Kaia and the Bees

Kaia and the Bees
Maribeth Boelts and Angela Dominguez
Walker Books

Kaia is pretty fearless but there’s one notable exception: having been stung on the foot, she’s super scared about bees despite her dad being a bee-keeper with two hives on the roof of their apartment home.

Dad does his level best to enthuse his daughter about his favourite topic but it takes being found out about her aversion by the children who also live in her block for Kaia to overcome her melissophobia.

With protective suit on she follows her Dad up the stairs and out onto the roof. There her bee education continues apace and her fear of the little insects slowly diminishes

until she thoughtlessly removes one of her gloves and OUCH! Kaia is stung again. “I’m never EVER going near those bees again!” she cries and sticks to her word.

Soon comes the time for collecting the honey from the hives. The family work hard all day in the kitchen filling jars with sweet smelling golden honey.

Then Dad’s “It’s a mystery, isn’t it!’ awakens a feeling of wonder in the girl and later, after another bee encounter, Kaia understands something about the tiny creatures that she’d never considered before.

At last she appreciates just how incredible bees are and alongside that, she finally feels brave inside.

Maribeth Boelts’ story that gently educates about the importance of bees is written from the perspective of being part of a bee-keeping family and she fully appreciates both how awesome and vital to our ecosystem the creatures are, as well as understanding that some people might, like Kaia, feel scared unless helped to overcome their fear. This understanding can be applied to a fear of anything, making the book even more helpful.

I love that Kaia’s family live in an urban location; and Angela Dominguez’s mixed-media illustrations both provide detail about bee keeping and clearly show the characters’ feelings throughout.

Paris Cat

Paris Cat
Dianne Hofmeyer and Piet Grobler
Tiny Owl

Unlike the rest of her large family and many friends, there’s one Parisian Cat that wants to see more of the world than her smelly back-alley home.

So, one wet night she enters a busy café where singer Edith Piaf, is entertaining the customers. Cat decides to do likewise

but is soon sent packing.

Back out in the rain she finds refuge in a dressmaking atelier.

Once again Cat decides “I can do that,” and as soon as the establishment has closed, she gathers up all the fabric offcuts and fashions herself a sparkly dress, dons her new attire and heads to a nightclub.

There she sees Josephine Baker dancing along with a cheetah. Yet again Cat decides, “Pffh! I can do that” and up onto the stage she springs to show her own moves.

Chiquita the cheetah is impressed, so much so that ‘Kitty’ is invited back to dance again the following evening alongside Josephine.

So it is that every night, clad in a new outfit, courtesy of the snippets from Madame Delphine’s atelier, she dances the night away, becoming a regular part of the billed act.

Eventually Cat starts to miss her family and friends. This prompts her to open her very own nightclub – Madame Kitty’s Catacombs Club so that she can see them all regularly again.

Now it’s not just one, but many cats that, if you happen to be in the vicinity after dark, you might see dancing the night away, clad thanks to Madame Kitty, in their snazzy outfits.

And Madame Kitty? She may be there too, or perhaps another new adventure has lured her away.

I absolutely love Piet Grobler’s scratchy scenes of 1920s Paris nightlife that really bring to life Dianne Hofmeyer’s deliciously quirky tale of searching for the new, pursuing your dreams, but not forgetting  where you came from. I love too, the way the author has woven into her narrative the two stars from that era both of whom had difficult early lives.

I Can Catch A Monster

I Can Catch a Monster
Bethan Woollvin
Two Hoots

In a castle in a mountainous region in days of yore live Erik, Ivar and their little sister, Bo.

When her brothers announce that they’re off on a monster hunt Bo wants to accompany them. “You’re far too little,” comes the reply but what Bo lacks in stature she makes up for in determination. “I’m smart and brave and strong!” she thinks before sallying forth on a monster quest of her own.

Very soon she has her first ‘monster’ encounter: “… get ready to be got!” she warns the creature, only to learn it’s a griffin and far too polite to be a monster.

Indeed he offers to assist Bo in her quest.

Her next encounter takes her (inadvertently) plunging beneath the ocean waves to face a kraken. She too seems at first, monstrous

but again Bo’s assumption is wrong, for the kraken also assists her.

Next destination is a cave from which issues an enormous roar.

Surely deep within must be the scary monster Bo has been seeking all along. However the roar turns out to be a dragon venting its parental anguish over missing baby, Smoky.

From then on the quest becomes not a monster hunt but a Smoky search, which eventually brings the story full circle, with Bo face to face with two human monsters.

Now she can prove well and truly, who really is in charge.

I love Bo’s rebellious attitude and applaud her open-mindedness and willingness to learn from her mistakes. There’s plenty of potential discussion sparkers in Bethan’s tale but it’s her wonderful illustrations that are the book’s real strength.

Executed in gouache with a more varied colour palette than in her fairy tale reworkings. Bethan’s idiosyncratic art uses teal, duck-egg, orange and pinks to create the mock-medieval scenes for this story. Love those end papers too.

The Walloos’ Big Adventure

The Walloos’ Big Adventure
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Allow me to introduce the Walloos. Living on a rocky island at the edge of a lake, there’s a big one, a spotty one, an old one and a little one.

Each Walloo has its own particular penchant. Little Walloo loved to grow plants, Spotty Walloo had a culinary bent especially with regard to soups and salads; boat building was Big Walloo’s love and Old Walloo’s favourite occupation was storytelling, particularly about the old days and his visits to tropical-exotic islands.

Fired up by his tales, Little Walloo longs for her own tropical island adventure and one day Big Walloo builds a boat and away they go, sailing through nights and days until they spy something exciting: – a ‘tropical-exotic island.”

It’s a truly beautiful place but there’s something slightly strange about it that only Little Walloo notices – at first anyway; this island seems to be moving. It’s not long before Old Walloo agrees with her.

When is an island not an island? To tell would be to spoil this enchanting story. But what can be said is that what happens involves an idea, problem-solving, seeing things from the perspective of others, teamwork, kindness, caring and the co-creation of more stories of ‘tropical exotic adventures.

There’s an abundance of warmth and gentle humour in this smashing story of the Walloos that reminded me just a little of the Moomins in the way the characters engage with and understand one another, their charm and their thirst for adventure.

Then there’s that gentle environmental message made more evident in Anuska Allepuz’s wonderfully whimsical illustrations.

I can’t wait to share this with young children – it’s an absolute delight.

The Wonder Tree

The Wonder Tree
Teresa Heapy and Izzy Burton
Egmont

When I was a child we had a large oak tree with a resident owl in our garden; this lyrical story of Teresa’s with its wonderful illustrations by Izzy Burton, took me right back there to that tree, which I loved.

The particular oak tree in the story is home to Little Owl and his Mummy; and as it opens a leaf landing on his head disturbs Little Owl’s sleep. Despite his mother’s assurances, the little creature can’t get back to sleep. He’s concerned about the tree –surely it will be cold without its leaves, won’t it?

“Let me tell you a wonder,” comes the reply and Mummy Owl proceeds to explain first about leaf fall and seasonal change,

and then how the tree ‘drinks’.

However neither explanation sends Little Owl back to sleep and he requests a story. Happy to oblige, Mummy Owl’s story is of the tree and the stories that reside therein – held in its annular rings,

in ‘the clasp of its roots, and the kiss of its leaves’.

Then, as the moon high above sends out its silvery light, bidding a temporary farewell to the huge, ancient tree that is their home, parent and child spread their wings and sail off into the night sky.

Along with Little Owl, little humans will love learning about the natural world and its wonders, especially at bedtime. Equally, they’ll love being immersed in nature through debut illustrator’s woodland scenes showing the rich hues of autumn as they gradually fade to sepia, and the resident fauna and flora of the setting.

I Can’t Sleep

I Can’t Sleep
Gracia Iglesias and Ximo Abadía
Templar Publishing

How many people at the moment go to bed with their heads buzzing with thoughts – “I’m missing school,” … “I want to see my friends” and so on, and the consequence is that, like the little girl narrator of this story, that all important restorative sleep just won’t come.

She starts counting sheep to help her drop off and as she starts to count slowly 1 … a sheep emerges from beneath the bed and begins to devour the rug. Then a second sheep drops down the chimney (no prizes for guessing what colour it is).

The counting continues and soon there are fluffy sheep doing all kinds of interesting, though not sleep inducing things, both inside her house

and out.

It’s not until she reaches 9 and a very tiny lamb comes that sleepiness descends upon the little girl and she’s fast asleep before she can count to 10. Zzzzzzz

With Gracia Iglesias’ chucklesome counting text this is great fun for bedtime sharing with little ones, and Ximo Abadía’s illustrations are a delight. Created with graphite, wax and ink with digital colouring, they’re bold, quirky and playful: who can fail to smile at the sight of cuddle sheep number six cavorting across the bedcover

or the wisest old, guitar-playing sheep.

A New Green Day

A New Green Day
Antoinette Portis
Scallywag Press

Since the lockdown, most of us with time on our hands have been taking much more notice of the beauties of nature no matter where we live and in A New Green Day, Antoinette Portis invites readers to do just that, to see things anew and to discover the joy and wonders to be found outdoors.

Using a sequence of short poems spoken by natural things both large and small, the author/illustrator gently leads us through a summer’s day in the company of a little girl.
Said child is gently awoken by sunlight on her pillow inviting,
“… Come out and play!”

Then at the behest of that which has scribbled “on the path / in glistening ink …”
it’s time to move outdoors and there, the playful guessing game continues as we see a sequence of things in an entirely fresh, creative way.

For instance “I’m a map of my own / green home. Follow my roads and climb,” reveals when the page is turned …

How cleverly imagined are Antoinette Portis’s trees, one of which is markedly similar to the veined leaf the girl holds between her two fingers.

Some riddles are easier to anticipate than others; one such is “I’m a comma / in the long, long sentence / of the stream. / Someday soon, / you’ll hear my croak,” is uttered by …

Then come the voices – cloud, rain, lightning and thunder – of a gathering storm and what child could resist this invitation, “I am cool pudding / on a muggy day. / Let your toes / have a taste! …”

Finally as Earth is wrapped in the black cloak of night, comes the gently spoken sound from a tiny insect “I am the engine / of the summer dark. / Sleep, while I thrum / in your tomorrow … “ I will leave you to work out that which heralds “A new green day.”

There is SO much to love about this lyrically written book that gently calls us to appreciate our world afresh. Rich in texture, both verbal and visual, Antoinette Portis’ A New Green Day offers fresh lenses through which to see the natural world and its beauty each and every time we set foot outside.

Say Goodbye … Say Hello / The Happy Lion Roars

Say Goodbye … Say Hello
Cori Doerrfeld
Scallywag Press

Change is inevitable no matter what, and young children often find transitions tricky.

Through her gentle, lively illustrations and soft-spoken, simply expressed text, Cori Doerrfeld offers little ones a story exploring  the nature of change and the possibilities that embracing it can offer.

Stella, while reluctant to leave her mum and board the bus, soon discovers a new friend, Charlie, once she gets to school.

Before long the two are almost inseparable. We follow them through the seasons and goodbye summer means hello to autumn and goodbye to outside means hello to inside;
’Goodbye to snowmen … is hello to puddles!’;

and through the days when “goodbye to long walks, butterflies and the sun … is hello to long talks … fireflies and … the stars.’

But then, comes something much more difficult for Stella to cope with: the need to say goodbye to her special friend, when Charlie moves away and holding tight must be followed by letting go.

Physically yes, but not completely, for Stella is soon busy writing and posting a letter to her friend.

There’s also the possibility of someone else on the horizon, not a replacement for Charlie, but perhaps a new friendship for the making…

Splendidly expressive illustrations show both the ups and downs of change, as well as the passage of time. Ultimately however, however difficult some changes might be, as the story closes we’re given an indication of Stella’s resilience as she greets a newcomer …
A gorgeously warm portrayal of friendship, loss and the possibilities of new beginnings.

Completely different but also with a focus on friendship and new beginnings is this oldie but goodie:

The Happy Lion Roars
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

Nostalgia rules in this Happy Lion story I remember from my childhood. In this book the Happy Lion is most definitely not living up to his name, spending much of his time looking downright miserable, so much so that a doctor is called. He merely prescribes pills and departs; but the medication is totally ineffective in the face of loneliness for that is what is wrong with the Happy Lion.

Then one day into town comes a small circus and he and his friend Francois go to watch the acts. However, the Happy Lion has eyes only for the Beautiful Lioness in her cage.

Suddenly his sadness is a thing of the past and one night he goes to the cage of the Beautiful Lioness, opens the door and together they walk through the park back to his home.
A search ensues,

followed by some subterfuge, the Happy Lion’s loudest ever roar, and finally, thanks to Francois, a deal leaving not one, but two felines exceedingly happy.

Superb art and a lovely story where friendship and freedom reign supreme, characterise this classic re-issue.

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!

No-Bot the Robot’s New Bottom!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster

Bernard the robot, aka No-Bot, is back with a new botty but now again it seems to be giving him trouble. Not however by its absence; rather there are all manner of strange sounds apparently emanating from his rear as he plays on the park equipment with his pals.

Bernard is surprised until he turns his head to discover what looks like his very own, potentially explosive bum.

Bear decides it needs removing which leaves our robot pal in a bot-less state once more.

Reassuringly his friends are ready and willing to assist in finding a replacement but it’s not an easy task as they soon discover, for the bot needs to satisfy certain criteria – right colour, appealing smell, comfortable for sitting

and not too heavy. Will Monkey, Bear, Dog and the birds ever find a bot that it just right or is Bernard to remain in a permanent state of bottomlessness?

Finally, it appears Bernard isn’t the only one having bottom trouble …

Like the first No-bot story this one is delightfully daft and full of the kind of humour that definitely appeals to little ones. Yet again team Sue and Paul have a winner with this one; I certainly know a fair few fans who will be keen to get their hands on it.

Impossible! / I’m Sorry

Here are two recently published picture book from Little Tiger:

Impossible!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Dog runs a laundry in a busy city but has a longing to see the ocean.

One day he comes upon Ocean Magic, a new kind of washing powder. The product promises ‘seaside freshness with every wash’ but apparently there’s something else within the box too.
Into the machine goes the powder and out later, along with the clean washing, emerges a crab suffering from a bad attack of nausea.

Dog and Crab discuss the situation over a cuppa

and eventually after declaring several times that driving Crab all the way back home is impossible, Dog lets himself be persuaded to undertake the trip.

Off they go together on a journey that takes several weeks during which they create a special memories map of their trip.

En route they encounter other travellers with seemingly impossible challenges of their own.

Now it’s Dog’s turn to utter the ‘nothing is impossible unless you say so’ maxim and with the assistance of their new friends, Dog and Crab finally reach their destination.

Both are delighted with the ocean paradise but then Dog declares he must return to his city job – or must he?

Follow your dreams and don’t allow obstacles to stand in your way, is the message Tracey’s tale imparts to youngsters. Equally the ‘it’s only impossible if you say so’ message is one we all need to remember especially in challenging times.

Tony Neal’s bright, lively, illustrations inject additional humour into the telling offering fun details to enjoy on every spread.

I’m Sorry!
Barry Timms and Sean Julian

In Walnut Wood live best friends, Scribble (squirrel) and Swoop (owl) and each morning they walk a considerable distance bringing their special things to their regular meeting spot.

Scribble has a special pencil that acts as word assistant in his play script writing, the finished dramas entertaining his friend. Swoop’s special thing is a toolbox that enables her to build anything and everything.

One day they decide to move in together; their place has ‘room for two and a little left over’.

It’s the left over bit – the veranda – that causes a rift, for each has designs on it.

A huge row ensues over the ownership of this: should it be a stage or a workshop?

Scribble decides to try and make amends with the aid of his trusty pencil but can a single word apology fix things or is something else needed?

There’s food for thought and discussion with little ones in this story that demonstrates that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sean Julian’s beautifully expressive watercolour illustrations are for me the true show-stealers in this book.

Now Wash Your Hands!

Now Wash Your Hands!
Matt Carr
Scholastic

Hand washing was never more important than now during the current COVID-19 crisis and here’s a timely picture book from author/illustrator Matt Carr showing young children the vital importance of keeping their hands super-clean and hopefully free of those invisible nasties aka germs.

This crucial message is delivered in Mrs Moo’s class by a very important visitor, Doctorpus Doris, who talks to the pupils about the vast numbers of ‘TEENY WEENY germs’

and what they can do to send those nasty beasties packing.

The good news is that the way to do it is something as simple as washing their hands thoroughly. Doris gives several examples of times when this is especially a must-do activity. For instance after visiting a farm, working in the garden, using the loo

and before having lunch as they all do after her talk. For Doc. Doris this germ-extermination is, of course, a rather protracted process.

With his light touch, bouncy rhyming narrative that includes a song and funky bright illustrations,

Matt delivers what all foundation stage teachers and early years staff will be constantly reminding youngsters to do, ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS!’.

To that end this book will be an absolute boon – a must have. (for every copy sold 50p will be donated to NHS charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal). Perhaps our government could add to their list of things to do: buy a copy for every school/nursery to share. Maybe I should tweet the PM and await his response …

Like the Ocean We Rise

Like the Ocean We Rise
Nicola Edwards and Sarah Wilkins
Little Tiger

Our planet is vast and it’s beautiful too,
But it needs our help; it needs me, it needs you.

Assuredly it does. I was absolutely astonished and horrified to read in the paper apropos World Oceans Day about the large percentage of microfibres in our oceans that are a result of washing synthetic clothing.

It’s never too early for young children to begin thinking about some of the ways they can help to reduce the negative impact we have on our planet and consider how everybody can help to prevent climate change.

A good place to start is with this smashing rhyming picture book.

Most of us know of the impact Greta Thunberg has had in galvanising what has become a global movement involving student protesters from over 120 countries; and Nicola Edwards’ narrative celebrates the contribution of young people; but there is a lot still to be done.

No matter where in the world we are,

we can all in our own way become eco-warriors

just like those children portrayed in Sarah Wilkins’ vibrant peek-through illustrations that use the ripple effect of a single raindrop to add to the impact of the text’s simile.

I love her final scene that shows this wave-making movement really is a global one in which we all can, indeed MUST, play our part.

The final spreadsheet provides  a brief explanation of  climate change and why it matters and some ‘What Can We Do?’ suggestions .

Monkey’s Tail

Monkey’s Tail
Alex Rance and Shane McG
Allen & Unwin

Since his retirement, due in no small part to a serious knee injury in an Australian Rules football game, Alex Rance has written another story in his series of children’s picture books.

This one, Monkey’s Tale, as the author says, is the story of how he got through the traumatic season of his injury in 2019.

It tells of Howler Monkey, one of the jungle’s very best climbers until one day while out with his pals, the branch on which he was climbing snaps sending him flying out of the tree to crash with an enormous thump right on his tail. YEOCH!

How that tail hurts and scares Howler Monkey but instead of letting on to his friends, he clowns around trying to make them laugh.

He may have fooled them but the Howler Monkey can’t fool himself and unable to climb he sits around thinking and becoming increasingly sad.

Then one day the very wise Oldest Monkey sits down beside Howler and asks what’s troubling him. Who better to confide in than Oldest Monkey so, full of self-doubt Howler Monkey reveals his secret worry: am I still a monkey if I can no longer climb?

A discussion ensues with Oldest Monkey asking some key questions that help Howler Monkey realise that no matter what, he can still make his friends laugh; he can still help them;

he still has a loving family and he can still make them proud – just in a different way. In other words, his actions do not define who he is and motivation for those actions is a key factor. Is this enough for Howler Monkey to regain his confidence and self-respect?

Resilience is key in Alex Rance’s story, illustrated digitally by Shane McG and as Oldest Monkey concludes ‘keep on being the best (monkey) you can be.’ Sage advice indeed.

The Perfect Shelter

The Perfect Shelter
Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland
Little Tiger

Clare knows how to write about areas many people find difficult, her last book being the beautiful story The Tide, featuring a loved family member with dementia.

The new book, The Perfect Shelter is also based on personal experiences, this time of cancer. It’s equally beautifully told and illustrated and it’s evident immediately that a great deal of thought and loving care has gone into its creation.

As the story starts a family shares what the little girl narrator calls ‘the perfect day’, just right for her and her older sister to build a den in the woods – the perfect shelter.

Suddenly though as the evening draws in, it’s evident that something is not right with big sister.

Back home comes the news, her sister is ill.
A storm rages but the den repairs must continue as the narrator’s beloved sibling undergoes an operation.

But then come the questions, “How did it get there? … Why MY sister?”

Eventually although the den seems beyond fixing, the narrator’s internal storm begins to abate as big sister starts to regain her strength and with it her determination: there’s a new perfect time and perfect place to build a new shelter …

And with it come smiles, new plans and that wonderful feeling of togetherness.

Although we share in the gamut of emotions of this family, it’s optimism that is key in the poignant telling and Åsa Gilland’s slightly quirky illustrations capturing the family sharing a difficult time are superbly expressive of all the uncertainty inherent in Claire’s story. I love the way she adds gorgeous tiny detail and patterning to every scene.

That there is no mention of any specific illness makes this a book that will help untie the knot of emotions in many families when one of their number (Or indeed a close friend) is diagnosed with a serious illness.

Nervous Nigel

Nervous Nigel
Bethany Christou
Templar Publishing

Bethany Christou’s follow-up to Slow Samson is another winner, even if her young crocodile protagonist is not.

Nigel comes from a long line of water-sport champions and like the rest of his family, Nigel loves to swim and his favourite spot for relaxing and thinking is in the water.

However once he has to start following a training regime, he gets butterflies in his tummy and his tail is all a-tremble, but he daren’t let on to the family.

Then comes the news. Nigel is to take part in his very first competition:

no wonder he has a sleepless night and no matter what he does or says there’s no getting out of it.

When race day dawns Nigel is a complete nervous wreck.

There’s absolutely no way he can take that dive from the starting blocks, so what will he do?

Is there perhaps something else water-related that he can enjoy

and at the same time make his family proud without winning medals?

Suffering from anxiety is part and parcel of growing up so most little ones will appreciate Nigel’s plight; so too will adult sharers who, one hopes put children’s happiness and self-fulfilment above reflected glory.

Bethany Christou’s wonderfully expressive, warm illustrations have a gentle humour that underscores her message about allowing children to be themselves and follow their own paths.

This is Crab / The Bedtime Book

Here are two titles from the Little Tiger group that are just right to share with preschool children:

This is Crab
Harriet Evans and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books

This is another interactive book from Harriet Evans and illustrator Jacqui Lee and this one has an ocean floor setting and a googly-eyed red crustacean as its central character.

We join and assist Crab as he wanders around the sea bed encountering in turn, bit part players in the form of an octopus,

some coral, sea turtles, fish of various kinds and hues as well as a Decorator Crab that our meanderer gets a tad cheeky with.

Bright alluring illustrations including several spreads with die-cut overlays will certainly engage visually, while eager fingers will enjoy responding to such instructions as ‘shake your finger at Crab, please’; ‘Try tickling Crab so he lets go’ and ‘Tap on Crab to make the crack larger’ and they’ll assuredly delight in the revelation of Crab’s new pink shell once they’ve helped peel off the cracked red one.

Words such as ‘drumroll’, ‘scuttle’ and ‘pincers’ are introduced as the action proceeds, so will likely be absorbed by youngsters as they react to the prompts to facilitate Crab’s perambulations through the story.

The Bedtime Book
S. Marendaz and Carly Gledhill
Little Tiger

Like little humans, Mouse has a favourite bedtime book. Who better to help her find it when it goes missing than Frank the dachshund but he’s just snuggled down for a peaceful night’s sleep in his kennel.

Cosy as he might be though, Frank’s not one to leave his friend to search alone so off they go together ‘scurry, scurry, scurry … pant, pant, pant’ on a book hunt. They follow a trail that leads them to Bella the cat.

What Bella tells them has all three of them scurrying and panting off again but still there’s no sign of the missing book.

Owl overhears their conversation and reveals that he had it but it’s now set to be the next bedtime story for Baby Hedgehog.

Kind-hearted Mouse won’t hear of trying to retrieve it and instead goes sadly back to bed. So too does Frank although instead of falling asleep he has a wonderful idea that soon sees him back at Mouse’s residence

where in lieu of Mouse’s book, we’ll leave the two friends snuggled together under the stars having shared Frank’s bedtime favourite …

This sweet gentle story is likely to become a bedtime favourite for pre-schoolers who will love to snuggle down and make some animal friends thanks to Carly Gledhill’s delightful portrayal of the nocturnal happenings.

A Friend for Bear

A Friend for Bear
Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Tiger

When Little Bear wakes from her long winter sleep she cannot wait to embrace spring with all its exciting possibilities for running, flower smelling, tadpole tickling and twirling.

It’s the twirling that causes her to trip and fall flat. What she fell over wasn’t in fact the stone she thought but a tortoise.

Tortoise is excited to hear about Little Bear’s plans for roly-polying, tree climbing and making new friends but knows his short legs are no match for Little Bear’s.

Bear offers Tortoise a piggyback and away they speed, with the former anything but aware of potential new pals and sweet smelling flowers they pass, right up to the top of a small hill.

After a downhill tumble the two narrowly miss hurtling into a tree. Tortoise just wants to sit and allow his head to stop spinning.

Unmindful of Tortoise’s predicament Little Bear hoists Tortoise on her shoulders again dashing up the hill only to zoom straight back down to the water’s edge. Once again Little Bear doesn’t stop long enough to allow Tortoise to finish speaking and in they leap.

Poor Tortoise can take no more. With a waterlogged shell and worse, he spells it out to Little Bear. “You never stop to listen, or think, or make friends.”

At last Little Bear pays attention to what’s being said; friendship wins through and both creatures eagerly anticipate another day in each other’s company.

Caroline Pedler shows the cuddly bear cub, with Tortoise holding on for dear life, dashing through verdant meadows and sunlit woods alive with spring flora and fauna. Like Little Bear, little humans (and big ones) can all benefit from slowing down and enjoying being in the moment as Steve’s protagonists finally demonstrate in his telling.

Little Turtle and the Sea

Little Turtle and the Sea
Becky Davies and Jennie Poh
Litte Tiger

In this story we follow Little Turtle as she emerges from a nest on the sandy shore and heads to the safety of the sea, right through to maturity.

The turtle grows to love the ocean as she herself grows larger and one day she reaches the other side of the world where she lives for many years foraging and feeding.

Then comes a time for her to make the long journey back to the beach from whence she came .

Now however, it’s different. Things are not right: the colours of the reef are fading and instead of familiar friends, all manner of weird-looking new creatures (plastic bags) float everywhere.

The strangeness increases and ‘The ocean no longer felt like a friend.’

Little Turtle is alone and entangled in a drifting net of detritus.
Fortunately just when she fears her journey is over forever, two divers appear and set her free, going on to clean up the rubbish.

Once more the bubbling ocean is a beautiful place to live.

Becky Davies keeps her narrative lyrical and gentle as she describes the changing sea shown in Jennie Poh’s beautiful mixed media illustrations, saving the starker factual information about the terrible effects of pollution on our oceans to the two final ‘note from the author’ double spreads after the story.

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter
Emily MacKenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Bibliophile, young Ralfy Rabbit loves nothing better than to find a peaceful place to snuggle up with a good book (or several).

However things have changed in Ralfy’s home: there’s a new addition to the family, baby brother Rodney, whose presence means that the household is anything but quiet, and the bigger baby Rodney gets, the more noise he makes.

The impossibility of finding a quiet spot at home drives Ralfy to one of his favourite places – the library. Bliss. Peace at last.

But when Ralfy settles down with his book he gets the surprise of his life. A very large hole has been chomped right through it.

Fortunately the librarian is sympathetic but suggests Ralfy should try to track down the book biter.

Back home Ralfy dons his detective gear and starts his investigation. It can’t have been any of the grown-ups for they’ve all been too busy. It surely can’t be Nibbles – he belongs elsewhere.

Ralfy moves to the bookcase where, OH NO! the book biter has been at work on another of his books. In fact not just one, but all Ralfy’s favourities – disaster!

Then he hears some strange sounds coming from the direction of another large volume …

Finally it seems Ralfy has caught the culprit. But what does he do about it? That would be telling …

As with her previous Ralfy story, Emily’s illustrations are fabulous– witty and full of amusing details. She’s clearly had some punning fun playing with book titles. Ralfy’s collection includes Stick Bun and on the library shelves are Rabbitson Crusoe, Jane Hare, Pippi Longears and The Burrowers, which will be appreciated by older book enthusiasts sharing the story.

With Ralfy’s visits to both the library and a bookshop, this is sure to become another favourite with adults who want to encourage book loving in little humans, as well as the target audience of young listeners.

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Martha and Laura’s four intrepid bunny hunters are ready for another expedition and now they’ve donned piratical gear ready to search for treasure. So it’s YO! HO! HO! all aboard and off they go to a desert island looking for gold coins.

As they sail they encounter some swooshing, swishing dolphins before landing on a sandy shore.

Then off they go again, carefully avoiding getting their toes nipped;

but they’ll need our help or they might miss some of what they seek, right beneath their feet.

The search continues, first at a rock pool, then beneath the coconut palms –

we know what might be hanging above their heads ready to strike – and across a rope bridge to another beach. There a somewhat scary encounter awaits.

So ‘Quick, quick, quick’, it’s time to head for their boat and sail back home.

Seemingly, once on dry land again, there’s one final thing to find: what could that be, I wonder.

With Martha’s rhythmic, rhyming, onomatopoeic, repeat pattern narrative, this is an ideal read-aloud to enjoy with pre-schoolers who will doubtlessly relish joining in as you share it, pausing on alternate spreads for individuals to lift the flaps and see what’s hidden beneath. Of course, they’ll need all their 10 fingers ready to keep a count of the coins too.

Equally with those 3Rs of reading – rhythm, rhyme and repetition – built into the text, this is an ideal book for children in the early stage of becoming readers to try for themselves.

Either way, bursting with summery sun and with plenty of flaps to lift, Laura Hughes’ lively scenes of the search provide plenty of gentle visual humour and opportunities to spot the wealth of flora and fauna on every spread.

School for Dads

With Father’s Day in mind and because I missed this one when it was published:

School for Dads
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

Like a number of others, punctuality isn’t a strong point for Anna’s dad; indeed when he turns up late to collect her from school yet again, she strikes a bargain with him. “I’ll forgive you if you go to School for Dads,” she says.

Time for a spot of role reversal. Next morning it’s all the tardy dads who have to spend the day as pupils and their teachers aren’t going to make things easy for them. First of all some bad behaviour needs sorting out: “Don’t ignore us when we’re talking, and stop looking at your phone.”

That’s only the first of the list of misdemeanours, and they must definitely never answer “NO.”

The dads have to use the little chairs, and sitting on the floor proves pretty challenging too. On the plus side though, playtime is fun and the art session releases their inner creativity.

Come lunch time, the hall turns into a rowdy place where sweet treats are off the menu; and the afternoon’s PE lesson is let’s say interesting …

By home time, it isn’t only the pupils who have had a trying day; everyone – children and adults – have learnt a lot. On reflection, Anna decides that dads really deserve to be celebrated for all the great things …

This witty, reflective rhyming tale has a great read aloud rhythm and is just right to give dads a good giggle on Fathers Day especially. Assuredly they’ll enjoy too, Ada Grey’s lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour of the Guillain’s telling.

Bloom

Bloom
Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Tiny Owl

Beneath the window of a large house grows a beautiful flower and every morning as they walk to school with their mum, a brother and sister stop briefly by the flower. The little girl would go up close to savour its beauty with her eyes and nose and address it thus, “Good morning, beautiful flower … I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.” She’d then proceed happily into school.

This went on until one morning having woken earlier than usual the man living in the big house saw what was happening and shouted threateningly at the girl and her brother.

Consequently they decided to change their route to school.

Next morning although the sun came out, the flower didn’t. The poor gardener is blamed for improper watering and the man does the job instead – but still the flower stays closed.

Perhaps it’s shade the flower needs the angry man thinks but again it fails to make a difference. No matter what he does or says the flower remains firmly shut and increasingly droopy.

Totally exasperated and full of complaints, the man calls his gardener again. Despite not knowing what the matter is, the gardener is observant and tells the man exactly what the little girl had done every day.

Finally after consideration, the man goes to the school gate, waits for the girl and her brother and tells them tearfully what has happened.

The little girl offers him some advice and the man rushes home. Instead of self-centred, self-interested orders, can kind, heartfelt words succeed in making his flower bloom again?

With echoes of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, Anne Booth’s ultimately uplifting fable demonstrates the power of words and the importance of considering carefully how what you say will impact upon others: positivity is key.

Robyn Wilson Owen’s finely textured, mixed media illustrations show the contrast between the children’s nurturing home environment and that of the man’s lonely existence as well as documenting the changes in the flower through the story.

My Nana’s Garden

My Nana’s Garden
Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Templar Books

This is one of the most beautiful picture books about love and loss I’ve seen in a long time.

The little girl narrator visits her beloved grandmother through the different seasons of the year. Together they savour the joys of the tangly weeds or ‘wild flowers’ as Nana insists; harvest the bounties of fruit trees and wonder at the wealth of minibeasts and small animals that find their way among the jungle of brightly coloured flora.

There’s a crooked tree that’s home for an owl and a multitude of other creatures.

Evening is a lovely time too with both starlight and light from their bonfire to illuminate them as the two snuggle up together and bask in the warmth.

In late summer there’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables and seeds to collect,

but with the onset of autumn Nana starts to look frail.

Come winter it’s clear that like her garden, Nana is fading, letting go her hold on life and by the time her garden is clad in snow, only a robin sits on her chair. (A nod to John Burningham by Jessica perhaps there.)

The wheel of life never stops turning and eventually a tiny snowdrop peeps through. The little girl realises, that along with that revolving circle, her precious memories go on and on. Grandma is still there in the blossom on the trees, the smiling faces of the flowers, the starlit bonfire and in the wild abundance of all that flourishes in her garden. A garden that is now a refuge too, and a place wherein we see evidence of other changes in the narrator’s family.

Tremendous sensitivity is inherent in both Dawn’s lyrical rhyming text and the rich tapestry of flora and fauna and the Nana/child relationship shown in Jessica’s illustrations, which together epitomise that ‘a garden is a lovesome thing’.

Meet the Grumblies

Meet the Grumblies
John Kelly and Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger

The three Grumblies are an argumentative lot as their name suggests, and that’s despite having an easy life with food readily available courtesy of the bread bushes and fruit trees, and a constant supply of fizzy juice from the pond.

This primitive trio lead a low-tech existence and like nothing better than to bicker about the relative merits of the stick, the rope and mud.

These articles are put to the test when suddenly a huge and very hungry Gobblestomp breaks into their clearing and proceeds to devour their precious crops and slurp up their bubbly beverage.

Sticks bounce harmlessly off the hairy pachyderm;

the rope fails to slow it down and as for mud, it’s far too shallow to halt its progress.

Time for Grumble-Stick, Grumble-Rope and Grumble-Mud to cease squabbling, pool resources and come up with a plan perhaps; and so, overnight, they do.

The trio’s teamwork proves highly successful stopping Gobblestomp in its tracks

but there’s more than one change afoot in the village for it’s not only the Grumblies who see the error of their ways …

John Kelly’s daft neanderthal tale demonstrates the importance of teamwork and there’s plenty to giggle over in Carmen Saldaña’s animated artwork.

Llama Glamarama

Llama Glamarama
Simon James Green and Garry Parsons
Scholastic

You can tell from the cover of this book that one llama at least is going to be deliciously, daringly divergent, and so it proves.

Not in front of his fellow llamas though, for Larry, like the other barn resident llamas, remains calm and rule-abiding by day.

Under the cover of dark however while the others are fast asleep, he dons his glamour gear and leaps into action with his iconic dance moves.

One night, as he’s twisting and stamping with gay abandon

flouting all llama laws, he realises someone is coming.

It’s not just one someone though; Larry is confronted by three incredulous llamas and pretty soon the game is up.
Rather than face the music Larry decides to disappear

and as he wanders disconsolately along he contemplates quitting the whole dance thing. But then he comes upon a sign that changes his mind.

After a joyous day grooving and hip-hopping among other like-minded creatures at the dance extravaganza, Larry returns to the barn, to own up and face the music with pride.

The reception he receives isn’t quite what he is expecting however …

What a simply splendid celebration of being yourself, being different and being proud of who you are. Bursting with joy and exuberant colour, Garry’s illustrations perfectly complement Simon’s fabulously funky rhyming story that is an absolute joy to read aloud.

A wonderfully affirmative book to share as widely as possible.

The Big Trip

The Big Trip
Alex Willmore
Tate Publishing

In these days of physical distancing, self important Bear would most definitely be in serious trouble from the powers that be.

Said creature was anything but a respecter of personal space,  showing no concern for other animals as he perambulated around the forest barging and trampling his way wherever he chose to go.

One day while out strutting his stuff as usual he encounters Moose blocking his path. Unlike the smaller creatures, Moose stands his ground

forcing the arrogant Bear to divert from his chosen way and causing him to take an extremely uncomfortable downhill tumble … YEOUCH! … and land unceremoniously in stinky subterranean surroundings.

Pride most definitely came before a fall in Bear’s case.

Talk about humiliation: the other animals are hugely amused but then Moose speaks out.

Perhaps it’s time for every one to pull together, but will that self-aggrandising Bear finally come to see the error of his ways and start to become a bit more community minded?

Alex’s modern cautionary tale is a timely reminder of the power of co-operation especially now when it seems to be the only way forward.

Mister T.V.

Mister T.V.
Julie Fulton and Patrick Corrigan
Maverick Publishing

It’s great to see more picture book non-fiction coming from Maverick with Julie Fulton’s STEM story based on the life of one of television’s inventors, John Logie Baird.

John grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland and was fortunate in that his parents filled their house with books. A sickly lad, he was often too poorly to go out and play with his friends so he pondered upon ways he might be able to communicate with them. That led to the linking of telephones from his house to theirs. It worked fine until a storm blew down one of the many lines, causing the driver of a horse-drawn cab to be knocked out of his seat. Additionally when the real phone company discovered his construction, he was ordered to stop. So came plan B.

Then with his mind whizzing away on super-drive he went on inventing – a diamond-making factory (a failure); a never rust glass razor blade (err … they all broke); air bag shoes – POP!; undersocks to keep feet dry – SUCCESS!

But the result of all this brain overload was a visit to the doctor who prescribed a seaside break.

This though didn’t stop him reading and he learned of someone who’d tried building machines to show real live pictures to people in their homes. Collecting began again (an old electric motor, a hat box, a bicycle lamp, a biscuit tin, a needle, batteries, wax and string). Eventually he got pictures but fuzzy ones, followed by …

until eventually with the help of a strategically-placed doll’s head, the picture was clearer. Then it was time to try with a real person … HURRAH! William Taynton appears live on TV for the very first time in 1925, albeit to a solo audience of one – John.

And the rest is television history … live pictures went from London to Glasgow and New York, and to passengers aboard a ship in mid Atlantic. Then in 1929 the BBC began making programmes using John’s machines, even the prime minister had a TV.

That’s not quite the end of the story for both colour TV and 3D followed.

There’s a history timeline in parallel with one for John, as well as fact boxes after the main narrative, the latter being sprinkled throughout the text too.

Patrick Corrigan’s illustrations nicely set the scene in a historical context as well as making the character of John Baird spring to life on the page in similar fashion to how the subject’s televisions sprang into being.

Now if this book’s subject isn’t an incentive to young creative minds I don’t know what is.

Definitely add a copy to primary school class collections and family bookshelves.

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

David Tazzyman brings his wit and scribbly artistic enthusiasm once again to Patricia Cleveland’s pretty preposterous suggestions for animal emergency responders and equally zany reasons why none is suitable for the task envisaged anyway.

Thus you should never ‘let a hairy highland cow / operate the snow plough …’

unless you want the gear box ground to pieces that is; and as for calling out the lemming crew to rescue a hiker stuck on a hill – best not to think about it, they’ll likely forget the drill and the whole operation will end in disaster.

Moreover an anteater hasn’t the courage to come to your aid should you be trapped in a dark cave; the cowardly creature will surely wet his pants and you can guess what he’d consume to console himself.

All these as well as the titular pachyderm, a chimpanzee, a sloth, a penguin, a llama, a panda, a chicken and a porcupine are to be avoided should you be in trouble.

What though is to be done with all these creatures if they can’t be employed in the emergency services? Now that would be telling …

Zany animal capers to giggle over with youngsters who will likely be able to make their own silly suggestions too.

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro
Jessica Wilson and Tom Rawles
Tallawah Publishing

Here’s a book that seeks to celebrate diversity and to provide young readers with some insights into the several styles and the cultural significance of afro hair through the daydreams of one girl as her mother styles her hair.

For young Sofia, Sunday afternoon is the time when her mother washes, combs and styles her hair. It’s also the time when she becomes drowsy and drifts away to other places and other times.

First she visits a Rastafarian in Jamaica.

The following week as her mother fashions another style, Sofia travels to Los Angeles where she meets a black panther. “My hair is a symbol of POWER” the woman tells her, “I stand for equal rights, freedom and justice.”

In the third Sunday’s dream Sofia encounters a proud and beautiful woman – an ancestor in Ethiopia with a similar style to her own –

and learns the name ‘canerows’ as they talk among the straight rows of sugarcane being cultivated.

On the fourth Sunday, Sofia is poorly, her hair remains untended but while dozing she learns important lessons about the power of love.

Jessica Wilson’s thoughtful poetic honouring of afro hair presented through magical realism has the perfect complement in talented illustrator Tom Rawles; his stylish paintings – some are truly stunning – beautifully weave together the fantasy threads with a weekly event of Sofia’s life.

With the dearth of BAME books for young audiences, this is a welcome publication that one hopes will find a place in every primary school collection.

I’m Sticking With You

I’m Sticking With You
Smriti Halls and Steve Small
Simon & Schuster

As Smriti’s ursine character tells it in her lively rhyming narrative, Bear and Squirrel are best buddies, pretty much inseparable. ‘Wherever you’re going, I’m going too./ Whatever you’re doing./ I’m sticking with you’ insists Bear.

However, debut artist Steve Small’s illustrations, paint a different picture: this friendship is problematic.

Well- intentioned Bear is huge, clumsy and oblivious to the effect his actions have on his bestie as he unknowingly breaks Squirrel’s teacup, sneezes the roof right off his house and nigh on flattens him as they share a taxi ride.

Then, as they sit squashed inside an igloo, Squirrel’s forbearance cracks causing him to speak out, ‘Erm … actually Bear … I think I need to be on my own. … It’s getting a bit crowded in here.’

The deflated Bear disappears reluctantly leaving his pal to enjoy the space. Physically things seem great

but pretty quickly Squirrel realises that his friend’s absence has created huge gap to fill in his heart and mind … ‘I MISS BEAR!’ comes the cry and out dashes the rodent imploring Bear to return.

Squirrel’s hugs and imploring win for as the small creature says, ‘When we’re unstuck, / we won’t fall apart. // How could we ever? / We’re joined at the heart. … and I LOVE YOU / A LOT!’

Steve Small’s illustrations, spare as they are, convey a great deal of feeling and a gentle humour that work well with Smriti’s story that rolls nicely off the tongue.

A lovely portrait of the ups and downs of friendship.

Mrs Noah’s Garden

Mrs Noah’s Garden
Jackie Morris and James Mayhew
Otter-Barry Books

The terrific team that is Jackie Morris and James Mayhew have created a sequel to Mrs Noah’s Pockets that moves forward in time with the Noahs now safely aground high on a hill where Mr Noah is hard at work fashioning a home from their enormous ark.

Mrs Noah meanwhile is missing her garden and as the story opens has just found a place to start creating a new one.

She enlists the children’s help, first in building walls and terraces on the hillside and then in planting. For not only had the ark carried animals two by two but also all manner of plants – bushes, bulbs, trees and shrubs. And in those deep pockets of hers Mrs Noah had even thought to stow away seeds.

With the planting done, she sets about creating a beautiful willow bower complete with gorgeously scented honeysuckle and jasmine. The children are expecting the seeds they’d help sow to start bursting through the warm earth right away, so Mrs Noah pauses to explain that germination takes a while.

After a day hard at work outside Mrs Noah has more to do, this time with fabric; what can she be making? Mr Noah thinks he knows.

Time passes and the garden thrives becoming alive with both flora and fauna till Midsummer morning arrives. Now nature’s own magic has truly done its work

and there’s a very special surprise awaiting Mr Noah when he follows the children outside. What could it be?

With themes of fresh beginnings, nature’s bounties and enjoying the safety of one’s abode and its surroundings, (and there’s new life too), Jackie Morris’ beautifully crafted fable has a magical feel to it.

Alive with magic too, are James Mayhew’s fantastical illustrations. Using a mix of collage, paint and print techniques he makes many of them absolutely dance on the page. At other times, the richly textured images and colour palette conjure a feeling of peace and tranquillity as in this Midsummer’s Eve scene.

Ori’s Stars

Ori’s Stars
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster

Far, far out in the deepest darkest depths of space lives a lonely being going by the name of Ori.

In an attempt to keep warm, Ori rubs her hands together and in so doing creates a beautiful shimmering entity that she names star. So delighted is she that she continues creating star after star.

Suddenly into the light that she’s created around her something moves, reaching out for one of her stars.

Ori is somewhat taken aback but agrees to teach Bella, the newcomer, how to make a star too.

It’s not long before many, many more things appear from the darkness congregating around Ori and Bella and all eager to become star-makers.

Together they create incredible coloured starscapes all around …

But then Ori considers the possibility of other lone entities far out in the inky black feeling the same loneliness that she had once felt.

Knowing the joy of friendship, she persuades her friends to join her in an endeavour that will ensure that no-one need ever feel alone in the dark.

Can she succeed in dispelling that fear of isolation and replace it with friendship across the entire universe?

How much we all need to emulate Ori and her newfound friends by reaching out to others during these seemingly dark times. This beautifully told and illustrated story of reaching out to others is just perfect to share with little ones at any time but especially just before bed.

Child of Galaxies

Child of Galaxies
Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager
Flying Eye Books

Here’s a beautifully illustrated, rhyming book that encourages young children to explore some of the BIG questions of life. Why are we here? What is my place in the universe?

What is love? What does friendship mean? Where do I turn when things are going badly?

What are the most important things in the world?

It should help foster an attitude of being open to life’s adventures; to enjoy being in the moment,

to face the future boldly with a positive attitude; and to know that every experience offers a learning opportunity even though at the time it may not seem so. Resilience is key when times are tough and you feel overwhelmed.

As a classroom teacher, I always considered philosophy for children to be an important aspect of my work. This book offers a wealth of ideas for discussion with EYFS and KS1 children either in school or at home.

Charlotte Ager’s striking illustrations really do draw out the gamut of emotions in Blake Nuto’s poetic narrative while simultaneously helping to give a sense of universality to the whole thing.

My copy arrived at a time when most of us are struggling to remain positive; it felt as though the book had been created with foresight of what was to come.

Mole Hill

Mole Hill
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer has brilliantly combined two of young children’s favourite picture book topics into one splendid rhyming tale – Mole Hill.

Mole and his two children live happily in their cosy subterranean home until one morning the foul stench of diesel fumes pervades their molehill.

Mole surfaces to investigate and what he sees fills him with horror. There before him are three enormous trucks, Dozer grim and yellow, even larger, bright orange Excavator and a smaller red toughie, Loader.

As they move towards Mole’s mound with their scary sound Mole surprises the machines by taking a stand.

He issues a challenge to the threatening threesome

following it with some quick thinking and an instruction to dig for the bones of his last adversary.

What they unearth scares the daylights out of them

causing them to beat a very hasty retreat.

Safely back home Daddy Mole regales the event to the little moles. They however armed with some bedtime reading, are ready to challenge the veracity of his machine-scaring story.

The scale of Mole’s task is highlighted in Alex’s bright, bold images of the huge machines towering over the diminutive hero and I love too the sprinkling of minibeast onlookers that adorn every spread.

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet! / Mabel: A Mermaid Fable

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet!
Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of her ‘I Don’t Want … ‘ stories, Laura with the help of her young protagonist, explores what happens when instead of making the most noise you can in whatever situation you’re in,

you try something completely different, the possibilities of not making any sound at all and seeing what happens.

What the little girl who hates to be quiet discovers when she actually IS quiet is that there’s an enormous amount of fun to be had – inside your head,

out and about in the open air and in school too. And in fact it’s possible to hear all those hithertofore unheard gentle sounds

while still leaving times and places for making lots of noise.

A thought-provoking message delivered through an enormously enjoyable rhyming narrative and splendid brimming-over-with-energy illustrations; and it’s great for whole-hearted performance too.

Mabel: A Mermaid Fable
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books

Mabel is different: her dad has a moustache – a very large one; her mum and sisters have small ones that curl at the ends, even her baby brother has a tiny one; but Mabel is entirely moustacheless. She’s so embarrassed she tries ‘hiding her nose behind jaunty shells and by wearing seaweed falsies, but this only made her feel like a clown.’

Having been called a ‘nudibranch (sea slug to you and me)’ by a taunting passing pufferfish, she decides there’s only one thing to do – hide.

While in hiding however, she encounters a seven-legged octopus (perhaps better termed a septopus) going by the name of Lucky. This fellow appendage-lacker soon becomes a firm friend and the two teach each other all manner of useful things.

An off-beat, warm-hearted tale of overcoming your worries and being yourself that’s full of wisdom and superbly illustrated. The undersea setting is splendidly wacky with a wealth of priceless minutiae to savour.

Bob Goes Pop!

Bob Goes Pop!
Marion Deuchars
Laurence King Publishing

Marion Deuchars’ artistic bird Bob returns for a third story.

Herein he’s none too pleased when Owl informs him that there’s a new artist in town – one Roy the Sculptor – and by all accounts his works are creating a stir among the local population.

“But I’m the best artist in town” mutters Bob setting out to confront his rival.

Eager to strut his stuff, Roy introduces Bob to some of his creations and what he sees makes our resident artist’s feathers stand on end.

“HAMMYbammyCHEESYbunny” and ‘SHUTTLEbuttleKNICKKNOCKScuddle” indeed thinks Bob, not being able to resist pointing out what’s patently obvious:
“ … they’re just ordinary objects except bigger.”

Determined to hold on to his top bird status the newbie issues a challenge to Bob.  Egged on by Bat and Owl, some fiercely competitive sculpting takes place with Bob determined to win back his best artist crown.

After a few days Bob tries a bit of subterfuge that results in a woof woof face off …

culminating in a very loud POP!

With Roy’s evident distress, Bob sees the error of his ways and decides that teamwork might be the way ahead. Now talents pooled, the pair can jointly create THE world’s most incredible art and enjoy a terrific friendship too.

Through this thought provoking, stylishly illustrated story Marion Deuchars introduces youngsters to the world of pop art and the whole vexed question ‘What is art?’

The Huffalots

The Huffalots
Eve Coy
Andersen Press

Eve Coy’s picture book slices of family life are wonderful. First we had Looking After William and now this new one portrays two small siblings and their mother with the focus mainly on the former.

Having been woken from their slumbers by mum, the brother and sister are in a really grumpy mood – totally at odds with the world and one another it seems.

“No!” is probably their most used word until, during breakfast something magical happens and they transform from Huffalots to Huffalittles.

“No” is still said but maybe rather less as they head to the park accompanied in the background by their mother.

It’s there that magical transformation number two happens: the Huffalittles morph into Lovealittles and later comes the third transformation.

Back home again the Lovealots truly enjoy being together, so much so that they get rather carried away making lots of noise and mess.

Guess who, thanks to sheer exhaustion has now become a rather large Huffalot?

Maybe those two little ones can work their own magical transformation so that Mum becomes Lovealot number three.

This reviewer assuredly is a Lovealot when it comes to this brilliantly observed, superbly illustrated story that will certainly strike a chord with parents and their small offspring.

I can’t imagine a single Mum who wouldn’t relate to Eve’s oh so realistic scenes of the ups and downs of family life with small children.

The Diddle That Dummed

The Diddle That Dummed
Kes Gray and Fred Blunt
Hodder Children’s Books

Oh my goodness, this book has given me the first really big laugh I’ve had since the lockdown, It’s utterly hilarious team Kes and Fred, and appealed most strongly to my sense of humour as well as to my divergent nature.

So let’s meet the cast: first is musician Flinty Bo Diddle who at the time our story starts is busy composing a tune to play upon his fiddle. Things go swimmingly at first with twenty nine diddles doing just as they ought but there has to be one doesn’t there, for the thirtieth note decides to make itself a dum.

How dare it – and half way through the tune at that.

A furious Flinty demands that the culprit confess. It does and the music starts up again with the dumming diddle consenting to another try. You can guess what happens with regard to Flinty,

and now all the other diddles turn on the dummer; the poor thing seems rather dumfounded but suggests being put first.

Diddles duly reshuffled, off they go again – err? Oops!

Maybe being placed as the final note might do the trick but …

What about changing the tune altogether suggests the dumming diddler. Flinty agrees though clearly a change of instrument is required.

The dums go well – for a while at least then …

Now those adults who happen to be teachers might recognise the sudden urge for a loo visit that is requested by our dear dumming diddle

especially as it precipitates a chain reaction.

The ending is beyond priceless and almost made my partner fall off his stool as I read it to him over coffee.

Brilliantly bonkers and a perfect antidote to lockdown blues.

Brave Adventures Little Girl / Where Do Teachers Go At Night? /Where Else Do Teachers Go At Night?

Brave Adventures Little Girl
Iresha Herath and Oscar Fa
Little Steps Publishing

There’s often a very special bond between young children and their grandparents and so it is with four-year old Anika who visits her grandmother (Achi) and grandfather (Seeya) every Sunday.

Anika doesn’t feel brave when she tries new things: ‘I always feel funny in my tummy’ she tells Seeya.

But she loves to listen to Seeya’s stories of adventures he’s had in various parts of the world.

On this occasion he uses these to talk about how when he was faced with trying new things in various parts of the world he visited, he too frequently had a funny feeling in his tummy. Nevertheless he did the things anyway – swimming in a big lake being followed by what he imagined to be a crocodile,

leaving Sri Lanka to go to university in England and visiting Russia with his university for instance.

His mention of the Olympics brings Anika back to the present as she tells Seeya about learning to hop for the ‘Kinder Olympics’. (Practising hopping caused her to trip and fall during her visit) and she feels reassured by all she’s heard especially when her grandparents agree to come and watch her participate in the Kinder Olympics.

With Oscar Fa’s unusual illustrations that have gentleness and warmth about them, this sensitively told story inspired by the author’s own Sri Lankan family has at its heart loving family relationships, adventure, fear and over-coming of same but above all, love.

Also recently out from Little Steps Publishing

Where Do Teachers Go at Night?
Where Else Do Teachers Go at Night?

Harriet Cuming and Sophie Norsa

When I taught four year olds some of them were convinced that I slept at school. Now though we have the great reveal: two zany books written by Harriet Cuming experienced teacher tell in jaunty rhyme, what happens to the staff after the pupils have all departed from school for the day.

Those teachers certainly don’t confine themselves to one location either: they snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef,

skinny dip in the Caribbean, there’s even a spot of crocodile wrestling in Kakadu.

The second book has the energetic crew off on a new round of after school adventuring . There’s ice-skating in Iceland,

mountain climbing in the Andes as well as butterfly chasing in New Guinea. This reviewer hasn’t participated in any of those activities but has visited four of the locations mentioned in the books and  ridden several elephants in India, albeit not in Mumbai.

Sophie Norsa’s watercolour and crayon illustrations show these wacky activities in such a way that children come away feeling they know something about each of the adventurers’ characters and eccentricities.

Fun and gently educational in a geographical sort of way.

Thomas and the Royal Engine

Thomas and the Royal Engine
Egmont

This is a TV tie-in book with a cover picture ‘in the Awdry tradition’ and features illustrations (stills) from the Channel 5 Milkshake special episode commemorating Thomas’s 75th birthday. It was broadcast on May 2nd and introduced by Prince Harry who loved the Reverend Awdry’s Thomas and Friends stories as a child.

Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Topham Hatt aka the Fat Controller are to make a very special journey to London where the Fat Controller is to be presented with an award by the Queen. Thomas has been scrubbed till he gleams and Peep! Peep! off he goes quickly realising he’s taken a wrong line.

Back on track but with a few scratches on his shiny paintwork, on they chuff and soon a large tender engine named Duchess steams up behind, in a tearing hurry. So much so that both Thomas and the Fat Controller are splattered all over with very muddy water.

But there are yet more difficulties to be overcome en route and Thomas ends up having to do some very difficult pushing and heaving before he final reaches London’s Victoria Station.

Have he and the Fat Controller made it on time? And who is the very important passenger stepping out of Duchess’ carriages?

For the countless adults who have grown up with the Reverend Awdry train stories this book will be a nostalgic journey and I suspect they will love sharing it with little ones as much as young listeners will enjoy hearing this new celebratory adventure.

Building a Home

Building a Home
Polly Faber and Klas Fahlén
Nosy Crow

Most young children are fascinated with construction – their own and that which they see on a building site, especially all the big machines, so this book will certainly appeal.

It’s superbly illustrated by Klas Fahlén with just the right amount of detail and action,

and full of interesting characters – its great to see both men and women involved throughout – as readers follow the transformation of an old, edge-of-town office block into fine new homes for lots of people.

Writer, Polly Faber talks directly to her intended young audience including occasional rhyme and alliteration in her engaging narrative. She’s also included a pictorial glossary of the people and machines involved in the building’s transformation.

A thoroughly inclusive book with enormous potential for encouraging conversation and questioning, this is one to add to nursery, KS1 and family collections; especially the latter just now when one of the few things not completely closed down is building work, at least if my locality is anything to go by.

My Pet T-Rex

My Pet T-Rex
Fabi Fantiago
Orchard Books

Nobody supposes that looking after a new pet is easy but when young Kiki becomes the owner of Petunia, it might just be that it’s an overly ambitious project, for Petunia is none other than a massive T-Rex, albeit a supposedly friendly one.

Cleanliness, comfort, feeding and of course, cleaning up after her are certainly going to keep Kiki pretty busy;

and apparently even dinosaurs need to visit the vet for their vaccinations. Now there’s a thing.

When it comes to basic training it’s important that your pet doesn’t take your instructions too literally and no matter how careful you are about the words used, there may be the occasional misunderstanding …

Exercise for so large a creature is absolutely crucial although it might be as well, should you visit the Dino Park, to steer clear of certain of the amusements on offer. Oh dear. It looks as though this pet care business is proving rather too much for a certain T-Rex owner.

However even dinosaurs have feelings and roaring at them might just make them feel unwanted, for now Petunia has disappeared, but where to? Maybe she just wants to make friends again …

Full of gigglesome moments, Fabi’s new story will be a huge hit with the countless young dinosaur enthusiasts out there; her illustrations are an absolute hoot. I often wonder on receiving a new dinosaur book whether youngsters will want yet another dino. story but I wouldn’t mind betting that the answer will be a resounding YES! when it comes to this one.

Hugo / Cat Ladies

Hugo
Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Atinuke uses an unusual narrator for her heartwarming story that’s set in and around a small, urban park, it’s Hugo the pigeon. Hugo is a park warden and every day, through all the changing seasons he patrols the park looking after various humans –

that’s his particular Spring task, while in summer he has to clean up the mess left by picnickers and his autumn days are occupied with child care (to give their mothers a rest).

On chilly wintry days Hugo sees it as his role to visit the apartments near the park to remind the residents that spring isn’t too far off.

At one window though the curtains never open but Hugo knows someone hides whenever he knocks.

Then one day the curtains part to reveal a small girl whom Hugo treats to his ‘Spring-is-coming’ dance moves.

Not long after the bird is late to arrive and the child leans right out to look for him. So enthusiastic is his ‘here I am’ dance that Hugo fails to notice another arrival.

Happily Hugo lives to finish his story but receives an injury that completely changes the lonely life of his young rescuer, for the better. No wonder Hugo loves his job.

Birgitta Sif’s illustrations are the perfect complement for this offbeat tale – gently humorous and alive with deliciously quirky details at every page turn; and her colour palette is always beautiful, no matter which season she portrays.

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of Princess, a well and truly pampered moggy: she has not one but four ladies with whom she shares her time. That involves plenty of work but Princess doesn’t mind for she receives more than her share of treats for participating in ‘grooming days’ with Millie, running errands with Molly,

and a spot of bird watching with Merthel. Band practice time spent with Maridl is the noisiest activity but Princess has ‘everything under control’.

Then one day, horror of horrors, Princess discovers that her favourite napping spot has been usurped by a ‘stray’. Not only that though, this creature seems to have taken over other roles too.

When her efforts to retrain the ladies fail, Princess ups and leaves in a jealous sulk. However things don’t quite go smoothly when she searches for an alternative place to take her catnap and the moggy finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately the young interloper has an acute sense of hearing and picks up the ‘MEOWW!!!’ issuing from the feline and all ends happily with four ladies becoming five.

Susi Schaeffer’s bold, lively digital art is given a textured feel by the addition of hand-painted designs; the older human characters are delightfully eccentric and the story will appeal particularly to cat lovers young and not so young.

The Longest Strongest Thread / King of the Classroom

The Longest Strongest Thread
Inbal Leitner
Scallywag Press

Looking for ways to keep in touch with those of your loved ones who are far away? Inbal Leitner’s young girl narrator of this lovely story might give you some ideas as she visits her beloved Grandma to say goodbye before the family moves to their new home far away from Grandma’s sewing studio.

Once there she sets to work drawing a map to enable Gran to find her, as well as creating the means by which she can carry out the long journey.

Meanwhile her grandmother is also hard at work fashioning a very special warm garment to give to her granddaughter as a parting gift.

The farewell is a poignant one tenderly portrayed in Inbal Leitner’s spare first person narrative and her affecting illustrations rendered in a limited colour palette that is particularly effective in conveying the feelings of the two characters.

Her story, despite the parting, ends on an upbeat note of hope and looking forward.

King of the Classroom
Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Scallywag Press

Starting nursery is a big step and for some a scary one.

For the little boy in this book though, his parents are doing their utmost to boost his morale. His mum has dubbed him ‘King of the Classroom’ at the start of his right royal day.

So named, the boy with a huge smile washes, brushes his teeth and dresses in his chosen gear ready for breakfast with his enormously proud parents before riding aboard ‘a big yellow carriage’ to ‘a grand fortress.’
Once at nursery, he receives a warm welcome from his caring teacher and enthusiastic friendly classmates, before everyone gathers to share ‘important matters’.

Then it’s time to play, begin to form friendships and to imagine. There are opportunities to show special kindness,

to rest and to let rip with music and dancing.

This joyful day is portrayed through Derrick Barnes’ upbeat text and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s energetic, vibrant illustrations bursting with bright hues, textures and patterns.

An unusual starting nursery story that will surely go a long way towards allaying any first day nerves little ones might have in the run up to their important milestone.

The Skies Above My Eyes

The Skies Above My Eyes
Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures

This follow-up to The Street Beneath My Feet uses the same double-sided format unfolding to 2.5 metres only now we’re directed to look at what’s above the Earth’s surface.

Standing alongside the child at the bottom of Zuval Zommer’s continuous concertina illustration readers are taken on an exciting journey from ground level, billions of kilometres up and right out to the farthest reaches of the solar system and back again.

We travel past high-rise buildings, through the layers of the atmosphere to the imaginary Karman line to where 400 kilometres above the Earth is the International Space Station and thence to the Moon and out into the Solar System where the planets are found.

Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt that includes Pluto and even further out beyond the Solar System we can see hundreds of billions of star-filled galaxies.

 

After a period of stargazing, it’s time to travel back earthwards. We might spy comets, meteoroids, the Aurora Borealis and lower down, migrating birds on the wing;

and if we look very carefully, ballooning spiders drifting parachute-like a few metres above Earth as well as, rather more easy to spot, mountain sheep on a rocky escarpment.

Our long, long journey comes to an end on a grassy hillock where alongside the little girl we saw as the start, we can relax and enjoy nature’s bounties that surround us.

Charlotte’s narrative is certainly fascinating and informative as her enthusiasm sweeps us up and away. However it’s Yuval’s richly detailed art that ensures that the reader is not only informed but filled with awe and wonder about so many aspects of the mind-stretching, The Skies Above My Eyes.

Why not step outside with your children and see that you can spy in the sky …

(I missed this super book when it first came out but thank you to the publisher for sending it out now.)

One Day On Our Blue Planet … In the Outback

One Day on Our Blue Planet … In the Outback
Ella Bailey
Flying Eye Books

Wow! I was absolutely astonished at the wealth of creatures large and small that have their homes on the great Australian outback, the location of Ella Bailey’s latest visit in her One Day on Our Blue Planet series.

Readers are invited to spend twenty four hours viewing the diurnal and nocturnal activities of, in particular, one of the little red kangaroos.

These animals seem to be on the go from sunrise till well into the night and like other marsupials, the does have a particular role in caring for and protecting their offspring in the dusty desert terrain especially when little ones become a tad too adventurous.

As we follow these fascinating animals, learning something of their habits, through the day and across the spreads to the billabong for a much needed drink, they encounter a huge variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.

(The endpapers show and name all the animals depicted as the gentle narrative unfolds).

Like previous titles, with its engaging illustrations and chatty narrative style, this is a super way to introduce youngsters to a location most of them are unlikely to visit for real; it will surely engender that feeling of awe and respect for the wildlife that inhabits the vast, remote interior part of Australia.

Ready Rabbit?

Ready Rabbit?
Fiona Roberton
Hodder Children’s Books

Why is Rabbit hiding away inside a big box instead of getting ready to go to the party?

Seemingly the poor little creature is anything but keen on going; in fact he’s flatly refusing.

What’s needed is some gentle mind-changing persuasion and reassurance with regard to loud noise, the possibility of strange beasties lurking, as well as that no meanies will be present.

Best to focus on the exciting things that will be part and parcel of the party; things like friends,

yummy cake, games, dancing, balloons, presents and most important Rabbit’s favourite food.

Mind changed, now little Rabbit just needs to decide on what to wear and then outfit chosen,

off he goes.
The party proves to be all his encouraging adult (off scene) promised but now it appears that there’s another guest in need of a bit of encouragement …

Beautifully observed and portrayed, Fiona’s sweet story is delightful. It should go a long way towards showing anxious little ones how their big worries can disappear if like Rabbit, they practice positive thinking.

A winner for sure in every way.

You Can’t Count On Dinosaurs!

You Can’t Count On Dinosaurs!
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Subtitled An Almost Counting Book this zany story begins with Rex. a mischievous little T-Rex. He’s quickly joined by Patty and the two play a game of chase. Onto the scene appears Brian, a cute-looking little fellow; hold on though, he’s vanished. That surely isn’t the reason Rex is burping, or is it?

Okay, on with the count: enter stage right, Steggy closely followed by Argy. Hurrah we’re up to four, though maybe splatted Patty doesn’t count.

Seemingly she does and the four decide a bit of aquatic amusement would be in order, courtesy of good old Argy.

While so engaged a pretender appears on the scene. Rumbled! Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, but Terry has some news for his dino. pals concerning a certain Rex. Apparently this dinosaur is able to fly …

Hang on, I thought this was a counting book and this reviewer’s lost count so needs to follow the instruction here …

However no matter how hard you try and how good your one to one correspondence is, by the time you reach the final spread, you won’t get ten dinosaurs (unless of course you want to count in the one in a certain Rex’s enormous belly. No wonder the author chose to call his stomping romp You Can’t Count on Dinosaurs.

All this madness and mayhem is shown vividly portrayed in Elissa Elwick’s arrestingly coloured scenes of this prehistoric perambulation that offers fun, and sometimes tricky, lessons in counting and conversation for your little humans.

The more scientifically minded among them can try getting their tongues around the real identities of the frolickers captioned on the endpapers.

Planet SOS

Planet SOS
Marie G. Rohde
What on Earth Books

Our planet is under serious threat, most of us would acknowledge that and in her cleverly conceived book Marie Rohde presents 22 different aspects of this alarming crisis in a novel manner giving each a distinct persona – monsters inspired by mythology, fairy tale, folklore and popular culture, making the whole enterprise accessible as well as unique.

So let’s now hear from some of these dastardly creatures that speak directly to us.

The depletion of the ozone layer is the work of the Ozone Serpent chomping its way through earth’s protective gaseous layer.

Atmosdragon is a bragging beast that talks of human actions causing the release of greenhouse gases and global warming. Like all the others this speaker has relied on a close alliance with we humans, and is starting to fear for its continuing existence. Like all the others too, Atmosdragon is accompanied by an identity card ‘with a host of symbols (there’s a key for interpretation), icons showing the activities that can halt, or hinder further environmental harm.

Deforestation is the world of the Logre. This destructive beastie lays waste forests for agriculture, timber production and development, boasting that human efforts to halt its damage are futile. We must prove Logre wrong, for the absorption of carbon dioxide is crucial.

Monsters lurk in the water too; take the Plaken with its all-invading tentacles formed from thousands of tonnes of plastic debris – a massive threat to marine life and birds.

The illustrations are truly arresting and we’re also shown a small vignette of each mythical being that was the inspiration for the particular menacing monster sprawling across much of its double spread.

The three final spreads give a world map marking the locations of the various monsters with a time line indicating when the particular ecological threats were first recognised, a glossary and a card index of all the beasties and how they might be defeated.

There is a huge amount of information packed between the covers of this book that will surely galvanise young eco-warriors. It’s rich in potential for cross-curricular exploration in school too.

Superkitty Versus Mousezilla

Superkitty Versus Mousezilla
Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Superkitty is back in a new adventure – hurrah! In case you’ve not met this particular superhero before, she heads up a team of assorted animals collectively called the Sensational Superheroes.

Now Kitty (our narrator) has called the crew together in the office to give them the day off to join in the Big City’s Picnic Party. Of course, they can’t go without stocking up on some goodies. Their first stop is Mr Fudge’s sweet shop. Horror of horrors! All the sweets have disappeared; similarly all the bottles in Mr Fizz’s pop shop have been drained

and the bakery has mere crumbs to offer. The owner Mrs Appleton says she has it on the mayor’s authority that mice are responsible.

Superkitty has her doubts; however her team is quickly on the case searching the city starting at the cheese shop.

Suddenly a booming sound fills the air and shortly after, the investigators come upon a massive Mousezilla clutching something or someone.

It looks as though Kitty may have been right in not jumping to conclusions.

Hannah’s Kitty is indeed a wise and determined character; this humorous tale warns against not accepting things at face value – the notion of fake news raises its head too. Add to the mix Paula’s terrific, detailed illustrations that little ones will adore and some, especially the particularly playful scene in the cheese shop, will give adult sharers a good giggle too.

All though will enjoy pondering upon the possibilities that arise with the new additions to Superkitty’s team; she’ll most certainly have her paws full.