spoken person – and she follows him until almost at the point of exhaustion, they reach somewhere safe and she hides herself away till the kind man sees her, feeds her and stays with her the entire night.

The following morning restored and sated, the grateful cat notices something and she knows just what to do … It’s time to pay forwards the kindness she’d been shown.

Hiba Noor Khan and Laura Chamberlain together show the transformational effect of kindness; something the author writes of in relation to the war in Syria, but it’s also something that many of us have discovered during the pandemic.

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies / A Case of the Jitters

Attack of the Heebie Jeebies
Tom Percival
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tom Percival is extremely empathetic and skilled when it comes to creating highly engaging picture books dealing with children’s emotions – think of Ravi’s Roar and Ruby’s Worry for instance.

Now comes the Dream Team series (this is the first) that aims to help slightly older readers explore childhood emotions.

Meet Erika Delgano who is far from happy. Her baby brother is getting away with everything, ruining her favourite toy, scribbling on her pictures and generally making an atrocious noise. Worse than that, her parents are too tired or even too busy to talk to her.
Angry to the point to exploding,

Erika stomps off up to bed; but, going to bed angry can result in bad dreams, an Angermare indeed. Uh-oh!

She finds herself in a very strange world with rainbow coloured trees, bouncy grass and waterfalls that flow in an upward direction. This world powered by dream crystal is the province of the Dreamteam whose role it is to protect children from Angermares and Anxietymares. However, weird creatures called Heebie Jeebies (fluffy beings with fangs) have invaded Erika’s dream and are consuming it.

They also steal a vital object – a powerful dream crystal – that could assist the girl in returning home safely, worries overcome, before the end of the dream cycle. The alternative is that she remains forever trapped in the Dreamscape.

With a host of weird characters in addition to the titular ones,

including a stoneman Wade and Madam Hettyforth, Tom has deftly, sensitively and with gentle humour, woven together a wonderful story with several threads, that explores angry feelings and their management.

With a purple colour theme, his fantastic illustrations are full of wonderful details and add to the impact of the book.

The development of emotional literacy in children is crucial if they are to grow up confident, happy, well-adjusted individuals. Tom deserves accolades for his contribution to that end in a way that encourages both self-reflection and conversation.

Whether or not there’s a new sibling at home, this is a corking book for home or school reading.

A Case of the Jitters
The second adventure begins with Erika contemplating a notice about the school talent show and desperately trying to think of a talent of her own to perform when suddenly she receives a communication via the magic crystal from Silas of the Dream Team. They have a rather tricky case and her help is required  with a girl named Chanda Anand.

Chanda is decidedly lacking in confidence, her dreams being haunted by a jittery dark shadow that refuses to go away, even in the daytime, such is its power.

Now it’s up to the Dream Team to help her regain control of both her dreams and her life. It certainly won’t be an easy task, but courageous Erika isn’t one to give up easily. Could it be that she does indeed have a special talent?

Another superb read (you have to work on your inner demons in order to deal with those outside of you) wherein friendship features strongly, anxiety is got to grips with and self-belief emerges. And, another set of terrific illustrations, this time with yellow, and some great new characters including a boxing kangaroo.

What next for Erika in Dreamteam story 3?

Wanda’s Words Got Stuck

Wanda’s Words Got Stuck
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Written by speech and language therapist Lucy Rowland, this is an enchanting story of little witch Wanda who, determined as she might be, just can’t get her words out.

Then a new and very shy little witch Flo joins her class at school. Wanda notices and empathetically and wordlessly makes her feel welcome using alternative means of communication.

Before long the two become inseparable and the following day teacher Miss Cobweb announces a Magic Contest. The friends spend all their time after school trying out spells but still for Wanda, words won’t come.

Come Friday evening, it’s contest time: Flo’s full of excitement; Wanda’s full of fear. The spelling gets under way but quickly spirals out of control putting Flo in great danger.

Can Wanda finally summon up her courage and some magic words to save her best pal?

As a primary/ early years teacher I have over the years, worked with a great many children who for one reason or another struggle with their words. It’s terrific to have a story such as Lucy’s, wonderfully illustrated by Paula Bowles, that provides an opportunity to see things through Wanda’s lenses. Not only is it helpful to fellow strugglers, but equally their classmates and friends will likely become more aware and empathetic towards others like Wanda, who even on the final page, knows that words aren’t always the best way to express how you feel about someone especially your bestie.

In her captivating, warm illustrations. Paula captures Wanda’s feelings – her anxiety is palpable, as is her fondness for Flo.

A perfect foundation stage story time book that speaks for itself.

I say BOO You say HOO

I say BOO You say HOO
John Kane
Templar Books

In his previous interactive ‘I say’ offering John Kane had readers shouting ‘underpants, underpants’ at the top of their voices. When you read this one a fair number of ‘stinky poo’ utterances will be required.

So, let’s find out what’s actually between the covers of the book. There’s a little ghost named Boo who (oops, nearly!) lives in a haunted house and is uncharacteristically, afraid of the dark.

Now to tell the story requires the reader’s help, duly prompted by a series of cues – verbal and visual. There’s a tree, dark (which means you must bark as per instructions,) oh yes, and crows – nose holding needed for a sighting of those particular corvids – this picture may prove a trifle challenging …

In fact I have to admit that by the end of the book I really didn’t know whether I was coming or going – barking (mad), shouting or indeed tearing my hair out.

As for the noxious emanations, I’m certainly not owning up to any of those;

and it’s as well Boo is in a hurry to reach home before dark.

However, even after telling us to bid the little apparition a fond farewell, the author has the chutzpah to issue an invitation for a further reading of the book.

The thing is, he knows (should that be hopes, on his part) and I know to my cost, what the answer will be once you’d shared it with an individual, a few children or indeed a whole class. It’s quite simply another superbly ridiculous repartee of to-ing and fro-ing.

The Monsters of Rookhaven

The Monsters of Rookhaven
Pádraig Kenny, illustrated by Edward Bettison
Macmillan Children’s Books

Prepare to be intrigued, startled, uncomfortable, terrified and mesmerised as you follow orphan siblings Jem and Tom through a rip in the air and into the grounds of an other-worldly manor house, Rookhaven and almost into the mind, much of the time, of Jem herself.  She is welcomed by one of the residents, Mirabelle, and thus spends time with other members of The Family while her brother recovers from his sickness.

I’ve not come across the work of Pádraig Kenny before but he’s an enormously talented writer who, in this instance, has interwoven motifs from both contemporary and classic stories producing a book that, rather like the carnivorous flora standing sentry on the Path of Flowers therein,

grips the reader tightly; it feels as though it will become a neo classic.

There are monsters,

notably Piglet, a misunderstood character who plays a key part in the resolution of the story in a totally unexpected, but wonderful way; and then there’s Mr Pheeps who will certainly make you shudder at the way he manipulates others.

Equally as brilliant as the writing are Edward Bettison’s black and white woodcut style illustrations that show detail but never too much;

and his Flowers of Divine Lapsidy are truly horrifying.

Both timeless and a story of our times, this is a tale of division, empathy, high drama and healing that will make you think and keep on thinking long after you’ve closed the covers of the book.

All Sorts

All Sorts
Pippa Goodheart and Emily Rand
Flying Eye Books

Frankie, like many small children in nurseries and early years classrooms, loves the playful mathematical activity of sorting, separating her belongings by various different criteria such as colour, shape and size.

She does a similar thing making sets of flowers and trees,

vehicles and animals too.

Then she tries humans; that starts fairly easily and with a degree of clarity but then things get more tricky.

Thereafter things get even more problematic as she wonders “How am I going to sort myself?”

Eventually Frankie finds herself sitting in the middle of several intersecting sets as she draws a conclusion about her uniqueness …

– an exciting understanding that leads to a glorious musical rendition …

followed by a let’s mix-up together celebratory dance.

After which everything resumed its wonderfully mixed up, muddled-up normality – sorted at last!

I love how Pippa, with her straightforward narrative and Emily with her exuberant, beautifully patterned scenes of things unsorted and sorted, have created a warm-hearted, joyful acclamation of how individual uniqueness leads to a glorious mixture where differences are not only accepted but also celebrated.

Ask First, Monkey!

Ask First, Monkey!
Juliet Clare Bell and Abigail Tompkins
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Mischievous Monkey considers himself Tickletastic – the world’s best tickler – but in so becoming he’s most definitely been invading the personal space of others.
Goat was decidedly unhappy about being tickled; he certainly didn’t give consent and, to Monkey’s surprise, quite rightly tells him to stop.

Paying little heed however, the tickler continues to be a disrespecter of boundaries, demonstrating various other tickling styles and causing his fellow animals to show him their ‘frowny faces’

and to say how much they disliked his actions.

Eventually the message gets through; Monkey apologies to all his friends – goat, giraffe, panda, rabbit, dog, lion cub and goose, frog …

and cow.

Then comes the light bulb moment, ‘Ask first!’ And that applies to hugging or any other form of touching: No need for reasons why, no coercion; consent is crucial.

Written by Juliet Clare Bell, the story is simply and succinctly told with gentle humour yet without being overtly didactic, and illustrated with Abigail Tompkins’ vibrant, colourful portrayal of actions and reactions.

A book for sharing, discussing and acting upon that definitely should be in all nurseries, child and parent groups, early years classrooms and families with young children.

Along Came a Fox/ The Rug Bear

Along Came A Fox
Georgina Deutsch and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Little Tiger

Bramble the fox decides to go hunting fireflies one silvery moonlit night, despite not knowing where the tiny insects like to hide.
Having been disturbed from her slumbers hedgehog Hazel, decides to accompany Bramble and they follow all-knowing Twig the owl’s advice to search near the lake.

En route Hazel is a little bit spooked by the shadows but Bramble urges her to hurry. “Because foxes don’t get scared … do they?”
Well maybe they do sometimes …

A bit of stomping and growling on account of the “VERY RUDE FOX!’ ensues;

 

then Bramble decides to go back and report to Twig.
Twig suggests they all return to the lake and try to discover what might have upset the unfriendly fox.

Back they go, but without the moonlight glowing over the pond there is nothing to see at first, which saddens Bramble who’d hoped to make amends.

But then out comes the moon from behind the clouds revealing something wonderful in the water …

And yes they do eventually see those fireflies too. It’s a wonderful night, after all.

This all goes to show that the face we put out in the world, is reflected back; in other words – to borrow the lines from Larry Shay et al. “When you’re smiling / The whole world smiles with you”.

With absolutely gorgeous illustrations and appealing characters, this book has an important message; it’s one to share and talk about with young listeners.

The Rug Bear
Emma Rattray, illustrated by Michael Terry
Matador Children’s

Emma Rattray’s rhyming story tells what happens when a bear, playing hide and seek with Lion and Fox, finds a suitable hiding place and promptly lies down falling deeply asleep.

Along comes a weary mouse. She’s most happy to find a ‘brown furry rug’ just when she’s in need of a pace to rest. So too is Hare with his heavy load;

and Squirrel on his branch is pleased to find he has a soft landing spot exactly where he intends to jump. The ‘’rug’ also tempts lonely ladybug; she deems it ‘extremely snug’.

Suddenly Bee buzzes by following a honey smell and the noise awakens Bear from his slumbers. He jiggles and wiggles, yawns and gives an enormous stretch and stands …

cascading the seated creatures to the ground.

Imagine their feelings when they discover the true nature of their rug. Fortunately, all ends happily – thanks to hospitality in the shape of cups of tea. – sweetened with honey perhaps …

Debut picture book author, Emma Rattray’s warm-hearted tale of inclusion and friendship makes a highly enjoyable read aloud for home or foundation stage setting: youngsters will love being in the know about the ‘rug’ and enjoy joining in the repeat parts of the narrative. Equally, they’ll love Michael Terry’s humorous, splendidly expressive scenes of the unfolding rug episode.

We Planted a Pumpkin

We Planted a Pumpkin
Rob Ramsden
Scallywag Press

Rob Ramsden’s boy and girl characters from We Found a Seed are now a little more savvy about what happens when a seed is planted but even so they’re a tad impatient about the pumpkin seed they plant, hoping it will bear fruit by Halloween.

Young readers and listeners share with them the gourd’s entire growing process as first roots, and then leaves, start to sprout.

Come summer the flowers bloom and are visited by bees, butterflies and other insects and as the weeks pass, the flowers die –

all except one at the base of which they find a small green bump – not yet a pumpkin but on its way to so being.

Excitement mounts along with the pumpkin’s growth, as it absorbs the rain and soaks up the sun.

Then little by little, the ripening happens; the pumpkin swells and turns orange until finally, it’s harvest time.

That’s not quite the end of the story though, for there’s the hollowing out and face carving to do – and then hurrah! It’s Halloween …

Like Rob’s previous titles, this beautifully illustrated book is pitch perfect for little ones. They’ll love spotting all the minibeasts on every spread.

I have no doubt that like the characters in the story, youngsters will be motivated to engage with nature, try planting some pumpkin seeds and become excited as they follow their development.

How Do You Make A Baby?

How Do You Make a Baby?
Anna Fiske
Gecko Press

‘You were a baby once.’ But how do you make a baby? That’s what this wittily presented, forthright, highly informative, graphic book details. No words were minced in the making of this one!

But it does more than merely provide the facts; it’s also a celebration of life and of difference.

Twins, IVF (for ‘couples who can’t make babies when they have sex’) and the unpredictability of fertilisation after coitus, are all presented before the descriptions of pregnancy,

preparations for, and the actual birth.

Value judgements are never made; same sex couples are presented in both words and pictures, but it’s a pity they’re not in the very brief mention of adoption near the end of the book. ‘Children born to parents who can’t look after them can be adopted. Parents who adopt a child have been waiting a very long time.’

Anna Fiske’s book offers a great starting place for conversations about birth, sex, and families with children from around 4+.

However the final two spreads that include the words, ‘A new baby in the world is one of the most brilliant and beautiful things there is. Every child is different. There’s only one like you.’ move it beyond mere biology to the uniqueness of every individual.

I was reminded of this when the arrival of this book for review coincided with a brief stay of my nephew who brought his baby daughter, Faith, born just before the pandemic restrictions. I watched her very closely over the time she was visiting, realising how truly amazing she is at this preverbal stage when she’s just about to start propelling herself across the floor.

Just One of Those Days

Just One of Those Days
Jill Murphy
Macmillan Children’s Books

Four decades on from their first picture book appearance in the now classic Peace at Last, the adorable Mr and Mrs Bear and Baby Bear return for a third story. It begins with a late awakening Mr and Mrs Bear leaping out of bed and preparing for work, leaving Baby Bear to his dinosaur dream.

Once awake though, the little one has to get ready for nursery, a particularly protracted process on this occasion and then it’s raining, all of which means that Baby arrives late at Nursery. It’s no surprise when he’s reluctant to go in but a story does the trick and off comes his coat.

Then there are problems over a dinosaur toy but Baby Bear isn’t the only member of his family whose day doesn’t go well.

Mrs Bear sits on her glasses; Mr Bear spills coffee all over some important papers – and that’s only the morning’s mishaps.

Afternoon nursery continues to be a trial

and by the end of the session it’s a very sleepy Baby Bear that greets his Mum before they walk home through the rain.

Back indoors, the two get themselves togged out in their PJs just in time for Mr Bear’s return. Not only is he carrying a large pizza box but he also has a carrier bag containing a special surprise for Baby Bear.

Then it’s time to share that delicious pizza and exchange a few comments about their respective days, which Mr Bear aptly sums up with the title line.

As wonderfully warm as ever, this is another tour de force for Jill Murphy; a celebration of a loving family and a story that parents, carers and little ones will immediately relate to.

A must have for family bookshelves and early years collections.

Oceans and Feelings Explored in Board Books

Oceans
Lorna Freytag
Studio Press

This is one of the Ecobaby board book series that aims to introduce the very youngest children to important environmental issues, and assuredly it’s never too soon to start thinking about the importance of caring for the planet.

In Oceans, little ones are told about the threat ocean flora and fauna are under from plastic pollution; how over-fishing is depleting the fish population …

and ships are pouring polluting oil into the sea.

Finally come some suggestions to help make a difference.
Author/illustrator Lorna Freytag ‘s succinct text and simple, almost diagrammatic, illustrations put across the crucial message adeptly and one hopes this and its companion book Recycling will set under 4s off on the path to being ecowarriors.

When I am Happy
Sometimes I am Angry

illustrated by Marie Paruit
Campbell Books

Written in collaboration with early years consultant Dr Janet Rose, are these two board books in the Little BIG Feelings series.

The Happy book introduces Bella, Jamie, Zach and members of their families, and shows examples of how kindness and inclusion lead to happiness. So too do thinking about life’s ‘good things’,

doing things you enjoy and staying healthy. It’s no surprise to see that happiness is infectious. I had no trouble moving the slider – just one of the book’s interactive features – all the way to 10 as I thought of things that make me happy.

It’s all too easy to have angry feelings bubbling up in these difficult times (I’ll say no more) but little ones such as Oliver, Amy and their friends all of whom are at a party, find things that make them feel angry too.

Oliver finds his face getting red, his heart beating super fast and his fists curling when somebody knocks his block tower down. Others are not happy about the food, the drink incident, and Evie’s anger is not getting the hat she wants.

Fortunately each of the party grumpies can demonstrate a way to diffuse those feelings of anger and there’s a final slider to assist your little one(s) with calming down.

Both books have a final spread for parents/carers containing advice and strategies to try.

As the logo on each front cover informs, these are just right for ‘Sharing and Talking’.

For nursery collections and family shelves where there are very young children.

Welcome to Ballet School / Pop Art

Welcome to Ballet School
Ashley Bouder and Julia Bereciartu
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

In this book, we follow a diverse group of beginners from their first day at ballet school where they excitedly don their colourful dance attire and ballet shoes before warming up.

They then learn the five basic positions for arms and feet ready to approach the barre.

With the basic steps mastered and key techniques acquired, the children are introduced to a special guest who helps them use their learning to tell a story (Sleeping Beauty) with costumes

and a surprise finale.

A firm believer that ballet is for everyone, the author, Ashley Bouder is a principal ballerina and in addition to the concise instructions in the lessons, she’s added a useful glossary of the terms used at the back of the book. But would a teacher, however welcoming s/he wanted to be, really greet children such as those entering the class, as “ little ones”?

Julia Bereciartu’s illustrations are beautifully done and will be a great help to new learners as they zoom in on the five positions and show details of the leg movements in the steps.

I especially like the assertion that ballet is ‘an art form but requires an athlete to perform the steps’ said as the children pause to look at the final gallery of great dancers from various parts of the world.

A book for aspiring dancers and those experiencing their first classes; could that be your child?

Pop Art
Emilie Dufresne
BookLife Publishing

Courtesy of art specialist Chloe, an employee of the gallery, readers are given a preview of a Pop Art Exhibition to be held in her place of work.

Before that though comes an explanation of what Pop Art actually is, when it became popular and why.

We meet several artists – Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and Yayoi Kusama –

and as well as an introduction to their particular techniques, there are activity spreads.

These give instructions on, in turn, trying your hand at collage, creating a comic strip and captions; painting a portrait pop art style and painting a pumpkin after the fashion of Yayoi Kusama.

The book concludes with a quiz, encouragement to visit a gallery and a glossary.

Pop Art is a style less frequently explored with primary children; this title in the In My Gallery series provides a useful starting point for home or school.

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes

The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a wonderful new edition of Jackie Morris’ selection of forty nursery rhymes. In her introduction Jackie talks of their crucial importance and vitality in our modern digital world.

Of those included here, some will likely be familiar: there’s Ride a Cock-Horse, Hickory, Dickory Dock, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and Sing a Song of Sixpence, for example;

whereas others – The Hart and the Hare, To the Bat and All the Pretty Little Horses, for example might be new discoveries.

The entire book has a dream-like, timeless quality to it thanks to the exquisite watercolour paintings that grace every spread. It’s virtually impossible to choose a favourite but on this day of writing and sweltering heat, I was drawn to the absolute tranquillity of Baby’s Bed’s a Silver Moon.

There’s humour, the beauty of the natural world, surprises and more; in fact pretty much everything you could wish for in a book that’s an absolute treasure, not just for the very youngest, but for anyone who loves art and language.

Sadly many young children nowadays don’t have that bedrock of nursery rhymes that we nursery and reception class teachers tended to take for granted when little ones began school decades back; but giving a new parent a copy of this stunningly beautiful book might just start a child off on a journey of becoming a lover of words, stories and reading.

Migrants

Migrants
Issa Watanabe
Gecko Press

Just when we’re hearing of more and more migrants attempting to reach our shores in unsafe boats, arrived this timely book.

With its striking images it snares the attention right from the start as we’re shown the journey of a disparate group of migrants who plod through a dark forest with just a few belongings in bundles.
Behind them stalks the grim reaper accompanied by a huge blue ibis.

En route to the next stage of their journey, the travellers stop to rest and share food

before moving on towards the coast where a boat is waiting.

Everyone crowds on board with Death flying above on the ibis.

But the vessel is no match for the powerful waves that destroy it long before they reach land leaving those that are able, to swim to the shore.

There, they realise that one of their number has died and having gathered around to bid a final farewell,

on they trudge, still pursued by death with more falling by the wayside as their arduous, grief stricken journey continues.

Finally the depleted group arrives at a place where tree life blossoms and maybe, … a little hope.

Issa Watanabe has created without a single word, one of the most harrowing portrayals of migration I’ve seen in a book.

With her characters standing out starkly against the constant black backdrop, each illustration captures the determination and dignified demeanour of the travellers; yet, she leaves space for readers to do some of the interpretation themselves.

Truly a visual tour-de force, albeit one that leaves us feeling raw and tearful.

I am a Bird / Colours of the World: Green Planet

Here are two recent books about the natural world from the Little Tiger Group

I am a Bird
Isabel Otter and Fernando Martin

Through a text narrated for the most part by an eponymous bird and illustrated throughout in a vibrant colour palette, readers share in the world of birds, large and small from various parts of the globe.

We discover some intricately built nests;

find out why birds sing, what they eat and how they obtain their food. We learn why migration happens and read something about the process with reference to specific birds as well as discovering that not all birds including kiwis, kakapos and penguins are unable to fly.

There’s a spread about birds that live near water; one about the ostrich – the world’s largest bird and another about the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world.

The text is written in a chatty, highly readable manner and is accompanied by stylised, simplified yet totally recognisable images of the avians featured.

Colours of the World: Green Planet
Moira Butterfield and Jonathan Woodward

This is a companion volume to Blue Planet and is subtitled ‘Life in our Woods and Forests’.

Having shown on a world map the forested areas and explained briefly the different kinds of forests, (did you know that forests are home to more than 50 % of the world’s plants and animals?) the book goes on to explain the anatomy of trees and to discuss their importance.

Double-page spreads discuss Extreme Trees – the widest, tallest, oldest, fastest growing and smallest; how trees obtain nutrition from their leaves as well as how they provide food and hiding places for certain animals.

Much of the rest of the book then focuses on the kinds of forests starting with boreal forests with their moose, eagles, cats, wolves, hares, minibeasts and of course, bears.

We then move to the hot steamy rainforests and in particular, Amazonia with its wealth of incredible fauna both large and small.

Third are the temperate forests where the trees lose their leaves in autumn and grow new ones in the spring. These places are home to deer, mice, squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers and hunters such as pine martens and owls.

The final pages look at forests as sources of materials for human homes; as well as some of the uses of wood and a brief mention of sustainability.

With Jonathan Woodward’s visually appealing graphics and Moira Butterfield’s succinct paragraphs, this book like Blue Planet offers a good, highly readable introduction to a vital aspect of our planet. It’s one to add to classroom libraries and family book collections.

Flights of Fancy: How to Drive a Roman Chariot / The Girl and the Dinosaur

How to Drive a Roman Chariot
Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves
Simon & Schuster Children’s

This tenth Albie adventure that celebrates young children and their imagination, begins as he’s out with his mum feeding some horses when the rain starts.

Taking shelter in a barn, Albie comes upon a girl named Julia with her problematic knitting. The next thing he knows is that he is whisked back in time to Ancient Rome and he and Julia are chasing after a runaway chariot.

Having managed to leap aboard as the horses gallop straight for the crowded market, a fearless Julia grabs hold of the reins and steers the chariot clear.

That however isn’t the only thing she wants to do: young Julia is determined to prove to everyone who says they can’t, that girls CAN drive chariots. Can they win races too, I wonder?

Whoever said ancient history is boring?

The Girl and the Dinosaur
Hollie Hughes and Sarah Massini
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Just imagine if you had a dinosaur: that is what happens to the little girl Marianne we see digging on the beach of a seaside town on the first spread of this book. Watched by the fisherfolk concerned about her lack of friends, Marianne methodically digs up and assembles (Mary Anning style) a complete skeleton that she names Bony.

Back in bed that night she wishes life into her ‘stony bones’ and in a sky aglow with dreams, awakens a deeply slumbering dinosaur and takes off on its back into a beautiful world of wonder and magic.

The two go first to the sea and then after a dip, visit an enchanted forest alive with fairies and unicorns.

They climb to the top of a mountain, then taking a ‘mighty leap of faith’ soar up and away towards a magical island among the clouds to a very special party for children and their dream world creatures.

However eventually slumbers call, the party must end; and reveries over, it’s time to return to those empty beds.

Thereafter the story comes full circle and we’re back on the beach, only now Marianne is not alone and the fisherfolk are no longer concerned, for the single girl has been joined by lots of other children each one digging for their very own dinosaur.

Hold fast to dreams as you share Hollie Hughes’ lyrical rhyming story and Sarah Massini’s wonderfully whimsical, atmospheric illustrations of the real and dream worlds.

A great snuggle up at bedtime tale that will linger long in the mind and perhaps fuel the dreams of your little ones as, lulled by the soporific nature of the narrative, they too head off to slumberland.

The B on your Thumb

The B on your Thumb
Colette Hillier and Tor Freeman
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is a book of 60 poems, each of which aims to help youngsters learn a particular sound, spelling or rule, and each with a Tor Freeman illustration to make readers giggle.

The author passionately believes that ‘even very young children are receptive to the joys of wordplay’. She’s likely read Kornei Chukovsky’s From Two to Five (required reading when I was  studying the role of language in education under Margaret Meek/Spencer at London University Institute of Education). Here Colette’s clever use of wordplay and rhythm will help develop sound/symbol awareness as well as promote thinking skills, and  demonstrates that there’s pleasure aplenty to be derived from the foibles of the English language and its spelling rules.

Having read the author’s look at language right through, this reviewer, an ardent believer and promoter of the crucial importance of context and meaning as key factors in early reading, wonders how young children manage to learn to read the way it is currently taught in most UK schools. However, Colette’s book is full of loopy delights and she does provide meaning of a playful kind in her poems (many of which are nonsense verse) and I love it, especially as a means to help with spelling.

Deliciously daft from cover to cover (apart from the introduction for grown-ups) this volume is divided into four parts entitled First Sounds …

This ‘Enough of Uff’ is a tricky one: ‘Uff, uff. / Do your stuff. / You’re there in every / huff and puff. / But where are you/ when things get tough? / Perhaps you felt you’d / had enough!’

Then come Silent Letters and Secrets that includes these …

Spellings, and Words that Sound the Same.

Here’s an example from Spellings; it’s called The E on Your Shoe: ‘There is an E / on the tip of your shoe. / Just sitting there / with nothing to do. // Now take off your shoe / and what do you know? Another E / on the end of your toe!’

The book concludes with seven lively ideas for ‘Getting the most out of the rhyme’

A definite thumbs up to this one: get it if you’re a primary teacher, a family with young children or somebody who wants to promote the joy of language for its own sake.

It’s Only One!

It’s Only One!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

This is a cautionary tale about what happens when people’s actions are thoughtless.

It’s set in Sunnyville, a fun, friendly and generally lovely place – until kind-hearted Mouse offers Rhino a toffee. Rhino tosses the wrapper away with the titular comment, but so do a host of other town residents, with one item landing hard on Tortoise’s head and leaving Giraffe outraged at the ever-growing rubbish heap.

To cheer himself up Giraffe picks a flower from the park with the same “What” It’s only one’ comment ,which of course it wasn’t.

Now it’s Penguin’s turn to feel anger, so to cheer himself up at the loss of all the flowers he turns to music – only one song of course but …

Can anyone or anything manage to curtail this catastrophic concatenation that’s caused the entire population of Sunnyville to become grumpy?

Perhaps Mouse has the perfect antidote – or at least the makings of one …

We all know only too well the terrible impact dropping rubbish has on the environment, wherever we live. And I’m sure we all want to be good neighbours – this is something that’s become all the more evident since the start of the pandemic – but it’s all too easy to slip into thoughtless actions such as tossing aside that odd car park ticket or receipt.

There are reminders from author, Tracey and illustrator, Tony at the end of their story, of the importance of considering how whatever we do might be impacting on others and their happiness. However, it’s the cast of characters (I love their zany portrayal in Tony’s expressive spreads) from this smashing and timely book that have the last word.

Share, ponder, discuss and most important, act upon this – it’s only one but think of its potential payoff.

Wulfie Stage Fright

Wulfie: Stage Fright
Lindsay J. Sedgwick, illustrated by Josephine Wolff
Little Island Books

Young Libby is something of a Cinderella character with an archetypal wicked step-mother who makes her life a misery while doting on her own son, Rex (a real meanie). Her father is too busy being a boffin to notice what’s going on, or even listen properly to most of what his daughter has to say.

Consequently Libby is excited to discover in an old trunk in her bedroom, a little purple wolf-like creature that she names Wulfie for short. Said creature has three tummies, the ability to grow and shrink pretty much at will and an aptitude for getting into trouble; he quickly becomes Libby’s best friend on account of his sweetness and loyalty.

When Libby’s teacher announces that she’s written a play to be performed by the pupils and entitled The Big Bad Wolf Learns his Lesson, she longs to star in it. However there seems little chance especially as Rex (also in her class) has drama lessons.

Nevertheless, her name is signed up on the auditions list

and thanks to Wulfie, she lands the part of her dreams.

Then comes the hard work but up steps Head Coach of Wolfing, aka Wulfie, to help her get to grips with the lupine moves and sounds she needs for a stellar performance, aided and abetted by her other new friend and classmate Nazim.

But come the big day, will Libby be able to produce a performance worthy of Ms Emily’s ‘Be spectacular’? And, can she finally get her own back on her brother?

Young readers will empathise with the long-suffering Libby who, despite everything remains determined and positive; and there’s plenty to laugh at too.

The other characters- pleasant or unpleasant – are also memorable, made all the more so through Josephine Wolff’s black and grey illustrations.

I Really Really Need A Wee

I Really Really Need a Wee
Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

In Karl and Duncan’s story it’s a little bushbaby who suddenly gets the wiggles and the jiggles, insisting ‘I really, really, really,  REALLY NEED A WEE!’

Yes, we’ve all been there with little ones, when away from home and far from the nearest loo, coming out with the title line. It most certainly resonated with me with regard to several recent outings.

The little narrator’s efforts to distract itself with thoughts of other things only serve to make matters worse …

and its attempts to find a toilet are, shall we say, pretty disastrous.

Finally though, the object of the bushbaby’s desire is in sight, but almost inevitably there’s a long queue – isn’t it always the way?

Then whoopee! The little room is vacant at last – phew! Such relief.

I suspect you can guess how this corking story ends … and it’s wee-ally wee-ally funny. But then with its combination of Karl’s telling and Duncan’s hilarious illustrations one expects no less. I absolutely love the sets of bespoke loos that sandwich the story proper.

I envisage classrooms and nurseries full of giggling infants and staff almost wetting themselves when this is shared, and families with youngsters will absolutely burst themselves laughing in recognition.

Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You

Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You
Peter Vegas and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

The relatively common childhood fear of the dark is given a new and fun twist in this picture book wherein the dark is personified and presented as an entity that is actually afraid of … You!

It spends its daylight hours hiding away in your underwear drawer, only emerging into the outside after sundown.

Inevitably this makes its life far from perfect. Friendships are well nigh impossible, as is tree climbing and as for a decent haircut – forget it. No light equals extremely messy hair.

I’m pretty sure most young readers would be happy to share its favourite foods – black pudding, blackberries, liquorice (the black variety), dark chocolate and candle-less Black Forest gateau when its birthday comes around. (Think of the fun to be had from creating an entire menu for the dark.)

There are plenty of positive things about dark: its refusal to be inside until lights off and TV off time; it stays up the entire night but is unable to do anything and it seldom features in a child’s drawing.

But don’t think that dark is without its devotees: numbered among them are bats (they fly in it at night)

and the silent stars.

That in a nutshell is that: so youngsters who have night time frights are safe to greet the dark with a friendly “Hi!’ so long as the light’s off of course, or it will scuttle away to safety.

Definitely worth trying as a reassuring bedtime read if you have a little one averse to the dark; and even if you don’t Benjamin Chaud’s chuckle-inducing illustrations make this a book to share for the sheer fun of it.

Taking Time

Taking Time
Jo Loring-Fisher
Lantana Publishing

This is simply exquisite. In eleven different parts of the world, children savour the moment: on each double spread there is a gorgeous, mixed media scene showing a young boy or girl in an everyday setting relishing the beauty of the surroundings.

A little girl somewhere in India pauses to listen to the song of a bird;

a boy collects pink blossoms as they fall from a tree: ‘ Taking time to listen to / a bird’s song on the breeze. // Taking time to gather up the blossom dancing free.’ (I love Jo’s use of rhyming couplets on consecutive spreads here and throughout the book).

Far away in Alaska a child snuggles in the soft fur of a husky dog; indoors another child feels a soft cat, ‘taking time to feel the beat’ of its ‘rhythmic purr’.

A spider spins its web watched in awe by a little girl in Nepal, while in the Egyptian desert, clutched by a loving adult, a small child contemplates their journey.

The immensity of the evening sky, a passing flock of colourful birds,

the kind, reflecting eyes of a grandparent, soft snowflakes as they float gently down, the imagined sounds of the sea echoing in a shell – all these too are cherished moments for those who take time for awareness of the here and now.

On the final spread all the children come together in a verdant green field to share their wonderings as they play harmoniously with their special keepsakes: ‘Taking time to cherish you, / and also cherish me.’

Both sets of endpapers show details from the illustrations, the front ones annotating a world map marking the children’s homelands – Alaska, Ecuador, the U.K., Norway, Russia, Egypt, Tanzania, India, Nepal, China, and Japan;  the back ones depicting just the keepsakes, cleverly creating a matching game for readers to play.

If you have, or work with, young children, I urge you to share Jo’s beautiful book, showing similar slow mindfulness to that demonstrated by her characters in Taking Time.

A Trio of Little Tiger Board Books

Kindness makes us Strong
Sophie Beer

What is kindness? Sophie Beer provides some examples in this little book beginning each double-page spread with “Kindness is …’ following it with illustrations of children who show care and consideration towards their peers, grown-ups and animals.

It might be something as simple as saying hello, or cheering on participants in a race, giving a warm hug or taking turns.

The bright, enormously attractive illustrations show how much difference acts of kindness make in creating  a happier world.

With its brief, simple repetitive but empowering text, this little book can be shared with the very youngest but equally slightly older children might enjoy reading it for themselves.

A lovely introduction to kindness.

Owl Always Love You
Patricia Hegarty and Bryony Clarkson
Caterpillar Books (Little Tiger)

It’s bedtime for the little forest animals: time that baby rabbit snuggled down in the burrow, time for tiny dormouse and hedgehog to curl up; and up in the tree, for baby squirrel to close its eyes.

The tree is also the place where new chicks in their nest await their mother songbird’s return before they too can sleep.

With die-cut holes to peep through, raised images to feel and adorable little creatures to enjoy in Bryony Clarkson’s nocturnal scenes, sleepy little humans can listen to Patricia Hegarty’s gentle reassuring rhyming narrative before they too succumb to the call of sleep.

Also with a night-time theme is

What Can You See? At Night
illustrated by Maria Perera

With the emphasis on facts, little ones are introduced to a host of nocturnal feeders such as squirrels, owls and foxes in the town.

Moving on to a more rural setting we meet creatures around a pond including singing frogs, bats on the hunt for insects, while in the field rabbits, mice and foxes forage and fireflies flit above them.

It’s not only wild creatures that are out and about at night: postal workers, delivery drivers and sometimes farmers, are at work when most of us are fast asleep.

There’s plenty to interest toddlers on every spread including some humorous items and die cuts.

Luna / Museum Kittens: The Pharaoh’s Curse

Here are two new young fiction stories from Holly Webb, both published by Little Tiger

Luna
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies

The ninth of Holly Webb’s Winter Animal Stories is another time-slip adventure, this one featuring young Hannah.

She’s on holiday with her family and visiting a Christmas market in Dresden when she spots a wooden bear cub puppet on one of the stalls and knows immediately that she wants it.

Then back at the hotel in the bedroom she was sharing with her sister, the two get into a squabble over the bear and it gets broken.

During the night, Hannah wakes up and finds she is not in her hotel room but sitting on a dirty, straw strewn floor. She’s in a stable; a bear cub is there too and a much larger bear, she thinks.

Managing to open the door of the stall, she bumps into a boy and the two go outside and into a market square. But why is he anxious not to be seen?

Little by little Matthias explains what he was doing in the stable and why he is so determined to stop the cruel bear leaders getting hold of the cub Luna especially, and training her to be a dancing bear. She also learns that the boy sells carved wooden toys and when he invites her to join him in a rescue Luna attempt, she cannot but agree, especially when she actually sees bear dancing in action.

Another lovely seasonal tale full of snow and festivity, but also with a big emotional pull about the plight of the real bear cub and about the cruelty of bear dancing, which happily has almost died out.

Museum Kittens: The Pharaoh’s Curse
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

Watched by the resident museum kittens, there’s great excitement among the museum staff standing in the Egyptian Gallery and it’s on account of a part of the Book of the Dead on loan from another museum.

It’s rumoured that there’s a curse on this particular piece of papyrus and when unpleasant things start occurring coinciding with its arrival, Peter kitten decides something terrible is going to happen to the museum. Tasha thinks otherwise and is determined to prove him wrong.

Then part of the gallery ceiling collapses, but that’s only the first disaster.

The entire gallery is flooded on account of a burst pipe; the kittens are trapped, so too is Grandpa Ivan. Is he right when he says, “Museum cats are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves,” or are they to fall victim to that pharaoh’s curse everyone’s been talking of? And what of the precious papyrus? Will it be ruined by the water?

Exciting stuff; those relatively new to chapter books will be whisked away, rooting for the kittens throughout; they’re made even more adorable thanks to Sarah Lodge’s plentiful illustrations.

All’s Happy that Ends Happy

All’s Happy that Ends Happy
Rose Lagercranz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

I suspect that a great many young readers will be sad to learn that this, the 7th book, concludes the My Happy Life series featuring Dani, her family and friends, in particular, her bestie Ella.

The story opens at the start of the Easter holiday without Dani. She’s been off school for seven weeks. But where is she?

Certainly not at home, as visiting classmates discover; nor has she as others assume, gone to stay with Ella. Even she doesn’t know where Dani is, though she’s determined to find out. To that end, Ella writes a letter which she puts in a bottle and despite having been left in charge of little sister Miranda, runs to the cliff to toss her message into the sea. Having done so she goes back to the house but there’s no Miranda.

Frightened of the consequences when her mother returns, Ella goes into hiding too.

Dani herself eventually appears in the seventh chapter; she’s in hospital still recovering from the pheumonia that was a result of her failed attempt to visit Ella in the previous book.

In the eighth chapter there’s a lovely proposal attempt from Danis’ dad to Sadie, leading into much ado about a wedding in Dani’s head.

The real thing does happen though not quite in the same way as she’d imagined but still in Rome; it’s only to be a small affair and without Ella as a guest.

Meanwhile the Italian side of Dani’s family are eager to introduce her to the sights of the city

Once the wedding celebrations are over, there’s more exciting news. But will Dani ever get to see Ella; that always seems to be uppermost in her mind, no matter what.

There are more surprises in store before the end, but as readers know, Dani is determined, resilient and has a firm belief in happiness.

This book is longer than any of the previous ones but Rose Lagercrantz’s terrific, gently humorous text is conveniently broken up into seven parts, each comprising short chapters with plenty of Eva Eriksson’s utterly charming, splendidly expressive black-and-white illustrations throughout.

A smashing solo read, but also a lovely read aloud.

I’ll Believe You When …

I’ll Believe You When …
Susan Schubert and Raquel Bonita
Lantana Publishing

Subtitled ‘Unbelievable idioms from around the world’ this is such a clever and fun book that begins on the title page with a child asking “Do you see the dragon?”

What follows is the response –, “ I’ll believe you … “ “… when pigs fly!” and it then goes on to show that nine other countries each has its own unique version of the idiom.

There are frogs growing hair from Spain, chickens with teeth in Nigeria,

herons turning black in the Philippines, summer snow in Germany.

The Netherlands offer cows dancing on ice and India, ‘when crows fly upside down!’

It’s impossible to choose a favourite but I wouldn’t mind betting that you or someone you share this book with will adopt some of these. And imagine what fun you might have if you challenge a class of six or seven year olds to come up with their own ideas and illustrate them.

It’s a terrific way to introduce the notion of idioms and the idea that they’ve been passed on from ages back as well as across the globe. There’s an explanation at the end of the book as well as a world map showing where each expression comes from and the language it’s spoken in.

Raquel Bonita’s illustrations are absolutely super: inclusive and funny at the same time.

Wonderful nonsense yes, but equally the classroom potential is huge, especially if you involve families. Emmanuelle (7) contributed “I’ll believe you when ponies grow scales” and her mum from Hungary told me that there they say, “I will believe you when it’s snowing red snowflakes.”

Little Fox / Little Polar Bear Rescue

Little Fox
Edward Van De Vendel and Marije Tolman
Levine Querido

The story begins with a visual sequence of five stunning double spreads showing Little Fox is playing on the dunes among the water birds and animals when he spies two butterflies – purple ones.

The text now begins, telling how he cannot resist chasing after them. His focus, solely on the airborne creatures, causes the fox to plunge over a hilly edge and fall heavily onto the ground. There he lies still, seemingly unconscious.

Then in a dream, his whole life hitherto passes before him as he recalls his earliest time with his mother;

slightly later, playing with his siblings; his adventures in the wider world; his encounters with humans in particular a child; his father warning him of over curiosity, ”Too nosy is dead nosy”, which on one occasion almost turns out to be true.

Suddenly the entire narration turns full circle as the child who came to his rescue previously comes upon Little Fox again. This small human picks the creature up and carries it in carefully, followed by a procession of other animals,

safely back to his fox family, where aroused by the familiar smell, Little Fox opens his eyes once more.

Superb illustrations by Marije Tolman (notes at the end explain how they were created) combined with Van De Vendel’s text (translated from its original Dutch by David Colmer) unfolding stream-of-consciousness style for the most part, make a touching triumph readers will want to return to over and over.

Little Polar Bear Rescue
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

This is the most recent in the author’s deservedly popular Little Animal Rescue series.

One minute young Fliss is playing hide and seek in the forest with her Forest Club group and the next seemingly, she’s in remotest Canada in a polar bear look out.

Outside, surveying her surroundings, she looks through her binoculars and spots a little cub that appears to have been separated from its mother and left behind. She names it Nanuk after the lookout.

By following a trail of footprints and using all her skills and knowledge, can she reunite the mischievous little creature with its mother?

There are encounters with caribou, a fox, a pack of wolves, some Arctic hares, walruses and a far from friendly polar bear family but will Nanuk’s elusive mother be found in time?

Problem-solving is key in this enchanting story for animal-loving new solo readers especially. Jo Anne Davies’ line drawings heighten the enjoyment of the drama.

Oi Aardvark!

Oi Aardvark!
Kes Gray and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Frog seems to be mining a seemingly bottomless – or maybe it should be bottomful – pit in Kes and Jim’s new Oi offering.

At the outset he throws out an invitation to the titular animal to participate in his new book that’s to be entitled ‘My ALL-NEW ALPHABETTY BOTTY BOOK. Dog is all agog; not so the cat who is, as usual, a sourpuss and ready to pour cold water over the enterprise even before it gets underway.

I have to hand it to Frog with his first chair substitute though, it’s pure genius: “Aardvarks will sit on cardsharks!” Nevertheless a certain feline is ready with a bit of negativity: “What’s a cardshark?” it demands. “It’s a shark who’s really good at playing snap!” comes Frog’s rapid response. That should shut Cat up, but let’s see.

We get through B and C without any interference, and only a minor bit of banter from Cat comes to herald in D. But then Dog’s tongue-twisting mix-up of a comment fuels another catty utterance. Eventually Frog announces his D and on we go safely (actually pretty precariously) through E and F.

For G, Frog has two clever inclusions – “giraffes can sit on baths and Gazelles can sit on bells!”

With horses comfortably seated and iguanas less so, clever claws Cat cheekily interjects again. (as if Frog doesn’t know his alphabetical order – well really!).

Anyway, or rather, Frog’s way, J. is duly dealt with and then as we’ve already been told, comes K. K is splendidly stinky …

Looks like the frog is the only one amused about this botty placement.

Off we go, with the dog heaping praise on our book compiler and guess who being its usual party pooping scorn pourer. Let’s skip to P and be pretty sure there’s a treat in store – ta da! Four animals happily installed on their bum bearers; but then comes another treat in the form of a double fold-out taking us through – with an inevitable purring pouring of cold water from the cat, to X.

Yet again Frog emerges triumphant, even giving himself a round of applause before zipping off through Y to the grand finale and completion of his book.

Or maybe not quite: we’ll leave it to the threesome to get to the bottom of their zany dispute.

So far beyond brilliant that it will never find the way back is this combination of Kes’ carefully and creatively concocted, rhyming, weaving of wordplay and Jim’s superbly silly seating solutions shown in his side-splitting visuals.

I’m hoping against hope that Frog doesn’t decide to rest on his laurels after this, his latest tour de force. I can’t wait to share it with anyone I can get to sit on their selected sit-upon.

Fashion Conscious

Fashion Conscious
Sarah Klymkiw, illustrated by Kim Hankinson
Red Shed (Egmont)

This book is aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults but I too learned a fair bit from it. Indeed, families, educators, everyone really, needs to become more aware of all the factors surrounding clothing and its manufacture.

We’ve all been hearing recently of the horrors happening to people working in the garment industry, particularly those employed by suppliers to the fast fashion sellers.

One of the good things that’s come out of this pandemic is that we’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate the relationship we  have with the natural world; and considering the impact our clothing choices have on the planet is a vital element of that rethink.

Many of us have been taking stock and looking at what we have stuffed into our wardrobes and drawers. I was shocked at how many items I discovered with labels still attached. Since shops re-opened I’ve bought nothing new to wear, nor did I order anything on line during the lockdown and having read Sarah Klymkiw’s book, do not intend to any time soon.

Hurrah for Sarah and Kim’s creative guide to sustainable fashion. It’s packed full of practical, positive (never preachy) advice on how to become a more sustainable consumer of fashion, as well as the facts and figures we need to know.

There’s never been a better time to change your wardrobe ways – to re-use and repair what you have (step-by-step instructions are provided) or to swap it;

and if you really need something new, then this book will help you make a wise choice.

The Littlest Yak

The Littlest Yak
Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Despite her prowess at clip-clopping up slippery cliffs and her wonderfully curly, whirly woolly back, little Gertie yak is unhappy on account of her lack of “bigness’. She longs to grow up great and tall, when she assumes, her horns and hooves will be impressively huge.

Her mum assures her that ‘bigness’ can take a variety of guises but Gertie remains impatient to assume a larger form.

To that end she embarks on a ‘growing-up’ regime: a diet of healthy veggies and vigorous physical exercise as well as mental training, thanks to her extensive library.

None of which have the desired effect.

Then all of a sudden as Gertie is near to despair, there comes a cry for help from the yak herd. The teeniest, weeniest is stranded in a perilously precarious position on a cliff edge.

Now is the time for Gertie to make use of those super-grippy hooves of hers and so she does. Onto her back leaps the teeny weeny yak and down the mountainside they both go, to safety and a congratulatory crowd.

Later, wrapped up warmly under the stars, might just be the time for one little yak to realise that she’s just right as she is.

Debut picture book author, Lu Fraser’s rhyming text flows beautifully, making it a super read aloud; and she has the perfect illustrator in Kate Hindley whose funny details – look out for the bird characters – add gigglesome delight to many of the spreads. Love those bobble hats, blankets, scarves and other items of warm clothing worn by the yaks. Perfect for this heartwarming tale.

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch
Matt Ralphs and Núria Tamarit
Flying Eye Books

If you only ever think of witches in relation to Halloween, folktales, Macbeth’s ‘weird sisters’ or perhaps the ducking stools used to supposedly identity those who practised witchcraft in the 16th and 17 centuries, then Matt Ralphs and illustrator Núria Tamarit will most definitely enlarge your witchy horizons considerably.

It will most definitely do so where children are concerned.
Right from its alluring cover you’ll be held in its power, but make no mistake, author Matt has definitely done his homework when concocting this splendid brew of fact and fiction.

We start way, way back in 3100-500 BCE with Ancient Mesopotamian Magic as practised by the ‘ašipu’ as the scholars and doctors (male only) were called.

They tried to cure illness by fighting the evil magic they believed was the cause by a mixture of medicine, spells and prayers (to their god, Ea).

There’s also a look at the magic of Ancient Egypt, that of Ancient Greece, Slavic magic, Norse magic, the magic of the Middle Ages, of South Africa from prehistoric times until now, and Japanese magic.

Magical accoutrements of various kinds from wands

to potion ingredients, grimoires (spell books to you and me), charms and more are covered.

There is information about real people who used magic – the Russian monk Rasputin, Mother Shipton the seer from Yorkshire,

Marie Laveau, a healer and fortune teller from New Orleans and Gerald Gardner who developed Wicca in England are each given a double spread.

You can also find out about the Salem trials and the Witchfinder General and, read a brief version of the folktale about Baba Yaga who lived in a house that stood on chicken legs and supposedly ate children (cooked naturally).

All in all this is a veritable treasure trove of witchy enchantment, beautifully presented as one expects from Flying Eye, and you’ve plenty of time to get hold of a copy before Halloween.

The Grumpy Fairies

The Grumpy Fairies
Bethan Stevens
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I suspect that most people, youngsters especially, are of the opinion that fairies are cute, kind little things, but that isn’t true of the entire fairy race. The smallest ones especially are grumpy, not just a little bit but grumpy in the extreme. They flatly refuse to do those helpful jobs expected of them by the adults of their kind

as well as being downright rude to the birds that request their assistance. And as for the goblin warning those same birds give them, they don’t even bother listening to it.

The grumpy fairies treat the bees and Mouse in similar fashion, ignoring their words about there being a hungry goblin on the wander looking for lunch; and they’re so busy with their grumps, that they fail to notice …

It’s fortunate that in addition to grumpiness, these particular fairies have cleverness as part of their constitution. Can they succeed in extricating themselves from a very tricky situation, or will they become a ‘sweet and sour’ midday repast for a certain goblin?

This is Bethan Stevens’ debut picture book. It’s full of visual humour; I love her portrayal of those Grumpy Fairies that are similar to grumpy little humans in so many ways, and her hirsute-limbed goblin is terrific fun.

Over and Under the Rainforest

Over and Under the Rainforest
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
Chronicle Books

This beautiful book immerses readers deep in the South American rainforest in the company of an adult (Tito) and a child narrator as they trek the entire day, from early morning to evening.

They observe with all their senses enjoying the ‘symphony of sounds! Chatters and chirps and a howling roar’ of monkeys, insects and birds in the treetops.

As they continue hiking along the trail we share the sights and sounds of particular animals, ‘Up in the trees’ and ‘Down in the forest’. There are toucans that ‘croak and bicker over breakfast’; a row of bats ‘sleeps away the daylight’;

… ‘A poison dart frog makes his way up a trunk with a tadpole on his back and they find themselves ‘eye to eye with capuchin monkeys as they cross a hanging bridge.

With the afternoon comes the rain, time to snack on dried fruits alongside snacking monkeys. The rain falls more heavily causing a blue morpho butterfly to fold her wings and tuck herself away close to a sleeping mother sloth and her baby.

When evening comes, the rain lets up and the darkness falls all around, there are lots of silent hunting animals such as a parrot snake and an eyelash palm pit viper, and some new sounds too, as up in the trees howler monkeys “Rrrowf! … Rroooooaaaahhhhhh!” in response to Tito’s roar.

Night is the time for jaguars to be on the prowl so perhaps the sudden scary snap is a sign one’s on the move.

It’s also the time for the two trekkers to cross that last bridge and, with thoughts of Abuelita’s supper awaiting, to head for home to the sounds of a choir of insects and raindrops.

Kate Messner’s poetic text really does capture the atmosphere of the rainforest and the changes that happen over a day, while Christopher Silas Neal’s mixed media, matt illustrations, with their alternating views of ground level, the sky and the treetops showing the rich variety of the flora and fauna, imbue this particular ecosystem with a magic of its own.

If you want to discover more about the fauna, Kate has included notes on twenty creatures at the back of the book, along with some paragraphs about her own Costa Rican rainforest forays.

Hello Friend! / Bunny Braves the Day

Hello Friend!
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books

It’s the mismatch between what is said by the small girl narrator and what is shown in Rebecca Cobb’s enchanting, warm illustrations that make this book such a winner.

From the start the girl enthusiastically shares everything during playtime both indoors and out, at lunchtime, during quiet times and noisy ones.

What is evident though is that the boy on whom she focuses all this sharing attention is going to take much longer to feel ready to share in the well-intentioned advances of the little girl.
However, a friendship does develop …

and it’s one where both parties are equally enthusiastic about their togetherness.

This is a gorgeous story to share with youngsters especially those starting school; it offers plenty to reflect on and talk about, both at home and in the classroom.

Bunny Braves the Day
Suzanne Bloom
Boyds Mills Press

It’s Bunny’s first day of school but he wants nothing of it: he doesn’t know anybody, supposes nobody likes him; his socks are too short, his shorts too long and he can’t tie his shoes. Oh woe!

Big sister cajoles him with plenty of empathy and ideas,

but with a hurting tummy, it’s decided … ‘I’d better not go … Because I don’t even know how to read!’

After more loving comments, ‘Sometimes you just feel like crying before you feel like trying. You’ll find a friend. Not all shoes use laces. And teachers love to teach reading…’ and listing things little bro. CAN do, he’s almost ready to surrender but not before one last try, ‘Mom will miss me.’ (Said parent has uttered not a word in all this, though she does take a photo).

Finally, it’s time to face up to the inevitable and once more it’s down to big sis. to deliver the final upbeat reassurance at the classroom entrance.

The entire text takes the form of the dialogue between the bunny siblings –blue for the new boy and red for older sister; while Suzanne Bloom’s watercolour and pencil illustrations highlight the feelings of the two characters beautifully.

Just right to share with little ones, especially in families where there’s likely to be starting school nerves; or with children in a nursery setting.