The Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue
Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K.Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Andersen Press

This is a powerful and empowering book created by team Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer and the first Muslim woman in hijab to represent the US, novelist A.K. Ali and artist Hatem Aly.

We first meet Asiya and her younger sister, Faizah when their Mama takes the girls to a hijab shop for Asiya to make her choice for that important ‘first-day hijab’.

The following morning the sisters leave for school, Faizah (the narrator) sporting snazzy new trainers and wearing a new backpack, Asiya wearing her brightest blue hijab that reminds her sister of the colour of the ocean, if you squint your eyes and pretend there’s no line between the water and the sky. “I’m walking with a princess” Faizah tells us and “Her hijab smiles at me the whole way.”

Once at school however, the comments from other children start. These are alternated with meditative spreads showing and telling of Faizah’s thoughts about her sister’s hijab, along with Mama’s words.

A bully boy starts laughing.

Come break time, the bullying continues with one boy shouting at Asiya, “I’m going to pull that tablecloth off your head.”

Her sister recalls Mama’s wise words “Don’t carry around hurtful words … they belong only to those who said them.”

At the end of the day it’s a strong, smiling Asiya who awaits Faizah and together they return home, Faizah proudly carrying the picture she’s drawn in class of the two of them.

Having shown the bullies her back, now she too is beginning to appreciate and understand the beauty and strength Asiya and mother see in her hijab.

This beautifully, lyrically told story that highlights the importance of family bonds, with its sensitive illustrations wherein bullies are depicted as faceless, is a must for inclusion on classroom bookshelves.

It also celebrates Muslim girls who are hijabis. I have taught Muslim girls, some of whom as young as seven, have suddenly turned up wearing a hijab and I’ve not thought it appropriate to question them; and I have many Muslim friends both here in the UK and in India but none of them wears a hijab. So I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with young hijabis about this topic, or the coming of age rite it signifies in this book. I found this superb story enlightening, and uplifting in its clear messages about equality and the power of women.

The Incredible Hotel

The Incredible Hotel
Kate Davies and Isabelle Follath
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

Stefan the understairs porter has a rather mundane life working in the kitchen of The Incredible Hotel situated in the great city of Delaunay. He spends much of his time fetching and carrying, mopping and chopping and doing the washing up; but Stefan dreams of cake making.

One morning early, a meeting of all staff is called. Mr Starch announces that the hotel is celebrating its centenary with a grand ball, the guest of honour being none other than the Duchess of Delaunay, an incredibly royal, particularly picky person with a penchant for closing down hotels. Uh – uh!

In her honour Chef Zagat is asked to make her favourite delicacy – a profiterole tower – the tallest, creamiest, ‘most profiteroley’ one ever.

The bakers set to work right away with Stefan acting as coffee maker; however he is an observant fellow and can see why the chef’s efforts are not a success, so he offers a suggestion.

All he gets for this is a tongue lashing from the chef and he’s banished from the kitchen.

That night Stefan leaves the hotel and sets to work profiterole creating in his own domain.

Come the morning of the ball, without Stefan’s input, the hotel’s usual clockwork routine breaks down. Indeed disaster strikes and a call for Stefan’s help comes from the chef.

He of course isn’t there to hear.

Meanwhile upstairs the guests start arriving, including the Duchess. She’s far from happy to be stalled by Mr Starch and insists on entering the grand ballroom … She’s even more unhappy at what follows and is about to stomp out … until a wonderful aroma wafts into the room.

The rest, shall we say is mystery – until you get your hands on a copy of this truly delectable treat of a book cooked up by Kate Davies whose words are superbly selected, and Isabelle Follath, whose illustrations are a splendid mix of nostalgic delight, rich detail and fun. (Keep your eyes open for the bit part players, the cat and mouse that appear on every page.)

Don’t miss this one! Satisfaction assured!

Winnie and Wilbur at Chinese New Year

Winnie and Wilbur at Chinese New Year
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

To alleviate her boredom while Wilbur naps, Winnie the witch scrolls through her mobile and discovers that Chinese New Year is coming soon. It sounds exciting and so she decides to throw a Chinese New Year party to celebrate with friends and family.

The preparations go pretty smoothly with Winnie waving her wand to create fabulous decorations and a yummy-looking feast.

Then comes a spectacular parade with dragons large and small, as well as lions including a baby one; but just as the fireworks are about to start, Winnie realises that Wilbur has vanished.

Is the party sparkle about to disappear too, or is there an explanation for the cat’s mysterious absence?

Perhaps just one more wave of that wand of Winnie’s might just rescue the situation …

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul’s magical two W characters have been exciting children for over thirty years and their powers seem to be showing no sign of waning. Youngsters to whom I introduced Winnie and Wilbur as a young teacher now have their own children to share this whizz bang crackling,

lucky money envelope cascading story with in celebration of Chinese New Year at the weekend.

The illustrations are absolutely brimming over with detail and I love the gallery of children’s art that adorns the endpapers.

Superhero Gran

Superhero Gran
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Nosy Crow

Timothy Knapman children’s author, playwright and lyricist teams up with illustrator Joe Berger for I think, their seventh in the Superhero family series.

Most young children I know think their grans are amazing humans and so it is with the gran in this story.

No she doesn’t fly through the air, battle villains, control minds or wield an indestructible shield; instead she makes the days her grandchildren spend in her company the very best possible.

Her house is full of exciting paraphernalia for creating disguises.

Her stories are enthralling, the Tickle Monster Test tale being the very best of all. especially when accompanied by tasty cookies.

Unlike mum and dad, she doesn’t put a limit on the consumption of these treats.

As for her garden, it’s blooming brilliant and great for games of hide-and-seek; moreover she knows when, at the crucial time her grandchildren want to stay, to make a call to Mum and Dad suggesting the little ones remain with her for a sleepover.

Super powers indeed; and what a thoroughly heart-warming, vibrant celebration, verbal and visual, of a loving grandmother.

It’s just perfect for grans and little ones to enjoy reading together.

Some Dinosaurs are Small

Some Dinosaurs are Small
Charlotte Voake
Walker Books

Can you EVER have too many dinosaur books? Definitely not if one of them is this, the latest offering from Charlotte Voake.

Charlotte weaves opposites – big/small, fast/slow, flat/pointy, (as well as showing both carnivorous and herbivorous creatures), into an exciting and amusing picture book story where the action and feelings are shown in the art, while the words are pretty much descriptive: it’s the amalgam of the two that makes this book such a tasty offering.

It begins with one very small dinosaur foraging for fruit which goes into a basket.

Lurking in the background are some BIG, sharp-clawed, pointy toothed dinosaurs with their eyes on a tasty snack or two. And seemingly these speedy movers are never satisfied …

While the confrontational drama is taking place between the marauders and one ENORMOUS dino.

little humans will be relieved to see the little dinosaur has found a safe place to withdraw from the action before embarking on some further foraging, which is shown on the final endpapers.

Terrific fun with thrills aplenty, early years audiences will find this irresistible and, like those big hungry dinosaurs, are bound to demand second or even third helpings …

Nop

Nop
Caroline Mageri
Walker Books

Meet Nop resident of Oddmint’s Dumporium, a dusty place piled high with assorted goods all in need of some mending, fixing or fancyfi-ing by those that work by candle light.

When it comes to Nop though, nothing, be it button, ribbon, or spangle quite fits the bill. Seemingly the bear is doomed to remain on the unwanted shelf instead of being placed in a splendidly crinkly paper bag and carried away in the arms of a happy customer.

But then he spies something red on the floor just waiting to be transformed into an exciting adornment and thus embellished with same, an idea floats into his mind.

Come morning, stitch by stitch

the idea becomes the means to start an exciting adventure in the big wide world where, who knows, perhaps a new friendship awaits.

Spendidly whimsical, Caroline Mageri’s Nop with its themes of hope, enterprise and new beginnings is an uplifting, lyrically written delight.

Beware of the Crocodile

Beware of the Crocodile
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
Walker Books

You can always rely on Martin Jenkins to provide information in a thoroughly enjoyable manner and here his topic is those jaw snapping crocs, which, as he tells readers on the opening spread are ‘really scary’ (the big ones). … ‘They’ve got an awful lot of … teeth.’

With wry, rather understated humour he decides to omit the gruesome details and goes on to talk about how they capture their prey: ‘ Let’s just say there’s a lot of twirling and thrashing, then things go a bit quiet.’ I was astonished to learn that crocodiles are able to go for weeks without eating after a large meal.

The author’s other main focus is crocodiles’ parenting skills; these you may be surprised to learn are pretty good – at least when applied to the mothers.

Not an easy task since one large female can lay up to 90 eggs; imagine having to guard so many  newly hatched babies once they all emerge.

As for the father crocodiles, I will leave you to imagine what they might do should they spot a tasty-looking meal in their vicinity, which means not all the baby crocodiles survive and thrive to reach their full 2m. in eight years time.

As fun and informative as the narrative is, Kitamura’s watery scenes are equally terrific emphasising all the right parts. He reverts to his more zany mode in the final ‘About Crocodiles’ illustration wherein a suited croc. sits perusing a menu (make sure you read it) at a dining table.

All in all, a splendid amalgam of education and entertainment for youngsters; and most definitely one to chomp on and relish.