The Season of the Giraffes / Wild Animals of the World

The Season of Giraffes
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

This the first of the publishers new Protecting the Planet series looks at the effects of climate change on the much loved giraffes of Niger; its inspiration was the work of climate activist and film maker, Kisilu Musya.

Once some time back giraffes were very much a part of everyday life in Niger: and considered a blessing in the same way as the birds, the trees and the rain. The children saw them browsing the trees on their morning walk to school or when they brought home the cattle at night; the giraffes had a strange fighting regime and communicated in a language of grunts and snorts.

However the number of these graceful animals sadly started to decline as more and more buildings, roads and farms filled the land and then on account of climate change the rains began to fail too. The result was terrible droughts that parched the land causing much suffering to both animals and humans.

Soon very few giraffes were left in Africa but in the country of Niger, there was still time to save the few that remained. The humans stopped hunting, protected the trees giraffes fed on as well as the creatures’ favoured places and gradually, then more rapidly, the giraffe population increased. So much so that some have been transported by truck to other parts where they live under the watchful eye and care of wildlife rangers and scientists. The hope is that one day these beautiful animals might be able to return to the places they once roamed.

Nicola’s story of optimism shows how with resolve, we humans can change things for the better; it’s gorgeously illustrated by Emily Sutton who captures both the grace of the animals and their homeland, and the lifestyle of some of the people of Niger.
(There’s additional information about giraffes, climate change and what we can all do to help both causes.)

Wild Animals of the World
Dieter Braun
Flying Eye Books

This sumptuous volume brings together Braun’s Wild Animals of the North and Wild Animals of the South taking us on a world tour that begins in North America, moving in turn to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and finally, Antarctica.

Magnificent art takes the forefront in an awe-inspiring introduction to an array of creatures great

and small of the land, sea and air. Sadly some – the Asian elephant, the Emperor penguin for instance – are on the endangered list, others are threatened, though this isn’t stated in the book.

Dieter Braun manages to encapsulate the very essence and spirit of every one of the hundred and thirty plus animals portrayed. Some have an accompanying factual paragraph, others leave the labelled illustration to speak for itself. (Both scientific and common names are given.) A great gift for young wildlife lovers.

My Family and Other Families / Some Daddies

My Family and Other Families
Richard and Lewis Edwards-Middleton, illustrated by Andy Passchier
DK

In this story we follow Liam and his family on their visit to the funfair. Leo is super-excited at the prospect of riding on the big wheel, but with his ticket tucked into his pocket, we wonder if he’ll ever get to the wheel on time. There are so many other families there who all want to stop and chat – families that don’t necessarily look like his own but who all show loving care to their children just like his own. Suddenly Liam realises that his ticket is no longer in his pocket and he frantically retraces his steps asking the other visitors if they’ve seen it. 

Nobody has but everybody offers to join in the ticket search and eventually Liam has a ticket clasped tightly in his hand and he heads over to where a man is making that last call for riders to board the wheel. Now there’s one final opportunity for kindness so that all the children are able to have a ride.
The final sentence in the book, ‘A family is people who care about you’ sums up the authors’ crucial message of diversity and nicely rounds off the story.

Shown inside the front cover and hiding in plain sight in vibrant illustrations are thirteen hidden surprises that young children can search for during the telling. A book to add to collections in early years settings.

Some Daddies
Carol Gordon Ekster and Javiera Mac-lean Álvarez
Beaming Books

“Every daddy is different!” So goes the repeat refrain in this celebration of fathers of all kinds and their styles of parenting. Some are early risers, while others take a while to get going in the morning. Some drink coffee, some drink tea, some prefer a smoothie or water. Some wear suits, some don uniforms, and some work from home in their pyjamas! Some daddies are arty, some like growing things, some love to read. 

Daddies might be good cooks or they might rely on take-aways; some will bid you goodnight with a song, others with a bedtime story. Some are yours from the moment of your birth, others are not a biological relation and choose you later on, some share you with a mum, others with another dad. Yes there are many, many different ways that daddies can look, eat, work, play, and be; however there’s one thing all daddies have in common: daddies are special people who love their little ones.

Brightly coloured, slightly quirky illustrations support the upbeat text with its key message about similarities and differences.

Something About A Bear

Something About A Bear
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

This is a new large-format edition of Jackie Morris’s ode to bears. It begins with a large brown bear nose to nose with a teddy bear and the words, ‘Let me tell you something, something about a bear.’ Readers are then introduced to eight kinds of bears through stunning watercolour illustrations and a poetic text.

Each turn of the page takes us to the natural environment of one sort of bear or another starting with Brown Bear watching salmon in a river. On a mountainside in China, a Panda is shown nurturing its child ‘Born as soft and small as peaches.’ Next we see a Sloth Bear carrying her cubs on her back set against ancient Mughal architecture; a Spectacled Bear with cubs high up in the canopy of a South American jungle;

from her nest an enormous Asian Moon Bear waits and watches, all set to go a-hunting. Now you might be surprised to learn that Polar bears are not white – their fur is ‘hollow’, their skin, black. Nor is the American Black bear always black; it could be cinnamon or honey coloured and even, rarely, white.

The very essence of each one of the magnificent ursine creatures is captured in Jackie Morris’s awesome paintings and it’s incredible to see the range of browns she uses. A considerable amount of information is included in the main narrative, which eventually comes full circle to the two we met on the first spread, closing with the words, ‘the very best bear of all is YOUR bear. Two further spreads give additional notes on each bear featured. A terrific gift book for bear lovers of all ages.

When the Storks Came Home

When the Storks Came Home
Isabella Tree and Alexandra Finkeldey
Ivy Kids

This is a charming, fictionalized retelling of the successful reintroduction of the white stork at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, a UK native bird that has been brought back from extinction.

Herein we meet eight year old Beanie, a bird lover, who when she has a new baby brother, is curious to see on some of the baby cards, a bird that she’s never seen before. This bird is the white stork and encouraged by her mother, Beanie asks her friend Andy who works at the nature reserve to tell her about the storks. He tells her about their unfortunate disappearance from the UK on account of them being hunted for food.

Upset and angry, Beanie becomes passionate about encouraging the White Storks back. She does some research, makes a discovery and then with the dedicated help of lots of the village people who help with fundraising,

she eventually succeeds in her mission to provide a new home for some storks from Poland.

That’s not quite the end of this lovely story, but it does end happily and shows how one determined girl can really make a difference. Alexandra Finkeldey’s colour pencil artwork is superb and helps to highlight Beanie’s love of and engagement with the natural world. The book ends with a factual account of the White Stork Project.

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant

A Practical Present for Philippa Pheasant
Briony May Smith
Walker Books

Philippa Pheasant lives in the forest close to Fairhurst village. Whenever she tries to cross the Old Oak Road in search of juicy blackberries, she’s almost knocked ‘pancake-flat’ by the cars that speed past seemingly out of nowhere. One day she decides that enough is enough; her friend hedgehog suggests writing to the Mayor, which Philippa does but her letter receives no reply.

The following day as she wanders along the lane near the school Philippa notices something that interests her greatly. A woman wearing a bright yellow uniform is standing in the middle of the road stopping the traffic so that the children can cross safely outside their school. This gives Philippa an idea; right away she sets about making something

and the next morning there’s a large gathering of woodland creatures waiting to hear what their pheasant friend has to say. Why is she wearing that strange attire?

Suddenly Philippa is thrust into the local limelight.

And the rest, shall we say, is full of surprises.

With her wonderful portrayal of rural life by day and by night, and a brave, determined avian protagonist, Briony May Smith has created another winner. I love the autumnal tones of the scenes, the wealth of amusing and interesting details, and the way Briony has used light and shadow to give her illustrations extra depth, all of which make the story even more of a delight.

Agent Llama Alpaca Attack!

Agent Llama Alpaca Attack!
Angela Woolfe and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

It’s good to see llama super-spy Charlie Palmer in action again with a new mission. Somebody is intent on world destruction using can you believe – a ‘Pasta-Splat Machine’. Already spaghetti-filled streets are being reported as far afield as Delhi and Dublin, schools are shut and the streets awash with sauce.

Grabbing her gadgets from their subterranean hiding place, Charlie revs up her turbo engine and off she zooms, on mission halt that pasta doom, destination a popular beach resort that is currently under attack.

Almost immediately on arrival so too is she, from above and below, but our Charlie is not one to give up as she starts to perform some show-stopping feats.

However, having scaled the heights our agent gets the surprise of her life: I instantly thought of a drama currently showing on BBC tv wherein a politician has his identity stolen, for that is what appears to have happened to our intrepid Charlie Palmer.

There before her, once his disguise is removed, stands none other than one time agent, rogue alpaca Harley Hacker. What Charlie learns next is potentially catastrophic. Can she crack that vital code, halt one billion drones and thus save the solar system’s central star?

Full on drama indeed and I have no doubt young listeners will absolutely love it. Angela Woolfe’s high octane rhyming text trips nicely off the tongue and Duncan Beedie’s comic style illustrations are just brilliant.

That’s Nice Love / Dare We Be Dragons?

That’s Nice, Love
Owen Gent
Book Island

We’ve all seen it many times and probably on occasion been guilty of what the adult in this book does when she accompanies her small child to the park. So distracted is the parent by her mobile that she fails to take a single scrap of notice of anything the excited child says about climbing the big tree.
As the boy ascends he has the most amazing adventures – or perhaps flights of fancy. First a multitude of butterflies dance before him as he gazes skywards; then comes an orchestral recital by a group of squirrels,

followed by a scary moment with snakes. To compensate for that though, a troop of monkeys crowns him king, he helps a super-sleek leopard and becomes its friend and finally, he flies with a bird. As he excitedly informs his parent of each event the child receives merely the response, ‘That’s nice, love.’

On the way home, the boy tells the parent that he sometimes feels distant despite their physical closeness and when the two eventually reach home, the child seems to have got through to the adult by revealing a few items he’s collected.
He’s then invited to regale the entire adventure again. Will that parent do what is promised on future excursions; I hope so …

Portable screens may seem amazing but are no match for the richness of a child’s imagination, stimulated by the wonders of the natural world that may be found in the branches of a single tree.
Owen Gent gives his imagination full rein in a series of sublime sequences that explore and expand the spare verbal narrative.

Also celebrating the imagination is

Dare We Be Dragons?
Barry Falls
Farshore

As a father prepares to bid his daughter goodnight, he embarks on an exciting sequence of flights of fancy, each of which arises out of seemingly ordinary everyday things or events. For when these two go adventuring together even such things as a grassy hill walk becomes a huge erupting volcano, tree trunks morph into giants’ legs and a playground swing is the means for launching them on a moon flight and a sandy shore becomes a place whereon lions play.

There’s a sequence of spreads where Barry Falls splits each one into two : the verso shows the everyday reality and the recto, a show-stoppingly imagined fantasy that occupies the entire page drawing the reader right into the adventure.

Along with a wealth of wonderful worlds to explore so vividly shown, there is a more understated portrayal of the loving bond between parent and child. For this is a playful, supportive father who promises always to be there through the years that constitute that wonderful adventure called life; and so he says in the rhyming narrative that complements those splendidly spirited illustrations.

Nibbles: The Bedtime Book

Nibbles: The Bedtime Book
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger

‘Once upon a bedtime, / it was getting very late, / And a book monster called Nibbles / Was sleeping in his crate …’ So begins this latest adventure of our favourite book devouring monster but anybody who knows Nibbles will immediately realise that sleeping will not be what he’s doing. Instead he’s off in search of favourite tales to chomp through.

The first to receive the toothy treatment is The Ugly Duckling (retold by an anagrammatic alias of Nibbles’ author). Having made waves in that

he proceeds to try his luck with a certain fairytale glass slipper try on and ends up showing his rear end to the newly weds as he exits their ceremony.

Thank goodness then for the next volume he discovers – a book of lullabies.

Can those starry wonders up above the world so high, prevent Nibbles from sinking his gnashers into every single planet in the solar system and sated by their galactic singing, transport him back into bed in time for young readers to bestow upon him one goodnight kiss before he finally drifts off to dreamland? Or maybe some other place … you never know with Nibbles.

A wonderful bedtime read, but equally enjoyable whatever time you choose to share it with young children. Adult readers aloud will have fun identifying their favourite childhood stories among those on the shelves in the book-filled room.

Lord of the Forest

Lord of the Forest
Caroline Pitcher and Jackie Morris
Graffeg

‘Tiger was born fluffy and small, with his eyes tight shut.” So begins this gloriously lyrical fable about a tiger cub that doesn’t fully appreciate until he reaches maturity the meaning of his mother’s words, “The Lord of the Forest is …”.

Roaming the forest where all is new and exciting, or playing with his brothers, the little tiger’s focus is the sounds around: the sap rising in the trees, the slither of snakes, the Monkey’s whooping; he’s even aware of the curling of Chameleon’s tongue and little Gekko’s gulps, the flip of fish and Water-snake sliding down from the logs. His mother says, “When you don’t hear them, when silence burns and time stands still, then my son, be ready.” It’s then he’ll know the Lord of the Forest is present.

As he walks alone, grown considerably now, the tiger still listens and waits for the coming of the Lord of the Forest; but who is he? 

He asks the other forest creatures about this Lord, and the beautiful peacock, the rhinoceros and the enormous elephant all arrogantly claim the title belongs to them. However, Tiger understands that screeching, bellowing, roaring beasts such as these, couldn’t possibly be the one that his mother has readied him to meet. 

He continues searching but it’s not until he’s fully grown, with a mate and cubs of his own, that he discovers the identity of the beast he’s been seeking.

Elegance and humility reign both in Caroline Pitcher’s lyrical telling and Jackie Morris’s awesome art.
Jackie’s stunning watercolours immediately breath life into the creatures she portrays: the dignity and grace of the tiger in particular is palpable, while Caroline Pitcher’s poetic narrative truly transports us to the forest habitat with its magnificent sights and mellifluous sounds.

This enlarged edition of a book first published 18 years ago seems even more beautiful than the original. Sheer joy to read aloud, it’s one to add to family bookshelves and classroom collections.

An Unexpected Thing / Hello Autumn

An Unexpected Thing
Ashling Lindsay
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Little Fred is a fearful child. Unlike most of us who feel frightened from time to time, Fred is fearful almost always, so he spends his days and nights in fear of such things as unexpected loud noises and shadowy shapes
Surprisingly one day a spot appears and unsurprisingly Fred hides himself away, too afraid to look directly at it. Coco also sees the same spot when standing close by in the garden, but her reaction is quite different for what she sees is totally different.

She decides that she can help Fred by trying to get him to see things from her viewpoint. For instance if Fred sees a moon blasted from its orbit whereas Coco sees it as a wind born bubble bobbing along: Fred sees a catastrophic comet, Coco a balloon bearing a birthday wish. Eventually after some discussion, fearful Fred and fearless Coco agree that the spherical object could have been anything.

As a result Fred now feels ready to face his fear.
When something else unknown comes along Fred is able to do something he’d never have done without Coco’s support: he joins her in a voyage of discovery. A friend can make all the difference when it comes to facing things that make us feel unsure or frightened.

This smashing story about finding the courage to go out and explore the world is touching and empowering. Ashling’s use of different perspectives for her beautiful scenes underscores the different viewpoints of the two characters.

On a similar theme is

Hello Autumn
Jo Lindley
Farshore

This story (the second in a sequence) features four friends – the Little Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form. As the book opens they realise that Summer must hand the weather crown to Autumn so the new season can begin. Doing so triggers changes such as the appearance of a chill mist and the heavens turning from green to golden yellow; the friends feel the call of adventure.
Some fun games ensue on the way to the Tick Tock Tree for a leaf romp but the sighting of ripe juicy blackberries causes them to pause and three friends start feasting. Not so Autumn: he worries about such possibilities as pricking a finger, or becoming entangled in the brambles.

A similar thing happens each time one of the others suggests trying something new: what his friends see as fun games, Autumn sees as worrying situations. His weather crown weighs heavy.
When the four reach the Tick Tock Tree with its abundance of fallen leaves, Autumn’s fear mounts even higher as a cascade of terrifying ‘what-ifs’ invade his thoughts. Suddenly there’s a cry for help. Summer is stuck on a branch. What happens after that involves teamwork, resulting in a jumbled tumble and a fear-releasing realisation for Autumn. What a relief; now he’s ready to face the world.

Vibrantly coloured scenes accompany an important message about facing your fears with the support of friends. A cute story and also some gentle learning about seasonal change that’s just right for sharing with foundation stage children.

SuperDaisy

SuperDaisy
Rebecca Smith and Zoe Waring
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young Daisy is an aspiring princess and really feels like a fairy princess when she dons the pink gown and crown from her dressing up box. This make-believe helps Daisy to forget about the less happy parts of her life, for this little girl has cancer and often needs to go and stay in a hospital far from her home to have medicine that makes her feel sick and weak. Worse though is that the medicine causes her hair to fall out.

Then back at home she rediscovers that forgotten pink sparkly wig and when she puts it on, Daisy is transformed into Daisy the Superhero complete with flowing cape and matching shimmery mask. Wearing this amazing attire Daisy transports herself to the town zoo where she comes to the aid of some lemurs being cruelly frightened by a boy.

She goes on to rescue a bear trapped beneath a fallen tree in the forest and to help a little girl at the seaside who has dropped her ice-cream in fright when a seagull came too close. Now when she’s back in that ward for treatment Daisy wears her pink hair, bolstered by the knowledge that her kindness power has made her a superhero able to face anything.

Eventually Daisy’s hair grows back: the wig has done its job and more.

This inspiring, uplifting rhyming book based on a true story is published in support of the Little Princess Trust, which supplies wigs for children with cancer. With its plethora of pink touches as well as that wig in Zoe Waring’s illustrations, this is definitely one to share with youngsters like Daisy undergoing cancer treatment (or perhaps sick with another serious illness).

Leila The Perfect Witch / Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches

Leila The Perfect Witch
Flavia Z.Drago
Walker Books

Young Leila is a multi-talented little witch with awards for fast flying, cunning conjuring, sneaky shape-shifting and crafty carving. However, there’s one trophy she longs to add to the display cabinet – her dream is to win the Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off. Leila comes from a long line of baking experts and this year she’s at last old enough to enter the contest and has high hopes of claiming the prize. Then comes a big shock: in contrast to her other endeavours, Leila finds that the requisite skills for becoming an expert in the Dark Arts of Patisserie elude her. Not so her determination however. She eschews having fun with her siblings and devotes her time to creating that perfect recipe – with disheartening results. What will her family think? It’s not what she anticipated.

Instead, her sisters offer to help. Leila accepts, learns a lot and thoroughly enjoys the time they spend together.

When the night of the event arrives, she overcomes her nerves and does her best.
Leila doesn’t win that trophy but she does learn something very important: there’s more than one way to feel like a winner and sharing an experience and being supported by a loving family are wins for her.

Take one little witch, a supportive family, a froggy friend, a bowlful of whimsy, lashings of visual humour, spoon in a visitor from another picture book, mix them all together and the result is a very sweet, satisfying story with an agreeable message.

Winnie and Wilbur: The Festival of Witches
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

Winnie and Wilbur have been enchanting children for about thirty-five years and still the magic holds good. Now it’s time for the two of them to have a holiday – a very special one on an island in the middle of the ocean. So, with suitcase packed off they fly to the Festival of Witches. It’s an amazing event attended by witches from all over the world and a considerable number of cats too.

There are opportunities to learn new spells, dance, sing, eat lots and generally have a great time. When she’s about to depart, Winnie receives lots of invitations from other witches to come and pay them a visit; these Winnie stashes in her suitcase. Now this had happened on previous occasions but Winnie had never responded to any such invitations. However after a few days in her own home, Winnie begins to miss the company of the other witches. Out come those invitations and she goes through them.

Selecting four places to visit, Winnie and Wilbur go first to a tree house, then to a mountain top residence, a seashore castle owned by three witches and finally, a lighthouse.

Once again though, the peace and quiet of home on their return is a tad underwhelming; but then …

Korky Paul’s vibrant, richly detailed illustrations of the diverse witch community and their interactions will keep youngsters entertained for hours, long after they’ve heard this thoroughly enjoyable story read aloud.

The Island / Sarah Rising

These are two picture books that deal with current political events and issues.

The Island
Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin

This is probably even more pertinent today than when it was first published in the UK around fifteen years ago.

Washed ashore on his inadequate raft is a man, different from the islanders, which causes them to fear him, but a fisherman persuades the others to take him in. Reluctantly they do so but immediately send him to a deserted part of the island, locking him in a goat pen and leaving him alone. One morning though, the man appears in the town and again is met with hostility except from the fisherman who suggests the possibility of finding a job for the stranger. Excuses pour forth

and the man is returned to the pen but the islanders are increasingly hostile and eventually they reject him completely, savagely driving him with their farming implements, back into the sea.

They turn on the fisherman too, setting fire to his boat and fuelled by their fear, they erect a huge wall around their island to deter further newcomers.

With his brilliant combination of words and deliberately ugly unforgettable images, it feels to me as though Greder is holding up a mirror to the all too many people – including some in positions of power – who are unashamedly hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers. They are the ones who really need to read this book with its themes of prejudice, racism, xenophobia and human rights. With those intensely disturbing scenes of viciousness to another member of the human race, it’s impossible not to feel disgust and shame at such attitudes.

Sarah Rising
Ty Chapman and DeAnn Wiley
Beaming Books

This first person narrative is presented by young Sarah whose day starts in the usual way having breakfast, feeding her insect pets and packing her things in her school bag. But then her Dad gives her some news that changes things completely: he tells her that the police have ‘killed another Black person.’ “They’re supposed to serve and protect us … but they hurt us instead.” ‘ He takes his daughter along to a protest; she joins the throng demanding justice and in so doing she sees for herself the cruel way a police officer attacks a harmless butterfly. Sarah rescues the butterfly left lying on the ground

and rejoins the marching crowd but suddenly realises that in so doing she’s lost her Dad. However with the help of a kindly woman who sees her distress, together with her own inner strength, she gradually overcomes her fear and is eventually reunited with her Dad. A scary experience for first time activist Sarah but one that will surely be the first of many demonstrations of dissent designed to make a crucial difference.

Vividly illustrated by DeAnn Wiley whose scenes include one showing murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were brutally killed by the US police – a vivid reminder of these terrible events. If a girl like Sarah can make a difference so can youngsters everywhere: backmatter includes some suggestions of ways to create change in a community.

Where Have You Been, Little Cat?

Where Have You Been, Little Cat?
Richard Jones
Simon & Schuster

On returning after a day outside, a little cat’s owner is eager to learn what the moggy has been doing. ‘Where did you go?’ she asks, going on to pose a series of further questions. These comprise almost all of the simple straightforward text. What we’re shown in Richard Jones’ storytelling sequence of illustrations offers one possible way of filling in the gaps left by his words. It involves a coming together of cats,

a crown, a special event suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a canine intruder, a confrontation,

a resolution and finally, a return home with a very warm welcome.

Young readers and listeners pouring over the playful pictures still have room to imagine their own interpretation of the events or indeed, invent their own stories. They will surely notice the bit part players – three small red birds and a tiny mouse.

Rich in possibilities, this is a story that children will enjoy returning to over and over again.

Eco Girl

Eco Girl
Ken Max-Wilson
Otter-Barry Books

Eve loves the forest beside her home; she loves the animals and birds, but most of all she loves the trees, her favourite being the Baobab tree. Do those trees talk to one another, she wonders wishing that she could be a Baobab and hence talk to the other trees. To be a tree is to be patient her mother tells her and later her father says that each tree plays its own special role in caring for the living things in the world.
Soon after, on a pre birthday visit to her Grandma deep in the forest, after remembering to be patient on their long walk, Eve asks her grandmother, “Would you talk to me if I was a Baobab tree?” Delighted by the response and Grandma’s mention of the next day being a special day, Eve can hardly wait.

Next morning, she gets a magical surprise. Carrying something, Grandma leads her into the forest.

What could it be? It’s something very special that Eve must plant, love and take care of, something that will connect her for ever with the forest she so delights in. That, she proudly assures her Grandma, is something she definitely can do. Many happy returns of the day, Eco Girl.

Heart-warming and inspiring, this is a lovely demonstration of the importance of planting and nurturing trees wherever you live in the world. I love the vibrant colours of the illustrations, especially the variety of greens in the forest landscape.

(After the story are some tree facts including a mention of Wangari Maathai who started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.)

The Huddle

The Huddle
Sean Julian
Oxford Children’s Books

When albatross chick, Alba, feels the time is right she spreads her wings and taking advantage of the wind, takes to the air. Her flight takes her away from everything familiar and as she searches the sea beneath for food, she fails to notice the huge wave coming up behind. Crash! Alba lands up on a rocky shore but her wing is damaged to that it won’t move. Exhausted and in pain, Alba falls asleep.
When she wakes, she sees a penguin close by. The penguin drops a fish beside her.

Over the days and weeks, more friendly penguins come sometimes bringing her fish, but always making Alba feel cared for and safe from potential harm. Alba loves the playful penguins and little by little she forgets about flying through the sky. Then one day at sundown she notices that her friends look troubled. Dark storm clouds are brewing and there’s a chill wind. The penguins huddle protectively around her

and eventually she falls asleep encircled in their love. After many days the storm abates and Alba wakes to see lots of excited penguin activity as the sun begins to come up on the horizon. Her friends stretch out their wings expectantly, not to fly but to feel its rays. For Alba though, with her wing now mended, it is departure time. Difficult though it is, she stretches out her wings and lifts off to the sound of cheering penguins. Penguins that she will never forget; she’ll cherish those memories and use that love she felt in their company as a model for raising her very own little chick.

The care and concern shown by that penguin colony is a wonderful example of how a simple act of kindness can make all the difference to a struggling individual. Despite its Antarctic setting, this story leaves you with a wonderful warm feeling inside. Sean Julian’s illustrations convey so well both the chill of the landscape and the compassion of the penguins.

When Mino Took the Bus

When Mino Took the Bus
Simon Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books

When he turns eight weeks old, young chipmunk, Mino must bid his mother farewell and set out into the world alone. With the instructions he’s been given running through his mind and his ticket at the ready, Mino excitedly boards the bus to the very last stop. He can hardly wait to reach his destination where he will find his future home, plant his seeds and watch them grow. To help pass the time Mino chats to the driver, shows him his leaf collection and asks, “How can you spend all day waiting to arrive?’ Guido responds thus, “ I often think the journey is just as important as the destination.”

As the journey continues other passengers come on board. First there’s Béatrice who shares her snacks with Milo and receives one of his seeds in return; then others who treat Milo with varying degrees of friendliness. Sometimes the bus stops to allow the passengers to have a little walk and perhaps find something of interest to show each other and especially Milo.

The hours aboard the bus pass almost without notice as Milo is surrounded by his new friends and he decides to collect the memories they share with him. Some passengers depart

and eventually the bus comes to its last stop. None of the remaining passengers hurry to get out and embrace the future but eventually each one leaves and having had to retrace his steps and give the driver something, Mino sets off to find that new home.

What matters most in Simona’s uplifting story so enchantingly illustrated, are the small moments the friends have shared, those are the ones they will remember and cherish.

The Circles in the Sky

The Circles in the Sky
Karl James Mountford
Walker Books

After reading this intensely powerful fable-like picture book I needed to sit quietly and just be for a while.

Having spent a night hunting, Fox is reluctant to leave his den, despite the disturbing chorus of birds outside; but follow the sound he must so strange and different does it sound. He follows the birds across the rushing river, past the forgotten house and through the old woodlands to a place where many kinds of flowers grow: an entirely new place for Fox. He also misses the birds huddled in a circle on the ground till they suddenly take to the air, but one is left there, lying quite still. Nothing Fox tries can make this broken Bird move but unbeknown to him his attempts have been watched by Moth.

Moth starts to talk to Fox; she talks of the moon reflecting the sun’s rays, even long after sundown. Fox remains puzzled until Moth explains that the bird is dead. “I was trying to be kind,” she tells Fox. “Sad things are hard to hear. They are pretty hard to say, too. They should be told in little pieces. Bird isn’t here any more … because … Bird is dead.” As the realisation dawns for Fox, Moth offers him comfort and the two sit and share their sadness for a while. Further understanding follows for Fox – like the moon always remembering the sun, he can remember Bird.

Yes, death is a confusing time for those left, as Mountford shows, but equally he offers through Moth a model of being there for the grievers, a simple ritual for saying goodbye and most important of all, hope.

Using earthy hues of the natural world that starkly contrast with the black of sinewy Fox, Moth and Bird, geometric shapes including circles aplenty, straight lines and angles, James’ art captures so wonderfully both the stillness of things gone and the movement of living things.

Not a single hint of talking down to children is there in this awesome book, just a beautiful message beautifully presented.

You need To Chill! / I Believe in Me

You Need to Chill!
Juno Dawson and Laura Hughes
Farshore

The narrator of this upbeat rhyming picture book has an older brother, Bill; but her friends haven’t seen him for a while and want to know what has happened: where is he? They put forward all manner of possibilities that could account for his absence but from our narrator come denials that all end “And, hun you need to chill.”

However these friends are persistent, caring and determined, till finally comes the revelation, “… The truth is that my brother Bill … is now my sister Lily.’ Yes it may have been something of a shock initially but despite her new name and looks, much remains the same: she’s still as kind, funny and clever as ever; her family all love her.

Both Juno Dawson’s words and Laura Hughes’ pictures are full of warmth and a gentle humour: with its themes of identity, kinship and acceptance this inclusive story beautifully conveys its message in a manner that allows young children to take what they need and ask questions if they want further explanations. Fiction books such as this one are a very good way of opening discussion with primary children in PSHE sessions: such discussions help children learn that differences make the world a much more interesting place.

I Believe In Me
Emma Dodd
Templar Books

In conversation as the two swim together through the swampy landscape, a little crocodile speaks of the self belief the Mother crocodile has instilled in her offspring. Knowing one can do anything if only you try; the importance of never giving up if something goes wrong, as well as telling yourself that those dark days are always followed by brighter ones if you keep reaching for the sky, are key for little humans as well as little crocodiles. That way keeps the entire world open for you to forge your path through life, optimistic and confident in yourself. So says this inspiring little book through Emma’s simple rhyming text and bold digital illustrations, some with gold foil, that perfectly capture the little croc’s sentiments. 

Whisper on the Wind / Iceberg

These are two picture books from Allen & Unwin – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Whisper on the Wind
Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

A gorgeous, lyrical cumulative tale celebrating the ocean and its wonders with equally gorgeous watercolour illustrations that perfectly capture the words and spirit of Claire’s writing.
Young Ren lies asleep dreaming in her lighthouse bedroom: ‘This is the whisper / in Ren’s dream’ we read, as the wind captures that whisper whisking it across a moonbeam lit dreamscape filled with playful fish and dolphins diving in the swirling sea.

It reaches a small sailing boat whereon a sailor with a net catches the whisper, fathoms its message and knows just where she must go. And so she does in good time for a perfect start to the day for two people, for love has a special power of its own.

Childhood magic is encapsulated in both Claire Saxby’s multi-layered text and Jess Racklyeft’s powerfully evocative illustrations that together gently pull you into the ocean’s depths and back to safety on land once more.

By the same creators, and now in paperback is

Iceberg
Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft

In a poetic text sophisticated and yet accessible, Claire presents the life story of an iceberg through the changing seasons of its Antarctic location. To read it aloud is music to the ear; to gaze at each richly layered illustration is to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of an awe-inspiring landscape. To experience the two together is artistic richness indeed.

As you open the first page prepare to be taken on a journey above and below the ocean: you will see penguin tracks, orcas’ shadowy shapes and spy seals and seabirds – terns and cormorants – and a multitude of other life forms that are all part and parcel of an environment that is at the same time seemingly endless, full of life, capable of renewing itself, yet frighteningly fragile.

Such a brilliant gatefold illustration

This stunning book draws our attention to the melting Antarctic snows, suggesting subtly during the journey and asking much more strongly in an afterword, that we humans do everything within our power to address the effects climate change is having and will increasingly have, and thus protect and preserve the fauna and flora of an environment that is unlike any other.

All the Animals Were Sleeping / Amazing Animal Treasury

All the Animals Were Sleeping
Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Lovlie
Nosy Crow

Author Clare and illustrator Jenny transport readers to the dry, grassy plains of the Serengeti where a little mongoose makes his way back to his burrow. As he scurries beneath the darkening sky he encounters in turn giraffes, vervet monkeys, zebras, a herd of elephants – ‘The Elephants’ ears draped like sails. Their trunks muzzled in the dry, dusty ground.’ 

storks, a monitor lizard near the riverbank, 

spotted butterflies and a cheetah family, all of which are sleeping, each in their own way. Finally under a star-filled sky, the little mongoose reaches the burrow where he joins his sisters and brothers curled up with a parent and then he too closes his eyes and at last it truly is a case of All the Animals Were Sleeping.

Lyrically written and strikingly illustrated with gorgeous details of the featured fauna and background flora, this is a gorgeous book to share at bedtime or indeed any time. (After the main narrative are three pages with information about each the animals featured in the story and about the Serengeti itself.)
Add to KS1 topic boxes and family bookshelves.

Amazing Animal Treasury
Chris Packham, illustrated by Jason Cockroft
Red Shed

This large volume brings together all three of Chris Packham and Jason Cockcroft’s titles: Amazing Animal Babies, Amazing Animal Homes and Amazing Animal Journeys.
Chris uses a simple, direct and clear writing style appropriate for the intended young audience and there’s an absolute wealth of information here as readers join a group of explorers who travel the world observing various creatures and in particular their young. There are froglets, baby Komodo dragons, albatross chicks as well as baby earthworms, tiger cubs and meerkat pups and we learn something of how they feed and attempt to stay alive.

Just like we humans, animals need somewhere secure and safe to be a family, a place that is home.
It might be in a building already constructed, it could be underground, in or near water, in a tree but some creatures – banded snails for instance – have ready-made homes. 

Certain animals live in colonies, African termites are one example but others have to work hard to create a safe place just for one (a Bark spider, say). There is so much to discover about Animal Homes and this is a great place to start.

With just the right amount of detail as before, Journeys explains why animals migrate and presents some of those that do including the ‘masters of migration’ – leatherback turtles, red crabs, wildebeest, free-tailed bats, the monarch butterfly and blackcap birds as well as others that make much shorter, but vital, journeys.

For young animal enthusiasts and school collections; it’s ideal for the foundation stage and just beyond.

I Remember

I Remember
Jeanne Willis and Raquel Catalina
Nosy Crow

George’s grandma, Kathleen, is having trouble remembering things, even recognising her grandson. When he visits her one afternoon she’s forgotten that the last time he called was just the previous day. George however, is full of love and acceptance of his grandma’s forgetfulness and they share a wonderful time together as they eat a chocolate biscuit between them and go to play outside in the garden wearing their blue coats. Kathleen has a problem with her buttons

and then as they walk out together she explains how she is able to recall being five but is unable to remember what she did just five minutes earlier.

In the garden George involves his gran in some pretend play with her as an astronaut, himself as pilot of their spaceship (the garden bench) and the pigeons as aliens. When George climbs a tree, Kathleen suddenly becomes anxious but he quickly comes to her rescue and they go in together. There’s further confusion and George reminds her who he is as they look at a photo of when they were both younger.

After shedding a few tears, Kathleen joins her grandson in a song and dance until they’re both in need of a rest.

All ends happily with George knowing that even though her mind might forget, her heart never does: that shared love will always be there transcending all else

This is an important and beautifully told story of the effects of dementia, memory loss and confusion ,, the effects of which some children may well recognise in people they know and love. George’s way of dealing with how Kathleen is affected will reassure youngsters and Raquel Catalina’s brilliantly expressive illustrations portray the intergenerational love between the two characters perfectly. A real treasure for sharing at home or in school.

The Odd Fish / How to Spot a Dinosaur

Introducing two recent Farshore picture books – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

The Odd Fish
Naomi Jones and James Jones

The inspiration for this eco-tale came from the author and illustrator’s then two year old son watching Blue Planet 11 and being unable to differentiate between the real fish and the plastic floating in the ocean. Equally unable to do so is the helpful Little Fish out swimming with her family who comes upon Odd Fish bob, bobbing along alone and assumes that he’s become separated from his family and must be lonely. She suggests she and her shoal help find them and while searching they come upon a seashorse who says that if they follow the current they will find others like Odd Fish. They swim on and come upon and untangle Octopus caught up in a fishing net, have a narrow escape, come to the aid of a turtle endeavouring to eat a plastic bag

and finally there in front of Little Fish is a whole school of odd fish of various shapes, sizes and colours: ‘There’s too many odd fish to count! Where did they all come from?’

The placing of text and images ensures this gentle story flows along beautifully and it’s impossible to avoid the fact that sadly we humans have to take responsibility for what Little Fish encounters – a huge mass of plastic that is a constant danger to the creatures of our oceans. Naomi reminds readers of this on a final spread stating that around 12,000,000 tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and asks everyone at home and in school to help reduce this terrible, potentially deadly, pollution.

How to Spot a Dinosaur
Suzy Senior and Dan Taylor

In Suzy Senior’s bouncy rhyming tale of dinosaur hunting in the park we join two dino-enthusiasts, a sister, and her brother who acts as narrator,. Armed with a book of dino-facts and binoculars, the siblings are sure they’re going to find a fair few of these stomping, roarsome creatures. However after several incidences of mistaken identity,

their enthusiasm turns to disappointment and despair; but then the snack man suggests another location to try. Off they go again until they reach a huge building and lo and behold …

Suddenly a fearsome “ROAAAARRRR!” sends them fleeing for their lives, so they think, but perhaps this too is a case of mistaken identity that can only be relieved by slices of cake and cold drinks. Perhaps then the siblings could be persuaded to take another look inside that large building they dashed from.
After an exciting day it’s time to head for home, safe in the knowledge that there’s no need to bother looking out for dinosaurs as they died out long, long ago …

There’s a gentle nod to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in this lively quest for prehistoric reptiles that continue to be many young children’s favourite storybook creatures. Such dino-fans will definitely love the various misidentifications shown in Dan Taylor’s humorous scenes of the determined dinosaur seekers.

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends

Greek Heroes: Top Ten Myths and Legends
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

Well-known for her adaptations of classic tales into comic strip format for younger readers, Marcia Williams has chosen ten heroes almost all of whom are male to present in this collection and all having the requisite characteristics – strength, looks, charm and brains. Marcia lists ten heroic essentials on the opening spread then goes on to introduce the gods of Olympus, they who hold in their hands the fate of every would-be hero, most importantly those we meet in this book.

I love the way a cheeky Pan puts down his musical pipes and moves around the beautiful borders augmenting Marcia’s comic strips with his interjections, as readers meet first Perseus, slayer of the gorgon Medusa; Bellerophon destroyer of the Chimera, who loses his winged horse Pegasus in so-doing, and then Atlanta – she who uses her spear to kill a monstrous boar.

The remaining encounters are with Jason, Achilles – he of the vulnerable heel; daring Heracles who spent ten years undertaking the ten labours set by King Eurystheus; Theseus, the stunningly beautiful Psyche, tragic lovers Orpheus and Eurydice and finally, Odysseus of Trojan horse fame who blinds the Cyclops, resists the song of the Sirens is captured and kept for seven years by a nymph, Calypso and finally returns home to his wife Penelope who has trouble recognising him after so long apart.

This is enormous fun for individual readers and a terrific primary classroom resource.

The World at your Feet

The World at your Feet
Karl Newson and Clara Anganuzzi
Studio Press

What a wonderful title for this book, the theme of which is hugely important for children in these times of increasing uncertainty about so many things in a world that I know for some of them, feels scary and out of control.

On the first spread we see a small child standing alongside a group of friendly-looking animals accompanied by Karl’s words that open the dialogue, ‘Who? What? Where? Why? I don’t really know but I’ll give it a try.’
The child/creature conversation continues throughout the book assuring youngsters that it’s okay if you don’t always have the answers. 

What is important is to try your best, be your best self and yes there will be things that don’t work out; there will be things and people that you’ll leave behind or, perhaps lose, although their memories remain, ready to be triggered, sometimes unexpectedly.

There’s a big wide world out there waiting to be shared, to be explored and to be appreciated for its beauty and its diversity. 

All this and much more are conveyed both through Karl’s empowering rhyming narrative and Clara’s stunningly beautiful scenes of the child exploring that world with those animal friends we met on the opening spread.

A superb combination of words and pictures that gently encourage youngsters to go out, discover their potential and to be creators of their own story. A gorgeous uplifting book to share with the children in your life be that at home, in school or anywhere else you can.

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours / Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast

Kitsy Bitsy’s Noisy Neighbours
Polly Faber and Melissa Crowton
Nosy Crow

Life is peaceful in Park View Rise until that is, the sounds of diva Honky Tonk practising her scales and weight lifter Hunky Dory’s exercise regime travels downwards to awaken Tippy Toes’ baby from a much-needed nap, whose wailing upsets Smart Alec hard at work on his latest book. He then resorts to a spot of cacophonous DIY instead and so on until there’s total chaos with flying cakes and other sweet confections.

However just as a fight is breaking out, ground floor resident, Kitsy Bitsy, senses something is amiss and up the stairs she goes to act as peacemaker and guide in how to move forward after the issues her fellow residents have unwittingly caused.

The combination of Polly Faber’s roll off the tongue rhyming text and Melissa Crowton’s comical scenes of the ever increasing chaos and its solution, make this a smashing read aloud to share at home or with a class. Listeners will love the funny names of the characters and their activities, as well as exploring the wealth of detailed illustrations in this celebration of community and high-rise living. 

Blue Badger and the Big Breakfast
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

In this second story, despite a blue tinge around his rear Badger no longer feels blue; how could he when he has a delicious breakfast of blue berries to feast upon. 

His best pal Dog however is decidedly sad on account of his lost ball; but even when he discovers this, Badger continues consuming his berries. Has he though unknowingly consumed Dog’s ball too? Owl’s remark certainly makes him think it’s a possibility so Badger goes off and offers to play with Dog. Will he do anything else besides?

With a witty finale, this tale of friendship and putting right what you may however unintentionally have done wrong, will with its deadpan humour both verbal and visual, make child audiences and those who share it with them laugh. The observant among them will also long to shout out to Badger what they’ve noticed but he obviously hasn’t, so busy sating his appetite is he.

The Worry Jar

The Worry Jar
Lou John and Jenny Bloomfield
Oxford Children’s Books

Frida is an inveterate worrier; she worries about big things and little things. She also collects pebbles and the weight of her worries feels as heavy as that of the pebbles; indeed she picks up one for every worry. It might be the weather, what she should wear to walk to school, has she packed everything in her school bag. When she arrives, she worries about where to sit in class and what to do at playtime. All these things leave her rather left out of things and weighed down with pebbles. Then at playtime she comes upon a shiny black pebble on the ground and puts it in her pocket. Still she worries though, about having tea with a friend and at bedtime, about a lost toy, Rabbit. Instead of her usual cuddly companion, she takes her new pebble to bed; it’s warm and smooth. Could it work as a substitute for Rabbit perhaps.

The worries continue all week; then on Sunday, Frida’s favourite day her beloved Granny comes to visit. Granny senses her anxiety and as the two make jam together, she tells Frida that everybody has worries, even herself, and worrying only makes things worse.

Perhaps Granny’s large empty jar might help as a collector of Frida’s worry pebbles? It’s definitely worth a try, so in go all the pebbles save her special black one. Several days pass: has Frida finally been able to put that black pebble in the jar with the others? What do you think?

Perceptive and empathetic: Lou John’s telling with Jenny Bloomfield’s carefully observed illustrations that are full of sensitivity and beautifully capture Frida’s emotions throughout, show young children that it is possible to manage those anxious feelings that beset us all from time to time.

Everything Changes / When You Joined Our Family

Everything Changes
Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland
Little Tiger

A parental break up is never easy for a young child and it’s certainly challenging for the young narrator of this picture book.

Clare Helen Welsh is a perceptive and skilled writer who handles difficult topics with great sensitivity, always keeping in mind that she’s creating a compelling story that is also a source of acknowledgement, guidance, and comfort. Through her sensitive words and Åsa Gilland’s exquisite illustrations we see and feel the emotional upheaval of the child from the time Mummy and Daddy announce one summer’s day against the backdrop of the seashore, that they can no longer live together.

The parents in this story both clearly very much love their child and using the natural world against which to have this story unfold is, like The Perfect Shelter, inspired. Herein we see the changing seasons as we follow the changes in the life of the three characters through the eyes of the child. Autumn brings a new house for dad, a garden with trees that shed their leaves forming a ‘blanket of red and orange’ and strong wind that causes the little one to wonder, ‘Was it my fault?’ Dad’s reassuring explanation in response calms his daughter’s inner turbulence however and her worries dissipate.

Winter brings snowy days and discussions with both mum and dad, further reassurance of their love for the narrator for ‘ it isn’t about hoping that the storm will pass … it’s about learning to dance in the raindrops!’

The story ends with a celebratory sixth birthday gathering of adults and children and the uplifting narrative conclusion, that change can bring good things and once you know that, everything changes. Åsa Gilland uses a changing colour palette for her striking illustrations that capture superbly the gamut of emotions and the different seasons of the text.

When You Joined Our Family
Harriet Evans and Nia Tudor
Little Tiger

This is a wonderfully warm look at the experience of adoption and a celebration belonging in a family, seen through the eyes of several adopters. Love is the key element that unites a family and love is what shines out from Nia Tudor’s illustrations on every spread.

The children adopted might look different from their new parent(s), be differently abled, tiny babies or of school age, it matters not. In this book we share in the entire adoption experience from those very first meetings to feeling a part of something unique and special:

there’s excitement, strangeness, reassurances, pride, unconditional love, a sharing of stories, sometimes the meeting of a new brother or sister and the beginning of new family traditions. All this is presented through a straightforward, affirmative text and Nia Tudor’s beautifully patterned, details illustrations that underscore the positive nature of Harriet’s words.

Both books are musts for primary school collections. I’d also recommend any family experiencing a break up to get hold of Everything Changes, and any new adoptive parents to have a copy of When You Joined Our Family to share.

Together With You

Together With You
Patricia Toht and Jarvis
Walker Books

No matter the weather or the season, the small child in this absolutely gorgeous book enjoys every moment with his beloved grandmother. In spring suitably clad and wearing wellies, a sudden
shower doesn’t wet the two as they dash side by side beneath a large umbrella.

Summer is a time for shorts, sprinkler hosing and sucking sweet ice-lollies together then cooling down under a shady tree. Come autumn it’s time for warmer clothes – a sweater and cosy hat for gran and a fleece and snuggly scarf for the boy narrator as they take advantage of the strong winds for some kite flying fun.

Winter’s chilly days are for wrapping up in soft thick quilts, pulling on furry slippers and sharing a story together especially when it’s followed by delicious hot drinks – peppermint tea for gran and cocoa topped with marshmallows for her grandson. It’s definitely a cuddle right up close season.
Having said all that, it matters not what the weather is, as Patricia Toht’s rhyming narrative confirms, ‘every day spent with you is the very best thing.’ Memories are created from the everyday events they turn into adventures.

Come rain or shine, sweltering heat or frost and snow, Jarvis’ illustrations exude warmth and love at every turn of the page. The jewel-like colours are simply beautiful and the details in every scene, sheer delight.

Grandmothers in particular will love spending time sharing this treasure of a book with their young grandchildren over and over again.

Tell Me a Lion Story

Tell Me a Lion Story
Kara Kramer
Walker Books

Gently opening one of his eyes, a little girl wakes her snoozing dad and demands he tells her a story – not one of the familiar ‘Once upon a time’ kind but a NEW story about a lion. However it matters not what dad says or how exciting it sounds, the little girl isn’t happy with what’s said: the lion need not be bigger than the sofa, nor smaller than a button 

and that ‘not-so-big-not-so-little lion’ is definitely not called Fred. 

Somewhat nonplussed by his daughter’s constant naysaying Dad suggests they compose the story together with him providing the structural elements and the girl filling in the gaps with details of her choosing (this is where the reader of the book comes in with their own ideas.) Where the lion lives ‘The buildings are made of ——-, gardens that grow singing ——— , shops that sell ———-, and fountains filled with delicious ————- .’ The lion invents a flying ———- . ‘ ROAR! Off he flies into space

destination an unknown planet that he names ———– and sets out to explore.
Inevitably all this is tiring work and eventually the hero returns home, dons his pyjamas and thus the book turns into a bedtime tale. Y-A-W-N.

Kara Kramer’s mixed media illustrations are huge fun and observant readers/listeners will notice details such as the headlines on Dad’s newspaper and that his daughter’s toy lion morphs into the protagonist of the story they co-create. Hugely (dare I say it without fear of interruption from a little girl) imaginative and full of interactive possibilities: a great book to share with one child, several or perhaps even a class.

Snakes on the Job / Ebb and Flo and the Greedy Gulls

Snakes on the Job
Kathryn Dennis
Walker Books

The Snakes on a Train have become construction vehicle operators in charge of a variety of vehicles – bulldozers, diggers, dump trucks, loaders, cranes and more. ‘They slide into trucks and roll out slow. Hisssssssssssss goes the sound of the brakes.’

Midway through the operation, up rolls a food truck to provide lunch for the workers then it’s back to work once again.
The fruits of their labours is a wonderful surprise revealed just before the end of the story and it looks such a terrific endeavour that some friendly hamsters want to join the fun. What will the response of the snakes be? …
With that repeat sibilant sound and other wordplay, this is an enjoyable read aloud for little ones. They’ll love the bright digital art and the simple tale wherein teamwork is paramount. One to add to your nursery collection or home shelves if you have very young children,

Ebb and Flo and the Greedy Gulls
Jane Simmons
Graffeg

Jane Simmons is a brilliant illustrator and it’s really good to see Graffeg gradually bringing this series with its hugely likeable Ebb and Flo characters back into print. As always there are small disasters – in this instance Ebb gets wrongly blamed for consuming all the sandwiches during the beach picnic. Inevitably the dog is upset and goes off to sulk in her favourite place. Eventually Mum and Flo realise who the real sandwich snatchers are but by this time Ebb has drifted out to sea in the boat. Sulking certainly hasn’t paid off, but will Ebb reach the shore safely? Let’s just say, all’s well that ends well: three characters have learned a lesson but not so the marauding picnic pinchers.

Molly and the Dolphins / I See the Sea

Molly and the Dolphins
Malachi Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

In Molly’s sixth adventure she receives a very special present from her father: a lovely little dinghy that she names The Mermaid. Every morning the two set out in it and Molly learns how to read the wind, trim the sails and ride the waves; however her father begs that she doesn’t try sailing solo until he’s sure she’s ready. One day when out together Molly spies a pod of dolphins and they surround their boat. One dolphin Molly names Dot swims with them every day. Later on though, she’s joined by a tiny dolphin: Dot has a baby.

Eventually Molly’s father declares that she’s ready to sail solo and under his watchful eye off she sets, just her, her boat and the birds under the sky. Suddenly she notices that something untoward has happened to her dolphin friend: the baby is caught up in a fishing net.

Fortunately Molly’s father is able to free it, then throughout the summer Molly shows her human friends Dylan and Amina how to sail while the dolphins play around their boat. A wonderful season passes all too soon and then come the darker, shorter days and Molly realises there are no dolphins.

Suddenly the wind changes direction taking girl and boat far from home. Now Molly is in need of help: how will she find her way back to the safety of the harbour?

With dramatic illustrations and an important ecological message, this is another treat from team Doyle and Whitson.

I See the Sea
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

The eye staring out from the front cover of this book is repeated by use of a die-cut connecting hole, which builds up creating concentric circles that form a part of different sea creatures when the pages are turned as readers participate in a game of aquatic I spy discovering in turn a whale, dolphins, an octopus, rays, a turtle, lobsters – nocturnal hunters they, squid, shimmering seahorses,

more fish and finally plankton silently drifting. There is so much to see and enjoy in Julia’s illustrations for this ocean foray that truly captures its awesomeness and majesty while her lyrical narrative beginning ‘I SEE’ on each spread evokes the wonders of the diverse marine life and flows beautifully from one spread to the next throughout.

Backmatter comprises further information about each of the creatures depicted and about environmental threats to our oceans and many of the species completes this strikingly beautiful picture book. It’s surely one that will both capture the imaginations of child readers and at the same time, inspire them to find out more about the astonishing life beneath the waves.

The Blue-footed Booby

The Blue-footed Booby
Rob Biddulph
Harper Collins Children’s Books

A laugh-out-loud rhyming tale from Rob Biddulph: what more can a picture book lover ask? This one is all about boobies – the red-footed variety – all of which are at heart, bakers creating fantastic delicacies like those of Desmond whose speciality is frangipani tarts. His latest creation however has vanished but of the culprit there is no sign save a trail of large blue footprints. Immediately Desmond is in hot pursuit ‘Left footprint … right footprint … dash through the snow!’ First stop is Maureen’s establishment but there’s no time to partake of her delectable doughnuts, there are footprints to follow and now two boobies are following them. They have to eschew Rod’s black forest gateau next but he’s willing to join the hunt, as are others until there are ten boobies dashing down the street on their bright red feet.

The trail stops outside a house with a small blue door, 

which is opened by a booby but not seemingly of the red-footed sort; this booby’s feet are – you’ve guessed it – bright blue. Apparently this bird consumes only vegetables of the green kind, is he telling the truth though? Desmond isn’t sure but then he notices a new clue in the form of tart crumbs so it’s now a case of look smart and follow the crumb trail all the way back in the direction they’ve come. Where though are all the other yummy, cake treats? 

Eventually the trail leads the ten to a clearing in the woods from whence there comes a tell tale sound of munching …

Maybe it’s time to apologise for jumping to false conclusions Des, and to make amends for so doing … But that’s not quite the end of this crazy tale. Cakes anybody? Or would you prefer some green veggies?

With the occasional red herring and a handful of additional objects to search for during the story, this is Biddulph at his priceless and silliest best.

The Perfect Present / Tofu Takes Time

The Perfect Present
Petr Horáček
Otter-Barry Books

Mot and Tom are the best of friends; they also share a birthday on which they exchange gifts. Tom gives Mot a multi-coloured feather which his friend imagines might be from the world’s most spectacular bird. Mot gives Tom a marble, also multi-coloured; could that perhaps be the universe’s smallest planet. Tom would love to give his friend an entire ocean alive with creatures large and small, perhaps even a monster

and a host of wild animals like lions, monkeys and an elephant. Mot’s choices to give Tom are hills, rivers, forests and mountains, the sun too.

Having spent a long time in all these imaginings the two friends go outdoors to play in the rain

and then back indoors after a bath together they share a scrumptious birthday tea. I wonder what Tom and Mot decided was the best present of all as they snuggled down ready for sleep.

Petr Horáček’s vibrant mixed media illustrations radiate the warmth these two moggy pals share in this gorgeous celebration of friendship and the power of the imagination that’s perfect for giving and sharing with young humans on any day but perhaps birthdays especially.

Also showing the importance of spending time together is

Tofu Takes Time
Helen H. Wu and Julia Jarema
Beaming Books

Instead of popping to the supermarket to buy readymade tofu, it’s a case of PLINK PLANK PLUNK followed by CLICK CLACK WHIRRRR as Lin’s grandmother, NaiNai begins making tofu from scratch, watched by the little girl who is impatient to see the finished product. But all good things take time and patience, and that is what NaiNai tells Lin from the outset as she gradually involves her in some of the tofu-making tasks including straining the soy milk, lemon squeezing

and squishing and moulding the curds into shape.

However, as Lin gradually learns, the tofu making process not only takes time, it takes the whole universe too. It takes the seed from soil and sunshine, the cloth from thread and fibre,

weight and space, stories and pictures from books: and most of all, it takes spending precious time with her much-loved grandmother.

Julia Jarema’s illustrations have a feeling of gentleness, as they alternate between details of the tofu-making and Lin’s imaginings in Helen Wu’s tasty tale of patience and delayed gratification. Her inclusion of playful, onomatopoeic language and NaiNai’s repeat phrase add to the fun for young listeners; and her ‘more about tofu’ and author’s note will interest both adults and youngsters with an interest in cooking.

Don’t!

Don’t!
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Otter-Barry Books

Geraldine has a new baby brother and she’s experiencing the turbulent feelings that many elder siblings go through when it’s no longer the case of ‘there was Daddy and Mummy and me.’

Baby Boo is, let’s say, demanding and forceful; he can roar, he can kick and he can bite. Now Geraldine can do all these things too and she’s certainly not going to be overlooked. Consequently she roars at her toys – very loudly, she demonstrates her kicking skills with Mummy instead of a football

and she bites her Daddy on the leg. Her parents are not pleased; only her toys appear empathetic towards young Geraldine

and soon there’s a tearful huddle of little girl and three cuddly elephants, a crocodile and a kangaroo.

Then suddenly baby Boo cries too and this changes things completely: “Don’t cry baby Boo,” says big sister reaching out to him. Now there is Daddy and Mummy, Geraldine and Boo, a happy family and they all love each other.

Sensitively written and illustrated, Marie-Louise beautifully captures the feelings of a young child adapting to a new baby in the family. I’d strongly recommend families in a similar situation to the family in the story to get hold of a copy of this lovely book and share it with the big brother or sister. It’s a good one to add to foundation stage collections too.

Brave Dave

Brave Dave
Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Orchard Books

Reading Giles and Guy’s fantabulous book made me want to get up and dance around the room in delight: it’s absolutely brilliant and maybe for me even outshines Giraffes Can’t Dance.

It’s the story of little bear Dave who reveres and is awed by his braver, stronger older brother, Clarence. he even tries to emulate his big bro. until one day this little bear who much prefers gentle creative pastimes, decides he’s no match for Clarence. Sad and lonely off he goes for a solo walk
but on the way home something catches his eye that lifts up his heart and soul.

Next day he starts collecting beautiful things but fearing ridicule, off he goes to hide himself away each night. Little does he realise that others are watching him however.

One day when he’s summoned up sufficient courage he calls all the animals to his den and then gives something to his brother

before going on to reveal how he’s been spending his time.

Be brave enough to be yourself and celebrate your uniqueness: what a terrific life-affirming lesson for little Dave and there’s an important life lesson for his fellow animals too: accept people for what they are and celebrate difference.

Giles’ rhyming narrative is a joy to read aloud and what a fabulous finale. Guy’s illustrations are out of this world gorgeously uplifting. I can’t wait to share this far and wide; it’s a must have for classrooms and family bookshelves.

How to Catch a Rainbow

It’s exciting to be part of the blog tour for this uplifting book – thank you to the publishers for inviting me.

How To Catch a Rainbow
Naomi Jones and Ana Gomez
Oxford Children’s Books

Meet the adorable Freya, a rainbow lover: she delights in its bright colours and its curved shape. In fact her greatest wish is to have a rainbow of her very own..After searching everywhere she turns to science to make one herself; however she has no success. Refusing to give up on her dream, she comes up with another idea. Clad in her rainbow-hunting attire, clutching a net and with a rucksack of equipment off she goes to collect items of the constituent colours. This task is not without its challenges 

but resilience is key and mindfulness helpful; eventually Freya has gathered something for each of the seven colours.

Inspecting her rainbow colours back at home, Freya is disappointed.

Will she ever get that longed-for rainbow? Can she find yet another way to obtain her heart’s desire? Perhaps, with the support of an understanding Dad.

Try your upmost to follow your dream but equally, be ready to adapt and widen your horizons are key messages in this enchanting story of an imaginative girl who will surely capture your heart as she uses her creativity and determination to fulfil her wish. Ana Gomez’s portrayal of the spirited Freya truly captures the ups and downs of her rainbow quest. Listeners will love her attire and relish the opportunity to go on a rainbow hunt through the book’s pages once they’ve heard the story.

Before sharing the book I asked for some suggestions for the colour I was representing and these are the responses:
A bunch of lavender from the fields of Provence.
Violets collected from a forest. I’d put the petals in an airtight container and they could last up to a month.’
I would go out and find red berries and blueberries on the bushes, squeeze them together over something to catch the juice, then add water if the colour is too dark.
A scabious flower from the common.
A huge thistle flower.’

I Hate Borsch!

I Hate Borsch!
Yevgenia Nayberg
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

The young narrator of this picture book loathes her family’s and fellow Ukranians’ favourite food, borsch; despite it being considered a national delicacy . In a cleverly bringing together of the ingredients 

and the process of making this supposed culinary treat, the girl puts her case for being anti-borsch. The stuff even invades her imaginings giving her daydreams of being marooned on a deserted island of sour cream in a red sea of borsch whereon dill floats wherever she looks. Sunflowers too grow profusely in Ukraine, so why not instead have sunflower borsch she pleads, only to receive a resounding NO! 

Every single grandma in Kiev, we read, has the one ‘true’ borsch recipe so inevitably when the girl narrator and her family move to America, you can imagine what she receives as a farewell present from each grandmother. Once in the new country however she finds this dreaded foodstuff has gone there before her – although both its name spelling and taste are different – further reasons to detest this red sludgy stuff. Or maybe not entirely. 

For after a surfeit of American cuisine and the passing of time our narrator – having rediscovered the old family recipes – finds an old friend: borsch. Anybody fancy a bowl of the Ukrainian staple?

Yes this tale, based on the author’s own experiences might at first appear to be about hating a specific food as a child; however beneath the surface are themes of how food is embedded in cultural expression, holding on to one’s cultural identity as an immigrant, and better appreciating the past as you grow up. The bold, mixed media illustrations are both arresting and imbued with a sense of nostalgia and there’s even a borsch recipe at the end of the story.

With the on-going Russian invasion of Ukraine forcing so many Ukrainians from their homeland to safety in other countries including the UK, this book will be especially welcome in schools, both to celebrate the Ukranian culture and the enduring strength of Ukranian people.

Our Tower

Our Tower
Joesph Coelho and Richard Johnson
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This is Joseph Coelho’s first book as Children’s Laureate and what a truly magical one it is. Inspired by Joseph’s childhood growing up with his sister in a tower block on an estate in Roehampton, close to Richmond Park it is deeply personal and exquisitely told. The story – a modern fable – follows three children who live in a high-rise block, ‘Boring, hard and grey.’ but with a view to greenness beyond the drab grey, as they venture away from the suburban streets in search of a special tree with big leafy brows.

Having found what they were seeking,

the children tumble through a gap in its trunk into a magical world deep down where all kinds of creatures lurk.

There too on a throne sits an old tree-grown green man with bushy brows and he holds out something to the three. It’s a circular stone with a hole in the middle; this he gives the children and it’s as though he’s given them a new lens through which to view the world. For when they peer through the hole ‘the world goes upside-a-diddle’ and they suddenly see their own tower in a completely new light. It’s full of the love and laughter that they’d really been seeking all along: a place where everyday magic can happen once you know how to look.

Looking is assuredly what the artist Richard Johnson has done for his powerfully atmospheric, evocative illustrations. It’s so brilliant how his colour palette changes as the children move between their mundane urban home environment, the fantasy world and the natural one; this adds to the feeling of poetry in motion in Jospeh’s lyrical words. Richard includes details of architecture and sculpture (a version of Lynn Chadwick’s The Watchers) that make several links for this reviewer as well as the author.

Full of hope and enchantment, this timely story is a glorious fusion of words and pictures that blends the mundane and the dark with the magical and the triumphant, the urban and the countryside: nature and magic are everywhere if you know how to look. Unmissable this.

Pick A Story / The Book that Kibo Wrote

Pick A Story
Sarah Coyle and Adam Walker-Parker
Farshore

Involving younger readers in the decision making in stories is a great way to get them interested in reading and to keep that interest, but whereas there are plenty of interactive choose your own adventure stories for the over eights, there are relatively few pick a path picture books. The creators of this Pirate + Alien + Jungle adventure put the reader firmly in the navigator’s seat in their picture book starring Vincent and his dog, appropriately named Trouble.

It all begins in the park where the two are enjoying a stroll when all of a sudden Trouble disappears; where has she gone? Now Vincent needs the help of the reader to help him find his pooch: there are three possibilities in the first instance. The first will lead Tom to a stinky pirate galleon; the second will send him to the depths of the jungle and if he chooses the third option, he’ll find himself on board an alien spaceship. The problem is none of these actually help in the search for the missing Trouble.
With judging a talent show,

exploding asteroids, sea monsters and whirlpools to contend with, not to mention a dozen pirates brandishing swords and the possibility of a pursuing zombie, 

Vincent has a tough time of it, but will he find the trophy and more importantly will he and the elusive Trouble ever be reunited?

Sarah Coyle plunges her protagonist and the reader headlong into an adventure with an abundance of possibilities shown in Adam Walker-Parker’s energetic, comic illustrations with their plethora of funny characters and decisions to be made on every spread.

The Book that Kibo Wrote
Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

This book contains the story of a story that begins one evening under the setting sun of a warm savannah with Kibo a rhino who wants to capture the beauty of his surroundings. Before he knows it, Rhino has written a whole book under the watchful eye of Naki the crane who has read every word. She uses her beak to sew the written pages between two strong covers making a sturdy book.

Next morning, bidding farewell to Kibo, off she flies over land and sea, eventually dropping the book in a city. 

There it’s discovered by Camilo the lion and reading the book gives him a strong nostalgic longing for his savannah birthplace. Camilo passes the yellow book on to a friend and it passes from friend to friend until Kibo’s story of the African savanna has travelled all the way to the Arctic and into the paws of a resident polar bear. 

As night descends on the North Pole, polar bear Nanuk feels warmed by the savannah heat as he completes his reading of the book from a distant land.

The open-ended nature of the narrative encourages readers to become participants in the story and I love the use of patterning in the vivid illustrations, which creates a folklorish feeling about the tale. (translated by Lawrence Schimel).

A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends / Wooolf!

A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends
Philip Waechter
Gecko Press

Alone in his house, Racoon decides that baking an apple cake will alleviate his boredom, but then he discovers he has no eggs. Oh bother! Maybe his chicken-owning friend Fox can help out, so off he pops to see her, only to find her precariously balanced and attempting unsucessfully to mend a leaky roof as the hole’s out of reach. The two set out to Badger’s in the hope he might have a ladder. Badger too needs help with a crossword and Fox suggests asking Bear to solve the clue. On route to Bear’s home the friends pause for a blackberry picnic but on arrival they discover Bear is not at home. Happily Crow can assist and leads them down to the river bank where eventually they find Bear fishing.
Unfortunately though the fish aren’t biting… not even a nibble.

Not wanting to waste a moment the five pals decide to dive into the river and have fun together. It feels great to cool off on such a hot day and equally pleasurable to dry off in the warm sun. They also solve the crossword clues, then as evening approaches they head off home

pausing whenever appropriate to complete each of the other tasks in turn, finally reaching Racoon’s residence. Once indoors, Raccoon bakes not one but TWO CAKES: one to be shared by Fox, Badger, Crow. and himself. Fortunate Bear however has a cake all for himself. I wonder why that could be …

Willingness to embrace new and unexpected situations, and whole-hearted participation therein, is key to a happy life, as are friends and teamwork. Philip Waechter’s intricately detailed illustrations of bucolic contentment brought about by these elements work harmoniously with his heartwarming story; it’s one children will definitely warm to as they share in the day’s events of the five friends.

Wooolf!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s little rabbit, Simon, certainly gets his come uppance in this fun take on the cry wolf classic as he plays the wolf card at home and school in order to get his own way. Eventually though he tries it one time too many, the occasion being the use – or not – of his potty.

Has he learned his lesson once and for all though? What do you think? …
With its funny final twist and illustrations that leap off the page little rabbit style, this will certainly amuse little humans and might just deter them from emulating a certain little leporine creature.

Thanks to Gecko Press for sending copies of these books for review.

I Want the Moon

I Want The Moon
Frann Preston-Gannon
Templar Books

As a child, the protagonist in Frann Preston-Gannon’s new book is so over-indulged by his parents that he’s unable to make even a single friend. Instead the result of them trying to engineer a friendship between their son and the boy next door results in the two becoming enemies.

Suddenly one night after a particularly ferocious fury his parents offer to buy him anything he wants. But money can’t buy the moon.

As a grown man, the same character is rich, important and lives the life of royalty, but that childhood longing for the moon remains. He summons all his team members and together they draw up plans for a ‘Get Moon’ machine. Hard toil on behalf of his workers results in the mindless destruction of vital elements of the local community

and the construction of a towering machine that just keeps on growing up and up. Rampant capitalism is at large here.

Then one night the moon is almost within his grasp: he stretches out his hands and …

An inevitable tug of war ensues and I expect you can guess the outcome of that.

Can the townsfolk’s children perhaps do anything to fix this disastrous situation?

This clever parable that is highly relevant today, shows the foolishness of greed and the importance of understanding where true happiness can be found: it certainly isn’t where this moon-grabber was looking. Do your child listeners think he finally learned the error of his ways, I wonder?

With her characteristic large variety of textures and wealth of small details, Frann’s boldly coloured illustrations will definitely hold the interest of young readers and encourage them to revisit the story over and over. If you share the book with a group or class, make sure you build in time to allow your audience to explore every spread.

I am Cat!

I am Cat!
Peter Bently and Chris Chatterton
Macmillan Children’s Books

It’s pretty clear who rules the roost in this story: it’s the moggy narrator and very cleverly, said creature is able to talk in rhyme as it presents a day in the life of itself.

Whether it’s causing damage to the furniture, demanding to be fed, alarming intruders – really? 

or any other of its vital cat pursuits, our narrator does it with gusto and indeed panache – well maybe not when it comes to encountering the large hound next door. 

Imaginative play is our cat’s forte as it takes on the personas of in turn Tiger, Leopard – “ I am Cat. Bird I see. / Leopard, leopard up the tree. / Bird up. Cat up./ Bird Up. Cat. // Bird. Cat. Now I’ll catch you! Drat.” and Lion before running out of steam and seeking a temporary respite before the next mealtime.

Team Bently and Chatterton have created another highly amusing read aloud tale with lots of fun action that young children will love to follow in Chris’s hilarious scenes and Peter’s catchy, highly join-in-able, rhythmic text. Even this cat fur allergic reviewer was captivated by their feline protagonist.

ACHOO!

Achoo!
Simon Philip and Nathan Reed
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

As a hay fever sufferer I frequently find myself reaching for a tissue or if absolutely necessary, using my hand to catch my sneezes. However, Sid, the protagonist in this hilarious book does neither. This hitherto ordinary boy’s first sneeze causes an elephant to fly from his nose and even more crazy, the huge creature’s in a canoe. Yes really. Moreover said canoe can also accommodate Sid so on he hops, grabs the spare paddle and away they go. 

The trouble is that almost immediately he lets forth another ACHOO! thus precipitating the canoe over a waterfall towards a ravine. From there things just keep getting weirder and weirder as Sid comes upon a pirate ship. 

He assists the pirates in their treasure hunt and while so doing, with yet another sneeze he ejects a circus performer, followed shortly after as he participates in the performance, by a panda and her cubs. This story can’t possibly get any sillier you might be thinking but you’re wrong. 

And dare I say it, sneezes can be very catching …

With its brilliant finale, this is a super read aloud of the totally daft kind. maybe not totally daft actually, for the message about remembering to cover your nose when you feel a sneeze coming on is an important one, especially in these covid times. Listeners will love Simon’s rollicking rhyming narrative and relish Nathan’s increasingly high octane scenes, every one of which exudes (A)tissues full of humour. A rip-roaring read indeed.

Valentine’s Guest House / We Are the Shapes

Valentine’s Guest House
Sam Sharland
Child’s Play

With its first rate service, Valentine’s guest house is a popular place to stay. When the owner’s daughter opens a storeroom and discovers a large tiger with a big smile inside asking for accommodation she is astonished. However despite her mum Valentine saying they don’t have a spare room, Elsie is determined to help. She offers to share her room with Emmet and she and her mum rearrange things in preparation for the new guest. 

Sadly however, the other guests are far less accommodating and leave as fast as they can.

As his hosts put up a ‘Vacancies’ sign, a grateful Emmet gets busy messaging all his friends and acquaintances about Valentine’s 

and after a long wait, the guest house is once again thriving, albeit with a different clientele. Then follow some imaginative modifications to the building: a lift is installed, the door is enlarged when a huge guest arrives, a rooftop hole provides a room with a wonderful view, there’s a cool spot for a pair that like to chill and underground spaces are created for those accustomed to a subterranean lifestyle.

Harmonious living is the way to go as is shown in Sam Sharland’s gently humorous scenes of the guests’ comings and goings and further comings; but there’s one guest who isn’t going anywhere: you can guess which one that is.

A delightful picture book debut with vital messages about acceptance, inclusivity and empowerment.

We Are the Shapes
Kevin Jenner
Happy Yak

There are the squares – honest, supportive even, and reliable, dislikers of difference; there are also the triangles – creative, edgy, odd and happy to be different. Triangles consider squares boring.
These two groups do not get on at all, in fact they have diametrically opposing views on everything and are positively hostile towards one another. 

Then there are circles: they know the issues existing between squares and triangles but believe that if they were prepared to ‘roll with their differences’, the two parties could get along.

Can they rectify things between these opposing factions? It’s worth a try: consider this equation – triangles + squares = rocket to the moon. So maybe … but then just when things seemed to be going well, a row breaks out. 

Is circle able to turn this situation around? Perhaps with a bit of creative thinking and a new and tasty notion.

How much better it is to accept and celebrate difference. Learning to get along with those who seem – superficially at least – to be different from ourselves is an important life lesson all young children need to learn, (though perhaps it’s their parents for whom difference is an issue not the youngsters themselves). So it’s appropriate to share this easy to relate to book with its satisfying solution at home as well as in the classroom. With its easy-to-read text, it’s also a book that KS1 readers might well be able to enjoy reading for themselves.

The Can Caravan

The Can Caravan
Richard O’Neill and Cindy Kang
Child’s Play

What a wonderfully uplifting and affirming contemporary story is the latest one by Romani storyteller Richard O’Neill.
Janie, an imaginative child, lives on a travellers’ site with her mother and her grandfather. Also living among them is her grandfather’s friend Mrs Tolen, whose caravan has seen better days.

At school one day Janie’s teacher announces that the class are to visit a can recycling plant and Janie is able to respond to his question about the history of recycling by relating it to what members of the travelling community have done for centuries. Back on the site, she’s eager to tell Mrs Tolen about the visit only to discover that she’s had a fall and is in hospital with a broken hip.

A couple of days later, Janie goes to see Mrs Tolen in the hospital and hears that environmental health inspectors have deemed her caravan unfit for living in. She is determined that rather than the old lady having to move out, she, her friends and other members of her community will restore her old caravan.
The visit to the can recycling plant further motivates and inspires Janie

and back home she can hardly contain herself with excitement as she tells her Mum and grandfather about her plans. The same thing happens at school next day where she receives many offers of help from her classmates on behalf of family members. The recycling plant agrees to donate recycled metal sheets and the community collect cans to raise the rest of the money needed. Then under Janie’s leadership everybody sets to work rebuilding the caravan.

Eventually Mrs Tolen has a wonderful surprise when she is able to move into her recycled trailer – her “Can Caravan” as she names it joyfully.

What this community achieves is an inspiration to us all: the loyalty, determination, resilience and ability to adapt inherent in the Traveller peoples should make those of us who are all too ready to rush out and buy new things, ashamed of such consumerist attitudes. Cindy Kang’s bright, realistic illustrations underline the community spirit and there’s a final aluminium recycling flow chart that also includes some interesting facts about this metal.

Sand Between My Toes / Covered in Adventures

Sand Between My Toes
Caroline Cross and Jenny Duke
Child’s Play

The opening spread of this lovely book shows a little girl walking slightly behind the rest of her family as they arrive on the cliff above the beach. Immediately many adult readers will be transported back to their own childhood memories of such occasions when family seaside holidays and days beside the sea were the norm. What unfolds thereafter is the family enjoying a wealth of experiences: barefoot toe wriggling on the sandy shore, playing ball and splashing in the waves, 

discovering what’s in a rockpool, relishing a fast melting, dripping ice-cream (dog hot on the trail); there’s sandcastle constructing 

and some inevitable upsets too, as well as a sudden downpour. All ends happily with the entire family sitting together consuming chips beneath a shelter and then once the rain has stopped, wending their way back towards home beneath a gorgeously hued sky.
Caroline Cross’s spare poetic rhyming text allows plenty of space for Jenny Duke’s beautiful, almost dreamy scenes, as well as child audiences to fill in the gaps.

Covered in Adventures
Gillian Hibbs
Child’s Play

There are certain articles of clothing that we hang on to for years, unable to part with them for the memories they hold. One such is the old sweater belonging to young Sasha. Dad Greg’s comment in response to Dad Toby’s suggestion that she gets rid of said sweater is “ … at least let us wash it. Look how dirty it is!” Sasha disagrees: “It’s covered in adventures!” she asserts and together they begin to reminisce about some of what has happened to contribute to the garment’s appearance of having seen better days.

Yes, the sweater shows wear and mess from her imaginative journey on the high seas, from science experiments, 

cooking, camping, nature explorations, a game of soccer, some DIY to her go-kart and more, but all this is evidence of her many and varied adventures. 

It was even nibbled by a goat during a farm visit.
However, rather than despairing about her mucky sweater, Sasha’s supportive dads surprise her and at the same time she realises that actually it was herself rather than the sweater that made all those wonderful adventures happen. Moreover, she is now ready for some exciting new ones.

Gently humorous and uplifting, with Gillian Hibbs’ captivating illustrations this is a picture book for sharing at home or in the classroom.

Choices / Bye, Car

Choices
Roozeboos
Child’s Play

Using the backdrop of a lido on a summer’s day, this debut picture book explores some of the many decisions children will be faced with in their lives. Relatively few words and engaging playful scenes of a wonderfully diverse cast of characters and one little girl in particular, invite youngsters to consider the possible choices they might make and the consequences thereof.

Some are simple: what kind of ice-cream to buy, should I be kind and share my lunch with somebody else; or much harder – shall I take a dive from the high diving board?

But what I really like about the entire book is that the text never actually says what is happening on the page, allowing the reader/ listener to explore each illustration, discuss what the little girl is doing, how she could be feeling, and perhaps what the consequences of her choices might be.

Teaching children about choices and consequences, and causes and effects is part and parcel of the foundation stage curriculum and beyond as well as something parents are involved in – it’s a part of growing up but sometimes living with the outcomes of those choices is more difficult. This book offers a really good starting point for conversations with a very young child or class of little ones but equally could be used again later on for reflection and further discussion

The book ends with a reminder of everyone’s uniqueness not spoken this time, but hinted at in the final scene wherein the smiling little girl takes centre stage (almost!) beneath which are the words ‘and with every choice you grow!’ It’s definitely one to add to class, school, and home collections.

There are important choices too in:

Bye, Car
Naomi Danis and Daniel Rieley
Child’s Play

Whether or not they understand the green message of this book, youngsters will enjoy seeing the wide variety of cars and perhaps trying to identify some of them, as two young children bid farewell to those passing by. They start by watching from a window the ones travelling along the busy road and then accompanied by an adult, they venture out into the hustling bustling urban streets for further vehicle spotting.
Naomi Danis’ rhyming narrative includes basic opposites such as near/far, and becomes increasingly descriptive – ‘car in a hurry/ car in a flurry’, ‘howling car, growling car’

and is nicely balanced by Daniel Rieley’s alluring, unfussy illustrations that starkly remind us of the way our streets are vehicle dominated. Happily however, come the new day, the walk shows greener alternatives to the pollution-spewing cars as we see an electric bus, cyclists and other eco-friendly modes of transport.

The Path / Why?

These are two thought-provoking picture books from minedition – thanks to GMC Distribution for sending them for review

The Path
Bob Staake
minedition

As we follow a small character walking along on a winding path, we soon realise that this path is a metaphor for life’s journey and its challenges. ‘You will walk along a well-worn path that many others have taken before you.” we read at the outset. To start with the walk is easy; but inevitably there will be bumps and obstacles along the way, perhaps a dark forest will replace those valleys of wildflowers bathed in sunlight. You may even get lost, face terrifying dangers or encounter what seems to be a dead end. Prepare to be surprised.

Like the character, you will emerge elated and ready to forge a path of your own making head held high.
Poetic and to the point, the thoughtful narrative has a gentle lyricism but for me the real show stealers are Staake’s digitally created illustrations of the ever changing landscape through which the character journeys.

A wonderful conversation starter that could be used at various stages in a child or young person’s life from moving to KS2 in a primary school right up to a new graduate. Essentially this is a book of possibilities, perspective and an individual’s outlook on life: the message is that it’s the journey not the destination that matters.

Why?
Nikolai Popov
minedition

As this wordless story begins a frog sits peaceably atop a rock holding a flower, a serene expression on his face. Suddenly, from a hole very close up pops a mouse clutching an umbrella. They look expectantly at one another. Could Frog be anticipating making a new friend of mouse. It certainly doesn’t happen: the mouse has designs on the frog’s flower, leaps at the creature and steals it. Up come two well built frogs and see the mouse off. Very soon more frogs and mice enter the battle, the tools of which become increasingly powerful

and eventually the conflict escalates into a full-scale war; the result being the entire terrain lies wasted,: there are no winners in this war, just total devastation all round.

All this we see in the the artist’s delicate watercolour scenes with their droll animal characters against the backdrop of blasting guns and explosions that make the reality of the situation even harsher. Then there’s that final spread.

Why? Oh why? we ask ourselves. Why indeed.

With what is happening with the increasingly ugly war in Ukraine, this question and indeed Popov’s powerful condemnation of war in this allegory is particularly pertinent. Why, oh why can’t a certain despot see the utter futility of war?

Cats in Chaos

Cats in Chaos
Peter Bently and John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Moggy mayhem it most certainly is in this superb presentation from team Bently and Bond, their laugh-out-loud follow up to Dogs in Disguise.

Peter has taken the predilections of cats and woven them into an action-packed show-stopping treat with all the most entertaining circus acts you could imagine, and many you can’t until you see them in John Bond’s sensational scenes that overflow with warmth and wittiness. There are conjurors, a dog tamer, a cannonball cat, a juggling clown, trapeze artists and an amazing balancing act – look out for a friendly favourite from children’s TV among the throng;

but these are just some of the awesome artists that the mischievous mouse distracts at each and every opportunity.

Peter’s naming of the entertainers is splendidly silly and sometimes alliterative; children will adore even EVEL KATNEVEL ;

his wordplay is wonderful too; then there’s fun onomatopoeia – all this in a cleverly structured rhyming text that trips off the tongue and comes full circle to cats snoozing and snuggling – mostly anyhow.

Share this with a class or group and I guarantee there will be instant cries for an encore and pleas for further repeat performances. Give it to a single child or a few together and they will spend ages pouring over (maybe pawing over) the delicious details of disarray on every spread.