So You Think You’ve Got it Bad: A Kid’s Life in the Aztec Age

So You Think You’ve Got it Bad: A Kid’s Life in the Aztec Age
Chae Strathie and Marisa Morea
Nosy Crow

This the latest in an excellent fun history series written by the award winning Chae Strathie and developed in consultations with British Museum experts, reveals what it was really like to be a child in the Aztec age..
Covering the topics one’s come to expect of the series – clothing and hairstyles, education, diet, the home, family life, health and medicine as well as some you might not, such as human sacrifice (it could happen just for being a member of a losing team), this truly is horrible history made highly visual.

Imagine – or preferably don’t unless you want to puke – being fed maggots, tadpoles, lizards and the like, or a cake made with blue green algae containing masses of water fly eggs – gross! It wasn’t all revolting though; there were occasional tomatoes and beans. This vegan reviewer would surely have gone hungry much of the time.

Can you contemplate being stretched by the neck in a special ceremony every four years – a very strange way to demonstrate parental love but it happened; and then being likened to jade, a precious gem stone: talk about mixed messages.

As for schooling, modern youngsters might love the idea of not starting school until you’re in your teens, but it happened to Aztec children, who were home schooled up until then – sounds familiar! As does the dual system of one kind of school for the rich, another for the poorer families.

When I taught KS2 classes, children were always especially fascinated by the Aztecs and I have no doubt if I’d had this book there would have been a queue of eager readers waiting to get their hands on it. Marisa Morea brings all the gory details to life in her wealth of illustrations that illuminate the text.

Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale

Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale
Sam Wedelich
Scholastic

From the outset Chicken Little insists that she’s a plucky creature, fearless in fact. Nonetheless, when a mysterious object falls from above, landing BONK! on her head, she is a tad perturbed. There must be a logical explanation: the sky can’t be falling surely. Determined to discover the truth, she climbs a ladder and interrogates said sky.

Along comes a hen and bemused by what Chicken Little is doing, misunderstands and rushes off to stir up her fellow farmyard fowls with the news, “The sky is falling! RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!”

Back on the ground, Chicken Little is left accepting responsibility and proclaiming, “This is clucky chaos! Utter hen-demonium!” before proceeding to set matters straight about what really happened. This results in sympathetic clucking all round and some frantic fowl first aiding.

With a nod to Mo Willems, debuting picture book author Sam Wedelich delivers a fractured folk tale of the comedic kind. Its mix of straightforward commentary and deliciously dramatic speech makes for a hugely enjoyable, STEM-flavoured read aloud for both presenters and audiences.

Little Tiger Board Books for Little Humans

Day and Night
Harriet Evans and Lirios Bou

There are five different locations – a temperate forest, a desert (wherein I encountered a hyrax for the first time), marshes, a savannah and a steamy tropical jungle – to visit in this ’switch-a-picture’ book, both during the daytime and then, by means of a series of tabs on each recto, at night. Thus for example in the marshes rather than the seeing “Bright dragonflies swarm through blue sunny skies,’ if the tab is pulled, these disappear from the window and are replaced by a much darker sky wherein fireflies make looping patterns. While in the jungle instead of the monkeys climbing trees that are visible in daytime, a pull of the tab reveals bats.
Innovative, and engaging, with attractive illustrations by Lirios Bou and Harriet Evans’ brief rhyming text and additional facts hidden until the tabs are tugged, this is a fun book for day or evening sharing with the very young.

I Can Learn: Dinosaurs
Lauren Crisp and Thomas Elliott

New in the publisher’s I Can Learn series, Dinosaurs has both cutaway pages and flaps. Starting at the Triassic period, then moving to the Jurassic and finally the Cretaceous period, little ones can meet a host of dinosaurs both large and small. Lauren Crisp provides the brief rhyming text and questions that accompany Elliott’s enticing illustrations of the prehistoric animals set against different colour backgrounds.
There are lots of new names to learn (pronunciation provided) and the occasional surprise such as the erupting volcano, the lava of which is only revealed when you lift the flap.

Also illustrated by Thomas Elliott is

How Many Beads?
written by Nicola Edwards

Here’s a book that offers both measuring and counting fun with the aid of the string of ten beads inserted in the back cover.
Collections of items at home, in the sea, in a garden, around town,

‘my things’ and ‘at night’ are each allocated a double spread that contains guiding questions and a wealth of labelled objects. So, little ones can try counting oysters, clownfish, rocks and starfish beneath the sea as well as finding out which of the underwater creatures is the longest. (Once they get used to using the beads for measuring, an adult might introduce the idea of estimating first.)

Plenty to engage little hands, eyes and minds here.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race / Aisha and Silver

These are the latest titles in two of Nosy Crow’s series for younger readers kindly sent for review

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

No matter what life throws at her, young Mabel is MAGNIFICENT. But for Mabel Chase, the book’s narrator things are sometimes not fair – at all. Seemingly however careful she is about things like being a worthy partner to Edward Silitoe on school sports day, the two just don’t see eye to eye or even arm to arm, let alone egg to spoon. No matter, somehow or other her magnificence always shines through – eventually.

Next, there’s the class play and this term for a change, Mabel really, really wants to get a leading part, William Shakespeare, preferably. But then who is she asked to play but Titania. No matter, magnificence rules, and where there’s a Will, there’s a way …

Then comes the Dermot episode. It comes about when Mabel’s family finally agree to take her to a dog show one weekend. It’s somewhere you can only go (so her Dad says) if you have a dog, Time to start training for the agility event.

As always, our narrator comes out on top.

These latest comical slices of mischief of the Mabel kind with spirited illustrations by Julia Christians, will appeal to the slightly mischievous side of young children be they those readers just starting to fly solo or story time listeners in the foundation stage.

Aisha and Silver
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

The Unicorn Academy series has captured the hearts of many young solo readers with its mix of sparkling magic and the kind of issues concerning friendship, loyalty and overcoming problems that most primary children have to contend with.

In this latest slice of enchantment Aisha faces problems: first the likelihood of having to repeat an entire school year as she hasn’t yet discovered Silver’s particular magic or bonded with him. Secondly, there’s been a spate of terrible hailstorms that have been causing damage to their beloved school and worse, might endanger the life of anybody caught out in one. That’s the reason for the early closure of the school leaving Aisha just five days to bond with Silver and to stop the storms.

It’s crucial to find out who or what has been causing them: with Aisha also intent on perfecting her music for the dorm’s display ride, she’s under a lot of pressure. It looks as though teamwork will be required to take on the mysterious LT.

Another engaging read with plenty of lovely illustrations by Lucy Truman to break up the text.

The Song for Everyone

The Song for Everyone
Lucy Morris
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This story starts high up in a tiny window one morning when a sweet sound issues forth. A boy on his way to school stops to enjoy the music and in so doing his loneliness is forgotten. He though, isn’t the only one affected by the beauty of the tune: an old lady is enlivened and filled with joy,

and gradually as the music continues to float on its way, all the townsfolk receives something that has been missing from their lives. Most important though, is that they start to feel a sense of connectedness as they ‘share food, stories and kindness.’ It takes just one small thing to change an entire perspective.

Then one day unexpectedly, the music stops: total silence fills the town.

Dispirited, the townsfolk come together to discuss the absence of the magical music and the lonely schoolboy takes it upon himself to climb up to the window and investigate.

Two days pass and then joy of joys, a sweet sound drifts out through the window and once again the townsfolk are transported by the beauty of music flowing through the streets and through their lives : truly a song for everyone. And the identity of the singer? It’s revealed on the penultimate spread, but story spoiler I won’t be.

A gentle tribute to the power of music, of community and of loving kindness, all of which are more important than ever in our lives at the moment. Without actually using musical notation, Lucy Morris has created a wonderful representation of music as it flows across the pages and over the story’s characters on its transformative way through the town There’s lyricism too in the words Lucy has used in this lovely debut picture book.

When Jelly Had a Wobble / Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On

When Jelly Had a Wobble
Michelle Robinson and Tom Knight
Scholastic

Should you or should you not let others know how you are feeling? That dilemma lies at the heart of this story.

Jelly, the main protagonist definitely has some feelings of self-doubt he’s not eager to share when he’s expected to tag along with all the other dinners heading to the Kitchen Hall of Fame keen to discover which of their number will receive the golden crown for “Best in Show’. He’s the only one showing any reluctance to participate in this culinary extravaganza.

In fact he’s all of a wobble, unable to ‘take the tension’ despite the enthusiasm and determination of fellow foodies that he be there for the big announcement.

So determined are they that some are even ready to offer some calming techniques to help with his wibble-wobble nerves …

Imagine Jelly’s surprise then, when the announcement is made.

With its repeat ‘jelly on a plate’ refrain to join in with, and plenty of speech bubbles along the way, Michelle Robinson’s jolly rhyming narrative reads aloud well. Tom Knight’s foodie characters are a whacky lot with their googly eyes that clearly express how they’re feeling in his bright, funny scenes. The combination of words and pictures provides a taste bud tickling tale about being yourself to share with foundation stage children and little ones at home.

Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On
Max Low
Graffeg

In the latest of Max Low’s gently educational series featuring striped moggy Ceri and her spotty pooch pal, Deri, the two help Dai Duck learn some important life lessons.

Dai is absolutely determined to be the best at anything and everything he tries and wants it to happen straightaway. So when he tries his hand (s), feet and brain at skateboarding, spelling, music making, DIY and rugby

and a host of other activities, the result is disaster. The trouble is Dai just isn’t prepared to put in all the hard work, perseverance and positive thinking that’s required when you want to be successful at something.

Until that is, Ceri and Deri step in and introduce him to Barbara Bear, ace skateboarder. She explains how her success is down to all the tumbles she’d taken as a learner acting not as a deterrent, but a motivation and an opportunity to spend time having fun with her friends. Can a similar attitude work for Dai? You bet …

The inherent humour and Max Low’s distinctive, bold illustrative style make for another enjoyable Ceri and Deri experience.

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble / Mirabelle Breaks the Rules

Oxford Children’s books do some cracking series for new solo readers: here are the latest books in two of those – thanks to OUP for sending for review: 

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie

This is young Kitty’s sixth adventure and as the story opens she’s super excited at the thought of visiting the funfair with her cat crew. One of the crew, Pixie is super excited too for she has a cat new friend, Hazel. An introduction is arranged with Kitty for that night but it’s Figaro that turns up with a message from Pixie and Hazel, the latter claiming that she’s a Cat Superhero with her own special powers and important work to do.

It’s a rather dispirited Kitty who looks through her bedroom window into the velvety, moonlit sky contemplating the funfair. Suddenly into view come two cats skipping across the rooftop sporting matching scarves, and Kitty’s encounter with them leaves her feeling even less upbeat.

The following afternoon though, her parents keep their promise and take her to the funfair but once there, what should she see but Pixie and Hazel. As she watches them Kitty sees not superhero behaviour but feline foolishness and nastiness. Suddenly however, Kitty has other important things to attend to. Figaro reports that he’s seen a nest of baby birds that are in great danger. Guess who almost sabotages the entire rescue effort?

But that isn’t all, for back in bed that night Kitty receives another urgent message from Figaro. The supposed feline superheroes are stranded. Now it’s up to Kitty to use her own superpowers.

Yet another magical nocturnal story from team Paula and Jenny that will enthral young new solo readers. There are a considerable number on my radar who eagerly await each new Kitty story.

The same is true of another young character, Mirabelle who is also delightfully different and stars in …

Mirabelle Breaks the Rules
Harriet Muncaster

Mirabelle, cousin to Isadora Moon, is half witch and half fairy. and as a new term starts at Miss Spindlewick’s witch school, her parents are hoping to receive better reports than before.

Mirabelle’s best friend, Carlotta has brought her a present from her holiday abroad – a bottle of shimmery multi-coloured magic dust which Mirabelle puts into her pocket. The snag is that its label is printed in a different language.

As the first lesson gets under way, Mirabelle volunteers to collect the ingredients for a colour changing potion from the store cupboard; most of these too she puts into her pocket. The potion mixing gets under way but before long something very untoward starts happening in the cauldron the two friends are sharing. Pretty soon the entire room is in chaos. Uh-oh! trouble again for Mirabelle.

She does her upmost to stay on the right side of Miss Spindlewick right up to the last lesson of the day with happens to be some loop the loop practice in the forest. Looping the loop is one of Mirabelle’s favourite things to do and she can’t resist flying over, rather than under the trees per the rule. Could she be heading straight for another disaster …

Mirabelle is a character whose mischief is the result of her struggle with rule keeping, rather than wrong intentions. Her first person narration endears her to readers right from the start and Harriet’s portrayal of her in those purple and black illustrations ensures that she looks every bit as enchanting as she sounds.

The Lipstick

The Lipstick
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

This is a hugely entertaining story of what happens when the small child protagonist gets hold of one of Mum’s lipsticks.

Having used it for its intended purpose, our young narrator gets his creative juices flowing as he ‘takes the lipstick for a little walk.’ Actually not such a little one as his enthusiastic doodles and oodles are soon adorning various walls,

playthings, the floor and more. And that’s only upstairs. Down he goes guided by the mark making stick, jazzing up the bathroom,

things in the kitchen, big sister’s bedroom and more until …
DETECTION!

Apologies attempted (not by the smug lipstick needless to say) and then it’s time to let operation clean up commence. Were any parts left unscrubbed? What do you think?

I absolutely love the mischievous spirit of this infant who reminds me very much of an even younger relation of mine whose cheeky doings are equally let’s say, experimental. I must make sure I keep this book well away from her or I’m sure it will give her ideas …

The combination of Laura Dockrill’s text and Maria Karipidou’s rib-tickling storytelling pictures with that all-seeing moggy, make for a smashing story to share with an early years class or group just past the stage of the little boy narrator.

Bears Don’t Wear Shoes

Bears Don’t Wear Shoes
Sharon Davey
New Frontier Publishing

Not only have Suzy and her family just moved house, they’re in a new country too. Inevitably there’s a lot of unpacking and locating things in various rooms to keep them busy. Watching all the adults frantically working, Suzy is desperate for someone to play with, but nobody has any time for her.
The lonely little girl decides to look elsewhere and so she puts up a sign on her back gate and waits… and waits all day.

Nobody comes.

The following morning one applicant shows up so she takes him inside and proceeds to interview him. Mr Bear fits all the criteria

until having dressed him up in Dad’s bermuda shorts, Grandad’s fishing hat, Grandma’s bra, a woolly scarf and armbands, Suzy hands him a pair of shoes. Uh-oh!

Bear voices his aversion to shoe wearing in no uncertain terms. Try as she might Suzy meets with a flat refusal when it comes to footwear.

Now she has a dilemma. Her applicant is suitable in all respects except this one. What should she do? What would you do?

Sharon Davey’s book ticks all the boxes when it comes to a book to share with young children: an engaging story with themes of friendship and problem solving and splendidly expressive, funny illustrations. Each spread has a wealth of visual jokes to make readers and listeners giggle, even the contrasting end papers offer plenty to enjoy and talk about.

Rabunzel

Rabunzel
Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer
Egmont

Totally crazy but enormous fun is Gareth P. Jones’s reimagining of the Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel with a rabbit, Rabunzel – she of the massively long, lop ears. The forest dwelling character gives her mother cause for concern on account of said ears, for this parent like other inhabitants of Furry Tail Hill are mighty fearful of the hungry-eyed beasties that lurk deep in the dark forest.

To keep her offspring safe, mum bun incarcerates Rabunzel in a very, very tall tree. Each morning she’d arrive at the bottom of this tree with her daily ration of carrots, lettuce and water, call out, “Rabunzel, Rabunzel, let down your ears!” and wait for the ears to unwind allowing her to ascend.

No matter how much her daughter pleads for release, mummy bunny remains resolute, ‘there you must stay’ she insists.

After months of utter boredom Rabunzel receives the surprise of her life. Who should climb up her long ears but Flash Harry the Hare.

He’d spotted the whole ear-dropping procedure, fallen head over heels in love with their owner and resolved to rescue her.
Weeee!

With her paws on the ground Rabunzel however, has her own ideas about how to proceed thereafter. You’ll be happy to learn that the whole thing ends hoppily ever after.

The text has some lovely wordplay and occasionally breaks into rhyme. It’s a read aloud romp that will be enjoyed whether or not little ones are familiar with the original story. With their zany details, and some clues concerning Rabunzel’s hidden talent, Loretta Schauer’s dramatic scenes burst with energy and humour.

The Giants’ Tea Party / Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle

The Giants’ Tea Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Marta Kissi
Walker Books

In the kingdom of Little Slippington, the royal coffers are empty and with the bills unpaid the king and queen are in desperate need of some gold.

Rather than marry a wealthy princess, the anything but heroic Prince Max reluctantly embarks on a mission to the valley of the giants who, according to legend, are rich beyond imagination and might (or might not) be persuaded to part with some of their gold. First though the prince needs a steed of some kind and the only one available is Horace a rather grumpy old donkey. Deal done, off they go, first stop the abode of the Wisest One. She tells him his journey will mean having to cross the Hungry Marshes.

Meanwhile in Golden Hollow, Glom king of the giants also has a problem. Two actually, one being the need for some Papparelli roots (the only food that will make the geese lay their golden eggs), the second the constant interruption from his grand daughter Hamfreda reminding him of the first while he’s trying to put the finishing touches to his flying machine.

Wonderful weaver of words, and fashioner of neofairy-tales, Vivian French, includes a talking cat, marshes hungry for stories, a blank book and some decidedly unsavoury characters, the Crimps in her enchanting narrative: but will Max succeed against the odds? That’s the key question and to discover the answer you’ll have to read this cracking book. Marta Kissi’s illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the telling,

making this whole immersive world even more enjoyable.

Here’s another treat from Vivian: her 4th in the smashing Lottie Luna series:

Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young werewolf, Lottie Luna, she of super strength, super speed and X-ray vision , is concerned about all her Shadow Academy classmates discovering her special skills when an end-of-term talent show is announced,

and worse, she hears that all parents will receive a personal invitation from the head teacher. Her close friends, Marjory and Wilf are determined to help her keep her secret, but with ‘Awful Aggie’ always on the lookout to make trouble, she’s going to have more difficulty than she’s faced before convincing the other students she’s just like everyone else. No wonder she’s in no hurry to give her parents their invitation to the big event.

In the meantime Lottie wants to help Wilf and Marjory polish their magic act, as well as deciding what she’s going to do in the show. They certainly don’t want Aggie taking the prize gargoyle.

With Nathan Reed’s splendid black and white illustrations, this latest Lottie adventure will delight her many fans and likely win her some new ones too. Despite its setting and main protagonist, the pupils in this otherworldly story face challenges similar to those struggling to fit into a typical school, making it all the more easy to relate to.

Just Like You

Just Like You
Jo Loring-Fisher
Otter-Barry Books

The nameless little girl narrator is just like other children everywhere. ‘I’ve got two eyes. / I’ve got two ears. / I’ve got one mouth. / And one nose.” she tells us …
‘My feet can take me a long, long way.’

Like other children too, she sometimes feels happy

and sometimes feels sad. She loves cosy cuddles and has dreams when warm and safe.

However, as the penultimate spread shows, this little girl is going on a journey and as we see at the end, as she speaks she’s living in a refugee camp and that is what makes her different from most others. Nevertheless, ‘I am just like you.’ this brave girl concludes.

This simple, beautiful, moving story with its surprise final spread exudes warmth and empathy. Equally important though, it is infused with hope.

Jo’s compelling images ensure that the feeling of togetherness is indisputable as the narrative takes us towards its final revelation.

If you are looking for a powerful picture book to introduce the theme of refugees or displacement to young children, this is one I’d strongly recommend.

The King with Dirty Feet

The King with Dirty Feet
Sally Pomme Clayton and Rhiannon Sanderson
Otter-Barry Books

This is a retelling of a folktale from India and Bangladesh. It tells of a king in India who hated to wash until so malodorous does he become that even he can’t stand the stench. Off he heads down to the river, closely followed by lots of his subjects who want a good view of their ruler performing his ablutions.

After a hugely satisfying scrub, complete with his bath toys, the king emerges squeaky clean and calls for his Royal Towel. However once he sets foot on the ground this is what happens …

and even after a rewash and scrub of those tootsies they are still muddy.
Furious, the king summonses his trusty servant Gabu, ordering, “Get rid of all this dirt, so my feet stay clean.” His ultimatum gives the poor Gabu just three days so to do or lose his head.
A frenzied two days go by with first a dust-swirling sweeping and then a washing of the land.

Finally on day three, some swift stitching yields a huge patchwork covering of cloth. Fine, so far as keeping the king’s feet clean but now the kingdom has another problem. Nothing will grow if the entire land is covered, as a little old man points out.

Happily that same man has the perfect solution

and thus a wonderful invention is created …

Folktales have a timelessness that offers both simplicity and profundity: Sally Pomme Clayton’s lively version retains the essential inherent humour and directness making it great for reading aloud. Rhiannon Sanderson’s beautiful traditional style illustrations capture both those qualities making this a book that deserves a place in family and primary classroom collections

Eco Craft Book / The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself

Eco Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

In their latest book, Laura and Tia offer some cool ideas for using bits and pieces that might otherwise end up being thrown away.

Instead of consigning that old T-shirt or other no longer worn garments to the rubbish or recycling bin, why not suggest your children try a project like the T-shirt friendship bracelets here.

Alternatively, if the T-shirt is white, it can be dyed using a natural plant dye and refashioned into a ‘no-sew tie-dye bag’. Those are just two of the fabric projects.

Getting even closer to nature, youngsters can make a collection of interesting shaped leaves, grasses or perhaps feathers and use them to make some printed cards (or perhaps wrapping paper)

and if you want to attract more wildlife into your garden, there are instructions for creating a bug hotel using for example, old tin cans.

Each mini project is succinctly explained with step-by-step guidance and clearly illustrated with colour photos. In addition there are spreads that talk about climate change, what youngsters can do to help protect the environment and why it is important to immerse children in nature.

This book would be a boon to parents who are coping with home schooling, but all of us who work with children have a duty to nurture their creativity and to encourage them to think about the impact on the environment of all they do.

The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself
Susan Hayes & Penny Arlon, illustrated by Pintachan
Red Shed ((Egmont)

If you’re looking to engage a child or children in some environmental projects here’s a book to try. It’s packed with eco-projects – thirty in all – and each page (as well as the cover) is cleverly designed to be used in an activity – hence the title.

It’s amazing just how much difference simple everyday actions such as turning off the lights when you leave a room, and at night can make, not only for the safety of animals but to reduce electricity consumption. Ditto, saving water by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth or using your bath water to ‘feed’ your plants (of course that takes a bit of effort but every drip and drop counts). There’s a Make a Difference in your home’ page with additional suggestions .

One of my favourite projects is Throw a seed ball to rewild a built-up area, something I’ve never tried, although I have scattered plenty of packets of wild flower seeds. This is really clever though and all that’s needed in addition to wild flower seeds are water, flour and soil to make your mixture. Can’t wait to have a go at this.

(The reverse side suggests making seed paper for writing a message on – another clever idea.)

Whether or not home schooling continues, this is certainly worth getting hold of.

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

In Paris, The Royal Palace is holding its Grand Contest of Art. All the famous painters are showing: there’s Gaston du Stroganoff with his The King on His Throne, Felicia Caffay Ollay with The King on Horseback and Alphonse LeCamembair with The King in Armour. However an unknown painter, Felix Clousseau has the utter temerity to roll up with an entry.

Having been scorned by the judges for its simplistic style (not a king in sight), something truly unexpected and amazing happens. The painting emits a ‘Quack!’

Guess who becomes an immediate sensation? Having been dubbed a ‘genius’, Clousseau’s art is quickly in great demand with the rich. Not so however, the general public for his realism is way too real – disastrously so.

The unfortunate Clousseau is thrown into gaol and his paintings locked safely away – all except one that is. A single image of a dog remains on the wall of the King’s Palace. Now at that time an infamous jewel thief is at work in Paris and when he decides to try his luck with the royal crown, he gets the surprise of his life.

So too does his highness the next morning. He issues a royal pardon and a Medal of Honour to Clousseau who as the final page shows, ‘returned to his own painting’ …

the ambiguity of which will surely delight readers of all ages.

Deliciously droll, this is a reissue of one of Jon Agee’s earlier picture books: it’s certainly stood the test of time and great to see Scallywag republishing it now some thirty years on.

If you’re looking for a book to use as a starting point with an arty theme for a community of enquiry session, this one will definitely fit the bill.

One Little Bird

One Little Bird
Sheryl Webster and Helen Shoesmith
Oxford University Press

Rosa the robin isn’t one to stand by and do nothing when a man chops down the tree in which she’s nesting. Rather than finding another tree as the fellow says, she snatches up his hat, flies to his chimney and proceeds to nest therein.

She doesn’t leave things there either. Instead, she issues a rallying cry, “Animals, everywhere! We must stop people from taking our homes!”

Before long, Rosa is the talk of the forest, the tropical jungle, the grasslands, and the animal residents thereof, having lost their own homes, move into those of the destructive humans who have made them homeless.

Needless to say this infuriates the fellers, the jungle clearers and the road builders and eventually both animals and humans are incensed. The news gets back to Rosa and she realises that things have to change: surely a harmonious co-existence is possible.

Again Rosa sends her words over land and sea, summoning both animals and humans to a meeting and having heard both sides say exactly the same thing, she delivers a stark reminder to the destroyers of the animals’ homes.
From that day on, things begin to change for the better …

Sheryl Webster’s Rosa certainly had the courage of her convictions in this fun cautionary tale that might well serve as a call to young humans to become environmental activists too. Helen Shoesmith’s cover illustrations definitely depicts her as a bird with attitude, while her scenes of Rosa’s actions and their results are amusingly portrayed with a wealth of diverting detail on every spread.

Beauty and the Bin

Beauty and the Bin
Joanne O’Connell
Macmillan Children’s Books

For Laurie Larksie things seem to have improved since she started at secondary school. It’s sufficiently far from their home not to invite her new friends around, something she’s anxious to avoid as her eco-warrior parents are, despite their best intentions, an embarrassment to her. Their house is also a hydroponic growing farm, and her mum and dad involve both Laurie and her younger sister, Fern, in salvaging food from supermarket bins despite Laurie’s determination not to become as she says, ‘Garbage Girl’. While she’s happy to go along with most of what her parents do, they refuse to listen to how she feels about this particular activity. After all she just wants to fit in – buy herself some new clothes, have hot chocolate after school with her friends Zainab and Emilia, and use social media.

When an inter-school competition for young entrepreneurs is announced, Laurie sees it’s a great chance to showcase her homemade skin and beauty products that use only natural ingredients – Beauty in the Kitchen – and before you can say ‘enterprise’ she finds she’s been approached by Charley (the school’s uber-cool girl) as her partner.

Before long though, conflicts of interest begin to arise: Laurie’s family want her to be fully involved in the fast approaching March4Climate protest, so she has to try and juggle family commitments with the competition, while not losing her two best friends.

Can Laurie manage to stay true to her principles and continue working with somebody who thinks she’s always right? And who will eventually win that competition?

The author’s inspiration for her thought-provoking, humorous debut book came after spending a year as a journalist writing about food waste, so she really knows and feels strongly about waste and sustainability. Alongside these themes though she explores the personal journey of her chief protagonist, Laurie, as she learns what real friendship means.
(Also included are some beauty recipes, and ‘top tips’ from Laurie on how to avoid wasting food.)

Strongly recommend for upper KS2 readers and those around Laurie’s age just finding their feet at secondary school.

What Did the Tree See?

What Did the Tree See?
Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher
Welbeck Publishing

Oak trees are wondrous things. With its spreading branches to climb and a resident owl, I was endlessly fascinated as a child by the large one growing in our garden. They’re also well known for their exceptionally long life spans.
Not primarily a natural history book but rather, using the oak as a chronicler of the landscape wherein it grows, Charlotte Guillain has written a sequence of verses telling how an unnamed place somewhere in the UK has grown from a small village in the days of yore

to a vast industrial coastal city.

From its beginning ‘I was first an acorn, so tiny and round, / I fell from a branch and sank into the ground. / Then as I grew up, I turned into a tree … / over hundreds of years! So what did I see?’ Sam Usher’s fine illustrations make evident what it did see, showing just how much a landscape is altered by the action of humans,

in stark contrast to the oak, the life cycle of which we witness both in words and pictures.

The final few pages chronicle significant events in world history and their dates occurring during the life span of our narrating oak, the life cycle of an oak tree and suggestions for children to investigate the history of their own locality, as well as finding out more about trees and the life they might support.

With its unusual approach, this is an engrossing book to share and talk about with primary age children. I particularly like the way the oak’s own story comes full circle.

Moreover it could be an absolute boon for home-schooling parents (COVID even gets a mention in the timeline.)

44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King
Stripes Publishing (Little Tiger)

When Fry and Sons Circus of Wonder arrives on the common right by Betsy Bow-Linnet’s house just before Christmas, it’s a huge shock for Betsy’s Grandad. More than a shock in fact, it stirs up painful memories of Grandma who used to be one of its performers.

Despite her initial reluctance, Betsy just cannot resist the lure of the big top. So, with her parents otherwise engaged, en route home from the vet’s she buys herself a ticket and in she goes to see the show (accompanied by her mice.)

Betsy is quickly spellbound by the amazing acts and atmosphere of the show and so fails to notice that the latch on the mouse case has been nosed ajar allowing forty three mice to escape … with disastrous results.
Before you can say ‘confession’ Betsy finds herself having to face the loathsome ringmaster, Mr Fry and the next thing she knows, she’s offered herself and her mice as an act for the following day’s show in front of some all-important potential investors in the circus.

How much worse can things get? …

With its focus on Betsy’s problem-solving skills, and also her determination not to upset her Grandad, this second adventure is as delightful and involving for youngsters as 44 Tiny Secrets (although this book’s not without its own secrets). To reflect the razzmatazz of the circus, Ashley King has used a red theme for her wonderfully quirky, spirited illustrations.

The Invisible

The Invisible
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

With very little money, Isabel and her family are unable to afford the things that some people take for granted. Isabel takes notice of the beautiful things in life and she loves her family dearly – they’re all she needs.

One day though there’s not enough money to pay the bills or the rent, so the family have to leave their home and move to the other side of the city. Now Isabel feels she doesn’t belong; she’s unable to find a single cheering thing in this cold, lonely environment where nobody seems to notice her at all; it’s as though she’s become completely invisible. Never once though, does she complain.

Strangely though, the less Isabel is seen, the more she is able to see other invisible people in her new locality. Overlooked they might be, but each one in his or her own way, is quietly helping out..

And so it comes about that Isobel too decides to do things to help: she plants flowers, cares for stray animals and joins in with fixing things. Gradually other people join her endeavours;

eventually nobody is invisible: Isabel has done something truly amazing: she’s made a difference.

Moving and compassionate, Tom’s story shows how it’s possible for everyone to feel that they belong, and indeed have a right so to do. It’s a tale that is very personal to its creator who himself grew up in poverty living in a caravan for six years as a child often feeling overlooked; but it’s also the story of everyone who, for whatever reason is overlooked by society. Not all of those as lucky as Tom who says in his author’s note, that as well as love and beautiful countryside, he did have, thanks to a mobile library, plenty of books. Clearly those helped make his world a better place.

This beautifully illustrated, poignant story is one that everyone should read. Tom’s use of colour, or lack of it, mirror Isabel’s changes in circumstances. Readers can almost feel the chill of the ice and snow in the wintry scenes and the contrasting warmth in the spirited energy of a supportive collaborative community.

Scoop McLaren: Waves of Mystery / The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Tumbling Tortoises

Here are two recent fiction titles from New Frontier Publishing – thanks for sending …

Scoop McLaren: Waves of Mystery
Helen Castles

Scoop McLaren, editor of her very own online newspaper Click and her best friend and roving reporter Evie return for a second mystery to solve. The newspaper has now gone national and as the story opens Scoop is playing host to young surfing ace Fletcher Stein who has set his sights on winning Higgity Harbour’s big surfing competition.

However as the semi-final approaches things start to happen that give Scoop, the book’s narrator, cause for concern: could somebody be attempting to sabotage Fletcher’s chances? Right away the two girls are on the case but their sleuthing has to be kept under the radar as Evie’s policeman dad immediately tells them to leave the detective work to the police.

It’s not long before one suspect is identified; but how many people are involved in trying to stop Fletcher even reaching the final let alone winning the whole event. And is a curse part of the problem?

However, reach the final he does but things then get even weirder as people start disappearing …

With lots of twists and turns, the fast paced plot shows how Scoop uses her instincts, intelligence and her attention to detail, to get to the bottom of things.

An enjoyable tale for older readers at the heart of which is friendship and loyalty.

Another sequel, this time for slightly younger readers is:

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Tumbling Tortoises
Brenda Gurr

Zoe is excited to hear that with her Galapagos tortoise cupcakes idea she has won the Wildside Zoo’s competition and is now the official baker for the zoo’s endangered animals campaign.

However when she hears that her entire class has been invited to the launch event and that class captain Polly is to report on it, she realises that it’s going to be an enormous challenge to do the extra research she wants to make the most realistic-looking cakes possible and deliver them to the venue while ensuring that her identity as the popular cake creator Zinnia Jakes is kept under wraps.

Can Zoe possibly pull it off? Perhaps, with the assistance of her musical Aunty Jam and of course, best friend Addie.

Another action-packed narrative that is lots of fun and likely to tickle the taste buds of young solo readers.

Lionel the Lonely Monster

Lionel the Lonely Monster
Fred Blunt
Oxford University Press

It will come as no surprise that despite his sign offering free hugs, with his dragon-like tail and large curly horns making him look like a cross between an overweight dragon and a jolly sheep that’s fallen in a vat of blackberry juice, monster Lionel alarms children. They flee in terror at the mere sight of him though grownups seem not to notice him at all.

Consequently, poor Lionel feels downcast and lonely; so lonely in fact that noticing his tears, a kindly dog stops and having bestowed upon him a friendly lick, brings a stick.

A game of fetch ensues with both characters having a whale (or monster) of a time. So much so that they proceed to play hide-and-seek and end up chasing one another all the way to a playground which, pretty soon they have all to themselves.

As they relax after a hugely enjoyable time, Lionel is concerned to see that his new friend has lost his earlier zippiness. And then he notices a poster pinned to the tree …

Now Lionel has a dilemma but he chooses to do the right thing. A joyful reunion ensues followed swiftly by …

Is it all over for Lionel’s new friendship?

The story demonstrates so well both the power of kindness, and that actions are key; you should never judge anyone (or any monster) by appearances.

Lionel is such an adorable monster, he’ll immediately endear himself to young children when you share this book: ensure you leave plenty of time to have a close look at the wonderful details in the illustrations. Fred’s distinctive style is as always, playful, and his wicked sense of humour shines out from every spread.

Kaleidoscope of Creatures

Kaleidoscope of Creatures
Cath Ard and Greer Stothers
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a fascinating look at the reasons underlying the amazing hues, patterns and textures (feather, fur and scales) of members of the animal kingdom.

After a general introduction, the opening spreads are devoted in turn, to an animal family tree that gives information about the characteristics each group has in common, followed by a close-up look at different examples of body coverings – fur, scales – reptilian and fish – and feathers.

Thereafter come a series of spreads where animals – both well known and unusual species – are grouped by the colour of their outer covering (brief explanations are given) be that red,

orange or pink, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet, black, white, black and white.
Red for instance may act as a warning as in the red velvet mite whose silky hairs indicate to predators ‘I taste horrible’, as does the body of a scarlet lily beetle. Whereas being green often helps a creature remain unseen be it a forest dweller or one that lives in the sea.

Also helping some animals to stay unseen are designs such as spots and stripes and these are the titles of two further spreads.
Most of us know male peacocks have those amazing tail feathers that open into a stunning fan shape in order to attract a mate, but did you know that to attract a mate, male green iguanas turn carrot-coloured?

Every spread is visually arresting thanks to Greer Stothers’ pleasingly arranged arrays of fabulous fauna each one of which is labelled, with most having accompanying salient facts.

For budding zoologists and school topic boxes, I suggest.

Can Bears Ski?

Can Bears Ski?
Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

Why does everyone keep asking “Can bears ski?” That’s the puzzle for the little bear narrator of this story.

Dad says it frequently, the kindly class teacher says it,

puzzled classmates say it, “Can Bears ski?”

One day after school Dad takes his little cub to visit an ‘au-di-ol-o-gist’ She does lots of tests and she too asks that same question …

The audiogram shows little bear has hearing loss.

Eventually several weeks and more tests later she prescribes hearing therapy and lip-reading classes. She also gives little bear a pair of ‘plastic ears called hearing aids.’.

These enable the cub to realise what everyone has been asking all along. “Whoa … Is life this loud?!”
All the noise now means that our narrator feels tired sometimes and out come the hearing aids. The library was a place of peace pre hearing aids; perhaps it will be still; and a bedtime story is certainly on the agenda with Dad taking care to speak clearly and look directly at his little one.

And what about answering that titular question? What do you think?

The book’s author, poet and educator Raymond Antrobus, is himself deaf and this, his debut picture book draws on his personal experience, demonstrating how a small deaf child can feel frustrated and isolated in a hearing world. The illustrator Polly Dunbar also brings her own experience of partial deafness to her scenes of the hugely likeable protagonist attempting to cope with a plethora of sensory challenges – shaking bannisters and wobbling pictures, a ground shaking classroom floor for instance..

The resulting collaboration is a hugely compassionate book wherein Dad’s love is evident throughout. (This is just one individual’s experience of being deaf so there’s no mention of BSL or any form of signing.)

A thoughtful story to share in foundation stage settings and families whether or not these include a young one with hearing loss.

Everybody Belongs / Where’s Brian’s Bottom?

Everybody Belongs
Lorna Freytag
Studio Press

In her latest board book Lorna Freytag celebrates difference in some of its many forms.
Exploring body shape and size, genetic colouration of various features, language and more, she shows how what we are has been influenced by environmental factors.

Even within close family, we’re all different– unique – after all, and how dull things would be, were it not so.
Very young children often pay little heed to such things as skin colour when making friends, but sadly sometimes later on, the notion of racial difference in particular, especially if drawn attention to by adults, may affect the choices they make, so it’s great to have a book such as this to reinforce the idea that being different is a cause for celebration.

Where’s Brian’s Bottom?
Rob Jones
Pavilion

Brian is an exceedingly long sausage dog. Such is his extreme length that he can’t find his own bottom and so needs help to locate it. His place of residence has five rooms and starting in the hall, little ones can join him in his search. However, it’s not there as Pauline parrot informs us. Nor is it in the living room where Alan the hamster says he hasn’t a clue of its whereabouts. What about the kitchen wherein tortoise Dave chomps his way through some tasty leaves?

Or maybe the bathroom – it looks promising but it turns out to be another part of Brian’s anatomy that’s on the loo, so wherever is that missing rear end?

Toddlers will assuredly giggle their way though this zany concertina board book that unfolds to around 2 metres. There are two sides to the story though: one has the questions and answer text concerning the hunt for Brian’s derriere. However opening it the opposite way reveals that his home is almost overrun with small furry and feathered creatures frolicking and feasting,

of which the sleeping Brian is blissfully unaware.

Clever design and zany playful visual storytelling make for a hugely enjoyable experience for the very young.

Amazing Treasures

Amazing Treasures
David Long and Muti
What on Earth Books

In this the second in the Our Amazing World series David Long presents a veritable wealth of amazing things in his mind boggling assortment of 100+ objects and places.

Some are naturally occurring, others are not and the author’s definition of treasure is sufficiently broad to encompass personal items such as a photograph and a favourite book; the tulip fields of Holland, the Lascaux cave paintings, the Amazon Rainforest, moon rocks (some of which have gone missing) and Bugatti cars from the Schlumpf collection.

Items such as the cars, and the abandoned city of Machu Picchu in the Andes are given just a paragraph, whereas Tikal the ancient Mayan site,

and China’s Forbidden City each have an entire double spread devoted to them. There’s also a world map gatefold as the centre spread that when open shows a list of all the 105 items included.

No matter whether your interest is in architecture, fossils, rocks and gems or the natural world, readers will likely find something new to wonder over here.

The Muti team has used a relatively subdued colour palette for their illustrations most of which are relatively close up depictions; others including Windsor Castle,

Machu Picchu and Masada are shown in aerial views of different sizes.

With topics both ancient and modern (ownership for instance), this fascinating book is one to include in KS2 class collections particularly.

Can You Whistle, Johanna? / Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls

Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

Here’s a book from Swedish author Ulf Stark that will surely touch your heart.
The boy narrator of the story, Ulf has a grandfather he visits regularly. His friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather but wishes he did so he could enjoy a similar relationship, so Ulf tells him that he knows just the place to find one.

The following day, he takes Berra to visit an old people’s home and there they find an elderly man, Ned

who although initially surprised, is more than happy to accept Berra as his grandson.“There I was, just sitting and feeling a bit lonely, and then you came along!”

A wonderful connectedness develops between the two with Ned remembering his wife, Johanna, and things about his world – the smells, colours and simple joys, as well as those that are now too much of a challenge. The boys learn from Ned new skills and they have tremendous fun

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

although there is one particular skill that Berra finds difficult to master – hence the book’s title.
This leads to the boys’ visits to Ned becoming less and less frequent but not before the boys give him a very special birthday celebration.

Finally, after several weeks Berra is ready to demonstrate to Ned his whistling prowess but when he boys get to the home they learn that Ned has died. Berra is devastated.

Despite being profoundly affected by his loss, Berra wants to go and say a final farewell at Ned’s funeral and it’s then that he whistles the old man’s tune.

We see how this special relationship has enriched the lives of both Berra and Ned, and that’s what shines through this sensitively told story despite the boys’ loss. Equally moving are Anna Höglund’s wonderful droll illustrations that support the text splendidly.

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls
Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

This is the second enchanting book of three short tales starring Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their grandmother in a crowded, run-down flat in Lagos.What she lacks in stature, Tola makes up for in spirit and determination. Money is short and so Grandmummy spends almost all her time selling groundnuts at the roadside to earn sufficient for the children’s schooling but little else.

The first story takes place on a Saturday with all three siblings indoors but only Tola doing the chores. As she squats picking out the stones from the rice, her brother Dapo is using his knees to play with his football (strictly forbidden inside) while big sister Moji is studying on a computer on loan from her school.
Ignoring her warnings to stop or incur Grandmummy’s wrath, Dapo dislodges the contents of a shelf with a wild ball sending her gold earrings flying into the air. One is quickly retrieved but can they manage to find the other one before Grandmummy returns?

In the second episode Grandmummy falls ill with malaria and the siblings resort to desperate measures to buy her the vital medicine she needs; and Dapo surprises everyone by using his skill to make money.

The three fine girls of the title are cool, indulged young misses in their fancy gear that Tola notices when she’s out and about. The same three posh ones that she manages to impress later on when she accompanies Mr Abdul to the masquerade.

There are so many things to love about young Tola especially her resourcefulness and ability to think on her feet; but her entire family are a delight. Onyinye Iwu’s black and white illustrations are a delight too, filling in some of the details about the life of this Nigerian urban family.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow / My Robot’s Gone Wild

These are two new titles from Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint both featuring already popular characters. Thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow
Nicola Colton

The unlikely best friends Jasper, a dapper feline and mud loving Scruff the pup return for a third adventure.
When Jasper hears of the Reach For the Stars talent show to be held at the town hall the following afternoon the two can’t wait to take part. There’s a snag though: Scruff wants them to enter as a dazzling magic making twosome; Jasper wants to do a solo act, one he’s polished up from a previous occasion.

During the heats Jasper’s act fails to impress the judges and he’s eliminated whereas Scruff manages to get through to the finals. Finals for which the winner will receive a Grand Prize – a week on stage performing alongside Marvello the Magnificent. 

It’s a prize that Sophisticat Lady Catterly has set her sights on.
Perhaps now Scruff and Jasper should join forces to try and wow the judges.

Come the finals however, there appears to be some chicanery at work where Lady C and the Sophisticats are concerned. Time for Jasper and Scruff to do a spot of detective work of the underground variety to discover exactly what is going on.

With detailed illustrations that fizz with energy and gentle humour on every spread, this entertaining drama is perfect for young solo readers at that crucial in-between stage. Scruff and Jasper are a hugely endearing pair and there are some interesting bit part players in the cast of characters too.

Equally, Nicola’s lively narrative style with its occasional puns and plenty of snappy dialogue makes the book work well as a read aloud.

My Robot’s Gone Wild
Dave Cousins, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

Changes are afoot in the fourth of Dave Cousins’ Robot adventures featuring the robot babysitter Robin created by twins Jess and Jake’s inventor Grandma.

As the story opens year six has just ended and the twins, accompanied by a robot (not Robin) dressed to look like Grandma, Ivana and Ali, and Digby dog, are on a train en route to the Scottish countryside. The purpose is a holiday visit to Robin currently in hiding with Grandma at Granny Anderson’s who lives in a remote spot near Loch Wilder. Said Granny (the twins motorbike riding great grandmother) has organised some ‘wild camping’ for the visitors.

The first shock is the nature of the location, the second is the change in Robin. The robot now bears some resemblance to a tree and thanks to upgrades by Grandma, has new feet and hands and sports army-style shorts and shirt. Grandma certainly hasn’t been idle while in Scotland: she’s also created pop-up tents as well as a ‘water-dragon-submarine’ supposedly to help with catching cattle rustlers.

Then a spot of fishing lands Jake (narrator) in icy cold water: this holiday certainly doesn’t look too promising especially when hedgerow stew is served up for supper. 

Surely day two must be better but …

So much happens during the rest of the holiday and by the time they leave, the children have accepted among other things, that it will be without the physical Robin although they take something with them that will make it feel as though he’s still with them.

It seems as though this is the final story in Dave Cousins’ madcap robot series, so amusingly illustrated by Catalina Echeverri. I know a fair few readers who, like Jess and Jake, will be sorry to say farewell.

NO! said Rabbit

No! said Rabbit
Marjoke Henrichs
Scallywag Press

Rabbit is one contrary little creature. He replies in the negative to everything his mum tells him to do. It’s a firm “NO!’ to getting dressed, eating his breakfast carrots,

going outside to play, stopping for a snack and more. Throughout the day his recalcitrant responses issue forth but despite what he says, he always finds just the right inducement to comply with his parent’s requests.

Fortunately this patient Mum knows how best to manage her spirited little one’s behaviour. She continues cajoling him right through bath time

to bedtime and the book’s satisfying conclusion.

With its delightful irony, Marjoke Henrichs’ debut picture book is pitch perfect for sharing with preschoolers. The story’s structure cleverly offers an important reading lesson – that of prediction – and as they view the unfolding action in Marjoke’s chucklesome scenes, little ones will delight in chorusing NO! along with the protagonist at every opportunity.

I’m pretty sure most adults, especially parents and teachers of young children, will have encountered a little rabbit somewhere along the way.

Murder on the Safari Star

Murder on the Safari Star
M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tickets ready? Then climb aboard the Safari Star.

Harrison Beck is somewhat underwhelmed when he receives his Christmas present from his Uncle Nat until he discovers that the small tin contains more than just the sticks of charcoal. Inside too is a train ticket: at half term he and his uncle are going to South Africa for the trip of a lifetime all the way from Pretoria to Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia in a luxury train.

So begins another fast-paced, twisting turning, hold on to your seats adventure.

Aboard the train are a host of interesting characters from various parts of the world and even before they’ve departed Hal has made friends with Winston the son of the train’s safari guide; with him is Chipo, Winston’s yellow mongoose. There’s one passenger that almost everyone takes an instant dislike to, that’s Mervyn Crosby, an extremely rude character who boasts about having heads of four of the Big Five animals on his wall and lacking only the rhino. He also says he’s brought his rifle along – which is strictly prohibited.

No sooner is the journey under way than the two boys are off exploring the entire train and finding out what they can about their fellow passengers.

But then one of them meets with a terrible accident – or is it? At any rate there’s a fatality aboard and almost everybody is under suspicion.

Before you can say ‘rhino horns’ Hal, his uncle and Winston are investigating a mystery and it’s one that has to be solved before the train reaches the Zambian border.. It’s as well Hal has brought along his essential equipment – his sketch pad and drawing tools. He’ll certainly need to make full use of his wits, his observation skills and his powers of deduction in this life and death conundrum that involves poisonous snakes, 

hidden compartments, smuggling and more. And, there is time to see some incredible wildlife such as a rhino, zebras, elephants and impalas too. I loved the conservation element of the story.

Once again Elisa Paganelli’s illustrations are superb.

Over the Shop

Over the Shop
JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng
Walker Books

This is a wordless picture book that tells an uplifting tale of acceptance, trust and transformation.

As the story starts we see a child and her grandmother who is evidently the proprietor of the corner general store, at the back of which are their living quarters. It’s a run down place and upstairs is an empty flat. It’s not an inviting prospect for renters as is evident from the number of people who turn their backs on the place having viewed it.

Then, along come a couple of young people and it’s clear from the grandmother’s expressions that she has her doubts about them as tenants. They however are able to see past the run-down state of what’s on offer, and the child appears to be drawn to them and so begins project metamorphosis.

Not only do they, aided and abetted by the girl and the occasional neighbour, enthusiastically transform the apartment,

they also give the shop’s exterior a fresh coat of paint and help with the day-to-day running of the enterprise.
Meanwhile the girl has also enticed inside the cat her grandmother shooed away early on in the story, and that too now has a home. Thus from unpromising beginnings, a wonderful new family is formed.

Full of vitality, Qin Leng’s intricately detailed storytelling pictures rendered in ink and watercolour, are somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Garland. The presence of a rainbow flag in the final couple of spreads confirm what readers attentive to the fine detail might already have suspected.

This is one of those books where the more you look, the more you discover and the more stories emerge.

The Bee’s Sneeze / The Fidgety Itch

The Bee’s Sneeze
The Fidgety Itch

Lucy Davey and Katz Cowley
Scholastic Children’s Books

Here are a pair of rollicking rhyming reads from New Zealand author Lucy Davey, illustrated by Katz Cowley (of The Wonkey Donkey fame). Lucy Davey’s rhyming skills are excellent but make sure you practice reading the two stories before sharing them with an audience. They’re absolutely full of wonderful alliteration and onomatopoeic phrases that are sometimes tricky to get your tongue around.

The Bee’s Sneeze begins when a lorikeet expels a seed from its rear, a seed that soon grows into a blooming Tootletuff plant that catches the eye of Buzzy McBee.

Buzzy cannot resist sipping the sweet nectar from a bloom and before long her knees are all a-wobble on account of the teasy sneeze that despite her best efforts, she cannot contain and … AH-CHOO! Buzzy tumbles right into Monkey Minx.

Thus begins an inadvertent nose-teasing chain as the culprit bloom is passed first to Monkey and then on in turn to Barefoot Bear and lizard Lizzie-ma-Lou before an explosive sneeze precipitates a fall and all the sneezers tumble right into Crocodile’s open jaws.

SNAP! However,Croc’s satisfaction comes before a Tootletuff tickle in his tum, for just in the nick of time an unstoppable fizzle becomes an explosive sternutation and the story satisfyingly concludes by coming full circle.

It’s patently obvious from her mix of real and invented language that the author loves playing with words and it’s equally evident that Katz Cowley thoroughly enjoyed creating her dramatic scenes of the events.

Young listeners will relish both especially the opportunity to let rip with some AH-CHOOs (post COVID and with tissues at the ready) and to join in chanting the repeat refrain, “I smell a whiff, a tickle-is sniff, / I’ll squeeze the sneeze inside!”

Equally bursting with delicious language of the rhyming rhythmic kind is The Fidgety Itch with its clever cumulative structure. The key elements – chief protagonist (Timpkin mouse with his penchant for cheese), setting (beneath the fru-fru trees) and the problem – an escalating itch caused by a tiny creature that lurks ready to act. A creature that’s shown but never talked of in the text but is capable of causing for instance a ‘poutingly, peevishly, peppers patch … ‘ that desperately needs a relieving scratch.’

What ensues is a concatenation of co-operative creatures each offering to be a scratcher and becoming the scratch needer,

and all the while Timpkin gleefully gobbles his cheese ‘neath those fru-frus and a certain insect lurks somewhere in plain sight. Until … Fuzzy O’Hare’s cry causes Timpkin to leap ino action and with teamwork all is resolved satisfactorily.

There’s terrific teamwork too between author and illustrator in this zany story that’s a wonderful embodiment of the all important ‘language is fun’ message.

Both books are sure to become favourites with young listeners.

The House at the Edge of Magic

A House at the Edge of Magic
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

Life is tough for young Nine: it certainly doesn’t give her strawberries. She spends her time on the streets stealing whatever she can to pay back Pockets, the Fagin like character who has sheltered her since her infancy in the Nest of a Thousand Treasures.

One day when attempting to steal a woman’s handbag, a tiny house-shaped ornament falls from it. Nine stuffs the object in her satchel and flees to a safer place to examine it more closely. As she strokes it imagining what life might be like to live in such a place, she touches the door knocker Bizarrely it emits a buzzing sound and the whole thing becomes a large, higgledy-piggledy house.

Thereafter the situation becomes progressively surreal for she’s pulled inside the house and she meets first a weird troll named Eric, shortly after to be joined by a strange wizard introducing himself as “Flabbergast. High Wizard, Chair of the Tea Tasters Committee, World Hopscotch Champion 1835”, and a spoon, aptly named Doctor Spoon, clad in a kilt and brandishing a sword. She learns that the three have been trapped in the house under a curse for years. They request Nine’s help to break said curse and set them free. For her help she’s offered a priceless gem.

At first she leaves without agreeing but then later realises that she’ll be far better off returning to the cursed house and helping its occupants. With the possibility of a new life, back she goes. Before you can say “cup of tea” it’s revealed that they have only till the clock strikes fifteen to discover the magic words to break that curse or face extinction. No pressure then.

Deliciously quirky with lots of humour, this story will definitely keep readers turning the pages till its wonderful finale. The magic house residents are brilliant fun. I love that feisty Nine finds solace in books she ‘acquires’ thanks to a genial librarian and that despite being desperate to escape her life on the streets, she acts for the greater good.There are some terrific bit-part players too.

Whether read solo, or aloud to a primary class, this will leave audiences wanting more – this reviewer included.

Rolo’s Story

Rolo’s Story
Blake Morgan
Little Tiger

This book starts with a bad dream, the dreamer being the puppy that acts as the story’s narrator. For the past week he’s been on the run from his cruel ‘Two Leg’ he calls humans and is having a hard time due both to the cold and the lack of sustenance. But then he meets Scrap, another stray; Scrap offers to act as his guide to ‘life on the wild side’ and there’s certainly a lot to learn.

She remains a loyal guide and playmate until one day something terrible happens: Scrap is out foraging for food to share one night but she doesn’t return. Next morning Mutt as Scrap calls the narrator, discovers his friend in a van about to be driven to the dog pound. Scrap persuades her friend not to attempt a rescue and so it’s back to the lonely life for the pup. Time to move on, but not entirely alone for the narrator discovers a scruffy stuffed duck that he takes along as company, calling it Beak Face.

After a day’s journey in the chilly weather, he seeks food and shelter in a village and the pup and Beak Face curl up together in a garden shed for the night.

Next morning a little girl, Freya is surprised to find visitors when she opens the shed door. Strangely this Two Leg seems friendly and thus begins another chapter in the pup’s life. Little by little he comes to trust the kindly disposed girl who, naming him Rolo, keeps him fed and warm; but her mother is another matter.

Can Rolo with the help of Freya, persuade a reluctant workaholic mum to find it in her heart to allow a scruffy, creature that wees all over the floor to stay and become part of the family?

Eventually yes, and there are some even bigger surprises in store before this wonderfully warm, gently humorous story concludes. Or perhaps it doesn’t, for there’s a slight hint that we might be hearing more from Rolo. I’m sure that a good many readers would be pleased should that be so.

Let’s Play Monsters!

Let’s Play Monsters!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

It’s always a delight to see a new picture book from Lucy Cousins and this one (inspired by a game its creator played with her own grandson) will most definitely delight little ones.

Three year old Gabriel urges each of his family members in turn “Come on, … / I WANT TO PLAY! / You chase me / and I’ll run away.”

First to participate in the romping stomping pursuit is big sister Josie who morphs into a horror ‘green and scary, / with sharp, pointy teeth / and feet that are hairy’ and eager to MUNCH, CRUNCH, SCRUNCH, her brother for lunch.

Uncle Rufus obligingly grows imaginary cow horns and pig’s tail and sets off in hot pursuit …


The game continues with his gran and the family moggy giving chase as a pink jelly, smelly footed monster and a hissing roaring clawed creature; even the potted plant joins the frolicking …

The established predictability of the game takes a twist though when it’s Mum’s turn. She proceeds to comply with the child’s desire but his “Hee, hee, hee! / But you can’t / catch me!” is met with his ensnarement in her outstretched arms and an instruction that leads to the book’s highly satisfying finale.

As always Lucy Cousins’ signature illustrative style is arresting: accompanied by her rhyming narrative with its reassuring predictability, this entire chasing game is MONSTROUS fun and just right for a lead-up to bedtime story. I love the endpapers too – the front one shows the cast of characters as per normal and the back depicts their mock scary other selves; and of course, the entire book is an endorsement of the power of young children’s imaginations.

Everybody Worries / Dino Love

Everybody Worries
Jon Burgerman
Oxford University Press

No matter what they might say to the contrary, it’s probably true that Everybody Worries – probably for many of us, more often during this past year than at any other time.

Jon Burgerman’s typically zany characters offer reassurance to youngsters as they reveal that even the coolest, bravest, toughest and smartest worry.

That not everyone worries about the same things is demonstrated: what bothers one person might well be relished by others, although worrying is a normal response to life’s changes. You might experience an increased heart rate, or feel queasy as a result so it’s great to have some strategies to help you cope. You can talk to a friend, draw and name your worries

and try some slow, deep breathing, sleep and eat well and keep fit.

Shared worries help to relieve the angst and rest assured, no matter what, nothing lasts forever; do what you can for others – togetherness is key, (even if right now you can’t get physically close) and remember, ‘We can overcome anything, when we’re there for each other.’

The perfect panacea for pandemic wobbles, Jon Burgerman’s book is full of wisdom and practical suggestions: have it to hand to share with little ones whenever needed.

Dino Love
Michelle Worthington and Veronica Montoya
Catch a Star

There’s a lot to learn when you start at nursery or preschool and so it is for the little dinosaur character in this simple story.

First there are those goodbyes to family members … ” I’ll miss you(s)” to cope with at the door. However these apprehensive feelings soon give way to lots of love and friendship opportunities … so long as you’re open to new experiences, willing to try your best

and remember to take some deep breaths should you feel anxious.

Yes, love is often expressed verbally, but also through actions. This is what the little dinosaur discovers as, secure in the love of family, s/he embraces the new and welcomes the multiplicity of opportunities that stepping out of your comfort zone can offer.

Many little humans are dinosaur enthusiasts and this reassuring book is just right to share and talk about when youngsters are about to take those next steps. Michelle Worthington’s minimal verbal narrative allows Veronica Montoya’s bright, jolly scenes to do much of the telling.

Marvellous Machines

Marvellous Machines
Jane Wilsher and Andrés Lozano
What on Earth Books

This book comes with a detachable ‘magic lens’ embedded inside its front cover that enables readers to look into buildings and the inner workings of all manner of mechanical things large and small, relatively simple as well as highly complex.

This is achieved by focussing the lens on the areas of red patterning (stippling, cross hatching or brickwork) which then disappears to show such things as the energy connections powering all kinds of machines in the kitchen, robots at work,

the insides of a container ship, a submarine, a space station …

and even a human body.

The book concludes with some thought-provoking questions.

Mechanically-minded youngsters especially will love the opportunity to peek into various components of a space station and to use the lens to hunt for the dozen items listed in the ‘find it’ panel on the relevant spread, or to do likewise in and around the cyclists on the jet aeroplane and “Bicycle’ spreads.

As well as anything else, this book reminds younger users of the enormous wealth of machines we rely on in our daily lives and to discover something about how they function.

The Wizard in the Wood / Diagnosis Danger

The Wizard in the Wood
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

This is the third in Louie Stowell’s magical series.
A new term is about to begin for Kit, Josh and Alita. Before school starts though, Faith announces that the Wizards’ Council want to meet Kit.

Once in front of the council members, Kit learns that she has a very special mission – to take a new dragon’s egg to its new home beneath its own library where it will hatch.
Imagine her friends’ surprise and excitement when she and Faith return with a box containing said egg and Kit announces, “We brought you a present” and they discover what’s inside. It’s a dragon’s egg that must be planted beneath their very own school.

Faith makes two more exciting announcements: a new library awaits once school opens and that also means the arrival of a brand new wizard librarian. Surely nothing could be better than that.

The following day the term begins and the children meet this new librarian whom Faith has said is an old friend of hers. named Ben. He certainly seems a pretty cool guy. But is he?

Pretty soon the children discover that something isn’t right and they’re faced with solving a ginormous problem. It’s either that or face a world-changing disaster. Confronted by a hugely challenging, exciting mission, they really must all work as a team.

With plenty of jokes, great dialogue with lots of banter, and a smashing twist in its tail ,this is another cracker from Louie, especially as it celebrates the power of books and of story.

Whether shared as a primary classroom story time or read by individuals, this book is a delight, made all the more so by Davide Ortu’s offbeat illustrations.

Diagnosis Danger
Roopa Farooki
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Do you know primary readers in need of an antidote to the trials of lockdown and home schooling? Then try doctor Roopa Farooki’s second exciting double detectives mystery.

Twins Tulip and Ali, the daughters of a hospital doctor, return in another sleuthing story and again they’re faced with a mysterious case to solve. Fortunately with mum a hospital doctor, and thus some medical knowledge of their own, as well a considerable amount of unsquashabilty and noses for danger, this pair have the tools for the job.

It begins when an unknown person attacks their friend Momo and he ends up in hospital, the attacker vanishing without trace. Needless to say Ali and Tulip waste no time is trying to track down the assailant.
Before you can say ‘sliced popliteal artery’ they and Nan-Nan ( a brilliant character) are on their way to a ‘holiday’ destination (unknown to two of their number). Eventually they arrive at a place calling itself Catty’s Cattery; the twins are puzzled and anything but impressed.

However, things are set to get even more strange, when, standing at the reception desk of this weird ‘kitty-obsessed-hotel from hell’ as Ali calls it, is a man who bears a close resemblance to the villainous Evelyn Sprotland. But is this a case of diagnosis ‘bang on the head’ or perhaps, ‘Diagnosis Doppledanger’. What exactly is the real purpose of this peculiar establishment? And, who is Catty; its boss? She certainly seems very choosy about who’s allowed to stay. The mystery deepens.

More important, can the twins aided and abetted by Nan-Nan get to the bottom of things?

Roopa’s mix of unusual characters, witty dialogue, large doses of humour and scatterings of medical information, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read that will enthral readers who like something a little out of the ordinary. Book your consultation with the twins right away.

The Greatest Showpenguin

The Greatest Showpenguin
Lucy Freegard
Pavilion

Young Poppy has performing ancestors going back many generations and consequently has inherited a variety of skills that have become part and parcel of the family’s travelling show.

Eager to make her parents proud, Poppy trains hard, learning some amazing audience-pleasing moves. There’s a snag though: Poppy knows in her heart that her passion lies elsewhere, somewhere she can feel inner peace. But how does she tell her mum of her need to feel calm and composed about what she does.

Then one day while mother and child are relaxing beside the sea, Poppy feels rather strange

and suddenly – light bulb moment! – there’s a solution that offers all that she desires, but equally means the show’s buzz and magical elements that she loves can still be a part of her daily life.

Let the learning commence as well as the pleasure of developing a new role – one that earns Poppy a special name. Good on you little penguin having the courage to be yourself.

Lucy Freegard’s story highlights both the fact that each and every individual has a special ‘something’, and the importance of following your heart and being the best you can no matter what you choose to do.
The watercolour illustrations have a freeze-frame quality about them as well as an abundance of pattern in the details making you want to pause and take time to enjoy each one.

VI SPY : Licence to Chill

VI SPY : Licence to Chill
Maz Evans
Chicken House

From the author of Who Let the Gods Out?, this is the first in a new spy series. In parts achingly funny, in others downright daft, it’s a fast moving page turner to be sure.

Vi stands for Valentine, Valentine Day, who is the daughter of an ex (so we’re told) secret service super spy mother and super villain (supposedly retired and now ostensibly dead) father, Robert.
When the story starts eleven year old Vi, who knows nothing of her father, is living with her mum and her nan. Her mum Susan (aka Easter) is rather fond of George Sprout who just happens to be one of Vi’s teachers – her favourite in fact. Mr S is blissfully unaware of Susan’s background but his son Russell is pretty astute and soon has her figured out.

When Mr Sprout proposes, the wedding of Susan and George comes hot on its heels and during the ceremony who should burst onto the scene but the far from dead, Robert Ford. Shock horror! Moreover, when he tells Vi that this time he’s here to stay, it appears that he means it.

In addition to this show-stopping surprise, Vi has set her sights on getting admission to Rimmington Hall, a very special educational establishment and has that to think about.

It’s not long before Vi’s parents are battling over their daughter and strangely, the girl feels a certain attachment towards Robert, especially when he treats her to triple chocolate sundae surprise. While the parental battle rages, Vi finds herself plunging into a world of heinous villains and depravity.

The cast of characters encompasses a fascinating assortment: there’s geeky Russell Sprout whose only friend is an ancient robot Agadoo; the beautiful golden haired Siren with her dog-killing farts and the ill-intentioned clown Auguste, not to mention the double-headed Dr Doppelganger, another of the EVILS; and Nan is a gem.

I read this right through in a day and my head was spinning.

Pablo the Rescue Cat / Stupid Baby

Pablo the Rescue Cat
Charlotte Williams and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

What would you do if you were feeling just a little bit lonely? You might think of getting a pet and that is just what the little girl in this sweet story does. Off she goes with her mum to the animal shelter with the intention of finding something suitable.

As they walk around the shelter, she immediately falls for the pooches but quickly realises that leaving a dog home alone is a bad idea, so the helpful staff member moves on to the cat section and there, to her delight, the little girl finds the perfect moggy.

His name is Pablo and his previous owner has died.

WIth the adoption formalities done, Pablo can begin his new life and it’s not long before he’s starting to feel like one of the family. And so he remains; as the little girls grows up the friendship continues to flourish. No matter what mischief the animal gets up to, he’s won the heart of his adopter. for as she says, … “you rescued me too.”

Told through a rhyming text that occasionally creaks and scenes of feline felicity and domestic contentment, this gentle tale is a good introduction to what’s entailed in adopting a new pet. A percentage of profits from sales of the book will be donated to UK animal shelters.

Stupid Baby
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s rabbit Simon stars in a funny, somewhat anarchic take on new sibling jealousy.

Simon is far from pleased at being told to play quietly on account of the ‘tiny tiny little baby’ that’s been present in his home for a whole three days. Suppose he stays forever, worries big bro. who feels his own needs are being compromised.
When is the stupid baby going back to the hospital, is what he wants to know. But shock horror! The infant is there to stay forever.

That’s bad enough but come bedtime, Simon’s insecurity is evident. Suppose those big bad wolves lurking outside his window come in to attack him. He needs parental comfort in his hour of need but a rejection is all he receives from that quarter.

Suddenly though he discovers a most surprising source of succour/support …

Great for sharing with the very young around the time of a new baby’s arrival. Despite his bad-mouthing of the babe, Simon is an endearing character whose charms endure no matter what. Stephanie’s bold, bright illustrations are hilarious and splendidly expressive.

Into the Wild / Poppy Goes Wild

Into the Wild
Robert Vescio and Mel Armstrong
New Frontier Publishing

Young Roman has an adventurous spirit and a love of nature that often take him to new places where he makes exciting discoveries. They might be hidden away, mysterious, wonderfully wild or all of those. He needs to keep his senses alert ready for new sights, sounds and tactile experiences.

Sometimes though in the vast, wild depths of the natural world, Roman feels that despite the wonders he’s discovered something is missing; he longs to be able to share his excitement and enthusiasm.
And then unexpectedly he comes upon something that might just satisfy that longing – something interesting and rare …

Since the start of this pandemic and especially during lockdown, more and more of us, wherever we are, have been discovering (or rediscovering) the joys of the natural world. Equally, most of us have been longing to be able to share some of the pleasure with other people, not merely virtually but in the flesh. So, this story of Robert Vescio’s with its illustrations by Mel Armstrong is a smashing portrayal of the marvels of the natural world and friendship – especially when experienced together.

Poppy Goes Wild
Nick Powell and Becca Hall
Little Steps Publishing

TV producer Nick Powell has written this story of rewilding wherein he tells how young Poppy in partnership with her grandad embark on a scheme to return his farmland to the way nature intended it to be. The way it was some fifty years back when wildflowers grew in abundance and native animals such as hares and field mice, otters, insects and birds including peregrine falcons and soaring skylarks thrived.

As Poppy’s Grandad reminisces, she and readers learn of the dramatic changes that have happened due to such things as wetland drainage, intensive farming resulting in habitat loss, and the use of harmful pesticides. “We thought we were doing the right thing,“ Grandad tells her.

Poppy’s great enthusiasm for doing what some of the farmers she’s read about are trying, reignites her grandad’s love of the natural world and project ‘rewilding’ is agreed on. Every weekend and during school holidays Poppy intends to work on the plan but their first task is to identify areas for nature to replenish itself. Then comes providing the best conditions for this to happen.

As the work gets under way, Poppy realises that it’s more than a two-person task. She enlists the help of her classmates from the town near the farm

and over the next few months great headway is made. But, as the story ends, the wonderful restorative transformation work goes on.

An inspiring, uplifting, hopeful story that presents many of the environmental challenges we face at the moment with so many of our species declining alarmingly thanks to the destabilising effects on ecosystems of human activity. In addition there are other themes – collaboration and the wonderful camaraderie between Poppy and Grandad that exemplifies intergenerational relationships.

Becca Hall’s painterly, carefully detailed, illustrations are simply gorgeous. Her colour palette is aglow with the sun’s warmth as well as evoking that inner warmth and exhilaration so many of us feel when immersed in nature.

Nick Powell hopes the book will inspire youngsters to do all they can to look after wildlife, while in a foreword, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef, writer and broadcaster, urges us all to be part of the re-wilding movement in whatever way we can. One truly hopes that, inspired by Poppy et al. both young and not so young will respond to their rallying call.

How To Be a Hero / The Broken Leg of Doom

How To Be a Hero
Cat Weldon, illustrated by Kate Kear
Macmillan Children’s Books

Life as a trainee Valkyrie is not going at all well for young Lotta; she’s in danger of remaining forever stuck in the lowest class. Matters get even worse when the trainees are sent out to bring back a fallen warrior.

Mistaking young Whetstone, an unconscious viking thief as a fallen hero, Lotta carries him back up to Valhalla, and that’s where the real trouble starts. Live humans are not allowed in Valhalla.

Whetstone, a human who wants only to prove himself and achieve fame and fortune, has let himself be talked into crime. He steals, hides and loses a precious talking cup – a cup that trickster Loki desperately wants and will go to any lengths to get hold of.

Now anxious to make amends, Whetstone and Lotta have to try and work together as they embark on a journey to find the cup before Loki.

There’s even more trouble for the pair though when they manage to lose a crucial Dwarf harp as well as rousing a slumbering dragon.

Now Whetstone really MUST pull out all the stops and prove himself a hero after all. Can he do so; and does Lotta finally manage to move on from being that class three trainee?

This is a highly entertaining, fast-paced romp with some crazy situations, fun and interesting characters, dragons and more. Kate Kear’s zany illustrations are just right for the playful telling. This book will surely appeal especially to youngsters with an interest in mythology. but anyone who likes a good yarn should give it a go. It’s the first of a trilogy so look out for further episodes involving Whetstone et al.

The Broken Leg of Doom
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham
Nosy Crow

This the tenth story in the hilarious series, is narrated by Maisie’s friend Izzy. Maisie has broken her leg doing some ‘extreme dancing’ and is taken to hospital.

That in itself is bad but things are about to get even worse, starting with the fact that following e-rays, Maisie is sent to ward 13 and she’s terrified of that particular number.
Enter (he’s actually already a patient), a rather strange boy Seb, who sits down beside the sleeping Maisie’s bed and starts going on about a curse. Talk about weird. But that’s only the start of the strange events in ward 13.

Later Seb says that the curse has now sneaked inside Maisie’s cast and is causing problems. That however isn’t all we hear of curses, but there are other strange things too: somehow the sprinklers get turned on, flooding – you can guess which ward. And what about the ’mummy’ that’s roaming around. By this time it seems that only Maisie among the children isn’t talking of THE CURSE.

Then a certain very special cuddly toy suddenly goes missing, followed not long after, by the appearance of creepy messages on Maisie’s cast.

Oh yes, there’s some weird shenanigans concerning the sandwich trolley too.

Will Maisie and her pals ever get to the bottom of all the mysterious events and break that terrible curse once and for all. It’s certainly going to need some outstanding investigative skills.

Pamela Butchart capitalises on the vivid imagination of children, allowing her group of young characters to get carried away – just take a look at their expressions in Thomas Flintham’s wacky drawings in this zany adventure. It’s assuredly one that will have both individual readers and primary class listeners laughing out loud.

One Lone Swallow

One Lone Swallow
Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan
New Frontier Publishing

This unusual tale is set at the start of the 19th century in Florence. From its opening illustration of a swallow taking flight from her nest high above the city, readers are swept up in the story.

Leaving her nestlings, the swallow flies through the moonlit sky over the rooftops and chimneys searching, searching for her mate. We follow her over the ancient walls and towers, over the chimneys and roofs, under the bridges,

through the arches and above the piazzas, pausing briefly to rest, all the while searching yet knowing that back at the nest her young are calling out their need for food.

Then resuming her search, her eyes detect a slight movement. At the feet of Michelangelo’s statue of David, one wing entangled in ‘shoemakers’ twine’ is her mate.

She takes the end of the twine in her beak and gently begins the task of unravelling the twisted threads. Hidden out of sight lurks a huge rat just waiting to pounce but just in time, with one more pull the last twist of thread comes loose.

Finally not one, but two swallows start their flight back home to their nest.

This is a beautifully told, stunningly illustrated tale of commitment and fidelity. Corinne’s poetic text in combination with Owen Swan’s breath-taking scenes of the twilight Florence of yesteryear make for an extraordinary cultural and aesthetic experience.

Introducing Rollercoasters

These three books are the first of a series from Oxford University Press called Rollercoasters developed in association with Barrington Stoke. With their highly engaging themes intended to build reading confidence and foster a love of reading, they all use the Barrington Stoke ‘dyslexia friendly font’ and are aimed at readers from around eleven. Each includes an author spotlight, some background information relevant to the story and more.

I Am the Minotaur
Anthony McGowan

Carnegie prize winning Anthony McGowan’s perceptive story focuses on fourteen year old Matthew, referred to as Stinky Mog, who is the narrator.

Matthew does his level best to care for his mum who is battling depression, while trying equally hard to fit in at school without being noticed especially by those types likely to make him the target of their bullying. Not an easy task when he frequently turns up looking decidedly dishevelled in his ragged uniform.

Enter Ari, a beautiful girl who totally captivates Matthew – ‘I longed and yearned for Ari’ he tells readers describing his feelings for her as ‘warm and golden’.

Shortly after her birthday, her brand new bike is stolen and Matthew decides on a plan to get it back from the thieves and make Ari happy as a consequence.. He heads off to the public library to start an internet search.
Next day off he goes to a rendezvous: can he pull off his bike rescue? If so, can it change the course of his life?

With themes of bullying, parental depression and poverty, this short novel packs a powerful punch. It’s great to see that for the narrator, the school library with its kindly librarian is a place he feels safe.

Edgar & Adolf
Phil Earle and Michael Wagg

Whether or not you are a soccer fan (and I’m anything but) this story based on real characters – at the heart of which is friendship – will surely move you. It certainly did me.

The book begins in 1983 in a village in Scotland with seventeen year old Adi.
Adi has come from Hamburg, Germany, with something he has inherited and is on a special mission: to find a man named Edgar Kail and return to him what is rightfully his – a special football badge that the now frail old man hasn’t set eyes on for over forty years. If he succeeds Adi will have fulfilled his grandfather’s final wish to reunite the erstwhile England footballer with his prized possession.

And succeed he does but that is only the start of the tale for it’s one that spans some sixty years as Adi and Edgar share memories, press cuttings, letters and more relating to Edgar and the lad’s grandfather Adolf Jäger.

According to the authors’ notes at the back of the book, Edgar Kail and Adolf Jäger having played for their clubs before WW2 – Dulwich Hamlet and Altona 93 – remain folk heroes celebrated by fans (including Phil and Michael) to this day. Amazing.

Rat
Patrice Lawrence

If you’ve read the author’s YA book Orangeboy, then you’ll know how utterly compelling her writing is.
As the story opens, Al is living in a flat with his mum who is attempting to stay on the straight and narrow after spending time in prison. Partly as a result of having moved several times already, Al has only. two friends, his pet rats Vulture and Venom, and he has to keep them secret from the council.

Things are tough as Al’s mum out of prison on licence, has very little money and no job. Consequently it’s not long before she shoplifts from the local supermarket and after an incident that involves Mr Brayer who lives in a flat below, is back in prison.

Al’s certain that it’s Mr Brayer’s fault and decides to get his revenge whatever anybody else says.

The entire cast of characters and the connectedness between them is interesting especially Al’s Gran and his nineteen year old sister Plum, a college student and carer, who is called on to stay with him when his mum goes back to prison. We also discover something of Mt Brayer’s back story which comes as a surprise to Al and I suspect to readers.

Gripping and thought-provoking, this should certainly appeal to older, under confident readers.

The Castle the King Built

The Castle the King Built
Rebecca Colby and Tom Froese
Nosy Crow

Using the rhythmic pattern and structure of the nursery rhyme This is the House that Jack Built, Rebecca Crosby cleverly mixes fact and fiction to create a story of the building of a medieval castle.

We meet those involved in its creation – stonemasons, carpenters

and smiths, as well as, once it’s built, the people who contribute to the castle’s functioning – grooms, knights, merchants, bakers, servants, minstrels and of course, ruler of the land -the king himself.

The final spread presents the entire cast of characters each of them explaining their part (this includes a few women residents not mentioned in the main text)

Rebecca’s skilful use of rhyme and rhythm ensures that the book reads aloud well and Tom Froese uses an appropriate retro style for his striking illustrations helping to create the long ago atmosphere of those days of yore when knights would joust and singing minstrels pipe and strum.

A thoroughly well-presented, enticing and gently educative book for classroom sharing and individual reading, published in collaboration with the National Trust. I specially like the final acknowledgement that everyone included played their part in the life of the making of the castle.

Out of Nowhere

Out of Nowhere
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

Following his superb The Suitcase picture book, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has created another compelling tale, this time on the theme of enduring friendship.

The story begins as the friendship is in its first stage with the arrival ’out of nowhere’ of caterpillar into the world of a beetle (the narrator). The two become friends eating together, and watching the moon come up.

One morning the beetle awakes to find no sign of caterpillar and unaware of the presence or significance of something close by…

Beetle waits, scouring the landscape until eventually he spies through his binoculars something that could be his friend. Heavily weighed down by a basket and trying to feel strong, he treks off through the forest to search,

until he discovers that it’s not her after all – he’s made a huge mistake. Now what? Feeling tired and dejected our seeker decides to rest and revive himself before attempting that long return journey. While so doing, ‘out of nowhere, someone suddenly arrived’

After closer inspection, glimmerings of recognition give way, to absolute joy and a celebratory sharing of food …

Chris’s portrayal of a friendship that changes and grows, (as cherished friendships do) is uplifting and profound. His uncluttered illustrations rendered in a minimal colour palette are highly effective and simply stunning, showing young readers/listeners the way to be a true friend.

Saving Hanno

Saving Hanno
Miriam Halahmy, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
Otter-Barry Books

Rudi is a nine-year old Jewish boy who, as the story starts at the end of 1938, lives with his parents and older sister, Lotte in Frankfurt, Germany under Hitler’s rule.

When things get increasingly bad for Jewish people, Rudi’s parents take the decision to send the children to England on the Kindertransport, telling them that they will follow later on. Meanwhile Rudi and Lotte will live with an English family where they’ll be safe from the Nazis. Rudi is devastated as he won’t be able to take his beloved dachshund, Hanno with him. Amazingly though, Rudi’s family find a non-Jewish man who volunteers to take Hanno to England when he goes and then after a period of quarantine, Rudi hopes he can be reunited with his pet.
Once in England Rudi and Lotte are placed in different homes not far from one another: Rudi’s carers are kind and considerate;

not so those with whom Lotte is sent who force her to act as a maid.
After some time things in England get worse and Britain declares war on Germany. As a consequence, the children are to be evacuated to rural parts but then comes news that pets are to be put down before rationing starts. Now again, Rudi is faced with finding a way to keep Hanno safe before he relocates yet again …

With empathetic illustrations by Karin Littlewood, this is a holocaust story with a difference, and told from Rudi’s viewpoint, it’s one that primary school age readers will certainly relate to. The author confirms in her after story note providing additional background information, that it’s based on fact. Many primary schools include WW2 as part of their history curriculum and while there are many stories about that terrible time, I would definitely advocate adding this one to the books to be shared.

I Talk Like A River

I Talk Like A River
Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
Walker Books

The transformational power of just a few words can sometimes be truly amazing and so it is in Jordan Scott’s autobiographical story. He’s a poet and this is reflected in his lyrical prose wherein he reflects on his childhood stutter and how a conversation with his father after a particularly bad day at school made all the difference.

That day gets off to the usual kind of reflective start but it’s in the classroom where things really take their toll.


When his dad collects him after school, the two take a walk beside the river. It’s quiet surrounded by nature, and having watched his son finally let the pent up emotions of the day flow from his eyes, “They don’t see a pine tree sticking out from my lips instead of a tongue.”

dad sits beside the boy and together they watch the water. “See how that water moves? / That’s how you speak.” he says.

The boy sees ‘bubbling, / whirling, / churning, / and crashing’ and then, keeping his dad’s words in his head he wades into the sunlit water. (shown behind a glorious gatefold) …

Next morning at school the narrator is able to recall these words and ‘to think of the calm river beyond the rapids / where the water is smooth and glistening. … Even the river stutters. / Like I do.’’
No, there’s no instant cure, but this experience does enable the narrator to find a way to tell the class about his favourite place. One cannot help but feel tearful at reading his final few sentences.

I can think of no better artist than Sydney Smith to illustrate Scott’s often painful language. Smith’s wonderfully atmospheric paintings are simply exquisite capturing not only the gut-wrenching pain the boy feels but also the power and energy of the river and of nature itself.


Following the story is a moving ‘How I Speak’ note by the author. Herein he gives additional details of his own childhood experience – his road to self-acceptance and finding a context in which to place his own stutter: ’he (dad) gave image and language to talk about something so private and terrifying.’

This reviewer was absolutely swept away by this awesome collaboration.

Which Food Will You Choose?

Which Food Will You Choose?
Claire Potter and Ailie Busby
Bloomsbury Education (Featherstone)

When Mum opens up the fridge one Monday and sees nothing but beige food items she decides to take the two small narrators straight off to the supermarket to find something more enticing, telling them they’re going to play a game. “But we can’t play games in the supermarket” comes their immediate response.
On arrival she invites her little ones to choose three foods but they have to be red.

Off they go selecting pepperoni, watermelon and a tin of tomato soup. ‘Which three of these RED foods would YOU choose?’ asks the author.

Back home they use the pepperoni as topping for the pizzas they make, chomp into slices of the watermelon (planting the seeds afterwards) and put the soup in a flask to drink when they visit the park .
The narrative then asks, ‘What would YOU do with the three red foods you chose?

A similar thing happens on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with the children being asked select in turn three yellow, green, orange

and then purple foods.

Come Saturday Mum is caught beige-handed,

so on Sunday the children take things into their own hands …

This is a fun, non-judgemental approach to ‘picky eating’ that should definitely encourage youngsters to try some new foods and Claire Potter, the author includes two sets of notes to help adult sharers to ‘get the most out of ‘ the book.

To add to the enjoyment of the text, she uses some playful alliterative descriptions such as “Gorgeous, glorious, groovy green “ and ‘gazillions of green foods’ and ‘Zingy, zesty, zippy orange !’ … ‘oodles of orange foods’. and adults might like to extend the word play by asking youngsters to make up their own alliterative phrases for others of the foods labelled in Ailie Busby’s enticing spreads. The brother and sister certainly appear to be making the most out of their choices – its good to see wonky carrots and using the celery leaves to feed the rabbit – no food taste there.

There’s a wealth of potential between the covers of this little book, not only for – parents/carers but for foundation stage teachers too.