Sophia Valdez’s Big Project Book for Awesome Activists

Sophia Valdez’s Big Project Book for Awesome Activists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

As the author says on the title page, ‘It’s a big world with lots of problems to solve. Just remember: No one can do everything. Everyone can do something.’ That’s very much the spirit of this project book from Sophia Valdez, the newest member of The Questioneers.

It begins with an introductory story about Sophia and how she was the inspiring spark behind the creation of a new park for the people of Blue River Creek.

Thereafter are a series of over forty activities, some related to that, all aimed to inspire even quite young children, suggesting how they can make a difference in their own communities through supporting causes close to their hearts, writing to local officials, and finding out how democracy and government are supposed to work.

There are puzzles, word searches, drawing and a wealth of other ideas connected to activism, some related to an imagined new town on planet Glorg, others to real world problems.

‘Activism begins with kindness’. I like that: it’s the introduction to one of the activities herein.

Indeed all the attributes that an activist needs are elucidated in this empowering, highly practical look at campaigning and activism.

Whether their cause is education for all, plastic pollution, affordable homes in your locality, or something else, this book could be a starting point for one of tomorrow’s leaders.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. Jones
Walker Books

The barber’s shop is where transformation happens. Through tonsorial magic, boys who enter as ‘lumps of clay’ or ‘marble slabs’, are transformed. First comes a protective cape that makes you feel ‘like royalty’ allowing the wearer to contemplate the possibility of having a super-powered brain;

then with a dab of shaving cream on the forehead, a slow steady cut with the razor you become much more visible: girls take notice of your style; even your mother’s looks assures you that you’re ‘someone that matters’. And assuredly you are; as are the shop’s other clients – important and uber-stylish every one.

This is a super celebration of that boost in self esteem, that confidence amplification, that uber-cool swagger that comes upon you as you leave the safety of the barber’s shop and step forth in the knowledge that with that fresh cut you look a million dollars …

The combination of Derrick Barnes rhythmic prose and Gordon C. James’ mesmerising portraits of the splendid cast of characters is a book that needs to be in every classroom. It truly is a stunning demonstration and timely affirmation that there’s no doubt about it: ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Mouse & Mole: The Secret of Happiness

Mouse and Mole: The Secret of Happiness
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

What better to start the latest in this charming series of stories about the friendship between two endearing woodland animals than with A Good Read. There’s a slight problem though, for Mouse’s constant giggles and Mole’s failure to get himself comfortable, not to mention having an attack of hiccups

followed by an itch is, let’s say, not conducive to getting lost in a book. Can the two find a solution and finally give their reading matter their undivided attention?

This Way and That sees Mole donning his walking boots and setting out for a walk. But what is intended as a happy-go-lucky stroll in the spring air turns into an exceedingly irritating series of errands for Mouse that send him hither and thither

until eventually, Mole has his very own point to make as he sallies forth YET AGAIN!

In the third and final tale, Mole tries desperately to remember the contents of his previous night’s dream wherein he knew The Secret of Happiness. This elusive thing that sort of ‘bubbled up, … sort of billowed, … sort of bloomed from somewhere deep inside me’ has Mole searching around all day until his friends arrive for tea. Can they perhaps assist him in finding the answer to the puzzle? …

As always, the gentle humour in Joyce Dunbar’s thought-provoking story telling is given a delightfully nostalgic feel thanks to James Mayhew’s charmingly elegant illustrations. Whether as bedtime reading for little ones or read solo by older children, these are small literary gems.

The Dinosaur Awards

The Dinosaur Awards
Barbara Taylor, illustrated by Stephen Collins
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Here’s a novel way of presenting dinosaurs to youngsters, not that a good many of them wouldn’t devour almost any dino. related book they can get their hands on, such is the seemingly never ending enthusiasm for these prehistoric creatures.

This one uses a combination of quirky, almost cartoonish digitally created illustrations and a wealth of intriguing facts about lots of different dino. species, some well known, others less so. I met a few for the first time herein, one being Majungasaurus that receives the ‘Cunning Cannibal Award and lived on Madagascar during the Cretaceous Period between 84 and 71 million years ago – assuredly a VERY scary predator.

Almost all the winners, be they famous or lesser known, are allocated three or four paragraphs, a captioned framed portrait of the award receiver along with its trophy or medal and one or more larger illustrations. There’s also a databank with name pronunciation and meaning, where it came from, diet, and size, plus in some instances a short humorous cartoon strip, in others some additional trivia.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what might make Ouranosaurus so special, not only did it have a ‘Super Sail’ along its back and tail, but also a duck-like beak and two bony bumps in front of its eyes.

Whereas Troodon’s claim to fame was its enormous eyes (about 5cm across), so it received the “What Big Eyes You Have’ award.

There’s even a ‘King of Rock ’N’ Roll medal and that goes to Cryolophosaurus (aka Elvisaurus’ on account of its funky head crest thought to resemble that 1950s quiff of the rock legend).

With plenty here to amuse and inform, this works either as a dip in and out book, or a longish read straight through, in which case you’ll encounter around fifty incredible prehistoric creatures from our planet’s past – worthy winners all.

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth / Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
Walker Books

Four linked short stories with an Indian setting feature Prince Veera and his best friend Suku. The two are invited by Raja Apoorva to spend the summer at Peetalpur where in addition to attending the festival they might have some challenges to meet and problems to solve, particularly as their uncle enjoys puzzles. Who pulled the king’s beard and moustache as he was taking his morning stroll, for instance.

There’s a trip to the seaside, a dispute over the ownership of a fig tree, a mystery of a blind sadhu – or is he? – to get to the bottom of, and finally, the strange case of the travelling astronomer and a gardener who needs some help. All that in just two weeks …

Just right for newly independent readers, these tales with themes of problem solving and fairness, combine Indian culture, folklore and storytelling, and are seasoned throughout with traditional style illustrations that break up the narrative.

Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

The comic Skeleton Keys adventure series has reached its fourth tall telling and sees wildly imaginative young Flynn Twist and his baby sister Nellie living with Gran in the village of Matching Trousers. As the story opens Flynn is expressing concern about a little boy he’s just seen standing opposite, looking decidedly ’unwell’.

Over dinner Flynn admits to telling his sister a pre-bedtime tale called ‘Sir Flynnian versus the Horrible Darkness’, intending to send her off to sleep but instead she’s making a to-do upstairs. When he goes to investigate he’s faced with a shadowy shape that whispers “No-body”. But that is just the start of freakish happenings.

Soon there’s a knock at the door and who should it be but Skeleton Keys. Flynn is surprised to find that he and Gran have met before. Suddenly a strange girl appears, whom Skeleton Keys introduces as Daisy, his ‘partner-in-problem solving’. When Flynn tells them of his terrifying encounter with ‘The Nobody’, Skeleton Keys thinks it could well be a shapeless Unimaginary searching for physical form, but Gran quickly sends him packing.

Next morning Gran sends Flynn to deliver a letter to Old Mr Nash at The Windmill and as he sets out Flynn notices the boy over the road entering Gran’s house. Why would that be? And what has happened to Mr Nash?
Could there be a connection between the Horrible Darkness in the story Flynn told Nellie and the Nobody? Can Flynn possibly become that brave hero of his imagination, save Skeleton Keys and free the village from the dire danger of the Nobody? Maybe, with the help of Fur …

Crumcrinkles! The whole thing just goes to show the power of a wild imagination, no matter if it belongs to a tiny infant.

Oh my goodness – what a fun mix of terrific characters, wit and frissons of fear, as well as a large number of farts – freakish and otherwise – indeed there’s a throng of flatulent figures – an entire village population of 343 zombie-like nobodies, to be more precise, not forgetting Pete Williamson’s atmospheric black and white illustrations.

The Best Worst Day Ever

The Best Worst Day Ever
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Poor Arthur: it seems as though he can’t do a single thing right – this truly IS a really bad day. So bad that the young lad decides the only option is to run away. And so he does, albeit with a few things packed neatly in a bag.

Having been running for what feels like ages, he runs out of steam, lies flat on his back and ponders on his situation, wondering if he should return home. However when he turns around, he’s confronted by a deep, dark forest. 

Considering the options he decides to go right through it, though he’s filled with apprehension on account of the dark and the strange noises he hears.

There follow encounters with first a stomping Bear, then a huffing Elephant … 

and finally a roaring Lion. 

Seemingly these animals know just what Arthur needs and eventually after a great deal of skipping, wiggling, tooting and hooting and finally, singing as they all continue through the forest, where do they find themselves but … 

Should Arthur cross the threshold and face the music for running away after sharing in what’s turned out to be the best worst day ever? Suppose big trouble awaits.

No matter what, it all goes to show just how much can happen in twenty minutes …

What anger, what energy, what drama, what exuberance, what delight is expressed by the characters, human and animal, in this romping, stomping story. Hugely enjoyable for both listeners and adult readers aloud who will, I suspect, find the opportunities to emulate Arthur and the animals irresistible. Sophy’s art is simply fabulous with every spread a visual treat – so full of emotion – and I love the colour palette; it’s quite perfect for this book.

Definitely one to share with preschool and foundation stage youngsters at home or school.

Pip & Egg

Pip & Egg
Alex Latimer and David Litchfield
Scholastic

This week for the first time in many months I’ve been able to spend time with some of my very close friends and I know just how important strong bonds of friendship are. This poignant story is a demonstration of what true friendship really means.

When Pip and Egg meet, there’s an instant attraction on account of the similarity in their shape and size. Their friendship grows but so too do they: Pip grows roots that hold him in one place, which means that for the friendship to continue, change is necessary: Egg makes daily visits to see sapling Pip. Over the weeks though Egg is transformed with a beak, feathers and wings –

wings that grow so strong she eventually takes to the air.

With Pip’s blessing, Egg decides that it’s time to explore the big wide world. Off she flies leaving a broken hearted Pip rooted to his spot, where he’ll always remain should she ever return.

From the air Egg is amazed at the sights – the forests, lakes, mountains and most of all the city where she stops, forming new attachments.

Eventually though, she knows it’s time to return to the valley from whence she came …

Like everything he does, David Litchfield’s illustrations for this story are stunningly beautiful: rich in fine detail and texture, and the way he uses light and shade creating atmosphere and focus on Egg in the city especially, is truly magical.

The Boys

The Boys
Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie
Little Tiger

From the same team as The Girls, is this, a companion book that presents the story of an enduring friendship between Tam, Rey, Nattie and Bobby who we first meet as toddlers playing together and alongside one another on the beach. Their interests differ: Tam expresses himself through art, Rey makes music, Nattie is bookish and a storyteller while Bobby likes to find out how things work and share his discoveries with the other three. In short they make a great team.

Inevitably though things change as the boys grow and develop: their interests take them in different directions and there’s even an element of competitiveness between two of them. Now it’s individuality that matters most;

but as adults having gone through successes and some of life’s milestones, that need for one another reemerges: those early bonds have been stretched but have always remained strong and become even stronger than ever.

In her narrative Lauren presents friendship from infancy to adulthood as dynamic and respective of individuality while Jenny Lovlie’s illustrations are absolutely splendid – inclusive and full of warmth.
I’d strongly recommend sharing and discussing this in primary and early years classes as well as among family members and between friends.

The Plesiosaur’s Neck

The Plesiosaur’s Neck
Dr Adam S.Smith & Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Adam Larkum
uclan publishing

I certainly wasn’t expecting a rhyming text when I received this book but wow! It really works and is a terrific read aloud.

Plesiosaur expert Dr Adam S.Smith teamed up with children’s author Jonathan Emmett to create a cracking narrative to investigate the evolutionary conundrum of the long neck of Albertonectes using Poppy the plesiosaur as their main character. Poppy, so we learn, was an ocean dwelling Albertonectes plesiosaur – a prehistoric reptile from the Cretaceous Period living around the same time as the land living dinosaurs. Said creature was around 12 metres long and had many features similar to those of other sea creatures, but that stupendous neck (apparently around two-thirds of its whole body length) – what ever could have been the purpose of that?

Various possibilities are posited: maybe it was a pterosaur grabber …

or, could it have been a parasite picker-offer.? Perhaps it was a tunnelling tool to procure crunchy-shelled nibbles,

or contained an electric zapping mechanism to stun unsuspecting prey swimming too close. Poppy would most definitely have required a huge amount to food to keep her going.

This prehistoric poser is still being puzzled over and I love that the authors end by asking young budding palaeontologist readers, ‘So, what do YOU think that immense neck was for?’

Along with the playful, punning rhyming narrative is a series of fact boxes containing a wealth of additional information and in a rather wacky role are a pair of molluscs, Alfie Ammonite and Bella Belemnite, that chip in with jokes, and cheeky comments and puns relating mainly to Poppy.

The final spread is devoted to a glossary and a spotter’s guide to the Cretaceous Period with fifteen creatures to send readers back to the beginning of the book on a search-and-find quest. Adam Larkum’s illustrations are full of fun, adding to the entertainment of what is a smashing exploration.

Is There Life on Your Nose?

Is There Life on Your Nose?
Christian Borstlap
Prestel

Dutch illustrator/designer Christian Borstlap presents a playful look at some of the vast number of microbes that occur everywhere you can imagine and places you probably can’t.

Despite his light-hearted style, there’s a lot of information contained between the covers of this book as readers are introduced to a host of these invisible organisms, starting with those living on our noses. Amazingly like all of us humans, these microorganisms are sensitive, able to move, eat and release things from within.

Contrast a single microbe with the largest living thing on our planet: I was surprised to discover that it’s a ginormous fungus that has grown to a size of 3.8 square miles and lives under the Blue Mountains in the USA. The author provides additional details about this and each of the other largely illustrative spreads presented in a ‘Find out more’ section at the end of the book.

The rate at which microbes reproduce is phenomenal as is the tolerance to extremes shown by some – those living in boiling water for instance, or barren deserts. And, did you know that some of these organisms even feed on metal,

and others on oil – both of which can be a good thing.

None of us would be able to digest our food without the action of the microbes living in various parts of our digestive system. So these are definitely vital to our well-being.

During the past year we’ve all become hyper-aware of the harmful kind of microbes, viruses, in particular COVID 19 (mentioned in the final notes) but only alluded to on the relevant spread.

With the ever growing problem of plastic waste, it’s great to read of the possibility of microbes offering an organic solution to this huge issue. Others are even able to generate clean energy through gas production.

Now you might think you’re pretty good when it comes to recycling but we learn here that microbes are actually the very best of all recyclers …

All in all, none of us would be here at all without microbes: those known as cyanobacteria produce almost 50 per cent of the oxygen we breathe.

This fascinating account has truly whetted my appetite and I can’t wait to visit Amsterdam (one of my very favourite places) again: this time I will definitely head for Microbia – the world’s only microbe museum – mentioned at the back of the book.

Thunder Down Under

Thunder Down Under
Timothy Knapman and Steve James
Little Tiger

This is a terrific laugh-out-loud story about a rear end explosion that will be a sure fire winner with youngsters. It had my partner in fits of giggles too; and neither of us were certain whether the diminutive numbat, star of the show, is actually a real animal or not until we looked it up.

The sweet smell of the air heralding the arrival of summer brings the animals outdoors for some boisterous play. So intent on their games are they that they fail to notice one small Numbat looking for food. Then, quite suddenly into that sweet scented atmosphere there erupts an exceedingly obnoxious fart that turns the air green and causes consternation among the animals as to who is responsible.

Eager to make his presence felt, the numbat says, “Ask me!” but nobody listens and the discussions continue with various suggestions being put forward as to the culprit each of which is immediately denied by the accused.

And every so often comes that “Ask me,!” from a certain tiny creature, which of course goes unheeded: only an important, large animal could have created such a stink.

All of a sudden there comes a second ear-shattering flatulus

followed by the moment of revelation … The message is clear, so too is the moral …

Steve James’ wonderfully wacky, expressive scenes of creature consternation combined with Timothy Knapman’s hilarious rhyming text result in a picture book that can’t fail to delight. I suspect an initial read will lead to cries of “again” whether you share it with an individual, group or class. It’s certainly been my experience.

A Celebration of Board Books

Here’s a handful of recent Little Tiger Board Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

First Nature: Ladybird
Harriet Evans and Bryony Clarkson

Following on from Caterpillar in this ‘first nature’ flap-book series is the equally playful Ladybird. Very young children will love Bryony Clarkson’s bright alluring, textured art and Harriet’s brief, sometimes alliterative rhyming text as Ladybird scuttles and scurries, hastens and hurries across the cleverly cut-away pages, slowing to feed, feel fear, fall and fly to the nest, finally ready to hibernate.

Elephant Elephant What Can You See?
Pintachan

Accompanied by a questioning chirpy bird friend, Elephant takes a wander in this lift-the-flap book, and the two play a kind of hide-and-seek game with the animals that are tucked away in turn, beneath the lily pad, in the tall grass, under water and behind a tree. Then, on the final spread, when the final flap is lifted, there’s a surprise mirror so tinies will come face to face with their own image.
With Pintachan’s simple, bright images and the repeat patterned rhyming narrative, this is likely to be a winner with little ones.

Beep Beep! Builders
Becky Davies and Gareth Lucas

Be ready for a noisy time when you share this with your little one. Set on a building site, we meet the boss Little B and his five co-workers. There’s Digger, Mixer, Crane, all of which are somewhat over-enthusiastic, as well as a roller and a tip-up truck. Having dug, mixed, built and lifted all day long, come sundown the boss praises their teamwork and suggests it’s time for play.
Tinies will love pressing the squishy bodies of the jolly diggers as they follow their actions and join in the rumbling, tooting, whirring and other sounds.

For a slightly older audience is

Your Body
Harriet Evans and Lirios Bou

Another of the cleverly designed ‘switch-a-picture’ books with Harriet’s rhyming presentation of in turn, the skeleton, breathing, eating, thinking and the circulatory system accompanied by Lirios Bou’s subtly coloured images of children’s bodies, first clad and then, when the central tab on each page edge is pulled, the related internal working are revealed along with additional relevant information.

A to Z: An Alphabet of Animals
illustrated by Linda Tordoff

Published under the Caterpillar Books imprint this lift-the-flap board book presents animals large and small; but where are they? They’re all hiding, just waiting to be discovered by eager fingers opening their respective initial letter flaps. Little ones can meet creatures feathered, furry, scaly and smooth all stylishly illustrated in subtle colours.

Pie for Breakfast

Pie for Breakfast
Cynthia Cliff
Prestel

This is an attractively illustrated cook book in which the author/illustrator uses the framing device of a little girl who decides to organise a bake sale at her school fair to raise funds for the school library – a cause young Hazel loves as much as she loves baking.

Having enlisted the help of her friends, each of whom is given a double spread, we see various families engaging in creating delicious sounding treats to sell. There are thirteen in all and each recipe is presented on the recto with a full page illustration of the baker(s) on the verso.

It’s great to see that both the characters and the recipes are diverse, so whether you feel tempted by the thought of Anna’s ‘zucchini oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips,

Erin’s ‘easy jam tarts’,

Aubrey and Avery’s ‘mini pineapple trifles’, Zahira and her grandfather’s ‘nankhatai cookies’,

Layla’s ‘basbousa cake’ or perhaps Jamie’s ‘gluten-free carrot cake’, you’ll find it here.

The last spread shows the cake sale in full swing with Hazel and her friends in attendance while the final page has a list of ‘before you begin baking’ instructions.

With my weakness for chocolate, I think I’ll start with Daniel and his family’s vegan chocolate cake.

Being Me

Being Me
Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha, illustrated by Victoria Jane Wheeler
Otter-Barry Books

I’ve tended to use picture books to open up discussions about feelings in the classroom, especially with younger children but now this, subtitled “Poems about Thoughts, Worries and Feelings’ is a superb anthology of poems by three accomplished contemporary poets that would definitely work equally well with children from KS1 up.

Speaking directly to youngsters are almost fifty poems focussing on the topics that they care deeply about and unless they have opportunities to talk about how they feel about say, loss or sadness, feelings of isolation can be the result.

One way to counteract such feelings is to take a walk in nature as Matt suggests in Forest Song: ‘there is music in the forest / every leaf a different note / as the wind -conducted branches / play the tune the raindrops wrote // so, walk beneath the canopy / and know that you belong / to the purest ancient melody / as forest sings its song’. I’m sure those words will resonate with all of us after everything that’s happened during the past year when so many of us have found comfort in the natural world.

Another of Matt’s poems talks about those awful butterflies that are the result of first day nerves and how one understanding teacher, Mr Mawhinney made all the difference.


Books are one of my first go to comfort places and Liz’s In the Heart of a Book speaks to the power of story; Here’s part of it : ‘ I found myself a story / with a place in me to store it // I found myself a wide, new world / so set off to explore it //… I found a pool of sadness / and the strength to manage it // … I found place to rest my head // while my worries unplug / I found a curl of comfort / where each word was a hug // … I found a pair of magic wings / and flew into the light

Feeling alone in your sadness? What better place to visit than Laura’s The Land of the Blue to know that feeling sad is OK. The final verse says this: ‘Across the valley it waits for you,/ a place they call The Land of Blue / and going there will help you know / how others feel when they are low.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than the kindness of a Friend as Laura shows here:

Discovering your own kindness within and sharing it with others is equally powerful as the final words in Liz’s Kindness acknowledges ‘and where you give it grows and grows / until one day it overflows

Finally (although I could go on talking about every poem in this book) in Bottled Up Laura highlights how crucial it is to be able to open up about whatever it is that’s troubling you …

Very much in tune with the feelings the three poets have written of are the quirky black and white illustrations by new illustrator Victoria Jane Wheeler; and the book concludes with a note from developmental psychologist Dr Karen Goodall that includes some suggestions as to how an adult might open up a discussion.

A special book that I strongly recommend for both school and home collections.

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn / The Three Happy Lions

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn
Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Mere kitty cat, or is she a unicorn?

Kitty has an overwhelming desire to be a unicorn like the one on her poster. So much so that she fashions a paper horn for her head and what she sees in the mirror reflects her unicorn-ness – there’s no disputing that. Or is there? Certainly there is when it comes to Parakeet and Gecko, a pair of denigrating naysayers if ever.

Nonetheless Kitty continues undaunted until come sundown she’s certain the long shadow has convinced the killjoys. Not so though for this shadow belongs to … a unicorn.

Now Kitty feels totally dejected until this compassionate creature does something that completely changes things

allowing Kitty to see herself as the fabulous creature she truly is – not just a kitty but a Kitty-Corn, majestic, magnificent and quite perfect … just as she is.

From two of the creators of The Princess in Black series this is an enchanting tale of acceptance and true friendship: make sure you read from the front endpapers to the back to get the entire story though.

Also with a theme of finding your true self is

The Three Happy Lions
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

First published over sixty years ago and now reprinted for a new audience is this classic tale that tells what happens after Happy Lions One and Two produce an offspring that they name Francois.

Having pondered upon what their cub might do with his life, fate takes a hand in the form of a rich lady who visits the zoo and expresses a wish to have Francois as a pet. Somewhat reluctantly, his parents agree and so begins a pleasant life of pampering.

But like all lion cubs, Francois keeps on growing until the lady decides he’s become too big and she gives him to her friend Monsieur Tambour, a circus owner. However, the creature fails to become either sufficiently ferocious or a flaming hoop jumper and so back to the zoo he goes.

All the while though, Francois has harboured a yen. Perhaps now is the time to follow his true calling: he certainly has a good role model in his namesake…

With its occasional French phrases and its enchanting illustrations it’s good to see this book back in print again. I loved The Happy Lion as a child but was not familiar with this story of being true to yourself.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep

Little Door Books is venturing into early-reader chapter books: this is the first. Thanks to the publisher for sending it for review.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep
David C. Flanagan, illustrated by Will Hughes
Little Door Books

It’s almost impossible to imagine – a boy who has never ever slept a single wink in his entire life and that lack of sleep has no adverse consequences on his ability to embrace every day with energy and enthusiasm. Think what it must be like to be the parents of such a child.

It’s no wonder those of young Harry are at their wits end having tried every possible ploy and consulted countless doctors to get the boy to fall asleep – night after night after night for years and years and … Indeed the entire town is exhausted.

Thank goodness then for Uncle Pete who out of the blue arrives knocking at their front door, back from his exploring to replenish his supplies of baked beans and underpants. 

Having heard the family regale the tale of Harry’s insomnia, Uncle Pete offers to help. From among the contents of his rucksack he extricates a map and before you can say ‘yawn’, this eccentric uncle is off to his own home. There he heads for his shed wherein he keeps his now rusty, rickety old biplane.

What should he find has made a home in the pilot’s seat but a tiny mouse named TM. 

In a very short time, the plane has taken off bound for … Uncle Pete isn’t absolutely sure.

Their journey is, shall we say, highly eventful, both in the air and on the ground; but eventually they reach the mountain top and their destination.

I’ll say no more other than this wacky adventure with its wealth of fun details, is fuelled by large quantities of cheese, a plethora of beans, assorted underpants – rather a lot, and strawberry jam sandwiches, not forgetting stardust aplenty.

But is it a case of mission accomplished for Uncle Pete and TM?

The best way to find out is to get hold of a copy of David C. Flanagan’s comical tale with Will Hughes’ suitably quirky drawings and read it yourself. Alternatively you could try tuning in to their live event here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uncle-pete-and-the-boy-who-couldnt-sleep-book-launch-event-tickets-149531172763 on Friday May 14th

No matter what there are more adventures of Uncle Pete on the way.

I asked a few children their thoughts about never sleeping and here’s a selection of what they said:
I would love to be able to play Lego all through the nights, but the worst thing would be getting caught and told off. Samuel 6
It would be brilliant to be able to read books and my Kindle all night, but the downside would be my parents banning my favourite things for a whole week.” Emmanuelle 8
You could get out of bed in the middle of the night and get sweet snacks without anyone knowing. Also you could play games with your friends outside and never feel tired.” Leo 7
I could go out at night and do lots of different activities., play lots more sport and look at the stars more. But eventually it could get boring if you run out of things you want to do.” Spencer 8

Escape: One Day We Had To Run

Thank you so much to Lantana Publishing for inviting me to take part in the Escape: One day We Had To Run blog tour. 

Escape: One Day We Had To Run
Ming & Wah and Carmen Vela
Lantana Publishing

For centuries, people have left their homes for such reasons as famine, slavery, war, intolerance, political turmoil and more recently, climate change. They had two things in common, their determination to search for a better life elsewhere, and their bravery.

This hugely inspiring, timely book tells a dozen stories of some of these seemingly ordinary human beings, starting with sisters Yusra and Sara Martini who fled the war-torn Syrian city of Damascus to Turkey where they boarded an overloaded dinghy bound for Greece. When the boat’s engine failed and to prevent it from capsizing, the girls plunged into the sea. Desperately holding on, and freezing cold, they helped direct the dinghy until it’s engine restarted and it eventually reached the shore. The girls later made it to Germany and Yusra swam in the Refugee Olympic team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Also escaping by sea were Chan Hak-chi and his girlfriend Ly Kit-hing who roped themselves together and swam for six hours across a shark-infested bay to reach Hong Kong, thus escaping famine and persecution in mainland China.
Another twosome was Hans and Margret Rey who, carrying the manuscript for the very first Curious George picture book, fled Paris on bikes just hours before the Nazi invasion of the city, cycling for days to reach the Spanish border from where with the money from selling their bikes they bought train tickets to Lisbon from whence they made their way by boat eventually reaching New York where twelve months later their book was published.
Escaping underground were Joachim Neumann and his girlfriend, members of a group of 57 East german students who tunnelled under the Berlin Wall from East to West Germany and freedom, through what is now known as Tunnel 57.

Those featured on other spreads – each escapee has one – include fleer from Kiribati, Ioane Teitiota, who became the first legal climate change refugee when granted special status by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

However the person I’ve chosen to highlight is Russom Keflezighi. He had supported Eritrean rebels in their protracted attempt to win independence from Ethiopia. Walking overland from war torn Eritrea at his wife’s insistence, Russom Keflezighi left his family, encountering many dangers before reaching Sudan, and then Italy. After five years he was reunited with his family and they settled in the USA where his son later became one of America’s greatest marathon runners.

Russom Keflezighi

I just can’t imagine the heartache and pain caused by the decision fleeing father Russom Keflezighi had to make in leaving all his loved ones behind, then walking vast distances every day under constant threat from enemy soldiers until he crossed the border into Sudan. The very thought of leaving behind my own family to do such a thing is just unbearable.
Dramatic, graphic style illustrations by Carmen Vela show escapers swimming, biking, walking, flying even, as they flee danger and this moving book fittingly concludes with two Articles from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to movement and asylum.
ESCAPE: ONE DAY WE HAD TO RUN will be available in all good bookshops in the UK from May 6th and in the USA & CAN from May 4th! OR, buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to children who need books the most with your purchase: www.lantanapublishing.com

FACTopia!

FACTopia!
Kate Hale, illustrated by Andy Smith
Britannica Books

Surprising and sometimes humorous are the connections between the four hundred statements found within this cornucopia of facts collected by Kate Hale.

With my love of chocolate, and that large tower spanning the gutter of the book, how could I resist savouring first the information on that spread. I was surprised to read that ‘The world’s largest chocolate bar weighed 2,696 kg’ – about the same weight as four male polar bears.” Wow! Now that would take some eating. However with my vegan sensibilities I was horrified to learn that ‘the average chocolate bar contains some tiny insect fragments’. Where do they come from?

I hastily left the chocolate page and turned instead to the linked spread where I was met with a gaping mouth in the process of consuming birthday cakes and discovered that a world record was set by a man who consumed 6.6kg of birthday cake in eight minutes; I assume he didn’t eat the candles as well. That surely must have stopped him having ‘borborygmi’. I have to admit I had to check up the meaning of this word just to make sure it wasn’t a joke but sure enough it is ‘the rumbling sounds made by a body when hungry’.

As somebody who loves to travel I was fascinated to read about the Potato Hotel in Idaho where the rooms are contained within a gigantic replica of a potato, while in India, the country’s fisheries HQ building is fish-shaped.

There is actually some kind of linking thread running right through this entire book but there is more than one trail through the wealth of facts included so divergent thinkers can choose to follow their own path, or even just dip in and out enjoying the range of topics covered from babies to breakfast and popcorn to pets and pirates.
Andy Smith’s 300+ illustrations are huge fun and add to the enjoyment of this collection of facts for curious children (and the occasional adult I suspect).

The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness

The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness
Christian Trimmer and Kayla Juanita
Abrams

Here’s a sweet story showing how small acts of kindness can cumulatively create a large impact on an entire community.

It all begins with a spirited little girl (who prefers the look of three pigtails to two) walking onto the beach after a terrible storm has washed up thousands of starfish. She carefully picks them up one after another and puts them back in the sea. As she does so she’s approached by a man who asks, “What’s the point? You won’t be able to save them all.”

Acknowledging this, her next action triggers the old man to do likewise and this small act of kindness sets in motion a chain reaction.

The man takes his grandson along to the animal rescue centre where he adopts a dog; the boy later goes to help his neighbour clean up the mess the storm has created in her garden and so on. Each small act not only triggers another but its effect on each individual’s mood is transformational, and kindness spreads throughout the entire neighbourhood.

Not long after, another storm blows through that town: the little girl returns to the beach: can you guess what she discovers there…

Kaylani Juanita’s portrayal of the diverse cast of characters is superb: each person’s identity is celebrated through her attention to detail in every scene she’s created for this uplifting tale.

The Mystery of the Golden Pyramid / Wide Awake Wolf

The Mystery of the Golden Pyramid
Adela Norean and Aaron Cushley
Little Tiger

When Sophie moves into a new house, the last thing she expects to find sitting in her bedroom is a talking dog. The creature introduces himself as Ari and tells her that within the casket before her is the first piece of a puzzle that only she can solve. She also learns that she’s the descendant of one of the pharaohs.

That’s the start of a magical mystery adventure that takes Sophie and readers back in time on an exciting quest to search for stolen treasures belonging to King Nebra.

There are flaps to lift and die-cuts to peep through as Sophie, accompanied by Ari travel over land and sea and across the desert to an ancient temple,

a palace and thence, once they have three of the four missing items, to the golden pyramid.
Can they find the last amulet and bring peace to their true owner?

With Adela Norean’s exciting action-packed narrative, the wealth of interactive features and Aaron Cushley’s richly detailed illustrations, this is a highly engaging read; and, if Ancient Egypt happens to be on the curriculum for your early KS2 class, this is a fun book to share with them.

Wide Awake Wolf
Georgiana Deutsch and Megan Tadden
Little Tiger

Suffering from insomnia and having tried all the usual remedies, Wolf decides that sleep is hiding somewhere in the forest and sets out to find it. His loud cries arouse slumbering Badger who joins the search as does lullaby singing Hedgehog.

After having no success, they decide to seek out Owl. As they near her tree, Wolf makes a suggestion as to where sleep might be hiding, but the three only succeed in upsetting Rabbit with a sneeze-inducing tickle on the nose.

Having finally located the branch bearing the wise one, they learn that sleep is not something to be found; rather it finds you under the right circumstances.

Happily, Owl knows just the right way to provide those … zzzzzz

A gently humorous, comforting bedtime read to share with little ones who will enjoy pointing out the similarity between the book being read to them and that shown in Megan Tadden’s penultimate moonlit scene.

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers Classical

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers: Classical
Mark Llewelyn Evans and Karl Davies
Graffeg

This is the second in the exciting series that presents opera and its composers to youngsters. It’s written by Mark Llewelyn Davies, professional opera singer and founder/creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a touring company that travels the UK introducing children to the wonders of the opera through music and storytelling.

Now Megan and Jack are on a school trip to London’s Natural History Museum when all of a sudden they find themselves separated from their classmates and heading to the museum vaults. It’s there that Jack accidentally disturbs their old friend, the time-travelling, multilingual Trunk. Trunk tells them he’s on a mission concerning some Haydn manuscripts and before you can say ‘classical’ they’re whisked up and away, and back in time, first stop the Academy to return those manuscripts to the man who introduces himself as “Herr Hectic Haydn”.

From there an adventure unfolds in Salzburg, Vienna and Paris, in the classical period of opera (1750-1820).
There are encounters with Mozart (aka Windy Wolfie), Beethoven and Tortellini Rossini and they all find themselves playing a part in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (an operatic Cinderella story)

as well as confronting the evil Queen of the Night. But will Jack and Megan end up losing their heads? YIKES! There’s only one person who might be able to save them and get them back to their own time …

With its “Any Body Can’ message and Karl Davies’ zany illustrations, this book is madcap fun and highly informative: what better way to learn some music history, a host of musical terms, details of the lives of several famous composers and even why sign language is important.

Science School / Out and About Minibeast Explorer

Science School
Laura Minter & Tia Williams
Button Books

Covering such topics as magnetism, gravity, change of state, oxidation, the growth of fungus and much more – all relating to basic scientific principles, the latest collaboration from Laura Minter and Tia Williams offers thirty STEM experiments, some crafty, for youngsters to try at home.

None of the activities require sophisticated equipment; rather they can be done at home with everyday materials you’re already likely to have knocking around somewhere. A list of what’s needed is given at the start of each project and there are photographs showing what to do, beneath each of which are step-by-step instructions, and, the science behind the experiment is concisely explained in the final ‘Science Made Simple’ paragraph(s) that often takes the science a bit further too.

My experimenters especially enjoyed making the “Magnetic Dancing Robots’ and other characters. 

Important at all times, but even more so as COVID is still with us, is the experiment showing the difference after around 10 days to three slices of bread: the first wiped all over with unwashed hands; the second wiped with sanitised hands and the third with hands that have been thoroughly washed with warm soapy water for 20+ seconds, completely dried and then wiped on slice number 3 (make sure the bag into which each is placed is labelled before putting it in a dark place.)

Providing hours of fun learning, this book is particularly useful for homeschooling.

Out and About Minibeast Explorer
Robyn Swift, illustrated by Hannah Alice
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with the National Trust, this handy guide for youngsters features more than sixty minibeasts about which Robyn Swift presents a wealth of information related to identification, lifecycles, habitats, anatomy and more. Did you know that a decapitated cockroach is able to live for up to nine days; that the blood of slugs is green, or that seagull sized dragonflies lived before dinosaurs roamed the earth?

The importance of minibeasts is explained and also included are some pages of activities, a classification chart and a quiz.

Hannah Alice’s illustrations of the creatures are clear and easily recognisable making this a super little book to tuck into a backpack when you go out and about no matter if it be in town, countryside or the garden.

The King’s Birthday Suit

The King’s Birthday Suit
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a priceless telling of Hans Andersen’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes revamped for the 21st century.
Peter’s gleeful rhyming narrative is faultless and absolutely brilliant to read aloud (if you can overcome your giggles), and Claire’s detailed illustrations are a veritable feast for the eyes.

So without further ado, let me introduce King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third with his special attire for every activity you can imagine and likely more that you can’t. I hate to think what his laundry bill cost. 

With his birthday fast approaching said king simply MUST have a new outfit to impress the visitors he’ll receive but none of the creations of the fashion designers win his approval. So when two apparently well-intentioned fabric merchants – McTavish and Mitch – show up promising to fashion THE perfect cloth, the king can’t resist their offer.
Now this pair look the real deal but what is that clickety-clackety loom actually producing? 

Time for the King’s ministers to take a look and report back. Their descriptions “That cloth, sir – oh my!’ … We just can’t describe it!” have the King rushing to see for himself. A fitting ensues, followed by the final try-on the following day. 

Then come the evening when all the guests have gathered it’s time for the great reveal …

and everything that ensues thereafter. Which all goes to show youngsters the importance of having the confidence to speak out and say what they believe is the truth.

Gloriously and gleefully silly, this is an unmissable book for family and primary classroom collections.

Llama on a Mission / Waiting for Murder

Llama on a Mission
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Farshore

This is the second story featuring ten-year old Yasmin and her magical toy llama guardian Levi, and it’s every bit as daftly funny as the first.

Having found her voice with Levi’s help and a new friend, Ezra, she’s ready for year 6.

With her sights set on joining the art club, Yasmin is more than a tad perturbed when her teacher Miss Zainab informs her that she’s been selected to join the science team The Funsen Burners and participate in an inter-school competition. Just when what she really wants is to spend time getting Levi restored to his normal toy state. That, and get on with the new comic, LOUDMOUTH, she’s trying to create for another competition.

The very last thing she wants is for Levi to be sent all the way back to Peru but the way he starts behaving while engaged on his mission under the watchful eye of Mama Llama could result in just that. Then what? Yasmin just can’t let it happen. With Ezra’s assistance, perhaps there’s something that can be done; meanwhile she needs to learn the difference between talking and communicating.

Is it a case of mission accomplished? The only way too find out is to get hold of a copy of this tale of high drama and a whole lot of trouble. Allen Fatimaharan has done a terrific job with the illustrations, adding to the fun of the book.

For older readers is:

Waiting for Murder
Fleur Hitchcock
Nosy Crow

Daniel and his archaeologist mum are spending the summer in the country and a sweltering one it is. While his mum is engaged on her dig, (searching for the grave of Edith the Fair, King Harold’s wife) Dan too is observing and he also makes a discovery – a car with what looks like a body in the reservoir.

Next morning however, the body is no longer there, but Dan notices new scratches on the car. Seemingly, something strange is going on, something that needs investigating. Moreover somebody in the village is absolutely determined to stop Dan and his new friend, Florence from discovering the truth.

The climax of this terrific story more or less coincides with the weather finally breaking and pretty soon torrents of muddy water threaten to sweep everyone and everything away.

With an abundance of thrills and some surprises, this is a totally gripping, nail-biting, page-turner with a surprise finale. Crime drama for youngsters doesn’t come much better than this.

The Dodos Did It!

The Dodos Did It!
Alice McKinley
Simon & Schuster

Jack is obsessed with dodos. A dodo is what he wants more than anything else in the whole world so he makes a wish.
Almost unbelievably … 

Not content with just the one dodo however, the boy keeps on wishing until one has become ten. including a spectacle wearer. The huge fun they provide quickly turns to chaos 

and not surprisingly, two decidedly displeased parents . Jack tells them the mess was made not by him but the dodos, though unsurprisingly Mum doesn’t believe a single word.

The creatures then create havoc at the swimming pool, the playground, the cafe and in the library and the supermarket, 

all the while his mum and dad insisting “Dodos don’t exist” when Jack blames the mayhem on the creatures.

After a whole day of dodo disasters Jack is sent to his room where he makes another wish … Oops!
Jack, you really should choose your words more carefully when you make a wish.

This story will certainly provide giggles aplenty for little ones, but what amused me more than anything else was to see on the title page that Alice McKinley has assigned a name to each of the clutch of mischief-makers, but you’ll have to get your own copy of this romp to find out what they are.

Grandpa Across the Ocean

Grandpa Across the Ocean
Hyewon Yum
Abrams

When a little boy travels with his mum, across the ocean to Korea, to visit his Grandpa, he is bemused by what he finds – strange smells, sights and sounds, even the way his Grandpa greets him seem strange.

The food isn’t to the lad’s liking, he can’t understand what Grandpa says and he spends much of his time sleeping in his chair in front of the TV; in short everything is boring. It’s his feelings of frustration that lead the small boy narrator to grab at the only toy available – his own ball – and because he starts kicking it indoors, very soon disaster happens.

Surprisingly for the boy, Grandpa isn’t angry, rather he shows concerned care towards him, probably feeling more than a tad guilty himself. Before you can say ‘smashed orchid pot’ the two are playing and watching TV together, before heading out to the market for a new plant pot and the introduction of some Korean words.

The rest of the visit is filled with a sense of connectivity as a seemingly indefatigable grandfather and grandson play at the beach every day …

and when it’s time to go home, the boy feels sad and is eagerly anticipating a return visit the following summer.

Hyewon Yum’s coloured pencil illustrations exude warmth and the mutual love that grows between the old man and his grandson over the weeks; a love that will remain strong across time and distance.

Unlocked: Stories of hope from Tiny Owl artists in lockdown

Unlocked: Stories of hope from Tiny Owl artists in lockdown
Tiny Owl

During the pandemic I’m sure most of us have tried to remain as upbeat as possible, looking for the things that despite everything, make us feel uplifted and this is what all the contributing illustrators to this book have done.
During lockdown, Delaram co-founder of Tiny Owl asked fifteen of their artists from various parts of the world to reflect on their experiences, ‘focusing on what filled them with hope and joy’ during this difficult time. The result is an absolutely superb book of memories published as we draw close to the final step out of what for many, has been an exceedingly hard year to cope with.

It’s a treasure of a compilation full of wonderfully different pictures each accompanied by some descriptive text.
Like this reviewer, several of the contributors – Jenny Bloomfield, Piet Grobler, Hazel Terry, Catell Ronca

and Nicola Davies – have found solace in the natural world, walking, taking time to be still, observing with all their senses and delighting in spring with its burgeoning wildlife.

Some took to baking – Kate Milner’s family sampled her sweet treats

whereas Maria Chrisiana Winardi made an abundance of kimchi.

Kindness is a thread running through the entire book, manifesting itself in a variety of ways: Ehsan Abdollahi shared it with dog Fido; Sarah van Dongen and her partner used their imaginations; Jenny Duke found new ways to communicate; Ken Wilson-Max spent a lot of time talking on-screen and Anna Doherty participated in several celebrations on-line. Nahid Kazemi worked exceedingly hard both at her art and fitness regime; Dunja Jogan and her neighbours helped one another.

Thinking outside the box, Dale Blankenaar ‘made a box for you to hide with lines to keep you safe. Inside there is a flowering field and, eventually, an escape.’ – how cool is that?

I’d love to show you every single spread but hopefully the examples will send you out to your nearest bookshop for your own copy to share with youngsters.

Educators, this a fantastic starting point for children to share their own experiences in a similar way, with classes or school making their own editions of ‘Unlocked’.

Stop That Dinosaur! / Mamasaurus

Stop That Dinosaur!
Alex English and Ben Cort
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘I was in my Granny’s kitchen eating extra-special cake / when the walls began to tremble / and the room began to SHAKE. / The window panes all rattled / and there was a MIGHTY ROAR!’

Granny responds to the knocking at her door, opens it up and lets out a mighty scream as a brontosaurus grabs her by her sweater and runs away on its very fast feet.

Hot on the trail comes the little girl narrator on her scooter, whizzing along the road to the playground, throughout the high street and out into the countryside showing no signs of slowing whatsoever. Through fields of corn, uphill and down go pursuer and pursued until the girl finally loses sight of the beast in the depths of the dark wood.

Is that the end of Granny? Will the girl ever see her again?

Alex’s brilliantly paced rhyming text really builds up the tension and sense of anticipation as the story races along; combined with Ben Cort’s splendidly dramatic illustrations with their plethora of amusing details (love those scattering rabbits), this is terrific read aloud book and I suspect it will fast become a rip roaring favourite with foundation stage listeners (not to mention their grans).

In board book format for younger dino, enthusiasts is

Mamasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books

Babysaurus loves to ride atop his Mamasaurus’s back from where he can nibble at the juicy leaves. One day though, he slips right down to the very tip of her tail and ‘Wheeeeeee!’ Having extricated himself from the leaves, he cannot see his mama at all – where can she be?

Off he goes wandering through the wild landscape, searching and each time he encounters another creature he asks, (just like the baby bird in P.D. Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother? “Have you seen my mama?”

Little humans will love joining in the repeat question and enjoy the stand-out images, set against black, used throughout the sweet story.

The Smidgens

The Smidgens
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The Smidgens is a 21st century take on The Borrowers, albeit much funnier. Smidgens are about the same size as Mary Norton’s little characters and build their homes in a similar way to Pod, Arrietty and co. using bits and pieces discarded by humans. In other ways they are pretty much like humans – just diminutive versions that take food and other things they require from the Big Folk.

The Smidgens have four rules they live by: 1) – Stay hidden and observe, 2) – Don’t do anything flipping stupid, 3) – be ready to run, and run fast, 4) – If in doubt, make it up!

Their home is the House and the Sprout family think they are all that’s left of a community of Smidgens that once lived in the maze of tunnels beneath the human town.

Goblin, Gafferty, Mum, Dad and baby Sprout

One day Gafferty and younger brother Gobkin are on the way home from a mission having obtained a delicious chip for dinner when Gafferty is chased, falls through a tunnel to a forgotten area of the Tangle and finds a book of maps of hidden tribes of her people.

Determined to find others like her, Gafferty embarks on a quest to discover lost tribes; however she isn’t the only one looking.

One Claudia Slymark and her spooky sidekicks are also after Smidgens; Claudia being under the impression that they know the whereabouts of a magical mirror and she’ll stop at nothing to get hold of it. The chase is on …

There is SO much to love about this terrific adventure story. David snares the reader’s attention from the outset and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout; along with the tension, there’s humour and charm, wonderful characterisation, and such clever disguises. Add to all that Seb Burnett’s deliciously quirky illustrations and what you have is a totally captivating book for primary readers, either as a class read aloud or for solo reading.

Bring on the second story.

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories / You Won’t Believe This

These are two immersive reads from Harper Collins Children’s Books – thanks for sending them for review

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories
Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

”I can’t quite remember the title, … Or the author … but I know that it has a blue cover”. Those words spoken by the man at the front desk of Pages & Co. on the opening page of this third book in Anna James’ wonderful series, sent me straight back to times when years ago during school holidays and on Saturdays I worked in a bookshop and often heard similar.

Tilly and her Grandad are puzzled by the customer’s words especially when Tilly says it’s happened previously; but for Tilly and her family a lot of things are changing, in particular, bookwandering (whereby children are able to enter the world of the book they’re reading) is no longer permitted; but why have the Underwood twins banned it?

Tilly is determined to find out although it means defying her Grandad, leaving the safety of the bookshop and jetting off along with best friend, Oskar, to the USA, destination The Library of Congress. There she hopes to find the long-lost Archivists – an institution that Tilly hopes will put things right once more.

It’s a search that sees them meeting several new characters including American bookwanderers and bookshop owners Orlando and Jorge, Horatio and his nephew Milo, visiting a flaming library, riding on a train named the Sesquipedalian and teaming up with a famous playwright from the 16th century.

Even though this cracking book brings the trilogy to a close, it’s not crucial to be familiar with the previous two adventures, it works as a stand alone novel that’s a veritable tribute to the power of stories, to reading and to the importance of the imagination. Paola Escobar’s occasional black and white illustrations …

help draw readers right inside Anna James amazing story world.

Completely different but equally wonderful in its own way is:

You Won’t Believe This
Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

Every bit as moving and funny, this captivating story is a sequel to Boy Underwater with Cymbeline Igloo as narrator in another story of family and friendship and events at school, interwoven with threads relating to loss, cultural identity and refugees.

We learn of the strange and terrible things at school happening to Cymbeline’s favourite teacher, Mrs Martin that the boy is determined to get to the bottom of, along with helping his friend Veronique find out why her beloved grandma Nanai is suddenly refusing to eat and making herself extremely ill by so doing.

With Cymbeline being the kind-hearted boy that he is, these two issues are taking up much of his time, time that could be a key factor if he is to prevent Nanai from starving herself to death.

It’s a story that truly tugs at the heartstrings especially when events of the past are revealed, but never does it feel heavy, such is Adam Baron’s lightness of touch as a storyteller.

With occasional strategically placed black and white illustrations by Benji Davies, this is an immersive book for individuals; it would make a smashing read aloud book to share with upper KS2 classes.

A Way with Wild Things

A Way with Wild Things
Larissa Theule and Sara Palacios
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Poppy Ann Fields is perfectly happy and at ease in the natural world but when it comes to engaging with humans at social gatherings, she’d much rather blend in with the surroundings and not be noticed.

Then at Grandma Phyllis’s hundredth birthday party something happens that changes things: a dragonfly lands on the birthday cake and its wings shimmer in the sunlight. Absolutely delighted, Poppy claps her hands causing her Uncle Dan to spot her and he draws attention to her presence in a booming voice. The last thing the girl wants is to become the centre of attention but all of a sudden she has to decide: should she take flight or stay and fight her fear?

Nobody is more delighted than Grandma Phyllis by her decision to share her knowledge with the guests; indeed it’s she who enables Poppy to realise that rather than a wallflower, most assuredly she’s a wildflower.

Gently and empathetically told, Larissa Theule’s uplifting poetic narrative celebrates Poppy’s quiet gentleness and her keen observational skills showing them as valuable assets, rather than drawbacks. A wonderful encouragement to all those youngsters like Poppy to have the confidence to share their knowledge and shine too. Sara Palacios’ beautifully textured, brightly coloured illustrations draw the eye to each and every detail so that we too, like Poppy, stop and enjoy the delights of nature shown in her scenes.

Upside Down Friday / The Art of Words

Upside Down Friday
Lana Spasevski and Nicky Johnston
EK Books

Unlike his mum little Hugo monkey hates Fridays. That’s the day when his usual routine changes. Consequently he walks to school with a sad face, butterflies in his tummy and a rapidly beating heart as he anticipates spending his time doing sport. 

On this particular Friday though things turn out a whole lot better that expected thanks to Maddison who announces that she’s Hugo’s buddy for the day. She goes on to give him a bright red balloon 

and tell him that just like Hugo she didn’t like Upside Down Fridays and later she reassures him that ‘after a while, it will feel the right way up.” And those kind words make all the difference … 

A sweet story for the very young about the power of friendship.

The Art of Words
Robert Vescio and Joanna Bartel
EK Books

Author Robert Vescio and illustrator Joanna Bartel present an exploration of the playful possibilities of words and their power to generate a variety of emotions, feelings and ideas. 

We see two children (accompanied by a dog) reading, relaxing, climbing, gardening and much more as they snip, 

squash, expand and collect words, weaving them together (along with some punctuation), and creating stories to bring magic, joy and excitement.

The art is a delight and a wonderfully imagined presentation of the author’s engaging narrative.

Fox & Rabbit / Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy

Fox & Rabbit
Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudas
Amulet Books

Unlikely friends, Fox and Rabbit star in five short interconnected stories, presented graphic novel style, that are perfect for readers just embarking on chapter books. The contrasting personalities of the protagonists is brought out wonderfully in the events – Rabbit being rather anxious and Fox the complete opposite (albeit with a predilection for words beginning with the letter F). However they both have a fondness for adventure and surprises but no matter what they’re doing they thrive on discovering the kind of everyday magic that readers will love.

In the first story, lying back observing the clouds leads them to the fair where Rabbit wins a prize; that prize sends them off on their next adventure – on the beach. There, eventually Rabbit overcomes his fear of the ocean and everything therein. What they find in a bottle leads Rabbit to risk a ‘zinger’ to reach Surprise Island; but is it a misnomer? It certainly provides a wonderful opportunity: some horticultural pursuits occur in the 4th story and Rabbit demonstrates a distinct lack of self control. But what happens when they grow a lemon tree? That you will have to find out for yourself but like their previous adventures a certain Turtle turns up at the end asking ‘What’d I miss?’

But new solo readers will certainly miss enormous fun from both Beth Ferry’s well chosen words and Gergely Dudas’ adorable pictures if they don’t give this engaging demonstration of true friendship, a whirl.

Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Is this really the thirteenth book featuring the fang-tastically adorable Isadora Moon? Despite growing a bit older she shows no signs of losing her magical allure.

As the story starts Isadora is about to lose one of her teeth. But being half fairy, half vampire, should she leave said tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy as her mum wants, or have it framed per dad’s wishes? He also wants her to accompany him to the vampire dentist to learn how to keep her fangs ‘polished to perfection’.

On the night the fang comes out Isadora is paid a visit by Mignonette, a tiny mouse on her first tooth fairy mission. Now she faces an even bigger dilemma …

Could a visit to dad’s dentist help her make up her own mind?

Maybe with the help of Mignonette, Isadora can instigate a tooth tradition of her very own.

No matter what she does, Isadora Moon’s countless fans will certainly delight in her latest adventure.

This is Not a Unicorn / Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat

Two fun picture books from Nosy Crow Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

This Is Not a Unicorn
Barry Timms and Ged Adamson

This is a wonderfully silly tale of a ‘NOT’ unicorn with a very special horn that is able to morph into all sorts of incredible things. So, be ready for a truly magical adventure wherein, along with a little girl, readers participate in a hilarious corn-u-copia of delight as they experience the appendage that becomes, among other things a trumpet, an ice cream scoop, a pump, a wishing wand, a ginormous fishing net, a feather duster, a helicopter rotor blade, an angle poise lamp,

an x-ray machine, even a space rocket – awesome!

Central to this rhyming romp of a book, replete with fun wordplay, is the warm friendship between the two main characters as they let their imaginations take flight.

Ged Adamson portrays the creature with a rainbow-hued mane, the dayglo pink and other colours being picked out in other details in every one of his wonderfully imagined scenes.

With unicorns remaining one of the favourite characters among younger children, Barry Tims and Ged Adamson created a winner here.

Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat
David Melling

Adorable pooch Ruffles loves to do the usual doggy kind of things such as playing, sniffing, fetching, digging and chewing; but there’s one thing he does NOT love at all and that’s his new red coat. He absolutely hates the thing to the extent that he manages to extricate himself from it and cast it aside. But then he decides that he really wants to go outside in the rain, play in the puddles and have a jolly good time.

Out he goes and soon along comes his friend, Ruby sporting her brand new blue coat. Together they romp, frolic and jump

until some large bully dogs arrive and that’s the end of their puddle. Now Ruffles is wet, cold and grumpy but Ruby is still in a playful mood and tries to encourage Ruffles to play again – with no success.

Off she goes leaving him all alone but then back she comes carrying something red. Can she persuade her Ruffles to think again about his hated garment?

David Melling’s combination of simple text and illustrations that positively exude charm, work really well in what is sure to become a favourite with under fives. Slightly older children might start reading some of the words themselves.

Invented By Animals

Invented by Animals
Christiane Dorion and Gosia Herba
Wide Eyed Editions

Animals have pretty much taken over in this book – there’s even an introductory ‘Dear Reader’ letter typed by a frog pointing out that many techniques, designs and ‘superpowers’ used by animals have been the inspiration for human inventions or lie at the heart of future technological advances that are works in progress. Thereafter, it’s left to the various creatures to do the talking.

For instance there’s the shark whose skin was mimicked in super-fast swimwear that was ultimately banned after too many records were broken in the 2000 Olympics; the slug with sticky slime that is behind a super-strong glue that may well be used to mend wounds both inside and outside the human body.

Another creature helping humans in their exploration of post surgical wound closing is the prickly porcupine with its antiseptic-coated quills.

Readers also meet the super fast flying, amazingly clever hovering dragonfly whose abilities in the air are behind the invention of a little four-winged drone, as well as the woodpecker with its thick skull and shock-absorbing bones, the design of which is being copied by technologists endeavouring to make safer helmets for cyclists and others who need protective headwear.

The engaging manner through which Christiane Dorion conveys a wealth of STEM information will likely appeal to primary readers, as will Gosia Herba’s bright playful illustrations. There are lots of potential cross-curricular links: I particularly like the way many of the animals encourage child readers to think both creatively and critically in this fun exploration of biomimicry.

Coyote’s Soundbite

Coyote’s Soundbite
John Agard and Piet Grobler
Lantana Publishing

Planet Earth is in a terrible state on account of the thoughtless environmental damage caused by human actions. The earth-goddesses call a conference to which every female creature is invited to discuss what should be done.

When he learns that it’s a females only affair, Coyote is disappointed and an impulsive decision sees him borrowing his wife’s blue dress, sandals and bag. Thus attired, he manages to gain admission.

In turn each of the goddesses gives a speech about what they’ve contributed to life,

expressing their disappointment at how humanity has subsequently treated the planet, and then it’s time for questions.

Nothing is forthcoming so Coyote decides to put forward a suggestion, “Excuse me, ladies! / Forgive my interjection, / but from my study of the human breed, / I’ll say a soundbite is what you ladies need!”

Everyone is in total agreement and Coyote returns home.

Imagine his surprise to discover his wife clad in his suit. She explains that she’s just come from a males only earth-gods conference and guess what: she too made a soundbite suggestion, which goes to show that the way ahead is “Earth-lovers of the world unite! / Mother Nature is always right!”

With its diverse selection of mythological characters, John Agard’s engaging rhythmic narrative poem packs a powerful punch as it imparts its crucial environmental message. Brimming over with energy, Piet Grobler’s trademark scribbly, collage style mixed media illustrations are a spirited complement to the text, adding to the impact of this thought-provoking, picture book.

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

In this large format book you can learn all about the life of the domesticated honey bee and much more. The bee’s life cycle, anatomy,

life in a hive including the tasks undertaken by workers – cleaning, care of the bee nursery, making honey and wax, guard duty and finally, foraging for nectar and pollen outside; plus facts and figures about other species at home and abroad, honey thieves,

pollination, what bee keepers do and how to create a bee-friendly environment are all explained by our narrator worker guide, Buzzwing the honeybee.

There are also five bee tales from various parts of the world including Greece, India and Australia.

Vivian Mincer’s enticingly colourful, gently humorous child-friendly illustrations with Buzzwing’s invitation to spot various creatures hiding within many of the scenes, are likely to be pored over at length by young readers. Author, Moira Butterfield even invites budding poets to write their own bee poetry as did the character in the Indian tale she retells. Indeed, there are activities relating to each of the tales included.

The health of our natural ecosystems is intrinsically linked to the health of our bees (and other pollinators) but their numbers are in decline. Let’s hope this fascinating book will enthuse youngsters to do whatever they can to halt this potential catastrophe.

Altogether a super introduction to the world of bees.

The Neighbourhood Surprise

The Neighbourhood Surprise
Sarah van Dongen
Tiny Owl

Redbird Road, where both Koya and Mrs Fig live, appears to have a strong community feel, with Koya and her friends, Hassan and Alex often visiting their elderly neighbour, and friend, Mrs Fig. She enjoys telling them stories of days gone by, creating costumes for dressing up and sharing the yummy cookies she bakes.

Needless to say, when they hear that Mrs Fig is moving away, the children are very upset and decide to organise a ‘going away party’ to show how much they’ll miss her. Dad suggests involving the entire street and so they do.

Kaya decides that the cake she and her dad bake must make allowances for the fact that Hassan is vegan. Hassan and his mum’s offering is falafel and a spicy curry,

while taking into account Mrs Fig being vegetarian, Alex and her family make a vegetable pie.

The afternoon of the party is a sunny one so Mrs Fig’s surprise party is to be held outside. She can hardly believe her eyes when she opens her door to discover …

A wonderful time is had by all, made all the more so when Mrs Fig announces that her new home is very close by, near enough for regular visits and another party the following year …

Rich in pattern and detail, Sarah van Dongen’s illustrations for her wonderfully warm-hearted story are a joy to contemplate. She also includes a final spread explaining vegetarianism and veganism. I was concerned to read there that honey is on the ‘no’ list for vegans so I’ll have to reclassify myself.

Emmy Levels Up / Amber Under Cover

These are two immersive stories for older readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Emmy Levels Up
Helen Harvey

With a back drop of gaming and a school setting, this is a superb story that focuses on bullying, mostly of the spiteful verbal kind that includes name-calling and other covert psychological nastiness which can make a person feel utterly worthless.

Emmy is on the receiving end of this terrible treatment but finds solace in gaming and the gamer community wherein she feels confident. So we actually have an interweaving of two narrative threads: online Emmentine – confident and highly skilled, and real world Emmy – ridiculed by some of her class for not having the ‘right’ trainers and other gear that her family can’t afford.

The biggest bully is sly vicious Vanessa and it’s she who makes Emmy’s life a misery at school. Her home life too is far from harmonious, in part due her older brother Ryan’s aversion to mum’s boyfriend , Paul.

What Emmy needs to do is apply some of what she’s learned through gaming to her school adversaries, find a real life supportive tribe of her own and in so doing feel able to tap into her inner resilience and speak out against those whose desire is to humiliate her.

Helen Harvey explores the issue of bullying with enormous sensitivity and empathy in her debut novel that I have no doubt many youngsters will relate to.

Another terrific read is

Amber Under Cover
Em Norry

Meet Amber, in her early teens, bookish, under confident and able to keep her cool, in contrast to her best friend Vi who loves to be in the limelight but apt to panic under stress. Amber is shocked to learn that she’s to become a big sister but that’s only the start of her troubles; she then discovers that she’s been under surveillance by a mysterious spy agency – specialists in global espionage. This organisation were watching her performance in a supposed virtual reality game and she’s been selected to train as a teenage spy.

So clever is this agency that they successfully dupe Amber’s somewhat preoccupied parents into believing her week’s residential training is part of an inter-school programme in recognition of her superior STEM skills.
Staying in an underground bunker, Amber is plunged into a secret world where she has to undergo training in self-defence and surveillance, about which she mustn’t tell a soul: not her parents, not Vi (who would love the stylishness of the place) or anybody who isn’t ‘authorised personnel’. What has she got herself into, Amber asks herself.

However, at the end of the weekend she’s deemed ready for her first mission. What will she say to Vi having to let her down again?

Before long it’s destination Sankt Hallvard Manor an exclusive Norwegian boarding school suspected to be harbouring members of CHAOS an organisation intent on destroying the existing world order. Is she up to the task of fitting in while spying in this world of the super-rich?

Seemingly it will have to be ‘Fake it till you make it.’ in this gently humorous, tense, fast paced story at the heart of which is a girl growing up and finding her place in the modern world.

Stuck Inside

Stuck Inside
Sally Anne Garland
Sunbird Books

I suspect we can all relate to the title of this story, though perhaps not for the reasons that Tilly and her dog Toby are faced with. The latter has an injured paw so his usual walks have temporarily stopped; Tilly is staying in on account of the rain storm and both girl and dog are feeling hemmed in.

Cooped up together with no adults around, what can they do? Then Toby brings something that belongs outdoors and puts it at Tilly’s feet. This gives her an idea and together they start to explore their large home in search of outdoor items.

Somewhat apprehensively they look behind ‘doors that had always seemed closed’,

inspect beneath beds, open drawers and scour shelves uncovering ‘dusty things long forgotten.’ There they find hitherto unnoticed and interesting things – toys, old walking sticks, broken brollies, roller skates and other items with wheels, a deflated paddling pool even.

Having spent some time tweaking and twiddling these long lost treasures, remembering places visited and creating imaginative adventures, they proudly contemplate their astonishing machine …


Sally Anne Garland’s carefully chosen words in combination with her richly patterned and textured illustrations with their rural setting, effectively demonstrate that boredom can be the best possible stimulus for children’s creativity.

Tisha and the Blossom

Tisha and the Blossom
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford Children’s Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

To me, these opening lines of the WH Davies poem I learned in primary school lie at the heart of this latest collaboration between Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus.

Like most of us, young Tisha and her family lead busy lives and wherever she goes, whatever she does, the little girl is constantly being told by adults to “Hurry up”. It happens in the morning as she enjoys watching the blossom fall, as she leaves for school and all the way through the school day.

So when her mum arrives to pick her up and urges her to hurry for the bus, it’s the last straw.

Fortunately Tisha’s request that they slow down results in mother and daughter walking home and enjoying a special game to help them do just that.

Then when they reach home Dad is there to join in with the welcome change of pace.

We all need to make time to be still and mindful in our hectic world; if nothing else the last twelve months has made us realise the importance of paying attention to the pleasure offered by small things. Wendy’s engaging story with Daniel Egnéus’ scenes – especially the blossom-filled ones, are a truly gorgeous affirmation of this.

Bees, Trees and Planet Earth

Bees
Trees

illustrated by Carmen Saldaña
Please Help Planet Earth!
illustrated by Paulina Morgan
Ladybird Books

It’s never too soon to introduce young children to the environment protection cause and these sturdy books offer a good starting point.

Devoting each of its six spreads to a different aspect of Bees, young children are introduced to the vital role these little insects play in keeping the planet healthy; explains the role of bees in pollination; takes readers inside a honeybee hive; looks at honey and beekeepers; explains why the number of bees is in decline and finally suggests some ways in which everyone can help save these important little creatures.

Trees is similar in structure. First is an explanation if their importance to all life on earth. Second is a simple look at the various parts of a tree and their interconnectedness. There’s a spread on seasonal changes; another presenting some of the thousands of different kinds of tree and deforestation and its consequences is briefly discussed while the final spread is again ‘How can you help?’. Carmen Saldana’s illustrations are child-friendly and in both books there are flaps to explore on every page.

In Paulina Morgan’s diverse, alluring scenes Planet Earth itself takes the narrative role in the third book, issuing an earnest plea for help to protect its various ecosystems and their flora and fauna by making small but crucial changes to the way we live.

In keeping with their ‘protecting our planet!’ theme, all three books are made from recycled board and printed with plant-based inks.

How to Change the World / Climate Rebels

How to Change the World
Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Annabel Tempest
Puffin Books

In her follow up to How to be Extraordinary, Rashmi Sirdeshpande presents a companion book in which she shows what a large impact can be made by people working together. There are fifteen stories of teamwork that start way back in sixth century BCE Athens with the origins of the very first democracy and is followed by a look at the incredible human engineering collaboration involved in the building of the Great Pyramid in the desert of ancient Egypt.

Then come the campaigns for change – well known and less so – in various parts of the world. Thus among environmental campaigners we have not only the universally known Greenpeace and the Montreal Protocol banning CFCs, but also the Treeplanters of Piplantri that I know of only because a friend took me to visit the village in Rajasthan a few years back. (Every time a girl is born 111 trees are planted in honour of the chief’s daughter who died during a drought around fifteen years ago).

Then, as well as the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered by Rosa Parks’ action, there is the Singing Revolution in Estonia where people used song to tell the world that this small country had always been a free nation.

Following the spread about the abolition of slavery campaign in the British Empire is one about the 1965 Freedom Ride campaigning for justice for the indigenous people of Australia.

Alluringly illustrated by Annabel Tempest and attractively laid out, each spread with its well-written text offers an example of high quality narrative non-fiction for primary readers.

The same is true of

Climate Rebels
Ben Lerwill
Puffin Books

‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. Robert Swan’s quote at the beginning of this book is a powerful reminder that the terrible effects of climate change can only be arrested through our individual and collective actions.

Award winning writer Ben Lerwill presents twenty five inspiring and fascinating stories of individuals (and some groups) who have worked tirelessly and continue to do so for the causes in which they believe so passionately.

Among those featured are Dr Jane Goodall (who wrote the book’s introduction), Sir David Attenborough, the Greenpeace founders, Rachel Carson and Greta Thunberg. Alongside those are accounts of less famous names – The Guajajara Guardians –

who often risk their lives while working to protect the Amazon Rainforest; and William Kamkwamba who built a windmill in a small village in Malawi and went on to build more that pump water to the crops in the fields, thus improving the life of his entire community through renewable energy.

Not only is this book a powerful call to action; it’s also a reminder that we need to stand together – there might just be time to make those crucial changes to the climate change story.

Compellingly written in a lively style and illustrated by Masha Ukhova, Stephanie Son, Chellie Carroll, Hannah Peck and Iratxe Lopez de Munain, this book is strongly recommended for home and school reading.

Shu Lin’s Grandpa

Shu Lin’s Grandpa
Matt Goodfellow and Yu Rong
Otter-Barry Books

Shu Lin has recently come from China and with very little English, is struggling to fit in at her new school.

At lunchtime the other children are fascinated as they watch her tuck in to her little boxes of food. On the way home, one of her classmates recalls when he too was a newcomer but it’s not until Shu Lin’s grandpa visits the class with his Chinese paintings that anything really changes.

No words are needed as the children look in awe at his scrolls with their amazing scenes.

Then as silently as he arrived, Shu Lin’s grandpa leaves the classroom. That afternoon, the class teacher gives the children the opportunity to try painting their own pictures in response to what they’ve seen.

Matt Goodfellow’s text is presented through the narration of one of Shu Lin’s classmates and this is highly effective in that the boy relates his own experience to that of the newcomer showing understanding throughout the book, while Yu Rong’s illustrations, including a gate-fold that opens to reveal a remarkable Chinese scene, are absolutely superb.

That art is a hugely effective way of helping to develop empathy with other cultures comes across with a quiet power in this story that celebrates the imagination while demonstrating the importance of reaching out to others.

An important book to include in primary school class collections.

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard

These are new titles in two smashing series for young solo readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

Gill Lewis enchants once again with her third adventure of Willow and her dog Sniff, often a key player in her Wilderness exploits with the other Wild Things.

As the book starts, Willow’s little brother Freddie needs to go to hospital again and Nana is coming to keep an eye on her granddaughter.
A knock at the door brings not the anticipated Nana but fellow Wild Thing, Raven announcing the imminent destruction of their River Camp on account of flooding after several days of incessant rain. “You have to come,” Raven urges. “We’re going to lose everything.”

Happily, Willow is able to accompany Raven on the understanding that she’s to stay the night with her friend and they meet up with the others.

Only able to rescue some of their paraphernalia, the friends watch as the rest of their camp is washed away. Eventually the rain does stop and Raven suggests they all camp in her back garden from where they can watch the meteor shower that night.

It’s a night that turns out to be truly magical, for three shooting stars fall. Willow is convinced the one she wished on has landed in the Wilderness and she’s determined to find it …

There is SO much to love about the story, not least the way Gill Lewis celebrates children’s creativity and the imagination. These children thrive on a lifestyle that allows them freedom to explore the natural world, make camps, light fires, get thoroughly covered in mud and generally relish being part of the great outdoors. The love of family and the importance of friends – in this book ‘the witch’ (a reclusive writer) plays an important role – are also fundamental.

Each of these elements is captured so wonderfully in Rebecca Bagley’s illustrations which aptly, have a blue theme herein. Another great thing about these stories is their appeal to both girls and boys, those just gaining confidence as independent readers especially.

This is also true of

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Willliamson

Leo Wilder is apprentice to the Guardian and his job is to keep the village safe from monsters that hide in the eerie forest all around.

In his second adventure, Henrik has summoned Leo to inform him that having left their home along the White River, two deadly Spitfangs have left their riverside home and are getting alarmingly close. His “Whatever you do boy, don’t get spat on.” is pretty troubling as Leo’s already overheard the village chief’s comment to Henrik about the possibility of the lad being eaten.

Nonetheless, off to the forest with the pouch of stones Leo goes. Almost immediately he hears beating wings and there is Starla announcing that she’s come to help. Shortly after two girls appear carrying baskets. “Not friendly. Not friendly at all,” Starla says of them.

A brief conversation ensues and they disappear leaving Leo to continue his search. Suddenly he slips and almost the next thing he knows is that his legs are encased in a grungy cocoon of Spitfire spit. Yikes!

With some enigmatic characters,

this is a highly engaging story for young solo readers: the problem-solving element and smashing illustrations by Pete Williamson contribute significantly to the enjoyment.

The Lost Child of Chernobyl

The Lost Child of Chernobyl
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

With their highly visual format, graphic novels are a highly effective medium when it comes to presenting complicated ideas and issues to young readers, especially those who may struggle with long texts, and Helen Bates has already shown herself adept at so doing with Me and Mrs Moon and Peter in Peril.

Now she does it again: through this book, inspired by the events of 26th April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion that caused horrendous environmental damage globally, we experience the disaster close up, and then in this fictional account, see its aftermath through the eyes of two women, Klara and Anna.

After the explosion, animals run wild causing a road accident from which a child flees into the surrounding forest. Villagers around the fire station notice strange things happening and as the radioactive cloud spreads, they’re told to evacuate their homes but the two women refuse to leave.

Nine years later a wild child appears at their door. This little girl has been living with the wolves in the forbidden zone; the women take her in and care for her,

knowing that eventually they will have to give her up to the authorities and perhaps find some of her family. Is that even possible after such a long time?

Powerfully affecting and highly relevant to the present and future dilemmas facing us all, with its themes of survival and healing, this is definitely a book to introduce to older KS2 readers and beyond, either as part of a modern history topic and how it informs future actions, or as part of an exploration of the environmental issues impacting upon our planet.

Gerald Needs a Friend

Gerald Needs a Friend
Robin Boyden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Guinea pig Gerald is a loner and fanatical about his routine. His entire world is his garden wherein he spends most of his days nurturing his flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Come 5 o’clock he goes indoors and has tea, reads twenty pages of his book and at 7pm he retires to bed: a risk-taker he most certainly is not.

One morning he heads off into town with his shopping bags and is surprised to discover a new stall run by two lively mice. The mice introduce themselves and for the rest of the day, after some initial hesitancy, Gerald experiences lots of fun exciting things

and thanks to Marcy and Marcel, has the time of his life until …

That night he lies awake in bed contemplating the day and next morning …

Robin Boyden’s Gerald most certainly discovered that by stepping out of the comfort zone of his hitherto fulfilling life, the world had a lot more to offer, the most important thing being friendship.

The illustrations are terrific – hugely expressive and full of amusing details to pore over. A book to share with KS1 classes (make sure you allow time to explore each spread), as well as individuals and small groups.

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Beatrice Blue’s new story in her series of ‘Once Upon A … ‘ neo pourquoi tales makes an urgent environmental plea on behalf of the planet’s wildlife.

Herein we meet young Theodore, a passionate fish collector who loves nothing better than to go out once a week in his little boat searching for new fish to add to his aquaria. On one such expedition he nets something amazingly beautiful: a tiny creature encased in a clear shell. No sooner does he start handling it than a voice booms a warning, “Leave her, Theodore! She belongs to the ocean.”

Disregarding the voice he takes her home ignoring the same voice urging him to return the creature to the ocean. Convincing himself he can take great care of the tiny thing, he names it Oceanne and places her into a tank.

As the days go by, instead of thriving the little creature becomes weaker and weaker. Now Theodore is alarmed. What is wrong? The return of that booming voice makes him realise that he must return the creature to the lagoon; but will he be in time to save Oceanne?

Beautifully illustrated and skilfully told, this timely book is another reminder of the fragility of nature and the importance of doing our part in its preservation. It offers a starting point for discussion that young children will find easy to relate to.

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
Dr Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón
Walker Books

Talking to nine year olds about nano particles? Surely not, you might at first think. However the author of this book knows just how to do it.

This is a totally captivating look at materials and the uses scientists make of them by physicist Dr Jess Wade from Imperial College, London and illustrator, Melissa Castrillón.

Right from the opening spread containing the words, “Look around your home. Everything is made of something … “ readers are drawn in, all the more so as the text then goes on to use the book itself as an exemplar to remind us of some basic descriptions of materials as well as introducing the importance of microscopy. 

That leads neatly in to a spread on atoms – those building blocks from which ‘every single thing on this planet is made …’ and molecules.

A great thing about this book is that every new term that’s introduced – elements for instance- is immediately then related to something familiar to its target audience:. So we’re told, the human body comprises eleven different elements including carbon. This element is part of the make up of every living thing, but sometimes existing solely as layers of carbon atoms; graphite (the lead in pencils) is given as an example.

By moving on to graphene (created by removing a single layer of carbon atoms from graphite) the author takes us into unfamiliar territory with a new material: or rather, a ‘nanomaterial’ that has taken countless experiments and many years to make.

Graphene, we’re told, already has many uses in technology but because nanotechnology is a dynamic field of study, there are further possibilities, some not perhaps even dreamt of yet. Neatly bringing the narrative full circle to the reader, the author concludes ‘There are so many secrets left for scientists to unlock, And who knows the key person might just be … YOU.’

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Do You Love Dinosaurs?

Do You Love Dinosaurs?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ask a group of children the title question and almost certainly the vast majority will answer in the affirmative, so this book, brimming over with awesome, roarsome dinos is set to be a winner.

Accompanied by some young palaeontologists, Matt Robertson takes readers way way back in time to meet these incredible creatures large and small. First though come ten ‘must obey’ dinosaur rules to help ensure that youngsters get the maximum from their experience.

It’s then time to introduce in turn, the theropods – meat eating, terrifying two-legged beasts; then the sauropods (gigantic vegetarian, gentle creatures) among which were the diplodocuses.

Prepare to hide, for Tyrannosaurus rex comes next – AAARRRHH! those gaping jaws. Much less alarming are the herbivores including several new to me, as are some of the omnivores with which they share a double spread.

Horns and spikes were great protectors and the armoured dinosaurs also show their skills and how they used their incredible armour; and last we meet the deadly bird-like raptors.

The final spreads look at dinosaur fossils, development from egg to adult, there’s a dino sports event, a look at some other prehistoric creatures and last of all, annotated portraits of extra special dinos in a hall of fame.

The author takes a light-hearted approach and his illustrations are huge fun, while there’s a considerable amount of information packed into each spread.