Hair Love

Hair Love
Matthew A.Cherry and Vashti Harrison
Puffin Books

‘A celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere’ says a line on the cover of this book but it’s much more than that. It’s also a celebration of individuality, perseverance, collaboration, and a loving family.

Young Zuri’s hair is a mass of curls; her dad calls it beautiful and this makes the little girl proud. It lets her be herself as it ‘kinks, coils and curls every which way’, no matter if she feels like being a princess or a superhero.

On this particular day though, Zuri needs a very special hairstyle but she knows her Daddy is particularly tired after having undertaken the whole responsibility for her care. Deciding he needs a break, the child allows him some extra sleep while she investigates styles on a tablet. Her good intentions however are thwarted;

he’s woken up and ready and willing to assist.

Dad tackles the job confidently but comes up with a series of hairstyles that just don’t work for Zuri, as we see in Vashti Harrison’s splendidly expressive digital illustrations and hear through debut author Matthew Cherry’s apt narrative,

until the dutiful dad pulls a bobble hat down over her eyes.

Zuri’s “We can do better than that” response however sees the two working together, she providing encouragement and an on-screen lesson, he collecting the tools and developing his artistry until finally … Success! ‘Funky puff buns’ that satisfy everyone …

Our little girl is ready just in the nick of time for a very important ‘welcome home’ celebration.

Just right for an early years storytime and for family sharing, this is a smashing book that knocks gender stereotypes out of the window as well as reinforcing the ‘be proud of who you are’ message.

Christopher Pumpkin

Christopher Pumpkin
Sue Hendra, Paul Linnet and Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

Who or what would you ask for assistance if you were wanting to throw the scariest ever, totally unforgettable party? Perhaps not a pile of almost forgotten cooking ingredients that just happen to be lying on your kitchen floor; but then you are not a witch with a magic wand like the one in Sue and Paul’s crazy magical rhyming tale.

This witch decides to spell a heap of pumpkins into life, name them – Gnarly, Grizzly, Grunty, Roar, Snaggletooth, Stink Face and err – well she never gets to give a name to the last one for he cheerily informs her that he’s called Christopher Pumpkin and invites his fellow pumpkins to a group hug.

Can this thoroughly ill-fitting, non-scary animated member of the pumpkin fraternity possibly fit in with the witch’s scarifying plans? She decides to give him the benefit of the doubt, albeit while keeping her beady eyes upon him.

Task one is to create decorations that will bring dread and fear into all who so much as glance at them.
Easy peasy thinks Chris but the witch and other veggies are let’s say, underwhelmed. They’re equally unimpressed with Chris’s musical proposition …

So what about the party fare? Of course it’s cooked up in the cauldron and seems suitably disgusting until in walks our pal Chris proffering err, some pretty pink confections.

The witch gives the guy one more chance – be scary or be soup.

Can Chris come up with a scary solution before the following morning: he has just the hours of darkness to work something out or he’s in the pot.

Oddly enough, come morning, there’s an empty bed where Chris had been and the witch is ready to throw open the door to let her guests in …

Terrifically silly but terrific fun, this tale is perfect for showing little ones the importance of being themselves and not letting anyone push them around or make them into something they’re not.

It’s a smashing read aloud that slides and slithers over and off the tongue like yummy pumpkin soup. And as for Nick’s scenes of magic, mischief mayhem and the occasional menace, they’re a totally tasty treat to feast your eyes upon.

What’s not to love? Perhaps though, that rather depends on whether or not you have a penchant for things puffy, pretty and pink.

Secret Agent Elephant

Secret Agent Elephant
Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins
Orchard Books

Ever thought about becoming a secret agent? That’s what the large pachyderm in this story has set his sights on; but can he get through the required training course? There’s a pretty rigorous selection process.

The first rule is secrecy about the role: that’s something Elephant definitely needs to do some work on. Hiding is a vital skill but if that’s not possible, perhaps a disguise might do instead …

Our elephant candidate surely does look pretty dapper in that tuxedo: seemingly the tailor can after all, perform the odd miracle.

So, it’s ‘Agent 00-Elephant’ welcome to the Secret Service and now on to your very first mission in double quick time before the dastardly feline Vincent Le Morte, notorious international supervillain presses that big red button of his and wipes out the entire world.

No pressure then Agent Elephant.

It’s time to take that enormous leap.

Hurrah! Vincent’s super-secret hideout located.

All that’s left to do now is discover the whereabouts of Vincent himself without letting your purpose be discovered.

Agent Elephant gets a sighting so he begins tracking his prey who just happens to be heading for that red button.

There’s the occasional hazard en route – sharks for instance as well as the odd distraction of the edible kind.

Oh my goodness, it seems as though someone is expecting a visitor but hang on a minute. Could it be that the latest recruit to the spy fraternity might just be about to save the world …

A pizza-fuelled piece of comedy theatre of the tastiest kind is this picture book collaboration between Eoin McLaughlin and Ross Collins.

Every spread is sure to induce giggles and the way the text works in tandem with the visuals is masterful.

Adults will have great fun sharing this with young audiences; I certainly did.

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

The cast from Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do and I Do Not Like Books Any More! are back in another smashing story.

Natalie, Alphonse and family reside in a flat, on the seventh floor. The child monsters love driving their double-decker bed, playing around their large green chair, tending their sunflowers and performing somersaults down the hall and generally junglifying their surroundings until Natalie cries out “OW, ALPHONSE, you’re STANDING ON ME… and there’s MUD on the CEILING!

At this point Dad intervenes pointing out that their shenanigans are unsuitable indoor play. Natalie (who has an answer for everything) counters this with complaints about their lack of a wild jungle garden with a tent for sleeping in.

Eventually Natalie decides the park is where she want to be – alone.

Off she goes and there her explorations lead her to a bush with a hole wherein she finds …

Then, guess who arrives on the scene. A truce is called and a deal struck involving sausages and blackberries, and at Natalie’s insistence, a bundle of sticks.

Turns out there’s more than one place where you can be wild in the jungle, camping and tucking in to tea. Perhaps even sleeping too.

Another acutely observed, vibrantly illustrated tale from Daisy Hurst; these stories go from strength to strength. Everything about this book is quite simply brilliant.

I suspect adult sharers will adore it as much as the youngsters they read it with; this reviewer surely did.

There’s a Spider in My Soup

There’s s Spider in My Soup!
Megan Brewis
Oxford University Press

I was expecting it to be a picture book version of the nursery song of the same name but how wrong was I. Megan Brewis has dished up a playful tale of a little spider that gets a high five from me for her risk taking.
Little Spider resides with Mum Spider and Dad Spider on their web from which, despite parental warnings, she loves to swing.

One afternoon while her parents are having some shut-eye, our intrepid Little Spider decides to take advantage of their lack of watchfulness to work on her swinging skills, arcing high and low and having great fun until …

Is she about to become part of Mr Moustache’s veggie soup lunch?

Fortunately she manages to alert her would-be accidental consumer by some loud assertions concerning her identity.
Happily Mr M. is a kindly soul and after administering some TLC, puts Little Spider safely back onto her web.

When aroused from their slumbers, her Mum and Dad give their little one a good telling off but then they learn what had taken place while they snoozed.

Maybe being adventurous isn’t such a bad idea after all, is their verdict before setting off to meet Little Spider’s saviour.

With an abundance of onomatopoeic sounds, speech bubbles and spirited, mixed media illustrations, this is a smashing story to read aloud with little ones. It could, one hopes, deter them from squashing spiders and instead releasing them into the great outdoors, should they encounter them inside; and let’s hope too that risk averse parents and others might be persuaded to give young children a little more freedom to take risks and perhaps learn from their mistakes too.

Bug

Bug
Robyn Koontz and Amy Proud
Sterling

Bug, so named because of her passion for bugs – spotting them and drawing them – finds it hard to concentrate in her maths lessons. Instead, her teacher often catches her doodling and staring outside thinking about her favourite creatures.

When Mrs Muskie tells the class that they can plan a trip to the science museum, so long as everyone does well in the maths test the following day, encouraged by her friend Jasper on their way home, Bug determines to do her best.

Sitting in the field near her school, the little girl tries hard to concentrate on maths but finds herself distracted by buzzy bees, tickly gnats, dragonflies and butterflies, which of course, she cannot resist drawing in her sketchbook.

When she notices crickets on a log in two groups, these too become objects for sketching.

But then, Bug realises that instead of a distraction, her minibeast drawings can help her understand her maths – good on you Bug – and she proceeds to use her pictures of butterflies, ants and crickets as visual aids.

I absolutely love the way that back in her classroom next day, during the test, Bug comes to the aid of her teacher when her lucky crickets become a bit too lively, escaping from her lunch box and landing in Mrs Muskie’s hair,

calmly leading her outside, collecting up the offending creatures from the field and proceeding to prove to her teacher that she was doing as she’d been told ‘showing her thinking’ on her paper, which she hands over for checking.

Congratulations are the order of the day and Mrs Muskie is as good as her word …

There’s plenty of gentle humour both in Robin Koontz’s text and Amy Proud’s enchanting illustrations executed in pencil and acrylics that are likely to make budding entomologists out of all young children (although I’ve yet to come across one who isn’t fascinated by minibeasts).

A smashing book.

Astro Girl / Where’s Mr Astronaut?

Astro Girl
Ken Wilson-Max
Otter-Barry Books

Space and stars enthusiast Astrid wants to become an astronaut, so she tells Jake her best pal as they lie stargazing.

She goes on to tell the same to her papa over breakfast.

He challenges her assertion with comments about orbiting the Earth in a spaceship, dining on food from tubes and packets, becoming used to zero gravity, conducting scientific experiments …

and sleeping alone among the stars: he seems pretty knowledgeable about life in space. Astrid assures her Papa that she can manage all those things even the solo sleeping.

The day comes for the two of them to go and collect Mama in the car.

It’s then that we discover the possible reason for Astrid’s enthusiasm about space and her Papa’s knowledge.

A joyful reunion takes place and thereafter the little girl starts reading avidly to learn as much as she can about how to achieve her ambition, and about some of those trailblazing astronauts who went before, several of whom were women.

Simply and beautifully told, Ken keeps readers interested in the theme by showing us space related items such as Astrid’s t-shirt, her breakfast cereal, Papa’s T-shirts, the cookie shapes they bake together, pictures, a toy – all of which help in the build-up to the grand finale.

A smashing book for young space enthusiasts and perhaps to share on Father’s Day.

For a younger audience is:


Where’s Mr Astronaut?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

Vibrant, immediately appealing illustrations characterise Ingela P.Arrhenius’ latest title for the ‘flaps and mirror’ series in an amusing introduction to space exploration for the very youngest.

The space travellers hidden herein are a delightful mix of human, canine and alien. There’s Mrs Engineer, Mr Space Dog, Mrs Alien,

Mr Astronaut and finally, whoever happens to be looking in the mirror tucked beneath the felt moon flap.

This one’s sure to add to the deserved popularity of the hide-and-seek series.