Squeeze In Squirrel! / Take a Leap, Sheep!

Squeeze In Squirrel!
Take a Leap, Sheep!

Tony Neal
Oxford Children’s Books

These two books introduce and explore maths topics for young children, the first presenting capacity, the second, position. As with the previous titles Tony Neal presents themes and vocabulary based on the Early Years Foundation Stage maths framework and using a group of animal characters, delves into them through funny scenarios that just might happen in real life.

Squeeze In Squirrel! begins with the Rabbit and Squirrel about to depart for a trip with Rabbit at the wheel of his rickshaw. However Squirrel suddenly realises he’s sans luggage. Off he dashes and as he struggles with his trunk, other animal friends turn up one by one, each wanting a ride and the accommodating driver agrees to them getting aboard the vehicle. Eventually with the auto seemingly full to capacity, Squirrel returns dragging that trunk and somehow manages to cram in too.
Off they go but almost immediately …

Is there a way they can still reach that beach destination?

In the second story Sheep points out a ferris wheel behind a wire fence and poses the question to his pals, ‘How can we get inside?’ Two of their number start to climb over the fence, pausing on top to ask, “Can you stretch up?’ By turn the remaining creatures find a way into the enclosure,

Sheep doing so in spectacular fashion. Up comes Elephant who points out the obvious, something his friends failed to notice …

With maths concepts woven into both pictures and text, these books promote children’s mathematical thinking and introduce fundamental maths concepts in an effortless and enjoyable manner. Not only that, they foster a love of story and offer opportunities for little ones to develop their language skills in tandem.

Don’t Be Silly!

Don’t Be Silly!
Padmacandra
Scallywag Press

Bouncy Bo and Little Smudge live in a castle with their very serious-minded father, Mr Judge. All the adults they encounter are serious too and whenever the siblings try to enjoy themselves, all they hear is “Don’t be silly!”

After a consultation the two little ones decide that perhaps if they try to be grown up, their father will be impressed. They don what they consider appropriate clothing but their endeavours fail to impress.

One day their father instructs them to put on winter gear and implores them not to be silly as they’re off to visit their grandparents, who have just returned from a very long tour. A big surprise awaits Bo and Smudge when their Grandma and Grandpa greet them thus …

and proceed to carry out all kinds of unexpected and very energetic antics. This pair really do know how to enjoy life but what will be the reaction of their grandchildren?

Padmacandra’s tale, told through a jaunty rhyming text containing that oft repeated titular catchphrase and comical illustrations is a delight. There’s a wealth of detail in every picture, large or small, that provides additional stories for the observant. The message is a vital one: fun is a key ingredient if you are to live your life to the full.

How To Make A Story

How To Make a Story
Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez
Oxford Children’s Books

When Milo asks his mum for a brand new story, she suggests he should make one up for himself. This presents a problem for the boy who worries about getting it wrong but Mum assures him that ‘you can’t get stories wrong’. She mentions the need for a beginning, middle and end, and supplies a prompt to get his ideas flowing.Having named his protagonist Wolf, Milo dashes into the garden in search of ideas and there he finds his Nana. She supplies the next prompt which really gets the boy’s creative juices flowing.

Then back indoors, Dad’s comment about the middle of a story sets him off again, conjuring forth tumbling rocks and hungry monsters.

Further ideas come and by now Milo thinks his story is amazing, but how to end it.

In his room once more, he puzzles over this, recapping and then starting to play with his bricks. Can this further stimulate his creative muse enabling him to come up with a really satisfying ending. It surely can and even better, he finds an audience with whom to share his story, ‘Wolf’s Big Adventure’.

Ana Gomez presents Milo’s tale complete with child-like art on the penultimate spread and the book ends with him finding a safe place to keep his book until next time, but is it quite as safe as he thinks …

What a lovely way to explore story-telling with young children. Naomi’s narrative together with Ana’s illustrations make a superb starting point for children’s own storying.

Let’s Stick Together

Let’s Stick Together
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster

Best friends Bear and Squirrel return in story number three wherein Squirrel suggests they throw a party and Bear, somewhat reluctantly agrees, leaving Squirrel to take the lead in its organisation.

Immediately the bushy-tailed rodent sets about arranging furniture, baking lots of goodies to eat and setting up the music system. Already Bear is feeling less than enthusiastic about their plan but Squirrel reassures him all will be well and continues amassing the necessary items.

By now Bear is overcome with shyness and thinks about heading off up to bed. However, he has second thoughts and agrees to make a quick appearance.

Before long the party spirit engulfs him and he really lets himself go.

Suddenly though it seems that things aren’t quite as they should be: oh no! Squirrel is nowhere in sight: now someone else is having a crisis of confidence. Can Bear save the day, or rather the night?

The essential warmth and gentle humour of the previous Bear and Squirrel stories is evident from the outset. Smriti’s jaunty rhyming telling and Steve’s splendidly expressive illustrations, be they poignant or humorous are enormously appealing; like their characters, the co-creators continue their felicitous partnership..

Bear and Squirrel’s loyalty and friendship no matter what, leaves a warm glow inside the reader long after the book has been set aside. A must for early years settings and family collections.

Lost

Lost
Mariajo Ilustrajo
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

When a polar bear finds himself in a bustling concrete city, he knows not how he got there but he does know that he is totally lost. His attempts to ask for help are ignored – everybody is too busy to take any notice, so Bear joins a queue. Rather than the help he’s hoping for Bear receives take away coffee and discovers it definitely isn’t to his taste.

All he gets from the help desk he tries next, is a tube map that’s thrust into his paw. His North Pole home isn’t marked thereon, so Bear boards an underground train and suddenly he hears a small voice greeting him with a friendly hello.

Bear follows the child and her mother when they leave the train and the little girl leads him into her home. She makes Bear feel welcome but despite the love shown, still he knows this can’t be his forever home.

Despairing that she has no idea where the North Pole is, Bear suddenly spies a book on the shelf, takes it down and shows his host pictures of where he’s from. Soon a plan is formed and equally quickly Bear is wrapped up and air-lifted

all that way back from whence he came. There a snuggly hug (if anything in such a chilly place can be called that ) from his fellow polar bears and he shows them something very special that he’s brought with him from his little human friend.

MariaJo’s story-telling style is a skilful synthesis of humour and touching emotion that conveys the comfort and support that a loving friendship can provide in a way that both children and adults can appreciate.

The book will certainly resonate with all of us concerned about the hostile environment that the UK is currently presenting to those who arrive on our shores feeling completely lost so far from home.

If I Were The World

If I Were The World
Mark Sperring and Natelle Quek
Bloomsbury Publishing

By making it sound personal this book really gets across the crucial messages about our precious environment and climate change. Written in rhyme and using ‘If I were the world’ repeatedly to introduce topics including plastic pollution, the toxicity of fossil fuel gases, the loss of animal species for various reasons, over-fishing of the oceans and catastrophe-causing climate change Mark Sperring presents the harmful things we are doing to our planet.

Then comes a rallying cry, “It’s time to take ACTION! We must do ALL WE CAN!” and the focus shifts to what can be done by each and every one of us to heal the damage. Things like recycling our waste, stopping deforestation, the greening of cities by planting seeds really can make a difference. Either we do so or the harm will definitely be irrevocable.

Natelle Quek uses three children to champion the environmental cause showing them first witnessing the harms mentioned in the words and then participating in the actions called for. Her illustrations are powerful and arresting, causing the reader to stop and look carefully at the wealth of detail included in each one

and in so doing extending the already impactful text. A smashing book both to share in primary classrooms and with individuals at home.

Dig Dig Digger

Dig Dig Digger
Morag Hood
Two Hoots

What begins as an ordinary day at the roadworks, becomes an extraordinary adventure for Digger.
Digger has decided enough is enough when it comes to downward action; Digger decides that she wants to try the new experience she’s recently heard of. No more dark and worm-filled mud: UP is the way to go. However, for a weighty machine such as she, it’s not easy to get airborne,

but eventually, she’s able to take to the air on a solo adventure.

Digger loves the blue but after a while she realises that as well as excitement, up is empty and far from her familiar home ground. Now down is where our Digger wants to be; although perhaps not where she suddenly finds herself. No friends in sight;

but perhaps there is a solution if Digger reverts to her normal downwards occupation …

As always Morag Hood is splendidly silly and her droll humour will delight both children and adults; and the character will appeal strongly to machine-mad young children especially. So will the trail that little ones can follow with a finger as Digger goes down, along, up and down again over the pages.

Sometimes I Just Won’t

Sometimes I Just Won’t
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Macmillan Children’s Books

Determined is a word that springs immediately to mind when referring to young children and their decision making, and the small boy in this story surely is being stubborn about quite a lot of things. He won’t share his balance bike; he won’t eat his peas; bedtime is a definite no no 

and bath time brings big problems be it getting in or getting out. Many parents will recognise these scenarios; they certainly can be exhausting for all concerned.

However the opportunity to spend calming down time with an empathetic grandparent like the grandmother herein, especially when she’s so good at cuddles and a chat, work wonders, allowing our protagonist to take another look at some of the things he simply won’t do. 

You never know, they might just turn out to be things he loves to do after all.

As we see, this lad has certainly taken what gran says to heart about him being allowed to choose if something isn’t feeling right; about one or two things though, he remains obdurate…

This terrific follow up to Sometimes I am Furious is written in Timothy Knapman’s jaunty rhyming first person narrative and Joe Berger’s splendidly expressive illustrations capture the emotions with humour that works for both children and adults.

I Am Happy

I Am Happy
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

Here is the third in the series from this author/artist partnership that uses animals to present feelings and emotions to young children.

The little puppy narrator is almost bursting with happiness, so much so that it skips through puddles, chases after bubbles, dances the waltz, turns somersaults, rolls down a mountain, puts on a show and more.

Yes it’s absolutely a flight of fancy but it certainly expresses that unadulterated mood of sheer joy of little humans that we adults love to see.

With guest appearances from the cat that starred in I Am Angry and the squirrel from I Am Hungry Michael’s exuberant rhyming text and Robert Starling’s bold, energetic illustrations will surely act as an open invitation to youngsters to talk about and celebrate their own feelings.

Great for sharing with individuals or in an early years setting. I wonder if the rabbit that pops up and joins in the action part way through the book will be the main protagonist in the next title in this sequence.

I Really Really Love You So

I Really Really Love You So
Karl Newson and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

The adorable little bushbaby returns in a new and altogether different kind of ‘Really Really’ tale. Now the narrator has a vital message to impart; but how best to do it? That is the burning question. This particular bushbaby is prepared to go to enormous lengths to demonstrate love for somebody very important.

The possibilities are many and sometimes extreme including scaling the tallest mountain to write a loving message

and wrestling with a crocodile. More down to earth ideas come in the form of a floral bouquet, a magic trick or a model robot; perhaps studying what other animals do to say ‘I love you’ and copying such loving expressions as stamping and stomping

or squawking might work better. Assuredly there are myriad ways, but sometimes far, far simpler and most definitely the best way is … What do you think?


Karl’s first person rhyming text together with Duncan Beedie’s illustrations, which are bursting with humour, make a wonderfully warm, fun story for reading with young children.

Now We’re Together

Now We’re Together
Nicola Edwards and Jenny Bloomfield
Little Tiger

The world around us is full of wonders – real wonders; but unless we turn off the screens that constantly distract us with their virtual experiences we all miss so much.

The adult in this rhyming story decides that it’s time she and her child start by plunging themselves into darkness, holding hands and venturing outside for a real life adventure. Wow! In the night sky the moon becomes a massive pearl surrounded by stars shimmering like diamonds.

We join the two as uninhibited, they skip, splash, dance, swish and run through puddles and tall grass, into the woods where they pause for a while. Fireflies put on a magical show just for them

and then off the pair go, out of the woods and onto the seashore just as the sun begins to rise heralding the dawning of a new day – just as it does always.

Back through the streets already busy with the morning rush they go, aware that those around them are as distracted as ever by those flickering screens.

Nicola Edwards’ lyrical text and Jenny Bloomfield’s arresting illustrations convey a vital message to children and adults in this heartfelt, uplifting book. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

Word Trouble

Word Trouble
Vyara Boyadjieva
Walker Books

Starting somewhere new is often stressful but when everybody else speaks a different language it is likely to be much more difficult. So it is for Ronnie who has just moved to a new country.

Despite his parents’ efforts to equip him with some basic English vocabulary, his attempts at communication when his nursery teacher asks Ronnie to introduce himself are less than perfect. Sadly his classmates seem unwelcoming and Ronnie is upset that everybody giggles at him.

Back home he recounts what has happened to his mum and dad who do their best to reassure him.

The next day begins well and the other children want to get to know Ronnie better, but due to his lack of vocabulary he is unable to respond appropriately to their questions, leading to further confusion and leaving Ronnie as despondent as ever.

A trip to the park with Dad after school opens the way first to some non-verbal communication and then joyous laughter. It’s this laughter that leads Ronnie not only to the beginnings of friendship,

but also a realisation that both laughter and kindness are universal languages.

Illustration too is a universal language as Vyara Boyadjieva shows in her empathetic portrayal of Ronnie’s feelings and the challenges of being in a new country.

Ultimately uplifting, this sensitive debut picture book deserves to be in all early years and foundation stage settings.

Frank and Bert :The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike

Frank and Bert :The One Where Bert Learns To Ride A Bike
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s bear, Bert and fox, Frank, return in a new story again narrated by the latter.

The two pals would dearly love to go on a ‘big bike ride’ but as we see, although things start off satisfactorily, it’s not long before Bert gets the wobbles and something goes wrong.

However one day with Bert claiming that he’ll be just fine, they set off together once more. After a while those wobbles start and oops … 

Frank’s not giving up that easily though and he comes up with a supportive idea … or perhaps not.

Can Frank manage to think up something very special to help his best friend get back into the saddle again? And if so, can the two of them get all the way up to the top of that steep hill and safely down again without a disaster?

With its fun final twist, Chris’s story shows friendship at its best – understanding, trusting and ever patient.

Giggles galore guaranteed when you share this comic combination of words and pictures. I love the measured use of florescent colour and the unspoken commentary on Bert’s efforts provided by the bit part players.

I look forward to further episodes starring this delectable duo.

Ways to Say I Love You

Ways to Say I Love You
Madeleine Cook and Fiona Lee
Oxford Children’s Books

The opening lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 43 How Do I Love Thee? sprang to mind as I read this picture book, which is a celebration of love, and in particular familial love. Madeleine Cook explores some of the multitude of ways love is expressed: it might be the tender, gentle way in which a parent holds a baby or tiny child; perhaps it’s a caress; a shared experience of the natural world when out for a walk. Sometimes it’s being there with a hug when a child is upset, or a playful tickle at feeding time and a book shared at bedtime.

Being shown love helps a small child to develop self belief and the confidence to forge a path in life. Those things come when love is shown by a listening ear and a readiness to talk things over; also through helping a youngster to learn basic life skills, as well as being supportive when a child takes an important big step such as starting nursery or school.

Those who are shown love from the outset are most likely to be loving towards others as they become more independent; love is a choice and a decision. But one thing is certain, love is conveyed differently by countless different people and that is portrayed so well in Fiona Lee’s diverse characters.

Could it possibly be that love has the potential to bind us all together – if only …

This hug of a book is a delight to share.

Granny and Bean

Granny and Bean
Karen Hesse and Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

Granny and Bean are out walking on the beach: the sea and the sky are dreary shades of grey and beige, but Granny and Bean are undeterred. Suitably clad in raincoats, warm hats, and boots, the pair make their way along the beach, enjoying their time together. Nothing is going to stop these two making the most of their time together. ‘Their laughter rose. Full of joy, it spilled / ‘cross sand, through mist, / as the curlews trilled.’ As they watch the spotted gulls,

so strong is the wind that their hats are blown off, their hair gets progressively wetter and their ‘cheeks chafed red’.

Still they keep walking, only pausing briefly to greet dogs, slowing while Bean jumps over logs until eventually they find a place out of the way of the wildness and there they stop and sit. Time for some tea: bananas and cakes come out of the bag Granny has brought with her. Then they sort through the things they’ve collected during their walk

and keeping only the best shells and a stone, with the sun trying to break through the clouds, the two head for home.

Karen Hesse’s rhyming text has the ideal complement in Charlotte Voake’s mixed media illustrations, which capture both the chill beauty of the natural environment and the tender, loving bond between grandparent and young child. I love the way the stand-out colours of their clothing helps to focus the reader’s attention on their faces and body language throughout.

Memories are made of days such as this; days spent in the natural world. From endpaper to endpaper, a gently magical book to share over and over, especially between grandparents and grandchildren.

Pick A Story: A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure

Pick A Story: A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure
Sarah Coyle and Adam Walker-Parker
Farshore

The second in this interactive picture book choose your own adventure series offers another array of possibilities.

It’s Gwen’s birthday and Dad has made a cake; not the train shape she’d hoped for but it looked pretty tasty all the same. However with the party about to begin, said cake vanishes. Now what? Readers have three crazy starting points for the birthday girl’s search: could the thief be a unicorn from up in the clouds, a confection-loving robot in robot city

or perhaps a ravenous dinosaur roaming on a savannah?

Sarah’s super-lively text contains alliteration aplenty, a sprinkling of onomatopoeia and generous helpings of other playful language. And, in addition to choosing how the narrative plays out, readers are invited to consider various questions that feed into the action:’What amazing robot ability would you like to have?’; ‘Which cloud cake would you like to nibble?’;

Which ballistic bake would you eat? (in dino-land).
Adam Walker-Parker’s humorous illustrations are equally energetic, full of comical characters and decisions to make on every spread.
Another dead cert winner of a book that gives and gives and keeps on giving as it sends readers backwards and forwards through its pages. And what of the cake? Will Gwen find that which she seeks? I wonder …

A Pinch of Love

A Pinch of Love
Barry Timms and Tisha Lee
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

A little boy and his grandmother love to cook together and they especially like to make the titular pinch of love one of the ingredients no matter what they bake. Through Barry Timms’ rhyming text and Tisha Lee’s vibrant acrylic illustrations, that heartfelt love is shared throughout the local community. We see the empathetic little lad out offering fresh cookies to those in the neighbourhood; he seems to know just when there’s a need for a tasty treat that contains that vital ingredient.

Readers will enjoy the ‘sticky moments’ grandmother and grandson share in the kitchen as they too sometimes need a touch of tenderness especially as they prepare for that big neighbourhood fund raising bake sale at the community centre.

Choosing to be kind and loving isn’t always easy, but Tisha’s scenes of the wonderfully diverse community show just what a big difference it can make to be on the receiving end, as well as for the giver.

Love can be a power like no other: that message comes across in both the skilfully mixed text and the illustrations that add further heartwarming details to the words.

A lovely book to share with children and a smashing starting point for a class or local group event along the lines of the one shown in this story: baking/food is both a means and a metaphor for ‘paying it forward’.

The Sour Grape

The Sour Grape
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper

A fault finding fruit if ever there was one – that’s Grape when first we encounter our narrator in this latest addition to the Food Group series. But the grape wasn’t always so, as we hear. Indeed Grape had a pretty perfect childhood growing up in a “close-knit bunch” – a community of about three thousand.

The transition from sweet to sour started when Grape planned a big birthday party to which nobody at all turned up. Thereafter began the personality change, first to a bitter grape, then a snappy one that would hold a grudge at the slightest little thing. This would manifest itself as a scowl that turned Grape’s face ‘all squishy’. Gradually the grudges built until one day, Grape is due to meet his only friend, sour Lenny, for one of their regular ranting sessions. But a sequence of mishaps result in Grape arriving at the venue three hours late. Guess who how holds a great big grudge.

A disbelieving Grape ponders on the situation and then leaves his friend to grumble alone. As Grape enjoys the surrounding nature, there follows a light bulb moment and off home goes the fruit to find and browse through a box of keepsakes. Goodness me! Grape discovers that old party invitation and the date written thereon was ten days after the birthday date. “It was all my fault. I realised nobody’s perfect. Not even me.”

Thus begins a change in the attitude of our narrator who finds that talking, listening to others and working things out calmly is the way to go.

What an important life lesson, and delivered in Jory John’s punny prose and Pete Oswald’s signature style illustrations, make it great fun. A book that adults, as well as youngsters should read; after all as Grape concludes, ‘If you look at things in the right sort of way – and if you remember to be kind, considerate, forgiving and grateful – life really can be pretty sweet.’

Be Wild, Little One

Be Wild, Little One
Olivia Hope and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘Wake up early, don’t be shy, / this bright world can make you FLY. / Be wild, little one.’ So urges the author in her opening lines of this exhilarating, rhythmic text that encourages children to believe they should go out into the world, explore it imaginatively and believe that anything is possible; in other words, to make the world their playground. Be it climbing trees, swimming in the deep blue ocean, chasing storms, (yes those will eventually go) or running with wolves through snowy mountains,

Daniel Egnéus captures and enlarges the experience with his glorious, memorable scenes of a child embracing the wonders of the natural world and experiencing every opportunity as an adventure. Not only do the words sing but so too, do the illustrations. And what better way to end than with this final spread where readers feel that they really are standing alongside the child under the starry sky ready to relish every moment of that adventure.

Truly a joyous, magical book bursting with encouragement and energy; be yourself in this wonderful world and embrace life imaginatively and fully. What better message could you give a child? A must have for class collections and family bookshelves.

Little Bear

Little Bear
Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

One day, a Monday to be precise, a little boy discovers a polar bear in his garden – a very tiny one. So small is the bear that he can sit in the boy’s hands. The boy speaks to the bear and realising he must be lost wants to help him. Over the next few days two things grow – the polar bear and the friendship between bear and boy and by Wednesday, it’s time for the two to set sail.

They embark on a journey that takes until Sunday when the bear is reunited with his family. After a day playing with the polar bears, the boy knows he must say goodbye to his special friend and sail back home. This he does, safe in the knowledge that the bear’s love will stay with him.

With the caring boy narrating the story, and Richard’s wonderfully gentle portrayal of the events and the growing loving bond between bear and boy, we truly feel as though we’re with them throughout. It’s this care and concern that lies at the heart of the story: “Are you lost, little bear. Can I help you?” comes the boy’s first question; then on Thursday we read ‘he had grown too big for my hat … So he curled up tightly, safe and warm in my bag.’ while on Saturday we see this:

Comforting and reassuring, this is heart-winner of a book that lingers in the mind and is open to several interpretations depending on what readers/listeners bring to the story.

The Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise

Little Elf’s Christmas Surprise
Helen Baugh and Nick East
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Little Elf can hardly contain his excitement: at last he’s sufficiently grown up to be able to wear one of those red and green hats that are considered a special perk for Santa’s elfin helpers. As the other elves complete the loading of Santa’s sleigh, Little Elf proudly holds in his hands the final ‘Dear Santa’ letter in the entire land and begins to read. So intent is he that Little Elf fails to notice the icy patch in the workshop doorway and whoosh! He slips, slides, thumps and in so doing lets go of that all important letter.

Back on his feet, Little Elf chases the whirling, swirling letter through the snow and ice but just as it’s almost within his reach, the elf takes another tumble. ‘But he HAD to catch the letter! / It just COULD NOT disappear! / Or a child would think that Santa had / forgotten them this year.’ Off he goes again with increased determination.

After further accidents, our Little Elf finally has the letter in his hand and off he hurries back home to read it.

What he discovers as he shares its contents with his fellow elves causes considerable consternation among them and a selfless action on the part of our little hero.

Young listeners will love joining in with the repeat refrains in Helen’s rhyming text and revel in the final surprise. With gentle humour, Nick captures the chaos that is Little Elf’s chase, brilliantly showing his perturbation as he ploughs his way through the wintry landscape.

Whose Tracks in the Snow?

Whose Tracks in the Snow?
Alexandra Milton
Boxer Books

‘Look! Look! / Tracks in the snow!’ is the cry on each alternate spread in this gorgeously illustrated book that introduces readers first to the footprints and then having described the chief characteristics of the prints, ‘Tracks like hearts, Tracks in two lines’, asks them to guess who left those marks, ‘by the snow-covered pines?’

The black smudgy marks each time are a close facsimile of what children would see in the natural world and a small glimpse of a part of each animal provides an additional clue, in this instance, the dark brown tip of a lighter brown tail. The page turn reveals the answer—‘A shy red deer’—and some information about the creature depicted in all its glory.

The rhyming text with its repeat refrain is a joy to read aloud, the descriptions of the tracks are superb ‘Tracks with lines, / Tracks like a kite’ are those of a waddling wild duck,

‘Tracks like diamonds …’ refer to those made by the bushy-tailed fox’, but it is Alexandra Milton’s exquisite collage illustrations at every turn of the page that are the real show stoppers. Just look closely at the snow with its variations in colour and small portions of shading. Six animals, six landscapes and each a joy to behold.

What a wonderful way to entice youngsters out into the woods on a snowy day for some track-spotting. (The back endpapers show life size tracks of the six animals – pheasant, duck, fox, hare, deer and squirrel.)

The Frost Goblin

The Frost Goblin
Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock
Simon & Schuster

If you don’t think winter’s frost is fun then you should read this book: actually you should read it anyway as it absolutely sparkles with magic and fizzles with enchantment.

One cold winter’s night quiet young Bertie Crash-Wallop’s heart wobble causes him to creep out from his noisy home without his family noticing. As he pauses on the swing, he spots for the first time, a door handle and having investigated further, not only does he get a tingling feeling but he discovers a small door through which he steps, only to hear someone whispering.

Thus it is that Bertie is drawn into a thrilling goblin adventure for he follows one Archibald Frostgobble and a wonderful chocolatey smell and learns that on this, the night of the deepest, most important frost of the year, the goblins must ensure that it’s scattered over the entire town of Clatterstomp before dawn. Before long it seems as though Bertie himself might make some magic; he meets a young goblin child, Ada, and is soon accompanying her on an exciting, magical undertaking scattering frost with his new friend.

Eventually ‘It was as if a giant had breathed silver into every corner of Clatterstomp.’

Goblin magic we discover has the power to transform for not only can it ‘rekindle hope in the sleeping hearts of all those who needed it,’

it also shows Bertie that he does in fact belong in his family and just how much they all love him.

Team Abi (author) and Fiona (illustrator) have created their own magic in this wonderfully heart-warming, moving story that makes a perfect read aloud, especially on the coldest days.

Floof

Floof
Heidi McKinnon
Allen & Unwin Childrens Books

Put me in a room with a cat and within minutes I will be wheezing and sneezing and have streaming eyes, so the thought of getting close up and cuddlesome with one is something I would certainly avoid. However, one glance at the alluring image with those big round eyes on the cover showing star of Heidi McKinnon’s book, Floof, is enough to make even this cat phobic reviewer want to spend some time with the creature.

Then to see this

brought on a strong urge to snuggle up and share some of the books in the pile with the ‘furball’. Even better, readers and listeners are able to have a whole ‘busy’ day with the mischievous Floof and in so doing, relish all the mismatches between what the words say and what the illustrations show is actually happening.

Not only is this a smashing book to share with young children, it’s also a good one for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves, preferably after an adult or older child has read it with them.

With humour and delight in equal proportions, this fun book will bring a smile to your face at each turn of the page.

The Heart of a Giant

The Heart of a Giant
Hollie Hughes and Anna Wilson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet young Tom. His mother ‘has gone away’ we read. Not so the hills up which Tom likes to climb every day and beneath which so it’s said, sleeps a giant.

When out walking one day Tom lies down to rest and pressing his ear to the ground, he listens for a heartbeat. Suddenly he feels the earth start to tremble and shake, which sends him rolling downwards. The giant has woken, but having found his feet again, does Tom run away as his instincts first tell him? No, for he realises that the great being is a child too. The giant introduces himself as Abram, Abe as Tom is to call him and thus a new friendship is forged. Abe goes on to tell Tom that more than a century ago his Mammy Giant left him and now he’s grown tired of waiting. Perhaps she’s in need of help, they decide, and so begins their long, arduous trek in search of her. 

Eventually they lose hope, Abe especially, and his outpouring of pain, frustration and fury causes the ground to open. Can Tom, an ordinary human child save the situation and perhaps even bring some cheer to Abe? He’s certainly going to have to draw on his new-found inner strength and resourcefulness.

With themes of friendship, love, loss and bravery, this beautifully written and illustrated book is one that lingers in the mind, especially the thought that as Tom’s mother said to him before she died, “each of them would always be within the other’s heart.’

Hollie’s lyrical, rhyming, self-affirming text has its perfect complement in Anna Wilson’s illustrations with that gorgeous colour palette and which capture so well the emotional roller coaster of a journey both friends undertake.

Supertato Presents Evil Pea and the Beanstalk

Supertato Presents Evil Pea and the Beanstalk
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Welcome back to the supermarket. The curtain’s up on the silliest ever pantomime performance of Jack and the Beanstalk narrated by Tomato and starring a said to be kind-hearted pea, Jack and its mum, Supertato – oops mustn’t let the name slip during the show.

In an endeavour to eke out their almost non-existent cash, Jack’s mum sends him off to market to sell Daisy their cow. You pretty much know how the story goes with Jack agreeing to swap Daisy for some supposedly magic beans, which against the odds the following morning, having been tossed out of the window in disgust, have transformed into a beanstalk.

Upon learning from said beanstalk that the riches await at its top, Jack (don’t even think of calling him ‘good’) begins to ascend, protesting loudly and vigorously.


Happily with Jack duly saved from his life threatening experience, he and his rescuer proceed upwards, enter the castle they find and encounter first an egg laying being, followed shortly after by a ‘glorious mystery guest’ of the fruity kind intent on consuming its visitors.

Fortunately for Jack and his ma they manage to escape, Jack still protesting his ‘not’ goodness, and about to receive a show-stopping surprise. With its delightfully daft finale, this latest Hendra/Linnet extravaganza definitely deserves the encores that young audiences will demand. There’s no doubt who is playing the bean swapper Jack encounters but I wonder if they’ll guess who is playing Daisy the cow.

This is the tenth Supertato book and it’s great to hear that £1.29 of the cover price from each copy of Supertato presents Jack and the Beanstalk sold will be donated to Save The Children.

Namaste is a Greeting / Balloon to the Moon

Namaste is a Greeting
Suma Subramaniam and Sandhya Prabhat
Walker Books

When I first started visiting India many years ago ‘namaste’ was explained to me as ‘my heart to your heart’ – a lovely summary I thought. Now the author and illustrator of this delightful book explore the meaning of the word namaste, used by Hindi speakers as a greeting. Herein a little girl discovers that in fact ‘namaste’ is all around her and can be expressed by a smile, through friendship, celebration, a yoga asana, silence and much more.

I love Sandhya Prabhat’s bright storytelling illustrations showing the interactions between the child and the grandmother character and how the former nurtures a plant for the latter.

This seemingly simple book has considerable depth and is one to share over and over with young children; it’s a delight.

Balloon to the Moon
Becky Davies and Jennica Lounsbury
Little Tiger

Drawing on mindfulness and meditation techniques, Becky Davies’ dreamy lilting rhyming text and Jennica Lounsbury’s soft lyrical illustrations encourage young children, safely tucked up in bed to let go, relax completely and gradually drift off into dreamland.

An adult switches out the light and we watch as the moonlight calls through a small girl’s window, causing her bed to lift and balloon-like, drift gently out into the star-filled, moonlit sky, guided by firefies. Silver songbirds and sheep-shaped clouds accompany the moving bed over land and sea to the accompaniment of dolphins’ songs, shushing water and chorusing whales

as it continues its journey through the velvety night sky towards the smiling, welcoming face of the moon and sleep’s loving embrace.

If you’re looking for a sleep-inducing picture book to share with young children, try this gentle, reassuring story just before bed.

Perfect Presents / Let’s Play, Little Rabbit

These are two small books from Gecko Press – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Perfect Presents
Anke Kuhl

In this mini hardback wherein Kuhl uses crayon to great effect, a monstrous-looking creature sits in an armchair, waiting. He keeps looking at his watch until BRRING! goes the doorbell. Enter a skinny lizard pulling a trolley, who greets him with, “Best wishes for today!” Clearly the large creature is celebrating his birthday and the visitor holds out first a cake, then a bunch of flowers and finally, a gift-wrapped surprise, all of which the monstrous one devours with obvious relish.

He then grabs hold of his guest: surely the lizard isn’t going to be consumed too? The tension mounts … Anyone for tea? …

Hugely satisfying: I hope it’s to your taste; it certainly is to mine.

For younger children is

Let’s Play, Little Rabbit
Jörg Mühle

Herein we see Little Rabbit behaving in the same exuberant fashion as would his human toddler counterparts – playing peekaboo, enjoying a swing and wanting to go ever higher, splashing in a tub of water and having fun with a soft toy rabbit. “Can my little rabbit play too? One, two, three….” “Wheeee!” comes the request in Jöge Mühle’s simple first person text, which speaks directly to his intended audience.

A sweetly playful, vibrantly illustrated, interactive board book to share with the very youngest.

Gaspard’s Christmas

Gaspard’s Christmas
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew
Graffeg

The enormously popular fox Gaspard returns in his fourth adventure, the proceeds from which will go to St. Martin-in-the-Fields Charity that helps the homeless.

When out hunting for food one bitterly cold night near to Christmas, Gaspard comes upon what he thinks is a bulky black bag in a bus shelter. On investigation he discovers an old man with a white beard wearing a black overcoat who is obviously freezing. He quickly realises that the man needs help and goes off in search of assistance, calling on his friends Flinty the dog and Peter the cat before returning and attempting to warm the man whose condition has clearly deteriorated.

The savvy creatures investigate and find that the old man’s name is Nikolas and off rushes Flinty to find her person. Then together Honey and Flinty struggle through the streets back to Nikolas and the other animals.

Eventually back in the church, the old man is given a meal, clean clothes and a warm shower, and later a special temporary role at the shelter party.

Despite being given a small reward each, Peter, Flinty and Gaspard understand that their true reward is the knowledge that their kind and speedy actions have saved someone’s life.

Such a vital message about selflessness and a thought-provoking story about the importance of showing kindness to those less well off than ourselves. I love James Mayhew’s painterly, detailed illustrations that, as always in this series, are infused with loving concern.

The Red Sledge / We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride

The Red Sledge
Mick Jackson and Victoria Ball
Walker Books

Mabel Taylor is thrilled with her shiny new red sledge. She dresses herself warmly and opens her front door only to find – no snow. Back indoors she sits in her sledge and starts to imagine …
She visualises herself as a bobsleigh champion and next morning, quite excited, she races to open the curtains. But what does she see; no snow at all. Back in her sledge she gets and this time she imagines herself as a polar explorer dragging her laden sledge and trudging through the deep snow. ‘Tomorrow it might just snow, she thinks. 

The following morning, a little bit excited she opens the door and peeps out only to find – you’ve guessed it – not a single snowflake has fallen. Again she sits in that sledge and takes on the Father Christmas persona, with her sledge being drawn by four reindeer. Next morning convinced there won’t be any snow she almost fails to notice what is happening through her window: heavy snow is falling – whoopee!
Warmly wrapped up, she crosses the field, climbs the steep hill and pausing to take in the view, gets into that sledge, breathes deeply and Wheeeeeeeeee! She’s off at last.

Although it’s not mentioned, in the words, young children will likely deduce from the excited look on the child’s face in the first illustration, that Mabel’s sledge is a Christmas present. I love the way she copes with the disappointments of no snow, turning them into opportunities for imagined indoor adventures.

We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride
Martha Mumford and Cherie Zamazing
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Having chased elves, hunted for eggs and treasure in previous books, it’s now Christmas Eve, time for Martha Mumford’s bunnies to wrap up warm, load the presents and take off on a round the world sleigh ride with Santa and his reindeer. Much of the rhyming text comprises the refrain “We’re going on a sleigh ride./ HO! HO! HO!” along with some onomatopoeia (‘Honk! Honk!’ ‘Ding-a-ling-aling!’) and more. Readers and listeners meanwhile can have fun hunting alternate spreads for the hidden gifts and watching their tally mount and they reveal them.

The narrative zips along merrily and Cherie Zamazing’s jolly watercolour illustrations show the varied locations visited with all kinds of animals enjoying the spectacle of the sleigh whooshing by. I suspect little ones will relish the sight of Santa with his feet waving from a chimney top, down which, aided by one of the four reindeer, he’s attempting to enter a house.

With lots of flaps to explore, this is a perfect Christmas Eve read together and equally, the simple text makes it ideal for those in the early stages of reading for themselves.

We Disagree About This Tree / The Big Christmas Bake / A Family Christmas

We Disagree About This Tree
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

The duo from There’s a Bear on My Chair are back and as usual they are disagreeing: why break an established habit just because it’s the festive season?

Mouse is excited when Bear bursts through their front door clutching a large Christmas tree and urges him to relax and leave the adorning to him. Inevitably Bear soon begins making disparaging comments about Mouse’s efforts and this precipitates back and forth critical animosity, culminating in tree overload

and disaster. However, not everything is a cause for contention thanks to two neatly wrapped packages waiting to be opened. Have the two bickerers finally found a way to share a Merry Christmas?

The interplay between Ross Collins’ sparkling verse telling together and his superbly expressive illustrations that are simply bursting with humour, is wonderfully done and will appeal to both young listeners and adult readers aloud.

The Big Christmas Bake
Fiona Barker and Pippa Curnick
Happy Yak

Author Fiona and illustrator Pippa cook up a wonderful festive tale based on the structural rhythm of the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas two children head to the kitchen and begin to make a Twelfth Night cake. The list of ingredients is long and they wonder where everything will come from. Happily however, day after day for the next eleven days animal friends of all shapes and sizes show up bringing in turn, dried fruit, flour, sugar, candied peel, eggs, spices

and all the other things needed, until on day ten, ten lords come leaping in ready to carry the cake to the stove for baking. All that’s left then is the piping pipers to show up on the eleventh day to add the finishing touches so that come Twelfth Night, the most incredible confection is set on the table ready for every single one of the contributors to enjoy. I wonder who finds the bean that was hidden in the mix …

A tasty treat indeed and don’t forget to check out the recipe after the story.

A Family Christmas
Alana Washington and Emily Nash
uclan publishing

With echoes of Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Alana Washington relates the events of a family’s Christmas day. There’s excitement about the arrival of guests and a kitchen of hot chocolate drinkers with cousins squeezing close together clutching their mugs.

Then at dinner time, dish after dish of delicious food is served up, an unexpected visitor turns up and when everyone is bursting with extra helpings of pudding, it’s time for a toast to the host.
In order to work off some of that food, family members go for a walk, followed by further indoor festivities: dancing and games, singing and the playful adornment of those who take a snooze.
With the washing up duly done, it’s present time at last. Darkness comes all too soon and some of the family must head for home, but there’s one final treat still to come: something big and extra bright high up in the sky. What better way to end the day than by sharing a special story and watching a sprinkling of snow fall before snuggling down in bed after a perfect family celebration.

With joyful scenes of togetherness, Emily Nash’s gently humorous art captures so well that magical feeling of the festive season described in the author’s text.

Kid Christmas of the Claus Brothers Toy Shop

Kid Christmas of the Claus Brothers Toy Shop
David Litchfield
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Everything David Litchfield does is a winner as far as I’m concerned and this one is no exception. It features young Nicky and his three uncles: Louis, Hans and Levi, aka the Claus Brothers, the finest toy makers in all the land.

Nicky is now old enough to work for his uncles in their emporium behind which is their workshop. There, Uncle Hanz was to be found making the toys, Uncle Louis would check them and Uncle Levi had a special role: he added the magic sparkle to every single toy making it perfect for the recipient. From time to time Nicky would notice less fortunate children outside the shop peering in and on Christmas Eve, with the shop closed early, Nicky decides to follow the children. What he discovers saddens the boy greatly and he vows to give every child in the city a present to make them happy, even if only for one day.

Back in the Toy Shop, his uncles are agreeable to the plan and with huge sacks full of gifts, Nicky suddenly realises that delivering them is going to be beyond his capabilities. Or maybe not, thanks to another of his uncles’ creations.

Off he sets but then faces other difficulties on his journey pulled by reindeer that require frequent supplies of carrots. Will Nicky ever bring his plan to fruition? Happily yes: how else would the story of Father Christmas have come to be?

David’s illustrations are out of this world brilliant. Full of Victorian details to pore over, and combined with a story brimming over with kindness that will fill anybody lucky enough to read the book, with a wonderful seasonal glow.

The Christmas Doll

The Christmas Doll
Amy Sparkes and Katie Hickey
Walker Entertainment

I have a lot of admiration for Jay Blades having heard him share some of his back story on the radio recently so was especially excited too see him as one of the characters in this seasonal Repair Shop story.

Evie and her great granny Sue, have come to the Repair Shop with a very special doll named Lizzy, who’s in need of some TLC from Jay’s Teddy Bear Ladies. “That is a very beautiful doll. Can you tell me something about her?” he asks Granny Sue. His inquiry transports Sue back to her childhood. She then recounts the story of how she was evacuated as a young girl from London at the beginning of the war in 1939. Sent to stay with the Russells, a husband and wife who treated her with such loving kindness, that by Christmas Eve, the little girl is feeling much more at home. On Christmas Day she can hardly believe her eyes when she discovers a beautifully wrapped present at the end of her bed. Inside is the doll and she names her Lizzy, taking the doll everywhere but thinking that at the end of the day she will have to return her. Imagine her joy when she’s told Lizzy is hers to keep for ever. What a truly magical Christmas.

Eventually however, it’s time for Sue to bid farewell to Mr and Mrs Russell and return to London. Even now, Granny Sue recalls the couple with fondness, going on to explain that Lizzy’s damaged state is on account of all the love and cuddles she’s been given over the years. Enter Amanda and Julie. Lizzy is left in their safe hands while for the next week they work on the precious doll

and Granny Sue is overjoyed with the result of their creative work. But that’s not quite the end of the story: a new chapter in Lizzy’s life is about to begin …

Amy Sparkes has worked her own magic by fashioning the ‘true story of the Christmas doll’ related at the end of the book, into an utterly charming, heartwarming new tale wherein past and present come together seamlessly. The Repair Shop team are immediately recognisable in Katie Hickey’s portrayal and she infuses the scenes of Granny Sue’s childhood memories with a warm glow. Don’t miss the gorgeous endpapers – the front one captures that wonderful community spirit of Jay’s team.

This is a book I see being shared in countless families and classrooms over and over, as part and parcel of the Christmas season.

The Christmas Department Store

The Christmas Department Store
Maudie Powell-Tuck and Hoang Giang
Little Tiger

It’s Christmas Eve but Benji feels anything but festive: it seems as though Christmas has lost its magic this year. His family can’t afford either a tree or a turkey and so they’re sad. As Benji walks through the snow-filled street wishing he could buy them spectacular presents he recalls his Granny’s words about magic happening on Christmas Eve. Suddenly a huge polar bear knocks him flying and as he gets up, there before him is a large department store. But this is no ordinary store; it’s full of wonder and magic, with penguin doormen and a shiny steam train that puffs along on a glittering spiral track.

One by one, Benji discovers the most perfect gifts for his family – a funky trumpet for his sister Hana, which he pays for by singing a silly song,

an unusual imaginary hat for his gran (he tells a story to a leopard in payment for that) and a very special warm-smelling potion for his dad. Full of excitement and high hopes for a wonderful Christmas Day, he returns home.

Next morning those hopes become doubts; but when he sees the smiles on Hana, Dad and Granny’s faces when they open their presents, he realises that the real gifts he’s given them are not material things but love and happiness.

Absolutely full of heart, this enchanting tale shows that the very best presents aren’t those bought with money, but those given with love and care. With their warm festive tones of red, gold and green Hoang Giang’s illustrations on every spread are filled with the magic of the department store.

The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince

The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince
Ian Eagleton and Davide Ortu
Owlet Press

With links to the classic fairytale The Snow Queen, Ian, a wonderful spinner of inclusive stories brings us what is, despite its wintry setting, a magical heart-warming tale of a lonely woodcutter who searches for love.

Kai is a woodcutter who enjoys carving statues for people to enjoy on Christmas Eve but nobody ever passes by. This year he is feeling particularly lonely without his grandmother, whose wondrous tale he recalls: ‘But this year he was alone,’ we read. Then as Kai ponders upon the possibility that his grandmother’s stories might be true, he is visited, but only briefly, by the Snow Prince. What he sees in the Prince’s eyes is hope.

So begins his journey to find love. To do so though, Kai undertakes a long, long journey, travelling though days, weeks and months 

and all kinds of weather until it’s Christmas Eve once more. Now he needs to break the curse on the Prince imprisoned once again in his palace of ice. Can he do so with his loving touch?

The power of love is palpable in both Ian’s lyrical words and Davide Ortu’s beautiful, richly detailed filmic illustrations; 

and make sure you take time to look at the pictorial maps that precede and follow the story.

Teachers and others, if you want your seasonal bookshelves to be for everyone, then you must add this LGBTQ+ picture book to your collection and share it this winter and beyond.

Little Elephant / Little Platypus

Little Elephant
Anna Brett and Carmen Saldaña
Little Platypus
Anna Brett and Rebeca Pintos
QED

In the first of these additions to the Really Wild Families series, Anna Brett takes readers to the African Savannah, home to Little Elephant (our narrator) and family to spend a day with the elephant herd comprising fifteen elephants, almost all of which are female, the oldest and most knowledgeable being Grandma. The youngest member of the herd is a two day old cousin of the narrator.

We see how the elephants search for and eat their food, meet some of the other animal inhabitants of the savannah and then head for the watering hole to drink and have some fun too, all under the watchful eye of Grandma.

It’s she that sounds the trumpet alarm call warning of a lion in the vicinity: time for the adult elephants to form a protective circle around the calves until the danger is over. There’s information about the role of tusks, ways of communicating and more, until at sundown, members of the herd stop to rest for the night.

Following the simple narrative are some additional elephant facts, information about elephant conservation, a case study and some activities. Carmen Saldaña illustrates this one, supporting the information well.

Belonging to a much smaller family (a mother and her two young ones) and living tucked away in a burrow on a riverbank in eastern Australia is Little Platypus, a nocturnal animal. It’s Little Platypus’s voice that tells readers about platypuses’ physical features, habits and habitat, reproduction and how they are born,

what they eat and how they survive. Males such as Little Platypus have a spur on each back leg that is able to release venom in dangerous situations.
Again Anna Brett’s manner of presenting the information is well pitched for young children and Rebeca Pintos’s illustrations are beautifully executed, playful and alluring. The backmatter is similar to the previous book though platypus related.
Like the elephant title, the few photos are especially useful as both illustrators have made their animals look rather more endearing than realistic.

I’m (almost) Never Bored

I’m (almost) Never Bored
Anna Milbourne and Åsa Gilland
Usborne

This is a wonderful celebration of the power of childhood imagination, in this case called into play when one wise father decides to curtail a little girl’s screen time. Furthermore his response to his daughter’s “I’m BOOORED!’ is “Oh, that’s great … being bored comes right before having a Really Good Idea.” And so the young narrator discovers, first when she spies a large cardboard box among those her dad is unpacking. This she turns into a magic train by using coloured pens

and then most importantly, in the company of Mr.Unicorn, imagining a wonderful adventure that involves visiting all manner of strange places – a land of wibbly-wobbly jellies, for instance.

Fortunately the girl’s mother is of the same mind and she responds in similar fashion to her daughter’s complaints about being bored. This time pens and mind conjure up a massive monster with a seemingly insatiable appetite. And so it goes on until our young narrator is sufficiently convinced by what she’s been told by her parents that she is ready to give a confident reply to the boy next door’s “I’m bored!” and you won’t need to use much imagination to guess what she says …

Åsa Gillard has clearly used her imagination to bring Anna Milborne’s text to life in exuberant scenes (with strategically placed die-cuts) of the little girl’s wonderfully playful flights of fancy.
If any parents/ carers have doubts about the necessity to limit young children’s screen time, then this story will surely convince them to do so. Most certainly a smashing book to share both at home and in foundation stage settings.

Zeki Rise and Shine / Zeki Sleep Tight

Zeki Rise and Shine
Zeki Sleep Tight

Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
Alanna Max

So much thought has gone into these two books starring the totally adorable Zeki wherein we share his family rituals. In the first Zeki has just woken up and from his cot, he greets readers with THE most engaging smile you could ever imagine as his Mummy opens the curtains to reveal the sparkling lemon-yellow sun. Then released from the confines of his cot he proceeds to dance his way into the kitchen where Daddy, preparing breakfast, joins his little one in a bit of box shaking.

With cereal consumed, it’s off to the bathroom for a wash and teeth brushing. Then on go a snazzy top and shorts, and to complete the outfit ,wonderful sunglasses and jelly shoes. Now Zeki is ready for whatever the day brings; and it’s patently clear just how much this little one is loved by his parents as they enjoy these simple routines together.

An equal amount of love and care has been taken in the creation of this simple presentation of family rituals. With each and every word having been carefully considered, the text is an absolute pleasure to read aloud: ‘He munches crunches. he sips zingy juice.’ and there’s a wealth of other onomatopoeia and alliteration too. 


Equally, Ruth Hearson’s illustrations radiate joy, while cleverly using repeat images such as the sun (hanging from Zeki’s cot and in his book); the chickens (on the window sill and in the kitchen); the crocodile (on Zeki’s bib and the rolled up mat in Mummy’s bag); the ducks (on the soles of Zeki’s shoes matching the string puppet). Sheer delight for adults and little ones at every turn of the page.

The same is true of Zeki Sleep Tight wherein the atmosphere is much gentler as Zeki slows down and prepares for bed. He sips warm milk, soaks in a bubbly bath, wriggles his creamy caressed body into a fleecy sleep suit 

and settles down for a pre-bedtime song and favourite story. Bliss.

Beautiful calming, soothing, sometimes sibilant language (‘they sing a slow song about a slumbering sloth’) and illustrations full of delightful details including plenty of sheep and other sleepy creatures. No need for parents to sing their little ones a lullaby, a quiet read aloud of this at bedtime will surely send them off to slumberland.

Both books are made from thick card and have rounded corners – ideal for little hands as well as a change from board books. I wholeheartedly recommend these for parents of very young children and for early years settings.

Paradise Sands

Paradise Sands
Levi Pinfold
Walker Studio

Three boys, Bill (the driver), Danny and Bob and their sister (the narrator) are in a car on their way through an arid landscape to see their mother in hospital when the girl suggests stopping to pick some flowers for her.“White roses we follow, towards Teller’s Hollow” sings Bill, as they leave the car and start to pick. “Dead earth to a spring, the house of a King,” he continues the ominous rhyme as they gather a bouquet. Feeling hot and thirsty the boys move towards a spring beside which stands a large palace, silent, imposing and seemingly empty; they take a long, deep drink, then instead of returning to the car, climb the stairs and enter the edifice.

Once inside, hungry and thirsty the boys consume what they find, then plunge into a pool and are transformed into dolphins.

The girl meanwhile has an encounter with the creature calling itself the Teller and offering drink and food to her. ‘I only want to leave with my brothers” comes her response. She’s offered a deal: three days without drinking or eating and things will return to what they were before the family entered his domain. His terms are accepted by the girl and despite being tempted she neither eats nor drinks; 

she does however use some water for another purpose. For this she must pay in the future.

When she returns to the car, her brothers are already there and they drive to the hospital to see their mother and give her the flowers …

This is a truly eerie tale with much left for the reader to ponder upon. Pinfold’s illustrations are mesmerising, unsettling and haunting, drawing us to them again and again in search of further meanings.

Penguin Huddle

Penguin Huddle
Ross Montgomery and Sarah Warburton
Walker Books

Meet the penguin pack, a playful lot that spend their days having fun, then at sundown they come together under the starry skies and form a huddle. Thus they keep snug and warm throughout the nights; till one night a particularly fierce gale blows up and the following morning the penguins awake to discover they’re stuck fast together. No amount of pulling and puffing, shuffling and scuffling can unfreeze the ginormous ‘penguin ice pop’.

Acting on tiny Pipsqueak’s suggestion they call on their friends to help; but neither the heaving and hugging of the snow hares, nor the prising and puffing of the walruses made the slightest difference. Can Pipsqueak’s clever idea diffuse the panic that now besets those huddling, muddling penguins?


By means of various modes of transport the penguins journey over land and sea until they eventually reach a shining city, the streets of which are full of animals from all parts of the world.
Several of the creatures are ready to try defrosting the huddle but they meet with no success. Just when the other penguins are on the point of abandoning their search, Pipsqueak has another idea. Can they reach the establishment of Doctopus before the surgery closes? Happily their new friends are there to assist.

What happens when they reach their destination though …

This is a cracking tale of friendship, community and helping those in trouble that will surely melt the hearts of young audiences and the readers aloud who share it with them, be they huddled, cuddled or snuggled. Sarah’s portrayal of all those penguins is absolutely wonderful, especially Pipsqueak.

Ella and the Useless Day

Ella and the Useless Day
Meg McKinlay and Karen Blair
Walker Books

Having had a good look around their house, Dad and Ella decide it’s time for a serious clear out and so they get to work right away. Together, they search, scramble, sort, poke, pick and pile all the useless stuff they find into the trailer to take to the rubbish tip, where useless things go. However, before they’ve even set off, their neighbour delightedly relieves them of the tricycle, calling it “Absolutely perfect!” and so it goes on until by the time they reach the dump, their trailer is almost empty,

even the holey blanket has been given a new lease of life. Then Ella realises that the final item is one they can make use of back in her own bedroom.

Meg McKinlay tells a subtle, gently humorous tale of recycling and reusing, creativity and community, that is highly pertinent in our throwaway society, where we all ought to be giving serious thought to living more sustainably. One wonders what on earth can be done with the “fashion disaster” of a suit,

the leaky goldfish bowl, the broken crockery and other things but young listeners/readers could have fun thinking of possibilities before turning to the final wordless spread where in a series of vignettes, Karen Blair shows just what their new owners did with them. Throughout the story, her watercolour and pencil illustrations provide lots of delightful details and underscore the wry humour of the words.

One & Everything

One & Everything
Sam Winston
Walker Studio

Here’s something strange, a story about endangered languages. Its main characters are circles of various colours and sizes, every one contains symbols, characters and script from a living or extinct language, each representing a story. These include stories about ‘beautiful sunsets’, the bottom of the sea whereas some are ‘simply full of dogs.’

All seem to co-exist peaceably until one story decides to become the most important story in the world. It calls itself One, the Only story and goes around the world’s story-verse consuming each and every other story, and thus filling its belly.

Therein however, something is happening: some letters get together to make words and eventually a voice speaks thus, “… you’re not the One story then. You’re Every Story.” This causes the One to come to an understanding and it then explodes into a myriad of stories. What’s left is a question. “Maybe you can answer it, ‘ asks the author …

The telling thus far has been minimal but what follows is the author’s note. This describes in some detail first the importance of preserving endangered languages and then introduces us to the linguistic characters that are shown in the illustrations. I’m not sure who the intended audience for this picture book is, but this reviewer certainly found it interesting.

How To Make A Picture Book

How To Make A Picture Book
Elys Dolan
Walker Books

If you’ve ever considered the possibility of making your own picture book, then look no further. Elys Dolan, aided and abetted by her annelid assistant, Bert, shows you how in this humorous, step by step guide. First make sure you have all your favourite pens, pencils, crayons, brushes etc to hand.

Of course, inspiration is key and according to our trusty tutor it’s time to visit your gallery of muses – in other words, your very special things; these can be used to generate a ‘story idea’. Then there’s the creation of credible characters, the first being the main protagonist and you need to get to know them very well.There’s lots of advice from Doc Dolan on how to do so.

Setting is another consideration – where is your story going to unfold and hugely important is what is going to happen throughout the story and how the events will be structured.

The use of building blocks is suggested – not the things young children love to play with – but sequences of words.

Two other vital elements in the creation of a picture book are also discussed. The placement of words and pictures on each spread means the creator needs to decide what the pictures should look like and how they and the words will use the space on each page. This allows the pace of the telling to be changed at different times: for example zooming in on a particular moment in the story heightens the dramatic impact,

whereas framing a picture creates distance between the action and the reader of the book. Moreover in the best picture books, the illustrations show things not said in the text and the text should say things not shown in the illustrations: not always easy this.

Our pro has one last tip to make the book a winner and it concerns colour: that means the author/illustrator putting themselves into the shoes or maybe that should be head, of the reader and then choosing appropriate colour(s) to generate the feeling wanted.

With a sequence of activities, tips aplenty and jokes too, Elys’ guide is highly entertaining and very informative. (Bert has even sneaked in step-by-step instructions on how to make your own blank book.) It’s a brilliant tool to use in the primary classroom or at home.

Rosie and the Friendship Angel / Everybody Feels Fear

Rosie and the Friendship Angel
Lucinda Riley & Harry Whittaker, illustrated by Jane Ray
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the third of the Guardian Angel series written by Lucinda Riley with her son Harry Whittaker before her death in 2021. Like the previous ones it’s based on stories she would tell her childen when they were facing challenging situations that made them fearful.

Here we meet young Rosie and her Guardian Angel Frederick. It’s Rosie’s first day at a new school and she is feeling very nervous as she ‘s greeted by her teacher Miss Marshall and reluctantly lets go of her father’s hand. Rosie is introduced to her classmates, one of whom, Jessica, has been asked to look after the newcomer. However Jessica doesn’t seem particularly friendly and come playtime Rosie is made to feel an intruder.

By the end of the day she’s feeling invisible and lonely, especially after what happens in the final task.
That night having kept her feelings to herself, Rosie lies awake in bed and she makes a wish, a wish that is heard by Angel Frederick, whose job it is to help anybody in need of a new friend.

Frederick moves down towards Rosie’s home town and sets in motion events that result in Rosie finding a wonderful new friend.

Starting at a new school is an event that many children find stressful and scary and this gentle story is one that could help them overcome those fearful feelings. Jane Ray’s illustrations are strikingly beautiful and capture Rosie’s anxiety perfectly. There’s a special angel bookmarked ribbon attached to this lovely book.

Everybody Feels Fear
Ashwin Chacko
Dorling Kindersley

As this book’s creator asserts we all have fears, some long-lasting, others much less so, some are small and some can be huge and overwhelmingly. This picture book is an exploration of the wide variety of fears we might have, from spiders to mice and bears to monsters. The text starts in rhyme and part way through changes to prose that offers encouraging words about fears: no matter how seemingly overwhelming a fear feels, with a modicum of courage, ‘as small as a mustard seed’ we can begin to face up to whatever is making us fearful. Assuredly fear does not define a person and most importantly love fuels courage and ‘where love lives fear cannot be.’ In other words, working together is the way to go.

Chacko uses a wacky, bold illustrative style combining it with arresting typography to put across his important message. This zany book offers a helpful starting point to encourage children to talk about their fears and in a classroom could act as the prelude to a circle time discussion.

Ballet Kids

Ballet Kids
Holly Sterling
Walker Books

Before the title page we meet a small boy holding up a doll dressed in ballet attire, who introduces himself thus, ‘I’m Thomas, and I want to be a ballet kid.’

He then goes on to share with readers in a straightforward manner, the events of a ballet class day. Having dressed up warm as befits the snowy day and packed his ballet shoes, off he goes to the dance studio clutching mum’s hand. He introduces us to each of the friends he meets on the way, all of whom are heading to the class too.

Once there, with their ballet shoes on, the children start their lesson. Thomas takes readers through the warm up, and the various moves, describing the exercises,

defining ballet terms, while speech bubbles provide comments from the young participants. Mr Elliot, their teacher is enormously encouraging as are the children one to another and then with Christmas approaching, the pupils choose outfits and thus, roles for the winter show, a performance of The Nutcracker. Thomas picks out what he thinks is the most wonderful costume he’s ever seen. “You’re the Sugar Plum Fairy”, Mr Elliot tells him and puts on the music for him to dance. When it’s time to leave Thomas has started feeling butterflies in his tummy but they’re soon allayed by his teacher’s words, “Just listen and move with the music, the magic will come from within.” And it most certainly does …

In her inclusive illustrations, Holly Sterling captures that magic and the sheer joy of the young dancers both in their class and as they perform the winter show. Young audiences will surely be swept up in that enchantment, especially the aspiring dancers among them.

I Did See A Mammoth! / The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!

I Did See A Mammoth!
Alex Willmore
Farshore

A research team – three adults and a child – are in the Antarctic exploring. The adults are looking for penguins; not so the child narrator who insists: ‘But I’m going to see a MAMMOTH.’

Setting out alone the little protagonist comes upon a skateboarding mammoth. ‘Mammoths are extinct. And I’m pretty sure they’re not even from around here.’ is the response of one of the researchers. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a wonderful … penguin?’
More determined than ever to prove it was a mammoth, the child sallies forth again and sees in turn the mammoth skateboarding wearing a frilly pink tutu doing ballet and the mammoth sporting a scuba mask submerged underwater.

Still no one believes the child and a shouting match ensues. Followed soon after by a full on tantrum by the youngster. This results in the ice cracking, an avalanche and a surprise revelation for some of the party. The final twist is huge fun and the book concludes with a brief note about both mammoths and penguins. Adult readers aloud will love sharing this humorous tale and listeners will relish shouting ‘Mammoth’ at every opportunity, as the child’s indignation turns to anger. Alex’s illustrations are superbly expressive, especially the penguins every one of which is a visual treat.

A super wintry book.

The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist!
Juliette Maclver and Sarah Davis
Gecko Press

Ms Whiskersniff, Ms Whisk for short, having assessed her pupils’ forest skills, takes her class trekking up the Dismal Hills. When shy Liam announces that he’s good at hiding, he’s told, “You can’t call that a skill”. Really? Soon the group pass a sign announcing the Grizzled Grist; Liam attempts to draw Ms Whisk’s attention to it and is immediately given the titular response, “The Grizzled Grist does not exist.”

So what has made the very large footprints that Hider, Liam (now camouflaged) urges his teacher to take notice of? You can guess what he’s told, in no uncertain terms. Lunchtime comes and goes with the occasional near disaster and eventually after trudging for much of the day it’s time to think about wending their way back. Liam meanwhile has gone into hiding up a tree and from this vantage point he spots something alarming. Yet again, the teacher will have none of it and back they continue to trek until …

Catastrophe! Thank goodness Liam is so good at hiding; but can one small boy possibly save all of 2B and Ms Whisk from the clutches of the gruesome Grizzled Grist?

Juliette MacIver’s rhythmic rhyming text tells a witty, playful tale that is humorously illustrated in scenes that show much more than the words say, especially regarding the characters. I love the endpapers.

Timid

Timid
Harry Woodgate
Little Tiger

Timmy is a non-binary child who loves performing and dreams of one day becoming a stage star and being able to share stories with others. However unless singing and dancing in the bedroom there’s problem in the form of a very large, grumpy lion and it’s always lurking stopping Timmy from focussing. One day Mr Stevens, Timmy’s teacher announces to the class that there’s to be a school play, Timmy feels no excitement on account of that lion.

At lunch break Timmy sits watching the other children playing together when a classmate approaches

and a friendship begins to blossom between the two. It turns out that both children are actually shy and with mutual encouragement they create costumes,

rehearse, meditate and use positive affirmations. Little by little the relationship between Timmy and the lion becomes calmer and Timmy becomes more self-assured.

Come the night of the show however, Timmy has a crisis of confidence. Can it be overcome with Nia’s help? It surely can and as for the show: it’s a dazzler.

This uplifting story of getting the better of shyness will surely resonate with almost any young child. Youngsters will understand that the lion is a metaphor for Timmy’s anxiety and love the vibrant illustrations. There’s lots to explore in the opening scene set in Timmy’s bedroom and take a look at the various flags shown during the story.

Black Swans

Black Swans
Laurel van der Linde and Sawyer Cloud
Sunbird Books

The six brilliant Black ballet dancers almost leap right off the pages of this show-stoppingly illustrated, narrative non-fiction book.

First we are introduced to Essie Marie Dorsey who although she never made it as a ballet dancer herself on account of her colour, made sure that others could by opening her own dance school in Philadelphia – The Essie Marie Dorsey School of Dancing; and to get Black parents to enrol their children, she went knocking on their doors asking them to send their offspring as pupils and so they did.

Next is Arthur Mitchell; such was his skill at ballet, that he attracted the attention of George Balanchine, artistic director of New York City Ballet and was invited to join the company, eventually becoming the first Black principal dancer. Even then it wasn’t plain sailing for in 1957 an audience deemed it unacceptable for a Black man to dance with a white woman. Some twelve years later using his own money, Arthur co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem ballet company.

Christian Holder moved to England aged seven with his family, then later attended the New York High School of Performing Arts. His talent was noted by the choreographer Robert Joffrey and as principal dancer, he had to face racial prejudice but it was his partner, not Christian who was replaced.

Dwight Rhoden too was held back on account of his skin colour, but as a choreographer went on to cofound Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Last come two women, Misty Copeland who in 2015 became the first Black ballerina to be Principal Dancer of American Ballet Theatre and finally Michaela DePrince who when a very young orphan in Sierra Leone saw a magazine picture of a ballerina.

When she was adopted by a family from New Jersey she went on to become a star dancer of Boston Ballet.

Ground breakers all and each of these dance lovers achieved greatness by overcoming obstacles through self belief, determination and of course, amazing talent.

A lovely book to inspire youngsters to follow their dreams, whether or not that involves dance.

Baby Polar Bear

Baby Polar Bear
Anne Rooney and Qu Lan
Oxford Children’s Books

In this latest of the Amazing Animal series, we follow a recently born Baby Polar Bear cub and her twin as they take their first forays away from the Arctic den their mother has built. They’re a playful pair and both stay close to Mummy Bear as they frolic in the thick snow.

One morning their mother leads them away from the den on a long journey across the icy terrain. The little ones take care not to stray too far away in case of wolves.

Eventually they reach the sea and the cubs delight in chasing the birds and Baby Bear takes a tumble into the chilly water. Brrrrr! After some splashing for a while, it’s time for the cubs to snuggle up together under the star-filled sky. All this is told in the narrative part of the text while facts about the bears are found beneath the gate-fold flaps of this cleverly designed book.

The illustrations are gorgeous and Anne Rooney’s engaging text with its interactive element, is pitched perfectly for the intended young audience; to add to fun, there’s also a Bonaparte’s gull to find on every spread.

A book I’d strongly recommend for both home and class use.

Kind

Kind
Jess McGeachin
Allen & Unwin

‘In this book you’ll find / Many kinds of things / Some have slippery scales / Some have feathered wings. // But kind is more than type / Kind is how to care / For creatures that you meet / And places that we share.’ Thus begins the beautifully illustrated, rhyming narrative that urges readers to show kindness to all living creatures and to our precious planet.

Making each spread a joy to explore, the author takes us first on a tour of the animal kingdom and presents flutterers, weavers, animals with shells, fish, the horned, the waddlers, owls and more, including some of the most spectacular. Every creature illustrated is clearly labelled with its Western common name; and each kind has a four lined verse that reads aloud well: ‘ Be kind to those who glitter / In gold and blue and green / There’s treasure in the world / That sometimes goes unseen’.

Having presented us with that wealth of wonderful creatures, Jess McGeachin moves the kindness focus, first to the planets, particularly Earth, and finally having gone large, he comes back small to remind readers that we humans are part of nature and we need to treat other people kindly too.

It’s good to see the author’s carefully considered afterword includes recognition that many of the animals depicted have names in the languages of the First Peoples who shared the land with them.
This is a book to add to family shelves and primary school collections.