Caterpillar Cake

Caterpillar Cake
Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Krina Patel-Sage
Otter-Barry Books

This is performance poet Matt Goodfellow’s second poetry book and it’s aimed at younger children. Embracing a wide range of topics in his sixteen poems – playing on the beach, space, wild animals, play, movement,

school related things – a visit from the school photographer, a classroom carpet session for instance, as well as things related to the natural world. Here are the opening verse and the final one of My Shell: ‘there is a shell / alone on a beach / over the sand-dunes / out of my reach // we’ll sing of the sun / and the salt and the sea / together forever / just my shell and me’.

Perfect for reading aloud to young children and once they’re familiar, perhaps those in KS1 could read some to one another. Which ever you do, take time not just to enjoy Matt’s writing but also debuting illustrator Krina Patel-Sage’s inclusive, vibrant digitally created illustrations. So, if your taste is for pebble skimming, a slice of chocolate caterpillar cake, the smashing word play of Kitty Cat, or a gentle River Lullaby at the end of the day, you’ll find it herein.

If you want to engender a love of language, this is definitely one to add to early years settings, KS1 classrooms, and family bookshelves (if you have little ones).

The Viking Who Liked Icing

The Viking Who Liked Icing
Lu Fraser and Mark McKinley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a story set long, long ago and far, far away.

When it comes to the traditional Viking skills or indeed anything else that requires some kind of sporting finesse, Nut, in contrast to his big sister Leaf, falls well short of the mark. Indeed whenever he picks up his bow and arrow, everyone else takes cover. He’s not entirely without talents however: he’s passionate about baking cakes and does so with lashings of creativity, dreaming about so doing at night too.

There’s one day in the Viking calendar that young Nut dreads more than any other: Viking Sports Day has him shaking in his boots. Nonetheless off he goes, cake in hand to the venue, a reluctant participant if ever there was one.

Things go pretty disastrously

and then comes the Great Horn-Throwing Race …

Is there any way Nut might redeem himself?

With its combination of Lu Fraser’s dramatic rhyming narrative and Mark McKinley’s hilarious scenes of Nut’s sporting ineptitude as well as his mouth-watering confections, and the other characters’ reactions to both, this is a fun demonstration of the fact that everybody has a talent that will win through if nurtured. That way lies happiness.

This will surely be a hit with young listeners at school or at home.

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Tom Percival’s latest addition to the Big Bright Feelings series is yet again spot on: herein he uses his empathetic understanding of young children’s emotions to present Tilda.

We first meet this little girl as a bright happy child but then suddenly something happens to turn her world upside down, leaving her feeling utterly downcast. Now things that had once seemed easy, feel the absolute opposite: she doesn’t want to meet her friends; indeed everything feels a struggle.

What does she decide to do? Absolutely nothing at all.

One day she notices a tiny ladybird stuck on its back. Immediate recognition but there’s a difference: the ladybird is doing its upmost to put itself right whereas thus far Tilda has suffered complete inertia. Then suddenly the little creature flips itself over and flies away leaving Tilda alone with her thoughts.

Time for a change of perspective she decides, and calling forth that ‘can-do’ attitude, little by little she starts to persevere with things and the more she tries, the more she can do. But can she summon up the courage to join her friends in their play?

You bet!

An enormously uplifting story of patience, perseverance, resilience and self-belief that youngsters (and their adults – be they parents, teachers or carers) will relate to.

Tom’s change of palette from bright colours to predominantly grey shows the stark changes in Tilda’s emotional journey; and with everything that youngsters have been through during these last 18 months, this book could not be more apposite.

A must have for family bookshelves and classroom collections.

The Rainbow Connection / The Happy Mask

Here are two stories very much of our COVID times both kindly sent for review by Little Steps Publishing.

The Rainbow Connection
Vanessa Parsons and Angela Perrini

During the first lockdown in particular, rainbows were an uplifting symbol of hope and a means of saying thank you to the countless key workers who have bravely continued doing their jobs throughout the pandemic. Vanessa Parsons’ story, though set in Australia, is one that youngsters everywhere will relate to. It’s narrator is a little girl who shares with readers her year’s experiences, mostly rainbow related.

Her elder sister creates a lovely chalk rainbow across the family driveway; she spots rainbow drawings in the windows of houses when she walks James, the family dog; her Grandma wears a rainbow badge during a video call. 

Then their new neighbours leave a rainbow hued thank you card. This prompts the narrator to respond with a box of chalks to the newcomers. And so it goes on with more and more people finding innovative, creative ways to use rainbows as a means of communicating positivity. 

The narrator’s family celebrate her little brother’s fourth birthday with a rainbow cake; there’s even rainbow bread in the bakery. And an old lady who lives nearby really surprises everyone with her funky new hair colours.

As the lockdown weeks turn to months, everyone takes advantage of the small things we’d normally take for granted, like being able to go for walks, but most of all they look forward to the return of normal life.

With a recipe for rainbow cake and a promise of 10 per cent of author royalties going to NHS Charities Together, this is a lovely story to share both now, as well as later as a post pandemic memory, be that at home or in nursery/ KS1 classrooms.


The Happy Mask
Aimee Chan and Angela Perrini

Maggie is bored and grumpy about staying indoors during a lockdown but the answer is in her own hands: she can do as her dad says, put on her mask and they can go for a walk to the shops. Eventually after a bad tempered explosion aimed at her dad she changes her mind, puts on what she terms her itchy mask and out she goes into the front garden to wait for Dad to join her. 

She peers over the fence into the next door garden and waves to Holly and baby Tommy but rather than smiling, he starts crying. Who is this strange-looking person peering at him?

But then a game of peek-a-boo reassures the little boy and by this time Dad is ready to leave. Maggie tells her dad about what just happened, complaining about her mask again and commenting, “And masks make people look mean.”

Dad has an idea and goes indoors again returning with a mirror and some marker pens and before long Maggie’s mask is transformed, her mood too. 

Comments from others on their walk lead to more masks being personalised by their owners. One such belonged to a friendly old lady sitting waiting for a bus who tells Maggie she’s trying to remain upbeat despite having not seen her grandchildren for ages. The girl’s suggestion excites the old lady and she gets to work using Maggie’s markers and mirror. 

What do you think her Dad might draw on his mask when they arrive back home after their walk?

Certainly this should bring a smile not only to young listeners but also their adult sharers: both are likely to have felt very much like Maggie and her Dad during lockdowns. This makes the story a great conversation starter as it gives both the child’s perspective and that of a parent.

Illustrator Angela Perrini uses a lot of different perspectives in her urban environment, showing effectively how social distancing is maintained between Maggie and her neighbours. Then in interactions with others outside her immediate family, there’s mention of hand sanitiser being used.

Delightfully Different Dilly

Delightfully Different Dilly
Elizabeth Dale and Liam Darcy
Happy Yak.

Meet Dilly the adorable baby penguin that’s born with a difference: she has only one leg and so doesn’t do things quite the same way as the other little penguins. Instead of waddling she hops and revels in so doing, impressing the other little ones who try to emulate her with only a modicum of success. However they all have fun together

and Dilly’s difference is totally accepted by the young penguin generation as well as her parents.

Not so the other parents however: set in their ways and with a narrow view of life, they upset Dilly by thoughtlessly telling her to stop being different.

Then Dilly gets an opportunity to demonstrate to all the adult penguins just how awesome her difference makes her: indeed she becomes a superhero and in so doing shows the entire colony how much diversity should be valued.

Despite its chilly setting, with its theme of acceptance, Elizabeth Dale’s is a warm-hearted story to share and discuss with little humans. Liam Darcy’s illustrations are splendidly expressive and gently humorous perfectly complementing the text.

Harriet’s Expanding Heart

Harriet’s Expanding Heart
Rachel Brace and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

Harriet’s mum and dad are separated and for the little girl that means that in addition to two parents, she has two homes, two different bedrooms, one school and a cat Ginger. Moving between the two homes also means she has to cope with two different sets of rules and routines. No matter what though, she always feels both much loved and safe.

Then one day on a visit to her dad’s, he shares some news: he and his new partner Emily are going to move in together. ‘We’re going to be a step family,’ he tells his daughter. For Harriet this also means a new little stepbrother, Cooper. This announcement leaves her feeling apprehensive and anxious. There follow explanations about what this all means that only leave Harriet with a whole lot of worries whizzing around in her head: what if Dad chooses Emily and Cooper over me? being just one.

After the move some things change, others remain the same for Harriet who experiences feelings being an outsider and sometimes even anger.

It’s going to take time to get used to living with a grown up who isn’t either your mum or dad.

However, little by little with sympathetic understanding and reassurances from her Dad, Harriet begins to feel much less anxious and as her mum explains, ‘there is no right or wrong way to feel’ but no matter what, both her parents will continue to love her very much. She in turn gradually sees that being a member of a stepfamily doesn’t change how much she loves her mum or her dad; it’s more that her heart, along with her family has grown a little bit bigger.

Written by a family psychologist, Rachel’s story, with its straightforward easy to understand language, is especially apposite for new stepfamilies where there are young children. (The author also gives some helpful tips for parents and stepparents.) Angela Perrini really captures the gamut of emotions Harriet experiences during the upheaval in her life.

Wild Child

Wild Child
Dara McAnulty and Barry Falls
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is such a beautiful book written by award-winning author of Diary Of A Young Naturalist and gorgeously illustrated by rising star, Barry Falls.

With his distinctive voice, Dara McAnulty invites readers to take a close look at the world around, journeying into and exploring with all your senses, the five different locations that he describes both poetically and scientifically.

First off is a look through the window, after which we go outside into the garden, wander in the woods, saunter up onto heathlands and meander along the riverbank. At each location we pause while Dara provides a lyrical introduction to the habitat followed by a wealth of factual information about the wildlife – both flora and fauna – to be found there.

This includes a discovery spread where in turn, you can learn the collective nouns for eleven different birds,

take a look at classification, find out how various trees propagate

and about migration and metamorphosis.

An activity to do once you get home concludes most sections: make a bird feeder, make a terrarium, create a journey stick (I love that).

Assuredly this will help any reader, young or not so young, connect more deeply with the joys and wonders of the natural world, and find their inner wild child.

The author finishes with some sage words about the fragility of nature and caring for the countryside, plus a glossary.

Altogether a smashing book for families and schools.

The Moose Fairy

The Moose Fairy
Steve Smallman
Happy Yak

Moose has always yearned to be a fairy so he’s over the moon when he spots a sign advertising for new members of the Secret Fairy Club.

Having put together what he thinks is the most suitable gear and donned same, he feels totally fabulous. Until that is, he arrives at the venue and realises that he dwarfs all the other potential members, some of which are anything but welcoming. Not so however the head fairy who invites him to do the tests along with the other would-be joiners.

With admission to the club gained Moose needs to use the secret knock to open the door of the clubhouse but although he succeeds in so doing, the door is so tiny, he can’t fit through and the others merely shun him.

Poor Moose walks sadly away and takes a dip in the river, hoping to shrink himself. There he encounters Fox with whom he shares his problem and rather too much other information.

Back inside the clubhouse, some of the other creatures are now seeing the error of their ways when suddenly an unwanted intruder arrives and just manages to squeeze himself through the door.

Perhaps now Moose has an opportunity to show he’s a true fairy no matter his size. A fairy that lives up to the oath: ‘Fairies are kind to all creatures, / Fairies are not mean or bitter, / Fairies help others in trouble or need …’

With its mix of humour, hope and determination, Steve’s heartwarming story about being yourself and accepting others unconditionally no matter their appearance is a delight to share. Moose is a smashing character splendidly portrayed by the author whose quirky, vibrant illustrations are a mix of suitable silliness and sparkling enchantment. And I absolutely love Steve’s wise words in the dedication to his grandchildren.

The Bookshop Cat

The Bookshop Cat
Cindy Wume
Macmillan Children’s Books

In rising star Cindy Wume’s new book we meet a bibliophile black cat.

One day, while out exploring the city, said young moggy lands his dream job at the children’s bookshop thus acquiring his titular name too. He’s certainly an ideal assistant and before long proves himself both to his family who had despaired at his insistence on putting reading before achieving, and to the shop’s young customers for each of whom he manages to find just the right book.

Then one morning, disaster strikes: torrential rain causes the pipes to burst and a flood in the bookshop; outside is also under water. The result is that for several days nobody at all comes to the shop: both young Violet the owner’s grandaughter and the Bookshop Cat are thoroughly downcast.

Back at home, the Bookshop Cat’s family decide to pitch in and help. Happily Violet comes up with a wonderful idea:

if the children don’t come to the bookshop, the bookshop must go out to them. Indeed the entire city is transformed into a library and not only that, the workers find a way to get the customers back into the shop. Hurrah!

It’s an absolute delight with superb detailed illustrations; and what a wonderful demonstration of the power of reading, of books and bookshops, as well as an affirmation of the Bookshop Cat’s words early on in the story, “With a book, I can go anywhere and be anything.”

The World Awaits

The World Awaits
Tomos Roberts and Nomoco
Farshore

I received my review copy of this book on what is supposed to be ‘freedom day’ here in England at least. Assuredly this follow-up to The Great Realisation, is a book of our time. Herein poet Tomos Roberts offers a welcome rallying call to action to readers young and not so young asking us to embrace the challenges we still face and to do whatever we can individually and collectively to face the future with positivity and hope.

We see, and hear the voice of an adult rousing a child from slumbers and going on to try and persuade that reluctant young friend to accept the enormous potential within,

to do good spending time doing the things that make life better for others and ultimately perhaps, oneself. It might be planting a tree, calling grandparents for a chat, helping a creature in distress or smiling at a stranger – acts such as these will prevent apathy and negativity taking hold – something that’s all to easy to do, especially if one listens to the news every day or reads a daily paper.

This book with Nomoco’s gentle watercolour illustrations will surely resonate with us all: seize the day: help the world get better step by step, action by action …


                                       

Everybody Has Feelings / Respect / I’m the Fire Engine Driver

These are recent titles from Oxford Children’s Books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Everybody Has Feelings
Jon Burgerman

Through his exuberant style illustrations depicting colourful characters of all shapes and sizes in a play park setting, together with a narrative of rhyming couplets, Jon Burgerman presents over twenty feelings that youngsters (as well as zany blobby beings) are likely to experience.

In so doing he acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to feel say anxious, disappointed,

embarrassed, frustrated, sad or scared as well as confident, calm, proud, and joyful and offers the vocabulary for young children to open up and discuss their emotions as well as listen to others talking about how they feel.

With lots of starting points for circle time sessions, this is just right to share in foundation stage settings especially.

Respect
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese

This new title in the Big Words for Little People series shows the importance of acknowledging and accepting individual differences and respecting them. It gives examples demonstrating that all lives matter no matter what people look like or believe: that means showing kindness, politeness and abiding by rules. Everybody should feel safe to speak out about their feelings and their lives in general.

Cristina Trapanese illustrates each of the key ideas enacted by a lively cast of characters and Helen Mortimer concludes by suggesting ten things adult sharers can do to get the most from this little book, be that at home or in an education setting.

Add to early years collections.

I’m the Fire Engine Driver
illustrated by David Semple

Here’s a book that allows little ones to switch to imagination mode and step into the shoes of a firefighter, donning the rest of the protective gear, meeting your crew and with siren sounding and flashing lights turned on, driving the fire engine to the scene of the fire in the bakery kitchen.

Part and parcel of the narrative are opportunities for number recognition and counting, joining in with sounds, vocabulary building, following instructions, describing a scene and more.

Through David Semple’s bright, stylistic illustrations and a narrative that makes youngsters feel as though they’re in control, this is a fun book to share either one to one or in a group.

The Mighty Lions & the Big Match

The Mighty Lions & the Big Match
Tom Chapman and Chris Dickason
Welbeck Publishing

I’ve seen first hand both as a teacher and when taking young relations to compete in tennis tournaments, the enormous pressure that some parents put on their youngsters; it’s almost as though the entire thing is about them and winning/success, rather than supporting and giving encouragement to their children. So I think a book such as this debut picture book, written by Tom Chapman (founder of The Lions Barber Collective, a charity for suicide prevention and awareness focussing on the mental health of boys and men) is as important for adults as for young readers/listeners.

The story focuses on young Abel and Drake, soccer players and members of the Mighty Lions team and their cup final match against the Tigers, Abel being the player suffering from acute anxiety even before stepping onto the pitch.

It’s a tense, close match

but the pressure Abel feels from his team members, coach and parents militates against him performing at his best, let alone enjoying the game; and in the end Tigers are victorious.

However, once the brothers explain, their parents are understanding and apologetic, “ … you played your best and that’s all that matters,” Mum says. Dad in turn offers some wise words, “ … Either way, we love you – not the result of the game.”

Chris Dickason’s bright illustrations convey the feelings of all the characters, especially the two brothers, as well showing the on field drama of the match.

The Nervous Knight

The Nervous Knight
Anthony Lloyd Jones
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a story that looks at the disabling effects of anxiety on youngsters and in particular one knight in training who lives in a peaceful kingdom.

Said knight wears his full armour all the time, never taking it off even in bed, because one always needs to be prepared for the worst eventualities. However armour notwithstanding, this particular trainee who is totally lacking in self confidence remains an onlooker while classmates joust or even go out to eat ice creams. All those ‘what if … ‘ worries just keep on getting in the way of participation.

Such things as breathing become difficult and nervousness tends to make you need to use the loo.

Then one day an older girl in class notices the knight’s lack of action and asks, “What aren’t you joining in?”A series of “what ifs” is the response so the girl decides to take things in hand, gently encouraging the nervous knight onto horseback.

Inevitably with new learning an easy ride is not what follows, but neither do any of those much dreaded giggles from fellow students. Instead, some admit to feeling scared on occasion, while others offer encouragement and coping strategies and gradually our nervous knight begins to shed some armour, show their true self, gain some self confidence and open up to friendship and the pleasures life offers.

Quirkily illustrated in a child-like manner, this is a story many youngsters will identify with and offers a good starting point for discussion, particularly with the growing numbers of children with anxiety issues that have surfaced during the pandemic. The book concludes with a guide for parents/carers by a consultant trainer in children’s and young people’s mental health issues, Ian Macdonald.

The Wide, Wide Sea

The Wide, Wide Sea
Anna Wilson and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Skilfully woven together are wild swimmer and author Anna Wilson’s lyrical narrative and Jenny Lovlie’s gorgeous detailed illustrations in this picture book with a vitally important message about plastic pollution.

Gran and the child narrator love to visit the sea together, spending time exploring the flora and fauna along the shoreline and seeing what treasures the waves have thrown up. Most exciting though is their sighting of a seal: the child imagines being a seal too

and when it disappears, sits watching the sea birds until a violent storm blows in and Gran says it’s time to head home.

Next morning the beach looks awful – ‘Wild, Broken. Messy.’ and strewn with litter. The sky ‘sulky dove-grey’ and the air ‘quiet and frowning.’ Who or what has created this havoc? And can it be fixed? …

Happily yes in this story; but what really needs to happen is every one of us must accept their responsibility for plastic pollution and, for the sake of the environment, sea creatures such as the seal especially, take their rubbish home.

Published in collaboration with The National Trust who protect over 700 miles of wild coastline in the UK this is a must have book for primary classes to share, discuss and act upon its message.

Turbo Bunnies

Turbo Bunnies
Matty Long
Oxford Children’s Books

Another dose of super fun from Matty Long this time courtesy of drivers Bunny and Bonnie, Rory and Enzo (mechanics) and Camille (kart designer) aka whizz kart racers Team Turbo. Team Turbo ace the races but then after an interview rivalry sets in between Bunny and Bonnie, with both wanting to be best racer.

Things soon spiral out of control with both bunnies attempting to sabotage the other’s chances resulting in the quitting of the rest of their team.

Come the next race the bunnies have to go it alone and that entails fixing their own karts first with the result that they wake up late and the race is already under way when they arrive. Nonetheless, off they speed but will it be a

case of individuality reigns or teamwork …

Will those two bunnies ever see the error of their ways and get back on track working as a twosome? What do you think? …

Full on drama this story assuredly is; with its message about the importance of team work it will appeal especially to young listeners with a taste for speed, thrills and spills: Matty Long’s illustrations certainly take us right up close to the action in this book.

Story Soup

Story Soup
Abie Longstaff and Nila Aye
Templar Publishing

As the story starts Ollie is in the process of mixing a story and it’s to be about skateboards – only skateboards. Well, that was his intention but he hadn’t reckoned on the intervention of his sister Susie. She just can’t resist adding some ingredients to the pot and it becomes so Susie says, “OUR story”. A twisting turning story of a skateboarding princess and a reluctantly bad, somewhat silly pirate named Barnacle who develops a taste for ‘yellow sausages’.


All of a sudden things start getting out of control with various things falling into the mixture,

Ollie claiming his story is spoiled and Susie tossing all kinds of random items into the pot over which they start to tussle causing terrible turmoil among the soup ingredients.

Can the brother and sister possibly save the situation if they change their tactics and start to co-operate … You never know: will there or will there not be a ‘happily ever after’ ending? I wonder …

If ever there was an incentive for youngsters to start creating their own stories it’s this zany picture book. There’s even a recipe on the final page to set those brain cells imagining. Think what fun you could have in the classroom if you provide a large container and a large spoon, sit the children in a circle and invite them to co-create an adventure.

Seemingly both author and illustrator had lots of fun concocting their action-packed tale of a tale – embedded narrative gone mad! I love the way Nila’s illustrations of the brother and sister segue from their actions to their story narrative and back during the course of Abie’s telling.

I Am Angry

I Am Angry
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

This book has its origins in Michael’s experience of watching his youngest child having a temper tantrum. He then decided to write a poem about anger that was included in A Great Big Cuddle and now based on that poem we have the first in a new series by the poet and illustrator Robert Starling.

The big bad mood presented here is the kind that comes from nowhere in particular, causing huge noise making –

thrashing and bashing, bodily contortions – rolling on the ground and knocking down trees actions, raging and rampaging, squashing the moon

and terrifying the sun sort of angry, which then vanishes just as rapidly as it arrived.. All this from what appears to be a cuddlesome creature.

Parents and indeed teachers of young children will immediately recognise such scenarios and welcome this smashing book with its reassuring message that however overpowering such anger might feel, it’s soon over, often leaving the once angry person feeling tired out.

Robert Starling has already demonstrated his skill at portraying anger with Fergal is Fuming and now in combination with Michael’s superb rhyming text has created a terrific read aloud picture book for sharing with little ones in an early years setting or at home.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Greece
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this latest time travelling adventure of Tom’s sees him back in Ancient Greece after handling his archaeologist Granny Bea’s ancient amphora, decorated with battle scenes.

As usual, Tom’s not only lost in time but he’s also lost his mischievous cat, Digby and readers need to help him find the creature as well as all the other items mentioned in the ‘Can You Spot’ boxes, that are hiding in plain sight as Tom dashes across the pages in pursuit of the elusive Digby.

During his search he visits the Acropolis, a bustling market place – the agora where a philosopher can often be heard giving a speech

and nearby, the cylindrical tholos wherein the council (all male) would meet to debate important issues.

Other locations he visits include a pottery workshop, the school (wealthy boys only attended that), a doctor’s surgery, a street of houses, a gymnasium

and a theatre before heading out of town to the fields as farmers finish their day’s work. Then it’s on towards the port before finally discovering the whereabouts of both Granny Bea and Digby and then being transported back to the present.

As with previous books in the series, this one is superbly interactive and packed with fascinating facts. Each of Fatti Burke’s alluring, highly detailed scenes offers much to pore over including an athlete who has dropped a javelin, another who’s fallen over and a sleeping member of the theatre audience.

The Seed of Doubt

The Seed of Doubt
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Books

The boy in this story has big dreams far beyond his immediate horizons. “You know you can do anything, … as long as you believe it,” his father would say in encouragement.

One day while the boy is walking in the fields a bird calls to him and in so doing drops something from its beak.

Catching it, the boy feels the seed is significant. He plants it and after a few weeks it sprouts, becoming a sapling and eventually a tree.

The tree grows, the boy grows too, but his dreams get smaller and self doubt begins to take root. Now the tree seems to signify fear rather than its original joy and the boy no longer feels capable of climbing it.

His evening chats with his father are no longer of dreams but every day farm-related matters. However the change doesn’t go unnoticed by his father who reminds his son of those words from long back, “You can do anything … “
That triggers a change and slowly, slowly the lad begins his ascent of the tree, until eventually, with lots of encouraging words …

he reaches the very top.

Once more his dreams are visible: “I can see everything,” he tells his proud parent.

Movingly told is this beautiful story of a boy’s journey back to self-belief, equally movingly illustrated by Richard Jones. His variety of page layouts and perspectives make the narrative even more powerful, and I love the patterning.

It’s all too easy to let those small seeds of self-doubt take root and this book is a lovely starting point for talking about faith in oneself, determination and positiveness either at home or in the classroom.

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons

My First Book of Dinosaur Comparisons
Sara Hurst and Ana Seixas
Happy Yak

Authors are always looking for new ways to present dinosaurs to young enthusiasts who seem to have an insatiable appetite for these prehistoric creatures.

Herein Sara Hurst compares dinos. with vehicles, predators, humans and modern day foods among other things. With a body longer than a tennis court, Diplodocus needed to munch through around 33kg of ferns daily – that’s the equivalent of a human gobbling 66 boxes of cereal every single day – imagine that!

First though come an explanatory spread explaining comparisons, a pronunciation guide to dinosaur names and a time line.
The comparisons start on the Fossil Clues pages where readers learn for example, that one of the largest fossil poos ever found was around 70cm long and weighed more than a bowling ball.

I was fascinated to discover that a dinosaur’s age is calculated by counting the growth rings inside its bones (in a similar fashion to trees I imagine).
Other spreads look at the super skills of a variety of dinosaurs – Dromiceiomimus was about as speedy as an ostrich and twice as fast as the fastest man sprinter. Other spreads explore defence, food, weight

hunting ability, self defence and more, concluding with what was the likely cause of dinosaurs dying out.

In addition there’s a scattering of quizzes (answers at the back) and the entire book is brightly and dramatically illustrated by Ana Seixas.

Agent Llama

Agent Llama
Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Let me introduce Charlie Palmer, hotshot agent, awesome spy and fluffy llama. Having saved the world the previous day, said superspy is already engaged on her next mission, when she receives an urgent call from HQ. The Prime Minster’s underpants (banana patterned) have been stolen and Charlie is required to track down the perpetrator of the crime and save the world.

After a nail biting, sorry, hoof biting, plane journey completed with a perfect landing

Charlie rocks up at a posh hotel where she soon encounters an ‘old acquaintance’ Greta Grimm wallowing in the pool and she just happens to be sporting a pair of banana printed shorts. Pant-pinching crime solved.

However, Grimm (aided and abetted by her Goons entourage) doesn’t intend handing them over to Charlie any time soon. Moreover despite our agent’s martial arts prowess, all too quickly she finds herself well and truly trapped. Is there any escape now or is it destination outer space?

Can a spot of lunch courtesy of Charlie’s bag of techno tricks save the day …

Adult readers aloud will likely appreciate the high jinks that characterise spy films while their young audiences will relish the high drama delivered through Angela Woolfe’s whacky rhyming narrative and Duncan Beedie’s bold retro, cartoonish illustrations somewhat reminiscent of 60s glam in places. Love the stylish silhouette endpapers and variety of page layouts that hype up the action.

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame adapted by Timothy Knapman with original E.H. Shepard illustrations
Farshore

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, this is a picture book adaptation of the original story by Timothy Knapman with E.H.Shepard’s iconic illustrations.

All too often adaptations of children’s classics are at worst a huge disappointment and at best underwhelming; one certainly wouldn’t dream of reading them aloud to young children.

Does it read aloud well is key and in this instance the answer is a resounding yes. Herein, there’s a certain musicality to Timothy’s narrative (‘And there was the river itself, chasing and chuckling along, like a magical sparkling animal.’): it retains the essence of the original while also using 21st century phraseology such as ‘Then when their tummies started to rumble, they tied up at a perfect picnic spot.’ And, Mole to the intruder stoats and weasels in Toad Hall, ‘ “What a mess you’ve made! You don’t get to leave until you’ve tidied this whole place up.” ‘

Although we don’t have all the episodes from the original book, what’s included is a coherent story with plenty of Toad’s shenanigans …

that can be shared and enjoyed in a single session, or two if preferred.

I Like Trains / Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!

These are two recent picture books from Walker Books – thank you to the publishers for sending them for review

I Like Trains
Daisy Hirst

The young canine narrator of this story has a particular liking for trains – playing with toy ones, reading about his passion,

and travelling in the real kind, especially to pay a visit to Granny’s. That’s when she can hear all about the exciting journey, is treated to a picture of the ride, and then she and the puppy have great fun playing in a park sandpit that has a train theme.

With her art taking centre stage, this is a briefer, less sophisticated tale than many of Daisy Hirst’s previous books, but equally delightful, It’s perfectly pitched for very young listeners and beginning readers particularly those who share the puppy’s enthusiasm.

Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!
Linda Ashman and Alea Marley

Abby, narrator of this rhyming story has invited her friend for tea, hoping that all will be as perfect as the guest herself. To that end, she prepares carefully for the three o’clock rendezvous, instructing dog Louie to be on his best behaviour and arranging a tray with delicious confections, flowers, and a china tea set, as well as lining up the other guests – three toys.

Then DING-DONG! The eagerly anticipated guest arrives and ‘oh-so-politely’ sits herself down in her seat while her hostess goes to fetch the tray. But on her return with the tray (it’s really heavy), she has a Mrs Wobble moment and trips sending the contents of said tray every which way. This results in further chaos as Phoebe leaps up onto her chair and in so doing sends the entire table over causing such a mess. Will Phoebe contemplate returning ever again?

Now comes the time when Phoebe surprises readers and her friend too … After all, who wants perfection when it’s at the expense of fun?

Linda Ashman’s narrative reads aloud well with both page breaks and Alea Marley’s detailed illustrations highlighting the drama and suspense splendidly. With its subtly empowering message, this is a delightful story to share with youngsters.

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story
Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Hot footing it on the heels of Lou and Deborah’s There Is No Dragon in This Story comes another take on classic fairytales, this time with Wolf as star of the show.

The problem is that he’s running late and feeling mightily stressed about it as he rushes through the forest to Grandma’s house to get there before Little Red Riding Hood. En route Wolf manages to upset the The Little Pigs making them ‘seriously grumpy’ but what with Grandma’s grumbles too, the poor creature decides enough is definitely enough. No more being taken for granted and definitely no more huffing and puffing from our vulpine friend.

Instead the other characters will have to go it alone but this Big Bad Wolfing is way harder than it looks. A realisation dawns and then along comes a winged fire-breather: maybe he could save the stories? Errrm … No1

So, can Little Red Riding Hood et al twist Wolf’s front paw and persuade him to help after all?

Young listeners and adult sharers will delight in this book. With hilariously conveyed messages about the importance of team work and not taking others for granted, it’s a tongue-in-cheek, hugely engaging tale that features their favourite characters like they’ve never before seen them. I really love the variety of page layouts Deborah uses: they hot up the story brilliantly.

Babies, Babies Everywhere!

Babies, Babies Everywhere!
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Otter-Barry Books

An absolutely gorgeous and inclusive celebration of babies during their first year of life. Now I’m no lover of babies, (though I have particular fondness for one particular little girl, now a toddler, a few months beyond her first year), but this book is a delight from cover to cover.

We follow the ups and downs of that first year with five families all of which welcome a new little one (or two) into their lives. To start with there’s a lot of sleeping, crying, milk drinking, burping and naturally, pooing and weeing. Then comes limb waving and laughing,

followed after a few weeks with facial recognition of those they see daily. Next is the grabbing, grasping stage often accompanied by much gurgling and cooing,

after which sitting and rolling ensue. By around six months the infants are usually ready for some solid foods – often a very messy time as can be the mobile stage when bottom shuffling and crawling, and beginning to get onto two feet, frequently leads to the little ones opening cupboards, etc and enjoying scattering the contents everywhere.

That’s nothing compared to what they can get up to once they start toddling …

One thing’s for sure though, there’s never a dull moment as Ros’s wonderfully detailed, amusing illustrations show (I love the soft toy’s thought bubbles). Mary’s straightforward narrative has a gentle playfulness with lots of baby sounds and comments from family members. (There’s a reminder on the dedication page, that babies develop at different rates and not all of them do things at the same age.)

Great fun for sharing with babies. toddlers who will enjoy spotting things at every page turn, not least the purple elephant, as well as for including in a ‘Families’ topic box in the foundation stage.

I Spy Island

I Spy Island
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Absolutely full of fun pretty well sums up this first in a new series from Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet of Supertato fame.

Said Island loves nothing better than to play I Spy with its four friends Glove, Banana, Bottle and Bird who appear to reside thereon. It’s while engaged in such a game that the players notice an object that they suspect has recently washed up on Island’s beach.

Speculations start – legs emerging from its head, an upside-down bird, is it edible, a trouser press … but suddenly the thing does a flip and announces itself to be a very important, much sought after treasure chest on account of its priceless contents. Moreover, Treasure Chest really does not want to stay on Island, it desperately wants someone to find it.

Several days later however, there it still is, sad and in need of cheering up.

The Island suggests playing some games to jolly things up a bit and after some initial reluctance Treasure Chest is having the time of its life. So much so that it has a change of heart about the Island, until …

a fierce, scary storm suddenly rages. Where can the four friends go to stay safe until it blows over? And then what?

Let’s just say that one of the players has learned a very important life lesson during the turbulence and all concerned are now ready for another round or two of Island’s favourite game of I Spy …

I have no doubt young listeners will revel in the super silliness of Sue and Paul’s tale and be eager to pay another visit to that cheery place somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea, ready for when the next mystery guest washes up.

Attack of the Giant Baby!

Attack of the Giant Baby!
David Lucas and Bruce Ingman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Oh my goodness! A giant baby is at large in the kingdom and it’s in destructive mode. So says the royal messenger to the King and Queen at breakfast one morning. While her parents and the courtiers panic, the young Princess maintains, “He’s just a baby,” though her words go unheeded.

As the baby trashes trains, topples mountains, tramples forests, flattens buildings and people flee for their lives, the King calls in his advisors. The Princess tries again; still nobody listens and eventually the Airforce is sent for, but even then the baby is unstoppable.

“Let loose the Monster-sized Bear!’ orders the King and lo and behold …

However the cuddles are short-lived and again doom and gloom descend. Even in the face of the scariest thing his highness can call upon, the Giant Baby doesn’t flinch. Nor is it interested in the king’s riches.

Now it’s left to the Princess to face the ginormous babe. Can her gentle manner save the day?

David Lucas’s dramatic narrative and Bruce Ingman’s clever illustrations with their mix of almost childlike painting and black ink sketches, make a slightly silly, enormously enjoyable story demonstrating the importance of listening to children.

With its somewhat ambiguous ending, could there perhaps be a sequel in the offing?

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat

The Cat and the Rat and the Hat
Em Lynas and Matt Hunt
Nosy Crow

Comic capers of the daftest kind unfold in Em Lynas’s unashamedly ‘cat-ipalising’ assemblage of sound/symbol associations that she’s fashioned into a sequence of silly scenarios all about various items of attire and the lengths her animal characters will go to, to acquire them.

There’s the cat that plays, sleeps and dreams upon the mat; the rat with a big hat (dayglo pink to match its appendages) – at the start anyhow;

but a tustle ensues …

then there’s the bat sporting a fancy cravat (of the same pink colour albeit with tiny white dots) but also eager to take possession of said hat and willing to perform all manner of acrobatic actions to prevent others seizing the cravat.

Various snatch and grab actions follow but to find out who eventually ends up with which article of adornment, you’ll need to bag yourself a copy of this crazy book and read it yourself. ‘And that is that.’

With those neon bright colours, Matt Hunt makes the entire thing into a laugh out loud reading experience for beginning readers as well as for adults sharing the book with little ones.

Sunflower Sisters

Sunflower Sisters
Monika Singh Gangotra and Michaela Dias-Hayes
Owlet Press

This is the first in the publisher’s new ‘own voice’ series of picture books. The story focuses on Amrita and her best friend Kiki, both of whose families have weddings to celebrate.

It’s when a taxi arrives carrying Amrita’s Aunty that things start getting a little difficult. Aunty has outdated views and her negative comments about skin colour do not go down well with the rest of Amrita’s South Asian family, not with the bride and especially Mum and Dad. “We need to teach (people) that the skin we are in is EXACTLY as it is meant to be.” Mum tells Amrita and on the wedding day itself she continues to support and empower the girl

who looks amazing in her gorgeous yellow lehenga.

As bride Jas and the groom are bidding farewell to the family,

Amrita hears music coming from over the road where Kiki and her Nigerian family are having a wonderful time celebrating too and Amrita is allowed to peep in at the dancing.

Kiki and Amrita then make each other a promise: henceforward they’ll both ensure that every day they feel like sunflowers … and so they did …

It’s sad that familial colourism, indeed colourism of any form, still continues to wield its influence and this beautiful book will, one truly hopes go some way towards changing people’s minds as well as empowering young women to feel positive about themselves, no matter what colour their skin is.

I recall some years back when visiting Ranakpur temple in Rajasthan being approached by two beautiful young Indian women. One of them put her arm next to mine and said, “Your fair skin is beautiful, my brown skin is too dark.” I felt hugely saddened by her comment and assured her that she was beautiful. We sat and talked for a while, she told me she was getting married soon and even invited me to her wedding. If only I’d had this book back then to give her.

Debut children’s book illustrator, Michaela Dias-Hayes’ vibrant scenes with the gorgeously patterned clothing of many of the characters, as well as those golden sunflowers, make every spread a delight in this much needed book.

Blow, Wind, Blow!

Blow, Wind, Blow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg

This is a new addition to The Wild Wanderers series.

Who wouldn’t want to be swept up in the breeze and follow Wind on a lyrical journey as it gains heat and strength from Earth and then continues on its way scattering ‘leaves like a sneeze’, moving on to turn Dutch windmills,

lifting up a balloon in Paris, travelling on across the still, quiet Pacific towards the deserts of Africa creating sandstorms in its wake as it goes on across the Atlantic, cyclonic now

wreaking havoc in Florida until, cooled by a cold blast from the Andes, Wind gradually calms, gently dispersing seeds

till finally it’s all blown out and ready to find a place to rest …

With its repeat refrain, ‘Go further, go farther / grow big and grow strong and / Blow, Wind, Blow!’ readers and listeners are treated to an exhilarating worldwide adventure related through Dom Conlon’s poem that in combination with Anastasia Izlesou’s powerful images of the elemental force and the consequences of its movements, create a mesmerising fusion of art and science.

Youngsters will love joining in the words that urge Wind to go, blow or slow in this book that has great classroom potential, but first and foremost share it for its own sake.

The Book that Did Not Want to be Read

The Book that Did Not Want to be Read
David Sundin (translated by B.J. Woodstein, graphic design Alexis Holmqvist
Puffin Books

What do you do about a book that says on the cover ‘Put it down. Do not open’? Maybe toss it aside to the rejects pile and not bother writing a review or defy those six words, plunge in and face the outcome.

David Sundin is a Swedish comedian, screenwriter, actor and television show host and this somewhat bizarre book is his story for a child unable to fall asleep who requests an adult read a story – this one.

By the second spread though, the book has turned into a steering wheel (centrally placed by Holmqvist) and we’re careering right and left, sounding the horn loudly before reaching a destination.

But then in order to put off the adult attempting to read it, lots of new words suddenly start appearing, not normal words but gibberish. If the reader survives and thinks it’ll be plain sailing thereafter, they’re wrong.

Many more challenges follow – wings appear, the text keeps changing size, the sound of music means a song must be sung, fire breaks out, letters become other letters …

and more. Lovely ending though. But PHEW! I’m exhausted after attempting to read it.

Adult readers aloud who enjoy giving a theatrical performance when sharing a book can have terrific fun with this, so too of course will young audiences.

I Don’t Want to go to School / Big

I Don’t Want to go to School
Lula Bell and Brian Fitzgerald
Little Tiger

Both Mouse (teacher) and Dinosaur are suffering from first day nerves as they reluctantly get up, dress and are unable to face their respective breakfasts.

Concerns about being liked are voiced and both characters are feeling decidedly wibbly-wobbly.

School looks such a scary place full of seemingly intimidating children – until they encounter one another. Then it becomes a case of being brave together … and going on to have an absolutely terrific time. Yipee! school’s great

and tomorrow’s another day …

With a simple text that gets to the heart of those starting school wobbles and Brian Fitzgerald’s bright, humorous illustrations that capture so well the feelings of Mouse and Dinosaur, this is a definite winner and just right for youngsters starting school next term who will be amused to see that sometimes teachers have those apprehensive feelings too.

Big
Sav Akyüz
Oxford Children’s Books

Watching his big brother having the kind of fun that older brothers enjoy makes the small boy protagonist wish that he too could be big.

All of a sudden his wish is granted and off he goes on an awesome romp with the city as his adventure playground.

The trouble is he just keeps on increasing in size until he declares “Oh … no … I’m TOO big!’
Perhaps after all it’s better to be content with what you are and to use your imagination and say ‘what if …’.

With minimal words and arresting illustrations, debuting as author-illustrator Sav Akyüz has created a fun story that will resonate with lots of small brothers and sisters who watch their older siblings doing exciting things and think, ‘I wish … ‘

How to Grow a Unicorn

How to Grow a Unicorn
Rachel Morrisroe and Steven Lenton
Puffin Books

Unicorn mania continues to grow apace and this book is especially magical, not in the usual way though, but actually in lots of ways.

It all begins when Sarah pays a visit to Mr Pottifer’s Parlour of Plants in search of an extra special present for her gran’s 88th birthday. She surely gets the surprise of her life when she steps inside to be greeted by…

The shop is full of botanical specimens doing very unplantlike things: there were runner beans racing in a hailstorm, foxgloves boxing,

a cowslip squirting milk to name just a few. But then a packet of seeds catches Sarah’s eye and she knows this is just the thing for Gran.

Back home, she follows the planting instructions on the packet – well only some of them – for instead of planting a single seed as recommended, she uses the entire twenty-four. During the night vines start creeping and come morning Gran’s house is engulfed.

Suddenly …

Before long the creatures are causing utter chaos,(Steve clearly had huge fun creating the relevant scenes) trashing all the party paraphernalia; but is Gran upset? No she isn’t. Instead she leads a procession of gallivanting unicorns and a worried Sarah back to Mr Pottifer’s shop.

Rather than be a party pooper, I’ll leave them there with the girl explaining her plight to Mr P. But you can rest assured that the end of Rachel’s rhyming story will utterly delight not only Gran, but young audiences and adult sharers too. (I love Sarah’s letter on the inside back cover too.)

Steve Lenton’s richly patterned illustrations are both full of humour and feeling; and his rainbow hued colour palette make his scenes all the more alluring.

For Your Toddler Bookshelf

I’m thinking of a Jungle Animal
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Lucia Gaggiotti
Nosy Crow

Each of the the four wide-eyed child participants in the ‘I’m thinking of …’ game has a different jungle animal in mind. What do these creatures look like? What do they eat? What sound do they make? Little humans are invited to think about the simple clues, have a guess based on the information provided, search for the animal hiding in Lucia Gaggiotti’s colourful jungle scene and finally, pull the slider to discover the answer to the rhyming clues. Fun learning for the very young.

100 First Words: City
illustrated by Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

Edward Underwood features city life in this second large format, super-stylish board book, devoting a double spread to in turn, the street, a railway station, the zoo, a supermarket. a museum, a (swimming) pool and a restaurant. Using a grid format and bright, colourful illustrations like the previous book, Underwood introduces a variety of nouns: for instance in the supermarket toddlers will see such items as tomato, trolley, toilet paper, broccoli, cashier, till, boxes and there are two sturdy, shaped flaps to look under. On this spread there’s a tin inside which are fish, and boxes that reveal an assistant.

This book is likely to prove invaluable in helping to build vocabulary at that vital stage when toddlers are learning to talk. One hopes adults will use this as stimulus for speech by asking questions like ‘what shall we put in the trolley?’ as they share the book with a little one.

Home Is Where the Heart Is
Emma Dodd
Templar Books

We all have things that make our particular home feel special and so it is with Emma Dodd’s thoughtful big cat and a playful little kitten. For the feline twosome, home’s a place to spend time playing and resting; a warm safe haven from stormy weather, as well as somewhere special no matter if its residents are there together or for some reason, apart.

Emma’s distinctive golden touches embellish her adorable feline illustrations on alternate spreads and her rhyming narrative told from the adult cat’s viewpoint.

Pablo

Pablo
Rascal (translated by Antony Shugaar)
Gecko Press

This story of the hatching of chick, Pablo is sheer delight. It begins with Pablo fast asleep spending his last night encased in his shell.

Come morning, he needs to gather his strength for the job of breaking free from the confines of his shell and how better than with some delicious breakfast of hot chocolate and a croissant?

That done, the creature within is justifiably feeling a tad apprehensive, though he’s eager to see what the world around has to offer. Best to start small he decides, making a tiny hole through which to peep. This is followed, after a glance all around, by a second hole. 

He continues his task making a hole for each ear, one for his beak so he can hear the wind and smell the perfume of flowers, a sixth and seventh for his legs. Now Pablo has all his senses and is able to hop. Then with holes eight and nine duly made, his wings are freed and whey-hey, he takes to the air – ‘not scared now!’

All that’s left to do is to get rid of that shell but you never know when you might need to take cover and so, Pablo saves a small piece …

I absolutely love this little character and the way the artist gradually reveals through stylised images, his anything but simple personality: Pablo stands out stark against the white background and it’s not until the final spread that we’re shown his yellow fluffiness. 

Visually arresting yes, but the text is cleverly constructed too: little humans will love joining Pablo in hearing the buzzing fly, caaawww of the crows and the whoooo of the wind, as well as flapping their wings along with the hatchling at the appropriate point in the story.

My Day with the Panye

My Day with the Panye
Tami Charles and Sara Palacios
Walker Books

Fallon lives with her family in the hills of Port-au-Prince where we meet them on a market day when her Manman has invited her elder daughter to accompany her to the market. The girl narrates what happens, talking especially about her desire to be able to carry the panye on her head (a kind of rite of passage) as her Manman does.

Her first attempt is a failure but Manman quotes her own manman,: ” ‘Pitit, pitit, zwazo fe nich li’ Little by little the bird builds its nest. Not everything is learned fast. “

Desperate to learn the skill, Fallon envies Manman’s grace as she moves with a sway of her hips, panye perfectly balanced, through Sara Palacios’ busy, richly coloured Haitian landscape

and into the bustling market also awash with its vibrant colours and patterns

including those of mothers and daughters ‘Their feet are graceful. Their panyes are still, even as the wind swirls through the city.’ (I love the author’s lyrical language)

After the purchases are complete and the two are ready to begin their journey home, Fallon begs to be allowed to carry the panye. Finally her mother agrees, assisting with the balancing; but the full basket is very heavy and down it crashes sending vegetables flying all around.
Now it’s Manman’s turn to do the urging when Fallon wants to give up, and with the reloaded panye, slowly, slowly … success! Feeling like a queen she makes her way back home. “The panye means we are graceful when the load is heavy. We are strong, even when the earth is not. We are family, fed from love.”

There is so much to enjoy about this book in both words and pictures (look out for the antics of the dog): the warmth of the mother/daughter relationship especially the encouraging of perseverance when learning something new.

The author ends with a note explaining the tradition of panye carrying and telling us that Haiti is her husband’s homeland and why she wrote the story.

Splash

Splash
Claire Cashmore and Sharon Davey
Farshore

Written by awesome Paralympic gold medallist Claire Cashmore, this, her debut book is a celebration of overcoming your fears and following your dream. The story is based on Claire’s own experience of having a can do attitude with almost everything, although being scared of the water keeps her out of the swimming pool.

That changes however one very hot day when the young girl Claire aka Bear decides to try just dipping a toe into the water. Then, because it feels so inviting those frissons of fear dissipate until … SPLASH! She’s loving how she feels and her siblings are almost as thrilled as Bear is.

Now in the water Bear is literally in her element and she has a new dream. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination but she never gives up and finally after her mammoth efforts Bear is ready to enter her very first swimming race …

As she ploughs through the water, Bear isn’t the only one wondering, Will today be the day? And …

Then up on the podium with her first ever gold medal around her neck, Claire dreams of the next time … and the next and … safe in the knowledge that ‘whatever she can’t do today … she knows she will conquer tomorrow!’
And what an inspiration is young Bear to us all. She had the courage to step right out of her comfort zone and then to prove to herself and everybody else that by holding fast to her dreams, being differently abled is just a part of who she is and that is INCREDIBLE.

Sharon Davey’s illustrations beautifully capture Bear’s emotional journey as, supported by her siblings, she moves from fearful to fearless.

Baby’s First Train Robbery

Baby’s First Train Robbery
Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It seems there’s no stopping Baby Frank who’s back for a third, let’s say reckless escapade.

With the family home now a zoo, life is pretty exhausting for Frank and his parents, so much so that Mum and Dad decide a holiday away is needed. Frank is less than enthusiastic to leave the zoo in Grandma’s care:; can she cope with tiger-sitting for instance? Nevertheless off they drive to the seaside, parents and infant.

Once on the beach with Mum busy building sandcastles and Dad snoozing in the sun, Frank makes a break for it having first left them a note. At the station stands a train and the babe is soon aboard, all alone. Nothing happens so Frank decides to investigate by crawling into the driver’s cab but he accidentally bumps his bum against a lever setting the train in motion.

Back on the beach meanwhile his parents make a discovery but by then there’s nothing they can do to halt the train as it puffs merrily along towards a very steep drop. Due to his lack of stature, there’s nothing Frank can do either; but what about Grandma?

Back at the zoo, she’s having a terrific time until she she turns on the TV, hears the news and sees where Frank and the train are heading …

Will young Frank ever see his precious animals again?

Told through Jim Whalley’s faultless rhyming text and Stephen Collins’ retro style illustrations that fuel the wonderful daftness of the story, this is once again a hilarious read aloud from team Whalley and Collins.

See What I Can Do!

See What I Can Do!
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding
Graffeg

Everybody is different: we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses and that’s part of what makes our world such an exciting place.

Here’s a picture book that embraces difference in an entirely positive way showing how, as one of the characters, Molly, says on the first spread, ”being different doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want!”

The author goes on to introduce three children with autism who communicate in a variety of ways including in one case, by using Makaton; and then two boys who have dyslexia who explain how this affects them.

I loved what Caitlin and Anna’s friend says in response to the two girls telling her they have dyspraxia and what this means to each one them: “ Well if you ask me, it’s not weird. It means you have your own style. And that’s cool!”

We also hear accounts from children with dyscalculia, ADHD, Down’s syndrome,

Cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy; others have hearing loss, low vision, spina bifida, epilepsy, brittle bone disease or asthma.

One thing they all have in common is a ‘can do’ approach to life that while acknowledging they face some challenges, emphasises what they have achieved and hope to do in the future.

Inclusive and inspiring, this beautifully illustrated picture book ought to be in every primary classroom and on family bookshelves.

Margaret’s Unicorn

Margaret’s Unicorn
Briony May Smith
Walker Books

Children seem to love unicorns and stories about these mythical creatures. I have no doubt they will love this gentle one of Briony’s with its atmospheric setting; it definitely stands out from the crowd.

Margaret and her parents have moved to a distant cottage in the mountains to be near Grandma. To the child, this house feels strange and unfriendly so her parents send her out to explore while they organise things inside. Don’t go beyond the big stone, they warn.

As Margaret walks she suddenly notices what at first glance seems like mist over the sea but then she realises it’s unicorns leaping across the skyline, only to vanish almost immediately. 

On her way back she comes upon a baby unicorn tangled in the weeds presumably left behind by the others. Having freed the little creature, she carries it back home.

With her grandma’s help, the girl tends the little unicorn, buying it flowers to eat and making a nest in Margaret’s new room. That night she and her father don wellies and go to collect some of the “water touched by moonlight” her gran had said it would drink. And so it does, making its horn glow with magic in the dark.

Over the changing seasons Margaret nurtures her little unicorn while at the same time gradually thinking less about her old home. ‘When a unicorn is your friend, you wish spring would stay far away.’ she tells readers but inevitably come it does and with it the other unicorns, among which is her unicorn’s mother. It’s time to bid a sad farewell to her friend 

and then the unicorns depart.

By the following spring Margaret has made some new friends and feels settled in this beautiful environment; but will she ever see her unicorn friend again?

Yes there’s magic in this lyrical tale but never of the sparkly sort; rather it has an earthiness fed by the landscapes and the seasonal changes all around, so beautifully captured in the illustrations, that and the love.

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert / A Little Bit of Courage

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert
Max Low
Graffeg

Best friends Ceri and Deri have a particular penchant for all things sweet. Their favourite shopping places to visit in town are Delwen’s Domain of Desserts and Peredur’s Pudding Parlour, each of which offers delicacies they can’t resist.

Strangely though the shops are next to each other and thus far, relations between the two vendors has been amicable. Not so today though: as Ceri and Deri approach they hear an argument in full flow.

At first it’s only insults that fly back and forth as the friends attempt to get served; but pretty soon it’s a case of flying puds and hurtling desserts. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by various other individuals who show up – D.I Nigel, followed by the mayor

and several others each of whom takes a side in the escalating drama.

Horrified at the waste of good food, Ceri and Deri leap skywards to catch some treats to pop in their mouths.

Can there possibly be a truce between the two sides before both establishments completely run out of goodies? Perhaps, if somebody (or somebodies) can think of a compromise …

As always the cat and dog duo offer some gentle (or in this case somewhat less gentle) learning concerning different ways of seeing along the way, but it never gets in the way of the fun story, illustrated in Max Low’s characteristic expressive, gently humorous colourful small town scenes.

A Little Bit of Courage
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

This is my first encounter with the Ploofers though it’s their second story, and they’re learning to fly.

There’s one of their number though, a little one, that is feeling fearful and too scared to become part of this exciting new adventure. So will the others leave Little One behind on the ground? Of course not; that isn’t what friends do.

Back comes Toasty to have a chat and offer some words of encouragement to help Little One lose those jelly wobbles. With Toasty’s support, can Little summon up sufficient courage to take that vital leap?

A gentle look at fear, finding the courage to step out of your comfort zone, the importance of teamwork, as well as a celebration of difference Ploofer style.

Simply illustrated and told in a suitably conversational voice, Claire Alexander provides an empowering message for little ones and adults too.

Mister Boo!

Mister Boo!
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Meet Mister Boo, a mischievous moggy that loves to tease, not least Rosie when he pops his head out from the box on arrival at her home.

Surprises are his special thing: he alarms the mice, flips the goldfish from their bowl,

and come spring there’s no stopping him. He frightens the baby birds as they learn to fly,

terrifies the baby rabbits and the owl fledglings with his springtime joie de vivre.

Time passes and one morning awoken late by birdsong, Mister Boo finds that despite it being spring, he no longer feels that spring in himself. Equally upsetting is the fact that the other animals either ignore him or show him little interest other than the mother owl that lets him know what she thinks.

Feeling decidedly downhearted Mister Boo creeps back home where he’s greeted by a joyful Rosie who has a surprise in store.

Can this restore his spirits? He’ll assuredly need to accept some changes in the home …

Told through Joyce’s chatty text with its lively, playful language and Petr’s distinctive, brilliantly expressive scenes of the ups and downs of the titular character this will delight young listeners and adult sharers alike, especially those with a particular penchant for prankish cats.

I Love my Bike

I Love my Bike
Simon Mole and Sam Usher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The little girl narrator of this story is the proud owner of a new red bike and with the help of her dad, she’s learning to ride it.

His encouragement enables her to get going and with confidence growing, ‘a tingle in her tummy’ and a ‘flame on the frame’ she soon loves the experience, even starting to take some risks as she rides.

Hills are a struggle (my bike gets lazy) but the walk up is well worth it as the view from the top is incredible.

Now for the downhill run, that’s sure to be fun, or is it?

Before long, exhilaration gives way to exasperation, the tingle in her tum turns to a tangle and …

Her response reminds me a a young relation who having taken her first tumble said, “Nincompoop bike”, threw hers down and walked away. Inevitably such falls hurt, probably both pride and limbs, but thanks to an understanding Dad and some beautiful natural surroundings to rest in, it isn’t too long before our novice cyclist is back on the saddle and feeling positive once more, off she goes again …

Both poet Simon Mole’s words and Sam Usher’s illustrations capture so well the lows and highs of learning to ride a bike as well as celebrating both a warm father/child relationship, and the sheer joy of being outdoors, especially in a green place.

The Lion on the Bus / All Aboard the Words Train & All Aboard the Sounds Train

The Lion on the Bus
Gareth P. Jones and Jeff Harter
Farshore

This is a really rumbustious version of the children’s nursery favourite The Wheels on the Bus. It starts with the usual verse but already there’s an anticipation of what’s to come in Jeff Harter’s opening illustration as a maned passenger carrying a bag crosses to get on board the vehicle heading for the park.

Almost instantly the driver is looking alarmed at the RAR-RAR-RAR!” that issues forth and the baby on the bus certainly isn’t happy …

On gets a panther at the next stop, a panther that insists on prowling, ‘PROWL–PROWL-PROWL, …’

By the time a SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-ing crocodile and a trio of H-O-W-O-O-O-O-L-ing wolves have also boarded and are adding to the din, the driver decides he’s had enough and makes a hasty exit,

leaving the passengers – humans (screaming) and animals (jaws gaping wide) to face each other out.

And that’s where we’ll leave them at the ready, perhaps to exit,

with readers and listeners eagerly anticipating a rousing finale …

Assuredly, with Jeff Harter’s hilarious illustrations, Gareth’s is a version to add to early years collections; it’s one that would be enormous fun to act out in a foundation stage setting.

All Aboard the Words Train
All Aboard the Sounds Train

illustrated by Sean Sims
Oxford Children’s Books

No ticket necessary to climb aboard the latest excursions into Oxford Children’s fun World of Learning.
Whichever train you decide to board, you’re sure to enjoy the ride and the destination.

With six lively children plus playful dog, the Words Train is heading for the seaside. Once there, appropriately hatted and sun creamed, the gang will start exploring. First behind rocks and in the cave, after which they’ll pause for play and ice-creams, followed by a swim in the chilly water, a spot of sailing on the sea, a dive under the water, perhaps even visiting a wrecked pirate ship. All this and more before night falls and it’s time to go home.

While most spreads focus on nouns, the focus of others is either verbs or adjectives: Sean Sims’ vibrant illustrations provide just the right amount of details in each one.

The Sounds Train journeys through the seasons and concentrates on environmental sounds be they created by animals, the elements, the children or the occasional machine.

Great for introducing or reinforcing sound/symbol associations.

Mr Tiger

Mr Tiger
Davide Cali and Miguel Tanco
Tate Publishing

With his world-famous moves – the head smash, the pain-in-the-neck clutch, fatal hug and his trademark Leap of the Tiger – wrestler, Mr Tiger is the strongest in the world.
He’s defeated Blackclaw (his greatest rival), Boogeyman, Constrictor and Blob, all formidable opponents in the ring.

Out of the ring however, it’s an entirely different matter. Mr T. is enormously shy and entirely lacking in friends other than his canine pal, Fifi.

Of late though, Mr Tiger has become enamoured with Lily but on account of his extreme reserve, he just can’t summon the courage to speak to her; even his rivals have noticed he seems a tad less fearsome than usual.

As he sits pondering his plight and considering how he might make some sort of approach, a certain fluffy friend makes a move. 

Could that lead to our masked wrestler making the most gigantic leap of his entire life …

Inspired by the Mexican sport/art form lucha libre, this entertaining book with Miguel Tanco’s quirky illustrations and Davide Cali’s reporter style text will go down especially well with those who like something out of the ordinary when it comes to picture books.

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers
Lauren Tobia
Walker Books

Oscar’s mum takes him to stay with his grandmother for a while in this wordless, wonderfully warm story. He bids a sad farewell to his mum and then despite reassuring hugs from his nan, the boy spends a very difficult first night away from home.

Next morning though his nan observes Oscar’s interest – a picture he draws, and his careful watering of a seedling.

She takes him to a very special shop where they buy all kinds of gardening things including seeds.

Back in nan’s apartment, Oscar plants and tends the seeds

until her entire residence, both inside and out, is alive with flowers, greenery, even vines. There are certainly sufficient plants to make gifts to the other residents of the block, especially a little girl who soon becomes his friend.

No words are needed here: Lauren Tobia’s gorgeous vignettes and full page scenes say it all. The emotions of the characters are made palpable both through their faces and their body language all the way through to the happy reunion of mother and child.

Perfectly paced, this is a super book to share nestled up with one child or a few, taking time to focus on and relish all the wonderful detail in every spread and both endpapers.

Let’s Go For a Walk / Look What I Found at the Seaside

Let’s Go For a Walk
Ranger Hamza and Kate Kronreif
Ivy Kids

In the company of Ranger Hamza, any walk will be an experience that engages all the senses. No matter where or when you go there’s sure to be a wealth of interesting sights, sounds, smells and exciting tactile things to feel with our hands. Best to do as Ranger Hamza advises though and take a copy of this book along, then suitably attired and with eyes and ears open, everyone is ready to sally forth.

The first focus is colour and youngsters are encouraged to spot red things and of course, what is found will depend on the season and to some extent the surroundings.
Then what about trying to spy things tall, wide or small; or feeling various things like these walkers are doing on the sea shore.

Not all smells are to be savoured; we all enjoy different ones. I for instance would not want to be in close proximity of fresh fish or chimney smoke but would love to inhale the aroma of lavender or baking bread. The important thing is to do as the ranger suggests and ‘use our noses’.

Each double spread has a new focus: there are shapes, minibeasts, sounds,

letters and numbers, pairs of objects, different materials that things are made of. The dark makes everything look different, shadowy perhaps, or you might spot some nocturnal creatures or star patterns if you walk at night.
To see other things up high though, it’s better to walk in the daytime when the clouds sometimes look amazing; while focussing on the ground can be equally rewarding with plants popping up in unexpected places and all kinds of patterns created either by humans or by nature.

With wildlife photographer and CBeebies Ranger Manza as guide and Kate Kronreif as illustrator, this guided book walk is sure to make youngsters want to undertake the real thing. Nature and being able to get outdoors are what have kept so many of us – young and not so young – sane over the past year and now I’m pretty sure that henceforward, none of us will take these things for granted. Are you ready, ‘Let’s Go For a Walk’ …

Look What I Found at the Seaside
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

There are wonders aplenty waiting to be found if you take a stroll on the seashore with the characters in this smashing book (a companion to Look What I Found in the Woods), also published in collaboration with the National Trust).

Every spread is packed with exciting things to discover, the first being the wealth of different shaped seashells, be they curly and shining bright ‘like a pearl’,

long and curly, opening like a pair of wings or perhaps a purse.

The rock pools too are full of exciting patterned pebbles, fish and other small sea creatures; among the seaweed too are more treasures and sometimes foraging seagulls. Watch out for crabs scuttling among the fronds or peeping out of shells.

It’s interesting to imagine what a mermaid might keep in one of those mermaid’s purses close to the cave mouth …

There’s much more too if you follow the cliff path; maybe some fossils, butterflies, bees and seaside flowers; and if you are quiet you just might come upon some wonderful sea birds tucked away among the rocks.

Yes, the seaside is a veritable treasure trove but it’s important to collect thoughtfully, doing no harm and leaving nothing but your footprints behind.

Told through a gentle rhyming narrative and also bursting with fascinating facts, and illustrated with alluring scenes of the children investigating the natural world, this will surely get youngsters enthused to get out and explore nature.

The Pirate Mums

The Pirate Mums
Jodie Lancet-Grant and Lydia Corry
Oxford Children’s Books

Arrr! me’arties, here’s a rousing tale of derring do that takes place on a school trip with a difference.

Billy isn’t overly keen when he learns that his mums have volunteered to join Mr Smart’s class on their seaside trip. His mums however can’t wait and despite their son’s best efforts to put them off, come the morning of the outing, they’re up with the lark (rather the parrot), raring to go and there’s no stopping them.

At the coast, Billy leaves them and joins his pals right away and then it’s ‘anchors away’ and off they sail.

All of a sudden Mama is alert to the black clouds the boat is heading straight towards but her attempts to inform Mr Smart come to nothing: he’s too busy throwing up. As the storm worsens a bolt of lightning does for the main mast and panic ensues among the children.

With Captain Fishface stuck in the loo …

it’s time for Billy’s mums to take charge and pretty soon with some sacrifices of the children’s clothing, expert knotting from the pirate mums and a few deft moves from Birdbrain, there’s a new sail ready to catch the wind. But still the boat remains stuck.

Never fear, the pirate mums are here and along with plenty of willing assistants they soon have the craft heading for harbour.

Could it be time for Billy to have a change of heart about wanting to be part of an ‘ordinary’ family?

What a smashing read aloud: told with a spirited text from debut picture book author Jodie Lancet-Grant and suitably dramatic illustrations by Lydia Corry, this is a splendid, open-hearted celebration of difference and families with same sex parents.

A Celebration of Dads

My Dad
Susan Quinn and Marina Ruiz
Words & Pictures

A small child celebrates their dad, and the everyday activities – real and imaginary – that make him and the days they share together so special.

In Susan Quinn’s first person rhyming narrative the child presents such things as baking, growing vegetables, grocery shopping, going for picnics and bathing, moving through the different seasons and kinds of weather: ‘If it rains, we splash through puddles, / stomp through leaves of gold and red. / And gaze at a colourful rainbow, / big above my head.’

Marina Ruiz’s illustrations are suffused with the love shared between Dad and child, while her colour palette alters to reflect the changing seasons.

No matter the particular home situation of the young reader/listener and Dad this sensitively written book is one to enjoy together.

What is Daddy Going To Do?
Carly Madden and Juliana Perdomo
Words & Pictures

This is a fun lift the flap book for toddlers to enjoy, especially with a dad. It features diverse dads, one portrayed holding or wearing an item on the flap of each recto, while opposite the text says for instance, ‘Daddy has a stopwatch. / What is Daddy going to do?’ Having had a guess, little ones lift the large, sturdy flap to reveal the answer. (‘Start the family sports day!’)

In all there are six fun activities that Daddy does with his child or children – Fly to the moon, play in the forest, build a pirate ship, play in a band and make some noise, and read a bedtime story.


Little ones will want to join in with the repeat question and the (hidden) sounds, as well as lifting the flap (great for developing fine motor skills) and they’ll certainly enjoy exploring Juliana Perdomo’s bright, gently humorous illustrations and making predictions about the hidden activities.

Daddy
Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

The adorable one-haired baby is back to introduce Daddy. Said male parent is ‘so big and strong’, his ‘legs are so, so long.’ The infant then enjoys a playful time with Daddy – riding piggyback, trying to touch the sky, feeling his unshaven scratchy face, fleeing from a pretend monster, singing, wrestling till they need a rest.
At other times Dad is busy so baby helps him cook and clean and much more.

Our baby narrator also introduces several other dads pointing out that each one is different be that ‘Dressy … Messy … Bald … Hairy … Tall or Short’ before pointing out the ideal nature of ‘My Daddy’.

With its rhyming text and warm, lively scenes of baby and Daddy, this is a delight for the very youngest.

How to Mend a Friend

How to Mend a Friend
Karl Newson and Clara Anganuzzi
Studio Press

As he tells us at the end of the book, Karl’s story was written while he was undergoing treatment for cancer when inevitably things felt pretty uncertain. Nonetheless with the love and support of relations and friends, and of course the fantastic NHS staff who treated him, he found a way through and hopes that this heartfelt tale might help others.

No matter what, it’s a lovely hug of a picture book showing the importance of friendship and of people’s empathetic understanding.

Through Karl’s rhyming text, and Clara Anganuzzi’s beautiful, detailed scenes that exude warmth and love, we follow a little girl, accompanied by her huge imaginary polar bear

and a host of other animals as she contemplates the kind of support that might be needed or offered in difficult times.

I love the various perspectives and variety of settings used in the portrayal of the protagonist’s friends

and how all the characters come together in the final scene with Karl’s crucial closing words, ‘You can be the greatest friend / just by being you.’

Positive, moving and uplifting. During the past year or so when the pandemic has overshadowed pretty much everything, we’ve all come to realise what is most significant in our lives; family, friends and community. As a result every one of us has discovered and are continuing, to learn, how better to care for the ones who, in their unique ways, are important to us.