Stuck Inside

Stuck Inside
Sally Anne Garland
Sunbird Books

I suspect we can all relate to the title of this story, though perhaps not for the reasons that Tilly and her dog Toby are faced with. The latter has an injured paw so his usual walks have temporarily stopped; Tilly is staying in on account of the rain storm and both girl and dog are feeling hemmed in.

Cooped up together with no adults around, what can they do? Then Toby brings something that belongs outdoors and puts it at Tilly’s feet. This gives her an idea and together they start to explore their large home in search of outdoor items.

Somewhat apprehensively they look behind ‘doors that had always seemed closed’,

inspect beneath beds, open drawers and scour shelves uncovering ‘dusty things long forgotten.’ There they find hitherto unnoticed and interesting things – toys, old walking sticks, broken brollies, roller skates and other items with wheels, a deflated paddling pool even.

Having spent some time tweaking and twiddling these long lost treasures, remembering places visited and creating imaginative adventures, they proudly contemplate their astonishing machine …

Sally Anne Garland’s carefully chosen words in combination with her richly patterned and textured illustrations with their rural setting, effectively demonstrate that boredom can be the best possible stimulus for children’s creativity.

Tisha and the Blossom

Tisha and the Blossom
Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Oxford Children’s Books

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

To me, these opening lines of the WH Davies poem I learned in primary school lie at the heart of this latest collaboration between Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus.

Like most of us, young Tisha and her family lead busy lives and wherever she goes, whatever she does, the little girl is constantly being told by adults to “Hurry up”. It happens in the morning as she enjoys watching the blossom fall, as she leaves for school and all the way through the school day.

So when her mum arrives to pick her up and urges her to hurry for the bus, it’s the last straw.

Fortunately Tisha’s request that they slow down results in mother and daughter walking home and enjoying a special game to help them do just that.

Then when they reach home Dad is there to join in with the welcome change of pace.

We all need to make time to be still and mindful in our hectic world; if nothing else the last twelve months has made us realise the importance of paying attention to the pleasure offered by small things. Wendy’s engaging story with Daniel Egnéus’ scenes – especially the blossom-filled ones, are a truly gorgeous affirmation of this.

Shu Lin’s Grandpa

Shu Lin’s Grandpa
Matt Goodfellow and Yu Rong
Otter-Barry Books

Shu Lin has recently come from China and with very little English, is struggling to fit in at her new school.

At lunchtime the other children are fascinated as they watch her tuck in to her little boxes of food. On the way home, one of her classmates recalls when he too was a newcomer but it’s not until Shu Lin’s grandpa visits the class with his Chinese paintings that anything really changes.

No words are needed as the children look in awe at his scrolls with their amazing scenes.

Then as silently as he arrived, Shu Lin’s grandpa leaves the classroom. That afternoon, the class teacher gives the children the opportunity to try painting their own pictures in response to what they’ve seen.

Matt Goodfellow’s text is presented through the narration of one of Shu Lin’s classmates and this is highly effective in that the boy relates his own experience to that of the newcomer showing understanding throughout the book, while Yu Rong’s illustrations, including a gate-fold that opens to reveal a remarkable Chinese scene, are absolutely superb.

That art is a hugely effective way of helping to develop empathy with other cultures comes across with a quiet power in this story that celebrates the imagination while demonstrating the importance of reaching out to others.

An important book to include in primary school class collections.

Gerald Needs a Friend

Gerald Needs a Friend
Robin Boyden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Guinea pig Gerald is a loner and fanatical about his routine. His entire world is his garden wherein he spends most of his days nurturing his flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Come 5 o’clock he goes indoors and has tea, reads twenty pages of his book and at 7pm he retires to bed: a risk-taker he most certainly is not.

One morning he heads off into town with his shopping bags and is surprised to discover a new stall run by two lively mice. The mice introduce themselves and for the rest of the day, after some initial hesitancy, Gerald experiences lots of fun exciting things

and thanks to Marcy and Marcel, has the time of his life until …

That night he lies awake in bed contemplating the day and next morning …

Robin Boyden’s Gerald most certainly discovered that by stepping out of the comfort zone of his hitherto fulfilling life, the world had a lot more to offer, the most important thing being friendship.

The illustrations are terrific – hugely expressive and full of amusing details to pore over. A book to share with KS1 classes (make sure you allow time to explore each spread), as well as individuals and small groups.

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail

Once Upon A Mermaid’s Tail
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Beatrice Blue’s new story in her series of ‘Once Upon A … ‘ neo pourquoi tales makes an urgent environmental plea on behalf of the planet’s wildlife.

Herein we meet young Theodore, a passionate fish collector who loves nothing better than to go out once a week in his little boat searching for new fish to add to his aquaria. On one such expedition he nets something amazingly beautiful: a tiny creature encased in a clear shell. No sooner does he start handling it than a voice booms a warning, “Leave her, Theodore! She belongs to the ocean.”

Disregarding the voice he takes her home ignoring the same voice urging him to return the creature to the ocean. Convincing himself he can take great care of the tiny thing, he names it Oceanne and places her into a tank.

As the days go by, instead of thriving the little creature becomes weaker and weaker. Now Theodore is alarmed. What is wrong? The return of that booming voice makes him realise that he must return the creature to the lagoon; but will he be in time to save Oceanne?

Beautifully illustrated and skilfully told, this timely book is another reminder of the fragility of nature and the importance of doing our part in its preservation. It offers a starting point for discussion that young children will find easy to relate to.

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
Dr Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón
Walker Books

Talking to nine year olds about nano particles? Surely not, you might at first think. However the author of this book knows just how to do it.

This is a totally captivating look at materials and the uses scientists make of them by physicist Dr Jess Wade from Imperial College, London and illustrator, Melissa Castrillón.

Right from the opening spread containing the words, “Look around your home. Everything is made of something … “ readers are drawn in, all the more so as the text then goes on to use the book itself as an exemplar to remind us of some basic descriptions of materials as well as introducing the importance of microscopy. 

That leads neatly in to a spread on atoms – those building blocks from which ‘every single thing on this planet is made …’ and molecules.

A great thing about this book is that every new term that’s introduced – elements for instance- is immediately then related to something familiar to its target audience:. So we’re told, the human body comprises eleven different elements including carbon. This element is part of the make up of every living thing, but sometimes existing solely as layers of carbon atoms; graphite (the lead in pencils) is given as an example.

By moving on to graphene (created by removing a single layer of carbon atoms from graphite) the author takes us into unfamiliar territory with a new material: or rather, a ‘nanomaterial’ that has taken countless experiments and many years to make.

Graphene, we’re told, already has many uses in technology but because nanotechnology is a dynamic field of study, there are further possibilities, some not perhaps even dreamt of yet. Neatly bringing the narrative full circle to the reader, the author concludes ‘There are so many secrets left for scientists to unlock, And who knows the key person might just be … YOU.’

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Do You Love Dinosaurs?

Do You Love Dinosaurs?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ask a group of children the title question and almost certainly the vast majority will answer in the affirmative, so this book, brimming over with awesome, roarsome dinos is set to be a winner.

Accompanied by some young palaeontologists, Matt Robertson takes readers way way back in time to meet these incredible creatures large and small. First though come ten ‘must obey’ dinosaur rules to help ensure that youngsters get the maximum from their experience.

It’s then time to introduce in turn, the theropods – meat eating, terrifying two-legged beasts; then the sauropods (gigantic vegetarian, gentle creatures) among which were the diplodocuses.

Prepare to hide, for Tyrannosaurus rex comes next – AAARRRHH! those gaping jaws. Much less alarming are the herbivores including several new to me, as are some of the omnivores with which they share a double spread.

Horns and spikes were great protectors and the armoured dinosaurs also show their skills and how they used their incredible armour; and last we meet the deadly bird-like raptors.

The final spreads look at dinosaur fossils, development from egg to adult, there’s a dino sports event, a look at some other prehistoric creatures and last of all, annotated portraits of extra special dinos in a hall of fame.

The author takes a light-hearted approach and his illustrations are huge fun, while there’s a considerable amount of information packed into each spread.

Howard the Average Gecko

Howard the Average Gecko
Wendy Meddour and Carmen Saldaña
Oxford Children’s Books

Howard apparently has a very high opinion of himself and a seeming disregard for his fellow rainforest dwellers. So intent on bragging about his camouflage skills is he,

that he fails to notice that same ability in a number of the other creatures, that is until he encounters a stick insect. Stick insect’s “The rainforest is full of camouflaged creatures”

is let’s say, an ego deflater, even more so is its “You’re average”. and Howard has a crisis of confidence about his lovableness.

Suddenly out of the foliage comes a stunning creature

and despite what the stick insect thinks of her, Howard declares the wobbly-eyed reptile “magnificent”. This other gecko introduces herself as Dolores. The instantly smitten Howard invites her to watch the sunset with him and together these two ‘average geckos’ climb up a tree onto …

With its surprise finale, this is a fun story that introduces animal camouflage (look out for the creatures Carmen Saldaña has hidden away in her leafy scenes) while being a smashing book to show all young children that they’re just right as they are. Endless comparisons with others do nothing to foster self-esteem: it’s having people who love you that counts – to them you are in your own unique way, very special.

Ten Little Dogs / Ten Little Yoga Frogs

Ten Little Dogs
Ruth Brown
Scallywag Press

Who can fail to delight in this rhyming countdown by well-loved and respected author/illustrator Ruth Brown. Her array of pooches look such engaging creatures as they romp energetically in all kinds of settings indoors and out with their number diminishing on each double spread

until just one remains. But not for long because being alone is not nearly as much fun as dashing off to rejoin your nine friends cavorting and barking loudly in the park.

Yes there’s some simple maths herein but it’s the spirited illustrations that count for much of the pleasure to be discovered between the covers of this book. Every double spread is a visual feast with detailed, realistic images of adorable canines in beautiful surroundings, accompanied by a four line text with perfectly calculated page turns.
A treat for dog lovers of all ages, this.

Ten Little Yoga Frogs
Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley
Catch a Star

This is a fun way to engage in some counting practice while at the same time trying some basic yoga poses along with the snazzily attired yogi frogs.

Wearing both my foundation stage teacher hat and my yoga teacher hat simultaneously, I absolutely love this rhyming counting book. It’s great to see that not all the participants are experts at doing the poses: take a look at these three.

And who wouldn’t want to respond with a resounding yes to the invitation on the final spread …

With its predictable text and hilarious illustrations (each spread has a small box in the corner showing the specific yoga asana the frogs are doing) this book would make a smashing addition to any early years setting or foundation stage classroom, as well as being one to add to family collections where there are young children.

Maybe …

Maybe …
Chris Haughton
Walker Books

“Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree. There are tigers down there.” So says the departing adult monkey to the three little monkeys. An invitation to do just that, if ever there was one and as you might expect, after due consideration and a quick scan below, the trio start descending through the canopy lured by an irresistibly delicious sight.

After another quick scan for tigers (your audience will have spotted something but not the eager threesome), they dash down, secure a yummy fruit and consume same. But is just one sufficient? Of course not, so the monkeys climb right the way down to the ground.

As they sit feasting on some succulent spoils, the monkeys become aware that this latest step was perhaps one too many, for there follows a dramatic case of tiger confrontation and a splendidly scary, suspenseful dash for their lives that listeners will relish. But what about the monkeys?

To discover that, and how the story ends, you’ll need to creep out to a nearby bookshop and get a copy of your own.

Maybe, just maybe this is my favourite of Chris’s books so far, but then I love boundary pushing risk-takers. That chase over four double spreads is absolutely superb; in fact the whole book is simply brilliant.

Chickenology / Milly Cow Gives Milk

Barbara Sandri and Francesco Giubbilini, illustrated by Camilla Pintonato
Princeton Architectural Press

This introductory book contains everything you ever wanted to know about chickens and probably a lot more too. There are five sections (listed on contents page but not mentioned thereafter) into which is packed an incredible amount of information presented in a highly readable manner with well-designed, stylishly illustrated spreads, every one of which has just the right amount of text so that at no time does the reader feel overwhelmed.

It starts with pages on identification; how to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster, courtship and mating, a spread on shape and size – astonishingly a Jersey Giant is almost the height of a three year old child. Communication is given a double spread; feathers have two and the Leghorn spread presents a dozen different varieties of the same breed, something I didn’t know.

Last in the first section is an exploration of the question ‘Can chickens fly?’

The next part begins with a look at the anatomy – internal and external and then comes a section comprising an egg-sploration of eggs.

My favourite section is ‘Chickens and Humans’ that encompasses some history, symbolism, folktales and more.

And last of all is a presentation of just some of the estimated 300 different breeds.

There’s likely something of interest to readers of all kinds here.

For a younger audience is:

Milly Cow Gives Milk
Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves
Scallywag Press

Ask a group of young children where milk comes from and if my experience is anything to go by, some of them will name a supermarket. Now here’s a simple picture book (endorsed by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers), the first of a series, that goes right back to grass roots, to Farmer McBean’s farm to be precise.

There, in the company of a child, we meet Milly, one of a well cared for, ’happy herd’ and learn the basic facts about her daily life as she grazes on tasty grass in summer and is fed lots of hay to see her through the winter. Molly has to chew and chew what she eats to help its passage through her system, as well as drinking large amounts of fresh water, inevitably making lots of cow pats in the process.

Readers get right up close to her swollen udder as it bulges with milk and watch her being led to the milking parlour (which happens at sunrise and sundown). I was astonished to learn that Molly’s daily yield is around sixty pints and that along with the milk from the rest of the herd, is made ready for drinking and eventually once packed, it does reach the shelves of supermarkets and other outlets.

The final pages gives some further, basic facts about cows, milk and dairy farming. Julia Groves’ clean, bold illustrations and Deborah Chancellor’s straightforward account show that milk production involves a lot of hard work and for many people, it’s a vital item in their daily diet, unless like me they happen to be vegan.

For foundation stage and KS1 topic boxes.

Amira’s Suitcase / Dandy & Dazza

Recent hardcover publications from New Frontier Publishing – thanks for sending them for review

Amira’s Suitcase
Vikki Conley and Nicky Johnston

Set in what looks like a shanty town, this is a lovely story about what happens when a little girl makes an unlikely and unexpected discovery.

What is poking out from the corner of an old suitcase? Amira is intrigued to find a tiny seedling while searching for a hiding place. She makes friends with the little plant, tending it carefully: ‘Amira smiled at the sprout. She felt something blossom deep inside her.’

She takes the suitcase outside into the sunlight and is reminded of a pear tree she misses. The following day she takes her friend Nala to see the sprout and for her too, a memory is triggered.

When she comes on a subsequent visit Nala brings something with her, something tiny that she drops into the suitcase. News of the enterprise spreads among the other children and they too add seeds to the case.

These thrive on the children’s tender care and a small green world is the result. Eventually the plants grow too big for their container and then it’s time to find them a new home.
Sensitively told and beautifully illustrated (each spread reflects the inherent warmth of the text), this hopeful tale of kindness and friendship is just right for sharing with foundation stage listeners.

Dandy & Dazza
Mike Dumbleton and Brett Curzon

Meet dogs Dandy and Dazza. Dandy is well-behaved – a pampered pooch no less while Dazza is a mongrel – a rule-breaking, go crazy mongrel that can barely wait to get off his lead. One day they encounter one another at the park and despite their differences, a friendship is forged. To his pal’s surprise, Dandy discovers the fun in being a little bit crazy from time to time, while Dazza learns to keep his super-abundance of energy under control – sometimes at least.

With high energy illustrations that bring out the contrasting personalities of the two creatures this is an entertaining book about friendship and difference canine style.

Best Test

Best Test
Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty
Tiny Owl

What does being best really mean? It’s the topic under dispute in this follow up to Pippa and Anna’s Fair Shares.

Bird finds a delicious-looking juicy strawberry just right for pecking, but other creatures have designs on it too. Frog is the first but Bird insists being ‘the best’ is entitlement to the entire thing and for the feathery one, “Biggest is best.’ Frog thinks best is all about pulling a funny face while little Shrew says that he too is special and a test will help them all decide which of them IS best.

After further discussion and negotiation as to what the the test will comprise, Shrew volunteers to act as referee and watched by an onlooker, Rat, Frog, Bird and Squirrel take their places at the starting line ready for the off.

During the test though, something unexpected happens: the animals start helping each other 

and they finish the Best Test race all together. So what about that prize strawberry?

Seemingly another animal has already crossed the finishing line ahead of all the others and is tucking into the much-wanted fruit. Despite protests, Shrew declares the winner to be Snail. Snail however, has something far more important to say on the definition of ‘best’.

Pippa’s thought-provoking story demonstrates that no matter who or what we are, just like the animals herein, each of us has our own particular aptitude. That’s life lesson number one, but equally, there are messages about collaboration and teamwork.

Anna’s illustrations are wonderfully playful: who can fail to smile at the sight of frog’s silly face demonstrations for instance, and the looks of consternation on the other competitors’ faces when the additional participant is discovered.

This book is full of potential for early years/ KS1 teachers but most important, it’s a smashing story to share with youngsters either at home or school.

Where the World Ends

Where the World Ends
Davide Cali and Maria Dek
Princeton Architectural Press

With nothing better to do on a sultry summer’s day but lie around watching and discussing the clouds, why not go on a quest to discover where the world ends. That’s just what three friends Zip, Trik and Flip decide to do in this quirky story, having first packed plenty of peanuts and other essential items such as skis, binoculars, pencils and paper.

En route they stop several times asking for directions and receive a number of less than helpful answers -“Why would you want to go there?”

… “not here for sure”, “You can’t … nobody has ever been there. I forbid you to cross here!” … “at the peak of a nearby mountain” for instance. One more considerate boatman does take them across a lake though, and others are a tad more obliging in their comments.

On trudge the three, meandering, like Cali’s narrative, hither and thither, over hill and down dale,

up mountains and down, through a forest until finally driven by the logic of children at play they find that which they seek …

It’s only by turning to the final endpapers that we see a child-like map of the route the friends have taken.
Yes, the ending is somewhat strange and some may not find it satisfying, although the adventurers certainly did.

Executed in watercolours, Maria Dek’s sunny scenes are delightfully whimsical making every one a place to pause and enjoy its inventiveness.

The Crocodile Who Came For Dinner

The Crocodile Who Came For Dinner
Steve Smallman and Joëlle Dreidemy
Little Tiger

Best friends, Hotpot (lamb) and Wolf are out doing a stint of ‘wolfy things’ one night when they come upon a huge egg. Wolf’s first thought is making an omelette, quickly countered by Hotpot’s “No … baby bird.”
Having ascertained from the nest dwellers close by that the egg doesn’t belong to any of them, the friends decide to take it home.
Before you can say, ‘yummy omelette’ the egg cracks and what should pop out but a baby crocodile. There’s only one thing the friends can call it and after discovering that the little creature is omnivorous,

they head off for some shut eye. Guess who makes a bid for Wolf’s bed. Eventually both Wolf and Omelette spend the night snuggled up together on a chair but somehow Omelette makes it to the kitchen first next morning – with chaotic results.

Just as Hotpot and Wolf are preparing to take the newcomer out for a walk, some wolf friends arrive at the door and receive some unexpected affection of the crocish kind. Their game of chase through the woods leads them down the river where Omelette alarms the boating bunnies by diving in for a swim.

Curmudgeonly Badger takes delight in pointing out that while Omelette might be harmless right now, he will grow and grow. Sure enough he does but remains totally lovable to all but Badger.

One night a terrible storm blows up and the forest is flooded. Worse though, Omelette has gone missing but he’s left a trail of footprints that lead to where we see, some baby ducklings are in great danger.
Can they be saved? And if so, by whom? …

Steve’s text is a superb read aloud: I’m sure both listeners and adult readers aloud will find it hilarious. Equally droll are Joelle Dreidemy’s illustrations which contain a wealth of detail and a liberal scattering of speech bubbles in this tale where appearances can be deceptive .

Molly and the Lockdown

Molly and the Lockdown
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson

Molly and her mum and dad are island dwellers only now Dad is stuck on the mainland because the island – like many other parts of the world – is in lockdown. Inevitably Molly misses her dad who is staying with her Uncle Ed, though she talks to him on the phone and promises to do everything she can to help her mum.

Despite all the precautions taken, the virus reaches the island making a few people so sick they have to be taken to the mainland hospital.

With her mum assisting Nurse Ellen, there’s plenty to keep Molly busy. She does almost all the jobs around the house, cares for the dog and the hens, and makes masks for the islanders.

The lockdown drags on. School is closed so Molly chats with her friends on the phone, reads and rereads her books, does her jigsaws super fast, improves her fiddle playing and hears her Uncle Ed’s bagpipes in the background whenever her Dad rings.

Eventually school reopens, albeit with precautionary measures in place, they hear good news about a vaccine

and finally, everybody goes down to the harbour to welcome home Molly’s father – hurrah!

Most of us have experienced a spirit of community during the last year: this is encapsulated in Malachy Doyle’s story of the lockdown, COVID 19 and the affects on a particular family and their small community. Molly’s anxiousness and concern – feelings that so many children have suffered – comes across clearly in Andrew Whitson’s, richly patterned illustrations. So too does the wonderful warmth of the islanders coping as best they can with the crisis.

An ideal book for sharing with children as we begin to emerge from the restrictions; it offers a great opportunity for them to talk of their own experiences and to share future hopes.

Esme’s Rock

Esme’s Rock
Simon Philip and Magda Brol
Oxford Children’s Books

Esme is a little cave girl with a lot of energy and curiosity and, a very powerful voice. That’s very useful if you want to ward off scary big creatures but definitely not so when it comes to keeping things secret. One thing she intends to do her utmost to keep her voice down about is the birthday surprise she’s organising for her best pal Morris the mammoth’s birthday.

Having wished him many happy returns, the transport arranged turns up to whisk Morris away for some pampering and she’s able to get on with carrying out the plans for the rest of the surprise. For this she has enlisted the help of her fellow cave people and they’re horrified at what the task entails in so short a time.

Come lunchtime it seems as though the painters are way behind schedule and Esme can’t keep her voice down any longer. What she yells echoes far and wide. Then, just when the painters are on the point of giving up their mammoth task, a party of strangers arrive armed with the necessary tools and it’s all systems go once more.

Finally it’s time for Esme to use that booming voice to summon Morris to his surprise celebration …
At last Esme’s voice comes into its own …

With Magda Brol’s exuberant illustrations, Simon Philip’s celebration of community spirit is a fun read aloud demonstrating that everybody has a special something to offer, albeit with a bit of channeling sometimes.

Jonathan! / The Best Mum

These are two recent paperback from New Frontier Publishing – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Peter Carnavas and Amanda Francey

Jonathan has great fun dressing up in different costumes and scaring other members of his family when they least expect it. No matter what he wears the response from in turn his dad, sister and mum is “Not scary, Jonathan.’

Disheartened he walks away and soon discovers that he’s climbing a lumpy, bumpy hill. After a conversation boy and beast head back towards the house. Seemingly he’s now found the ideal scary trick.

Peter Carnavas’ simple rhyming story accompanied by Amanda Francey’s expressive watercolour and pencil illustrations make for a fun read aloud with a twist in its tail.

The Best Mum
Penny Harrison and Sharon Davey

The little girl narrator of this rhyming story compares her mum to lots of others she knows, recounting the many ways her friends’ mums are better skilled than hers. But is there ever a perfect mum? Would she be the one who can make incredible costumes for dressing up days, or the one who roller skates gracefully, the disco dancer and pop song singer; is she the one who’s always on time or the baker of delicious treats?

Despite all her own mum’s shortcomings and embarrassing acts, at the end of the day she’s still THE best mum who gives the best cuddles. Who would have expected any other conclusion?

Lots of fun and a great conversation opener, and hilariously illustrated by Sharon Davey whose daft details are sure to make you laugh.

Turtle Rescue

Turtle Rescue
Jonny Marx and Xuan Le
Little Tiger

I suspect the burgeoning of picture books telling of the plastic pollution of the oceans is indicative that the problem is on many people’s minds. Sadly though, not those who continue to throw rubbish onto the beaches or in the sea. One can but hope that Jonny Marx and Xuan Le’s Turtle Rescue will help in this hugely important environmental cause.

Flora, marine biologist and ace underwater swimmer, Fauna, inventor and turtle lover, and their child, Baby Bud, are holidaying at the seaside intending to take it easy for a while. That isn’t what happens however.

Soon they find themselves helping with a rubbish collection during which they’re told it’s hoped it will help bring back the turtles to lay their eggs on the sandy beach once more. Before long the three of them have packed supplies, chartered a boat and are sailing off to investigate the lack of turtles.

As they sail towards the reef, Bud is excited to see all the different sea animals and plants and keeps pointing out what he calls ‘jellyfish’ – the floating plastic bags he insists on counting. Eventually Flora sights a turtle

and carefully follows it until she runs out of air. Back on board the boat again, it’s obvious a storm is looming but eventually it blows itself out and there ahead is an island. Just the place to stop and let Fauna’s queasiness subside. Imagine their delight when Bud notices tracks in the sand leading right across the dunes at the end of which are …

After an eventful and hugely exciting trip, with sail duly repaired, it’s time to head home.

There’s an amazing amount of information about turtles and other marine wildlife packed between the pages of this fascinating part fact, part fiction book.

Never Mess with a Pirate Princess

Never Mess with a Pirate Princess
Holly Ryan and Siân Roberts
Little Tiger

Princess Prudence is a loving little miss who dotes on her royal bear, Little Ted, taking him absolutely everywhere with her – even the loo. Then comes the terrible day when, as she naps ‘neath a shady tree, up creeps a pirate and boldly steals her beloved Teddy right off her lap.

Distraught, Princess Prue hollers so loud that up charges a gallant knight offering to come to her aid. 

Eager to be part of the rescue effort, she pleads with Sir Frank to take her along but meets merely with scorn.

Undaunted plucky Princess Prudence decides to do things her way and off she goes upon a trusty, wait for it … goat! Having searched for most of the day to no avail, she reaches the seashore and what does she spy: somebody being forced to walk along the plank – somebody she recognises – a knight in shining armour no longer.

But our Prue isn’t one to let a gang of teddy robbing pirates get the better of her, or even Frank …

Debut picture book writer Holly Ryan’s rhyming text is a rollicking read aloud and in Princess Prudence she has created a gutsy gal to delight adventure-loving, teddy-hugging little ones. Siân Roberts’ portrayal of the princess and her adventure is terrific fun with every spread providing giggle-worthy incidents from this stirring romp.

No More Babies!

No More Babies!
Madeleine Cook and Erika Meza
Oxford Children’s Books

Sofia finds her baby brother exceedingly annoying. On this particular day he smashes down her amazing brick construction, starts a food fight, makes a terrible din on a drum and just when mum and dad are ready to read her a story, he diverts their attention by needing a nappy change.

After all this, her parents’ news that she’s going to be a big sister again, doesn’t go down at all well. “No more babies!” she yells at her bemused mum and dad who now offer a sympathetic ear. Sofia’s account of the morning follows and then cuddles and lots of special attention for the little girl.

Suddenly Arlo surprises his sister and after that she begins to feel much more positive about him. Despite his continuing messiness, smelliness and slobbering, Sofia decides she loves him very much, telling her parents at bedtime, “Okay, you can have one more baby,” …

There’s a throwaway line surprise finale that will surely make both adults and young listeners laugh when they read this funny book.

With Erika Mesa’s wonderfully expressive illustrations it’s one for families to share when a new sibling is on the way, as well as a good foundation stage storytime read aloud especially if somebody in the group is in a situation similar to Sofia’s; or as part of a family theme.

Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Takes Up Sport / Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Learns to Play

Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Takes Up Sport
Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog Learns to Play

John Yeoman and Quentin Blake
Walker Books

The laugh-out-loud antics of Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog take the form of a variety of playful activities in these two paperbacks.

In the first, Old Mother Hubbard is unhappy at the sight of her canine companion merely lazing around all day and suggests he get up out of his chair, set aside his book and do something more active. And so he does. First it’s tennis (over her full washing line), followed by a spot of pole vaulting, then soccer – with very muddy results.
Having had a bath beside the fire the daft creature heads outside again and further athletic mayhem ensues including putting the shot using live projectiles.

Eventually, unable to stand any more, Old Mother Hubbard orders Dog inside and suggests a much more sober activity.

The second episode begins with Dog in his favourite chair reading once more. Old Mother Hubbard expresses a wish that he “learn how to play.” Before you can turn around she hears a raucous rendition on a flute, closely followed by various other musical instruments. 

Greatly regretting her ill-chosen words, Old Mother Hubbard is at a temporary loss to know what to do, but is ready to try anything including some drupe diversion tactics …

Brilliant nonsense both in John Yeoman’s rhyming narrative and Quentin Blake’s exuberant portrayal of the canine capers; adults and children will love this craziness. Don’t miss the back endpapers.

Beatrix and her Bunnies

Beatrix and her Bunnies
Rebecca Colby and Caroline Bonne-Müller
Nosy Crow

For many adults, myself included, Beatrix Potter’s animal stories and nursery rhyme books were part and parcel of childhood. Indeed I had the entire set. How many though, are aware that Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit were real live creatures that the author befriended as she was growing up. That’s getting rather ahead though, for this pictorial biography of Beatrix starts with her childhood when she lived a rather lonely existence in a large London house. Even then she was an animal lover and had lots of small creatures as pets, but nonetheless she longed for a ‘special friend’ with whom she could play.

Rebecca Colby writes of how on family visits to the countryside, Beatrix would search for wild rabbits to play with but none would stay. None that is until Benjamin. A friend at last and one that would allow his carer make lots of sketches of him, honing her drawing skills in so doing. Inevitably though, Benjamin eventually dies and once more, Beatrix feels lonely. She uses drawing and painting to lift her spirits but, it’s only when she visits the countryside that Beatrix’s drawing really flourishes.

Some time later, another rabbit enters her life, it’s Peter, a truly playful and engaging creature, much loved by visiting children.

This gives Beatrix an idea. Perhaps she can write and illustrate a story about her much-loved bunnies so that children everywhere could read about them, and so she does.

Getting Peter’s adventures published is challenging but eventually she succeeds and the book becomes a huge success, allowing her to move to the countryside where she creates lots more stories.

A lovely book for young enthusiasts of her books and of the environment about which Beatrix cared so much. The elements of Beatrix’s life are beautifully interwoven by the author, who also provides an additional final note explaining Beatrix’s connection with the National Trust (who are collaborators in its publishing) – and equally beautifully illustrated by Caroline Bonne-Miller.

Frog vs Toad

Frog vs Toad
Ben Mantle
Walker Books
Seeing beyond our differences lies at the heart of Ben Mantle’s splendidly silly fable.

It begins when an unassuming fly is zapped by the tongue of Frog, followed shortly after by a second attack from the opposite side, this time by Toad. A nightmare situation for sure but what the fly says …

precipitates a set to between the two amphibians both of which feel grossly insulted by the fly’s remark. A tirade of verbal insults are hurled and the squabbling continues

until they reach the swamp where things get even more heated when Frog issues a final threat followed shortly after by some mud slinging of the physical kind, triggering a free for all with everybody joining in.

Both sides are so busy SLIP! SPLAT! SPLOTCHING and SQUELCHING that they fail to notice the approach of a large grumpy reptile displeased at being aroused from its slumbers. Quick to jump to their own defence Frogs and Toads blame one another but the jagged-toothed creature tells them something that comes as a huge surprise.

Both Frog and Toad are ready to accept one another as family members and apologies ensue, followed by some words of thanks to their informer. But that’s not quite the end of the story …

This is the first picture book for which Ben Mantle has written his own words. Being both a cracking storytime read aloud, and with an abundance of droll details – small and large – in every scene it’s a definite winner with me.

Look What I Found in the Woods

Look What I Found in the Woods
Moira Butterfield and Jesús Verona
Nosy Crow

‘Follow me. I know the way. / We’re walking in the woods today.’ So says the child narrator of this book.
The woods are my favourite place to walk and during the pandemic I’ve spent a lot of time so doing in woodlands close to my home, always returning home feeling considerably uplifted. Consequently I was more than happy to take up the invitation to participate in this woodland foray with the three child adventurers shown on the first spread.

Readers are immediately engaged by means of an insert in the bottom right-hand corner that asks us to find one signpost, two butterflies and three bright yellow flowers.
The second spread shows the children making observations while the text provides facts about the trees and a sidebar showing labelled tree shapes.

The subsequent spreads alternate between these two styles of layout

as readers learn about leaves, bark,

fruits and seeds, fir cones and shells while the children continue their exploration discovering exciting ‘treasure’ throughout their walk; treasure that they present on the final spread once back indoors.

This highly engaging nature book published in collaboration with the National Trust, successfully mixes story, non-fiction and search-and-find. Jesús Verona’s illustrations are an absolute delight. Each one offers an immersive scene to linger over and wonder at the fine detail included; and the final endpaper shows the children’s creative efforts with some of their findings.

Beyond the Burrow

Beyond the Burrow
Jessica Meserve
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rabbits prefer to stay close to their cosy burrows with other rabbits for company and juicy carrots for sustenance. When it comes to other creatures, particularly large hairy ones with claws, they’re considered terrifying, avoid at all costs, beasties.

When the Rabbit protagonist in this story discovers what looks like the most delectable breakfast carrot, little does she know that it’s about to change her life.

In attempting to reach said carrot, she takes a tumble and finds herself entering the wrong hole. Not only that but when she emerges it’s to feel herself plunging into the depths of a river. Happily she surfaces and is able to cling tight to a passing log but she’s far from her burrow. But then comes a face-to-face encounter with a not-rabbit that has all the alarming features Rabbit most fears.

Time to make a rabbity leap for safety and dig for all you’re worth.

Is this the end for our long-eared friend? She fears it might be so. Instead however, the not-rabbit pushes something towards her and such is Rabbit’s hunger that she risks a tiny bite.

Then follows an entirely new, brave idea that results in her climbing way up out of her comfort zone until she sees …

Despite claws and hairiness, the giant not-rabbit turns out to be ‘no so very scary’. Likewise the other not-rabbits that have gathered up in the treetops. Mutual acts of kindness ensue and Rabbit decides that falling can sometimes be fun.

That night though, she stays awake thinking about home and come morning, she spies a familiar sight far away. Time to try to reach it, but with friends in tow everything feels less scary

and eventually her burrow is in hopping distance …

Can things get any better? Perhaps, but to find out, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of Jessica’s book …

With plenty of dramatic moments, and full of warmth and humour, the story is huge fun to read aloud. Jessica’s depictions of ‘NOT very rabbity’ behaviour and indeed the antics of the treetop dwelling menagerie are highly entertaining. So too are the plethora of signs scattered strategically in various places throughout Rabbit’s adventure.

Brookie and Her Lamb / Fish For Supper

Many years ago I was fortunate to meet M.B. Goffstein in The Children’s Bookstore in Brookline Village near Boston and she signed copies of two of her books – My Noah’s Ark and Natural History both of which I have treasured ever since.

So, I was excited to see that The New York Review Children’s Collection are bringing back into print two of her picture books first published over 45 years ago

Brookie and Her Lamb
Fish for Supper

M.B. Goffstein
The New York Review Children’s Collection

Brookie and her Lamb is a classic tale of a little girl’s unconditional love for her lamb. No matter what she tries to teach him – be that to sing or to read, even to sing songs from a music book, the only sound that emanates from the creature is ‘Baa, baa, baa.’ Nonetheless, despite being a little disheartened, she takes him for a walk to the park, which lifts her spirits. Back at home, she also goes to great lengths to show her appreciation of her friend, providing him a special spot with all the creature comforts a lamb might need,

and a great deal of tenderness too. Sweet and enchanting.

Subtle and utterly delightful in its quirkiness is the story of a grandmother’s daily routine, Fish for Supper. (A Caldecott Honor book 1977).
Of the narrator’s grandmother, we learn that she rises early, makes herself some breakfast, washes up, dons her sunhat and heads off to the water. There, with her simple fruit lunch and fishing gear, she gets into a rowing boat and spends the day fishing on the lake.
Come the evening she heads home carrying her catch in a can. She cleans the fishes then, fries them,

consumes them with care, washes up and goes to bed. Next morning she does the same … .
The characteristic spare line drawings herein are examples of perfect simplicity.

I suspect these little books will probably be of most interest to those studying children’s literature and or, art.

Fletcher and the Caterpillar

Fletcher and the Caterpillar
Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke

For those, like this reviewer, meeting the main protagonist for the first time, Fletcher is an inquisitive little fox, and a bit of a worrier. His new story starts in the spring with the observant vulpine noticing that while everything else in the wood is growing, there’s one green leaf that is actually getting smaller. On investigation, he discovers a tiny caterpillar having a nibble. Friendly as always Fletcher, with the aid of his other animal friends, tries to involve the caterpillar in such activities as racing, boating

and hide and seek, but all the caterpillar is interested in, is munching.

One day though, the munching stops; the little creature is still and silent. Fletcher’s Mum reassures him that it’s normal caterpillar behaviour

but the cub is still concerned for its well-being, watching over it until he falls fast asleep.

Overnight a change occurs mystifying Fletcher but again his Mum tells him it’s what caterpillars do and soon he’ll have a wonderful surprise.

After a long, long wait, sure enough he does.

With Julia Rawlinson’s sweet, gentle nature narrative she paints a picture of friendship and of spring; a picture that is echoed in Tiphanie Beeke’s soft, textured, sun-infused art, which shows so well the colours and joys of its seasonal setting and one of nature’s wonderful mysteries.

Not In That Dress, Princess!

Not In That Dress, Princess!
Wendy Meddour and Cindy Wume
Otter-Barry Books

Full of spirit and exuding energy from cover to cover, this is the story of how a strong-minded young Princess Bess tosses aside gender stereotyping norms – “There are things we DON’T DO in a dress!” …

“a princess must always impress” and does exactly what she wants to do, proving that dress notwithstanding, there is absolutely nothing, this determined female can’t do.

Her brothers, the princes More and Less, along with a host of animals large and small, watch in awe as she scales tall buildings, hikes, skis through a storm, goes on safari,

cavorts with a wizard and much more.

Eventually the queen, her highness Gloriana Stephaness, realises that it’s a case of no holds barred: her daughter’s behaviour IS truly impressive. She even decides to make a public announcement concerning dress code; moreover it’s not long before other, unlikely royals, are also sporting dresses.

Wendy Weddour’s jaunty rhyming narrative will have young listeners joining in with the oft repeated “in my dress” as they relish the sight of Bess (Cindy Wume shows her in a different dress for every activity) having the most incredibly exciting time beyond the confines of the palace.

I’ve always had a soft spot for children – real or in stories – who push the boundaries, challenge and subvert pointless rules and are ready to break out of their narrow confines: Bess joins their number

The Tale of the Whale

The Tale of the Whale
Karen Swann and Padmacandra
Scallywag Press

Karen Swann’s lyrical story begins with a child on a lighthouse spying a whale out at sea, a whale whose sweet-sounding song calls the child to climb aboard its back and join it on an amazing marine adventure.

An adventure through marine waters that turns from the utter heartfelt joy at seeing the incredible life under the ocean – the stunning colours, the octopus,

turtles, rays, dolphins and more to shock horror and understanding when the whale opens wide its mouth to eat.

This is followed by sadness and, once back on land, a determination to tell others and an earnest plea from the young storyteller to be part of the change. It’s a plea that will surely galvanise youngsters and adults alike to work together on this crucial environmental problem caused by plastic pollution.

Padmacandra’s illustrations are truly gorgeous capturing both the friendship between child and majestic animal, and the richness and vibrancy of the oceans’ fauna. This is the debut picture book for both author and illustrator and it’s one where words and pictures work in perfect harmony. The observant among readers and listeners will spot the point in the story when plastic starts to be included in the subaquatic scenes.


Rose Robbins
Scallywag Press

Rose Robbins’ latest picture book celebrates another cognitive difference that comes under the neurodiversity umbrella. Abigail has ADHD and she’s having one of those tricky days in class where her restless frustration leads her to do things that displease and disrupt others.

As a result she’s taken to the ‘calming down’ room for a while which makes her late for her next lesson. It’s music – a new activity for Abigail and despite her lateness, she receives a friendly welcome from the teacher, Miss Butler.

The other class members all seem to have a musical talent of one kind or another but Abigail struggles to find a way to join in successfully. Out of sheer frustration she lets out an enormous SCREAM! that causes cool, calm Miss Butler to approach her. Abigail expects to be sent back to the ‘calming down room’ but instead, her accepting teacher praises her voice, speaking of its singing potential. A transformation begins and with support Abigail finds a role, becoming the group’s totally cool singer-songwriter …

Sometimes a serious topic is best approached through humour: it’s certainly very successful here with Rose Robbins’ quirky illustrative style.

An important inclusive book for all youngsters and their teachers in early years and KS1 classes, as well as for sharing at home.

Storm Dragon

Storm Dragon
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books

Faced with the furious wind and rain buffeting their tiny seaside cottage, Grandpa suggests it’s the ideal time to go on a storm dragon hunt. Armed with shield and spy glass off they go TRIP! TRAP! STOMP! STAMP! down the rickety walkway and onto the beach.

Following the dragon footprints, Grandpa is in playful mood as he stops to collect dragon’s paws and claws.

Then on they stamp through the ‘dragon’s jewels’ skittering, scattering, clattering and splattering until again Grandpa stops. Now he’s found a ‘dragon baby’, which can mean only one thing – the close proximity of its mother. They can both smell her as she puffs towards them. There’s only one thing to do: climb into that pirate ship and continue the dragon watch from on board.

She’s definitely there and coming ever closer … leaving the adventurers no choice but (with a nod to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) to retrace their path …

all the way back home.

With Carol Thompson’s splendidly spirited illustrations accentuating the intergenerational relationship and the power of imaginative play, and a smashing read aloud text, this is a MUST to share with foundation stage listeners. They will delight in joining in, first with the wonderfully alliterative sounds and then, on a second or third reading acting out the trip-trapping, stomp stamping, harrumphing and galumphing, jumping, tramping, climbing into the boat, raising the spyglass and then finally clatter and splatter, running all the way back, pushing open the door and hiding from …

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor , Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu
Words & Pictures

If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me you have probably been noticing beautiful wild flowers – snowdrops, daisies, celandines and primroses springing up, an abundance of catkins, blossom starting to open on trees, pussy willow buds bursting; as well as the occasional bee and butterfly. We even saw frogspawn a couple of times last week (the end of February). Definitely spring, with its promise of so much, is my favourite season and this year it seems even more important than ever to celebrate its arrival.

That is exactly what the two children in this beautiful book (written by children’s author Sean Taylor and ecologist Alex Morss) are doing. The older girl acting as narrator, tells us how what starts out as a hunt for Dad’s fork so he can plant some carrots turns into an exploration of the family’s garden. ’Everything smelled like wet earth and sunshine.”

“The spring sunlight is nature’s alarm clock,” Dad says, taking the opportunity to mention pollination.
Both girls are observant, asking lots of questions and noticing signs of new life all around – tadpoles,

a bird building its nest and a wealth of minibeasts – ants, woodlice, worms and beetles and several species of butterfly, as well as playfully emulating some of the creatures they discover.
Throughout, Dad subtly provides snippets of relevant information concerning life cycles, habitats

and what causes the seasons; and throughout the children’s sense of excitement is palpable.

Cinyee Chiu’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, beautifully composed and carefully observed.

At the back of the book are several pages of more detailed information about spring and how it affects the flora and fauna, as well as some suggestions for ways children can get involved in helping nature in its struggle against climate change.

A must have book for families with young children, as well as foundation stage settings and KS1 classrooms.

Noa and the Little Elephant

Noa and the Little Elephant
Michael Foreman
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Michael Foreman takes up the cause of wildlife protection in this lovely little book published in association with TUSK a charity that helps protect African wildlife, in support of which Ugandan ranger and wildlife authority, Julius Obwona, has written a forward.

Young Noa’s favourite animals are the elephants he watches every day after school as he returns home in the little boat built for him by his father. One day though, they aren’t in their favourite wallowing place in the river so a concerned Noa decides to follow their tracks into the jungle.

When he emerges on the far side he sees what he first thinks is a new game the little elephant is playing with his mother. On closer inspection though – horror of horrors – this is no game. The mother elephant is lying dead and her tusks have been removed.

After a while the baby elephant overcomes his fear and allows Noa to approach and comfort the creature. The boy makes a decision: he resolves to take the little tusker home and care for him in his village.

Back at home, his father tells Noa about the cruel poachers that shoot elephants for their valuable tusks and how the villages have grouped together to try and prevent such cruelty. Noa’s sister, Eva names the elephant Tembo and it’s not long before he’s part and parcel of village life. 

One night at the start of the rainy season a terrific storm arrives causing the river to overflow its banks so Noa rushes down to the water to secure his boat and in so doing is caught in the wild roaring current and is swept away. 

Fortunately however ‘something solid ‘is in the water that enables him to haul himself to safety.

Thereafter a beautiful rainbow appears over the village and a thankful Noa resolves that when he’s older, he’ll join his fellow villagers in protecting the elephants: “We are all one family living under the same sky and sharing the same world” he tells Tembo.

Superbly illustrated, and simply and movingly told, this tale of love and survival is most definitely a book for young animal lovers be they solo readers or listeners.

Anita and the Dragons

Anita and the Dragons
Hannah Carmona and Anna Cunha
Lantana Publishing

As the story opens, young Anita watches the dragons high above the rooftop where she sits in a village in the Dominican Republic imagining she’s a ‘valiant princesa’. She’s done so for years and never lets the huge beasts scare her.

Today is different though: she must say goodbye to some special, much loved people including her Abuela

and actually meet one of these dragons. Indeed she must go inside the body of a massive beast for she and her immediate family are to be carried far, far away from their beautiful Caribbean homeland to a distant place where they’ll start a new life. Her Mama has talked of learning English, plenty of accessible hot water and electricity that’s reliable.

However such promises cannot stop the mounting anxiety she feels – “What if I’m lonely? What if I get scared?” – as she is confronted by the gigantic dragon; but she’s not alone in knowing that she will miss her island home, her parents and siblings are also filled with apprehension.

Now Anita must be that brave princesa again: with chin held high once more, she bids farewell to her home, promising to return one day, and then steps boldly forward into the unknown.

Anna Cunha’s captivating, soft focus illustrations work in perfect harmony with Hannah Carmona’s lyrical first person narrative in this sensitive exploration of emigration.

When We Went Wild

When We Went Wild
Isabella Tree and Allira Tee
Ivy Kids

This is prize-winning author, conservationist and rewilder, Isabella Tree’s first book for children. Herein she describes what happens when farmers Nancy and Jake decide to convert their failing farm (the animals and even the trees look sad), and whereon they use chemicals for crop growing and machines for milking and harvesting, for something totally different – a haven for wildlife.

Nancy’s idea so to do means they can sell off all the machinery and pay off their debts. Then it’s a waiting game: soon the bare earth is covered in wild flowers, brambles and bushes,

and their animals now roaming free seem much happier.

Their neighbours though, are far from pleased and write to the local paper complaining about the messy vegetation spoiling their view.

Will Nancy and Jake have to abandon their plans and return to conventional technology-led, intensive farming? Happily not. When a storm and torrential rain hits the village everyone prepares for the worst as flash-flooding strikes across the country but that messy vegetation helps to slow and absorb the rainfall and the village is spared. A lesson learned thanks to a near disaster,

and soon everyone is going wild.

Allira Tee’s digital illustrations for this thought-provoking, important book are beautiful and from the alluring cover, every page full of engaging detail.

On the final spread, the author explains what rewilding actually is and talks a little about its importance and her own experience. (The book itself is sustainably produced).

Chicken Come Home!

Chicken Come Home!
Polly Faber and Briony May Smith

Dolly is a free range chicken who likes to tease her owner and best friend by laying her egg somewhere different every day.

One morning she discovers a new place that seems very comfortable although rather dark and strange; but then all of a sudden she finds that her roosting spot is on the move.

However, she’s not keen to see the world from so great a height – it’s her boy she wants – so instead, she opens her wings and down she plummets, crashing through the trees and ending up in a fast flowing river – ideal for ducks but certainly not for Dolly.

Having managed to haul herself out onto dry land, she’s faced first with a snorting cow and then a noisy, dangerous road to get across.

Meanwhile on his way home from school, Dolly’s owner suddenly hears a lot of beeping as the bus he’s travelling home from school on is held up by something in the middle of the road … What could it be?

Readers share a bird’s eye view of Dolly’s unexpected journey in Briony’s superb visuals that are both wonderfully detailed and the ideal complement to Polly’s dramatic text with its ‘perfect’ ending.

Hard Times for Unicorn

Hard Times for Unicorn
Mickaël El Fathi and Charlotte Molas
Tate Publishing

Unicorns are all the rage with young children nowadays but how many have wondered what happened to the very last of them. Here’s an absolutely absurd story that offers a possible explanation: it begins in a forest in Siberia. There a young explorer captures this one-horned rarity but rather than keeping her safe, the very next day the hunter loses her to a fisherman in a card game.

A failure at fishing, the fisherman sells her to a knight who quickly passes her on to an athlete. The partnership of pole vaulter and unicorn is highly successful and the two become world famous.

A robber sees how useful the creature might be and so his gain is the athlete’s loss but before many weeks have passed, the police catch the guy in action, seize the ‘safe-opener’ and leave her in the circus and she becomes a star act … until the circus closes and the creature changes hands again … and again …

until eventually the kind narrator of this story decides that the long-suffering unicorn deserves a happy ending …

To call this book quirky is probably an understatement; it’s decidedly different from the usual sparkly unicorn kind of tale. With its twists and turns this one sees the creature serving purposes ranging from curious to practical, but always innovative. It’s likely to appeal to divergent thinkers rather than lovers of fairytale magic.

The Forgettery

The Forgettery
Rachel Ip and Laura Hughes
Egmont Books

Memory loss and dementia are ever increasing and although adults are well aware of this challenging topic, it’s not easy to open up a discussion with young children about why a much loved grandparent for instance, is unable to remember things. Sharing this beautiful book is a wonderful place to start: it never once mentions the word dementia during the story of Amelia and her Granny and their adventure together.

From the outset we’re told that Granny is forgetful, sometimes being unable to recall where she’s put the marmalade or where she keeps her socks but sometimes forgetting important things like special moments. Amelia is a daydreamer and explorer and this means that she too is apt to be a bit forgetful.
One day while exploring in the forest together they stumble upon a strange place called The Forgettery and decide to investigate.

They receive a warm welcome and Amelia explains that they’ve forgotten their way home. The kindly Memory Keeper invites them aboard a hot air balloon and off they go

eventually arriving at a door labelled with Granny’s name. Inside it’s enormous on account of all the memories it’s storing: ‘Moments of delight, lost and forgotten, fluttering in the room like butterflies.’ Sensory experiences including the smell of fresh bread, the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot and the giddy joy of cartwheeling. Granny chooses her very favourites from among them all

and then they move on to Amelia’s Forgettery. This is a small room and while Amelia is delighting in its contents, they receive a message reminding them it time to head home to dinner.

Back indoors Amelia decides to make an illustrated book of all the memories Granny had collected at her Forgettery and henceforward Amelia would take a photo of each fun thing they did together, to add to the book as a special reminder; a book they could always share.

Granny then adds a final item to their list of special things but it’s one neither of them will need to be reminded of …

Both new memories and all the lost, old ones are stored in The Forgettery so the book can equally be shared as an unusual fantasy adventure showing the special relationship between Granny and Amelia. This is highlighted both in Rachel Ip’s warm-hearted telling and Laura Hughes’ gently humorous, equally warm illustrations reflected in her choice of colour palette and the wonderful details in each of the scenes.

The Little Pirate Queen

The Little Pirate Queen
Sally Anne Garland
New Frontier Publishing

Meet young Lucy who makes a weekly voyage on her rickety raft in search of Far Away Land, a place where nobody before has ever set foot.

Over the weeks her raft has become increasingly dilapidated, despite her efforts at repairing the damage; but nonetheless, Lucy’s sailing skills have improved. Even so her craft is no match for the speed of the other children’s boats and that makes her a little downcast. To lift her spirits, she imagines herself a brave ‘Pirate Queen’ which helps, but only sometimes.

One morning a strong wind blows up and an enormous wave leaves Lucy lost and alone on stormy waters.

Alone that is until she spies four other children clutching pieces of wood and rope, desperately trying to keep afloat. Lucy succeeds in hauling them aboard her frail raft

and proceeds to give them lessons in rowing and sail repairs. Come nightfall they’re all able to enjoy Lucy’s tales and songs of lost treasure and pirates.

But will they ever reach that Far Away Island? …

An enjoyable tale of a resilient adventurer, with themes of resourcefulness, empowerment, friendship and more. Young would-be voyagers around the age of Lucy especially, will love this, particularly those wonderful dramatic seascapes.

The Great Paint

The Great Paint
Alex Willmore
Tate Publishing

Meet Frog, he’s an artist and hence tends to see things somewhat differently. He finds his own swamp dull and uninspiring, and so decides to seek some stimuli elsewhere. With materials amassed,

he sets out, first stop Bear’s cave.

Out come those brushes and colours and he sets to work. The trouble is, not everyone wants their place of residence adorned by a Banksy style work of art; certainly not Bear. Far from loving it, he’s horrified and sends Frog packing.

Next on the receiving end of Frog’s creativity is Snake – literally – and he is not impressed.

Undaunted, Frog continues his journey using his talent at every opportunity, his excitement mounting at each new piece of art.

However one animal’s ‘wonderful’ is the other animals’ ‘real mess’ as Moose informs him in no uncertain terms.

Feeling totally misunderstood Frog beats a grumpy retreat but then on pausing for a spot of thinking, he suddenly comes up with another terrific idea.

Could this be his most creative yet? Moreover will his friends appreciate his efforts this time? …

I absolutely love the playfulness in Alex Willmore’s illustrations: how she manages to get so much personality into that froggy character when he looks little more than a finger print, is amazing. The eyes say it all with every one of the cast in this hugely enjoyable tale of misplaced creativity.

Eugene the Architect

Eugene the Architect
Thibaut Rassat

Eugene the architect is obsessive about order, liking only things that can be arranged in a neat and tidy fashion in his tall, dark home. he is especially proud of his latest creation – a tall building with not a single curve in sight. “All the buildings in the city should be like this,” he tells himself.

Fridays are his day for visiting the site to check on the progress of his new construction, but on one such Friday Eugene arrives to discover that a beautiful tree has been blown over during a gale and now lies across the centre of what is to be his third floor living room.

Despite everything he’s believed in for his entire life, to the astonishment of the workers, the man orders that the tree, with its wealth of curves, angles and elegant proportions, be left exactly where it is.

Not content with that, from that day on, Eugene begins to look differently at everything around him, especially the natural world which he discovers, has a perfection of its own kind.

Ideas flow thick and fast and even the building site workers start getting creative.

Before long there’s been a total transformation, not only of the building, but also of the architect himself. And even better, Eugene has considered the entire town in his magnificent masterpiece.

Superficially fairly simple as this story with its delightfully quirky illustrations, might be, it is an invitation to readers to think about aesthetics, the built environment, and its impact on everyone and everything.

The Stuff between the Stars / Get Up, Elizabeth!

The Stuff Between the Stars
Sandra Nickel and Aimée Sicuro
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This is an inspiring picture book biography of brilliant astrophysicist Vera Rubin, from the time when she was a star-gazing eleven year old who, despite opposition and ridicule

and being ignored during much of her lifetime, became, thanks to her dedication and an opportunity at the Carnegie Institution, a recognised and leading light in the field of astronomy. For it was while working at one of the Institution’s observatories that Rubin made her seminal discovery that “dark matter” explains the phenomenon that stars on the edges of the galaxy move as quickly as those at the centre—and that this dark matter makes up 80 per cent of the matter in the universe.

I love the Rubin quote at the end of the story,: ‘Each one of you can change the world, / for you are made of star stuff, / and you are connected to the universe.’

If the main body of this hugely engaging book hasn’t inspired youngsters, those words surely will. So too will Aimée Sicuro’s gorgeous watercolour, ink and charcoal illustrations that cleverly reflect Rubin’s spiralling ideas in this well researched, enormously engaging account.

An author’s note on Vera, a timeline of her life and a select bibliography conclude the book. It’s one I’d strongly recommend for primary age readers.

Get Up, Elizabeth!
Shirin Yim Bridges and Alea Marley
Cameron Books

The Elizabeth of this rhyming narrative is in fact, the child who later became Queen Elizabeth 1 of England.
It’s her morning routine we share as we hear her being roused from her slumbers. She’s then ordered by the rather impatient-sounding lady-in-waiting to submit to donning her smock, having her stockings laced, her face scrubbed and her teeth rubbed (with soot no less!). All this she tolerates with a degree of meekness but then having been laced into a petticoat,

and acquiesced to sleeve pinning, the young miss attempts to assert herself by stashing a mouse in her skirt. It’s no go though; and with her ruff duly stitched in place, there’s still that mop of unruly hair to be tackled.
Finally, she’s set to go and we watch as she stands, still seemingly meekly, before a throng of waiting subjects.

Shirin Yim Bridges’ rhyming narrative falters slightly on occasion during this chivvying regime and in this small slice of history, it’s Alea Marley’s visuals of the shock-headed miss with her radiant tresses that are the real show stoppers.

There’s a final page giving some extra details on Elizabethan fashion and routine ablutions, as well as a cheeky message from that mouse asking ‘Did you find me on all the pages?’ which adds a search-and-find element to the book. It certainly takes a bit of finding on one or two spreads.

Where is the Dragon?

Where is the Dragon?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

Oh dear me! The king is having dreadful dragon nightmares, so much so that he’s scared to got to bed. He dispatches his three trusty knights, One, Two and Three out into the dark night to save the realm, and more crucially, him.

The three have a slight problem however, they’ve never actually set eyes on a dragon, although the king has given them a few clues as to what such a creature might be like. As they venture forth Knight One and Knight Two take turns to share snippets of information, each of which seemingly appears in shadowy form. Then when Knight Three (the small one) illuminates the scene, something completely other is revealed. In the first instance it’s a harmless group of long-eared rabbits munching on carrots.

However Knight Two then drops in ‘Well the king alleged their teeth aren’t used for fruit and veg!”

but again Knight Three shines his trusty candle.

Knight One’s third comment talks of long necks and flaring nostrils as they approach another dark dragon-like form, and so it continues with each silhouette being a close fit for the king’s description and the revelation being something innocuous and wonderfully daft.

What about the last shape though? Following another tumble, all three knights are ready to return and inform his highness that there’s no such thing as dragons.

No cause for alarm at all. But are they correct? I wonder …

Translated from the original Dutch by James Brown, the rhyming text has an occasional blip, but for me it’s the illustrations with the superb characters, skillful use of dark and light, clever details (small and large), textures and rich colour palette, that are the real show stealers. Zimmers has a wacky sense of humour that is evident at every page turn, especially the final one.

Little ones will relish this as a storytime read aloud, delighting both in guessing and knowing. Ensure you give your audience time to look closely at the revelatory spreads so they can appreciate Zimmers’ transformations of the imagined into the real.

Gaspard’s Foxtrot

Gaspard’s Foxtrot
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

Gaspard the Fox returns for a third adventure and it’s a totally unexpected one.

While chatting to his friends Peter the cat and Flinty the dog he learns from the latter that his owner Honey is taking him to a concert ‘about London’s wildlife’ in Hyde Park that very evening and suggests that Gaspard should come along.
So when Honey and Flinty head for the number 38 bus-stop Gaspard tags along behind.

As Honey boards the bus she drops her scarf. Gaspard catches it and jumps aboard intending to return it when they get off.
Then follows a journey through London – we’re given the fox’s eye view in James Mayhew’s exquisite illustrations- that takes them through Islington with its iconic war memorial,

past China Town, into the heart of theatre land, passing Piccadilly with its famous statue, all the while the recorded voice announcing where they are. Suddenly he hears “Hyde Park Corner’ and off pile the passengers. In the crowd, Gaspard almost loses sight of Honey and Flinty but just in time he makes his exit and follows the masses to the centre of the park

where he finds a suitable spot to stop, wait, hope and listen to the music.

Onto the stage walks a man Gaspard recognises as living close to his den and he’s holding what looks like a white stick. He tells the audience that the next piece of music is so new it’s yet to have a title.

What happens thereafter is truly amazing, but I won’t spoil this eventful, gently humorous story at the heart of which is friendship.

It’s full of lovely details about nature, London (Peter talking of his peregrinations makes me miss it all the more at present) and of course, the music; the map endpapers are terrific too.

How exciting to learn that the story has been adapted by composer Jonathan Dove and is due to be performed with Zeb narrating and James as illustrator.

Sunny-Side Up

Sunny-Side Up
Jacky Davis and Fiona Woodcock
Harper Collins (Harper 360)

The little girl protagonist always looks on the bright side of life, but after breakfast (sunnyside-up eggs) when the blind is lifted to reveal a grey rainy day, her reaction is to throw a tantrum at the prospect of being stuck indoors all day – perish the thought.
After a mollifying hug from dad

she decides to make the best of things with imaginative play, block building and some creative pursuits; she even opens a cafe for her soft toys serving muffins and pies.

And all the while the rain ‘drip, drip drops’. Lunch follows and then another paddy, again placated by dad following which the girl agrees to have a rest.

By the time Mum comes home, thanks to some painting and lots of calming reading, her daughter’s inner sunshine has returned just in time for the clouds to part and reveal something bright peeking through the clouds. At last, with the rain gone mother and child visit the park for some fresh air and a reminder ‘that rainclouds always pass.”

Jacky Davis’ first person rhyming narration conveys the little girl’s desire to be in control and find her own way through a difficult day ‘I found fun inside when it was grey’ she tells us as she snuggles down in bed after stories and warm milk.

Equally perfectly, Fiona Woodcock’s mixed media spattered illustrations executed in warm pastel shades portray to perfection the changes in the protagonist’s mood, as well as her irrepressible energy both indoors and out. 

Ideal for sharing with little ones and not just on rainy days.

The Perfect Fit

The Perfect Fit
Naomi Jones and James Jones
Oxford Children’s Books

This is a story about what happens when a triangle that feels different among the circles decides to embark on a journey to find a community wherein she feels she belongs.

The squares are welcoming and invite the newcomer to play with them. With high hopes she joins in their building but then despite encouraging comments from her fellow builders, Triangle feels she must move on …

The hexagons are similarly accommodating though still Triangle worries about being different and continues her search. Increasingly despondent she begins to feel that perhaps she’s the only triangle there is, but then a star speaks and hope returns. On goes the search till finally there before her …

However there are limits to the games that triangles can play – no rolling for instance. Triangle remembers the fun she had with all those other shapes and …

A smashing celebration of difference and diversity showing that to fit in, doesn’t mean you have to be like everyone else: a variety of experience leads to a richer community. Life is much more enjoyable when people welcome those who are different, enabling everyone to feel comfortable about themselves. The key is to go beyond the confines of your perceived identity.

This seemingly simple story inspired by author Naomi and illustrator James son’s struggle to fit in when he started nursery, is a perfect foundation stage book for fostering personal, social and emotional development. It’s also rich in mathematical potential.

How Do You Make a Rainbow? / Finney’s Story

Positivity shines through in both these recent picture books:

How Do You Make a Rainbow?
Caroline Crowe and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rainbows have always been symbols of hope but during the last year have come to symbolise not only that hope of better things to come, but also our appreciation of NHS staff and other key workers with children everywhere creating their own rainbows to say thank you.

This book starts with a little girl and her grandad looking out on a grey rainy world and the child asking for his help to create a cheering up the sky rainbow. Rather than offering a scientific answer, Grandad explains that rainbows aren’t really painted; rather they’re created from kindness and hope, love and thinking of others.

Then, taking one colour at a time,

he goes on to give examples of small, everyday things that bring and give cheer both to others and ourselves.
Told in Caroline’s jaunty rhyme and through Cally’s playful, vibrant illustrations that exude positivity and kindness,

this is a hugely heartwarming book (with two final spreads of activities), for sharing both at home and in foundation stage settings. Definitely one to reach for if you’re feeling a bit down; it will surely act as a reminder of focusing on the positive things in life.

Finney’s Story
Alana Washington and Charlotte Caswell
UCLan Publishing

Finney the fox is an aspiring book author but he has a lot to learn about the whole process of authorship. Fortunately however, he has a moggy friend that is ready and willing to offer some helpful advice, or should that be, criticism. The trouble is, does Finney really have any ideas of the original kind,

let alone an understanding of what that word actually means.

Cat’s suggested visit to the library …

leaves him even more dispirited “All the original stories are gone,” he reports. Finney does notice something else however, something that might just be of assistance. But will this ‘ideas machine’ as he calls himself ever actually produce the goods?

Listeners will love being in the know with Cat as Finney puts forward his proposed storylines from traditional tales in this dialogue between the two friends. They’ll love too, Charlotte Caswell’s bold illustrations with their silhouettes depicting the fairytale characters Finney mentions in his story openers.

There’s a QR code inside the front cover which when scanned gives access to a free Sarah-Ann Kennedy audio reading of the book.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
Harper Collins

There’s a pleasing circularity about Joanna Ho’s lyrical tale of self awareness, family love and tradition that is narrated by an un-named schoolgirl.

At the start, having described the eyes of some of her schoolmates – ‘ like sapphire lagoons / with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns’ she says, ‘I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea. / My eyes are just like Mama’s.’
She then goes on to tell us that the other women in her family have similar eyes. Her Amah has eyes filled with stories; her younger sister Mei-Mei uses her eyes to watch at the window for the return of big sister from school when they can be together again.

We then share in the delights her own eyes discover. With Amah beside her she sees ‘Guanyin with the Money King / sitting on a lotus, serene, // baubles of lychee on trees, / and mountains that reach for the sea.’ … ‘I see kingdoms in  the clouds. ‘

Throughout, the vibrant digital illustrations of Dung Ho with their swirling patterns and beautiful flora, are strongly evocative of Chinese culture and stories; and there are some unmentioned additions such as the jade bangle worn by Amah.

(my mother had a similar one she bought in Hong Kong) and the upside-down Fu (happiness arriving) symbol on the front door.

A lovely celebration of being who and what you are, with an uplifting final statement ‘My eyes … are a revolution … They are me. And they are beautiful.’

Foundation stage classes often explore ‘myself’ and ‘family’ as part of the curriculum: this is a book to share as part of either topic.

Meet the Oceans

Meet the Oceans
Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Like Caryl and Bethan’s previous collaboration Meet the Planets, this one is both full of fun and informative. Speaking in rhyme, Caryl’s young narrator invites youngsters to participate in an underwater adventure to visit the seas and oceans of the world.

The first destination is the decidedly chilly Arctic Ocean that like the other marine locations tells us directly about itself, mentioning such things as giant jellyfish, narwhals, beluga whales and walruses, as well as polar bears that pad on the ice floes.

Next to introduce itself is the Atlantic – a huge ocean so we hear, full of undersea caves, subaquatic mountains and teeming with salmon and silver swordfish, while less easy to spot, swimming among the sea grass are occasional wild manatees.

If warm waters are more to your taste, then you might decide to have a longer float around the tropical islands of the Caribbean Sea. Beneath its surface you’ll encounter all kinds of wonderfully patterned fish, as well as myriads of starfish. We can’t spend too long counting them though, for six watery worlds remain to be seen.

There’s the Pacific with its plastic pollution problem, the South China Sea with its plethora of ships and seabirds, the wonderful coral sea around the Great Barrier Reef, the Indian Ocean alive with gloriously coloured creatures waiting should you have time to step ashore …

before heading down to the Southern Ocean of the Antarctic. BRRR! Watch out for biting gales if you plan stopping at one of the research stations.

Much more frequently visited is the final watery wonder, the Mediterranean Sea: a great place for a spot of snorkelling as I recall.

With pops of day-glo colour Bethan’s distinctive visual style successfully personifies each of the watery worlds that Caryl has given voice to on this splooooshing, whooshing foray aboard a submarine.

Great for pre-bathtime sharing with youngsters as well as for foundation stage storytime sessions.