Author Archives: jillrbennett

I am an Early Years teacher in a multicultural school in outer London and also act as a consultant for Early Years education/RE and literature/literacy. I have an MA in Education and my particular interests are picture books and poetry. I'm also the author of Learning to Read with Picture Books (Thimble Press).

Having spent all my time in education furthering the role of literature as a vehicle for literary (and literacy) development I have become increasingly concerned over the past few years with the narrowly conceived, prescriptive views of literacy being promoted to teachers and hence, to children. With this present pre-occupation in schools with a largely functional approach to, and the mechanistic aspects of literacy, it is all too easy to forget the unique and fundamental role literature has in developing the imagination – in children's meaning making.

Essentially I see a story as a kind of sacred space: a place from which to become aware, to contact the spirit – that essential spark within. However for literature to act as sacred space it must take centre stage in the curriculum and be viewed, not primarily as a way of doing but rather, as a way of being or of helping children to be and become.

Tomorrow Most Likely

Tomorrow Most Likely
Dave Eggers and Lane Smith
Chronicle Books

Dave Eggers has penned rhyming ponderings upon the possibilities of what tomorrow might have in store. None of us knows what the next day will bring but Eggers’ likelihoods are safe, reassuring, sometimes weird like this something that won’t rhyme

and sometimes totally delightful: ‘Tomorrow most likely / there will be a sky / And chances are it will be blue.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll smell the good smell / of an unseen flower you can’t quite name.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll pick up a stone / striped like a spiderweb or maybe a brain.’

In this bedtime story, his laid back languorous, rhythmic textual repetition provides both comfort and cheer –seemingly spoken by the mother from the title page bidding her child goodnight and in so doing looking forward.

Lane Smith holds up a two-way mirror to Egger’s contemplations with his mixed media images of a boy heading out through the door to wander around his urban environment encountering such oddities as a troubled big-eyed bug missing his friend named Stu; or that curved-beaked creature sporting a paper-hat, as well as envisaging eccentricities like eating the cloud-cone as he pauses in a flower-filled patch of green and then, clutching the cone, sings atop a rocky tower;

and closing with the boy now sleeping, dreaming of tomorrow, happy in the belief that because he’s in it, it will be ‘a great day.’

Touches of whimsy abound in this detailed urban landscape especially for those who know how to look for the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.

Meet the Penguins

Meet the Penguins
Mike Brownlow
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

The penguin duo are eager to play; but their ‘Please can we play?’ overtures are turned down by in turn an elephant intent on riding his bike; a fox in a ball pool;

a paint daubing hippo; a giraffe building with blocks, a tortoise out riding, a pair of noughts and crosses players, a puzzling primate, a racing rabbit

and a cat fishing, each of which proffers so s/he thinks a pertinent reason why not – well all except the cat and she merely gives an unequivocal ‘No’.

As two despondent penguins sit pondering on their next move, they’re approached by a little bear asking if she can play.

Their loud affirmative response precipitates a truly astonishing display of balancing and juggling as the penguins open their bags and showcase their playful talents aided and abetted by their new playmate.

Pretty soon the three have an audience and guess what they want to do …

With superbly ironic rejoinders from the animals the penguins want to play with, Mike Brownlow’s narrative reminds us how easy it is to push people (or penguins) away and make them feel unwelcome whether or not it’s intentional.

Its vital message about welcoming newcomers and all they have to offer, especially those who might seem different, is timely and pertinent, and this is a great book for opening up discussion.

And of course, youngsters will be unable to stop themselves from joining in with the oft repeated ‘Please can we play’ request.

Little Green Donkey

Little Green Donkey
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

This is another absolutely delicious story from Anuska Allepuz. It’s narrated by Little Donkey who is, shall we say, a rather picky eater.

When we first meet him, his food obsession is grass: grass first thing in the morning, – he starts by eating his grassy pillow – grass all day, every day by all accounts.

On this particular day though our little grey ungulate friend hasn’t noticed the effects all this grass consumption is having upon him (observant readers doubtless will immediately do so) and as he heads off cheerfully for some refreshing water to quench his grass-induced thirst, he’s in for a shock.
What he beholds in the water certainly brings him up short and his immediate concern is what his mother’s reaction will be.

Some hasty disguise art takes place …

before Little Donkey heads home; but his Mum isn’t fooled at all. “It’s really time to try and eat some new food,” she urges.

Her son’s response is to sample several different coloured items – oranges ‘too juicy’; watermelon- too seedy; broccoli too green – really? Apples are just too yucky; grapes are instantly ejected, but what about crunchy carrots? Now they are …

Uh oh! we know what’s coming …

Little ones, as well as this reviewer, will eagerly anticipate the finale as well as giggling helplessly at upbeat Little Donkey, his antics and his foodie fads as portrayed by Anuska. Adults will relish the opportunity to plead their case after sharing this tasty neo-cautionary tale with their own picky eaters.

A laugh-out-loud delight through and through – grey, green, orange or any other colour!

The Sea Saw

 

The Sea Saw
Tom Percival
Simon & Schuster

Tom Percival always hits the sweet spot with his picture books and with this one he’s truly aced it – again.

When Sofia, on a visit to the seaside with her dad, loses her beloved teddy bear she’s totally distraught. The old, tatty object has been passed from her grandfather to her mother (whom one presumes is dead) and then to little Sofia and she’d thought of it more as a friend than a soft toy. In their dash out of the rainstorm said bear falls from an open bag and is left alone on the beach, unseen except by the Sea.

The Sea takes on the role of guardian of the bear, and the search for Sofia begins.

Meanwhile at home, Sofia’s father makes exhaustive enquiries and the two of them return to the beach but all to no avail; all that remains of Sofia’s precious bear apart from memories, is his blue scarf from which she snips a tiny piece to keep in her locket.

Back with the Sea, the hunt continues in earnest with Bear being borne through the water with the aid of marine creatures, surviving hazardous conditions and enjoying more restful periods too. All this takes years and eventually the bear is carried along rivers and a stream,

where it’s spied floating along by a young girl; a young girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter.

Finally a joyful reunion takes place and as Tom tells us almost at the close, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

I doubt many readers will be able to finish this book without having tears in their eyes, a lump in their throat and a happy smile; it’s so moving and SO beautifully constructed. What a wonderful, heart-warming way to think about loss while never completely losing sight of the possibility of reunion.

Such sublime illustrations; every one is to linger over and return to; some send shivers down your spine. Absolutely awesome: another must have book from local-to-me, author/artist, Tom.

Has Anybody Seen A Story?

Has Anybody Seen a Story?
Mandana Sadat
Thames & Hudson

‘Once upon a time, there were three Thingummies called Sadie, Spike and Smudge. They lived in the middle of Nowhere in a place called Floatyfish, surrounded by soft fluffy clouds. The Thingummies had everything they needed – plenty of water, plenty of fresh air, and plenty of flutterberries, a delicious kind of flying fruit that you catch with a net.’

So begins Mandana Sadat’s wonderfully quirky meta-fictive picture book wherein we join the Thingummies in their search for adventure.
Three days of walking leads the threesome to a crossorads and they choose first to follow the Fairytale Trail. This foray finds them coming face to face with the exceedingly ugly, very old and mighty frightening ZOMBEAST.

Its threat to erase them entirely sends the friends fleeing for their lives back to the crossroads.

Next they select The Future Freeway, a bright shiny, ‘whizzy and busy and bright’ sort of place where a friendly-seeming robot makes them feel welcome and refreshed but not for long. When the mechanical monster starts unloading its own woes, the three Ss decide to beat a hasty retreat before it’s too late.

The Poetry Path sounds entirely promising so off they go again, discovering a place, the air of which is enriched by beautiful thoughts and wonderful words: Now who wouldn’t want to spend time there imbibing such delights.

Alluring though this location is, Spike decides they should try the final road, so having returned to the crossroads they proceed deep below ground to Bedtime Boulevard. Therein resides famous storyteller, Madame Mole and she’s happy to help the story searchers. So soothing is her voice that it has a soporific effect on the three seekers and they soon drop off to sleep,

only to find themselves next morning back at the crossroads.

There they make a startling discovery when they come upon a signpost they’d not seen previously. It’s a discovery that relates to the true nature of story, those ‘what ifs’ and the power of the imagination. That however is not quite the end of their tale for the three decide to follow the road into the Maze of Mumblings and … and … and … ultimately they do discover a story that is worth the telling …

Let the celebratory party begin!

Absolutely bursting with diverting details (verbal and visual) to relish, Mandana’s story quest world is likely to entrap readers for a considerable time, and having escaped once, they’ll find themselves drawn back for further flights of fanciful fun and new revelations.

Matisse’s Magical Trail

Matisse’s Magical Trail
Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matisse the snail confines his creative endeavours to the night-time when there’s nobody about; but during the day the world feels scary and much of his time is given over to preventing himself from being squashed by walkers.

One night in the middle of the city Matisse discovers the ideal place for some drawing and sets to work …

Come morning one of his creations is discovered by a little boy, Leo who adds his own marks to the design on the stone and showing it to Matisse, he introduces himself. Leo’s friends are impressed and eager to learn who the artist is; Matisse though has now disappeared.

Off go the children, returning later with many more items for Matisse to work his creative magic upon, and by the next morning our artistic snail has created a trail; a trail that leads to their school wall.

When their teacher sees what the children are looking at, it sparks a wonderful idea in her. Before you can say, ‘art’ the children are hard at work transforming the wall with their own creative endeavours

and they don’t stop at just a single wall. The school becomes a truly wonderful sight attracting great attention from passers by.

That night Matisse however, realises that his work in this particular place is done; it’s time to move elsewhere; first though he has one final piece of art to create for Leo and his fellow pupils. Teachers and other adults will be able to guess what that is.

Look out for snail magic on walls wherever you go; you might not find Matisse but it’s likely you’ll discover some snail magic.

A super story, beautifully told by Tim and illustrated by an exciting newcomer to the picture book scene, Sam Boughton, this book has SO much to offer. It demonstrates to children the importance of looking carefully and noticing small things – things that can lead to big changes. It also shows the importance of creativity and self-expression and is a smashing starting point for art at home or in schools. For imaginative teachers this could prove inspirational.

Big Cat

Big Cat
Emma Lazell
Pavilion

The small girl narrator and her gran’s search in the back garden for Grandma’s missing specs yield not the glasses but a ginormous moggy.

It isn’t Ruby, Gertrude, Hufflystink or Twinklywhiskers so Grandma decides a closer look is necessary. She’s mightily impressed by what she sees …

but there is no way they can keep the cat and so they ask their neighbours if it belongs to any of them.

The answer is a big fat no and so Big Cat becomes a resident with Grandma and her other feline friends; but as she says herself, she really does need to locate her specs.

The newcomer proves enormous fun and extremely useful. The only trouble is, the supplies of cat food dwindle very quickly no matter how many times they’re replaced. It’s not just the cat food that is vanishing though, it’s the human’s food too.

One day the doorbell rings: who could it be? Not Gran’s replacement glasses as they’re due to be ready tomorrow.

There on the doorstep stand two strangers, one clutching some specs and asking if they happen to belong to Grandma.

They do, and to show her gratitude, she asks them in (somewhat unwisely you might be thinking) for tea.

Fortunately however, the visitors are very well-mannered and a friendship is forged between them and the narrator.

As for Grandma, she has invested in lots of spare specs but even then, there are things she misses; but that’s a whole other story…

With visual references to Judith Kerr’s classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Emma Lazell’s debut picture book is funny and somewhat surreal. Observant readers will notice the whereabouts of the missing glasses on the very first spread and will in addition, delight in other visual ‘clues’ as to what is going on throughout as the chaos increases.

A feline frolic of the first order.

Super Snail

Super Snail
Elys Dolan
Hodder Children’s Books

Virtually without need to prove themselves, human superheroes are absolute winners with youngsters, but a super snail? That might take a little more demonstration of worth and that is exactly what Kevin (actually a normal slug) sets out to do in this super story.

Slug though he might be, come nightfall, Kevin dons a hard coiled mollusc coat and becomes transformed: fearless, invincible – an exceedingly slimy gastropod.

Now Kevin already has all that a superhero should have – a secret subterranean hideout complete with trusty butler, as well as a range of brilliant gadgets; but in spite of everything he’s yet to convince himself that he’s the real deal.

Time to consult the brave and comely League of Heroes.

Proof possibilities are posited and then all that Kevin needs is to receive the appropriate Snail Signal and he’s off on a mission, sadly at a snail’s pace, not super fast.

Once on the disaster scene, despite his best efforts Kevin is less than helpful; he resorts to last ditch efforts but even that merely renders him the butt of the villains’ jokes.

I should head home, thinks our would-be hero but then quite suddenly Kev. hears something alarming concerning one, Laser Pigeon, and he observes what looks like the ideal opportunity finally to exercise his slippery-slimy superpower and save his would-be dinner date, the ‘dynamic’ career worm Susan …

Super-author/illustrator Elys has out-supered herself with this one. With each new book, I think to myself, she won’t better this but then she does; and so it is with Kevin’s stupendously silly saga. It’s out of this world brilliant. Just get hold of a copy and see.

Who is Afraid of Little Wolf? / Marley Bear at the farm / Ottie Elephant in the town

Who is Afraid of Little Wolf?
Yayo Kawamura
Prestel Publishing

A bored little wolf is eager to find a playmate but he’s rebuffed in turn by little squirrel, little rabbit and little fox each saying that their mother doesn’t allow them to play with wolves.

Feeling rejected and sad, the little wolf hears a voice inviting him to play. It’s little bee, who is definitely not afraid of him and wants to play hide and seek.

So much fun do they have that the forest resounds with their playfulness.

All of a sudden, first squirrel and then a host of other animals want to join the game …

It’s never too early to demonstrate to the very youngest the importance of friendship and of not prejudging others; Yayo Kawamura’s delightful little book with its endearing characters does both of those without a hint of preachiness.

Marley Bear at the farm
Ottie Elephant in the town

Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

Part novelty lift-the-flap, part seek-and-find, these tactile board books, the first two of a new series, involve little ones from the outset.

Marley Bear stars in the first book and we join him on a farm visit. There’s plenty to discover as he’s greeted by Gus Lion,

encounters some noisy farm animals including a pig family, a soft, fluffy sheep (very strokable) and then looks at more farm animals, the farmhouse and a truck before jumping into his car to drive home. Highly interactive, with some subtle positional vocabulary learning (in front/behind).

It’s a busy day when Ottie Elephant makes a trip to town; the place is bustling with shoppers and full of noise;

there are many colourful sights to enjoy, and as well as counting Ottie’s flowers, little ones can explore her shopping basket before she sets off home for some welcome refreshments.

Little Duck Duck hides in plain sight in every spread adding to the enjoyment of both books.

Lots of inherent learning, but most important, lots of fun to share with tinies.

 

 

Crabbit the Parrot / Bluster and Snide

Crabbit the Parrot
Bluster and Snide

Steve Blakesley and Natalie Griffiths
LDA

Ex primary teacher, Steve Blakesley has penned two rhyming lessons showing undesirable and then desirable behaviour animal style.

Crabbit the Parrot is a self-centred bird, beautiful to look at but not to listen to. It’s always a case of ‘me’, me first’, mine’ or other self-serving words and he just can’t cope when he doesn’t get his way immediately.

He’s the last to be sold from Mrs Jollies Pet Shop but when eventually a family chooses him and he gets a new home, Crabbit  is bad tempered and demanding

and makes a reckless break for freedom.

No amount of coaxing will bring him down from his branch in the tree but then an old raven CK happens along with a warning about a marauding moggie (ignored by Crabbit) and some wise words about the need for the parrot to alter his behaviour.

This brings about a positive change in Crabbit who heeds the lesson and returns inside, a reformed character.

Bluster and Snide are a pair of bantam cockerels that bully the other farmyard birds especially the smaller, weaker ones

until one day they issue a challenge to CK (Carrion King), calling him cowardly and bragging about their gang.

Their over confidence leads to Snide daring his brother to do something reckless, the outcome of which is a badly injured, friendless and increasingly hungry Bluster.

Time to change his ways perhaps? CK certainly thinks so, advocating ‘You need to be a friend.’ But, in the face of the farmyard fox, is it too late? …

Lively ‘Story Therapy’ tales such as these two with Natalie Griffiths’ expressive illustrations, can open up individual or class discussions on their inherent themes of anger management and bullying and will prove a useful PSHE tool for primary schools.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Dare

Dare
Lorna Gutierrez and Polly Noakes
Tiny Owl

Here’s a little book that cries out to be shared with little ones wherever they are. It’s a powerful exhortation to be the very best person you can possibly be.

We see examples of young children who dare to dream big and aspire, to trust and inspire, to do what’s not been done before;

there’s a girl who won’t settle for second place and an acute observer who notices things others miss. Then comes finding the courage to speak out against wrongs;

daring to risk reaching out to others; to sing and dance, to offer a helping hand and to be a trailblazer are equally desirable when it comes to self fulfilment. Above all though be true to yourself …

… a bright star illuminating the dark.

What better message can you give to a young child?

This beautifully illustrated, diverse, empowering book would make a smashing present for a new parent or for a pre-schooler’ s naming ceremony or birthday, as well as being great to read in any early years setting. Foundation stage teachers might easily devote an entire circle time to discussing any one of the statements; the potential is terrific.

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep
Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Life for Stefano squid is far from easy. Why is it that the unique characteristics of a squid go unappreciated? That is what Stefano ponders upon.

His fellow deep sea creatures offer reasons relating to his lack of colours, being unbat-like and not being shaped like a hammer …

while the dolphins suggest he should endeavour to look more intelligent; the sea dragon favours looking more leafy and the sea cucumber’s suggestion is to look more vegetable-like.

All the while Stefano is at pains to point out that being a squid makes their suggestions impossible, and when the anglerfish  asks about his weaponry, all the squid can do is to go and hide himself away in a cave.

There he receives some words of comfort from the Sea Cucumber but they are immediately negated by the comments of the limpets.

However, when Sea Cucumber points out one of the diving crew is in trouble, it’s down to Stefano to come to his aid; small and insignificant as he considers himself to be, he just can’t swim away and do nothing.

Rescue mission achieved, or rather,  the little cephalopod and his pal get the surprise of their lives – make that two surprises -when the identity of the rescued diver is revealed; but the second one comes the following day and to discover what that is, you’ll need to get your fins on a copy of this thoroughly immersive book.

Wendy’s telling is great fun but at the same time reminds us of the importance of self-worth and self-belief. Duncan’s terrific undersea scenes are splendidly expressive and comical, and I love his marine colour palette.

There are talking points aplenty once you’ve shared this super splashy story.

Catch Me / Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure

Catch Me
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books

In this double-ended seek-and-find book a long-necked cat, Big Meow and a spotted dog, Little Woof hunt for one another as they dash through eleven, mostly very busy scenes, changing their colour to blend in with each one.

Begin at the front to follow Big Meow’s journey through the pages and to try to catch Little Woof, work backwards. Either way there’s a pre-chase introductory spread introducing the characters.

The search-and-find pages have no words apart from a sign with Japanese symbols in this springtime café scene …

Each one of Arhoj’s incredibly busy, bright digital scenes will likely make the reader linger long after finding Meow and Woof as they enjoy the quirky details be that in the beauty salon, the alley with its shadowy creatures …

the park, the animal show, the cloud based carnival or any of the other zany locations. Each one is rendered in a different colour palette, which ups the challenge and interest levels another notch.

Enormous fun, the entire book is totally immersive; I hate to think how long I spent poring over it. Love those clever die-cut covers, each with its pair of alluring staring eyes; young readers will too.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure
Lomp
Little Tiger

Following their Totally Wild Chase famous explorers Wilfred Wiseman and Olbert Oddbottom are off on another action packed adventure.
While out shopping one afternoon the friends enter a time portal and in so doing find themselves cascading through thousands of years of history and unbelievably all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

Landing in a prehistoric ocean 360 millions years ago they confront among other creatures a Dunkleosteus, and readers are asked to search and see how many trilobites they can find.

From there they make a hasty exit and land up in a swampy forest of the Carboniferous period.

Further retreats into the time portal take them not home but in turn to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed and they have a narrow escape from a Stegosaurus.

Thereafter they enter the Cretaceous period and come upon even more dinosaurs, followed by the Neogene period, the Quaternary ice age where they meet a mammoth as well as encounter some human cave dwellers before leaping once more through the portal and right back home where it’s time for tea, followed they suppose by a well-deserved rest.

But then they look through the window where a big surprise awaits.

My head was certainly spinning after all that, so I’m certain the two friends needed a lot more than a cup of “Earlier Grey’ or ‘Oo-So-Long’ tea to calm them down.

Frenetic, crazy, action-packed and bursting with speech bubbles: search-and-find enthusiasts especially, will quickly be sucked through the portal along with Will and Ollie, taking a considerable time to emerge from this absorbing book. Fortunately the solutions to the puzzles are given inside the back cover along with a message from a nautilus that issues a further challenge to readers.

The Perfect Sofa

The Perfect Sofa
Fifi Kuo
Boxer Books

It’s always good to discover new author/illustrators so I was especially happy to receive a copy of The Perfect Sofa by Fifi Kuo whose bold and patterned art style instantly attracted me.

Now, let’s meet best pals, Panda and Penguin who appear to share pretty much everything, not least their sofa, clearly a well-loved and now very worn piece of furniture.

It’s had some pretty heavy use, so much so that one day Panda declares they need to replace it with a new model.

Off they go to the furniture store where there are sofas aplenty; but of course before buying, comes the trying.

Seemingly the friends are spoilt for choice but will they manage to find exactly what they’re looking for?

Could it perhaps be that they need to look elsewhere?

Wonderfully playful, this sweet story is perfect for sharing with little ones as well as being ideal for beginning readers. I love the way the lettering changes to reflect the characteristics of the sofas illustrated.

In our throwaway society, this gently humorous book will surely strike a chord; it might even help up-cycling to become more than just a passing fashion for trendies.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones
Walker Books

Young children certainly, are innately curious, constantly sensing, observing, investigating, relating, questioning, thinking, communicating and loving. In so doing they create theories that explain how and why our world works. This propensity can sadly, start to wane as they move further up the education system.
With this collection Paul B. Janeczko  counters this fact, helping to nurture (or re-awaken) that natural curiosity in those who encounter his wonderful selection of poems.

Essentially it is a kind of instruction manual for such diverse topics as being mole-like, toasting marshmallows, distinguishing between goblins and elves, being a tree in winter, making a snow angel

and playing jacks – not a game one sees children playing much now.

The order may at first glance seem random but it certainly isn’t – far from it: great care has been taken in arranging this selection and there’s a contents page to start, which begins with Charles Ghigna’s How to Build a Poem – an observation on the power of the right words in just the right order: ‘ … words like ladders / we can climb, / with words that like / to take their time, // words that hammer, words that nail, / words that saw, / words that sail, / words that whisper, / words that wail.
A perfect opening that as the final lines say, ‘words that leave us / wanting more.’

There’s an equally perfect concluding poem too: April Halprin Wayland’s – How To Pay Attention: ‘Close this book. / Look.’

In between are some thirty other golden nuggets, mainly contemporary although a few such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing from the 19th century are also included. I recall as a young child sitting on my garden swing chanting , ‘How do you like to go up in a swing, // Up in the air so blue?’ as I kicked my legs.

It’s absolutely impossible for me to chose a favourite, I liked every one; but some of my favourites on this reading (ask me another time and it will perhaps be different) are: J. Patrick Lewis’ How to Tell a Camel (for its sheer playfulness);

How to Catch a Poem (Irene Latham);

Ralph Fletcher’s How to Make a Snow Angel : ‘Go alone or with a best friend. / Find a patch of unbroken snow. // Walk on tiptoes. Step backwards / Into your very last footprints.// Slowly sit back onto the snow. / Absolutely do not use your hands..’ … ‘Stretch. Float. Fly!’

And I was especially pleased to find Nikki Grimes’ A Lesson from the Deaf- a poem on using sign language.

I could enthuse at length about this book but in conclusion, I absolutely love its eclectic nature.

Richard Jones has done a terrific job illustrating each poem so as to leave room for the words to breathe on the page, never overwhelming them but also inviting readers to look closely at his work too with its textures and patterns and admire his carefully chosen colours.

A must have book for all poetry lovers and those who want to encourage children to become so. These are poems to read, read aloud, savour, consider, share, enthuse about and thereafter to look, look and look again.

Mira’s Curly Hair

Mira’s Curly Hair
Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani
Lantana Publishing

How many of us are satisfied with our natural hair? We often deem it too straight or too curly and spend countless hours styling it and making it look different. I for one have given up on the straighteners other than on very rare occasions but like Mira, the main protagonist in this story, would really like effortlessly straight and smooth hair.

Like Mira too I’ve tried pulling it down to get rid of the kinks and I know from my daily yoga practice that headstanding has absolutely no effect when it comes to hair straightening.

Mira even goes to the lengths of piling books on her hair but inevitably once she moves those curls spring up as if to say, we told you so.

The child covets her mother’s long, smooth straight locks but then one day while out walking with her it starts to rain heavily. They run for shelter ‘neath a palm tree but as they wait, Mira notices to her amazement, something different about her mother’s long locks. They’re straight no more; thanks to the moisture her hair is curling and curling … and Mira loves it.

Thereafter there’s only one hairstyle for both Mira and her mum; it’s natural and it’s curly.

With its theme of self-acceptance, this simple story is beautifully told by debut picture book author, Maryam al Serkal

Prize-winning Argentine illustrator Rebeca Luciani’s scenes executed in jewel-like acrylic colours and digitally worked are superb. I especially love the way items such as toy soldiers and hair styling tools are woven into one illustration,

while others feature modern and traditional Islamic style architecture, as well as richly patterned clothing both traditional and modern.

Another wonderful addition to the culturally enriching picture book list that is Lantana Publishing.

The One-Stop Story Shop

The One-Stop Story Shop
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal
Little Tiger

How many stories can you pack into one? A fair few it seems when Tracey Corderoy is the author and the tale is The One-Stop Story Shop.

Having discovered that the terrible dragon he intended to slay is temporarily absent taking a well-earned break, a knight finds himself sans story.

Luckily he happens upon a helpful neighbour who takes him to the perfect place named in the title where his problem might be solved, thereby placing the fearless knight on a hunt to find an appropriate story.

The shopkeeper however, has sold out of dragons and instead offers a feisty ferret.

By means of an ingenious plot said ferret then acts as foil for a series of one act dramatic misadventures – a space extravaganza, a cowboy yarn, a rumble-in-the-jungle adventure,

and a depths of the ocean journey. Along the way additional characters tag along, notably a space robot and on every occasion it’s down to feisty ferret to save the situation.

Do the knight and his entourage finally emerge safe and sound from all their adventuring?

Most certainly they do, arriving back in the ‘real’ world of the shop just in time to welcome a certain dragon back from his hols. and ready and willing to do battle.

The knight’s response to his offer demonstrates that he’s graduated from ready-made tales, and with his ferrety sidekick and friend, is more than capable of finding his own adventures.

Enormous fun, this foray into the magical world of storytelling is a great read aloud. Tracey’s text is comically illustrated by Tony Neal. Every one of his spreads is packed with giggle inducing details; and who can resist a poop joke?

An absolute winner and a smashing take on the knight vs dragon tale.

Once Upon A Unicorn Horn

Once Upon A Unicorn Horn
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This simply gorgeous book – a neo pourquoi tale -is Beatrice Blue’s debut picture book and what a smasher it is.
Meet June, a small girl with a wonderful imagination and a taste for all things magical. She knows ‘the woods were full of treasures waiting to be discovered’ and one day she finds the greatest possible treasure – magic horses learning to fly.
One little horse however isn’t whizzing through the air with the others, fluttering his sparkly tail and he’s very sad about the fact. June is anxious to help him but no matter what they try, nothing gets him airborne, so she decides to try a touch of magic. This too fails leaving both girl and horse even more sad.

Back home, June’s parents are sympathetic telling her not to worry, together they can fix things.

Next morning they all think hard and together come up with a possibility: something sweet, happy and to share. Ice-cream fits the bill thinks June; and having whispered sweetening formula over the cartons, she sets out eagerly and very fast, in search of her friend.

Oops! Disaster … or is it? Look at the trajectory of that cone …

Suddenly something magical really does happen …

Billed as the first of a new picture series about how magical creatures got their special features, this story will immediately be devoured by the countless young unicorn lovers out there.

Beatrice’s story is fantastically funny, and deliciously sweet, but thanks in part to the humour, not in a sickly way. Her illustrations are enchanting, quirky and, in the appropriate places, full of joy; and June is a delightful character.

A winning addition to the First Editions titles; I (along with masses of youngsters) look forward to more, both in the series and from Beatrice.

My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

I Saw a Bee

I Saw a Bee
Rob Ramsden
Scallywag Press

Having introduced himself, the small boy narrator of this largely visual story tells what happens when he opens a big box and discovers a bee.

Unsurprisingly, once the lid is lifted the bee buzzes out straight at the lad, scaring him so much that he gives chase.

The bee reciprocates, buzzing after its pursuer who leaps into the box to hide. Inevitably the insect flies off leaving other minibeasts to enter the arena.

Then however, the boy, presumably tired of being stuck inside the box,

emerges and searches for the bee; but the buzzy insect remains elusive, so much so that it’s missed by the lad.

Suddenly ‘Buzz Buzzz’ – could it be? Following the buzzing sound results in a great deal of celebratory buzzing around

and an outpouring of reciprocal love between the human character and the stripy insect he’s befriended.

Beautifully simple – it’s perfect for beginning readers, as well as young listeners, Rob Ramsden’s debut picture book (the first of a promised series that aims to encourage appreciation of the natural world in little ones), has a vital message, all the more so when we read of the decline in insect numbers in our countryside.

Told with a catchy natural rhythm, Rob’s text is highly repeatable; and in conjunction with his wonderfully patterned, screen printed illustrations of the child in the natural world, makes for a book to read, read and read again; and one which should playfully launch the ‘bees are vital’ message that will stay with the very young through their lives.

A delicious first picture book: I look forward to more.

My Tree and Me

My Tree and Me
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

This latest title in team Witek and Roussey’s In My Heart series presents the seasons through the eyes of the little girl narrator as she introduces her tall, more than 100 year old friend with ‘birds in his hair’ that she calls My Tree.

It’s with this understanding, non-judgemental tree that she shares the ups and downs of her life as well as using him as a partner for singing and dancing.

We learn of how the different seasons affect how she feels and what she does in relation to her friend; ‘With My Tree, I feel like I can fly’ she says of spring …

In summer said tree is a place under which to picnic, becoming a big house for all her animal friends as well as a static participant in a game of hide-and-seek.

Bare-branched and all a-tremble in winter, My Tree is kept warm by the child’s scarf and her fast jumping upon his ‘frozen feet’ – (strangely out of seasonal sequence this).

Said tree also has magical transformational powers, bestowing some on our narrator as she mixes a potion of earthworms, mouldy chestnuts and decaying leaves.

Come autumn My Tree’s branches with their colour changing leaves, provide umbrella-like protection from the sun’s rays.

No matter the season, My Tree, we’re told, smells good: in summer it’s with fruit and honey; moss and mushrooms signify autumn, peppermint is winter’s smell and fresh lime is his springtime one.

For My Tree, it’s easy to stay rooted to the spot but when the little girl tries a yoga tree pose, she finds balancing without wobbling something of a challenge …

both of the friends though, exhibit seasonal growth.

Like previous titles in the series, this has thick die cut pages; and Christine Roussey’s characteristic adorable ink-drawn narrator as well as inky aspects of My Tree, the rest of which is portrayed in colours appropriate to the season.

Celebrating the wonders of the natural world, this is another winning combination of words and pictures from the series’ collaborators.

Perfectly Peculiar Pets

Perfectly Peculiar Pets
Elli Woollard, illustrated by Anja Boretzki
Bloomsbury Chlldren’s Books

This is an alphabet of rhyming verse wherein readers encounter twenty six of the most unlikely creatures you’d (n)ever imagine keeping as pets.

There are huge ones such as the killer whale – kept to the neighbours’ consternation, in a garden pond and the Elephant: ‘My elephant’s a perfect pet. / Nothing can improve her. / As when my room is full of junk / Her trunk’s a brilliant hoover.
With an untidy partner such as mine, this pet is one I’d certainly like to have around. And come to think of it the creature featured in R is for Rhino would come in extremely useful when it comes to finding somewhere to put all the items of clothing a certain person leaves around.

At the opposite end of the size-spectrum is S for Slugs. I definitely would not consider trying the suggestions put forward here: ‘Can you smuggle six slugs in / your sweater / And stroke all their lovely soft slime / Then juggle the slugs, and jiggle the slugs. / Maybe all six at a time? Can you snuggle six slugs in your duvet, / And lie next to them all / night through.
Now while not having anything against the little creatures other than the fact that they’re a menace in the garden, I most definitely do not ‘adore them’, would never ‘bow down before them’. And as for uttering the final ‘ewwwwwwwwwww!’, so long as they keep off my plants, there’s no need to say that.

Playful, rhythmic and often gigglishly silly, there’s sure to be a pet poem or several for every young child in this assortment of Elli’s. Her final offering is an invitation to her readers to try writing their own poem – it’s issued first in rhyme and then followed by a helpful prose explanation on how children might have a go, and some of the tools they might use in so doing.

Anja Boretzki’s inclusive black and white, textured illustrations capture the humour of the verses, adding to the fun.

Ruby’s Sword

Ruby’s Sword
Jacqueline Veissid and Paola Zakimi
Chronicle Books

However hard she tries, spirited, young Ruby always seems to get left behind when out with her two older brothers. Pausing for breath on their walk, she discovers three long sword-like sticks in the grass; and feeling ‘invincible’ she offers two of the ‘dragon-fighting swords’ to her brothers.

They however only proceed to play with each other leaving her out once again. Disappointed she storms off.

Then, she comes upon an apple tree bearing ‘a royal feast’; she spears the fruit with her sword, which she also uses to help a colony of ants ‘Loyal subjects saved’, as well as to decorate the dirt with her creative efforts.

When a storm gathers scattering swallows, Ruby lifts her sword, whipping the wild winds, swishing at the rumbling, grumbling clouds, the raindrops and, when a huge gust of wind rips a sheet from a clothesline, she catches it on the tip of her sword and uses it to construct a tented dwelling.

Inevitably this attracts the interest of her siblings who are given the cold shoulder when they offer their help.

Now it’s their turn to feel snubbed and off they march but return soon after with handfuls of peace offerings.

Then all three work together to create a ‘magnificent castle’ – the perfect place to shelter loyal subjects – noble knights as well as animal friends.

Jacqueline Veissid’s charming story of sibling squabbles and reconciliation pays tribute to the power of the imagination in her softly spoken narrative, while in her digitally worked watercolour and pencil illustrations, Paola Zakimi clearly shows the siblings changing feelings and adds some lovely details of flora and fauna, along with touches of whimsy through the activities of her playful furry creatures.

A debut story for the author; I shall look out for more from her.

Me and My Sister

Me and My Sister
Rose Robbins
Scallyway Press

Readers are not told that the sister referred to in this book’s title is differently abled or has an autism spectrum condition, in this account of the life shared by the narrator and his sibling: it’s left for us to infer through Rose Robbins’ verbal and visual narrative.

Therein we witness the highs and lows of having a much loved but differently abled younger sister who communicates through sounds and actions rather than words, actions that might be challenging or unsettling although not to understanding older family members.

The siblings attend different schools where the activities are different, although they both do a lot of learning.

There are plenty of fun times, as well as some embarrassing ones especially where strangers are concerned; and it’s frustrating to get chastised for things that aren’t your fault when it seems as though others are getting away with things.

Big bro. reassures us that no matter what, despite their obvious differences he’s an understanding and very loving brother

who is loved back by his little sister.

Told and illustrated with great sensitivity and gentle humour, in no small part because debut author/illustrator Rose Robbins teaches young people who have autism and also has a brother with autism, this is a book that should help foster empathy and understanding to share and talk about in school and at home.
Almost every class I’ve taught has included one or more children with autism and I know that their behaviour can sometimes be challenging; but more importantly, what they need is a loving, stable, structure within which to learn. That is what’s shown in Rose’s story.

(I’m writing this review having spent time today having coffee at Ruskin Mill organic café near where I live. Ruskin Mill is an educational establishment for learners with complex needs; it’s evident from observing those who work with the 16-25 year old students that sensitivity, humour, respect and understanding are part and parcel of their philosophy and approach to everything that happens there.)

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats
Mia Cassany and Marcos Navarro
Prestel Publishing

This large size book showcases earth’s wildernesses that are the ‘habitats of rare animals and plants’.

Readers are taken to sixteen locations around the world, the planet’s wild regions such as Nioko-Koba National Park in Senegal; Kahuzi-Biéga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Qinling Mountains of China; the Sundarban islands (an Indian national park).

There are forest regions – that of Skihote-Alin National Park in far eastern Russia being a mix of subtropical and taiga and hence contains a mix of animal species not normally found together; the tropical rainforests of Malaysia where it’s estimated that some species are more than 100 million years old – awesome! See how stunning some of its butterfly and moth species are …

The unique Madagascan tropical rainforests wherein live almost 300 species of frogs and huge numbers of geckos, are sadly we read, under enormous threat from human actions.

Happily however, the Sri Lankan Sinharaja Forest Reserve is unspoilt since it’s almost impenetrable to humans and contains numerous rare and endangered animal species including the long-nosed whip snake and the purple-faced langur.

In addition to several other rainforest locations, we visit Tortuguero National Park on the Costa Rican coast that is a mix of beach, freshwater creeks and lagoons and surrounding rainforest. In complete contrast is the boreal (taiga) forest wilderness of north Canada, Alaska and Russia and is the most northerly of the world’s nature reserves.

Each of the landscapes is stunningly illustrated by Marcos Navarro, making each spread a visual delight before one even starts to explore closely, the fauna and flora depicted; or to read Mia Cassany’s informative paragraph(s) giving geographical and biological facts on the native species.

The final pages home in on some of animals, drawing attention to their characteristics and habits in brief paragraphs of text alongside small, labelled pictures of the featured habitats.

The book’s large format serves to draw readers in to each stopping place, making one want to linger long and explore the beauty of every spread.

A Mouse Called Julian

A Mouse Called Julian
Joe Todd-Stanton
Flying Eye Books

This is the tale of a rather reclusive rodent, one Julian, a mouse who invests a considerable amount of his time dodging other tunnelling animals, avoiding the farmer and her dog, and evading the clutches of the barn owl. So much so that he’s completely unaware of the watchful beady eyes of a fox.

One particular night said fox – a particularly cunning creature – creeps up to Julian’s cosy residence and smashes through the window.

Fortunately for the little mouse however, he’s unable to reach his intended prey and gets himself well and truly stuck.

The wily devil then has the audacity to ask for Julian’s assistance in extricating himself, claiming to be just popping in for a friendly social visit.

Now Julian has no desire to be stuck with this vulpine visitor so he does his best to free the beast; but no amount of pulling and pushing makes any difference, so come dinner time, Julian decides to share his meal and some nocturnal conversation with the intruder. During this time both parties realise things of significance.

The following morning Julian succeeds in releasing the fox who disappears off into the woods once more.

Things go back to normal for Julian until on his ramblings he finds himself confronted by one of his arch enemies.

Its eyes aren’t the only pair watching our furry friend though; who should come creeping along but a certain fox and can you believe,  he swallows Julian right in front of the owl.

Is that the end for the little mouse?

Not quite for there’s a surprising twist in the tale of this cracking story, which is best summed up in the words of the fox himself – ‘Wow we ware weven.”

I’ll leave you to work that one out and to relish Joe’s delicious finale when you bag yourself a copy of this enormously satisfying saga. Full of suspense, it’s a veritable visual and verbal feast.

Going To The Volcano

Going To The Volcano
Andy Stanton and Miguel Ordóñez
Hodder Children’s Books

Meet Jane and Dwayne: whether they’re friends or siblings I know not but they’re both heading to the same place to look at the same thing.

Its location is somewhere in Spain and to get there requires walking (down the lane-o); riding a Great Dane-o; sitting on a train-o; jumping on a plane-o, which flies them to their target country

where it happens to be raining. Splashing through it, – the rain-o, climbing up the crane-o and down the chain-o, (fortunately the rain has now stopped)

takes the two, plus the host of other interested parties who have tagged along during the journey, to the rim of the titular volcano.

That however, is not quite the end of this crazy saga for as perhaps the visitors were unaware, but little ones will be eagerly anticipating, said volcano is active and …

It’s easy to be wise after the event but those who value their lives and limbs will do well to heed the advice proffered by those who learned the hard way to STAY OFF THE VOLCANO!

For the full cast of volcano visitors, see the final spread, which in itself is sufficient to make you sputter with laughter – no not lava; despite those lava ‘girls’ lined up thereon, one of whom is called Trevor.

Stupendously silly, but then that is what makes Andy’s rhyming recklessness so riveting, all the more so when coupled with Miguel Ordóñez’ scenes of the comical cast cavorting towards their destination.

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace / Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace
Paula Harrison
Nosy Crow

In the 15th and final adventure in the series, it’s up to Zina and her friends to save the tamarind trees of their rainforest home. These trees are the only ones that provide year round food for the lemurs but they’re scheduled to be cut down to make way for the carnival that has been re-routed on account of the usual road being flooded.

Princess Zina is horrified at the prospect; but the princesses must use their intelligence, co-operative skills, kindness and courage to protect the animals and their precious tamarinds.

With their camouflage ninja gear and Zina’s special amber necklace, said by her grandma to hold the heart of the forest it might just be possible to persuade Ando and his workmates to find another path. If not, could the amber jewel works it magic? …

Another exciting tale with short chapters, plenty of line drawings and an exciting and intriguing plot to keep readers turning the pages, this is ideal for new solo readers.

For readers who like longer stories there are two new fiction titles from Maverick Publishing coming soon: one is

Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Mike Garton
Maverick Publishing

4X have become 5P and they’re back with another highly unusual teacher, not from the stone age this time but nevertheless there’s something not quite normal about Miss Pythia.
For a start, she always seems to know exactly what is about to happen; she has a weird-looking symbol tattooed on the back of her neck; she never seems to change her clothes, and there’s that box she keeps on her desk. Mmmm! And could it be sheer co-incidence that she shares her name with a priestess of the Ancient Greek world?

When I taught nursery children we often did an activity called, ‘What’s in the box?’ Singing a little ditty based on those words served to arouse the children’s interest and enthusiasm before the lid was lifted and we investigated its contents. And that is just what Miss Arlo does when she instructs her class that opening the particular box she has in her safe-keeping, is strictly forbidden.

But then 5P are selected to participate in A Play a Day, electing to perform a version of Pandora’s Box and Arlo is chosen to act as director. Can his classmates resist the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s actual box as they rehearse?

What Arlo doesn’t immediately spot as he gets engrossed in his directing role is that the replica box made for the drama has been switched.

Then with the play in full swing a terrible realisation comes upon him …

Another winner from Alice Hemming; it’s full of suspense, gently humorous and splendidly complemented by Mike Garton’s lively, expressive drawings, which provide additional details and humour.

Now set fair to become a super series, this story is great for solo reading as well as highly appropriate as a class read aloud especially if the Ancient Greeks are on the agenda.

Rocketmole

Rocketmole
Matt Carr
Scholastic

Armstrong the star-nosed mole finds his subterranean life boring. But Armstrong is an inventive fellow with a thirst for adventure who likes to keep his sights fixed skywards; and to this end (or rather beginning) he builds himself a telescope and some special specs.

When he announces to his pals that he’s going to visit the moon they’re totally discouraging. Danger is no deterrent to Armstrong though and after a rather bumpy start, our daring mole has built himself an enormous rocket that impresses even the naysayers when they pop their heads up to watch the countdown.

Following an arduous journey with trials and tribulations including tea drinking and loo-going, our space-creature makes his lunar landing, taking ‘one giant leap for a mole!’

The very first lunar-visiting mole is basking in starlit glory.

His exaltation though, is short-lived: the moon is, let’s say, boring; it lacks atmosphere.

Dwarfed by the moon’s size, Armstrong feels totally insignificant.

As he sits trying in vain to eat a spot of lunch, he looks earthwards and feels homesick.

There’s just one way to go – back home.

And who should be waiting for him but a welcoming party of his moley pals who have summoned up sufficient courage to come above ground and pay tribute to the inspiring Armstrong.

Over cake and cups of fizz (or maybe juice) their hero announces that he now wants to see the world, but not alone. With newfound daring, his fellow moles agree to accompany him, precipitating a light bulb moment in Armstrong.

Let operation world tour commence …

Out of this world crazy, the entire book is replete with groan-worthy humour though the final tour spread really beats the rest for bonkersness.

Using his characteristic primary colours plus black and white, (don’t miss the front endpapers) Matt’s scenes are a wonderful amalgam of pictures and text, full of puns and spaced-out soppiness that this particular reviewer was absolutely swept away by.

Wide Awake / Creature Features:Dinosaurs

Wide Awake
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is Rob Biddulph’s third in the Dinosaur Juniors series that’s bound to delight your dino-littles.

The stars of this particular nocturnal show are Winnie – the wide awake one and Otto whom she wakes up to tell she cannot sleep.

Otto once roused has a simple plan in the form of a soothing lullaby and it goes like this:

Easy peasy: job done! Not quite; Winnie is still wide awake, so maybe a memory game that requires recalling everything they did during the day … a doddle surely.

But no; wide eyed she remains.

Third time lucky then? Counting sheep never fails … success! One deeply sleeping twin sister. Shame she snores ….

Hilarious, and delivered in Rob’s faultless rhyming and priceless pictorial style, this is the perfect read-to-your-little-ones tale, be it or be it not bedtime; and you certainly won’t find yourself nodding off as you share it; rather you’ll end up hoarse after repeated re-reads. Bring on the fourth book say I.

And if your dino-tinies can’t get enough of their favourite creatures then try:

Creature Features:Dinosaurs
Natasha Durley
Big Picture Press

This over-sized board book is brimming over with prehistoric beasties of the ‘Humongous horns’ variety, as well as those with ‘Terrifying teeth’, ‘Wonderful wings’, ‘Hefty head crests’, ‘Brilliant beaks’, ‘Amazing armour’,

not to mention ‘Fabulous flippers’, exceedingly long necks, ‘Super sails & spines’, ‘Creepy claws’ and ‘Fantastic fur’.

Illustrated with super-bright colours and splendid shapes, these creatures will make your little ones pause and linger over every spread to learn lots of new names, hone their observation skills and learn some dino-facts along the way.

What Do They Do With All That Poo?

What Do They Do With All That Poo?
Jane Kurtz and Allison Black
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Of zoo books there’s an abundance, but when it comes to talking about the animals’ poo and what happens to it after passing out of the animals, is another matter. A faecal matter one might say and the author Jane Kurtz knows exactly how to grab the attention of young listeners even before the text begins with poo-filled endpapers – don’t miss those.Then, from the start (with a clever page turn) ‘At zoo after zoo / the animals chew. / And then … // they poo!” she holds that attention throughout.

Thereafter she digs into the diverse nature of droppings using rhyming couplets:‘A hippo sprays a shower / with its flipping, flapping tail. // To weigh a day of elephant’s poo, / you need a sturdy scale.’

Beneath each illustration in smaller print come further facts concerning the animal’s business: ‘Hippos use dung to mark their territories and warn off predators. They shoot their dung out while flapping their tails to spray it around.’ ‘Rhinos can communicate / through piles and piles of scat. // A lion sometimes buries poo – / like any other cat.’
‘Each rhino’s poo has its own unique smell.’ ‘Rhinos smell dung to gather information about each other.’

Cats big and little often bury their poo so it won’t be detected by enemies. But sometimes lions and tigers leave poo unburied as a warning that this is their territory.’

In her playful, scatological scenes Allison Black succeeds in giving each animal a personality with its distinctive shape and wide-open eyes; I love the hippo’s cheeky grin, the snake’s sneaky smile and the wombat’s look of seeming wonder at the shape of its turds.

Having discussed a dozen zoo inmates, the author turns her attention to vast quantities of poo deposited each day (possibly as much as 2,270 kg). Much is taken away in lorries to landfills while some goes to scientists and vets for study and gardeners use some for compost:

did you know carnivore poo can be spread around gardens to prevent deer eating the plants and trees?

In addition to concluding the book with a huge grin on their faces, (apart from the squeamish few who might be feeling somewhat nauseous) little ones will end up having ingested a considerable amount of information to inwardly digest, not the least being that elephant poo can be made into attractive paper products – hmm!

Educative and enormous fun; if used in a school context, children might wish to find out what their nearest zoo does about poo.

Monsters

Monsters
Anna Fienberg, Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin

I was knocked out by this beautiful book that celebrates the power of friendship and its role in finding the courage to overcome fears.

Many young children go through a night-time monster-fearing stage (under the bed or in a cupboard); and so it is with young Tildy. The little girl knows there are monsters; they’re brought in by moonlit, hiding themselves behind the curtains and so Tildy hates moonlight.

Her dad and mum assure her there are no such things, telling her to go to sleep; her aunts and uncles can’t see them so she writes to her cousins – all 23 of them – but she receives only one response telling her not to eat spicy food before bed.

So, Tildy gives up her talk of monsters but sleeps with one eye open, growing increasingly nervous as the sun goes down: nothing it seems can get rid of her fear.

Then a new boy Hendrik joins Tildy’s school. He draws monsters during maths time explaining to Tildy how he deals with them.

The two become friends and Hendrik invites Tildy to sleep at his house; the plan is to camp in the garden and despite her worries, she agrees, packs her bag including dad’s Oxford Dictionary to hurl at the first monster she sees, and her mum drives her over.

The children have a great time together but as the shadows engulf the afternoon sun, Tildy’s fears reawaken.

Can her friend help her to make the impending dark feel like a safe place so that they can spend that night together

and watch the moon sail like a ship across the starry sky?

Open to many interpretations, this book is superb in every way. Anna Fienberg’s prose narrative is brilliantly expressed and the illustrations both wonderfully whimsical and detailed. It was Kim Gamble’s final book (she died in 2016) with Anna, and her great friend, illustrator Stephen Axelsen took over after she died, helping to bring the project to fruition and to make this special book a celebration of her work.

An absolutely smashing book to share, especially with youngsters who themselves are challenged by and endeavouring to work with, their own fears.

Definitely one to add to a family collection or the class bookshelves.

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

Science is cool, it’s exciting, and creatures are endlessly fascinating, as this book demonstrates. It’s full of wacky and funky facts on beasties large and small from minute bugs to massive creatures of the deep, presented in an accessible manner by James Olstein.

So prepare to be fascinated by the likes of the praying mantis, which can turn its head around by 180 degrees to see what’s happening behind – particularly useful should they want to be teachers –

or the fact that in Tokyo, pigeons have been trained by scientists to distinguish between the works of Monet and Picasso; now why would they want to do that?

You might wish to know the answer to the time old ‘chicken or egg, which came first?’ question: the answer from some British scientists is revealed herein.

I was fascinated to discover that although sloths hang around in trees most of the time, they come down once a week for a poo; also, that yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on giraffes when they go to sleep at night often settling in the giraffe’s ‘armpit’.

Did you know that Egyptian plovers clean crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for some extra food? Risky!

The information is presented in sections such as dinosaurs, whales, octopods, cats, stripes, tongues, defences and so on.

Olstein’s retro-style, quirky pictures bring further funkiness to his array of facts.

This is ideal for dipping in and out of, though readers who find it hard to become engrossed in a book might just find themselves so doing in Incredible Creatures.

When the Stars Come Out

When the Stars Come Out
Nicola Edwards and Lucy Cartwright
360 Degrees

With the coming of darkness, everything looks different, everything feels different: night is mysterious, night is magical.

Find out what makes it so in When the Stars Come Out.Into this book the author has packed illuminating information explaining first how night works due to the constant orbiting of the sun by planet Earth, and then putting mankind’s desire to understand the night into a historical context that can be traced right back as far as the Bronze Age.

Thereafter comes an upward-looking section called The Sky at Night. This encompasses topics such as being scared (or not) of the dark and things associated with it;

some facts about the Moon – its cycle, Armstrong’s moon landing and more. Did you know that the largest stars burn for tens of millions of years before running out of energy whereas medium-sized ones including our sun can continue burning for 10 billion years. WOW!

Moving our sights down somewhat, The Earth at Night homes in on different environments – the city, the desert, the Amazonian rainforest, the mountains,

the African savannah where should you happen to visit and listen very carefully, you might just hear the squeaks of yellow-winged bats, the slithering scraping of rock pythons or even the defensive growls of aardwolves. The woodland and the ocean also have spreads allocated.

The next focus is on what animals get up to at night – how are they adapted? Did you know that there are creatures that can sleep on the move, for instance the Swainson’s thrush which power naps frequently, and the albatross? We’ve all heard of sleepwalking but sleep-flying –awesome!

Although many humans spend the night (or most nights) in sleep, or attempted sleep, the length of this depends upon where on the globe you happen to be at a particular time of year; or perhaps whether you are attending an occasional night celebration such as New Year’s Eve.

Like all living creatures, we humans have a body clock, though ours with five sleep cycles, is far more sophisticated that say plankton. I was interested to learn that there is no word for insomnia in the languages of the non-industrial societies – the Hadza people of Tanzania, the San people of Namibia and the Tsimane people of Bolivia whose general pattern of sleep is from three and a half hours after sunset to just before sunrise, with no daytime naps.

Nowadays, those of us living in the Western world tend to choose a single overnight sleep, although some who help keep the night-time economy afloat such as bakers, as well as for instance hospital staff, carers and the police work in shifts and sleep during the day.

Nicola Edwards’ fascinating and wide-ranging interpretation of night is well served by Lucy Cartwright’s enthralling, richly detailed illustrations.

A book to keep readers awake at night should they start exploring it late in the day.

The Lost Book

The Lost Book
Margarita Surnaite
Andersen Press

Of all the rabbits in Rabbit Town Henry is the only one who isn’t a book enthusiast; he much prefers real life adventures. Then one day when he discovers a book in the hedgerow, he finds himself drawn into an adventure of his very own, not in Rabbit world but in the world of humans.

He sets off to try and find the owner of the Lost Book and is puzzled to find that those he encounters have no interest in books, they’re all absorbed in their mobiles and seemingly oblivious to everything around them.

Feeling rather lost and beginning to lose hope, Henry starts reading the Lost Book and then an encounter takes place with a little girl. Getting lost isn’t so bad after all for, by the end of the afternoon a new friendship has been formed.

So much fun does Henry have with his friend that he forgets about his mission until the little girl’s mum appears and it’s time for her to go.

What better parting thank you gift could he give to make sure his new friend doesn’t forget him than the Lost Book?

Back home in Rabbit Town that evening Henry’s family greet him in relief and come night-time, a certain little rabbit tells his first ever bedtime story.

An enchanting meta-fictive tale with a meta-fictive poser in its tail that little ones may or may not wish to consider. Doubtless though they’ll become absorbed in Margarita Surnaite’s debut picture book with its techno-saturated visuals be they double page scenes, comic strip sequences or a combination of both full page and vignette strips that on occasion reminded me of   Edward Hopper’s work.

Arty! The First Artist in Space

Arty! The First Artist in Space
William Bee
Pavilion Children’s Books

I fell for Arty Farty when I met him in his acrobatic efforts to become The Greatest Artist in the World so was over the moon to receive his new space adventure to review.

Can you believe that our amphibious artist friend is set to become the world’s very first artist in space for you see, NASA – I’m surmising that’s who they are -have tried unsuccessfully, year after year, to recruit a famous artist to go into space.

Thus far all they’ve received is a series of negative responses,(we’re shown a priceless gallery of naysayers)  so it’s really no surprise to learn that they send a bunch of scientists to Paris with an invitation to zoom off in a rocket bound for the depths of the cosmos. You won’t be surprised either if you’ve previously encountered his agent, Mr Grimaldi, that it’s he who consents to this vacation in the void, (it’s a great PR stunt) but Arty who must make the voyage.

First though, comes a rather rigorous training regime,

after which inevitably, our Arty Farty friend ends up flat on his back, and no, it’s not in surprise at having passed the tests with flying colours, although he has.

Thereafter the entire stomach swirling set of tests is repeated with Arty clad in his splendid art-supply stocked spacesuit. Then following one more lie down, off he shoots into space in a rocket.

Emulating Buzz Aldrin, his first stop is the Moon, which is really the most uninspiring place for a creative creature like Arty to land up on. What is there to paint? NADA, thinks the new arrival; but then comes a lunar moment DING! Out comes the painting gear and it’s project space transformation.

Are the space scientists happy on Arty’s return – what do you think? Maybe not but somebody else is …

Totally pricelessly hilarious from start to finish, this book is a blast; it’s absolutely guaranteed to make you giggle till your guts hurt as you follow one frog where no artist has gone before but where, courtesy of William Bee, readers will surely go – over and over.

Joseph’s Cradle

Joseph’s Cradle
Jude Daly
Otter-Barry Books

I’ve admired the work of both Jude and Niki Daly for many a long year and so was thrilled to see this, Jude Daly’s new picture book.

At the heart of a village in Africa stands an enormous, ancient tree. It’s loved by all the villagers, particularly Joseph who had climbed to its very top as a boy. Now Joseph is a grown man and one stormy night, his favourite tree is blown down.

Joseph feels sad that his soon to be born baby will never be able to climb the tree but he saves a piece of its trunk and little by little fashions it into a beautiful cradle. He also plants a new young tree to replace the old one.
When the new baby, Sisi, is born, Joseph is thrilled and every night until she outgrows it, he and his wife Mandisa sit beside the cradle singing the baby an African lullaby.

Thereafter a tradition begins: every new baby would sleep in Joseph’s cradle until they outgrew it and Joseph would add its name to those carved into the cradle’s side.

When the time comes for SIsi’s own grandchild to be rocked in the cradle, disaster strikes: a fire rages across the veld towards the village destroying Joseph and Mandisa’s home and everything in it.

The villagers build a new home for Joseph and his wife but what of the cradle; is it forever gone?

Let’s just say that Joseph isn’t the only person dancing in joyful thanks that day …

Inspired by a true story set in Australia, Jude Daly has set her telling in South Africa, home to the aptly called Cradle of Humankind, one of eight South African World Heritage Sites. It’s both moving and a reminder of the importance of continuity and renewal.

The painterly illustrations are a fine portrayal of the life of a village over several generations.

The Green Giant

The Green Giant
Katie Cottle
Pavilion Children’s Books

The natural world and our part in conserving it has never been more in the media than now with children marching for the environment and against climate change; in tandem there’s been a burgeoning of conservation/environment non-fiction books recently. Less so of fictional ones, so it’s especially good to see Katie Cottle’s debut picture book.

Bea is a little girl who goes to visit her garden-loving Grandad in the country; Bea when we first meet her, seems wedded to her tablet while her Dalmatian, Iris likes nothing better than chasing things.

When Iris gives chase to a ginger moggy, Bea sets aside her tablet and follows her dog, over the fence and into the garden next door.

The greenhouse she finds there is full of plants. From the rustling leaves leaps the cat but could something else be watching the girl, casting an enormous shadow over her?

Before her stands a huge green giant, friendly seeming and with a story he wants to share. Bea learns that long ago back in the city he germinated becoming a happy seedling but then as the city air became increasingly toxic, he was forced to flee, eventually finding refuge in the roomy greenhouse wherein he now stays.

It’s a happy summer Bea spends with her green friends but all too soon, the holiday draws to an end.

The giant gives his human friend a parting gift – handful of seeds.

Back in the city once more, Bea is struck by its greyness and she knows just what to do.

Thus with the help of sunlight and water, operation transformation begins to take place … Perhaps it might one day be a place which her giant friend would be happy to visit.

The disconnect with the natural world that has come about in part due to the digital gadget obsession of many youngsters is cleverly understated, while the importance of caring for our precious natural environment comes through more urgently in Katie’s eco-story. There are definite links between them and it’s up to us as educators/parents to set a positive example to youngsters before it’s too late.

A book to share, discuss and act upon at home and in school.

The Lost Book of Adventure

The Lost Book of Adventure
edited by Teddy Keen
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Those with a thirst for wild adventures in particular will be immediately attracted to this stupendous tome. Others of us will perhaps take a little more time to be enticed in, but will likely become equally immersed in this amazing collection of notes, sketches and factual snippets that have been drawn, so we’re told by the editor, from the notebooks of the Unknown Adventurer.

Whether or not the claim by Teddy Keen to have discovered these items in a metal container while exploring a remote part of the Amazon, is a beguiling means of interesting readers in the book, or a fact, is immaterial.

What he has produced is a veritable treasure trove detailing all you need to know to flourish living in the wild, be it how to construct a wikiup shelter like those of the Nenet people of Arctic Siberia;

how to make a bottle raft to navigate ancient waterways; or, what the best techniques are for ‘pooing in the great outdoors;

or crucially important, first aid.

Prepare to be conveyed to various parts of the globe as you read lyrical accounts of such adventures as a narrow escape from the jaws of a crocodile in Sri Lanka, surviving a roaring dust storm, or an eye-ball to eye-ball encounter with one of the planet’s most dangerous snakes, a venomous bushmaster. Each of these is gloriously illustrated in a coloured pencil drawing.

Keen certainly succeeded in arousing the spirit of adventure in this reviewer; I’m sure that will be the case for many readers of this totally immersive volume.

A Friend for Henry

A Friend for Henry
Jenn Bailey and Mika Song
Chronicle Books

Softly spoken though this story is, its impact is powerful. It tells of Henry’s search for a friend among his classmates. Henry has autism, something we’re never told although we’re shown it’s so through his behaviour and his thoughts.

To Henry, Vivianne is ‘a kaleidoscope, a tangle of colours; Samuel ‘a thunderstorm, booming and crashing.’ Later he’s unable to cope with Samuel’s flight of fancy when he grabs one of the tiles Henry has taken such care to arrange, (‘All the edges met and the corners fit perfectly’) describing it as ‘a magic … from a genie’s lamp: “It’s not! It’s from Rug World” the literal-minded Henry insists pointing out the identifying sticker. Now the little lad seems as though he’s getting close to a melt down.

Later on though, Katie joins him as he stands watching the class goldfish in her bowl. Henry considers her, they speak

and then the two go off to play together, first with the blocks …and then outside where Henry waits in eager anticipation for his new friend till she reaches the bottom of the Big Slide.

That Jenn Bailey writes with such sensitivity and understanding is due in no small way to the fact that, as we learn from the book’s cover, one of her son’s has autism. This narrative really does ring true as those of us who have taught differently abled children will appreciate; it feels as though she’s standing behind Henry’s head as she tells her story, while at the same time leaving space for readers’ own interpretations And I really like that there are no labels.

Mika Song’s ink and watercolours illustrations capture Henry and his classmates with grace and economy of line, imbuing each character with a real identity, different feelings and predilections.

An empathetic look at the emotions of finding a friend from a child’s viewpoint whether or not s/he has autism.

From Tiny Seeds … / A Walk Through Nature

From Tiny Seeds …
Émilie Vast
Thames & Hudson

Seed dispersal mechanisms and subsequent growth are showcased in Émilie Vast’s series of predominantly visual stories of how plants travel.

Ten different methods are documented, each story being allocated several pages. Some such as flying, that is used by the dandelion (and other composites) will be familiar to many children, since they love to play dandelion clocks.

In contrast, other methods like ‘Being eaten’ as happens to berries including blackberries and elderberries, will be less well known. The berries are food for birds or animals and are passed through the eater’s digestive system.

and excreted partially digested in their droppings, which then nourish the excreted seeds once they’re ready to germinate.

I particularly like her device whereby the respective plants introduce themselves and go on to tell their own stories.

It’s good to see how the important role of humans in distributing seeds to various different parts of the world is documented. Did you know that the green bean was originally only found in Central and South America but now grows all over the world.

Émilie’s love of nature is evident from her beautiful, stylised illustrations for which she uses predominantly black and white with limited bursts of colour on each page.

A Walk Through Nature
Clover Robin and Libby Walden
Caterpillar Books

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

So begins W.H.Davies’ famous poem Leisure. Perhaps with these opening lines in mind, as well as concern over the 2015 revelation of some 50 words relating to nature and the countryside, that are no longer included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, the creators of this book aim to increase young children’s engagement with, and understanding of, the natural world.

The walk takes us through the seasons in addition to a variety of natural landscapes and habitats. We visit a meadow; a tree wherein birds are nesting; a pond with tadpoles, ducks and fishes swimming and water lilies and bulrushes growing.

We home in on minibeasts as they move over, under and sometimes through, an ancient log of wood;

and wander on the sandy beach in the early morning sun noticing the multitude of shells and crabs.

We’re shown seemingly magical changes – the hatching of a blue tit’s eggs, the emergence of a butterfly from its chrysalis,

and in the woods and fields, delve down beneath the earth where burrowing animals live.

We witness the gradual change from summer’s greens to autumnal hues; visit a mountainous region where a fresh spring begins its flow to the sea; and follow the migrating swallows as they depart for warmer climes.

Then back to what looks like the original meadow, snow falls transforming the landscape in ‘winter’s frosted cloak, sparkling, clear and bright.’

Finally as dusk spreads its rosy glow, day and night merge into one …

For each stopping place comprising a double spread with a gatefold perforated by small die-cuts, there’s an introductory poem by Libby, the final verse of which is revealed by opening the flap, beneath which are also small vignettes and accompanying factual snippets.

Clover’s collage style illustrations are gorgeous; each one merits spending time over and I really like the way the poems are each framed by a naturalistic collage that uses elements from the full page illustration.

Let’s hope that this ‘ Peek-through’, ‘first book of nature’ paves the way for youngsters to begin a life-long habit of going outdoors, walking and observing the beauties of the natural world.

The Go-Away Bird

The Go-Away Bird
Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

The Go-Away-bird is a real African species (so named after its call that sounds as though it’s warning others when it sees danger).

Julia Donaldson makes her bird a loner that drives away potential friends, although apparently go-away birds can sometimes be found in groups of as many as thirty. So let’s meet the story one right away.

‘The Go-Away bird sat up in her nest, / With her fine grey wings and her fine grey crest.’

Thus begins this story wherein one after another the Chit-Chat bird, the Peck- Peck bird, the Flip-Flap bird approach her tree wanting to talk, share a meal or fly with her and each is insulted and given the same “Go away! Go away! Go away!” rejection.

Then along comes the very large and dangerous Get-You bird with just one thing in mind – a tasty meal. Oh no!

Luckily for the Go-away bird along comes a Come-back bird willing to stick his beak out and summon his friends.

Now it looks as though it’s time for the naysayer to understand the need for, and appreciate, friendship after all.

This is a stellar author/artist partnership. Julia’s witty, bouncy rhyming text is pure pleasure to read aloud and highly join-in-able; and Catherine’s art is simply awesome – richly coloured and textured, superbly expressive: every spread is a joy to linger over – after you’ve read the story aloud once first.

A golden tale about the importance of friendship, co-operation and teamwork that is just perfect for sharing and discussing.

Dancing Through Fields of Colour

Dancing Through Fields of Colour
Elizabeth Brown and Aimée Sicuro
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Right from its opening page whereon we learn that the young Helen Frankenthaler was a rule breaker, I knew I was going to love this book.

Helen’s parents encouraged her divergence, especially her artistic tendency towards abstraction, while her school art class in contrast, laid down strict rules which had to be followed in order to pass.

After the death of her beloved father, Helen went through a dark period, unable to put anything on canvas until eventually her memories of the colours and warmth of her father’s hand on country walks had a healing effect and she begun painting once more.

Towing the professor’s line, she passed through college and returned to New York where she encountered the work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock,

Helen started to travel further afield and eventually, inspired by the shapes and colours of the countryside,

and led by emotions that fuelled her artistic decisions, she found her own path, – ‘Colors jetéd across the painting, merged and connected, like rivers into oceans’ – becoming with her soak-stain technique, a leading artist of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s

and playing a vital role in the evolution of Colour Field Painting; (these details we learn in the detailed notes in the pages that follow the story).

Elizabeth Brown’s text describing the artist’s processes is itself poetic, while Aimée Sicuro’s watercolour, ink and charcoal pencil illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

Through words and pictures, readers really share Helen’s emotions and creative journey and sharing the book in a classroom will surely inspire listeners to experiment with their own creativity be that with paint, dance or even perhaps another medium.

The Wolves Who Came for Dinner / The Lamb Who Came for Dinner

The Wolves Who Came for Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

Wolf and Hotpot (who nearly became Wolf’s dinner in a previous story) are now the best of pals much to the puzzlement of the other forest animals.

So when Wolf invites all the bunnies for a playdate and subsequently spends the morning cooking carrot cakes, his greeting of “Teatime!’ has the bunnies fleeing for, so they think, their lives. Poor Wolf is downcast. Hotpot assures Wolf of his goodness and in return Wolf suggests going out to find and play with the bunnies in the forest.

Things don’t go well in the hide-and-seek game; the terrified bunnies make a bolt for it.

Wolf decides to invite his lupine pals to meet Hotpot instead; but when they turn up Gripper, Nipper and Growler have ominously grumbly tums. Wolf however serves up a yummy vegetable soup after which they settle down for a story followed by a snuggly sleep.

Nevertheless the other forest creatures remain convinced Wolf’s friendship with Hotpot is a sham and things turn very soggy for good old Wolf.

Back home, who should be waiting for the two friends but Gripper, Nipper and Growler requesting another story and a sleepover.

So bothered about Hotpot’s fate are the other woodland animals that they stage a further rescue attempt, charging in on the slumberers.

Initially the other wolves are reluctant to drop their stereotypes, offering to consume some of the intruders; but Hotpot stands up for her best pal and all ends satisfactorily like all good stories – and I definitely count this one among them, -with the whole cast of characters living ‘happily ever after.”

Steve’s toothsome tale is a great one for challenging stereotypes and showing that it’s wrong to prejudge others, while simultaneously gently advocating a plant-derived diet. And as someone who eschews animal and dairy products I’m all for this.

Joëlle Dreidemy’s characters are splendidly rendered in her hilarious scenes of the woodland animals as they gradually come to terms with, and overcome, their prejudiced assumptions.

The Lamb Who Came for Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

A dozen or so years ago I reviewed in BKF, this story of love and vegetarianism triumphing over Wolf’s inherent carnivorous instincts. I loved it then and do so now with Steve’s super characterisation, deliciously funny text and Joëlle Dreidemy’s droll illustrations.

Now with an accompanying audio CD, a new generation of listeners will relish seeing and hearing of what appears to be a thoroughly menacing Wolf’s first encounter with a freezing cold lamb that comes a-knocking on his door seeking shelter from the elements.

Board Book Extravaganza

Cat & Mouse
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel Publishing
There’s a surprise ending in store for listeners to this rhyming tale of a cat and mouse chase.

That though is getting ahead of the tale that begins with a warning to Little Mouse to hide inside the blue house. Through the door goes Little Mouse but the door is open wide so another furry creature enters too.
A chase ensues with Mouse running round and round eventually diving down a hole leaving the moggy pondering momentarily on his whereabouts and the little rodent in boastful mood.

Not for long however for the mouse soon exits the hole and the chase is on again.

A clever manoeuvre on Mouse’s part sees him outside under the moonlight without a hint of a cat. Not for long though for Mouse is being trailed around and about and back to the house that both creatures enter. But is all as it first appeared?

With its strategically placed die-cuts, minimalist illustrations and playful narrative this board book will amuse little ones who watch the lively events as they unfold towards the unexpected finale.

Hug Me Little Bear
Chronicle Books
Here’s a very cute little finger puppet book that, courtesy of a thoroughly endearing parent bear, little ones find out what arms can do. There’s a favourite song to dance together to; a gentle game of lift and catch; scrummy breakfast treats to cook up; a tummy tickle and best of all lots of ‘I love you’ hugs.

Full of sweetness and bound to bring on big smiles is this cuddlesome offering.

Little Plane
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
It’s take off time for Little Plane. He zooms skywards for an adventure one beautiful day. However his playful flight suddenly encounters some turbulence courtesy of the smoke pouring from the factory chimneys to which he gets a tad too close.
His landing attempts as he skims and tries to stop atop a tree and whizzes into a very muddy mountain aren’t a great success; and then it looks as though our intrepid friend is about to become engulfed within the huge open mouth of a building.

All ends happily though as Little Plane emerges safely, ready to fly off back home, looking even more shiny-bright than when he began his adventure. (A plane-wash perhaps?)

Little Plane is, like most little humans, learning by experience to cope with the ups and downs of life, and showing resilience in so doing.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Bulldozer’s Shapes
Sherri Duskey and Ethan Long
Chronicle Books

Get ready to shape up along with your little ones and their favourite construction vehicles, in particular big Bulldozer. Aided and abetted by Crane Truck he prepares the site for building. Along the way he shifts the rubble forming first a squiggle, then a ‘triangle’ (strictly speaking though it’s a cone), a circle, a diamond, a rectangle (kind of! But it’s more of a cuboid), a star, an oval and he finishes by squaring the plot off, nice and flat.

With Sherri Duskey’s rhyming couplets and Ethan Long’s digital art this little book will appeal to the many established fans of the series. I’d suggest reading it along with some small world construction toys and a set of both 2D and 3D shapes.

Pigs in a Blanket
Hans Wilhelm and Erica Salcedo
Chronicle Books

Before you  even open up the first page, you’ll be captivated by this charmer with the porcine trio fast asleep tucked cosily beneath the wrap-around blanket that stays in place courtesy of the strategically placed hidden magnet on the front cover.

We then follow the pigs as they wake up, playfully get dressed and style their hair before setting out for a run. The three also attend a ballet class, do a spot of baking, revel in some puddle jumping followed by a warm-up treat.

Goodness they do pack a lot into their day, as there’s still time for some theatrical fun before their bath, tooth-brushing and final clambering back into bed in their moonlit room.

Wilhem’s rhyming text coupled with Salcedo’s comical, energetic piggy scenes make for a fun-filled book that celebrates the simple delights of early childhood and is ideal for sharing with the very young, who are likely to recognise the piggies’ actions as akin to their own.

Builders & Breakers / A Bare Bear / In A Minute

Here are some picture books suggestions for your early years book collection:

Builders & Breakers
Steve Light
Walker Books

Two small children, whose father has left behind his lunch box, are sent by their mum to give it to him. They run to his place of work, an urban construction site.

There they see the employees hard at work banging and jackhammering, digging

and welding, operating cranes and pushing wheelbarrows. – the entire structure creating process no less.

So noisy is the site and so intent on his work is their dad, that it takes a while for the children to attract his attention amid the bangs, rat-a-tat-tat-tats

and sparks, but eventually they do.

And then (sans hard hats), they’re hauled up to join him for a well-earned break perched precariously on a horizontal construction beam.

With its onomatopoeia, alliteration and other wordplay, Light’s minimal text is perfect for little ones to join in with during a storytime, and for beginning readers to try for themselves. No matter which, they’ll absolutely love Steve Light’s scribbly-seeming, intricately detailed scenes of the construction workers and the impressive machines they operate.

Don’t miss the endpapers or the author’s final note wherein he talks of his fascination with and love of, classical, Gothic and art deco architectural styles.

A Bare Bear
Caz Hildebrand and Ashlea O’Neill
In A Minute
Clare Lowther and Ashlea O’Neill
Ladybird Books

Subtitled ‘A book of words that sound the same’, A Bare Bear will certainly transmit the ‘language is fun’ message to little ones as well as demonstrating to adults the importance of word and language play in young children’s development.
It contains bright, attractive, humorous spreads depicting examples of homonyms

or homophones.

With the book’s contemporary feel and subtle language lessons, young children will have a good laugh at the same time as being gently educated into the delights and vagaries of the English language.

In a Minute invites readers/listeners to ‘Take the 60-second challenge!’ as it first makes a statement and then issues a related challenge on the opposite side of the spread.

Have lots of fun joining your early years children in such inviting activities as a minute’s competitive sticking your tongue out and in

or hopping on one foot.

Great attention has been paid to the design of each spread: I particularly like the one of two woodpeckers attacking opposite sides of a tree trunk, that of the star-jumping girl and … actually, they’re all immediately arresting and invite longer engagement.

Get counting, get active – what are you waiting for?

Scratch and Learn: Human Body / The Great Big Book of Life

Scratch and Learn: Human Body
Katy Flint and Ana Seixas
Wide Eyed Editions

I’ve loved some of the EtchArt books from Quarto but this is the first science title I’ve seen, essentially an introduction to how the human body works.

It comprises two main elements: ‘Scratch to Discover’ where the reader uses the stylus to find ten things on each of the seven spreads: the skeleton, muscles,

organs, eating and digestion, the senses, the brain

and, lungs and heart.

Then there are activities – one per spread – to demonstrate how different parts of the body function. For example the muscle-related one says, ‘With your palm facing up, touch your thumb and little finger together. This shows one of your flexor tendons working in your wrist.’

There’s also an invitation to play a search-and-find memory game.

Each topic has an introductory paragraph and some also include additional bite-size snippets of information.

Spencer investigating the skeleton

Graphic designer/illustrator Ana Seixas brings a gentle humour to the pages of this fun, interactive book to use at home that is relevant to the KS1 science curriculum.

The Great Big Book of Life
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The 6th in The Great Big Book of … series looks at life from conception and birth to death and memories.

The early years are allocated several spreads – infant physical development,

sleep, feeding, staying healthy, learning to use the loo and how language develops.

Subsequent topics are school (including home schooling), the teenage years, work, partners,

the middle years, old age, death and finally a spread advocating living life to the full no matter who we are, which includes thinking of other people as well as ourselves.

As in previous team Hoffman and Asquith titles, diversity is a key element. Mary’s light-hearted narrative style combined with Ros’s wonderfully witty illustrations make for an informal and explicit read.

A book to add to your home or school collection.

Everybunny Dream! / Hop Little Bunnies / This is Owl / Sleep, My Bunny

Everybunny Dream!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books

Ellie Sandall’s latest Everybunny tale is essentially a bedtime story.

Through a gentle rhyming narrative and a sequence of captivating scenes, some frolicsome, others more peaceful, we share in the bedtime ritual of the little bunnies as they respond to their mother’s instructions,

until they’re tucked up cosily under the covers.

Who should appear suddenly though but another creature with a long orange bushy tail, also clad in night attire.

Before long there’s a host of baby fox cubs sitting with the little bunnies – who have now all hopped out of bed – avidly listening to a good night tale

and then it really is time to snuggle down altogether for some shut-eye and perhaps some pleasant dreams.

A lovely way to send your little ones off into the land of nod at the end of a busy day.

Hop Little Bunnies
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Based on nursery favourite Sleeping Bunnies, Martha Mumford has written a jaunty text that includes not only the bunnies of the original song but also fluffy lambs, tiny chicks, kittens and ducklings

all of which sleep until noon and wake up and make lots of noise.

They then go on to play for the rest of the day before a bedtime song sends them all off to sleep once more.

With plenty of flaps to investigate and sounds to make, Laura Hughes charming rural illustrations add to the springtime bounce of Martha’s words.

This cheery charmer is likely to become a much requested book for young listeners be that at home or in an early years setting.

After an initial sharing I’d suggest an action packed story session with sleeping, hopping, leaping and swimming, not forgetting baa-ing, cheeping, mewing and quacking.

Another book that invites interaction is:

This is Owl
Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books
The sun is shining, Owl is fast asleep and doesn’t want to wake up but the book has to start so the reader’s help is needed to rouse our feathered friend.

Tummy tickling is only partially successful so the sun needs to be extinguished and replaced by a moon.

Hurrah Owl now has both eyes open but Beetle further along the branch is causing a distraction.

A considerable amount of page flapping is required to help Owl reach Beetle but then they both disappear. Oops! Where can Owl be?

With the help of several more birds Owl is eventually located and it seems one has become two for alongside is Other Owl.

Strangely the pair of them are doing a little uncharacteristic nest building so a bit of twig collecting from reader’s won’t come amiss.

Sometime later, once that threatening raincloud has gone, Owl has something in the nest to show off to readers.

By the time the sun starts to come up once again, two owls have become three and it’s time to bid them all farewell.

Feathery fun with a tad of scientific learning included, Libby Walden’s gently humorous, guiding words, in tandem with Jacqui Lee’s eye-catching, funny illustrations will certainly make for an active animal shared book experience.

Sleep, My Bunny
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Here’s a lovely way to wind down with your little one(s) at the end of the day.

Rosemary Wells’ gently flowing text reads like a lullaby as it talks of the sounds of evening: the simultaneous song of owls and crickets; the night wind that has ‘taken the moon for a ride’, the first soft summer rain.

Alongside we see, in Van Gogh-like impressionist style, a sunlit tree outside and then as the sun goes down, a series of gradually darkening skies shown through the window, foregrounded by scenes of a little bunny going through his night-time routine with his mother and father.

On each spread the textual border mirrors the sky seen outside.

There’s obvious love and tenderness in this bunny family so adorably depicted in this lovely bedtime book.

When a Dragon Comes to Stay

When a Dragon Comes to Stay
Caryl Hart and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow

When a scaly creature turns up at number 124 with a shoulder bag it looks as though she’s there for the long haul. Perhaps though, she does need some guidance when it comes to good behaviour.

Snatching toys rather than sharing; breaking the rules in a supposed-to-be co-operative set-up; cheating and messy eating; all these need attending to; so its fortunate for this particular little dragon that she’s found some small, kind, friendly residents ready and willing to lead the way as positive role models:
‘And does she snatch and keep the toys / away from other girls and boys? //Why, no! / Dragons don’t do that! // A dragon knows she must play fair / And wait her turn and always share. / She knows the rules of all the games / and never argues or complains …’

Caryl cleverly alternates the undesirable with the desirable behaviours in a rhyming narrative that gently guides without preaching (in the same way, one hopes teachers/parents model what they hope to see rather than drawing attention to the misdemeanours of little ones).

And of course, allowances need to be made for nobody’s perfect, and certainly not little dragons.
I particularly like the sequence where the dragon’s messy eating is helped when she’s given a stable seat.

In her wonderfully expressive scenes of the adorable humans and their visitor, Ros. brings out the gentle humour in Caryl’s telling, showing how hard the little dragon is trying to behave appropriately.

Altogether a smashing book to share with little humans at home, or in an early years setting.

Toppsta have created some very useful reading records for schools: for further details follow the link.