The Smart Cookie

The Smart Cookie
Jory John and Pete Oswald
Harper 360

The narrator of this picture book is one of the residents of the bakery on the corner of Sweet Street; she now calls herself Smart and is sufficiently self-assured to share with readers her transformative journey from a cookie completely lacking in confidence to the present day.

As a pupil of Ms Biscotti, teacher at the school in a gingerbread house, said cookie didn’t think fast enough to put up her hand to answer any questions and finished last in most tests. Sometimes a lesson was so much of a challenge, our narrator felt completely at sea, totally beset by worries and would lie awake all night in the cookie jar.

Then one day Ms Biscotti announced a homework assignment asking everyone to ‘create something completely original’ and bring it to class next day.

Back home our cookie starts work right away but her initial attempts result in disasters of one kind or another, and then suddenly an idea comes – a poem! Having named the creation “My Crumby Days”, the words just keep coming to our poet in the making, so much so that it’s excitement, not worry that keeps her awake this time.

Next morning at school cookie shares the poem. Fellow pupils relate to the words, Ms Biscotti is delighted by its originality

and as for our narrator, she realises that everyone is smart in their own ways, it just takes time to discover what those ways are; our differences are something to be embraced and celebrated.

With puns aplenty and its important message, Jory John’s text together with Pete Oswald’s playful scenes of cookie’s school and home, offer a tasty confidence booster for youngsters and a great starting point for discussion in the primary classroom.

An Odd Dog Christmas

An Odd Dog Christmas
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

What joy! – a festive foray into the world of the wonderful divergent dachshund Odd Dog.
It’s Christmas Eve and said mutt is on a mission to find the perfect present for a special friend but after a day of shopping, time has almost run out. What on earth can I do, thinks Odd Dog wandering through the silent streets, when there in front of her eyes is a sign that calls.

In she walks to a true winter wonderland complete with gingerbread, candy canes and jolly elves; but there’s one creature that looks far from festive. It’s a very poorly reindeer admitting reluctantly, “I’m far too ill to pull the sleigh.”
There’s just one thing Odd Dog can do and before you can say ‘presents’ there before her is Santa. Of course, there’s the perfect solution.

With the night flight duly done, Odd Dog is still left without a present for her friend: Santa offers some words of advice. and then light bulb moment …

On Christmas morning our favourite pooch offers her pal something that reveals the true meaning of Christmas …

Wonderfully illustrated in gloriously rich hues and oodles of gentle cosy seasonal humour, this is one of those Christmas books that sends a warm tingle all through you.

Rita Wants a Robot / The Toys’ Christmas

Rita Wants a Robot
Màire Zeph and Mr Ando

Rita is a small girl with a big imagination and a head full of ideas. Her latest is a ‘super-sorting’ robot: something that would tidy up the ginormous messes she creates in her bedroom thus putting paid to mum’s repeated chastisements. There is a stipulation however; said robot mustn’t spoil Rita’s fun by creating hyper tidiness, so he’d need to know when enough was enough or risk her wrath. Of course, said robot would need to be an appreciator of wildlife, as well as never overstepping the mark, for doing so would land Rita in big trouble.

Then there are special considerations at the approach of the festive season: who would want a Christmas saboteur robot, albeit a well-intentioned one? Definitely not Rita: maybe time to have another think about the whole robot-sorting idea …

This is another fun episode in the imagined life of Rita conjured by author Màire Zeph and illustrator Andrew Whitson (Mr Ando) that will be enjoyed by youngsters around the age of the protagonist. This adult reviewer wouldn’t mind a brief visit from Rita’s super-sorting robot to work on my partner’s super messes, although it would need to be kept a close eye on, I suspect.

The Toys’ Christmas
Claire Clément and Geneviève Godbout
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

It’s Christmas Eve but rather than feeling excited, little Noah is very worried and upset: his favourite cuddlesome toy elephant Fanfan is nowhere to be found. Despite his mum’s reassurances that his absence is only temporary, Noah isn’t convinced.

Meanwhile, outside in the snow Fanfan is on his way to an important meeting when he hears a voice asking for help. It’s toy rabbit Mr Long Ears with a bad foot, upset at the possibility of not getting to the meeting on time and of course the kindly elephant offers him a lift and they reach the clearing where the other toys have gathered just in time for the long journey.

Why are they, along with toys from all over the world, out on this chilly night when they could be snuggled up with their children? 

They’re on a special mission to see Santa to tell him what their owners want for Christmas, but they also need to make sure they get back home in time for the big day.. What will Noah discover when he wakes on Christmas morning?

An unusual story illustrated in soft focus pastel by Geneviève Godbout whose art here has an olde-worlde charm.

Little Santa

Little Santa
Jon Agee
Scallywag Press

As the story opens Little Santa lives with his parents Mr and Mrs Claus and six siblings in the North Pole. Santa loves life there; not so the rest of the family. who eke out a miserable existence.

Their intention is to move to Florida., but their plan is thwarted. At first that is, by an overnight blizzard that traps their house and everyone inside, beneath an enormous snowdrift.

Up steps brave Santa who with some food in a sack and a pair of snow shoes, is sent out via the chimney to seek help.

When he emerges he starts walking, and having trudged a considerable distance comes upon what he thinks at first is the top of a tree protruding through the snow.

What follows is an account of how the little fellow comes as tradition says, to acquire a flying reindeer and a troop of elves whose talents include shovel making and sledge building.

Yes he does of course enlist their help to look for the Claus’s North Pole house and they fly back to the relief and delight of his family. But has this whole episode put paid to their plans to move to Florida? Certainly not and even with the improvements made by the elves,

a year later off go the Clauses minus Santa to start their new life. And Santa: well we know what he does.…
Crisp like the snow, Jon Agee’s folkish narrative, and quirky, comical illustrations in which Santa stands out in his bright red attire offer a kind of seasonal pourquoi tale that’s fun to share during the Christmas season.

Super Duper Penguin Slide

Super Duper Penguin Slide
Leonie Lord
Walker Books

There’s a pleasing kind of circularity about this tale of a penguin family’s epic journey, big ones at the front, small ones behind.

From the start it’s evident that this lot are well-organised and polite too, with their tickets at the ready to board the bus when it finally arrives at the stop, and the readiness to let those in great haste get past on the escalator. Such deeds still enable the penguin brigade – mum, dad and five little ones – to board their train in the nick of time as it begins to ‘Chugga chug, choo choo’ its way across the varying terrain until – disaster!. The train pulls to an untimely halt and an announcement is made.

Looks like it’s time to draw on another of those penguin propensities – persistence.

A phone call to a goat soon gets them out of trouble and finally they reach their destination. Now at last, it’s time for some fun and it’s downhill all the way … almost.

Full of fun characters – silent bit part players as well as the main cast and supporting nesting guinea pigs – Leonie Lord’s scenes both large and small contain a wealth of amusing details to giggle at as readers follow the flippered family on their journey with its highs and lows.

Off Limits

Off Limits
Helen Yoon
Walker Books

A father leaves his home-office unattended and who should decide to explore within, despite the ‘OFF-LIMITS sign on the door (shown on the title page) but his small daughter.

Disregarding her own “Hello, I’m just looking’, the first thing she makes use of in this thoroughly neat and tidy room is the sticky tape convincing herself that nobody would miss just ‘one teeny-tiny piece’.

However, it’s not difficult, especially for adults, used to young children making creative use of anything and everything, to understand so well that before long our protagonist has adorned the angle-poise lamp, the stapler and herself, not merely with tape but also with paperclips, bulldog clips and sticky notes: joy oh joy!

Before you can say “La laaa lala da la” the child is totally engulfed in an eddying pastel coloured whirlwind.
Suddenly though a realisation dawns upon our playful young lady. “Uh-oh. I’m in so much trouble” she tells readers as she tiptoes back to the haven of her own bedroom wherein an unexpected surprise awaits …

Simply told with perfect pacing and illustrated with superbly droll mixed media scenes of the escalating chaos unfolding behind closed doors, this book pays tribute to the power of play and the endless possibilities it offers to us all. Young children will absolutely delight in the forbidden deed with its escalating chaos, as well as both the pleasure and the possibility of being caught as the mischief mounts. Most of all though, I suspect they’ll love the final grand reveal and it’s contrast between that and the first wordless spread.


Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is the third book by the O’Hara sisters, Natalia who writes and Lauren who illustrates and what utter delight it is.

When Frindleswylde an eerie shapeshifter gains entry to the home of Cora and her Granny he steals the light and thus the house is plunged into darkness.

Cora sets off to try and get back the light so that her Granny is able to find her way home. She journeys beneath the pond to Frindleswylde’s frozen kingdom where she is at his mercy and is made Queen of Winter.

However he agrees to return the light so long as she can complete three Impossible Tasks, either that or remain forever captive in his realm.

Cora is determined to complete the three increasingly difficult tasks but can she succeed? Assuredly the thought of her Granny lost in the woods spurs her on try her utmost to outwit the deceitful captor.

This compelling, multi-layered tale has echoes of classic folk and fairy tales – Rumplestiltskin, The Snow Queen, The Six Servants for instance. Present too are those timeless fairytale themes of good versus evil, the all conquering power of love, a quest, and the loss of innocence.

Both the telling and the illustrations are magical: the former with its rich rhythmic flow of words and the latter, things of exquisite beauty in their own right: together they make for a wondrous read aloud fable that will utterly enchant younger listeners; and its themes will speak to older readers and adults showing that, among other things, we should continue to strive for what is right in today’s troubled world.

Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Things That Go!
Pavilion Books

This book brings together three of William Bee’s much-loved titles – Trucks, Trains and Boats and Planes, and Tractors and Farm Machines, in one bumper volume. I’ve already reviewed each of them on this blog so I won’t repeat myself; rather I’ll suggest that if you have a young child with an interest in things mechanical (or perhaps even yummy sounding breakfast cereals such as those sold down on William’s farm), then unless they already own the individual books, a copy of this totally immersive publication narrated in William Bee’s chatty style with his detailed, gently humorous illustrations, would make a smashing present.

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford Children’s Books

This large format, beautifully produced new edition of a classic has been brought up-to-date with terrific contemporary illustrations from Lauren Child and a new translation by Susan Beard.

We follow Pippi Longstocking on her amazing adventures as she moves, sans parents, into Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase of gold coins. Despite well-meaning adult villagers’ attempts to guide Pippi, she’d far rather be a wild spirit. She meets Tommy and Annika who very soon become her best friends. These new friends join her on her amusing escapades – leading the police a merry dance, going to school – briefly, joining the circus taking on a strong man and wowing the crowd, dancing a polka with thieves and celebrating her birthday.

Young readers and listeners will delight in their encounters with this intrepid, sometimes outrageous heroine while older ones and adults will rekindle their love of her with this bumper book that would make a super Christmas present.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll & Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

It’s always interesting to see new visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and although for me none can outdo those of Tenniel, assuredly Grahame Baker-Smith’s distinctive illustrations, breathe a different kind of life into Carroll’s story.

Every chapter has full page, richly coloured detailed spreads as well as several smaller pictures executed either in blues or sepia. 

One I lingered long over was the double page colour spread of the Mad Tea-Party and an amazing spread it assuredly is. There’s a large iced cake, the upper surface of which is crammed full of liquorice all sorts and what look to be those flying saucer sweets that contain sherbet. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of an egg cup containing an egg and peeking through the crack in its shell is the face of a chick. It’s details such as those that the new generation of readers who go down the rabbit hole , as well as those familiar with the story taking the descent again, will remember.

With illustrations full of mystery and magic and a superb design, this is a terrific gift book.

The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales
edited & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
NYR Children’s Collection

This anthology contains a dozen ‘literary’ fairytales selected by the husband and wife team to illustrate with their own whimsical touches.

Among those included are Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Oscar Wilde’s literary The Happy Prince, The Three Wishes told by Barbara Leonie Picard, Arthur Rackham’s classic version of Beauty and the Beast, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Prince and the Goose Girl, a reworking of Grimm’s Goose Girl, Parker Fillmore’s retelling of the Finnish story The Forest Bride, and a tale new to me, A.A. Milne’s Prince Rabbit. With an unexpected final twist, this is an amusing story of a childless king who is urged to name an heir. To that end the king arranges a series of contests for would-be heirs who meet certain criteria; one of which is a rabbit.

I found it fascinating to have such a variety of storytellers side by side in one volume, with the Provensens’ humorous, sometimes dark illustrations and I suspect this is a book that will appeal more to book collectors and older readers with a particular interest in fairy tales, than to child readers.

The Worst Sleepover in the World

The Worst Sleepover in the World
Sophie Dahl and Luciano Lozano
Walker Books

Seven year old Ramona eagerly anticipates her first ever sleepover when her friend Gracie is coming to stay the night. The plan is Ramona, Gracie and Ramona’s younger sister Ruby would all sleep in the one bedroom and they’d feast at midnight on such goodies as ice-cream sundaes, chocolate buttons, pizza, doughnuts and more. But when Mum gets to hear what the sisters intend, she steps in stipulating crisps, sandwiches and popcorn. Nonetheless the sisters are super-excited and sure they’re about to host ‘the best sleepover in history’.

However when Gracie arrives announcing that she’s ‘quite fussy’, it seems things are not going to go according to plan. Gracie hates all the food she’s offered at tea time, bath time is a damp squib and then when it’s time to pack the lunchboxes for that feast, Gracie again dislikes all the food and turns her nose up at the replacements.

The sleeping arrangements are not to her liking either, and nor is the family’s stinky dog. Is there any possibility that Ramona’s mum can step in, draw on her inner resources and save the day or rather night? Moreover can she do it without upsetting her own elder daughter? And will the girls still be friends in the morning?

Definitely this is a story – a longish one for a picture book – that youngsters can relate to. Sophie Dahl’s first person telling provides lots of details about Ramona and her life, all of which we see through the young narrator’s own eyes while Luciano Lozano’s vibrant illustrations speak volumes too as they show the different events of the evening, night and following morning and both the children’s and Mum’s reactions to them. Indeed there’s lots to explore at every turn of the page.

Vive la difference! is the message that emerges strongly from this fun book.

Croc O’Clock

Croc O’Clock
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

It’s feeding time for the crocodile with a seemingly insatiable appetite and goodness me does he love to boast about it as he keeps the zoo keepers busy all around the clock. “At one on the zoo clock, / the keepers give to me… / A MOUNTAIN OF MACARONI!” But that merely fills a small space in his tummy and the greedy beastie needs feeding on the dot of every hour. Moreover he has a cumulative song to tell readers what he eats.

At 2:00 there are two cups of tea and another mountain of macaroni; at 3:00 there are three french fries—and two cups of tea, and yet another mountain .…
And at 4:00? “4 pumpkin pies / 3 french fries / 2 cups of tea / And a mountain of macaroni!”
Five o’clock is time for some sweet stuff: 5 doughnut rings etc. More sweets at six in the form of 6 tasty toffees and as the clock strikes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 our every growing creature consumes 7 creamy coffees,

8 mighty milkshakes, 9 cherry cheesecakes, 10 jumbo jellies and 11 lemon lollies. Does he never get tummy ache one wonders?
Twelve o’clock brings 12 syrup sundaes

but hello- no mountain of macaroni? Now those keepers have finally decided that the crocodile’s diet is sadly lacking in veggies. What will the narrator’s reaction be to the next offering? …

Youngsters will delight in singing to the tune of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas, Huw Lewis Jones’ satirical take on the popular seasonal song, as they watch the croc’s continuing overconsumption overseen by the zookeepers with the assistance of some visitors, shown in Ben Sanders bright, bold stylised illustrations.

George the Wombat

George the Wombat
Eva Papoušková and Galina Miklínová

Did you know that like all his fellow wombats, George produces cube-shaped poos? That’s when he manages to poo at all, and even more importantly do so in his potty.

Pooing in his potty is what his mum has told the little creature he must do before he can go into the forest and dig a burrow. Being an obedient marsupial, George goes and sits on his potty but sitting on your lonesome upon your potty (or otherwise) is more than a little boring.

Fortunately though it’s not long before George’s pal Fred the kangaroo hops up and invites George to join him in some grass gobbling. George explains his problem and so Fred suggests something to help shift things along within. Still nothing happens, so Fred hops off leaving the wombat to keep trying.

Next to arrive is Annie goose and she too has a suggestion, but this doesn’t do the job either.

Lizzie mouse’s tip proves equally unsuccessful

only serving to make George’s eyes almost pop out, which puzzles Daddy Wombat as he walks by.

Now Daddy wombat knows a thing or two so maybe, just maybe he can solve the poo problem once and for all so that his offspring is free to remove his botty from his potty and embark on some tunnelling.
Translated by Alexandra Büchler, this tale of friendship, helpfulness and of course, poo, is great fun to share whether or not you have a little one at the potty training stage. With its repeat refrains and gentle humour throughout the telling, a humour that is superbly underscored in Galina Miklínová’s cross-hatched illustrations showing the cuddlesome creature endeavouring to follow instructions and produce the goods, this book will delight both youngsters and adults, all of whom will relish the potty-sitting sequences.

There’s a Dodo on the Wedding Cake

There’s a Dodo on the Wedding Cake
Wade Bradford and Kevin Hawkes
Walker Books

Hired to play his violin at a wedding, Mr Snore who starred in There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor makes a return visit to the Sharemore Hotel.

His early arrival allows him to take advantage of the wedding planner’s offer of some hot chocolate while he waits. Before he is given said hot drink sans marshmallows as he’s stipulated, the violinist spots a dessert trolley whereon stands a rose-decorated, iced cake close to which is a dodo with its eye on the main chance. But Mr Snore is not quick enough to prevent the creature from sampling a rose; it gobbles one and dashes off.

Having seen the dramatic incident, the wedding planner hastens away to find somebody to fix the icing, leaving Mr Snore standing guard using his violin bow to ward off a couple of beavers and a boa constrictor.

Then, deciding to move to safety – so he thinks, Mr S. pushes the cake into what he assumes is an empty cupboard only to discover it’s anything but …

However, it seems that there’s a never ending array of creatures all trying to get close to the confection.

Eventually the wedding planner has to intervene and it’s revealed that Mr Snore has misjudged all those whom he suspected of being marauders, all but one, that is.

With everything finally ready, the celebration gets under way and all is going beautifully until the bride and groom hand Mr Snore the very first slice of cake, but on account of the icing, there are explosive results …

Full of drama, this crazy romp with its messy finale has plenty to entertain young audiences – Mr Snore’s bow-wielding heroism, his continuing error-making and the denouement, to name just some of the daft constituents. All of which Kevin Hawkes captures brilliantly in his sequence of full page scenes, the occasional double page spread and zoomed -in views of bits of the action, presented in circles or ovals of various sizes. Weirdest of all though, is his portrayal of the protagonist.

Molly and the Shipwreck

Molly and the Shipwreck
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson

Young islander Molly and her family star in their fifth story and once again it’s full of caring and community spirit.

It begins with Molly’s mother receiving a letter from Molly’s teacher saying that the island school might be closed down unless more children can be found. Molly’s attempts to persuade some of the island’s visitors to move there and add to the pupil role meet with no success.

Then some weeks later Molly and her father are out fishing when they come across a rickety boat in trouble. They manage to rescue those on board – a mother and three children, one just a baby and Molly’s family and the other islanders do their best to make them all feel welcome, fixing up one of the empty cottages to house them. 

Molly is keen to enrol Amina, who is about her own age, and her little brother Bo, in the island school and hopes are raised about the increased numbers.

However, not long after an official from the mainland arrives saying he’s come to collect the new arrivals to take them to the camp but giving them some hope that after a while perhaps they could return to the island. So Amina and her family have to go.

Molly and Amina keep in touch over the summer and Molly tells her new friend that she’s watching out each day for Amina’s dad. also making that dangerous journey his family have made.

Will Amina ever be reunited with her father and will the authorities allow the family to return to the island?

With an emphasis on compassion, kindness and hope, in a way that will be understood by young children, author Malachy Doyle and illustrator Andrew Whitson present an important topic that seems to have moved to the back of many people’s consciousness. With Andrew’s dramatic scenes, and Malachy’s warm words, let’s hope that this book will help bring it to the forefront once again.

The Queen in the Cave

The Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardà
Walker Studio

This story begins when Franca, one of three sisters gets a strange feeling. It’s on account of her previous night’s dream about a marvellous queen who lives in a dark, dark cave deep in the forest beyond the garden fence, so she tells her sisters Carmela and Tomasina.

Franca persuades her sisters to join her in an investigation whereby she hopes to discover the veracity of her dream and thus rid herself of the feeling that now besets her.

Thus begins an adventure that takes the three ‘where no-one has ever gone before’. As the three walk, the forest surroundings take on a troubling stillness but fearless Franca urges them onwards and suddenly the ground begins to shudder. Strange sights are revealed and even stranger encounters take place

some of which are very frightening. Gradually though Carmela and Tomasina’s fears turn to thrills and they press forwards as it grows darker and darker.

Then suddenly they find themselves all too close to a thoroughly nasty neighbour: time to run until they reach … the entrance of the cave from Franca’s dream.

But what of that queen? Is she within and will she reveal herself?

Prepare to be enthralled by this powerfully atmospheric book: readers will feel occasional frissons of fear along with the sisters, as the layers of meaning are gradually unearthed and the queen’s kingdom is revealed. Spellbinding indeed: the richly coloured illustrations have a quirkiness and are full of weird and wonderful details, patterns and textures.

Group Hug

Group Hug
Jean Reedy and Joey Chou
Scallywag Press

We humans so longed to be able to hug our friends and relations during the worst of the pandemic when it was not allowed, and so it is with the slug at the start of this jaunty, rhyming story.

Said slug soon comes upon a lone beetle looking as though some physical contact would do it the world of good and a heart-warming hug is duly bestowed.

Then, one by one along come Mouse, Skunk (exceedingly stinky), Squirrel (upon which Skunk had deposited some if its long-lingering aroma), a busy Beaver,

Porcupine (willing to shake off some of its prickles),

a groundhog, a goose, a fox, a moose and finally Bear. Each animal is welcomed into the cumulative hugging embrace with the refrain ‘GROUP HUG’ except Bear. The appearance of the lumbering ursine creature causes the others to break away and scatter far and wide in fright.

Now only Slug (the brave one) and Bear remain. Good old, knowing Slug ,with an unfailing source of warm-hearted embraces, is ready and willing to spread the love

thus precipitating the return of the others from their hiding places for the hugest ever huggers’ huddle.

Jean Reidy’s telling comprises story elements both young listeners and beginning readers delight in: a repeat refrain (the title in this case), a spare rhythmic rhyming text, gentle humour, along with themes of kindness, acceptance and inclusivity. All this, together with Joey Chou’s digital scenes, each of which is imbued with a sense of community delight, make for a welcome heart-warming hug of a book for group sharing and individual reading.

My Pet Goldfish

My Pet Goldfish
Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

The young narrator of this gorgeous book is thrilled to receive when four years old, the gift of a goldfish. Naming it Richard, child and fish gaze at one another, one in its watery world the other without. Then Richard is put into a big tank along with lots of other fish so it has sufficient space to grow and after school our narrator talks to Richard about the day, convinced the fish recognises the speaker.

Little by little the child learns much about Richard, as do we readers. This information comes in part from the narrator’s observations, part from friend and fish expert Sandy, who lives next door and has a pond in his garden; and part from the factual information presented in a smaller font throughout the book. ‘Goldfish can remember things for up to five months’; seeing more colours than humans, they have very good eyesight that they use along with their sense of smell to find food; they breathe by means of gills; they lack eyelids

and the term for a group of goldfish is.a ‘troubling’ – I didn’t know that before.

Sandy shows the narrator his pond with its assortment of goldfishes

and offers the pond as a home for Richard, should he grow too large for his tank. Something that at age four-and-a-half Richard does, but there’s a long way to go for him to reach the age of the oldest ever goldfish – 43 years – wow! Sandy’s pond is then the perfect place for the narrator and Richard to continue their regular meetings.

Catherine Rayner’s narrative nonfiction account is based on her own real goldfish, Richard. Her delicately detailed, mixed-media illustrations are stunning, making every spread a place to linger and delight in the beautiful fishes, the often bubble-surrounded, aquatic plants in their watery world, and Sandy’s tranquil garden.
(There’s a final author’s note that includes some tips for fish care and an index.)

A splendid introduction to the joys of having a goldfish as a pet.

Where Three Oceans Meet

Where Three Oceans Meet
Rajani Larocca and Archana Sreenivasan

This story was inspired by author Rajani Larocca’s memories of a similar trip taken when she was a child.

Here, Sejal, her mother both USA residents, and Pati ( I think Sejal’s maternal grandmother,) who lives in India plan a trip to the southernmost tip of India, the place where three oceans meet – the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea.

With their preparations and packing completed, (saris for Pati – nine yards long – and mum – six yards, t-shirts and jeans, with langas and blouses for best – that’s Sejal), in the girl’s first person narrative we follow members of three generations from Bangalore all the way to Kanyakumari, which Sejal refers to as ‘the end of the earth’.

They travel by car first to Chennai, where they sample the dosas, and then by train across the countryside of Tamil Nadu to Coimbatore where they stop to visit friends, enjoy a slow peaceful boat ride down the river, sip the water of tender green coconuts,

and wander in the colourful bazaars before moving on to Madurai with its amazing temple.

Finally they reach Kanyakumari, the place where three oceans meets, just like the three generations: ‘Pati, Mommy and me. One who lives in India, one who moved to America, and one who belongs to both … ‘ Three entwined as one, stronger than any alone.’

As well as showing how love transcends cultures and distance, and endures across vast continents, the author truly captures in words the assault on the senses that one experiences when first visiting India – all those wonderful sights, the gamut of sounds and smells in this story; while Archana Sreenivasan’s vibrant digital illustrations help readers feel they are right there with the travellers in this wonderfully warm intergenerational tale. I certainly felt as though I was right back on those sands at Kanyakumari that I visited way back on one of my many trips to southern India that also took in Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai. A memorable learning journey for one small girl, and for this reviewer, a journey down memory lane.

(There’s a map of the journey at the back of the book, as well as an author’s note and one from the illustrator.)

George and His Nighttime Friends

George and His Nighttime Friends
Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Princeton Architectural Press

George, the lonely child protagonist in this nocturnal tale lies awake unable to sleep on account of his fear of the dark. “I wish I had a nighttime friend, even a small one,” he says one night. Surprised to hear a voice responding in the darkness, the boy sees beneath his bed a tiny mouse offering to help.

The mouse leads George downstairs and into a wonderful adventure in his very own house. The two explorers’ first encounter is with book guardian Mole,

then an elegant, piano-playing rabbit with stage fright, followed in the bathroom by a little penguin with a fear of the water and lots of other things. The four friends plunge into a warm bath to help Penguin with his frights and then during their search for towels they discover in the dryer a panda.

Said Panda is in need of a badminton opponent to help fulfil an ambition. There follows a crazy badminton game which fuels their hunger

and results in a new encounter in the kitchen and the making of another nighttime friend.

At last, surrounded by the host of new friends, George realises that night isn’t so scary as he’d supposed. A cosy bed calls and now it’s time to bid farewell to his friends and …. zzzzz …

Wonderfully whimsical, and wondrously illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned trademark fashion, this book is a perfect bedtime treat for youngsters and adults to read together. Both will savour the magical scenes – sometimes comforting and reassuring, sometimes playful – with their unusual perspectives, wealth of detail and superb use of light and shadow, throughout. Be prepared for an extended bedtime experience as youngsters will want to spend ages poring over every spread.

It’s Up to Us

It’s Up to Us
Christopher Lloyd
What on Earth Books

Thirty three award-winning artists from around the world have each contributed a terrific illustration for this book, which is subtitled A Children’s Terra Carta for Nature, People and Planet. It’s based on the 13 point Terra Carta – a kind of roadmap created by HRH The Prince of Wales (who contributes a foreword) and his initiative Sustainable Markets, which aims to ‘put nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation’ set out at the back of the book using the original language of the Terra Carta’s preface).

The main text comprises four parts. In Nature, the first, we’re reminded that we humans are living our lives surrounded not only by other people but also by an incredible wealth of flora and fauna; and it’s likely that no matter where one looks there is evidence of this, be it from the tiny wild plants poking out between the cracks in the pavement, or the birds singing in the trees we walk past on the way to school or the shops.
However not all life is visible to the naked eye: there are millions of tiny microbes living in every conceivable place on Earth – even in between our toes – but you’ll only see them with the aid of a microscope.
Did you realise that all life is dependent upon three things: the air, the soil and the oceans; from these come oxygen, food, water and the wind? Immediately recognisable, Poonam Mistry’s intricately patterned illustration surrounding this information pays tribute to her love of nature. Nature – Earth’s circle of life – has been around billions of years before human life first existed, and indeed Earth is the only planet on which we can be sure, life exists.

illustrations by Estelí Meza and Mehrdokht Amini

The Nature surrounding us is so amazing that from it we derive everything we humans need (and much more), of this we’re reminded at the start of the People section of the book.
There’s a downside to this though – the pollutants released into the air and the water, poisonous emissions that cause immense harm to myriads of tiny living things that keep our soil healthy.
But that’s not all: stop and consider the vast amounts of pollutants now found in our oceans and rivers due to our consumerist lifestyle. The result? The extinction of ever more plant and animal species. Catastrophic indeed. Due in part to the fact that we have forgotten that we too are Nature.

illustration by Rutu Modan

That is why our attention is drawn in Planet to global warming. something that is now impossible to deny. Its impact is chronicled in searing illustrations of forest fires, blackened landscapes due to CO2 emissions,

illustration by Black Douglas

melting ice-caps and disastrous floods, all of which have been so much in the news during this past year.

However it’s not too late quite yet; but we need to act quickly to bring Nature back into balance and the ways so to do are set out in the Terra Carta. Herein seven ‘WE WILL’ intentions are stated. It’s no good though if they stay as intentions; actions are crucial and as the banner held by one of the young people on the final spread says, IT’S UP TO US! Young people from all over the world have been at the forefront of the movement to put Nature first but it’s up to adult individuals, businesses, politicians and governments everywhere to recognise the urgency of the situation and take decisive action, NOW!

With its dedication to life-long activist and pacifist Satish Kumar, this is a timely, must have (sustainably printed) book for families, school classrooms and libraries as well as delegates to COP26.

The Queen on Our Corner

Thank you to Katrina and Lantana Publishing for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for this book

The Queen on Our Corner
Lucy Christopher and Nia Tudor
Lantana Publishing

This story told from the viewpoint of the child narrator was inspired by the author’s real life encounters with homeless and displaced people.

It appears, at the start that the only person aware of the lone woman who sits with her dog, is the narrator herself, although even she merely walked past at first. Conferring on the woman, the name Queen, the child envisages possible battles the woman has participated in, the journeys she might have taken, her countless adventures, 

perhaps even encounters with dragons; she eventually wins her mother around and the two of them offer simple acts of kindness to the woman. 

But that still leaves all the rest of the local people to convince of her worth and deservedness of their attention.

Attention is what the lone woman pays as she keeps a protective watch over the area looking out for any possible danger. Then, one windy night danger does indeed come in the form of a fire that grows and spreads; readers will suspect who is the person to shout the alarm call that galvanises the local people into action and brings the fire trucks to douse the flames.

Seizing her opportunity, next to shout is the girl narrator who informs everyone that because of ‘our Queen’ and her quick thinking, their homes and belongings were saved. At last, the woman receives, not only heartfelt thanks, blankets and water, but as the narrator suggests, they work together to create a home for their hero, a place from which she can regale them all with her stories.

Demonstrating the power of community, and the fact that everybody needs a place they can call home, this timely, thought-provoking tale coming in the wake of the terrible plight of the Afghanistan people, shows the importance of recognising the inherent worth of everyone – and homeless people especially, – no matter their circumstances or appearance.

Nia Tudor’s powerful scenes capture so well the changing feelings and emotions of the characters, particularly the narrator and the ‘Queen’. Her use of light and dark accentuates the unfolding drama and there are lots of interesting details to discover: look carefully for instance, at the final scene where the Queen is washing up.

Definitely a book to add to your home or classroom collection.

THE QUEEN ON OUR CORNER is now available in all good bookshops! OR, buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to children who need books the most with your purchase:

Inside the Suitcase

Inside the Suitcase
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Right from the epigraph inside the front cover, we know we’re in for something special with this book: “A good traveller has no set plans and no destination.’ Lao-tzu and so it seems is the case with Clotilde Perrin’s young boy traveller.

We first encounter the boy inside a delightful little house tucked away behind the hills wherein he stands packing his red suitcase. We’re invited to open this case and view its contents – a seemingly random selection of items. But wait, read on and the importance of each one will be revealed as the journey progresses; a journey that takes the lad across the ocean in a small boat to land on an unknown beach whereon rests a large rock. Behind this stands a small house somewhat similar to the one the boy has left, but how will he gain entrance? How good is the reader’s memory, for this is now a game involving memory.

Once within, the boy makes a discovery; but what will he do with the tempting object? With a decision made and the item stowed safely in his case, the boy consumes one of the things he’d packed and continues his journey. Now he climbs tall, icy mountains – shiver shiver – is there anything in that suitcase to alleviate the cold he’s feeling? At the top of the mountain glowing in the ice is a hole wherein a host of luminous jellyfish swim. How lovely it would be to join them.

Time to check the contents of that suitcase again …

Strangely, having taken the plunge, there beneath the water stands something totally surprising; what could possibly be inside? … A rarity indeed! And definitely something to stow into that suitcase.

Jiggle, jiggle goes the object as the boy continues on his way until there before him is a dark forest wherein lurks – oh no!

Quick, the suitcase might just hold something useful …

Phew, a narrow escape for sure but so deep and black is the darkness that now the boy requires something to help him find his way: saved by a resource from the case again.

Once the night has gone the boy discovers yet another house but there’s nothing much within except a single seed; but a seed of what?

Best to pop it in the case and move on, and so he does, stopping briefly to remove the last item collected from his case before moving through a dense fog cloud behind which stands …

Yes, the boy’s journey has brought him full circle. Is there anything remaining in his suitcase.? I wonder … memories certainly.

Surprises aplenty await any reader in this cleverly designed book into which much has clearly been put, especially in the placing of images as well as the use of overlapping layers of large, shaped flaps and die-cuts. Features such as these make our discoveries as we follow the boy’s journey, all the more exciting. Then there are some touches of surrealism: that fish flying close to the boy’s home on the final spread for example; I’ll leave readers to discover others for themselves. The illustrations throughout are a delight, full of life and executed in a colour palette that enhances the mysterious fascination of the boy’s journey into the great unknown in this superb neo-fairytale.

Originally published in French, the story was translated by Daniel Hahn.

The Light That Dance in the Night

The Lights That Dance in the Night
Yuval Zommer
Oxford Children’s

With a lyrical narrative and stunningly beautiful illustrations Yuval Zommer allows the dancing lights to tell their own glorious story of their journey from being ‘specks of dust blown to Earth from the Sun’, passing close together through clouds and snowstorms as they discover their purpose as the Northern night-dancing lights.

As they travel, the lights fill the land with happiness and joy, and the air is filled not only with their brightness but also with the singing of whales and ringing of bells.
Their dance also delights the ox and Arctic fox, 

wolves and wild cats, reindeer herds and forest birds.

Humans too are entranced and some of them weave the magical beauty of the lights into their tales. 

Eventually the entire Arctic is united in song and wonder, love and hope beneath the sky wherein those miraculous lights continue to perform their transformative dance.

Truly readers – certainly this one, are transported and uplifted as they turn the pages, reading, looking and feeling awe at the gorgeous scenes Yuval conjures before our eyes.

This is the perfect wintry book to share with children while drinking hot chocolate and snuggling together; or better still, wrap up warm and take it outside to enjoy under the stars : you never know, those magical lights might just appear, dancing across the sky above.

The Burpee Bears

The Burpee Bears
Joe Wicks and Paul Howard
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Written in partnership with author Vivian French and illustrated by Paul Howard, this is PE teacher to the locked-down nation, Joe Wicks’ debut picture book. Here too he encourages youngsters to keep fit through the Burpee Bears, a modern ursine family who make every day exciting – a day for adventure.

We first meet the Burpees as Daddy Bear, wide awake already, rouses in turn Bella, Frankie and Baby Bear and having done a quick stretching sequence, off they all go to wake Mummy Bear from her slumbers, before leaping into playful action, zooming hither and thither while Daddy Bear prepares a delicious breakfast.

Then it’s off on an adventure in the woods to make the most of the sunshine that awaits; once Mummy Bear has persuaded Frankie that would-be astronauts benefit greatly from walking in the fresh air, and the others have got themselves organised.

En route Bella needs to recharge so Daddy Bear gets the little ones doing a small work out that helps them reach the top of the hill with sufficient energy to start building that rocket ship Frankie SO wants to make.

However it’s not all ups with this Burpee brigade, for no sooner have they finished building than down comes the rain.

Where better to shelter though, from all those drips, drops, whooshes and swishes than Frankie’s rocket. It’s a great place for preparing a healthy dinner too; one that’s eaten under the stars for the downpour stops just in time.

All fun days have to end though and so it is with this one;

so back they go more than ready for us to bid them goodnight as they close their eyes and perhaps dream of a trip into space courtesy of Frankie’s rocket.

As you might expect, after the story Joe provides warm-up and wind-down exercise routines, the latter being yoga based – just right for little humans.

As you might expect too, Joe’s story is suffused with that Wicks’ energy throughout and it’s a book that families with young children can share over and over, enjoying not only the telling but Paul Howard’s splendid illustrations. These are full of life and capture so well the general up-beat nature of the characters as well as the times when somebody needs a bit of a boost.

If you like the sound of the Burpee Bears’ meals, then you might want to try the recipes at the end of the book.

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker
Michal Skibiński, illustrated by Ala Bankroft

This moving, hauntingly beautiful book, set in and close to Warsaw, tells the story of the author around the outbreak of WW2.

Assigned a summer project by his schoolteacher, unaware that war is soon to come, eight year old Michal Skibiński writes a single sentence in his notebook every day. ’15.7.1939 I walked to the brook with my brother and our nanny. ‘ ’27.7.1939 I found a big caterpillar and brought it to our garden.’

Each sentence is given its own double spread with a painting – a natural landscape and unpeopled scenery – by Ala Bankroft. Readers truly feel they’re seeing things as Michael saw them: a church window behind a shadowed stone wall; a verdant woodland – green hues prevail in what is at first, an idyllic time.

After sequences of several spreads of Ala Bankroft’s awesome paintings, the pages of Michal’s notebook written in Polish are photographically reproduced, with translations below.

Little by little though, the boy’s observations start to include images of a war slowly approaching. Then comes a stark ‘The war began’ on 1st September followed five days later by, ‘They dropped a bomb near us.’

Adult readers know that awful things are coming, as Michal still somewhat innocently says on 14th September, ‘Warsaw is defending itself bravely.’ the wooded illustration for this now having an orange sky.

Throughout, the boy’s single line entries intensify the impact of the colours used in the paintings.
Indeed it’s only by reading the notes at the end of the book that we know that his 29.8.1939 ’Daddy came to visit me.’ was to be the last time Michal saw his father. He was a pilot and leader of a Polish bomber squadron, and lost his life in a plane crash on 9th September. This powerful resonant revelation brought a lump to my throat when I read it. Here we also learn that today, Michal Skibiński lives in a retirement home for priests and a photo on the book’s back inside cover underscores just how real this story is.

Yes a thing of beauty in its own right, but this unusual, splendidly designed book would also make a good starting point for a class theme on World War 2.

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Seahorses Are Sold Out
Katja Gehrmann and Constanze Spengler (translated by Shelley Tanaka)
Gecko Press

Mika is eager to go to the lake with her dad but he’s busy with his work telling her to go and play. However, quickly bored by playing alone she makes a deal with him: let me have a pet and I’ll let you work in peace. Her preoccupied Dad hands Mika his wallet and off she goes to the pet shop where she chooses a mouse. Not convinced that she should be making a purchase alone, the shop owner phones Mika’s Dad to check she’s allowed to buy the creature and Mika overhears Dad say, “Just sell the kid whatever, …”

Back home Mika has a fun time with her new acquisition but the following morning the mouse has gone missing. Dad suggests she go and seek help at the pet shop and while there Mika makes another purchase – a puppy. After all dogs have sensitive noses and can sniff out anything. The puppy does the job

but makes a mess in the bathroom. Off goes Mika again to the pet shop where she’s seen a seal – just the thing for solving the toilet problem and said seal can also act as a loo supervisor.

Several more trips to Pet Kingdom result in a penguin to teach the mouse how to swim in the bath,

a parrot to cheer up the penguin, grumpy on account of the TV being turned off, and a baby elephant to drown out the parrot’s squawking and chattering.

Totally oblivious to the menagerie his daughter has amassed,

Mika’s Dad finally completes his project and is ready for that promised lake visit. And the pets? They might enjoy it too …

This crazy concatenation caused by a bored but persistent child, her workaholic father and a pet-shop owner who knows when he’s on to a good thing, is presented in a sequence of hilarious double spreads by Katja Gehrmann, that lead towards a fun finale; and Mira’s delightfully droll first person narrative chronicling the events. Young listeners, pet lovers especially, will relish this.

The Fox and the Forest Fire

The Fox and the Forest Fire
Danny Popovici
Chronicle Books

We’ve heard a lot about the ravages of forest fires in various parts of the world in recent months and here debuting as a picture book author-illustrator, Danny Popovici, a former firefighter who recently had to flee from a forest fire in the region of his home, writes from the heart.

His story is narrated by a boy who has just moved from the city with his mum to a new home in the country. Initially he misses the hustle and bustle of city life, and on a hike with his mum, watched by a fox, declares country life is not for him. Little by little though the lad comes to appreciate his new surroundings as we (and the fox) are witness to his change of heart. “I feel welcome in my new home” he says.

Then one morning, there’s a strange quiet everywhere and in the distance the boy sights a tower of smoke rising up: the forest is on fire. He dashes back home to warn his mother and as the surroundings turn a fiery red, the two are forced to flee their home. The forest animals do likewise.

Eventually rain comes though it’s a long time before mother and child are allowed to return, but when they do, their house is no more. Happily however, safe and secure they begin to plan their new home, the boy stating ‘While things don’t look like they did before, the forest knows what to do after a fire.” and the final spread shows new beginnings for both displaced humans and forest creatures.

Told and illustrated with a sensitivity that comes from a deep understanding and love of nature, Popovici shows ( and after the story ends tells in a note ,) ‘naturally occurring’ forest fires can benefit a forest, while also emphasising the danger of those caused by careless humans, and global warming, as well as the need to protect our environment.

A book that offers a powerful starting point for talking about the affects of wildfires.

I Am Courage

I Am Courage
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

The sixth in the I Am series looks at the topic of inner strength and resilience, things we’ve all needed to draw on in the past eighteen months or so.

This book is presented by a child narrator on a bike ride. The ride (like life) is full of challenges, but despite being faced by such obstacles as a dark path, a bridge across a deep gorge, even meeting with a frightening dog,

the child believes in their own strength and resilience, drawing on it to keep going. This sometimes entails asking for support from other people and sometimes it means giving support to others. Resilience is shown first on the child’s T-shirt, then as a bonfire and then on flags that the narrator gives to others, each time taking the form of an iconic flame symbol that helps them to find their own inner strength. 

That friends are key in the whole process of keeping the flame alive no matter what, is shown in the final two spreads where we see the narrator and friends creating a large sail and sailing off on a raft with the symbol hoisted aloft.

Peter H. Reynolds uses different colour backgrounds, each one vibrant, in keeping with the range of feelings the characters show on their faces during the course of the journey.

After Susan Verde’s first person narrative, she offers an author’s note wherein she suggests some yoga poses and breathing techniques that should help youngsters in affirming the brave, confident and courageous humans that they are.

Rita Wants a Witch

Rita Wants a Witch
Máire Zepf and Mr Ando

Rita is a small girl with a very big imagination and she uses it to ponder the possibilities of having a witch in the family. The witch she desires is of the wild sort and thus, instead of sending her off to bed she’d allow the child to whizz around all night on a broomstick; no household chores would be required, only her assistance with spell brewing. But said witch would never ever do mean spells, only ones like this –

she’d never give her bad dreams or scare off her pals.

What though if on the other hand, this witch turned out to be inept at tending to a poorly Rita, a meanie who wanted her apprentice to follow her unpleasant example, and whose cooking was decidedly unappetising.

There’s absolutely no knowing what might transpire if such a witch came into Rita’s life.

Better perhaps to have another think, toss out those notions of magic potions and settle for something much safer …

In addition to being a fun book for sharing with foundation stage children around Halloween time, this is a story with a maternal theme that shows just how much mums really do for their little ones. The vividness of Rita’s imagination that emerges in Máire Zepf’s first person narrative is mirrored in Mr Ando, aka Andrew Whitson’s humorous, sometimes mock scary scenes of witchy prospects for which he uses suitably bright garish hues.

I’m Sticking With You Too

I’m Sticking With You Too
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Having delighted us with I’m Sticking With You, Bear and Squirrel are back and if possible, they’re even more thick as thieves than when last we saw them.

Enter Chicken with a large case asking politely to partake of their seemingly idyllic lifestyle. An immediate rebuffal by Bear, backed up Squirrel doesn’t deter the feathered one, who continues pleading while also unpacking that case and bringing out and playing assorted musical instruments. Sadly however Bear tells her in no uncertain terms, with support from his bestie …

and the pair depart leaving Chicken to pack up her gear and move on.

While waiting for a cab she notices a poster that seems to offer just what she desires and hopes high, off she goes …

Little does she know what schemes are afoot but fortunately for her those two naysayers suddenly get wind of what might be about to happen. Could it be that after all, a change of heart is forthcoming? Perhaps that tight twosome might just become even better if they accept a third into their groovy fun-loving band.

Smriti’s bouncy rhyming narrative scans well and with its three distinct voices, is huge fun to read aloud. Young listeners will be on the edge of their seats as that taxi drives off into the dark heading Chicken knows not where, and will definitely delight in what comes thereafter.

Steve Small’s illustrations are splendidly expressive, alternating between the poignant and the comical. The way he uses the white space intensifies the focus on the characters; while the use of a black background on some of the latter spreads heightens the dramatic impact.

Most definitely a book that youngsters will want to stick with, demanding frequent repeat performances too.

Inside Cat

Inside Cat
Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books

Brilliantly playful is Brendan Wenzel’s Inside Cat wherein rather than the cat being an object viewed by other creatures as in They All Saw a Cat, this cat is the subject doing the looking.

Readers share with said cat its view of the outside world through all kinds and shapes of windows. No matter where the moggy wanders, or the condition of the window(s) there’s something of note be it small or large upon which to fix its gaze and wonder – downward, upward or side by side.

There is SO much to behold, to watch – fluffy rats, roaring flies …

Consequently inside, Cat is a veritable fount of knowledge with all this information amassed from various vantage points.

But … then comes a startling surprise. It’s certainly one for the protagonist but readers faced with that final spread will probably wonder what took our feline friend so long to widen its horizons …

The story is told through a seemingly simple, carefully considered rhythmic, rhyming text and a sequence of brilliantly constructed, equally carefully considered mixed media illustrations that demonstrate how our own experience and our emotions shape our view of the world and the personal narrative we construct.

Assuredly this is one of those books that readers will want to return to over and over, with the possibility of new discoveries emerging on each reading. Equally it’s a wonderful starting point for children’s own creativity or a community of enquiry discussion.

Albert and the Wind

Albert and the Wind
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

This is a playful story about Albert, a tortoise who struggles to get his message of thanks across to the various creatures that come to his aid, rescuing items of his meal that are blown away by the swooshing wind.

First to help is a bee that proffers the leaf he’s just bumped into on the wing, Albert responds thus, “To make sure it does not blow away again, I am going to sit on it.” Before he can add his words of thanks, the bee has buzzed off.

Other helpers are in turn, a spider, a snail and a worm,

followed by a whole host of other creatures from all over the garden, some of which bring items that hadn’t been part of Albert’s meal.

The wind continues to blow and Albert and his food items are reunited, little by little until the whole meal is ready and waiting for eating.

However, Albert is still concerned that he’s not been able to show any of his helpers how grateful he is. Can he find a way to deliver his words of thanks to everyone at the same time? Ingeniously yes, thanks to the last few items left unconsumed …

This amusing tale ends with a blast that will delight young listeners and I suspect, adult sharers. With a factual page about Albert and other tortoises, and Eoin Clarke’s quirkily humorous, larger than life illustrations of the various helper minibeasts, as well as the protagonist, this is a book that readers aloud will enjoy giving voice to as much as listeners will enjoy hearing it.

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet

The Beasts Beneath Our Feet
James Carter and Alisa Kosareva
Little Tiger

‘Beneath our feet / way deep and down / are beasts asleep / in the cold, dark ground … / They’re skeletons now … they’re fossils, bones. / They’re silent, still; / in a prison of stone.’
Poet James Carter then invites us to dig down deep, visit the various layers of the Earth while also being a time traveller able to meet all kinds of exciting creatures on our prehistoric adventure.

First come the trilobites, erstwhile crawlers on the ocean floor. Next come the scary-looking pointy-toothed metoposaurus, a fish-eater somewhat resembling a crocodile. None the less, I wouldn’t fancy a face-to-face encounter. More to my liking is the Meganeuropsis, the biggest ever bug, buzzing around – an early giant dragonfly this.

Next are the dinosaurs be they the herbivores such as Diplodocus; the bones crunchers such as T.Rex and the winged Archaeopteryx that may have been able to take to the air on its feathery appendages.
Moving north to chilly climes of everlasting winter lived herds of wooly mammoths with heir super-thick coats and ginormous tusks.

All these beasties have become extinct, wiped out on account of earthquakes, floods, disease, comets maybe, or even the poisonous lava of volcanoes.

All this information has been unearthed thanks to the work of palaeontologists investigating fossil evidence and now as James reminds us in the final part of his rhyming narrative, we can see some of these fossils in a museum; or perhaps find our own by taking a spade and digging deep.

The last spread is a kind of visual timeline of our prehistoric adventure showing all the creatures mentioned in the text.

The countless young dinosaur lovers will relish this time-travelling foray into Earth’s ancient past with James’ lyrical descriptions that really bring the creatures back to life, and illustrations by Alisa Kosareva, whose magical, dramatic scenes of all those mentioned in the text and more, are superbly imagined.

It’s Mine!

It’s Mine!
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

In Emma’s new book, the ‘thing’ referred to, shown atop a hill is a mystery spherical object. Mouse is first to come upon it and deciding it can be his next meal, carts it away in his wheelbarrow claiming, “That fruit … is mighty fine. … That fruit … is mine, all mine!”

However, Frog, in need of a new wheel for his tricycle, spies the thing,

pays a call on Mouse hoping to procure the object for himself and tells him, ‘That wheel, is mine, all mine!’

Fox sees it as just the perfect new ball for a game of footie

and popping up near Frog, proceeds to claim ownership.

Then there’s Bear in need of a new chair, who decides Fox has the ideal item and says so, taking it off to use as a sit-upon.

So there we have four creatures, each strongly asserting, “It’s MINE!”.

Suddenly the thing gives a wobble, a crack, a crunch and …

Someone else is waiting in the wings to claim ownership but who is it? Well ,that would be to spoil the ending; let’s merely say that Mouse, Frog, Fox and Bear are more than happy to concede.

With its surprise ending, highly effective simple repetitive text, deliciously droll illustrations and die-cut circles ( not the work of Emma’s Nibbles character I hasten to add, they’re too regular for that) on alternate spreads, this is enormous fun to share in a story time session with young children, as well as for beginning readers to try themselves.

Winnie And Wilbur:Winnie’s Best Friend / Barkus:The Most Fun

Favourite characters return in these two books:

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

After more than thirty years during which witch Winnie ’s original fans have likely introduced her to a new generation, we have a story that takes us right back to the time when she met her constant and faithful black moggy companion, Wilbur.

But even that’s getting a bit ahead of this story that starts with the newly qualified witch living in that black house with which we’re now so familiar, but she’s all alone until that is, she decides to invite her three sisters to come and stay to help. They certainly alleviate her loneliness but it’s not long before sisterly squabbles begin, soon followed by cat fights. Enough is enough for Winnie so off they go but then she’s lonely once again.

A wave of her wand results in a parrot but that’s a short-lived visitor and her next attempt brings forth a little dragon though obviously with it comes danger of the fiery kind.

Will Winnie ever find an ideal companion to share her home and her life? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one …

Delivered with their characteristic verve and humour, team Thomas and Paul have conjured forth another magical Winnie and Wilbur story that will delight readers young and not so young.

Barkus: The Most Fun
Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

The lively, lovable dog, Barkus, is back in a third sequence of four lively, entertaining episodes, along with his human family – the child narrator, her mum and dad plus little moggy, Baby.

In the first story, the family set off for a camping trip leaving Baby in the safe care of Miss Daley, or so they think. However, on arrival at the camp site it’s revealed that Barkus has been harbouring a secret – a tiny feline one – and to the surprise of the rest of the family, the stowaway appears to enjoy camping just as much as all the others.

The second episode – a springtime one – sees the entire family visiting grandfather Jess on his farm. Barkus seems drawn to the cows and they to him and is especially happy when a baby calf is born to Dora.

Autumn is a special time for Barkus on account of the fun he can have with the fallen leaves; he also steals the show at the annual parade.

The final adventure has a chilly, wintry feel as the family take a trip to their cabin for some skiing but a big storm keeps them snuggled up indoors enjoying some storytelling.

With its mix of humorous colour illustrations and engaging text this is just right for readers just starting to fly solo.

You Can!

You Can!
Alexandra Stick and Steve Antony
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book that began with children: those children from diverse backgrounds who responded to Alexandra Strickland’s question what they would say to their younger selves to inspire, reassure and enthuse them about the future. This wonderful book with Steve’s brilliantly inclusive illustrations using fourteen child characters, represents their answers.

We then follow these characters as they grow from babies (on the front endpapers), to toddlers, to young children, to older children and finally, into young adults (on the back endpapers). The cast of characters truly is diverse, as their wide variety of interests, identities, friendships and futures develop as readers turn the pages.

It’s definitely no holds barred: you can be anything you want, do anything you want (including ‘love a good picture book whatever your age’) hurrah! –

safe in the knowledge that it’s fine to be sad or angry, to talk about your feelings and discover what makes you happy.

Equally, it’s important to have big dreams and pursue them using whatever path it takes, be a leader or a follower, not forgetting to make time for playfulness and silliness along the way.

It’s important to realise that those fears of yesterday will be today’s challenges and tomorrow’s achievements, practice can be fun and learning should be enjoyable.

We see that seemingly small individual actions can inspire other people and together all those small somethings can and do make a difference. Equally though everybody has rights.

Not everybody needs to do things in the same way, but all honest ways must be equally valid: doing something differently is doing it nonetheless.

On this journey through life, it’s crucial to know that making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process; it’s important too, that you forgive yourself as well as others, and ask adults for help if you need. Be yourself, for yourself, determined, supportive, an individual who doesn’t allow others to categorise you, is kind and empathetic: self-belief is key probably now more than ever.

Hugely empowering and inspiring, this a book that needs to be in every home and classroom. Children and adults will love the gentle humour and playfulness in Steve’s illustrations: each spread deserves close study.

Watch Out Wolf! There’s a Baddie in Your Book

Watch Out Wolf! There’s a Baddie in Your Book
Jude Evans and Lucy Semple
Little Tiger

Who is lurking near the enchanted Wood, with a shadowy shadow, pointy ears, a furry tail and sharp claws? No doubt you’ve guessed correctly, but the rabbits aren’t in the least bothered by that presence; indeed they beg his help informing him, “There’s a beastie in our book.”

The ursine creature scoffs , telling the rabbits that he’s the only beastie in this book. A lot of chattering, shouting, huffing, puffing and stomping ensues resulting in a certain angry animal breaking a book and in so doing getting well and truly stuck. Temporarily only though, thanks to the rabbits forcefully shoving him out, whereupon he stomps off to persecute the three little pigs. You’ll know the threat he issues to them, but all they do is ask for some assistance with house construction.

Mr W. is truly amazed at what he sees on the construction site

but continues to maintain that he is the only big beastie around, and definitely the sole beastie in his book.

Off he thunders, next stop Granny’s cottage, where she too is unfazed by the visitor but upset by the damage that’s been done to her precious vegetable patch. Determined to procure his help, Granny grabs the creature’s tail and he ends up assisting her with several tasks after which he’s rewarded with some refreshments.

Then a realisation dawns upon our Wolf: he’s definitely no hero, and off he dashes hotly pursued by Granny, the pigs et al muttering about a beastie to himself as he stomps over a rickety bridge and takes a tumble riverwards. OOPS! The troll is sniffing the air as he too talks of – well you and our lupine friend know what. Off storms the latter to eject him from his book and soon finds himself entering a rather spooky cave.

Now what on earth, and in storybook land, could be inside?

With a scattering of peep-holes, flaps and fold-outs, Lucy Semple’s fun-filled, dramatic scenes accompany Jude Evans’ equally dramatic telling that’s full of humour, fairytale frolics and has a wonderful final twist.

Time to Move South for Winter

Time to Move South for Winter
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

This gorgeously illustrated book follows the migratory journey of a tiny Arctic tern from the chilly northern climes to a warmer location in the south where it will spend the winter.

During this flight we also encounter several other creatures also moving south for winter. The first are whales, then as the tern flies over land it follows the tracks of caribou also seeking a warmer place. Also taking flight is a flock of geese riding the wind on their giant wings, wanting to find a summery lake location.

Next, as it flies over the coast the tern sees a turtle looking for jellyfish and summer in the ocean

and moving upwards once more the tiny tern finds herself surrounded by Monarch butterflies on the move to their mountain forest destination in Mexico. After a rest the tern takes flight eventually sighting a colony of fellow black cap terns that have also moved south for the winter and are now nesting. Time at last for our tiny winged traveller to rest in the sun on the shore of the Antarctic for the next few months before returning to start her own family back in the north.

With additional factual information at the end of the lyrical main text, map and Jenny Lovlie’s gorgeous textured, detailed illustrations, this is a lovely narrative nonfiction book to share with young listeners at home or school.

Ratty’s Big Adventure

Ratty’s Big Adventure
Lara Hawthorne
Big Picture Press

In the rainforests of Papua New Guinea is Mount Bosavi, the collapsed cone of a volcano that hasn’t erupted for more than 200, 000 years. This is the setting for Lara Hawthorne’s book which is a flawless fusion of fact and fiction and the home of Ratty, a giant woolly rat and one of the biggest creatures residing in the volcano.

Ratty lives a peaceful slow-paced life until one day while climbing up to the top of a tree to procure a juicy-looking fruit he sees before him the most awesome sight he’s ever set eyes on: the world beyond his crater where there surely must be more delectable fruits, sweeter-singing birds and larger, brighter, better dancing insects.

Eschewing the invitation of his friends to join their games Ratty hurries off in search of more interesting playmates. Following the stream to the wall of the crater, he finds himself swept into a dark cave and eventually out of the crater, leaving the warning echoes of his friends behind. Finding himself in a fast flowing river, Ratty clings to a piece of floating bark as he passes fruit trees, birds and insects not very different from those in the crater.

Eventually Ratty finds himself face to face with the biggest creature he’s ever seen: a huge, sharp-toothed, almost overly friendly animal that invites the traveller to join her for dinner.

At this point Ratty realises that after all, it’s a case of east, west, home’s best; assuredly there’s no place quite like his own. Back he goes but what will he say to his friends?

This gorgeously illustrated story was inspired by recent scientific breakthroughs at Mount Bosavi, in which over 40 new species of flora and fauna including amazing butterflies and exotic birds, were identified. many of which are included in Lara’s superbly detailed scenes.

Additional factual spreads at the end give details of the Bosavi woolly rat, a pictorial map of the researchers’ journey and ‘did you spot … ? showing more than ten of Mount Bosavi’s unique animals.

The richness and diversity of life are something we all should celebrate and this book will encourage young listeners and readers to do just that as they follow Ratty’s journey, which outlines the journey of the team of researchers that found their way into the volcano.

My Mindful A to Zen / Being Healthy / Learning

My Mindful A to Zen
Krina Patel-Sage
Lantana Publishing
As the author/illustrator points out after presenting twenty six haiku ‘for happy little minds’, each of the entries in this book highlights one or more of the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, known to boost mental health and positivity: connecting,

being active, taking notice, keeping on learning and giving.

No matter whether youngsters prefer the great outdoors and all that has to offer,

or to stay indoors getting lost in a good book, or being creative with their favourite materials,

or perhaps spending time in the kitchen cooking a yummy cake (even if it doesn’t quite go to plan), done mindfully, it can be part and parcel of getting the very best out of life.

With its diverse cast of characters bringing to life this alphabet of contented being and doing, Krina Patel-Sage offers youngsters much to think about, talk about and act upon. This teacher/yoga teacher and reviewer heartily endorses this well-being picture book.

Also for fostering children’s wellbeing:

Being Healthy
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Book

These are two new titles in the Big Words for Little People series that offers a very useful resource to early years teachers and other practitioners as well as parents of young children.

Using age-appropriate language, Helen Mortimer takes little ones through the day doing those activities that should foster their Being Healthy. There’s personal hygiene washing and tooth brushing, eating ‘wholesome’ food and drinking plenty, taking exercise that works their muscles, as well as engaging in mood boosting activities, getting out in the sun whenever possible. There are also spreads on allergies, doing things in your own way, being aware of and avoiding potential dangers, the helpers who might provide treatment when there’s an accident or illness, and finally, very important comes sleep.
Inclusive, engaging and interactive, as is Learning. This is a huge topic that begins at birth and continues throughout life but to get the most from it, that learning needs to excite the learners and that’s what this little book aims to do. It encourages questioning, problem solving, taking advantage of technology, developing good concentration, trying hard and taking risks with learning, as well as keeping the mind open to new ideas. Like previous titles, both books have Cristina Trapanese’s lively illustrations, a spread with helpful ideas for adult users and a glossary.

My Green Cookbook / Polly Bee Makes Honey

My Green Cookbook
David Atherton, illustrated by Alice Bowsher
Walker Books

Hot on the heels of his excellent My First Cook Book, Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton offers around forty vegetarian recipes. No matter if you’re looking for a tasty meal, snacks, a sweet treat or an attractive cake (several, even), there’s something here.

Like the author, I love walking in the forest and looking up at the trees so was immediately drawn to the yummy-looking Autumn Woodland Cake, though as a vegan, I’d want to make one or two slight tweaks to the ingredients list.

The Curry Korma Bowl too caught my eye right away. Indian food is one of my favourite kinds of cuisine. Having been unable to travel to India since fleeing that country at the start of the pandemic I can’t wait to go back but with all the necessary ingredients for this dish already in my cupboards, this is one of the recipes I’ll try first.

And, having requested a large amount of haldi from an Indian student studying here the last time he returned to the UK, I have lots of turmeric and so next week intend to have a go at making the Bread Crowns – they look really fun and tasty too.

Among the Sweet Treats, I was attracted to the lemon and pear muffins as the young relations who often visit, are fond of muffins of many kinds. We can try making those together. (Maybe we’ll do two batches with me using a vegan egg substitute in one).

David’s enthusiasm shines through in this recipe book wherein he also explains the impact ‘eating green’ can have on health and well-being, and on the environment. With occasional touches of humour, Alice Bowsher’s illustrations add extra allure to the recipes.

Buy to keep and buy to give.

Honey was used in several of David’s recipes, now here’s a book all about that delicious ingredient/food.

Polly Bee Makes Honey
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

This is the second book in the Follow My Food series. Here, a girl follows worker bee Polly as she (and her ‘sisters’) work hard first collecting pollen and nectar from various flowers in a meadow

and then taking it back to the hive where the nectar is squirted into the honeycomb and some of the pollen acts as food for the baby bees inside the hive.

During the narration we also meet the drones (Polly’s brothers), the queen (the egg layer) as well as the beekeeper who cares for the hive and harvests the honey,

helped by the girl narrator who is shown happily and appreciatively tucking into a slice of bread spread with delicious honey.

After the main narrative come a ‘pollen trail’ and a factual spread giving further information about bees.

With Deborah’s straightforward narrative and Julia’s bold, bright illustrations, this is a good starting point for youngsters especially if they’re working on a food (or perhaps even minibeast) theme in a foundation stage classroom.

The Wind May Blow / Someday

Here are two beautiful picture books kindly sent for review by Little Tiger

The Wind May Blow
Sasha Quinton and Thomas Hegbrook

With its cut away pages and tender illustrations this is a beautiful book – both visual and verbal – for adults to share with little ones.

The voice is that of an adult speaking to a young child, “On the day you were born the sun rose brilliant and bright and beautiful,” in a place where “the sun rose and kissed your toes as warm roses bloomed in each cheek.”

Time passes, the child grows to face a life that inevitably isn’t all filled with sun and roses: stormy times are likely to occur. 

What’s required then is to stop, pause and take time to breathe deeply 

in the knowledge that you have the inner strength, life skills and whatever is needed to face challenges, overcome adversity and emerge out of the storm. The moon will be there burning brighter down on you and when the sun rises next morning, so too will you. There’s always the possibility of a new beginning.

So goes the seemingly simple, gently affirming wise message of this cleverly designed book with its die-cuts strategically placed throughout.

Altogether a splendid amalgam of words, pictures and design that is just right for many occasions: adults will know when it’s appropriate to revisit this timely picture book after a first reading.

Stephanie Stansbie and Frances Ives

When a little bear cub tells his mother one morning that it wants to be just like her, she likens her little one to a sapling that will soon be a tree. This doesn’t quite satisfy the cub, for that so mummy says, won’t be tomorrow. First they have lots of things to do together – memories to make – of happy hours and days spent frolicking through grassland, jumping over rocks, climbing trees in search of juicy berries, splashing and swimming among fish in the fast-flowing waters.

And all the while growing stronger and learning to cope with things that might at first seem frightening.

Then will come the possibility of meeting a mate and producing a new family. As they sit beneath the branches of a spreading tree, Mummy Bear talks of the cub’s memories acting like the tree’s roots keeping it “strong as you grow and flourish and bloom.” It’s their togetherness that prompts the little cub to express happiness in the here and now, with the promise of many many wonderful tomorrows.

Frances Ives’ illustrations capture the warmth and love between ursine mother and offspring; but as it is with bears, so as this lyrical book implies can it be with human parent and little one: memories to cherish as a child grows up and finds his/her way in the world.

Moose’s Book Bus

Moose’s Book Bus
Inga Moore
Walker Books

With a dearth of storybooks among his friends, Moose who has exhausted his repertoire of new tales to tell his family after supper, sets out to find the town library. he’s fortunate to discover a wealth of exciting books await him and Moose borrows all the librarians’s s suggestions and more.

That same evening, no sooner has he settled down to regale his family with one of the storybooks than Bear brings her cubs along to hear his Little Red Riding Hood rendition.

Word spreads and it’s not long before Moose’s evening story times become exceedingly popular

with his living room rather crowded ‘like being in a sardine tin’. Now what’s a bright creature like Moose to do next …

Ingenious creature that he is, Moose finds a wheeled solution and it’s one that benefits his entire community in more ways than one.

This is a brilliant book, paying homage as it does to the power of story, of books and of libraries (something not every community is fortunate enough to have nowadays). With her somewhat whimsical cast of woodland characters, Inga Moore’s soft-edged, earthy rural scenes with their wealth of detail and gentle humour draw the reader in from the start.

I can’t wait to share this terrific book far and wide; it’s my favourite Inga Moore story so far.

SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles

SuperJoe Does Not Do Cuddles
Michael Catchpool and Emma Proctor
Lantana Publishing

Life as a young superhero able to do pretty much anything is hard work, that’s the conviction of SuperJoe; he’s equally sure though that superheroes don’t do cuddles – even from their mums. Well, let’s see …

Despite having to wear his scarf (Mum insists on that), in just one day SuperJoe rescues tourists from a ferocious and very hungry tiger, (that’s before tea);

stops a runaway train, (that’s before bath time) and saves people crossing a collapsing bridge over a raging river in the depths of the jungle (just before bed),

each of these potential calamities being engineered by his arch nemesis, the Grey Shadow.

Before he sets out on each undertaking, our young superhero evades his Mum’s attempts to get a cuddle although at her behest, he does have to don a vest, a belt to keep up his superhero shorts and, that scarf.

Come bedtime however, a sleepless Joe, having eschewed a warm drink, decides that there is just one thing that he really, really needs, something he must never let Grey Shadow know about…

What a lovely story of independent thinking, the power of the imagination and maternal love, this gently humorous book will delight young would-be superheroes as well as their parents/carers. Emma Proctor’s illustrations wittily and cleverly complement Michael Catchpool’s telling, showing for instance, the uses to which SuperJoe puts the items his mum insists he ‘wears’, and those double bedtime scenes reveal much too.

A Song in the Mist

A Song in the Mist
Fiona Woodcock and Corrine Averiss
Oxford Children’s Books

In this breathtakingly beautiful book we meet Chi, a shy panda that loves to listen. She’s never alone though for being silent and attentive brings all manner of sounds to her ears: the swishing of the bamboo, the chittering of tiny birds and on one particular day, something altogether different, a sound new, gentle, sweet and musical comes floating on the breeze. Following it, Chi is led close to a small house,

close enough to discover that the sound is emanating from a little boy’s length of bamboo.

The boy stops his playing and looks at Chi but she dashes away taking cover in the forest and the safety of her own tree where all is still. Until that is, she hears first a twig snap and then a voice that makes her heart beat faster.

Remaining hidden in the canopy, Chi follows the boy through the forest as the evening mist begins to descend.

Suddenly the boy trips sending his flute tumbling to the floor and shortly after comes a cry, ‘Grandpa, help! I’m lost!’
Picking up the bamboo, Chi now needs to summon up all her courage and overcome her shyness to use it …

Happily she does and thus begins an understanding that leads not only to the safety of the boy flute-player, but also to the forging of a wonderful friendship: a friendship that is sustained by bamboo, breath and of course, love and kindness.

Corrine’s lyrical narrative combined with Fiona’s gorgeous grainy scenes powerfully evoke the misty beauty of the bamboo and conifer forest setting through which you can almost hear those musical notes drawing the reader gently but urgently though the story.

Where is Everyone? / The Day Time Stopped

These are two quirky books from Prestel – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Where is Everyone?
Tom Schamp

Herein Tom Schamp invites little ones to discover the unexpected in the expected as they lift the flaps to find what is hiding beneath in turn the bushes, a toadstool, a small car,

a washing machine, a fridge, a toaster, a cup and saucer, a sofa, a toilet, a sink, a bath, a bed, a gift-wrapped box and a tiered decorated cake. The text on each page comprises a ‘who question’ and the answer hidden under the flap – a peacock, Puss in Boots or a tortoise raring to go, for instance.

Now who would expect to find a racoon inside the washing machine or a hamster getting rather heated in the toaster? And I suspect nobody would anticipate there being a monkey on a surfboard lurking behind that cup containing that cuppa, nor a napping camel tucked away behind that comfy couch.

Full of whimsical ideas, this playful board book with its duck commentator surely will encourage youngsters to go beyond the information given and look at things with a fresh, creative mind and eye.

The Day Time Stopped
Flavia Ruotolo

If you’ve ever stopped to wonder what your friend in another part of the world is doing right now, perhaps because you want to call them on your mobile, then here’s a fun book for you.

The young narrator who happens to be in Genoa, Italy is just taking her first bite from an ice-lolly (she calls it a popsicle) at 5:33pm her time when inexplicably, time stops.

At that exact time in another part of Europe – Berlin – Selma and Nora bring their scooter to a sudden halt – just in time to prevent a small creature getting run over.

In La Paz (Bolivia) however it’s 12.33pm and Rosa’s grandmother has just finished knitting a sweater while in New York City two children discover their tube of toothpaste is empty – it’s 11.33 am their time.

At that moment too Kimo’s underwear pings off the washing line in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) where the time is 2:33am and in Sapporo, Japan Yuki’s cat is woken by a noise. (The clock there would say 1:33am).

Concurrently, Makena, way off in Nairobi proudly shows her first ever self portrait to her dad, the time there being 7:33pm; whereas in Maurituis’s Port Louis it’s 8:33pm and Carl the canary wants his dinner.

And so on …

Then, suddenly time restarts and things seem normal once more: now for our narrator back in Genoa, it’s 5:34pm.

Flavia Ruotolo’s seemingly simple playful presentation of people, animals and their activities is essentially a philosophical reflection on the notion of time and place that takes readers across two dozen time zones and on a lightning visit to twenty six countries. These are shown on a world map on the penultimate spread and the book concludes with an explanation of why it isn’t the same time the world over.

Violet’s Tempest

Violet’s Tempest
Ian Eagleton and Clara Anganuzzi
Lantana Publishing

There’s a change in Violet’s world: what was once her giggly voice is now a whisper. Consequently when Mr Newland, her teacher, casts her as the mischievous Ariel in the school play, she’s beset by nerves and worries – suppose people laugh at her?

Back home, Violet’s loving, empathetic Nan offers her support and encouragement,

so too do her uncle Tony and his partner Uncle Sebastian.

Meanwhile the rehearsals continue apace at school where her teacher too is supportive and suggests Violet tries to imagine how Ariel would feel trapped and unable to escape.

The weeks pass and the day of the performance of The Tempest draws ever closer, with Nan continuing to inspire and embolden Violet as she practises her lines. Then comes the dress rehearsal: “Violet … think about how Ariel will feel once they’re free” Mr Newland tells her. The girl breathes deeply reminding herself of her Nan, and beginning with a whisper, starts playing her part.

When the big night arrives, Violet is beset by the inevitable racing heart and turbulent tummy but nonetheless as she steps out onto the stage, something amazing, indeed magical happens: Violet feels at peace with herself as Ariel

gliding and swooping across the stage and suddenly her voice changes from a soft whisper to a wonderful roar, much to the delight of her family and doubtless everyone else.

This is a wonderfully warm story of facing up to and over-coming your fears, as well as the power of a supportive family. Clara Anganuzzi’s sensitive illustrations capture effectively the characters’ feelings, making this book one to share and discuss with children either in the classroom or at home. (Despite how he looks in the story, I can’t help but think the author and teacher Ian Eagleton would be just as empathetic as Violet’s class teacher in a similar situation).

The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat
Joy Cowley and Giselle Clarkson
Gecko Press

This is a heart-warming autumnal tale of need and kindness.

A tiny woman shivering in the chilly wind wants a coat, a coat she resolves to make herself. There might be something of a problem though, for she lacks the necessary tools and materials with which to do the job.

However, happily for her, there are plenty of offers from things natural. The autumn trees provide leaves – ‘Rustle, rustle, rustle.’ Then a grey goose offers its beak in lieu of scissors and ‘Snip, snip, snip’ the leaves are cut into a body and sleeves.

A porcupine’s generosity takes the form of one of its quills

but then this needs to be threaded with something suitable.

A friendly horse provides the thread and then all that’s needed is a means of fastening the garment. The three buttons are seeds given by the ‘wild wet weeds’ and finally hurrah! Out to face the storm, ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ goes the tiny woman clad in her new warm coat of kindness.

Simply constructed and written, Joy Cowley’s folksy story is sheer delight to share and also, with its repeat patterned text, ideal for beginning readers. sheer delight too, and the perfect complement for the text, are Giselle Clarkson’s detailed illustrations with their gentle humour, autumnal hues and close observation of the natural world.

We’re Going Places

We’re Going Places
Mick Jackson and John Broadley
Pavilion Children’s Books

After their terrific debut picture book While You’re Sleeping, author Mick Jackson and illustrator John Broadley pair up again and the result is another exciting, engrossing book, this one being somewhat more philosophical than the first.

Travel and journeying is the theme here and through Jackson’s playfully poetic narrative and Broadley’s meticulously detailed scenes, readers follow a child’s development from adult dependence, through those first unstable steps, to assured confident strides out and about, then onto wheels – ‘tricycles, bicycles, skateboards, roller skates’.

More and more possibilities open up – perhaps a trip in a hot air balloon, or something that needs to be done speedily such as a train ride to somewhere exciting – another country even.

Some journeys however are meant to be done slowly, slowly, allowing plenty of time for pausing to watch and ponder upon the host of other creatures that, while they might be part of your particular journey, are also undertaking their own, some on foot, others on the wing such as bumblebees or migrating birds.

It might be that a journey is seasonal, on a frozen river for instance; or that of a bee ‘bumbling from blossom to blossom’ (love that alliteration); it could even be made by something inanimate such as a raindrop on a window pane.

There have always been divergent thinkers who like to try doing things differently and in this ever-changing world of ours, what seemed once impossible will one day be part and parcel of everyday.

With choices to be made and a wealth of possible ways to go, none of us can ever be absolutely sure of the twists and turns our life will take.

However one thing that’s almost certain is that as people grow old, their journeys will likely be much slower, and less confident perhaps, almost as though we’ve come full circle, with what’s past always there, deep within.

There’s an absolute wealth of texture and pattern, as well as potential stories on every spread, so that readers will undoubtedly find themselves pausing on their journey through the book, adults possibly pondering upon their own life’s journey past, present and future, perhaps like the grandmother sitting in a chair, shown on the final spread.

Assuredly this is a book to return to over and over with the likelihood of new questions and fresh understanding emerging on each reading.

The Visible Sounds

The Visible Sounds
Yin Jianling and Yu Rong (translated by Filip Selucky)
UCLAN Publishing

This is the powerfully affecting picture book, based on the true story of Chinese dancer Lihua Tai. It tells of MiLi, who as a little girl of two, suffers an illness and loses her hearing as a result. Initially frustrated, anxious, and alone in her world of silence, MiLi uses tears to express how she feels. Doctors are unable to cure her but then one day MiLi realises that although she’s unable to hear sounds, she is able to perceive them in other ways: sound can be felt within, touched, and seen through understanding and interpreting vibrations and movements in the world.

The author expresses the child’s realisation through a plethora of sensory musical phrases: ‘Sounds are waves when fish pass through water, like the lightest of kisses.’ … ‘Sound is the bright sunshine flowing into one’s blood, beaming with rays.’ … ‘Language is a river, flowing and flooding into MiLi’s body.’ … ‘The beautiful music jiggles in her blood. It doesn’t have a sound, but it shines with colours and emotions …’

Perfectly complementing the beauty of the text are Yu Rong’s illustrations with their synthesis of striking graphic style, detail and blending of colours and greyness.

This is a book, that with themes of aiming high and being our very best selves,

while offering a message of hope to differently abled youngsters, surely speaks to us all. It concludes with a note on sign language and a page about Tai Lihua.

A must have for schools, and for family collections.


Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer

Readers of this blog will probably know that I am a great enthusiast of fairy tale spin-offs so long as they’re done well, as is the case with Gareth P. Jones and Loretta Schauer’s follow-up to Rabunzel, another in The Fairytales for the Fearless series.

Star of the show in this story is jungle dwelling Cindergorilla. Cinder lives with her mean Aunt Linda and cousins Gertrude and Grace, who spend much of their time bossing her about.

Despite this Cinder manages to remain upbeat by turning her chores into funky dance moves: Her broom becomes an object with which to boogie, she moonwalks with her mop, twirling as she tidies and accompanying her washing up with her wiggliest waggles. Oh how she would love to go to the weekly Disco Ball, but her aunt vetoes her every chance.

Then one Saturday there’s much ado in their household as the cousins discuss their potential chances of becoming the next partner of Disco Prince Travis. Needless to say, they scoff at Cinder as they leave her alone with just a list of tasks to be done.

Enter with a RAZZA-MATANG an orangutan, her Hairy Godmother no less, who, with a deft wand flick, transforms Cinder into a sparkly disco diva, leaving her with a slightly different warning from the traditional midnight: “Be home before sunrise” she instructs.

Off goes Cinder, slightly on edge as she steps onto the dance floor but there’s no love at first sight episode when she and Travis meet. Said Disco Prince is egocentricity personified. Or should that be gorilla-ified? Impressed by her moves, he merely tells her she’s to dance with him for the rest of the ball.

Come the first rays of morning sun, Cinder remembers what she’s been told by her Hairy Godmother and tells her partner she must leave right away, his response being the self-centred, “But you haven’t seen my best move yet!”
Nonetheless Cinder makes a hasty exit leaving behind a single shoe and Travis determined to find it’s owner’s whereabouts.

Which he does – eventually, much to the surprise of Cinder’s relations. Seems that now, Travis is ready to offer a somewhat better deal. But is it one Cinder will accept?

Now that would be telling and I’ll leave it to the story creators, merely adding that like most fairytales, there is a happily ever after ending – of sorts – rendered in song.

This terrific tale of resilience and empowerment is huge fun and a smashing read aloud. I love the way Gareth’s narrative is sprinkled with alliterative phrases and breaks into rhyme from time to time. Equally good fun are Loretta’s funny, funky scenes of the action in which she portrays all the characters with real gorilla-alities.

Destined to become a story-time favourite for sure.