The Mighty Lions & the Big Match

The Mighty Lions & the Big Match
Tom Chapman and Chris Dickason
Welbeck Publishing

I’ve seen first hand both as a teacher and when taking young relations to compete in tennis tournaments, the enormous pressure that some parents put on their youngsters; it’s almost as though the entire thing is about them and winning/success, rather than supporting and giving encouragement to their children. So I think a book such as this debut picture book, written by Tom Chapman (founder of The Lions Barber Collective, a charity for suicide prevention and awareness focussing on the mental health of boys and men) is as important for adults as for young readers/listeners.

The story focuses on young Abel and Drake, soccer players and members of the Mighty Lions team and their cup final match against the Tigers, Abel being the player suffering from acute anxiety even before stepping onto the pitch.

It’s a tense, close match

but the pressure Abel feels from his team members, coach and parents militates against him performing at his best, let alone enjoying the game; and in the end Tigers are victorious.

However, once the brothers explain, their parents are understanding and apologetic, “ … you played your best and that’s all that matters,” Mum says. Dad in turn offers some wise words, “ … Either way, we love you – not the result of the game.”

Chris Dickason’s bright illustrations convey the feelings of all the characters, especially the two brothers, as well showing the on field drama of the match.

Dark Peak / Lightning Strike

These are two additions to Oxford University Press Rollercoasters series published in association with Barrington Stoke designed to build confidence and foster a love of reading in the over 11s less inclined to pick up a book.

Dark Peak
Marcus Sedgwick

Award winning author Marcus Sedgwick has created a gripping amalgam of mystery and mythology (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight particularly) in this first person narrative.

A geography field trip one hot summer includes a visit to Lud’s Church. The pupils are instructed to meet back at a certain time and when that time arrives, everyone is there except Stephen and Stephanie.

Nobody gives credence to Miss Weston’s eight year old daughter who says she saw them being taken away by ‘the little white girl’.

Two of the class members including the narrator Porter are sent off to make a phone call and by the time they return to the group, Stephanie has mysteriously reappeared.

But why the delay in searching for Stephen, a quiet slightly strange individual? And next day back in school, why is nobody mentioning the boy? What has happened to him and will he ever be found?

An utterly enthralling, chilling unputdownable tale that examines notions of consciousness and time, as well as what friendship means.

Lightning Strike
Tanya Landman

With the constant danger of being struck by the dreaded phossy jaw disease like many other people working in the match factory, Eliza the fourteen year old narrator of the story is justifiably angry. Especially since every one of her family works all hours and still they struggle to pay their rent and never have enough to eat. Moreover, with the boss of the factory seldom putting in an appearance, denying the existence of the disease ever affecting his workers, and an unsympathetic foreman, it’s small wonder she’s inclined to rant and rage.

Then one Sunday something happens that changes young Eliza’s life for ever. In the park she hears a ‘posh’ woman making a speech about fairness, social justice and the rights of workers. Thus, much to her parents’ horror, begins her journey as an activist. Now though Eliza has somewhere to channel her anger and her energy.

Although Tanya Landman’s Eliza is a fictional character, her story set in London’s East End in the summer of 1888 is based on fact; and a gripping one it is. Readers will empathise with Eliza, her sister and the other young match factory workers and perhaps be inspired to find out more about the Match Girls’ Strike. That, or become activists for a 21st century cause they believe in: such is the power of this strikingly good story.

The Nervous Knight

The Nervous Knight
Anthony Lloyd Jones
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a story that looks at the disabling effects of anxiety on youngsters and in particular one knight in training who lives in a peaceful kingdom.

Said knight wears his full armour all the time, never taking it off even in bed, because one always needs to be prepared for the worst eventualities. However armour notwithstanding, this particular trainee who is totally lacking in self confidence remains an onlooker while classmates joust or even go out to eat ice creams. All those ‘what if … ‘ worries just keep on getting in the way of participation.

Such things as breathing become difficult and nervousness tends to make you need to use the loo.

Then one day an older girl in class notices the knight’s lack of action and asks, “What aren’t you joining in?”A series of “what ifs” is the response so the girl decides to take things in hand, gently encouraging the nervous knight onto horseback.

Inevitably with new learning an easy ride is not what follows, but neither do any of those much dreaded giggles from fellow students. Instead, some admit to feeling scared on occasion, while others offer encouragement and coping strategies and gradually our nervous knight begins to shed some armour, show their true self, gain some self confidence and open up to friendship and the pleasures life offers.

Quirkily illustrated in a child-like manner, this is a story many youngsters will identify with and offers a good starting point for discussion, particularly with the growing numbers of children with anxiety issues that have surfaced during the pandemic. The book concludes with a guide for parents/carers by a consultant trainer in children’s and young people’s mental health issues, Ian Macdonald.

The Wide, Wide Sea

The Wide, Wide Sea
Anna Wilson and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Skilfully woven together are wild swimmer and author Anna Wilson’s lyrical narrative and Jenny Lovlie’s gorgeous detailed illustrations in this picture book with a vitally important message about plastic pollution.

Gran and the child narrator love to visit the sea together, spending time exploring the flora and fauna along the shoreline and seeing what treasures the waves have thrown up. Most exciting though is their sighting of a seal: the child imagines being a seal too

and when it disappears, sits watching the sea birds until a violent storm blows in and Gran says it’s time to head home.

Next morning the beach looks awful – ‘Wild, Broken. Messy.’ and strewn with litter. The sky ‘sulky dove-grey’ and the air ‘quiet and frowning.’ Who or what has created this havoc? And can it be fixed? …

Happily yes in this story; but what really needs to happen is every one of us must accept their responsibility for plastic pollution and, for the sake of the environment, sea creatures such as the seal especially, take their rubbish home.

Published in collaboration with The National Trust who protect over 700 miles of wild coastline in the UK this is a must have book for primary classes to share, discuss and act upon its message.

Edie and the Box of Flits

Edie and the Box of Flits
Kate Wilkinson, illustrated by Joe Berger
Piccadilly Press

Eleven year old Edie Winter, a rather lonely girl, helps her dad with his job at London Underground’s lost property office where strange items often turn up. However, travelling to the office one day during half term she’s certainly not expecting to find a mysterious wooden box: a box that’s home to a family of tiny winged beings – The Flits.

It’s only people under thirteen who can see these magical little creatures, and Impy, Speckle and Nid need Edie’s help. Help that takes the form of food supplies including chocolate spread, raisins, digestive biscuits, rice crispies sunflower seeds and sugar sprinkles, somebody to look after them, but their brother, Jot, has run off looking in the Underground tunnels for Flum and other missing Flits, and Edie’s assistance is required to find him.

All manner of strange things are happening though, not least, sightings of strange sharp-eyed birds; there are complaints from passengers about missing jewellery or other small, expensive items after a journey.
Utterly intrigued by the tiny creatures Edie immerses herself in the Flits’ world, even hiding them in her school bag and they’re all determined to find the missing beings. But the Flits Edie is caring for are not easy to control; she has a tricky task to prevent them being discovered by the watchful magpin birds – a sinister lot – as well as the far from friendly Vera Creech, receptionist at the Lost Property Office who looks after a crow and is interested in the wooden box.

Kate Wilkinson has constructed the Flits’ small world brilliantly and it’s impossible not to be enthralled by her magical story of friendship, family and focussing on life’s little things. Joe Berger’s black and white illustrations are a delight be they whole page scenes, small or very small close ups.

A terrific class read aloud for older KS2 listeners as well as for individuals who like books with a touch of enchantment or a classic feel. I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

Listified!

Listified!
Andrew Pettie, illustrated by Andrés Lozano
Britannica Books

This is a cornucopia of a book that is so easy to get totally immersed in that before you know where you are, a couple of hours have gone by.

Divided into eight chapters on various aspects of our world – space, nature, dinosaur times, animals, the body, being human, inventions and game changers – it’s written in a humorous style, and absolutely bursting with amazing, bite size portions of information and I’m sure the majority of adults as well as children will learn a considerable amount.

Did you know for instance that a corned beef sandwich was smuggled onto NASA’s Gemini 3 space mission by astronaut, John Young? I don’t think much of his taste.

On the topic of taste, I was astonished to read in the Being Human chapter that the average person in Switzerland eats 176 chocolate bars in a year while in China, the average person eats a mere two. I wonder where they have better teeth?

There certainly have been some amazing inventions but this book contains 8 of the weirdest ever made. These include a motorised ice-cream cone that automatically rotates your ice-cream to save you having to turn the cone around to lick the ice-cream on the other side – totally bonkers. I know many people rely on their mobiles for lots of things but did you know there’s a mobile that doubles as an electric beard trimmer? Yes really. On the other hand, I might just have to seek out some of the smart underpants I read about as being in development and give a pair to my partner: these measure how much your buttock and leg muscles are moving and then tell you if you need to up your exercise regime.

You really can’t beat nature as designer though: look at these incredible examples of the Fibonacci sequence found in plants.

In all Andrew Pettie has stashed over 300 lists between the covers of this weighty tome, many with quirky illustrations by Andrés Lorenzo; there are also a fair number of photographs too, plus a glossary and index. Love the playful list headings.

Add to family bookshelves (so long as they’re strong enough it carry its weight) to KS2 collections and beyond, and libraries.

Turbo Bunnies

Turbo Bunnies
Matty Long
Oxford Children’s Books

Another dose of super fun from Matty Long this time courtesy of drivers Bunny and Bonnie, Rory and Enzo (mechanics) and Camille (kart designer) aka whizz kart racers Team Turbo. Team Turbo ace the races but then after an interview rivalry sets in between Bunny and Bonnie, with both wanting to be best racer.

Things soon spiral out of control with both bunnies attempting to sabotage the other’s chances resulting in the quitting of the rest of their team.

Come the next race the bunnies have to go it alone and that entails fixing their own karts first with the result that they wake up late and the race is already under way when they arrive. Nonetheless, off they speed but will it be a

case of individuality reigns or teamwork …

Will those two bunnies ever see the error of their ways and get back on track working as a twosome? What do you think? …

Full on drama this story assuredly is; with its message about the importance of team work it will appeal especially to young listeners with a taste for speed, thrills and spills: Matty Long’s illustrations certainly take us right up close to the action in this book.

The House on the Edge / A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch

These are two smashing books recently published by Nosy Crow – thanks for sending them for review

The House on the Edge
Alex Cotter

Faith’s dad has disappeared. What has happened to him and why has he left the family – mum (who’s now staying in bed all day), Faith the narrator, and her younger brother Noah – in an old house (the Lookout) perched atop a crumbling cliff?

When a crack appears on the cliffside Faith watches it growing larger day by day. She’s also trying her utmost to hold things together and that entails looking after her mum and staying out of trouble at school. Then, when Noah’s teacher asks to speak to their mother as she’s concerned about the boy, Faith fears things are about to come unravelled. She’s increasingly worried too about the boy’s talk of a sea ghost in the cellar searching for lost treasure; and to make things worse her Uncle keeps nosing around in the house.

Worse still is when Noah disappears causing Faith to have second thoughts about the possibility of ghosts. Is there any chance at all she can find her brother and bring her father back before all she cares about crashes into the sea down below.

Wonderfully written, with Faith’s gripping first person narrative encompassing feelings of exasperation and love, ordinary commonplace things, alarm and panic, with some humour too, this is a smashing book about families and what binds them together as well as an exciting mystery. Altogether a cracking debut for author Alex Cotter.

A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham

Giggles guaranteed in this latest deliciously daft adventure from team Butchart and Flintham.

Now Izzy, her classmates and teachers are off on an activities school trip to Big Lake. The to-do list includes a nature walk, raft-building, a ropes course and a tug of war, but Gary Petrie is much more excited about the fact that the lodges they’re staying in have slippers and robes.

The lake itself is deep, dark and a tad scary, not least because Ranger Tam starts talking about the presence of a hundred year old monster therein – and he’s not joking!

Investigations are the order of the day among the children – or maybe that should be the order of the night. By all accounts said monster is hungry and on the lookout for food, food like their packed lunches – sandwiches and crisps in particular. Perhaps it even eats teachers?

Full of splendidly silly scenarios vividly imagined by Pamela Butchart with her brilliant knack of presenting things from the child’s perspective and their propensity to get carried away, along with a wealth of appropriately wacky illustrations by Thomas Flintham, this is perfect for solo readers who like a longish, highly illustrated story with plenty of melodrama.

Story Soup

Story Soup
Abie Longstaff and Nila Aye
Templar Publishing

As the story starts Ollie is in the process of mixing a story and it’s to be about skateboards – only skateboards. Well, that was his intention but he hadn’t reckoned on the intervention of his sister Susie. She just can’t resist adding some ingredients to the pot and it becomes so Susie says, “OUR story”. A twisting turning story of a skateboarding princess and a reluctantly bad, somewhat silly pirate named Barnacle who develops a taste for ‘yellow sausages’.


All of a sudden things start getting out of control with various things falling into the mixture,

Ollie claiming his story is spoiled and Susie tossing all kinds of random items into the pot over which they start to tussle causing terrible turmoil among the soup ingredients.

Can the brother and sister possibly save the situation if they change their tactics and start to co-operate … You never know: will there or will there not be a ‘happily ever after’ ending? I wonder …

If ever there was an incentive for youngsters to start creating their own stories it’s this zany picture book. There’s even a recipe on the final page to set those brain cells imagining. Think what fun you could have in the classroom if you provide a large container and a large spoon, sit the children in a circle and invite them to co-create an adventure.

Seemingly both author and illustrator had lots of fun concocting their action-packed tale of a tale – embedded narrative gone mad! I love the way Nila’s illustrations of the brother and sister segue from their actions to their story narrative and back during the course of Abie’s telling.

I Am Angry

I Am Angry
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

This book has its origins in Michael’s experience of watching his youngest child having a temper tantrum. He then decided to write a poem about anger that was included in A Great Big Cuddle and now based on that poem we have the first in a new series by the poet and illustrator Robert Starling.

The big bad mood presented here is the kind that comes from nowhere in particular, causing huge noise making –

thrashing and bashing, bodily contortions – rolling on the ground and knocking down trees actions, raging and rampaging, squashing the moon

and terrifying the sun sort of angry, which then vanishes just as rapidly as it arrived.. All this from what appears to be a cuddlesome creature.

Parents and indeed teachers of young children will immediately recognise such scenarios and welcome this smashing book with its reassuring message that however overpowering such anger might feel, it’s soon over, often leaving the once angry person feeling tired out.

Robert Starling has already demonstrated his skill at portraying anger with Fergal is Fuming and now in combination with Michael’s superb rhyming text has created a terrific read aloud picture book for sharing with little ones in an early years setting or at home.

Animal Colours, Animal 123 and Animal ABC

Animal Colours, Animal 123, Animal ABC
Nikolas Ilic
Happy Yak

Three titles in a new First Concepts series feature some wonderfully wacky animal characters.

In the Colours book a twisty twirly snake and a grabbing crab introduce red, both fox and orangutan have orange fur, lion and a quacking duck are yellow, green is the skin of both a crocodile and a wide-mouthed frog, blue are the whale and a tweeting bird while other creatures are purple, pink, brown, grey, black or white. Then come multi-coloured chameleon and rainbow-beaked toucan, with the final spread showing all the animals featured.

123 has a different animal for each of the numbers 1 to 12 a double spread being allocated to a honey loving bear, 2 sharp toothed crocs, 3 racoons, 4 playful dogs, 5 staring black cats, six BAA-ing sheep, 7 grumpy frogs, 8 clucking chickens, 9 mucky pigs, 10 munching rabbits, 11 COO-ing pigeons and twelve toothy fish; and the final spread shows them numbering off with an invitation to count them one by one.

As well as being introduced to the alphabet in Animal ABC, little ones can discover an interesting fact about each of the featured creatures. For instance, did you know that a Gecko can’t blink so cleans its eyes by licking them with its long tongue?

Young children don’t acquire concepts from books but through a variety of experiences; these playful board books will help concept development but most important, they’re fun to share.

Kids Fight Climate Change / So you want to be an Owl / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest

There are 3 recent Walker Books publications about various aspects of the environment – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

Kids Fight Climate Change
Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Following on from Kids Fight Plastic, from the same team comes a second book containing sixty six ways in which children can become two minute superheroes.

There are sixteen major missions focussed on helping to save the planet and in particular on climate change, starting with powerful facts about global warming and the hugely harmful effects it’s having on ecosystems both large and small. 

Many people will have heard about the terrible effects of the Canadian heatwave that has killed hundreds of people in the west of the country. There have also been huge numbers of wildfires putting both humans and wild life in danger in Australia especially. The latter as well as the other effects of climate change are presented around a world map early in this little book.

Then comes the first of the main missions, how to count your carbon footprint, that includes a bitesize ‘2 minute mission’ to compare inside and outside temperatures on a sunny day, as well as finding one small action you could do tomorrow to reduce your carbon footprint.

With the added interest of collecting points along the way youngsters must complete such challenges as using ‘an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning up the radiator’,

making a bee hotel in your garden or a reusable face mask from an old cotton T-shirt or persuading parents to let you use an airer or washing line for drying the wash rather than an electric drier.

This is a smashing, highly readable little book with lots of funky illustrations from Tim Wesson. It gives young eco-warriors plenty of information, incentive and inspiration to be active in their homes/gardens, schools and local community. Very much a book of our time and young followers of Greta Thunberg (I know a fair few of those) will love it. An empowering read likely to produce lots of young activists.

So you want to be an Owl
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Author Jane Porter places Professor Olaf Owl in the classroom to deliver a sequence of nine lessons and an initial assessment should readers (despite being a fair bit larger than the featured creatures.) want to consider the possibility of becoming an owl alongside the trainees.

There’s a strict code to live by: ‘Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!’ Then come the questions that start each lesson: Can you fly? Can you merge into the background environment? What about seeing in the dark. What’s your hearing like? and so on before giving her assessment to each class member and whoo hoo! they’ve all gained a certificate.

Skillfully engaging readers by the aforementioned questions and others about hunting and feeding, 

hooting, tree dwelling and chick rearing, Jane Porter imparts key facts to young readers with gentle, playful humour while Maddie Frost’s inviting and endearing illustrations further enhance that humour and the scientific information.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest
Stephanie Fizer Coleman

With scenes of several rainforest locations in different parts of the world, youngsters can encounter some of the fauna and flora of these steamy habitats as they search for hidden animals, help a chimpanzee find her way to her friend, match up pairs of gorgeously patterned South American butterflies, add colours to some birds of paradise and to Amazon rainforest snakes. They can also use the 100 or more stickers to further adorn the various spreads and learn some amazing facts along the way.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this latest time travelling adventure of Tom’s sees him back in Ancient Greece after handling his archaeologist Granny Bea’s ancient amphora, decorated with battle scenes.

As usual, Tom’s not only lost in time but he’s also lost his mischievous cat, Digby and readers need to help him find the creature as well as all the other items mentioned in the ‘Can You Spot’ boxes, that are hiding in plain sight as Tom dashes across the pages in pursuit of the elusive Digby.

During his search he visits the Acropolis, a bustling market place – the agora where a philosopher can often be heard giving a speech

and nearby, the cylindrical tholos wherein the council (all male) would meet to debate important issues.

Other locations he visits include a pottery workshop, the school (wealthy boys only attended that), a doctor’s surgery, a street of houses, a gymnasium

and a theatre before heading out of town to the fields as farmers finish their day’s work. Then it’s on towards the port before finally discovering the whereabouts of both Granny Bea and Digby and then being transported back to the present.

As with previous books in the series, this one is superbly interactive and packed with fascinating facts. Each of Fatti Burke’s alluring, highly detailed scenes offers much to pore over including an athlete who has dropped a javelin, another who’s fallen over and a sleeping member of the theatre audience.

The Seed of Doubt

The Seed of Doubt
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Books

The boy in this story has big dreams far beyond his immediate horizons. “You know you can do anything, … as long as you believe it,” his father would say in encouragement.

One day while the boy is walking in the fields a bird calls to him and in so doing drops something from its beak.

Catching it, the boy feels the seed is significant. He plants it and after a few weeks it sprouts, becoming a sapling and eventually a tree.

The tree grows, the boy grows too, but his dreams get smaller and self doubt begins to take root. Now the tree seems to signify fear rather than its original joy and the boy no longer feels capable of climbing it.

His evening chats with his father are no longer of dreams but every day farm-related matters. However the change doesn’t go unnoticed by his father who reminds his son of those words from long back, “You can do anything … “
That triggers a change and slowly, slowly the lad begins his ascent of the tree, until eventually, with lots of encouraging words …

he reaches the very top.

Once more his dreams are visible: “I can see everything,” he tells his proud parent.

Movingly told is this beautiful story of a boy’s journey back to self-belief, equally movingly illustrated by Richard Jones. His variety of page layouts and perspectives make the narrative even more powerful, and I love the patterning.

It’s all too easy to let those small seeds of self-doubt take root and this book is a lovely starting point for talking about faith in oneself, determination and positiveness either at home or in the classroom.

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons
Sara Hurst and Ana Seixas
Happy Yak

Authors are always looking for new ways to present dinosaurs to young enthusiasts who seem to have an insatiable appetite for these prehistoric creatures.

Herein Sara Hurst compares dinos. with vehicles, predators, humans and modern day foods among other things. With a body longer than a tennis court, Diplodocus needed to munch through around 33kg of ferns daily – that’s the equivalent of a human gobbling 66 boxes of cereal every single day – imagine that!

First though come an explanatory spread explaining comparisons, a pronunciation guide to dinosaur names and a time line.
The comparisons start on the Fossil Clues pages where readers learn for example, that one of the largest fossil poos ever found was around 70cm long and weighed more than a bowling ball.

I was fascinated to discover that a dinosaur’s age is calculated by counting the growth rings inside its bones (in a similar fashion to trees I imagine).
Other spreads look at the super skills of a variety of dinosaurs – Dromiceiomimus was about as speedy as an ostrich and twice as fast as the fastest man sprinter. Other spreads explore defence, food, weight

hunting ability, self defence and more, concluding with what was the likely cause of dinosaurs dying out.

In addition there’s a scattering of quizzes (answers at the back) and the entire book is brightly and dramatically illustrated by Ana Seixas.

Agent Llama

Agent Llama
Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Let me introduce Charlie Palmer, hotshot agent, awesome spy and fluffy llama. Having saved the world the previous day, said superspy is already engaged on her next mission, when she receives an urgent call from HQ. The Prime Minster’s underpants (banana patterned) have been stolen and Charlie is required to track down the perpetrator of the crime and save the world.

After a nail biting, sorry, hoof biting, plane journey completed with a perfect landing

Charlie rocks up at a posh hotel where she soon encounters an ‘old acquaintance’ Greta Grimm wallowing in the pool and she just happens to be sporting a pair of banana printed shorts. Pant-pinching crime solved.

However, Grimm (aided and abetted by her Goons entourage) doesn’t intend handing them over to Charlie any time soon. Moreover despite our agent’s martial arts prowess, all too quickly she finds herself well and truly trapped. Is there any escape now or is it destination outer space?

Can a spot of lunch courtesy of Charlie’s bag of techno tricks save the day …

Adult readers aloud will likely appreciate the high jinks that characterise spy films while their young audiences will relish the high drama delivered through Angela Woolfe’s whacky rhyming narrative and Duncan Beedie’s bold retro, cartoonish illustrations somewhat reminiscent of 60s glam in places. Love the stylish silhouette endpapers and variety of page layouts that hype up the action.

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame adapted by Timothy Knapman with original E.H. Shepard illustrations
Farshore

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, this is a picture book adaptation of the original story by Timothy Knapman with E.H.Shepard’s iconic illustrations.

All too often adaptations of children’s classics are at worst a huge disappointment and at best underwhelming; one certainly wouldn’t dream of reading them aloud to young children.

Does it read aloud well is key and in this instance the answer is a resounding yes. Herein, there’s a certain musicality to Timothy’s narrative (‘And there was the river itself, chasing and chuckling along, like a magical sparkling animal.’): it retains the essence of the original while also using 21st century phraseology such as ‘Then when their tummies started to rumble, they tied up at a perfect picnic spot.’ And, Mole to the intruder stoats and weasels in Toad Hall, ‘ “What a mess you’ve made! You don’t get to leave until you’ve tidied this whole place up.” ‘

Although we don’t have all the episodes from the original book, what’s included is a coherent story with plenty of Toad’s shenanigans …

that can be shared and enjoyed in a single session, or two if preferred.

I Like Trains / Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!

These are two recent picture books from Walker Books – thank you to the publishers for sending them for review

I Like Trains
Daisy Hirst

The young canine narrator of this story has a particular liking for trains – playing with toy ones, reading about his passion,

and travelling in the real kind, especially to pay a visit to Granny’s. That’s when she can hear all about the exciting journey, is treated to a picture of the ride, and then she and the puppy have great fun playing in a park sandpit that has a train theme.

With her art taking centre stage, this is a briefer, less sophisticated tale than many of Daisy Hirst’s previous books, but equally delightful, It’s perfectly pitched for very young listeners and beginning readers particularly those who share the puppy’s enthusiasm.

Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!
Linda Ashman and Alea Marley

Abby, narrator of this rhyming story has invited her friend for tea, hoping that all will be as perfect as the guest herself. To that end, she prepares carefully for the three o’clock rendezvous, instructing dog Louie to be on his best behaviour and arranging a tray with delicious confections, flowers, and a china tea set, as well as lining up the other guests – three toys.

Then DING-DONG! The eagerly anticipated guest arrives and ‘oh-so-politely’ sits herself down in her seat while her hostess goes to fetch the tray. But on her return with the tray (it’s really heavy), she has a Mrs Wobble moment and trips sending the contents of said tray every which way. This results in further chaos as Phoebe leaps up onto her chair and in so doing sends the entire table over causing such a mess. Will Phoebe contemplate returning ever again?

Now comes the time when Phoebe surprises readers and her friend too … After all, who wants perfection when it’s at the expense of fun?

Linda Ashman’s narrative reads aloud well with both page breaks and Alea Marley’s detailed illustrations highlighting the drama and suspense splendidly. With its subtly empowering message, this is a delightful story to share with youngsters.

The Way to Impossible Island

The Way to Impossible Island
Sophie Kirtley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a sequel to The Wild Way Home and features some of the same characters, in particular Dara who is now twelve years old and has been waiting for what feels like forever for the BIG heart operation he hopes will change his life. 

In the meantime he has to put up with the challenges and frustrations of living life in the slow lane, feeling ill frequently and not being able to do things he so wants to, those things his parents say are ‘not a good idea’. In particular rowing out to Lathrin Island in search of the legendary Golden Hare. 

When he learns that the op. promised for this summer has been postponed, good idea or not, Dara decides that it’s his life and that he’ll row out to the island. So off he sneaks.

What follows is a wondrous, totally enthralling, life-affirming tale of adventure and the fight for survival wherein two worlds collide for, hiding in the boat shed Dara meets a girl clad in animal skins. Can this Mothgirl really be from the Stone Age. She has a wolf, ByMySide, and like Dara (she’s of a similar age) faces challenges – an ailing father, a missing brother and expectations to become a person she most definitely doesn’t want to be.

Despite coming from different eras, the two understand one another and form a strong bond enabling them to confront tremendous dangers together.

Truly a tale of exceeding your own expectations, finding yourself and owning who you are. What and who is normal (‘nor-mill’ as Mothgirl calls it) are two of the questions Sophie Kirtley weaves into her narrative

Immensely powerful, indeed unputdownable: I just HAD to read the entire book in a sitting. It was so good to see that by the end both Dara and Mothgirl are ready to face the future and able to love themselves as they are.
I just can’t recommend this enough – utterly brilliant.

What if, Pig?

What if, Pig?
Linzie Hunter
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The porcine character in this story is a thoroughly kind, endearing character that has endeared himself not only to his best pal Mouse, but also to a host of other animals. They all think themselves lucky to have him as a friend but what they don’t know is that he’s a panicker. So when he decides to plan a perfect party, it’s not long before he gets an attack of the ‘what ifs’. ‘What if a ferocious lion eats all the invitations or even the guests … ‘

What if nobody comes (or everyone does and has a dreadful time) or worst of all ‘What if no one really likes me at all?’

There’s only one thing to do – cancel the party, an idea in which he has his friend Mouse’s support.

Off go the two for a walk in the woods during which Mouse reassures his downhearted pal, ‘Things don’t stay grey for very long.’ And sure enough they don’t as what Pig doesn’t know is that Mouse has been instrumental in ensuring that they don’t, for Pig’s friends are more than ready to return the friendship they’ve been shown …and to share some secrets in response to Mouse’s ‘Maybe we’re more alike than we think.’

With its powerful themes, engagingly delivered, this is a terrific read aloud: the author/illustrator makes every single word count and her illustrations are a quirky delight – every one.

‘What if we all talked about our worries?’ provides the ideal starting point for a discussion on feelings, worries in particular, with youngsters either at home or in the primary classroom. If we want children to develop resilience, I suggest a copy in every foundation stage and KS1 class collection.

Green Kids Cook

Green Kids Cook
Jenny Chandler
Pavilion Books

There are plenty of delicious recipes among the fifty plus in Jenny Chandler’s follow up to Cool Kids Cook, to tempt even this vegan reviewer (who doesn’t have children to cook with).

The book has five main sections and they are sandwiched between introductions for both children and adults; there are several pages about safety and at the end are some words about keeping a recipe journal and an index.

From the Breakfast and Brunch recipes I was immediately drawn to the Seeded Oat Bread and am eager to try making some – it sounds yummy.

Although I try not to eat snacks, many of the things made from recipes in that section could easily be eaten at other times too, say as part of a picnic lunch, especially cheese straws (I’d make a few vegan substitutes) and the flatbreads – why not use them for the ‘pod-powered guacamole’ that follows it?
It’s great to see spreads such as that about the importance of eating a variety of different colour vegetables included in that section too, as well as the one providing reasons to cut down on meat consumption.

Mains has a wealth of goodies: I’m really looking forward to cooking the Tomato and coconut dal with spicy greens – just my kind of thing.

The other sections – Soups and Salads, and Sweet Things also have plenty of fabulous recipes. With the bounties of ripening fruits coming soon, the latter will be one to go for; those apple and ginger flapjacks make my mouth water at the very thought of cooking some.

With its emphasis on sustainability, there’s useful advice on food related matters in addition to the recipes all illustrated with photographs. This is definitely a book I’d recommend adding to both family (I know several people who have taken to cooking with their children during the past year) and school bookshelves.

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story
Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Hot footing it on the heels of Lou and Deborah’s There Is No Dragon in This Story comes another take on classic fairytales, this time with Wolf as star of the show.

The problem is that he’s running late and feeling mightily stressed about it as he rushes through the forest to Grandma’s house to get there before Little Red Riding Hood. En route Wolf manages to upset the The Little Pigs making them ‘seriously grumpy’ but what with Grandma’s grumbles too, the poor creature decides enough is definitely enough. No more being taken for granted and definitely no more huffing and puffing from our vulpine friend.

Instead the other characters will have to go it alone but this Big Bad Wolfing is way harder than it looks. A realisation dawns and then along comes a winged fire-breather: maybe he could save the stories? Errrm … No1

So, can Little Red Riding Hood et al twist Wolf’s front paw and persuade him to help after all?

Young listeners and adult sharers will delight in this book. With hilariously conveyed messages about the importance of team work and not taking others for granted, it’s a tongue-in-cheek, hugely engaging tale that features their favourite characters like they’ve never before seen them. I really love the variety of page layouts Deborah uses: they hot up the story brilliantly.

Have Fun With Boardbooks

Splish, Splash!
Sophie Ledesma and Isobel Otter
Little Tiger
What will Little Fish discover as it swims around beneath the ocean? By manipulating the various sliding mechanisms little ones will discover sea creatures large and small before bidding goodnight to the sleepy Little Fish that has splashed its way right through to the penultimate spread where there’s a convenient place to hide itself behind. ZZZZZ … 

On the final spread all the other creatures that were encountered on the previous pages are labelled. Huge fun and great for developing fine motor skills. Sophie Ledesma’s playful illustrations are full of patterns that add to the visual impact throughout this ‘slide and seek’ book.

Ladybird Ladybird What Can You See?
Pintachan
Little Tiger
This is the latest addition to Pintachan’s brightly illustrated lift-the-flap series wherein Amelia Hepworth introduces positional words – in, behind, inside and under during the game with Ladybird and Ant wherein various other partially hidden minibeasts depicted on the flaps are revealed by lifting the flaps. Ant too is revealed saying in turn ‘It’s Butterfly!’, ‘It’s Spider!’, ‘It’s Bee!’ ‘It’s Worm!’ while the final spread has a mirror hidden under its flap. 

With its simple, repeat refrain rhyming text this is huge fun to share with the very young as well as for beginning readers to read to their younger brothers or sisters. Ant has a different fruit or portion of one on each spread so this offers lots of talk potential – what is it? Who will eat it etc.

Where’s My Puppy?
Becky Davies, illustrated by Kate McLelland
Little Tiger
The mischievous looking puppy shown on the cover of this book has almost disappeared by the first spread and little ones can enjoy following the colourful footprints through the rest of the spreads to discover his whereabouts on the final page. Before that though they encounter in turn Guinea Pig, Kitten, and Pony each of which shares a feature in common with the pup. Guinea Pig has soft fur, Kitten a fluffy tail and Pony’s tongue is rough giving youngsters a variety of tactile experiences as they join in the game to find Puppy. 

With a repeat question on each spread this offers a joining in opportunity too.

Go Go Apple
Claire Philip and Steven Wood
Sunbird Books
I’ve never really considered what happens to apple cores collected in food waste as I always throw mine into a bin that’s emptied straight onto our own compost heap. So, it was interesting to see this title in the ‘My first recycling series’ and be able to follow the journey of one core from collection by a truck to the recycling plant and thence into a large machine where it’s mixed with leaves and other waste food and shredded. Some then goes off to become compost, the rest being liquified for farm manure or made into a gas that can be used for the heat and electricity of homes and cars.

With plenty of accompanying onomatopoeic sounds to join in with, a simple narrative description and fun illustrations, this is an interactive book to share with the very young be that at home or in an early years setting.

Peekaboo Sun
Camilla Reid and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
Babies and toddlers love to play peekaboo especially when there’s a mirror involved so they’ll thoroughly enjoy this addition to the sliders series with its fishes, sunshine, ice cream boat, crab and other things with a seaside theme. Rhyming couplets introduce the items in Ingela P Arrhenius’s jolly, patterned illustrations.

Great fun and an opportunity for little ones to develop their fine motor skills.

Dirty Bertie Tricks and Kicks / Mermaids Rock :The Emerald Maze

Here are two recent Little Tiger fiction titles for primary readers – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Dirty Bertie: Tricks and Kicks
Alan MacDonald illustrated by David Roberts

This bumper volume brings together three books Mascot!, Spider! and Ouch! in the Dirty Bertie series so you can expect a wealth of comic chaos for your money.

First comes Mascot! wherein there are actually three self-contained stories featuring the boy that trouble seems to seek out. For starters having entered a ‘be junior match day mascot ‘ competition, Bertie proves to be the very best mascot for Pudsley Rovers soccer club despite sporting a lion costume (against strict instructions) and scoring a goal (accidentally).
Next is Swot Camp – the Bright Sparks camp that Bertie is sent to – ‘school for swots’ he calls it, doing his upmost to be sent home in disgrace. The third tale sees Bertie manage to get himself in the team for the inter-schools Junior Science Challenge and with his incredible robot, the fierce Bootosaurus,

surprisingly wins the contest, only to shock and somewhat displease, she who was the inspiration for his design.
All of that only takes in the first book.

Next is Spider! where it’s a case of is it or is it not a tarantula – enough said! An oversized, very late Christmas present – a sweater knitted by Gran is the star of the show next, followed by Bertie getting involved in a spot of metal detecting.

In the third book Bertie’s over enthusiastic hammering lands a trip to A&E; then his swimming lesson is a hugely embarrassing experience thanks in no small part to some borrowed and very saggy Speedos and finally, there’s the Inter-Schools Quiz in which guess who participates, much against his will.

Illustrated with David Roberts’ distinctive, wonderfully quirky drawings, with his clear love of life in the mischievous lane, Bertie is the naughty boy everyone loves to be vicariously.

Mermaids Rock:The Emerald Maze
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega

This is the fifth story featuring Marina Silverfin and her fellow Save the Sea Creatures gang members.

Now mysteriously, the magic whirlpool is malfunctioning and there’s a ban on using it. Nevertheless, Marina can’t resist swimming very close to it, so close that her seahorse, Sami, ends up accidentally getting flipped straight in. Without stopping to think, Marina dives in after Sami but having found him, she discovers that she’s not the only one in the dark depths she doesn’t recognise. Her friend Naya suggests it might be one of the underground rivers she’s read about.

Deciding to continue exploring, the river, caves and pools they make some amazing discoveries but then suddenly the whirlpool disappears leaving them stuck, stranded in a cave with no way out. Is it to be a case of cat-astrophe or can the friends muster all their skills, save the day and get themselves safely back home?

With Michelle Ortega’s black and white illustrations, this is another exciting, engaging tale for young mermaid enthusiasts and lovers of the natural world. (The book concludes with some information about cenotes and the associated animals.)

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

Babies, Babies Everywhere!
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

An absolutely gorgeous and inclusive celebration of babies during their first year of life. Now I’m no lover of babies, (though I have particular fondness for one particular little girl, now a toddler, a few months beyond her first year), but this book is a delight from cover to cover.

We follow the ups and downs of that first year with five families all of which welcome a new little one (or two) into their lives. To start with there’s a lot of sleeping, crying, milk drinking, burping and naturally, pooing and weeing. Then comes limb waving and laughing,

followed after a few weeks with facial recognition of those they see daily. Next is the grabbing, grasping stage often accompanied by much gurgling and cooing,

after which sitting and rolling ensue. By around six months the infants are usually ready for some solid foods – often a very messy time as can be the mobile stage when bottom shuffling and crawling, and beginning to get onto two feet, frequently leads to the little ones opening cupboards, etc and enjoying scattering the contents everywhere.

That’s nothing compared to what they can get up to once they start toddling …

One thing’s for sure though, there’s never a dull moment as Ros’s wonderfully detailed, amusing illustrations show (I love the soft toy’s thought bubbles). Mary’s straightforward narrative has a gentle playfulness with lots of baby sounds and comments from family members. (There’s a reminder on the dedication page, that babies develop at different rates and not all of them do things at the same age.)

Great fun for sharing with babies. toddlers who will enjoy spotting things at every page turn, not least the purple elephant, as well as for including in a ‘Families’ topic box in the foundation stage.

I Spy Island

I Spy Island
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Absolutely full of fun pretty well sums up this first in a new series from Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet of Supertato fame.

Said Island loves nothing better than to play I Spy with its four friends Glove, Banana, Bottle and Bird who appear to reside thereon. It’s while engaged in such a game that the players notice an object that they suspect has recently washed up on Island’s beach.

Speculations start – legs emerging from its head, an upside-down bird, is it edible, a trouser press … but suddenly the thing does a flip and announces itself to be a very important, much sought after treasure chest on account of its priceless contents. Moreover, Treasure Chest really does not want to stay on Island, it desperately wants someone to find it.

Several days later however, there it still is, sad and in need of cheering up.

The Island suggests playing some games to jolly things up a bit and after some initial reluctance Treasure Chest is having the time of its life. So much so that it has a change of heart about the Island, until …

a fierce, scary storm suddenly rages. Where can the four friends go to stay safe until it blows over? And then what?

Let’s just say that one of the players has learned a very important life lesson during the turbulence and all concerned are now ready for another round or two of Island’s favourite game of I Spy …

I have no doubt young listeners will revel in the super silliness of Sue and Paul’s tale and be eager to pay another visit to that cheery place somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea, ready for when the next mystery guest washes up.

Let’s pay a visit to Noisy Village

The Children of Noisy Village
Happy Times in Noisy Village
Nothing But Fun in Noisy Village

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford Children’s Books


I was intrigued to learn of this series written many decades ago and now newly illustrated by Mini Grey who brings the village and its inhabitants to life for a new generation of readers. I seem to recall the first book from childhood but didn’t realise there were others.

The stories are narrated by one of the young characters, soon to be eight, Lisa and the first book introduces us to the village that comprises three farms side-by-side, set in the middle of the countryside. The village got its name on account of the six children who are exceedingly noisy: There’s Lisa and her two brothers Bosse and Lasse, from Middle Farmhouse, Ollie lives in South farmhouse and the third, North Farm is home to two sisters Anna and Britta. We share their adventures told in brief chapters, including Lisa’s birthday celebrations; being caught barefoot in a hail and thunderstorm resulting in frozen feet, a visit to an old lady named Kristin and a kitten a-piece for each of the three farmhouses.

The children’s Happy Times include Lasse skating close to a hole in the frozen lake and ending up falling backwards right in though happily not being ‘drownded’; a search for a water spirit and hunting for treasure.

By the third book Lisa is nine and the children are still having Nothing But Fun. Fun such s taking a lamb to school (that’s Lisa’s idea); the extraction of Ollie’s tooth; and the capture of a supposed prehistoric ox, and an adventure involving crayfish and the possibility of trolls.

The books are full of high-spirited fun, fuelled sometimes by some rather ridiculous ideas on behalf of one or other of the children, and just right for either solo reading or story sharing sessions.

The Language of Cat

The Language of Cat
Rachel Rooney, illustrated by Ellie Jenkins
Otter-Barry Books

This is a reissue of Rachel’s first and award winning collection of poems and what a smasher it is, brilliantly inventive and inviting readers to look at the world and things in it, in an entirely fresh way.

Some such as Post are deliciously droll. Take this wherein a queen, ‘Fed up bored, decided to quit / so used her head and some royal spit. / Flicked through a book, picked a random address : / 5, The High Street, Inverness. / Stuck her face on a card, destination beneath. Does one fancy a swap, Ms Morag Mackeith? / Posted if off, didn’t delay.’ (Sadly however said queen receives no response.)

It’s absolutely impossible to choose favourites, I’m likely to change my mind at each reading of the book but today some I especially enjoyed are Defending the Title which begins ‘I am the word juggler’ and concludes ‘I am the champion’ both of which are entirely applicable to the author.

O the Wonderful shape of an O is a superb example of a shape poem – 


Gravity made me smile: the thought of ‘ripe conkers, bombs, cow dung, / those pencils we lose / from coat pockets, high jumpers / like large kangaroos, / confetti, leaves, litter, a melee of fruit, / all those sticks thrown for puppies / and those footballs we boot.’ all whirling around in space if it weren’t for gravity.

Predictive Text really made me laugh as I’m forever cursing my Mac for changing things I write and need always to be watchful and check blogposts at the last minute (pooing and weeing just now got altered to posting and seeing).
Then there’s Bookmark that strongly appeals to my bookish nature.

Altogether the book’s a testament to the power of language and its versatile nature; there’s something to please all tastes here. Quirky stylised drawings by Ellie Jenkins grace many of the pages.

Attack of the Giant Baby!

Attack of the Giant Baby!
David Lucas and Bruce Ingman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Oh my goodness! A giant baby is at large in the kingdom and it’s in destructive mode. So says the royal messenger to the King and Queen at breakfast one morning. While her parents and the courtiers panic, the young Princess maintains, “He’s just a baby,” though her words go unheeded.

As the baby trashes trains, topples mountains, tramples forests, flattens buildings and people flee for their lives, the King calls in his advisors. The Princess tries again; still nobody listens and eventually the Airforce is sent for, but even then the baby is unstoppable.

“Let loose the Monster-sized Bear!’ orders the King and lo and behold …

However the cuddles are short-lived and again doom and gloom descend. Even in the face of the scariest thing his highness can call upon, the Giant Baby doesn’t flinch. Nor is it interested in the king’s riches.

Now it’s left to the Princess to face the ginormous babe. Can her gentle manner save the day?

David Lucas’s dramatic narrative and Bruce Ingman’s clever illustrations with their mix of almost childlike painting and black ink sketches, make a slightly silly, enormously enjoyable story demonstrating the importance of listening to children.

With its somewhat ambiguous ending, could there perhaps be a sequel in the offing?

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids
Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Sharon Davey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

There are rather a lot of ‘Do Nots’ in this the second tale set in Wondermere as readers will quickly discover if they peruse the contents page. There’s also a plethora of dragons (complete with poo), grumpy unicorns and as you might expect, mermaids.

Most particularly there’s young Princess Grace – ace rule breaker – which immediately endeared her to me. She’s already proved herself plucky and determined as a knight, Troll-o-Tournament champ. and undoubtedly the equal of any boy, earning herself the title Sir Grace.

Now Wondermere is to host a very important visitor, the Mermaid Queen of the Outer Ocean. For Grace and her sister that means frilly dresses being on your best behaviour and it goes without saying, No Rule Breaking (or even bending).

But before the arrival of Queen Jeen, while taking a quick swim in the moat, Grace discovers a purple dragon egg and she can’t resist ‘rescuing’ it. Before long she and her sister find themselves dragon sitting baby Dennis.

Something that proves no easy task especially when there’s the distinct possibility that the very lively little one might disturb the royal guests … MEEP!

Bursting with fun and laugh-out-loud moments, and smashing illustrations by Sharon Davey, this is a totally charming romp, strongly recommended for those with a soft spot for rule subverters (this reviewer included) and lovers of a bit of magical mischief and mayhem.

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat
Em Lynas and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Comic capers of the daftest kind unfold in Em Lynas’s unashamedly ‘cat-ipalising’ assemblage of sound/symbol associations that she’s fashioned into a sequence of silly scenarios all about various items of attire and the lengths her animal characters will go to, to acquire them.

There’s the cat that plays, sleeps and dreams upon the mat; the rat with a big hat (dayglo pink to match its appendages) – at the start anyhow;

but a tustle ensues …

then there’s the bat sporting a fancy cravat (of the same pink colour albeit with tiny white dots) but also eager to take possession of said hat and willing to perform all manner of acrobatic actions to prevent others seizing the cravat.

Various snatch and grab actions follow but to find out who eventually ends up with which article of adornment, you’ll need to bag yourself a copy of this crazy book and read it yourself. ‘And that is that.’

With those neon bright colours, Matt Hunt makes the entire thing into a laugh out loud reading experience for beginning readers as well as for adults sharing the book with little ones.

44 Tiny Chefs

44 Tiny Chefs
Sylvia Bishop and Ashley King
Little Tiger

Nobody can be more surprised than Betsy Bow-Linnet when her Great-Aunt Agatha turns up announcing, “I’ve bought you a bakery,”. Well perhaps Bertram, but that’s because Betsy and Grandad have been selling her father’s delicious cakes to raise money to buy dad a special present for his birthday and as her aunt says, ‘selling cakes from a street-corner stall, like an uncouth ragamuffin.”

The woman can certainly get things done when she wants and now she has. With instructions to choose a name she departs and leaves the others to follow her instructions. The establishment becomes THE Half-Moon Bakery, Dad decides he wants the opening ceremony to be held on his birthday just three days away and Betsy realises it’s going to entail a great deal of work.

That’s just the start of things though for at the party, one Alexander Papparell, Royal Taster of Fine Foods for Her Majesty the Queen, mightily impressed by what he’s sampled, asks Bertram to provide the cakes for a Royal Gala that very Sunday – only two days notice. Also attending is Chief Health and Safety Inspector, Vernon Brick.

‘Not-a-panic’ sets in with the arrival of the requirements list. Is it time for Betsy to reveal something about mouse assistance to her dad, and then to press him to allow her to call upon the help of the little creatures? If he agrees, is it a risk worth taking? …

The Bow-Linnets are a delight and this is another super, action-packed story with some especially tasty ingredients, not least the chocolate cakes – well maybe not every single one of them; then there’s the fantastic support the rest of the family show to Bernard when it’s his big chance, and as always, Ashley King’s two-colour illustrations are terrific fun.

Sunflower Sisters

Sunflower Sisters
Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

This is the first in the publisher’s new ‘own voice’ series of picture books. The story focuses on Amrita and her best friend Kiki, both of whose families have weddings to celebrate.

It’s when a taxi arrives carrying Amrita’s Aunty that things start getting a little difficult. Aunty has outdated views and her negative comments about skin colour do not go down well with the rest of Amrita’s South Asian family, not with the bride and especially Mum and Dad. “We need to teach (people) that the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.” Mum tells Amrita and on the wedding day itself she continues to support and empower the girl

who looks amazing in her gorgeous yellow lehenga.

As bride Jas and the groom are bidding farewell to the family,

Amrita hears music coming from over the road where Kiki and her Nigerian family are having a wonderful time celebrating too and Amrita is allowed to peep in at the dancing.

Kiki and Amrita then make each other a promise: henceforward they’ll both ensure that every day they feel like sunflowers … and so they did …

It’s sad that familial colourism, indeed colourism of any form, still continues to wield its influence and this beautiful book will, one truly hopes go some way towards changing people’s minds as well as empowering young women to feel positive about themselves, no matter what colour their skin is.

I recall some years back when visiting Ranakpur temple in Rajasthan being approached by two beautiful young Indian women. One of them put her arm next to mine and said, “Your fair skin is beautiful, my brown skin is too dark.” I felt hugely saddened by her comment and assured her that she was beautiful. We sat and talked for a while, she told me she was getting married soon and even invited me to her wedding. If only I’d had this book back then to give her.

Debut children’s book illustrator, Michaela Dias-Hayes’ vibrant scenes with the gorgeously patterned clothing of many of the characters, as well as those golden sunflowers, make every spread a delight in this much needed book.

The Cartoons that Came to Life / We Made a Movie

The Cartoons that Came to Life
Tom Ellen, illustrated by Phil Corbett
Chicken House

Having recently moved to a new town, Finn Morris (who dreams of becoming a famous cartoonist), finds comfort in creating his own comic strips featuring his favourite characters Arley and Tapper. But when school bully Barney Divney tosses Finn’s sketchbook into a wet hedge spoiling the ARLEY & TAPPER strips FInn loses not only his cartoons but his ideas and self confidence to continue drawing.

Until that is next morning, when he awakes to discover there in his bedroom staring right at him are his two cartoon creations come to life. Surely it must be a dream.

But no, and he certainly mustn’t let his parents discover them for as Finn tells them, “It’s just that people around here aren’t used to seeing cartoons walking around. Especially ones with massive noses and fox ears and floppy tails.” 

Chaos ensues rapidly …

and thus begins a desperate race against time, aided and abetted by his classmate Isha Kapesa to get the characters back to their own Toon World. That entails defeating the heinous Professor Fart-Munch and getting to the bottom of what is going on with Yorky who Finn says is the coolest cartoonist ever.

Utterly zany and huge fun, this is the first of an action-packed comic series, an adventure that in a relaxed manner, deals with the incapacitating effects of children’s anxiety while also celebrating friendship, loyalty and individuality. 

Who wouldn’t find themselves rooting for Finn Morris to find his lost muse? Youngsters will love the combination of Tom Ellen’s telling and Phil Corbett’s wacky illustrations.

We Made a Movie
Charlotte Lo
Nosy Crow

It’s a year since narrator Luna’s family won an island and life, is more or less on an even keel: her dad’s whittling keeps him busy (despite much of it resembling poo) and her mum’s yoga retreats have plenty of takers.

Now property developers are threatening their existence and Luna is determined to put a stop to their plans. No ‘Las Vegas of Scotland’ for her. Opinions are divided among the townsfolk and even in Luna’s family, with her sister Margot and her Dad in support of the proposals.

Luna’s plan is to make a movie showcasing the unique nature of the locality but with everybody trying to get their voices heard, the path of movie making is anything but smooth and disasters ensue. Luna however is passionate about her beliefs, truly wanting to make the area a better place for all – she won’t allow property developers to intimidate her – though she hates being at odds with her sister.

Readers will definitely be rooting for such a girl? But will she succeed in winning the case against the developers?

With serious themes of family loyalties, the importance of local community, conservation and sustainability, the chaos, craziness and confusion aplenty mean that the book is funny and never feels heavy. It’s not easy to achieve this mix but Charlotte Lo does it with panache. If you’re looking for a staycation destination this summer, then where better to spend some time.

Blow, Wind, Blow!

Blow, Wind, Blow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg

This is a new addition to The Wild Wanderers series.

Who wouldn’t want to be swept up in the breeze and follow Wind on a lyrical journey as it gains heat and strength from Earth and then continues on its way scattering ‘leaves like a sneeze’, moving on to turn Dutch windmills,

lifting up a balloon in Paris, travelling on across the still, quiet Pacific towards the deserts of Africa creating sandstorms in its wake as it goes on across the Atlantic, cyclonic now

wreaking havoc in Florida until, cooled by a cold blast from the Andes, Wind gradually calms, gently dispersing seeds

till finally it’s all blown out and ready to find a place to rest …

With its repeat refrain, ‘Go further, go farther / grow big and grow strong and / Blow, Wind, Blow!’ readers and listeners are treated to an exhilarating worldwide adventure related through Dom Conlon’s poem that in combination with Anastasia Izlesou’s powerful images of the elemental force and the consequences of its movements, create a mesmerising fusion of art and science.

Youngsters will love joining in the words that urge Wind to go, blow or slow in this book that has great classroom potential, but first and foremost share it for its own sake.

Bug Belly: Froggy Rescue

Bug Belly:Froggy Rescue
Paul Morton
Five Quills

Uncle Bug Belly is back, along with the three little froglets Splish (the eldest), Splash (the middle one) and Splosh, the littlest that has a habit of getting into trouble.

One morning quite suddenly something shiny and spherical drops from the sky and lands in Bottom Pond. Discussion ensues as to what the thing is, with Splosh grabbing it, insisting that it’s a shooting star and begging his uncle to let him to keep it. But almost immediately down swoops one of those large feathered creatures with a particular penchant for all things shiny: it grabs the shiny object with Splosh attached and makes off back to its nest in Whispering Woods.

Time for one of Bug Belly’s ‘super-duper plans’. So utterly amazing is said “most brilliant ever rescue plan” that it actually comes in three parts. With backpacks allocated, it’s off to execute part one and that takes up pretty much till nightfall. After a delicious supper the three bed down for some shut-eye unaware that they’re being watched.

Next morning it’s not long before the three become two, but happily Splish has only got lost in the fog, manages to find the others and off they go again until …

Evidently part 2 of Bug Belly’s plan must now be executed (though having explained it to Splish and Splash, he’s the only one that seems to have any faith in it.) But will it work and thus enable them to put the final part of the plan into action?

It’s totally daft, daring and DANGEROUS … albeit with a thoroughly satisfying finale for the froggy four. They learn one or two useful things along the way, too.

With Paul’s hilarious illustrations throughout and lots of bite-size chapters, this is a terrific book for those readers just flying solo, as well as a super read aloud story with lots of opportunities for adult dramatisation.

Meet the Artist: Sophie Taeuber-Arp / Great Lives in Graphics: Frida Kahlo

Meet the Artist: Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Zoé Whitley and Lesley Barnes
Tate Publishing

In this, the latest in the Tate Meet the Artist series readers visit the vivid world of Sophie Taeuber-Arp.

As well as being an abstract artist, she was a designer, puppet-maker, dancer, architect and magazine editor whose husband once compared her to an expert bricklayer on account of ‘the way she brilliantly put together different coloured squares and rectangles to make her paintings.’ Readers are invited to experiment in their own way with this idea, imagining being a creative bricklayer and making a design on the page opposite one of the artist’s works.

That is just one of the opportunities children are offered as they read about the artist’s life and are introduced to her key themes and works of art. Inspired by these, youngsters can also create a candle holder, design a magazine cover for a new publication, experiment with puppet making or funky costume design and more. Indeed an entire class might like to try creating and moving to sound poems in the fashion of the Dada movement of which Taeuber-Arp was a part.

Both engaging and lots of fun, try offering this book to a child from around six. (The activities don’t require any materials not likely to be found at home or youngsters could suggest their own alternatives if the odd thing is not readily available.)

Great Lives in Graphics: Frida Kahlo
Button Books

New in the publisher’s infographics series for KS2 readers, this features one of the world’s most famous artists.

Born in Mexico City, Frida spent her childhood in a bright blue house built by her father where she grew up with three sisters. While she was very young the Mexican Revolution broke out; her father couldn’t get much work so her family were forced both to sell their furniture and to rent out rooms in the blue house so they could afford to live.

Indeed many sad things happened in Frida’s life. At age six she caught polio, spending months in bed, after which time her right leg became very thin and her foot stopped growing.

This didn’t stop her gaining admission to Mexico’s prestigious school where she and eight friends formed a clique known as Los Cachuchas. Members got up to all kinds of mischief including stealing food from famous artist, Diego Rivera. Another tragedy happened when Frida was eighteen. A bus she was travelling on was hit by a tram, shattering the bus and severely injuring Frida who was again stuck in bed for months.

It was during that time she began to draw; her mother had a special easel made that Frida could use from a lying position; and she started painting self-portraits. It’s partly on account of this, we read, that most of her paintings are quite small.

From her schooldays Frida had a crush on Diego and they met again two years after her accident. Despite the twenty year age gap the two fell in love, married and had a stormy relationship, divorcing and remarrying a year or so later.

If little else, most people know of Frida’s flamboyant style of dressing and adorning herself, as well as her love of nature which often features symbolically in the paintings.

All this and more is included in this enticing book. Youngsters interested in art/artists and those studying Frida Kahlo in primary school especially, will want to get hold of a copy.

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?

The World’s Most Pointless Animals: Or Are They?
Philip Bunting
Happy Yak

Author/illustrator Philip Bunting presents an irreverent look at some of the world’s most weird and wonderful creatures that we’re fortunate (or sometimes less so) to share our planet with. Take leeches for instance: I don’t consider myself particularly fortunate to have to live with those (despite their use by doctors) but like all the other animals from axolotls to zooplankton included herein, these hugely successful sucking parasites have undergone adaptations that have enabled them to survive, indeed to thrive. And as the author says in his introduction ‘Each creature is an illustration of Darwinian evolution, and, every animal has a unique yet important role to play on our precious planet. I was amazed to read that a leech has 32 brains. But what does it use them for?


Let’s get right up close to some of the others then starting with the capuchin monkey (Cebus imitator renamed here ‘Peepee stinkipawas). These particular primates – the most intelligent of all known New World simian species –
use simple tools to procure foods they want to sink their teeth into. You certainly wouldn’t want to share their seeds or insects though, for the males make a habit of peeing on their hands and washing their feet in their urine. Yuck!

Seemingly the only raison d’être for Daddy longlegs (other than to scare some people silly) is to act as a ‘valuable source of food for birds on every continent, except Antarctica. WIth more than 15,000 species of these spindly-legged insects, that amounts to a vast number of satisfied birds.

Turning to ocean dwellers, jellyfish are hugely successful medusozoa, sorry ‘wibblious wobblious ouchii’ that are about 95% water. Apparently of the possible 300,000 species estimated by scientists, so far only 2,000 have been found including moon jellyfish that can clone themselves, and immortal jelly fish. The latter can reverse its life cycle reabsorbing its tentacles becoming a blob-like cyst again which then begins over … Awesome!

Bursting with facts presented in a manner that’s huge fun and highly accessible including quirky labelled illustrations – Bunting clearly enjoyed creating these, not least inventing daft new names for every creature included – this book has a more serious mission too; To celebrate the diversity of the animal kingdom and to remind us of the fragility of the ecosystems that together make up Planet Earth.

Give a child this book to get immersed in and you could put them on the path to becoming a zoologist. I’m off to see how many Lumbricus terrestris (aka Squiggleous wriggleous) I can spot brought up after the recent rain shower – I might even be able to make a clew – that, I learned from the spread featuring same, is the collective name for a group of earthworms.

Magnificent! / In Her Element

These are two of the titles in the Pop Up Projects CIC 10 Stories To Make a Difference collection, each one inspired by the theme of difference.

Magnificent!
Laura Dockrill and Ria Dastidar

At the start of Laura’s poem, Magnificent! the chief protagonist is trying to cover up individuality, acting like others and trying like mad to blend in – a familiar scenario I suggest. In graphic detail Roa Dastidar shows the trials and tribulations this causes, covering up one’s true feelings and trying to fit in. Social inadequacy, as we see in the playground scenes certainly brings no comfort: overthinking and overcompensating are unrewarding.

Later though, we see a difference – ‘a flip of the coin today’ – it’s time to toss aside boring, cheating sameness and start celebrating differences, no matter what they might be. Quirks are part of what makes us who we are, we’re all different – be that where we come from, how we communicate or how we look.

So long as we remember to reach out to others, especially those who might be struggling, our world can be one of joy where uniqueness rocks.
A smashing book to share and discuss, especially as part of a PSED session.

In Her Element
Jamila Gavin and Jacinta Read

That Jamila Gavin is a superb crafter of tales is evident from the very start of this moving sharing of events in young Sophie’s life, In Her Element. Sophie has cerebral palsy, communicates through her beautiful expressive eyes and a screen, and has a carer, Martin with whom she has a special bond. She loves to be taken swimming , has a special connection with the ocean and dreams of swimming with whales: “Water is my element” she tells Martin, imagining herself as an aquatic creature. Indeed the watery world acts as a metaphor for all the thoughts Sophie cannot give voice to.

Now there’s to be a change in her life: Sophie’s parents tell her that a special residential school they’d previously visited has offered her a place to start the next term. Tears stream down her face as she informs Martin what’s to happen, although she remains calm showing no anger. He in turn is hugely reassuring, reminding her of her ambitions and the importance of becoming as independent as possible.

Almost inevitably, life at school is challenging, especially as Sophie has to share a room with the far from welcoming Amber, an ace swimmer who has been severely injured and now wants nothing to do with the sport or water. So she says, but then one night, Sophie’s actions cause Amber to show what her element truly is. Jacinta Read’s final two watercolour illustrations portray this brilliantly.

What a powerful story with such an uplifting ending. Jamila Gavin paints a picture of an enormously positive main character whose imagination is a key part of her life.

If the rest of the series is as good as these two I’d strongly recommend primary schools get all ten.

The Book that Did Not Want to be Read

The Book that Did Not Want to be Read
David Sundin (translated by B.J. Woodstein, graphic design Alexis Holmqvist
Puffin Books

What do you do about a book that says on the cover ‘Put it down. Do not open’? Maybe toss it aside to the rejects pile and not bother writing a review or defy those six words, plunge in and face the outcome.

David Sundin is a Swedish comedian, screenwriter, actor and television show host and this somewhat bizarre book is his story for a child unable to fall asleep who requests an adult read a story – this one.

By the second spread though, the book has turned into a steering wheel (centrally placed by Holmqvist) and we’re careering right and left, sounding the horn loudly before reaching a destination.

But then in order to put off the adult attempting to read it, lots of new words suddenly start appearing, not normal words but gibberish. If the reader survives and thinks it’ll be plain sailing thereafter, they’re wrong.

Many more challenges follow – wings appear, the text keeps changing size, the sound of music means a song must be sung, fire breaks out, letters become other letters …

and more. Lovely ending though. But PHEW! I’m exhausted after attempting to read it.

Adult readers aloud who enjoy giving a theatrical performance when sharing a book can have terrific fun with this, so too of course will young audiences.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

Sometimes I Am Furious

Sometimes I Am Furious
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Macmillan Children’s Books

Who can fail to fall for the adorable little person standing in angry mode on the cover of this book. She’s the narrator too, so we get the picture straight from the toddler’s mouth as she talks of life as she sees it – the high points and the lows. The times when you feel like sharing some of the good things, or being helpful perhaps; even when one of your special grown-ups has made a mess of things.

All too often it seems though, things just don’t feel fair AT ALL: your parents boss you around, your favourite cake has sold out; your body in your tights feels all wrong and your yummy ice cream splats on the floor. These things are totally INFURIATING.

It’s at times like that when you need a good cuddle and some welcome words of advice spoken softly.

Then next time those ‘not fair’ feelings start to bubble you know some lovely deep breaths, slow counting and a happy song will take care of your fizzly emotion – well almost always.

What a smashing way to present to little ones (and grown ups) the gamut of emotions that are part and parcel of toddler life, as well as some simple strategies to deal with life’s lows. In their dynamic delivery – verbal and visual – of one of life’s vital lessons, team Timothy and Joe have created a cracking book that is just the thing for sharing and discussing with little ones at home, or in an early years setting. (Perfect for supporting PSED.)

Antigua De Fortune of the High Seas

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas
Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt, illustrated by Paola Escobar
Chicken House

A riveting read is this piratical adventure. It took me a while to get drawn in, but once caught in its tentacles, there was no getting out until the final page.

Antigua de Fortune (preferred name Tiggy) is high-born, has to wear pretty frocks and attend balls and dance with the ghastly Salvador, but her dreams are of adventure on the high seas. Despite Tiggy knowing that the high seas are not the place she should go, she’s drawn by thoughts of mermaids and pirates. In contrast her best friend, Marina, suspected daughter of a selkie, would love to be in Tiggy’s position.

Now with the approach of the Blood Moon, the age-old mystery of the Pirate King is once more in people’s minds. Has the wicked curse-wielding, boy stealer truly gone or does he lurk somewhere ready to strike and ruin the celebrations.

When the Bloodmoon celebrations are under way, the Pirate King strikes again, kidnapping all the boys including Tiggy’s younger brother. Tiggy decides it’s time now for her to seize her destiny, take to the ocean and along with Marina and a band of ex-pirates attempt to rescue the boys; something that must be achieved before the end of the Bloodmoon eclipse.

For sure this has a twisting, turning plot; forTiggy it’s a voyage of self discovery as well as a salt-tinged mystery to solve, teamwork and friendship being crucial to the success of the mission.

From two debuting authors of primary fiction, this is a cracking book.

I Don’t Want to go to School / Big

I Don’t Want to go to School
Lula Bell and Brian Fitzgerald
Little Tiger

Both Mouse (teacher) and Dinosaur are suffering from first day nerves as they reluctantly get up, dress and are unable to face their respective breakfasts.

Concerns about being liked are voiced and both characters are feeling decidedly wibbly-wobbly.

School looks such a scary place full of seemingly intimidating children – until they encounter one another. Then it becomes a case of being brave together … and going on to have an absolutely terrific time. Yipee! school’s great

and tomorrow’s another day …

With a simple text that gets to the heart of those starting school wobbles and Brian Fitzgerald’s bright, humorous illustrations that capture so well the feelings of Mouse and Dinosaur, this is a definite winner and just right for youngsters starting school next term who will be amused to see that sometimes teachers have those apprehensive feelings too.

Big
Sav Akyüz
Oxford Children’s Books

Watching his big brother having the kind of fun that older brothers enjoy makes the small boy protagonist wish that he too could be big.

All of a sudden his wish is granted and off he goes on an awesome romp with the city as his adventure playground.

The trouble is he just keeps on increasing in size until he declares “Oh … no … I’m TOO big!’
Perhaps after all it’s better to be content with what you are and to use your imagination and say ‘what if …’.

With minimal words and arresting illustrations, debuting as author-illustrator Sav Akyüz has created a fun story that will resonate with lots of small brothers and sisters who watch their older siblings doing exciting things and think, ‘I wish … ‘

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens / Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens
Isabel Roxas
Flying Eye Books

Meet Team Pom: there’s Agnes a keen pigeon keeper, Roberta, generator of ideas and Ruby, oceanography enthusiast, the team’s boss. Very different in most ways and far from athletic in any way, the three have a shared love of snacks and a desire to win this year’s Synchronised Swimming Championships.

During the course of their training they discover a friendly, rather lonely and definitely hungry squid named Cyd.

The creature makes a great addition to their team but there’s a problem. Hot on the trail are a pair of dapper rats sporting bowler hats that are trying to hunt down the tentacled creature for their nefarious boss who wants its ink.

Sink or swim it surely is in Isabel Roxas’s slapstick, action-packed graphic novel. With some fun puns, and wordplay aplenty, along with other jokey inclusions, this madcap romp with its New York setting and terrific trio of friends will surely go down especially well with those readers who like lots of surprises.

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril
Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby
Scallywag Press

In this story readers are transported to Medieval times but there’s a difference: dinosaurs still roam the earth.

As the adventure opens young Henry Fairchild is a stable boy but he doesn’t tend horses; rather it’s his job to look after the dinos of Brecklan with which he has a special bond.

When he learns of a vicious T-Rex on the rampage in the forest, he rides to the rescue of his guardian Lord Harding (ruler of Brecklan) and his Lady Anwyn. The result of his selfless act of bravery, Henry is invited to join the brave Knights of Panterra, aka the Dino Knights.

To prevent an invasion of Brecklan by the Swamp states eager to get their hands on the berries grown only there, a tournament is set to take place in just two days.

Dino Knight training begins and one of the first things Henry learns is ‘to expect the unexpected’. Lord Harding urges the knights to work as a team as they work through their training classes.

As the tournament gets underway, Henry finds his attention suddenly focussed skywards and he sees two Pterosaurs swooping down. One grabs Lord Harding by his tunic; the other snatches up Lady Anwyn and thus begins Henry and his fellow Dino Knights’ mission to rescue his guardians. Nothing though is quite what it seems in this fast-paced adventure that assuredly tests Henry’s bravery to the limit.

With plenty of action and high drama, gentle humour and lots of dialogue, this fast-paced tale of derring do will please newly independent readers, many of whom will eagerly anticipate Henry’s next adventure. Helping to break up the text are Jeff Crosby’s detailed illustrations that add to the impact of the tale.

Judy Moody Gets Famous! /Judy Moody Saves the World! /Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days

It’s good to see Walker Books reissuing the Judy Moody books including:


Judy Moody Gets Famous!
Judy Moody Saves the World!
Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days

Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

It’s her multitude of moods that make Judy who she is and now she’s on a quest to get fame, fuelled by the fact that arch rival Jessica Finch has got her photo on the front page of the newspaper having won a spelling contest. Green with envy, Judy currently feels ‘about as famous as a pencil’.

Can she too get her own fifteen minutes of fame? Definitely not on account of her spelling skills but what about with that cherry pip that our resourceful miss advertises at the garage sale as a ‘Genuine Cherry Pit from George Washington’s tree’ (dating back to 1743)? Err, maybe not. 

But does Judy ever get her write-up? Yes, but to find out how, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of this charmer of a tale that’s ideal for new solo readers.

Saving the world is the irrepressible Judy’s intention; rather it isn’t actually, for what she sets out to do in the second story is to win the Crazy Strips 5th ‘design your own bandage contest’. But then her little brother Stink decides to enter too and unlike big sis, he has done his design and sent it off before Judy gets an inkling of inspiration.

Thank goodness then for Mr Todd’s science lesson about the devastation of rainforests. Suddenly Judy sees her entire family and people at school using products that include constituents from the rainforest – coffee, ice-cream, chewing gum, lipstick and pencils. At last she has a mission but now all she has to do is save the rainforest … 

Again, delightful, quirky humour eventually wins through.

In Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days there’s a new girl in Judy’s parallel class. Like Judy she has a rhyming name – Amy Namey – and she also collects chewing gum. Guess who isn’t happy? What will Amy be: best enemy or new best friend? 

When Amy invites Judy to join the My-Name-Is-a-Poem club, Judy becomes devoted to her new friend, which definitely doesn’t go down well with her old pals.

Something that does though is the ginormous pizza that culminates the Y3 classes project …

There’s a lesson to be learned from this story that puts me in mind of a song a friend once taught one of my foundation stages classes that begins thus, ‘Make new friends /But keep the old. / One is silver. / The other gold.’

Due partly to Peter H. Reynolds’ terrific illustrations, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody certainly deserves her following and these reissues will surely win her lots more friends.

How to Grow a Unicorn

How to Grow a Unicorn
Rachel Morrisroe and Steven Lenton
Puffin Books

Unicorn mania continues to grow apace and this book is especially magical, not in the usual way though, but actually in lots of ways.

It all begins when Sarah pays a visit to Mr Pottifer’s Parlour of Plants in search of an extra special present for her gran’s 88th birthday. She surely gets the surprise of her life when she steps inside to be greeted by…

The shop is full of botanical specimens doing very unplantlike things: there were runner beans racing in a hailstorm, foxgloves boxing,

a cowslip squirting milk to name just a few. But then a packet of seeds catches Sarah’s eye and she knows this is just the thing for Gran.

Back home, she follows the planting instructions on the packet – well only some of them – for instead of planting a single seed as recommended, she uses the entire twenty-four. During the night vines start creeping and come morning Gran’s house is engulfed.

Suddenly …

Before long the creatures are causing utter chaos,(Steve clearly had huge fun creating the relevant scenes) trashing all the party paraphernalia; but is Gran upset? No she isn’t. Instead she leads a procession of gallivanting unicorns and a worried Sarah back to Mr Pottifer’s shop.

Rather than be a party pooper, I’ll leave them there with the girl explaining her plight to Mr P. But you can rest assured that the end of Rachel’s rhyming story will utterly delight not only Gran, but young audiences and adult sharers too. (I love Sarah’s letter on the inside back cover too.)

Steve Lenton’s richly patterned illustrations are both full of humour and feeling; and his rainbow hued colour palette make his scenes all the more alluring.

For Your Toddler Bookshelf

I’m thinking of a Jungle Animal
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Lucia Gaggiotti
Nosy Crow

Each of the the four wide-eyed child participants in the ‘I’m thinking of …’ game has a different jungle animal in mind. What do these creatures look like? What do they eat? What sound do they make? Little humans are invited to think about the simple clues, have a guess based on the information provided, search for the animal hiding in Lucia Gaggiotti’s colourful jungle scene and finally, pull the slider to discover the answer to the rhyming clues. Fun learning for the very young.

100 First Words: City
illustrated by Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

Edward Underwood features city life in this second large format, super-stylish board book, devoting a double spread to in turn, the street, a railway station, the zoo, a supermarket. a museum, a (swimming) pool and a restaurant. Using a grid format and bright, colourful illustrations like the previous book, Underwood introduces a variety of nouns: for instance in the supermarket toddlers will see such items as tomato, trolley, toilet paper, broccoli, cashier, till, boxes and there are two sturdy, shaped flaps to look under. On this spread there’s a tin inside which are fish, and boxes that reveal an assistant.

This book is likely to prove invaluable in helping to build vocabulary at that vital stage when toddlers are learning to talk. One hopes adults will use this as stimulus for speech by asking questions like ‘what shall we put in the trolley?’ as they share the book with a little one.

Home Is Where the Heart Is
Emma Dodd
Templar Books

We all have things that make our particular home feel special and so it is with Emma Dodd’s thoughtful big cat and a playful little kitten. For the feline twosome, home’s a place to spend time playing and resting; a warm safe haven from stormy weather, as well as somewhere special no matter if its residents are there together or for some reason, apart.

Emma’s distinctive golden touches embellish her adorable feline illustrations on alternate spreads and her rhyming narrative told from the adult cat’s viewpoint.

Pablo

Pablo
Rascal (translated by Antony Shugaar)
Gecko Press

This story of the hatching of chick, Pablo is sheer delight. It begins with Pablo fast asleep spending his last night encased in his shell.

Come morning, he needs to gather his strength for the job of breaking free from the confines of his shell and how better than with some delicious breakfast of hot chocolate and a croissant?

That done, the creature within is justifiably feeling a tad apprehensive, though he’s eager to see what the world around has to offer. Best to start small he decides, making a tiny hole through which to peep. This is followed, after a glance all around, by a second hole. 

He continues his task making a hole for each ear, one for his beak so he can hear the wind and smell the perfume of flowers, a sixth and seventh for his legs. Now Pablo has all his senses and is able to hop. Then with holes eight and nine duly made, his wings are freed and whey-hey, he takes to the air – ‘not scared now!’

All that’s left to do is to get rid of that shell but you never know when you might need to take cover and so, Pablo saves a small piece …

I absolutely love this little character and the way the artist gradually reveals through stylised images, his anything but simple personality: Pablo stands out stark against the white background and it’s not until the final spread that we’re shown his yellow fluffiness. 

Visually arresting yes, but the text is cleverly constructed too: little humans will love joining Pablo in hearing the buzzing fly, caaawww of the crows and the whoooo of the wind, as well as flapping their wings along with the hatchling at the appropriate point in the story.

Agents of the Wild : Operation Sandwhiskers

Agents of the Wild: Operation Sandwhiskers
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens
Walker Books

Agnes (aka Agent Gamble) is watering her window boxes when a flamingo crashes into her geraniums , is briefly trapped and then tumbles through her bedroom window. The dehydrated creature is en route to SPEARS with an urgent message for Commander Phil.

Almost immediately, as part of SPEARS’ fight against the illegal trading of wild animals, with baby animals going missing across Africa, Agnes is off to meet up with her partner Attie, currently in Egypt, intent on what she’s told could be her most dangerous mission to date; to investigate the disappearance of some hydrax pups from their burrow.

Almost as soon as Agnes and Attie are reunited, they’re dashing across the Sahara Desert in a silver bullet buggy towards the burrow’s location. There’s trouble in store though when they find themselves at the mercy of a wicked animal poacher, trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Then it’s up to tenacious Agnes to summon all her courage, use her wealth of wildlife knowledge plus the occasional animal-tai move to try and save both agents and the stolen animals.

Like the previous books in the series, this has a superbly written, action-packed narrative with plenty of witty dialogue and some terrific characters, including two that henceforward will be a special part of Agnes’ life. Plus there’s an absolute wealth of animal facts seamlessly woven into the story, part and parcel of which on almost every spread, are Alice Lickens’ splendid quirky illustrations.

The last few pages contain Agnes’ field notes and observations, a rallying cry for readers from Commander Phil concerning illegal wildlife trading, information about the animals threatened and more.

An absolutely smashing solo read or KS2 class share.