Category Archives: Picture Books

#Goldilocks

#Goldilocks
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

This series of Jeanne and Tony’s on Internet safety for children goes from strength to strength; #Goldilocks is number three and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Subtitled ‘A Hashtag Cautionary Tale’ it is exactly that with Jeanne delivering her vital message in the jaunty manner of a 21st century Belloc.

Like so many children these days, Goldilocks has a smartphone and is active on social media. Anxious to gain more likes for her posts, the young miss starts posting photos of her family and much more.

After a while though her followers’ enthusiasm wanes and she becomes desperate: something shocking is required to revive interest.

Off she skips to a certain cottage in the woods and takes a selfie as she breaks in;

another #PipingHot and a third breaking a chair #Fun!

And she doesn’t stop at that.

Inevitably it all ends in disaster for Goldilocks who receives a stint of community service at a certain bears’ residence; but worse than that, those photos she so recklessly posted of her thievery and destruction live on for all to see. And that takes us to the final moral words of caution: ‘ … think twice before you send!’

Absolutely hilarious both verbally and visually – the two work so superbly well together – this story is written from an understanding of the attraction for children of social media and is ideal for sharing and discussion at home or in school.

Above all though, it’s a smashing book.

Hello Lighthouse

Hello Lighthouse
Sophie Blackall
Orchard Books

Standing on ‘the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world’ is a lighthouse; it beams out a guiding light for ships at sea.

To this lighthouse comes a new keeper to tend the light, maintain the logbook, paint the round rooms.

He also finds time to fish for cod through the window, make tea, cook his meals and write letters to his wife, which, enclosed in bottles, he tosses into the waves.

It’s a lonely existence but one day a ship arrives bringing not only supplies but also his wife.

A fog descends covering everything; the keeper rings a warning bell, but one night a boat is wrecked and he has to rescue the sailors.

When the sea turns to ice the keeper is sick so then, in addition to acting as his nurse, it’s the wife who tends the light and keeps up the log.

Before long there’s an addition to the family – also logged.

Then one day. the coast guard arrives with a brand-new light that is run by machine: the lighthouse keeper’s job is no more. It’s time to pack and leave, ‘Good bye, Lighthouse! Good bye! … Good bye! … Good bye!’

The dispassionate present tense chronicle reads like the keeper’s log and the vertical rectangular format of the book reflects the external form of the lighthouse itself. Opened out there’s space a-plenty for Sophie Blackall’s dramatic Chinese ink and watercolour seascapes, as well as scenes of life within the confines of the tall circular building. The perspectives she uses, many viewed from above, or seemingly seen through the lens of the keeper’s spyglass, echo the circularity of the rooms and some of the furnishings.

I found myself reading and re-reading these pictures, discovering ever more domestic details, and wondering at the power and majesty of the ocean and the amazing talent of this illustrator.

With its look at a bygone era, this book would be a wonderful addition to any topic about the sea: the author provides detailed notes contextualising many of the events in her story on the final pages.

Follow Me, Little Fox

Follow Me, Little Fox
Camila Correa and Sean Julian
Little Tiger

A city dweller, Little Fox loves his urban home but occasionally feels overwhelmed by its pace. His mother is eager for him to experience something different; the place where the city ends and the wild begins. “Let’s go back to nature,” she says.

Off they go on a journey away from their den to discover the sights, sounds and smells of the wonderful outdoors.

Yes, at times it can be scary but nature offers a wonderful place to play, to roam and to howl; a place that makes your heart sing.

Unsurprisingly, come nightfall Little Fox is reluctant to leave. He asks to spend the night beneath the stars. Then, having informed him that what he sees are actually the city lights twinkling in the distance, his mother helps him formulate a plan to bring some of the amazing natural world much closer to their home …

… and together they put project transformation into action.

This book is a wonderful reminder of the importance of getting outside into green spaces for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Lyrically written, Camila Correa’s text evokes the wonders of the great outdoors and Sean Julian brings it to life with his beautiful cityscapes and scenes of the natural world.

Molly’s Moon Mission

Molly’s Moon Mission
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing

I have to admit to spluttering with giggles all through this story. From the outset, the idea of Molly the moth attempting to fly to the moon struck me as totally ridiculous but that’s what makes this such a fun book.

Young Molly has an indomitable spirit and despite residing in the back of an old wardrobe, her determination knows no bounds. Her mother’s discouraging words about the slightness of her wings notwithstanding, the little moth trains hard until she’s ready for the countdown to blast off.

After a couple of setbacks due to wrong destinations,

the tiny creature lands up at a lighthouse where at least she receives some words of encouragement for her venture.
Fuelled by same, she relaunches herself skywards until finally …

Success!

Moreover, there’s a role for Molly as assistant to the astronauts before they all set off earthwards with the little bug proudly sporting her newly awarded lunar mission patch.

When she finally reaches home once more, she’s greeted by her mum who on learning of her little one’s adventure, responds, “My Molly, the only moth ever to fly to the Moon!” Thus far maybe, but Molly has plans …

From his The Bear Who Stared debut I’ve loved all Duncan’s picture books but with this one he reaches new heights.

A Little Bit Brave

A Little Bit Brave
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Luna and Logan are great friends but they’re very different. Luna loves outdoor adventures while Logan never sets a paw outside declaring it much too scary.

One day Luna tries her best to persuade her friend to join her in the great outdoors but her invitation is turned down and she goes off in a huff telling him that sometimes, he just has to be a bit brave.

The morning proceeds with Logan engaging in several of his usual activities but he feels upset about what has happened and decides to puts things right with Luna. The trouble is that means going outside.

Into his bag go a torch, a snorkel and a tin of freshly baked biscuits, and with scarf wrapped around him, off Logan sets on his very first adventure.

It’s scary in the woods and he needs to find his friend so he calls her name as loudly as he can. There’s no response from Luna but Logan’s cry summons a host of other woodland animals. From them he learns more about the brave things his friend enjoys.

If he wants to find her, it seems Logan has no choice but to follow the mouse’s advice …

Logan’s search opens up three new worlds to him; his snorkel, scarf and torch come in very useful

but of Luna he finds no sign. Nevertheless, astonished at what he’s done, he’s just about to reward himself with a biscuit when suddenly he hears a familiar voice shouting out.

Terrifying as the sight that meets his eyes might be, Logan knows he has to act fast or his friend will become the wolf’s next meal.

Could it perhaps be time to make use of that other item he has with him …

Nicola’s colour palette is gorgeous; there are woodland greens, oranges and browns with a plethora of eye-catching flora and fauna.

This is a great confidence-bolstering tale perfectly seasoned with frissons of fear and surprises; and who wouldn’t love a story where biscuits play a crucial role?

The Big Angry Roar

The Big Angry Roar
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger

No matter how mindful we are I’m sure we all feel angry at times, but it’s how we respond to our angry feelings that is crucial.

As the result of a spat between siblings, Jonny Lambert’s Cub is feeling so angry he thinks he might pop.

All the other animals have their own ways to deal with their anger. Zebra and Gnu let theirs out by stamping and stomping; Rhino bashes and crashes; Hippo splatters and splashes but when Cub tries he ends up with an injured paw, an unpleasant aroma and even more anger.

His next encounter is with Elephant’s backside and a furious face off ensues.

Their tooting and roaring precipitates a massive …

Fortunately for all concerned Baboon is on hand ready to offer a lesson in anger management, which does the trick,

leaving Cub with just one more thing to do.

There’s a perfect balance of words and pictures giving the latter plenty of room for maximum impact in every one of Jonny’s eloquent scenes. Cub’s eye views of the animals – a forest of legs and looming bulk – are executed in his signature textured collage style.

The text, punctuated with plenty of onomatopoeia, exclamations, and variations in font size are a gift to readers aloud who enjoy putting on a performance – and who could resist with such a script.

Another must have for your collection from one of my favourite picture book creators.

Bear Moves

Bear Moves
Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyūz
Walker Books

The purple ursine character from I Am Bear returns and, sporting his sweatbands, he’s in groovy mood.

With Bunny on DJ duty it’s time to show off those funky moves. First off it’s Furry Breaking – wow this guy certainly has attitude!

Next we have Running Bear, quickly followed by the Robot and there’s even a spot of limbo.

Should this character be auditioning for the next Strictly Come Dancing series one wonders as he grabs himself a partner and switches to ballroom mode with a foxtrot

This he follows with a doughnut fuelled Belly Dance,

a quickstep – oh no that’s his pal squirrel attempting to beat a hasty retreat – and next, bums a-winding, everybody do the twist.

Even then, this dance enthusiast isn’t quite done but for his grand finale he requires an altogether sweeter partner …

It’s pretty exhausting all this dancing so you won’t be surprised that Bear’s last move is into sleep mode zzzzz …

You can really feel and hear the beat in rapper Ben Bailey Smith’s (aka Doc Brown) rhyming text, while Sav Akyūz shows the action both frenzied and smooth, in bold colours outlined in thick black lines

Great for child participation is this zany offering.

Wisp

Wisp
Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
Orchard Books

The only world Idris knows is a shadowy one of tents and fences; this is the world he was born into. Dirt, darkness and emptiness are everywhere surrounding the inhabitants of tent city and completely obliterating their memories of their former lives.

One day, into this desperate life a wisp of light appears unnoticed by all but Idris.

With the whisper of a single word, the Wisp brings a smile, a reawakened memory and a ‘hint of a hum’ to an ancient man, to a woman, a memory and a lessening of her sadness.

Days go by and more Wisps are borne in on the wind with their whisperings of ‘onces’ that release more and more memories.

One evening a Wisp lands at Idris’s feet but the boy has no memories save that surrounding black emptiness. Instead for him, it’s a Wisp of a promise that brings light and joy to his world as it flies up and up, infecting not just the boy but all the people in the camp until light, not dark prevails.

Told with such eloquence, this heartfelt story brought a lump to my throat as I read it first, but ultimately, it’s a tale of hope, of compassion and of new beginnings.

Eloquent too are Grahame Baker-Smith’s shadowy scenes, which as the story progresses, shift to areas of brightness and finally, to blazing light.

When all too many people are advocating walls and separatism, this book of our times needs to be read, pondered upon and discussed by everyone.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

Down in the jungle, Anteater, Tortoise and Monkey are in playful mood when they’re spied by Little Crocodile. He’s eager for them to join him in a game of Kiss the Crocodile. The rules are pretty straightforward – the clue’s in the name – but the proviso is that the little croc. pretends to sleep and must not be woken up.

Are they brave enough?

Seemingly so, and first to make a move is Anteater.

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

Only Monkey remains and having summoned up all her courage, off she goes – uh oh! She’s in for a big snapping surprise.

The game is over, but will Little Crocodile abide by the rules or is it the end for Monkey?

It’s not only those jungle animals that are in playful mood, so too is Sean Taylor. His present tense telling has just the right amount of mischief, suspense, some delicious onomatopoeia and that frequently repeated imperative title – a perfect storytime recipe for entertaining your little ones.

Equally irresistible are Ben Mantle’s comical, wonderfully expressive scenes of the action – giggles guaranteed on every spread.

Hat Tricks

Hat Tricks
Satoshi Kitamura
Scallywag Press

This isn’t the first book Satoshi Kitamura has created about an amazing hat; around ten years back there was Millie’s Marvellous Hat about an imaginative little girl and an invisible hat.

Now we have Hattie and she too has a hat – a magician’s hat; so take your seats everyone, the show is about to begin. And what’s a magician’s favourite way to start a spot of prestidigitation? With a wave of the wand and the magic word ‘Abracadabra’; in this case followed by ‘katakurico’ and the question ‘What’s in the hat?’

In the first instance it’s a cat; but there’s more to come. Hattie repeats the words and out leaps a squirrel.

And so it goes on with Hattie producing ever more unlikely and larger animals, none of which appears happy to see its fellow creatures.

Then one of the creatures being conjured gets stuck, unable to extricate itself entirely from the hat. It becomes the centre of a rather painful tug of war

until eventually … out it comes.

Surely there can be nothing left in that hat, now, can there? Well, the grand finale is yet to come … ta-dah!

I’m sure little ones will respond by calling for an immediate ‘encore’ after you’ve shared this book with them. My listeners certainly did.

This is a splendid piece of theatre. Satoshi’s animals are presented with panache: the gamut of eloquent expressions is sheer genius.

Dragons in Love / Bagel in Love

Dragons in Love
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures

Dragon, Drake, as some of you may know from Dragons: Father and Son is a troglodyte residing with his father at the bottom of a steep valley. He frequently leaves his cave and ventures forth into the town to play with the children and so it is on this particular day. But although he may know a bit about playing, kissing is entirely new to him. So when his friend Violet lands him a smacker on the snout he feels all hot and bothered.

On reflection however, he realises no personal harm has been done but avoiding Violet is the best plan henceforth. Not easy as it means avoiding all his favourite haunts.

Drake talks to his dad who explains that the fire is a dragon’s natural way of showing love and tells what happened when he and Drake’s mom were courting.

This is all very well for dragons but what about human Violet? Poor Drake feels at a loss to know where to go; but then he hears noises coming from the nearby park. Violet is being bullied, he discovers. It’s time to act, thinks Drake and so he does …

Friendship fully restored, what will be Drake’s next move … ?

Badel’s ink and watercolour illustrations are full of detail with a wealth of wonderfully humorous touches. I love the early spread with the football being kicked and ending up way out of reach in a tall tree.

Beautifully droll as before, Lacroix’s story is sure to strike a chord especially this season when love is in the air, though with its standing against bullying message it’s a good one to share with young listeners at any time.

Bagel in Love
Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik
Sterling

Bagel is a talented dancer: his spins and swirls, taps and twirls make him feel anything but plain. The trouble is however that he doesn’t have a partner and so can’t enter the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest.

Poppy, the best dancer he knows tells him his steps are half-baked: Pretzel says his moves don’t cut the mustard and from Matzo he receives a flat refusal.

Not one to give up easily, Bagel heads to Sweet City where things aren’t actually much sweeter when it comes to the responses of Croissant, Doughnut, and Cake. But then outside the café, Bagel hears music coming from the contest venue and he breaks into a tap routine.

To his surprise a tapping echo comes right back. Has he finally found the perfect partner?

Natasha Wing has thrown plenty of puns into her narrative mix with its underlying message about determination and not giving up on your dream, while Helen Dardik treats readers to a plethora of sticky confections and some salty ones too in her digitally worked, richly patterned scenes.

A sugary romance for Valentine’s Day this surely is. Anyone want to dance?

With Your Paw in Mine

With Your Paw in Mine
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger

Otter pup Miki loves to float snuggled up on her Mama’s tummy but after a swimming lesson she goes off hunting leaving Miki alone safely rolled in seaweed.

As she waits, Miki notices another similar ‘furry parcel’ and paddles across to meet pup Amak who is also waiting for his mother. Acknowledging the loneliness of waiting, Miki suggests holding paws and waiting together.

That becomes a regular occurrence and the two cubs become inseparable.

But one morning a fierce storm blows up and the two friends become separated briefly, manage to re-link paws and even to join up with other otters to form, paw in paw, a raft to weather out the storm

until, joy of joys Miki hears her very favourite voice calling to her.

The author’s message is clear: we all need someone (or perhaps more than one someone) to hold on to in stormy times. Essentially an endearing story of friendship, the book also includes some information about mother otters and their young.

In her chilly acrylic scenes Jane Chapman really captures the vastness of the ocean but at the same time focuses in on the otters and their feelings making this a lovely book to share with individuals or a nursery group.

Duck!

Duck!
Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom
Walker Books

Not a lot happens in this book until right at the end but nonetheless it’s absolutely hilarious throughout.

So, without further ado, let’s head over to the farm where one afternoon, horse is swishing his tail; cow is chewing the cud; pig is wallowing in mud and sheep is sheeping on the grass (love that).

Into this tranquil setting charges Duck, yelling a single word, “DUCK!”

Needless to say the other animals don’t appreciate this intrusion into their peace and each in turn attempts to explain to the noisy creature that they are not ducks; he is.

However, Duck’s message merely grows more strident.

By the time accusations of rudeness and lack of understanding have been hurled at the little animal, Nathaniel Eckstrom’s deliciously droll illustrations are foreshadowing the impending catastrophe that the chastisers are oblivious to but savvy audiences will be eagerly anticipating. To divulge more about this would spoil the grand finale.

With a simple misunderstanding at its heart, Meg McKinlay’s telling is enormous fun and the self-descriptions of the disgruntled animals absolutely wonderful, while the repeated “DUCK!” exclamation cries out for loud audience participation.

In addition, expect a plethora of giggles when you read this cracking story aloud, and be prepared at the end, for cries of “again!” from listeners.

Lots of Frogs

Lots of Frogs
Howard Calvert and Claudia Boldt
Hodder Children’s Books

Tommy Fox has a box – a box full of frogs. The expression ‘mad as a box of frogs’ sprang instantly to mind on reading this and there’s more than a little madness in Howard Calvert’s story.

Back in the day, dare I admit it in these days of environmental awareness, children (including myself) liked to collect frogspawn and take it into school where we’d watch the jelly blobs become tadpoles and then frogs. This clearly isn’t Tommy’s intention since he has the fully formed frogs (and toads) in his box but he does take them into school for show and tell. A risky enterprise you might be thinking and it’s certainly so.

Before you can say ‘atishoo’ those little amphibians have escaped and are leaping about causing utter chaos in the classroom,

silliness in the staffroom …

and havoc in the hall.

Tommy has to get all those frolicsome frogs back into his box but there’s one of their number – Frank by name – that has headed to the gym and is certainly eager to give young Tommy a run for his money.

Debut author Howard Calvert’s zany rhyming story bounces along with gusto. His main protagonist Tommy is a delight and Claudia Boldt has captured his enthusiasm and energy superbly. Equally the havoc-causing frogs – every one different – are utterly hilarious.

Spring has surely sprung in one particular classroom and I loved it.

Shhh! I’m Reading

Shhh! I’m Reading!
John Kelly and Elina Ellis
Little Tiger

I cannot imagine how many times I’ve uttered the title words to people in my time. Now though it’s Bella spending a wet Sunday afternoon engrossed in her book who resents being disturbed.

First to show up is Captain Bluebottom the Flatulent wanting her to join him for a Windy Pirates adventure. He receives a firm refusal.

Next comes Maurice Penguin announcing ‘Showtime’ and tempting her with a sparkly outfit. He too and his entourage are told to sit quietly.

Emperor Flabulon’s challenge receives similar treatment

and finally peace reigns allowing Bella to finish her book. Having declared it the best ever, she then invites the intruders to join her and go adventuring.

Their instant response comes as something of a surprise; or does it? …
Game, set and match to Bella! And to the power of stories, books and the imagination.

John Kelly’s funny tale will resonate with all those who like nothing better than uninterrupted reading time. It’s a smashing read aloud that celebrates the delights of losing oneself in a good book.

Elina Ellis captures both the humour of the chaos caused by the intruders and Bella’s responses to same with terrific brio and  reminds us that, with all good picture books, reading isn’t just about the words.

I Am So Clever

I Am So Clever
Mario Ramos
Gecko Press

Oohh! If there’s one thing I do love it’s a new take on the Red Riding Hood story, after all this blog takes it’s name from a play on the story’s name.

The wolf in question herein has an enormous thirst for power, not to mention an insatiable hunger for meals of the human kind.

On this particular morning the lupine creature is in jovial mood as he converses with Little Red Riding Hood complimenting her on her appearance and warning her of the dangers of walking alone in the woods.

Now the little girl may be small of stature but she most definitely isn’t short of brains. She takes no time in demolishing the wolf’s “You could meet some ferocious creature … like a shark!” with an immediate riposte, “Oh, come on Mr Wolf, everyone knows there are no sharks in the woods,”.

Despite the put down, the wolf is already anticipating his feast as he rushes off ahead of Red Reading Hood to Grandma’s house.

Discovering in the bedroom only her nightie,

he hastily dons it as a disguise but then, rather than leaping into bed and hiding to await Red Riding Hood, he manages to shut himself the wrong side of the cottage door.

Now instead, it’s the woods he attempts to hide in. The disguise though works pretty well and he manages to dupe the hunter:“Gadzooks and dogs’ droppings!” said a voice. “Oh good morning Grandmother. Excuse the bad language but I’ve dropped my glasses. Would you please help me find them?”

And not just him: Baby Bear, the three little pigs, the seven dwarves, and one of the gentry searching for Sleeping Beauty are also hoodwinked.

There follows a desperate struggle on the wolf’s part to extricate himself from the nightie but he fails and finds himself face to face with his planned first course.

The girl’s reaction however throws the creature completely – quite literally.

“No iff not funny!” he whimpers. “I’ve broken all my teeff! And I’m twapped in diff terrible dweff!” Pride definitely came before a fall here.

The ending comes as something of a surprise: I won’t reveal what happens but Ramos’ final scene is one that might provoke some pathos on your audience’s part.

Thanks to deliciously droll illustrations throughout, an enormously satisfying story full of comic tension and wonderful dialogue, Ramos’ wolf goes ever on: I for one hope to see him again.

Grobblechops

Grobblechops
Elizabeth Laird and Jenny Lancaster
Tiny Owl

Many young children imagine monsters under the bed and sometimes use their fear of same as a tactic to delay bedtime.

In this story based on a Rumi tale it appears that young Amir is genuinely scared in case there’s something lurking in the darkness of his bedroom – a terrible huge-toothed, hungry something that growls like a lion.

Dad’s advice is to reciprocate but be even more alarming This precipitates even more fears: suppose the monster’s dad has an even bigger frying pan for whacking than his own dad;

suppose his mum’s umbrella isn’t sufficiently scary and the end result is that the entire family become targets for monster consumption …

Perhaps it’s time for a different approach: Dad suggests he leaves the hostilities to the parents (human and monster) while Amir and the little monster play with toy cars together. It might even lead to a peaceable discussion between the grown ups.

Now that sounds like a very good idea; but there’s one thing Amir is determined not to share with any little monster and that is his precious Teddy.

Finally, having safely tucked the boy into bed with ted, there’s something Dad wants to know and that’s the name of Amir’s monster: the clue is in the title of this smashing book.

Elizabeth Laird puts just the right amount of scariness into her gently humorous telling. Her perceptive observations of the parent/child relationship underscore the entire tale and her dialogue is spot on, ensuring that adult sharers as well as their little ones will relish the story.

Jenny Lucander employs a fine line in her richly coloured, textured illustrations. Their wonderful quirkiness, especially in the portrayal of the monsters makes them endearing rather than frightening while her human figures give the book a contemporary look.

In Blossom

In Blossom
Yooju Cheon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Spring is in the air. A gentle breeze is blowing and blossoms are blooming as Cat sits down on a bench beneath a tree with a picnic basket.

Singing a little song, she begins to eat her lunch.

Soon after, along comes Dog with his book.

Cat makes room for him; he sits down and starts reading.

Suddenly the breeze blows a singe petal onto Cat’s nose causing a tickle, a sniff,

and a ‘Poof!’

The petal drifts across onto Dog’s nose. Another tickle, a sniff and Poof! …

A little later, Cat’s offer to share her lunch is accepted and thus, one assumes a friendship begins to blossom.

Yooju Cheon’s telling is spare and it’s definitely her exquisite, delicate inky illustrations that steal the show here. Look out for another developing friendship between two little birds as well.

Short and sweet and beautifully expressive sums up this gentle offering from an author/illustrator who is new to me.

Pip and the Bamboo Path

Pip and the Bamboo Path
Jesse Hodgson
Flying Eye Books

Thanks to deforestation, poaching, an illegal pet trade and accidental trapping the red panda population is critically endangered.

It’s on account of deforestation that little red panda Pip and her mother have to leave their Himalayan forest home and go in search of a new nesting place.

“Find the bamboo path on the other side of the mountain. It connects all the forests together and will lead you to safety.” So says an eagle, and the two pandas set off on a trek through the mountains in search of the path.

Their long, perilous journey takes them high into the cold shadowy mountain regions

and across a rocky ravine until eventually they reach the edge of a brightly lit city.

It’s a chaotic place but is it somewhere they can make a nest? And what of that bamboo path: do the fireflies know something about that? …

The spare telling of Jesse Hodgson’s story of endangered animals serves to highlight their plight and her illustrations are superb.

From the early scene of sinister silhouettes of the tools of destruction,

shadows and inky darkness powerfully amplify Jesse’s portrayal of Pip and her mother’s journey in search of safety.

Hugs and Kisses / Love from Pooh

Hugs and Kisses
Sam Hay and Emma Dodd
Egmont

The opening line of the Joni Mitchell’s classic song Both Sides Now popped into my head as I saw the cover of this book bearing the words ‘There are two sides to every story …’

Start from the front and there’s Big Blue Whale feeling, well blue on account of the fact that he’s the only creature in the ocean without someone to hug.
Several kind-hearted sea animals do their best to give him that longed-for hug but the whale’s size is an issue, as is his ticklishness

until he encounters an old shipwreck wherein lies a woeful Wiggly Octopus. Could she perhaps be the one …

Flip the book and we meet Wiggly Octopus in desperate need of a kiss better on account of a bumped head sustained while playing bubble ball. Her long, sucker-covered tentacles are a distinct disincentive to her fishy friends and the starfish she passes and one odd-looking creature merely swooshes right down into the depths away from her.

It looks as though it’s time to hide away in the old shipwreck and feel miserable, all alone and unkissed …

We all love a happy ending but this cleverly constructed book provides, depending on how you look at it, not that, but a happy middle; or alternatively, two happy endings that just happen to take place in the middle.

However, no matter which way you go, there’s a smashing pop-up encounter in the middle of Sam and Emma’s enchanting twist in its tail book.

Just right for Valentine’s Day or any time when someone needs a hug and a kiss.

Love from Pooh
A.A.Milne and E.H. Shepard
Egmont

Read one per day and you have an entire month’s worth of original quotations on the theme of love, from the one and only Pooh Bear. Unsurprisingly being as it’s his greatest love, honey features in a good few. Here’s one entitled ‘Frustrated Love’ to set those taste buds a-tingle: ‘He could see the honey / he could smell the honey, / but he couldn’t quite / reach the honey.

If you want to put a smile of delight on a special someone’s face this Valentine’s Day then this assemblage of delicious A.A. Milne snippets together with some illustrative gems from Ernest Shepard is just the thing (perhaps along with a pot of Pooh’s favourite sticky stuff).

Monster Match

Monster Match
Caroline Gray
Hodder Children’s Books

A host of zany-looking monsters each make a pitch to be chosen as a child’s special pet but is there one that stands out from the crowd?

First to strut its stuff is a tricky creature that advocates a daily run – now that’s a good idea.

Second comes a mock scary pink thing happy to do the frightening but wanting a little bit of snuggle room should it suffer from nocturnal fears.

Or what about a monster of the cuddly variety like this pamper-loving sweetie?

I’m not sure I’d advocate a monster that emerges from the rubbish bin covered in slime and stinking something dreadful; nor the snack guzzler who’s taste is for all kinds of gross looking ‘treats’,

especially not one that offers a dip in a drool pool. YUCK!

That’s almost all, but there are still one or two I won’t mention apart from to say that they join the others in claiming they’ll ‘be good, just like we should.’ Really?

Is there to be a winner? Which would your little monster choose I wonder …

Rhyming fun with a final twist: expect a few ‘EUGH!’s and “YUCK!’s when you share this one. Caroline Gray’s debut picture book most definitely offers plenty to talk about.

I’ll Love You …

I’ll Love You …
Kathryn Cristaldi and Kristyna Litten
Andersen Press

I doubt little ones these days are familiar with the phrase used on the opening page of this rhyming book, ‘I’ll love you till the cows come home’ but they’ll love the silliness of the whole thing. There are already countless books whose theme is the love a parent has for a child but this one is altogether zanier, without the saccharine sweetness that many of the sub’ Guess How Much I Love You’ kind have.

The nine verses each tell the reader they’ll be loved until … with each of the scenarios becoming increasingly outlandish. ‘I will love you till the frogs ride past / on big-wheeled bikes going superfast … // in a circus for seahorses, shrimp and bass. / I will love you till the frogs ride past.’

Or ‘till ‘ the deer dance by’ (sporting dapper top hats); till ‘ the geese flap down’ (with gourmet marshmallows);

till ‘the ants march in’ and then some, for there’s no end to this love.

The litany concludes as all good just before bed tales do, in a sequence of perfect bedtime scenes.

The catchy rhythm of Kathryn Cristaldi’s telling combined with Krystyna Litten’s portrayal of the animals’ exuberant activities make this a wonderfully silly way to assure your child they’re forever loved.

Alternatively, with Valentine’s Day coming up you might also consider it as an altogether different way of telling that special someone, ‘I’ll love you forever.’

Amazing

Amazing
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

The boy narrator of this wonderful picture book has a pet dragon named Zibbo. Zibbo can fly thanks to the boy’s teaching; and our narrator, thanks to his pet, knows exactly how to …

The two are pretty much inseparable and a terrific hit with the boy’s friends. Zippo is ace at hide-and-seek though basketball is at times troublesome, depending on who is catching the ball.

A true party enthusiast, Zippo can on occasion get just a tad over-animated, or should that be over-heated …

No matter what though, as different as he may be, Zippo is the very bestest best friend a child could possibly have: it’s a case of ‘no holds barred’ when it comes to challenges in the company of the tiny dragon, who in the narrator’s closing words truly is AMAZING! Just the way he is. The boy though doesn’t actually have the final words – those are left to Zippo …

Amazing too is the book’s creator, Steve. His joyously inclusive portrayal of boy and pet is a cause for celebration: it’s rare to find a mainstream trade publication with a disabled child as its main character, let alone one so prominently portrayed on the front cover. Even more important though, is that the narrator’s disability is incidental with the celebration of friendship taking centre stage.

Having taught in both mainstream and special education, I know for sure that the likelihood of students who are different being picked on by ignorant or thoughtless individuals, increases the further through the system they go. Young children are in my experience far more open and accepting of differences of all kinds, just like those in this story. However it’s the place to start when it comes to developing those open-hearted attitudes.

A must for all nurseries, early years settings and primary schools as well as the family bookshelf.

Rosie Is My Best Friend

Rosie is My Best Friend
Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster
‘Rosie is my Very Best Friend. And I think I’m hers.’ So says the narrator of Ali Pye’s new picture book.

We then hear how a little girl and a small dog spend a brilliant day together. Rising early they play quietly before breakfast so as not to disturb the grown ups …

Then after a spot of training the two set about helping with some jobs – gardening, shopping and tidying, none of which receive due adult appreciation. Instead they’re packed off for a long, albeit rather muddy, walk in the park

that concludes with an encounter with a large, extremely scary looking dog.

Safely home, having had tea, the friends spend some time in imaginative play before nestling up together in their very favourite place.

‘… tomorrow could be even better’ says the narrator anticipating another wonderful day and re-stating as the two snuggle into bed, ‘Yes, Rosie is the Very Best Friend …’

But there’s a twist in this tale that listeners may, or may not have been anticipating, as we learn who in fact the storyteller has been.

Who can resist the two faces looking out and drawing readers in from the cover of this wonderfully soft-hearted story of a special friendship? Ali Pye’s characteristically patterned illustrations of child and canine friend are adorably cute without being at all sentimental; even this very dog wary reviewer immediately warmed to the small black and white pooch.

When Sadness Comes To Call

When Sadness Comes To Call
Eva Eland
Andersen Press

Sadness can come at any time, right out of the blue and no matter how hard you try to avoid it or want to hide it away; it can become so overwhelming that you feel as though it has completely taken you over, mind and body.

In this, Eva Eland’s debut picture book she portrays Sadness as an amorphous physical entity, somewhat resembling a Babapapa, that comes a-knocking at the front door of a child.

Better than shutting it away and letting it frighten you, is to acknowledge it by giving it a name, then just let it be for a while. Perhaps there are things you can enjoy doing together – drawing, listening to music or drinking hot chocolate, or venturing outside for a walk.

Changing your response to this feeling is what’s required, rather than trying to change the feeling itself: be mindful of the sadness for things will get better.

Children’s mental well-being has become head-line news of late with more and more children, even young ones having problems with mental health. There are plenty of picture books about anger and how to cope with it, but far fewer on the topic of sadness or melancholy so this book is especially welcome. It’s sensitively written, empathetic and ultimately uplifting.

Eva’s hand-drawn illustrations for which she uses a three colour palette effectively portray the child’s changing emotions.

Her endpapers too show two different responses: in the front ones people are ignoring their sadness and look depressed, while the back endpapers show the same characters interacting with sadness and feeling better.

A book to share and discuss at home or in school. Armed with the knowledge offered therein young children have a tool to use with their own sadness next time it comes visiting.

Mole’s Star

Mole’s Star
Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books

Mole loves to watch the stars; they help to alleviate his feelings of loneliness that are sometimes brought on by the dark. Every night he sits on his favourite rock star gazing and enjoying their lights that twinkle in the sky.

One night he sees a shooting star and makes a wish. Finding himself immediately surrounded by tall ladders stretching all the way up to the sky, it seems his wish to own all the stars in the world can really come true.

Up and down the ladders Mole hurries, as he fills his burrow with starlight, giving not a thought to the consequences of his actions.

So much does Mole love the new brightness of his home

that it’s a while before he pops his head out of the molehill again. Total blackness meets his eyes; then he learns how his actions have affected the other woodland animals.

Ashamed of his thoughtlessness Mole wanders deep into the forest where he suddenly comes upon a dim light glinting in a puddle.
Voicing his regret at his ill-considered action has a surprising effect; the faded star twinkles and …

Mole knows exactly what he must do and happily his friends are ready to lend a paw, hoof or wing to help him.

Picturebook star Britta Teckentrup’s magical story highlights the importance of sharing, demonstrating how the wonders of the world belong to all its creatures. Her characteristic digitally worked collage style illustrations show the beauty of the natural world, while in this instance her sombre colour palette allows the night’s twinkling lights to shine through with dramatic effect.

Happy To Be Me

Happy To Be Me
Emma Dodd
Orchard Books

Emma Dodd’s simple rhyming celebration of all kinds of human bodies as presented by the six small children in her new book, is both wonderfully upbeat and inclusive.

The toddlers are happy in their own skins with mouths for smiling and laughing, wiggly toes, fingers and thumbs that can do so many different things

as well as hands that touch and hold; ears for listening; eyes for seeing; a head bursting with good ideas, arms for hugging, a nose for smelling; a tongue that tastes; legs that can fold up to make a lap – just right for a cosy napping place for a pet.

Thanks too, go to lips and teeth for facilitating eating and drinking; but most important of all to our hearts that let us love. And love is what shines forth from every spread.

With its adorable little individuals and two supporting adults, this book provides a great way for adults, either at home or in a nursery setting, to talk with very young children about their bodies and being thankful for the amazing things they can do.

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!

You’re Not a Proper Pirate, Sidney Green!
Ruth Quayle and Deborah Allwright
Nosy Crow

Here’s a book that takes a different slant on piratical tales with the all-absorbing nature of imaginative play at its heart.

When Sidney Green receives a letter urging him to stop playing and become a proper pirate he likes the idea but as he tells his playmate, dog Jemima, they have an important race to take part in first. “I’ll come in a minute,” is his response to Captain Shipshape and off he races, whoosh!

Race successfully completed, he forgets all about being a pirate until, in through the window flies a scarlet macaw that repeats Captain Shipshape’s summons.

Sidney’s response is the same as before. and he and Jemima plus the macaw set off on an expedition to Africa.

Once again a ‘rip-roaring time’ is had by all and the pirate business is forgotten.

He’s reminded however by three pirates, who come banging on his door disturbing the project Sidney is engaged in. Building a castle seems more interesting than returning whence they came so the three join in with the project.

It’s thirsty work and as the builders stop for some liquid refreshment who should appear on the scene but Captain Shipshape himself.

His dismissal of the friends’ activities as ‘just playing’ and his instruction to join him, have an unexpected outcome.
Before you can say ‘Proper pirate’ something heavy hits him on the head and he finds himself a member of Sidney’s crew blasting off into space to track down some dangerous aliens.

The outcome is another rip-roaring time …

How will this adventure end? You’ll have to unearth a copy of this treasure of a book for yourself to discover that. (That sentence holds a clue). Suffice it to say that there’s more than one way of being a ‘proper pirate’.

I love the way Ruth’s story highlights the importance of children’s imaginative play in this enormously engaging tale that is packed with action, has plenty of dialogue for readers aloud to let rip on, and some satisfying repetition for young listeners to join in with.

Deborah Allwright packs plenty of action into her digitally worked scenes of cars and corners, boats and a birthday celebration, castles and crocodiles, diggers and dinosaurs, and much more, making this a super story to share with your little ones.

The Girls

The Girls
Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie
Little Tiger

When four little girls meet under an apple tree, little do they know that the friendship they form will over the years, grow and deepen into one that lasts into adulthood.

We follow the four through the good times and the down times,

with the girls sharing secrets, dreams and worries as they grow into women

and by the end readers feel they too share in this friendship so well do they know the foursome.

There’s Lottie the adventurous one; full of ideas, Leela; practical Sasha and Alice, the one who is always able to make them laugh.

We’re really drawn in to this wonderfully elevating account of long-lasting female friendship that Lauren describes and Jenny Lovlie so beautifully illustrates.

Like friends everywhere, these four are totally different in so many ways but no matter what, transcending their differences, is that enduring bond between them symbolised by – what an apt metaphor it is – the growing, changing tree that embodies strength, support and above all, permanence.

Here’s hoping that all the young readers who encounter Lottie, Leela, Sasha and Alice within the pages of this inspiring book will, like those characters, find not only reassurance and emotional strength but the joys of true friendship in their own lives.

Jungle Jamboree

Jungle Jamboree
Jo Empson
Puffin Books

The jungle is alive with anticipation. The coming of dusk is the opportunity for all the animals, great and small, to show off their beauty; but which one will be judged the most beautiful of all?

One after another the creatures dismiss their natural beauty: Lion says his mane is too dull; bird’s legs are too short; zebra’s stripes are too boring; leopard’s spots too spotty and hippo’s bottom is well, just too big.

None of them expects to win the crown.

A passing fly is interested only in his lunch and while the other creatures all set about getting themselves ready for the jamboree, he happily sates his appetite.

At last all are ready but they’re hardly recognisable with their fancy adornments and new-found confidence.

The fly, in contrast talks only of the beauty of the day’s ending.

Finally the long-awaited hour of dusk arrives. Judges and creatures assemble ready to strut their stuff; but all of a sudden the clouds gather and a storm bursts upon them.

The animals are stripped of their flamboyant accoutrements and left standing in darkness as the storm finally blows itself out. Now it’s impossible for the judges to see who should receive that crown of glory.

Then the little fly speaks out, offering light, for this is no ordinary fly.

How wonderfully one little firefly illuminates all the creatures, now clad only in their natural beauty; but which will be declared the most beautiful of them all?

Jo’s story is funny, thought provoking and a superb celebration of kindness, self-acceptance and every individual’s unique beauty: her electrifying illustrations are a riot of colour and pattern and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts.

A Home on the River

A Home on the River
Peter Bently and Charles Fuge
Hodder Children’s Books

When Bramble Badger discovers that he has no water and neither have his friends he looks beyond his own front door.

Heading down to the river, he finds the riverbed is completely dry – there’s not even enough for Tipper Toad to take a dip.

Determined to help his friends, Bramble follows the dry river bed deep into the woods manoeuvring over and around obstacles and startling some of the woodland animals; he even takes an unplanned dip in a freezing lake, until eventually he comes upon a blockade.

Thinking the young squirrels have been up to mischief he goes to investigate.

What he finds though isn’t squirrels but a wooden house on an island.

The house is inhabited by one Sam beaver who doesn’t realise that his actions have caused problems further downriver.

Fortunately he’s ready to make amends and so Bramble shows him the perfect spot he’s discovered close by and all ends happily with water flowing once again.

Peter Bently’s rhyming story of friendship, sharing and caring for the world around us is the second to feature Bramble and his community of animal friends. Again in his lovely illustrations, Charles Fuge brings out both the warmth of Peter’s tale and the beauty of the natural world.

The Kiss

The Kiss
Linda Sunderland and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Little Tiger

Right from Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s inviting cover, this is a superbly uplifting book about one small expression of love and the life-changing consequences such acts of loving kindness can have.

It starts with a kiss blown by young Edwyn to his departing Grandma.

On her journey home, she shows this kiss to a sad-looking old man – with dramatic effects …

and blows him a kiss of her own as her bus leaves.

Walking through the park, she comes upon a woman shouting unkindly at her daughter. Again the sight of Grandma’s kiss has transformative effects –shared laughter between lady and child and an increase in the size of Gran’s kiss.

A surprise in the form of a rich and greedy man desirous of procuring her kiss awaits Grandma as she reaches home. Her refusal to part with it does nothing to deter the man who tries several ploys to get it but Grandma stands firm.

Finally the man resorts to theft and having stolen the kiss he stashes it away, for his eyes only, in a silver cage inside his tower.
Its incarceration has drastic effects on the kiss, on the elements and on the rich man’s mood, so much so that he returns what he’s taken to its rightful owner.

Instead of chastising him, Grandma shows him nothing but kindness, even bestowing upon him a mood-lifting farewell kiss.

I wonder what effects Edwyn’s big hug will have …

Linda Sunderland’s story is such a wonderful demonstration of how much more power for good a small act of kindness such as sharing has, than the grabbing greed of acquisition, as well as that It’s impossible to put a price on simple, heartfelt expressions of love.

Rising star Jessica’s illustrations are totally gorgeous; her delight in the natural world is evident in her vibrant, richly patterned scenes.

Perfectly Polite Penguins

Perfectly Polite Penguins
Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan
Little Tiger

As this story states at the outset, penguins are ALWAYS perfectly polite. Always? Surely that’s just too good to be true isn’t it?

Certainly most of them have excellent manners but there’s always an exception to the rule; in this case it’s Polly.
Polly penguin finds politeness boring and shows it by her actions.

She butts in when others are speaking, doesn’t think about the feelings of her fellow penguins; is untidy and bad-mannered especially at meal times.

When this lack of politeness infects others in the household, the resulting mayhem upsets Baby Peter so much that he shuts himself away.

Fortunately though Polly knows exactly how to put things right.

Is she now a reformed character? Errr! You know how it is with little humans: so it is with little penguins and perfection would be extremely boring wouldn’t it?

Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan’s fun demonstration of the importance of appropriate behaviour and consideration of others is great to share with young humans, especially the Pollys among them. I love the bold colour palette Ekaterina uses. Her portrayal of the antics of the penguin waddle as their behaviour deteriorates into penguin pandemonium is splendidly subversive; expect giggles galore.

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds

Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

As Douglas sits beneath a tree taking stock of his spring collection, it’s suddenly added to in an unexpected manner. A nest of eggs plummets into his lap, closely followed by a squirrel that informs Douglas it belongs to Swoopy Bird. The eggs are fine but the nest is rather the worse for its tumble.

Kind-hearted as ever, Douglas volunteers to mind the nest and its contents while its owner builds a new one but it seems a long wait.

One of the Funny Bunnies suggests egg hugging is a good way to keep the eggs warm – decidedly preferable to being sat upon by Douglas’ large rear – and it isn’t long before the eggs are ready to hatch.

The next challenge is to get the eight little hatchlings safely up to the new home Swoopy Bird has finished in the nick of time.

Once installed it’s hugs all round.

As always it’s perfectly pitched for young listeners but with sufficient humour – visual and verbal – to satisfy adult readers aloud too.

With its signature final double spread (here it’s things to spot on a spring day) and some crafty suggestions, this new story will please established fans, and make the huggable Douglas a lot of new followers.

Isle of You

Isle of You
David LaRochelle and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

The unseen narrator invites a sad-looking child to leave all worries behind and take a journey (a sailing boat awaits) to a very special place – the Isle of You. This fantastical land is one bathed in soft llght and on shore are a host of welcoming animals and small humans ready to indulge their visitor.

Choices abound: there’s a waterfall in which to swim, a stallion to ride, mountains to climb or perhaps a ride on the back of an eagle, or a restful stretch in a hammock is preferable.

‘Take your time. The choice is yours.’ That’s the assurance.

There’s entertainment laid on courtesy of dancing polar bears

and a delicious-looking feast to partake of before perhaps, a moonlit stroll on the beach before it’s time to depart, safe in the knowledge that ‘Someone loves you very, very, very much.’

This reads like a guided visualisation in picture book form – mindfulness for little ones after a bad day.

David LaRochelle’s gentle whimsical story is a sweet one (perhaps some will find it overly so) and Jaime Kim’s glowing pastel shades of yellow, pinks, blues and purples help bring feelings of comfort and an otherworldy atmosphere to a fantasy that will help youngster listeners, (safe in the knowledge that it’s sometimes okay to feel sad), to set aside the day’s trials and worries and undertake a mindful journey to a magical place, that’s closer than they think, the ISLE OF YOU.

Flat Cat

Flat Cat
Hiawyn Oram and Gwen Millward
Walker Books

Pampered puss Jimi-My-Jim, living a seemingly idyllic life with Sophie in a flat at the top of a tall block, does his very best to show his appreciation. As a result Sophie has no idea that her pet longs to be a part of the outside world.

When Sophie and her parents leave home each day why, you might wonder, does he merely sit at the window watching life go by? I certainly did.

Little by little his pampered, prison-like existence takes its toll: the creature begins to flatten out until he looks utterly two dimensional – he’s become, in the style of Jeff Brown’s human boy hero Stanley, a FLAT CAT.

Then one day, Sophie and her Mum leave him alone. Now here I anticipated Jimi sliding under the door, but no. In their haste, the two forget the keys giving him the perfect opportunity to take action. He dons his coat, grabs the keys, does a spot of climbing and exits onto the street, destination another feline he’s had his eye on.

Streetwise Blanche introduces herself and offers to show Jimi around. Together they explore the city;

Blanche takes Jimi to meet all her feline friends and a few canine ones as well; but  evening comes all too soon and Jimi doesn’t want to say farewell.

Instead he invites his new friends home and even thows a party for them.

What on earth will Sophie and her parents do when they return? Could it be the end for Jimi’s forays into the big wide world?
Let’s just say it’s a happy ending and not just for the main protagonist …

I’ve always been a rule-breaker so thoroughly enjoyed Hiawyn’s tale of freedom, adventure and friendship, feline style. Gwen Millward’s distinctive naive, flat cartoon illustrations are a purr-fect portrayal of Jimi’s jaunts and underscore the message that freedom, love and friendship not material things are what make people happy.

Dreamland

Dreamland
Noah Klocek
Walker Books

Unlike most young children, Amelie puts up no resistance at bedtime; indeed she loves everything about it – snuggling into her favourite blanket and listening to bedtime stories,

but most of all, she loves to dream.

Her dreams however often prove elusive and she has to search for them.

At this point in the story, (with a nod to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) we see a forest growing in her bedroom.
She finds herself in strange landscapes as various items from her room become part of the dreamscape:

is this journey all part of her dreams, is what listeners will wonder.

On Amelie marches taming whatever hides among the shadows,

dancing ‘past the tick and tock of the clock’ as she travels far and wide, through high clouds and deep dark waters until finally sleep embraces her; and a happy sleep it is for she’s ‘found herself in her favourite dreams’.

Dreamily enigmatic is Noah Klocek’s story while his ink and watercolour illustrations chronicle the mysteries of her night-time slumber.

A book for individuals to ponder over as part of their own bedtime routines.

Collecting Cats

Collecting Cats
Lorna Scobie
Scholastic

If you love cats and wish to become a collector of same, then you’d be wise not to emulate the narrator of Lorna Scobie’s debut picture book.

To attract the objects of her desire said narrator conceives a plan: use bait of the cheesy variety.

Now cats aren’t generally attracted to this delicacy, but certain small rodents much loved by the wanted felines most certainly are,

and it doesn’t take long for the ruse to bear fruit, or should that be cats, a dozen of them to be precise – some fluffy, some spotty, some fat and the remainder, thin.

Not content with twelve, and still having some unconsumed cheese at the ready, our narrator leaves the remaining bait to do its job.

However things start to get just a little out of hand as hoards of domestic cats descend, followed by bigger, wilder kinds.

Maybe this cat collecting idea wasn’t such a great one after all.
Another plan might be more manageable, perhaps …

I first came across Lorna Scobie as the illustrator of Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ Pairs board books and Nicola Davies’ The Variety of Life, so it’s great to see her first solo picture book.
Her cat and mouse portrayal is splendid; it looks as though she really enjoyed creating so many different-looking furry creatures, every one of which including the mice, has a different personality – no mean feat. I’m anything but a lover of cats but I thoroughly enjoyed the feline frolics herein.

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night / Grizzly Boy

Marvin and Marigold: A Stormy Night
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

On a wild windy night, as Marigold snuggles under her blanket, the lights go out and frightened by all the shadowy shapes in her room, she gathers up her blanket, pillow and teddy and hides under the bed.

As she cowers in the darkness there’s a rat-a-tat at her window and she sees her neighbour Marvin Mouse. Marvin is frightened by the wind and also wants to hide.

Marigold invites him in to share her safe place and the two take comfort in each other’s company but not for long.

Soon there comes another knock: it’s Marvin’s grandparents out hunting for their missing poodle. They’ve brought some tasty treats to share

but then comes a howling, a scratch-scratching and a growling outside. Now who or what might that be?
Young listeners will likely anticipate what Marigold finds when she opens to door yet again …

Mark Carthew’s rhyming text bounces along nicely as he creates a mock-scary, ultimately feel good tale of a stormy night.
Simon Prescott adds tension and additional frissons of fear to the mix helping to conjure up the feelings of both the alarm and relief felt by the two small mice.

Grizzly Boy
Barbara Davis-Pyles and Tracy Subisak
Little Bigfoot

Theo wakes up one morning and decides to be a grizzly bear, a very wild and growly one that needs to use the bedpost as a bottom scratcher and doesn’t wear underwear (wait for the giggles) or shoes.

Undaunted, his mum replaces his usual favourite breakfast cereal with fruit and veggies and eventually, with clever use of a poster taped to his bedroom door, manages to pack him off to school.

There, an ursine Theo creates havoc in the classroom and it’s a rather careworn boy who greets his mum back home.

Suddenly however, there’s a turnaround: mum has an attack of the grizzlies and thereafter a compromise is struck as she shows it’s fine to have some wild and free experiences, but in the right place at the right time.

Illustrator Tracy Subisak successfully alternates the two sides of Theo as boy and bear bringing out his changing emotions throughout. With speech bubbles adding to the impact of the author’s storyline, this is a book to spark off discussion about feelings.

Emily Green’s Garden / Hodge Podge Lodge

Emily Green’s Garden
Penny Harrison and Megan Forward
New Frontier Publishing

Emily Green’s house is perfectly lovely, so too is her busy bustling street. It’s the epitome of tidiness; likewise her house.
Emily however is tired of all this; she longs for opportunities to be playful, creative and messy.
One day she discovers a small green shoot poking up between the paving stones and this sparks an enthusiasm for gardening.

At first her parents are happy to allow her fill the house with plants; but little by little her wildness increases and eventually they decide enough is enough.

The garden must move outdoors and so it does …

The transformation is one that pleases not only her mum and dad but everyone in the neighbourhood too.

Emily’s growing passion shines forth from Penny Harrison’s telling, and from Megan Forward’s cover picture and her increasingly horticultural, watercolour spreads

Hodge Podge Lodge
Priscilla Lamont
New Frontier Publishing

In Hodge Podge Lodge live the Pigwigs, a family of very messy pigs. Their consumer life style is such that they accumulate an excess of unnecessary things and inevitably, the packaging that comes with it.

One very windy morning, a strong gust distributes all their rubbish far and wide. The consequences are a disaster for all their neighbours who suffer adversely in one way or another.

So disgusted are they that a meeting is called after which the animals collect up all the scattered rubbish and take it back to the Pigwigs residence.

Fortunately, Little Miss Pigwig decides to put project re-use into action and the result is something that pleases everyone. Moreover, the Pigwigs become reformed characters who think carefully about how they dispose of everything they no longer require.

Priscilla Lamont’s story, an unashamed swipe at our excessive consumerism and the throw away society, is a stark reminder of the importance of re-using, recycling and caring for the environment.

What Should a Horse Say? / Business Pig

What Should a Horse Say?
Fleur McDonald and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing

Farmer Rochelle has a cow that says ‘moo moo’, a sheep that says ‘baa baa’, a chicken that says ‘chick chick’ and a horse that says, err… ‘chick chick’!
It’s not until she receives a visit from Farmer Hayden who brings a box of six baby ‘chick, chick chick’ -ing baby chicks however, that she questions the sound her horse makes.

Surprisingly Farmer Hayden isn’t sure and none of her other friends can help either, although one does have a cockatoo that says, ‘Can I have more chocolate? Squark!’ Eventually they send for Dr Swan the vet.

Can his investigations offer a solution?

Young children will delight in being in the know throughout the story and relish the silliness of the entire tale. Equally they’ll love the opportunity to make a lot of farmyard sounds as they join in with Fleur McDonald’s telling and enjoy Annie White’s amusing rural watercolours.

Business Pig
Andrea Zuill
Sterling

When Jelly Bean the sow gives birth to five piglets, one stands out from all the others. Given the name Jasper by the animal sanctuary workers, this piglet eschews playing in the mud and rooting for grubs and acorns and quickly becomes a firm favourite at the sanctuary. So much so he’s given his own special space.
There he sets about becoming a business pig, helping with the bookkeeping, holding meetings, producing endless charts and more, to the annoyance of some of his fellow residents. Even worse, he can’t seem to interest anybody in giving him a loving home.

Nevertheless, Jasper is determined and proactive and forms a business marketing plan to get himself adopted; after all he is a
‘gen-u-ine Business Pig’ as one of the workers said at the outset.

It’s not long before his efforts begin to pay off; could it be that the perfect home is in sight …

This playful tale with its themes of determination and being true to yourself, successfully mixes humour and moments of sheer heart-warming charm, both of which are brought out beautifully in Andrea Zuill’s splendidly expressive illustrations.

Eva’s Imagination

Eva’s Imagination
Wenda Shurety and Karen Erasmus
New Frontier Publishing

When a little girl announces that she’s bored her mum’s, “What’s happened to your imagination, Eva?” response triggers a wonderful adventure in which she and her canine companion Chops go on a search, although Eva doesn’t know what an imagination actually is.

It’s a search that takes them all over the house as they journey into a forest,

climb mountains, explore a cave, visit a rainforest full of colourful creatures – some a bit scary. They discover a long-lost toy rabbit and some books …

but don’t find Eva’s imagination, or do they?

Eva certainly declares it “the best adventure”.

A wry look at the importance of allowing children to be bored, for that is when the all-important imagination often kicks in. After all, It’s that ability to stand back and say, “suppose that …’ or what if …’ in other words, the power of the imagination that has led to so many discoveries be they scientific, mathematical, technological.

Karen Erasmus clearly understands that as she transforms the interior landscape of Eva’s home into some wonderfully exciting places for the two searchers to explore.

Hurrah for an author and illustrator who understand just how crucial imagination is.

All About Ben / The Giant from Nowhere

All About Ben
Dorothy Markham & Aileen O’Donnell
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Here’s a little book for children from around five to the age of Ben, the narrator who is eight, particularly those who have attachment issues, but equally for children who have a Ben character in their lives either as a friend, member of their peer group or relation. It aims to help children like Ben understand their feelings and emotions and how these cause them to behave in certain ways; and to develop the confidence to open up to an adult who can help them manage all their different parts.

Ben introduces himself, part by part: his action parts and nine feeling parts.

He goes on to talk about and give examples of, how different situations cause him to feel different parts – when playing with friends he feels his happy part whereas falling out with a friend brings his hurt part into play;

when he helps others he feels his caring part; and it’s the combination of all these different parts that makes him who he is.

Readers are then asked about their own feeling parts to add to Ben’s lists and we learn how feeling parts affect action parts (cause and effect) – which is important for children’s self understanding.

The final pages are devoted to the crucial roles of talking and listening (including the role of a trusted adult) in the development of a secure, integrated, happy and confident person able to understand and manage his/her emotions.

Reassuring and helpful, this is a useful book to have in primary school classrooms.

The Giant from Nowhere
Frances Dickens and Peter Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

When the Giant from Nowhere sets out to find a place with some company, little does he know that his sheer size is going to cause him problems. So it is in the little village of Somewhere. Its residents are terrified when he appears in their midst, and tell him in no uncertain terms to go away. His angry response causes damage to their homes and the Giant departs.

The villagers then decide to hunt him down and put him on trial. After a newspaper report and a police search, the Giant is found and eventually a little boy succeeds in getting him to answer some questions.

A trial follows and the defendant pleads guilty. The boy speaks up for him and the judge decides on a community sentence.

To reveal what happens thereafter would spoil the ending but suffice it to say all ends happily for everybody.

This is an insiders and outsiders story that should encourage plenty of discussion on such themes as empathy, mutual understanding and inclusivity.

A class of primary children could have fun acting it out in addition to participating in some of the activities included at the back of the book.

Geronimo

Geronimo
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

When a new hatchling penguin going by the unlikely name of Geronimo bursts into the snowy world of the Antarctic he’s fuelled by a determination to become airborne, despite his father’s assertions that penguins can’t fly.

His first attempt sees him plunging headlong into the freezing-cold ocean. Unabashed he relaunches himself, this time using a seal’s enormous belly as a springboard, only to nose dive into deep snow.

But Geronimo isn’t ready to give in that easily: he has the ingenious notion of placing his bottom over the blowhole of a whale. This rather reckless rear end rest results in his needing beak-to-beak resuscitation from his pa.

Thoughts of flight now fill not only his every waking moment but also his dreams – every single night it’s the same …

Eventually, the Emperor emperor penguin instructs his Dad to tell Geronimo once and for all he’s to stop trying. But surely that can’t be the end of his aeronautic antics?

Perhaps not, with the collective brains of the colony working overtime …
After all there is more that one way of looking at things now isn’t there? It’s certainly so if you happen to be a yogi, or at least, like the adult penguins in the story, able to stand on your head.

Totally crazy but then this is David Walliams with his off the wall humour. Tony Ross adds his own brilliant touches of zaniness with a sequence of hilarious spreads of Geronimo’s efforts and the optical delusion that finally makes his dream come true.

Hold fast to your dreams – what a great message for young children.

Jingle Spells / Meg’s Christmas

Jingle Spells
James Brown
Simon & Schuster

Unlike other witches, young Trixie is not excited at Halloween, it’s Christmas that she loves and she’s determined to show her fellow witches why.

Who better to help her in her mission to demonstrate that the magic of Christmas is the best of all than Santa himself?
Seemingly though witches have a bad reputation within the walls of Santa’s workshop so her letter receives a firm refusal from his head elf.

Determined to prove that she isn’t ‘naughty’, Trixie sets off to see Santa nonetheless.

What she discovers on arrival at the workshop isn’t the hustle and bustle she’d expected. Instead there’s a decided lack of toys on the elves’ shelves and worse still, it’s not only the elves who are suffering from bad colds, Santa too has succumbed to a very bad attack of the wheezes and sneezes.

Time to mix a special curative potion but will it work; in fact will the smitten even take so much as a sip of Trixie’s warming brew?

It appears to be the only way that Christmas can be saved …

A fun, elf-filled festive frolic featuring an endearing little miss who brings her own special brand of seasonal magic to the Christmas season: James Brown’s Trixie has an irresistible charm.

Meg’s Christmas
Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser
Puffin Books

After all these years Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg, Mog and Owl star in their very first Christmas adventure and the magic still holds good.

When a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve flooding Meg’s residence, there’s only one thing to do and Meg does it: ‘Find us somewhere dry to stay but bring us home for Christmas Day!’ she chants.

Before you can say “magic spell” the broomstick whisks them up and away to …

Instead of hanging up their stockings in the comfort of their own home Meg, Mog and Owl do so in the very spooky room where they spend the night.

Come Christmas morning the three are anxious to be off to meet the friends they’ve invited to their Christmas party. Can they be ready in time for their guests? …

The magic of the threesome never wanes: this seasonal offering will be enjoyed by parents who loved the early Meg and Mog adventures, as well as by their young offspring coming new to the stories penned by David Walser.

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton
Egmont

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.

I Was Made For You

I Was Made For You
David Lucas
Andersen Press

As soon as a woman finishes knitting a soft toy cat, “Why was I made” asks the creature. “It’s a surprise,” comes the response.
The woman gift-wraps the cat with a “no peeping” instruction. The woolly animal remains curious as he’s placed under the Christmas tree.

All is darkness and quiet. Cat peeps out of his wrapping and discovers a gift tag bearing the name DAISY. He’s puzzled for that is not his name and once more asks as he looks out at the darkness, “Why was I made?’

Surprisingly DARKNESS responds telling him to wait until morning. Cat isn’t willing to and having freed himself entirely, wanders through the door and out into the night in search of a satisfactory answer. Unbeknown to the answer seeker though, he catches a thread on a nail protruding from the floor.

He continues asking the same question to steps (down which he skids); the whirling snow, rock, stars, wind, and trees.

Thoughtful responses come from each one, until day dawns and then in the morning light, Cat realises that he’s growing shorter; he’s barely half of what he was.

Sun is the recipient of his final existential “Why was I born?” From the ensuing dialogue, Cat deduces that he’s intended as a gift for Daisy.

By now though, all that remains of our answer seeker is a long, loose woollen thread.

Meanwhile back in the house, presents are being opened, but there’s no present for Daisy. There are clues though which mother and child follow through the snowy landscape with Mummy winding the strand into a large ball.

This she uses to make Cat ‘good as new’.

David Lucas combines a folklore style narrative with folk art style illustrations, many beautifully bordered as in A Letter for Bear to fashion an unusual, seemingly simple tale that is likely to generate philosophical musings on behalf of young listeners and readers.

This would make a gorgeous offering for a thoughtful child this Christmas season.

Silent Night

Silent Night
Lara Hawthorne
Lincoln Children’s Books

One of the world’s favourite Christmas carols, composed 200 hundred years ago in Austria and now with UNESCO cultural heritage status, is given a beautiful pictorial rendition by author/illustrator Lara Hawthorne.

Her beautiful, richly patterned illustrations stand out against an inky, star speckled night sky telling the nativity story using just the English translation of Joseph Mohr’s words.

We see Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, settle themselves in the stable and the baby – the holy infant – is born.

Thereafter come spreads of the announcement of the birth to the shepherds by a heavenly host

and their visitation to see the Christ child.

The Three Kings’ journey following the star and their presentation of the gifts take up the next three spreads

and in the final three we see animals of all kinds, drawn to the stable over which the star shines and joining the humans in a joyful celebration.

Any one of Lara’s spreads would make a superb Christmas card.

The book concludes with notes about the origins of the carol and the words (though not the music) of the carol.

A gorgeous Christmas offering.

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree / All Aboard for Christmas

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow Books

Pip and Posy are a duo much loved by countless under fives and now they star in a lovely new tale that’s a great seasonal treat.
It’s Christmas Eve and the best friends bring home a Christmas tree. Once installed in a large pot, they set to work decorating it.

First off they bake some festive biscuits to hang on it. Then Posy goes to get the candy canes but when she comes back, one of the biscuits has mysteriously vanished.

The same thing keeps happening: each time she turns her back to find more goodies to add to the tree, there’s one less decoration when she returns. Hmm!

Young children will of course relish seeing what Posy doesn’t. Nor does she realise what’s been going on until she finds Pip flat out on the sofa with a rather bulging tum and saying he’s feeling sick.

Posy keeps quiet and allows Pip time to confess and then the two work together towards a satisfying solution to their lack of tree ornaments

and for listeners especially, there’s a lovely, even more satisfying finale come Christmas morning.
An enormously appealing festive addition to this ever-popular series of Axel’s.

All Aboard for Christmas
Andrew Kolb and Nichole Mara
Abrams Appleseed

There’s a train full of seasonal fun just waiting at the station – it’s Santa’s Christmas train with a gingerbread driver. Inside (lift the flaps to see within) it’s packed full of brightly coloured things to look for and to discuss, questions to answer and most important, lots to enjoy. There are elves and reindeer, penguins, pies and plenty of other good things to eat, toys and other treats.

Once extended, the train is over a metre long and you can reverse the extended carriages to see the frozen, snowy landscape through which Santa journeys, all the while searching the carriages for his missing boot..

With its die-cut windows, there’s plenty to engage little ones who take the ride on Christmas Eve.

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

What a gorgeous introduction to the festive season for a little babe is the latest in Lisa and Edward’s Baby’s First Cloth Book series.

Baby Boo, suitably clad is taken outdoors into the snow where, to the song of a bird, Daddy and infant build a snowman. Back inside the fire gives a warm glow, the Christmas tree lights sparkle and soon Santa will come with a special gift for Baby Boo.

With its crinkly pages and buggy handle, this book in a box would make a lovely gift for a new parent this Christmas.

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

The mouse elves are all prepared; it’s time to start decorating. Out come the lights, the garland, the baubles, and the star.
But why sunglasses and hot chocolate and surely a map and air freshener aren’t needed to adorn a tree?

Eventually in a fun twist, Ethan Long reveals all. It’s a turbo-charged sleigh those elves have been busily decorating: now who might that belong to? …

Just right to share as you and your toddler set about decorating your tree.

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Unlike other titles in this series where you can make an entire scene, the press-out pieces from this festive book slot together or are used separately to make twenty seasonal decorations – Santa, a reindeer, an angel, snowflakes and a star, bells and baubles, candy canes and a Christmas tree to hang on your tree.
There are also pages with instructions for making paper chains and wrapping paper, recipes for gingerbread biscuits and snowball truffles, the words of the ever popular Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and those little ones who like messier things can use their hands and feet to print a reindeer’s head: (if done on thick paper or card these might be turned into Christmas cards).

Helpfully the decorations can be dismantled and popped back into the book to keep them safe until next year.

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ag Ford
Chronicle Books

Christmas is almost here but the construction vehicle team has one final job to complete: they’re building a very special house and they really must get it done.

Into action roars Bulldozer first and for his trouble he receives a special thank you gift.

So it is with Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck and Crane: each one gets a special ‘thank you’ surprise at the end of the day.

Then across the snow comes the fleet of fire-trucks, bells a-ringing. What awaits this merry ‘fire crew’ as they come to a halt for the night? …

Full of the seasonal spirit of friendship and kindness, the rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain “Merry Christmas! … Goodnight.” together with richly coloured spreads of the construction vehicles against a snowy townscape make for a truck-lovers delight.