The Snowflake

The Snowflake
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Benji Davies has created yet another heart-warming and absolutely beautiful picture book about on the one hand, a little snowflake and on the other, a little girl, named Noelle. The former, as the story opens, is in the process of falling, albeit rather reluctantly at first. Far below, the second is returning home through the city with her grandpa, Pappie, wondering as she walks about the possibility of snow that night.

As the snowflake falls, she wonders about where she will eventually land and where she truly belongs, but the choice isn’t hers to make as her fate is controlled by the wind that bears her drifting and swirling towards the bright lights as they get ever closer. Both child and snowflake are drawn by a wondrous sight – a large Christmas tree that glistens and sparkles in a window, the one wishing for such a tree for herself, the other wanting to be the star atop that tree.

Then close to home, Noelle finds the perfect little tree of her very own, while far above, the snowflake is still wondering where she might find to land.

Back home, Noelle’s mother gets out the decorations and together with Pappie, the child sets about adorning the little tree. 

Eventually Noelle puts it outside on her windowsill; but goes to bed feeling that the tree is lacking something special. But what? …

A magical, truly memorable, heart-warming Christmassy tale about finding your true purpose. It’s Benji’s art that really steals the show here: it’s full of glorious, festive details on the one hand and on the other, those wintry skyscapes are simply superb. When you share this, like the snowflake aglow on the final spread, everyone will be left with a wonderful glow within.

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers / The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey / Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon

The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers
The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey

Samuel Langley-Swain and Davide Ortu
Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon
Samuel Langley-Swain and Jessica Rose
Owlet Press & The Royal Mint

The Tooth Fairy titles are a contemporary take on the tooth fairy tradition that divulges the fairy’s time-honoured teamwork with the original maker of coins.
In the first story we meet twins Grace and Ollie and their Grandpa at whose home they spend every weekend. The twins are thrilled when they both manage to get their wobbly tooth to pop out and rush excitedly to reveal their gaps to Grandpa an erstwhile employee at The Royal Mint. 

He explains that the tooth fairy will pay them a visit that night, exchanging the teeth for a coin apiece; he also makes little pouches to facilitate the exchange.

Excitement rules when the following morning the pouches both contain a gold coin, and then Grandpa shows the twins his own coin collection. He tells them how the Mint acts as a training school for the fairies and how once situated in London it has relocated to a Welsh valley. At the end of the story the twins lose another tooth each and cannot wait to share the news with their Grandpa.

In the second story, summer has come and the twins are losing more teeth. A sleepover at Grandpa’s is arranged. During the evening he regales the children with tales of a fairy, gold coins and a fearsome dragon; and tells them about his time as a Coin Minter for Her Majesty. Eager to learn how to fly, that night the twins set a trap for the tooth fairy but instead they’re visited by the Wensleydale Watch-Mouse and he’d spotted their trap.

When Grandpa, disturbed by all the noise, finds out what they’ve been up to, he’s far from pleased but asks the mouse to take them to his favourite place. Something magical happens and off they all go on an exciting journey of discovery …

Told in Samuel Langley-Swain’s rhyming text accompanied by Davide Ortu’s lively, funky illustrations of gappy-mouthed children, Grandpa and an entourage of fairies and more, these stories will fascinate youngsters especially, when they lose that first tooth.

For a slightly younger audience is Dilwyn the Welsh Dragon, another rhyming tale, set in the relocated Royal Mint in Wales. Here, one night among the golden coins an egg appears from which emerges a tiny dragon.
Next morning the coin makers discover the hatchling naming it Dilwyn (truth) and caring for him. They bestow on him the task of guarding the coins and one night his powers are put to the test when a pair of robbers break in …

This clever interweaving of a fun story with real history will entertain little ones and the book will make an especially worthwhile purchase should they visit Llantrisant where the story is set.

Will You Be My Friend? / The Purple Puffy Coat

Here are two enormously enjoyable but very different books, each of which has friendship at its heart. Thanks to Walker Books who sent them for review.

Will You Be My Friend?
Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

This gorgeous sequel to Guess How Much I Love You (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) comes with a touch of sadness as author Sam McBratney died recently. The new story continues on from the first with Little Nutbrown Hare venturing out to look for a playmate. Initially he finds only replicas – a reflection and a shadow of himself.

But then up on Cloudy Mountain he comes face to face with the real thing. It’s Tipps, the Cloudy Mountain Hare and she too wants a friend and playmate.

They play chase and engage in other fun activities, followed by a game of hide and seek. Tipps goes off to hide but will Little Nutbrown Hare ever see her again?

Another timeless treasure and classic to be, to add to family bookshelves and to share with early years children.

The Purple Puffy Coat
Maribeth Boelts and Daniel Duncan

With Stick Insect’s birthday just a week away, his pal Beetle just can’t wait to give Stick Insect his present. It’s a purple puffy coat, wonderfully warm and ideal for wearing when the two go out for walks together. There’s a slight snag though for Stick Insect is rather an introvert and isn’t sure this rather ostentatious coat is quite his style. However, Beetle insists that he dons the new garment and off they both go to show off this ‘generous gift’ around town. And so they do: Beetle boasts and Stick Insect keeps well out of the way.

And even when the former notices what’s happening, he’s adamant that that a daily outing in the coat will get his friend used to being looked at.

On the eve of the birthday, Beetle decides that he’ll give his friend a second gift. And it’s while preparing it that he realises what Stick Insect’s recent glum expression signifies.

Time to reconsider the coat situation and to fix things once and for all …

This wry lesson about respecting and understanding one another’s differences is delivered through a text that’s largely dialogue between the two friends and Daniel Duncan’s delightfully droll illustrations of the rise and fall of the purple puffy coat and those that either wear it or encounter it being worn about town.

A Polar Bear in the Snow / In the Half Room

Here are two recent picture books from Walker Books kindly sent for review:

A Polar Bear in the Snow
Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris

In dramatic fashion a sleeping polar bear stirs, sniffs the air and sets forth on a walk the destination of which is known only to himself. Readers join him as he’s observed by seals, arctic foxes,

a human even

until, having traversed the snowy, icy landscape, he arrives at the startlingly blue sea.

Plunging in, the creature’s feeling playful as he enjoys frolicking amidst the fishes and fronds,

before clambering back onto the snow and continuing on his way.
Wither is he bound now? That is left for readers to ponder upon …

Splendidly playful: who can resist accompanying the polar protagonist in Mac Barnett’s spare narrative and Shawn Harris’s arresting torn paper art that’s cleverly layered to give the illustrations a three-dimensional effect, as the creature sallies forth on his walk.

In the Half Room
Carson Ellis

This is a somewhat surreal, enigmatic, rhyming bedtime book wherein Carson Ellis presents a moonlit room in which everything is carefully cut in half. We don’t see the entire setting initially; rather we’re shown a series of partial items – ‘Half chair/ Half hat / Two shoes, / each half / Half table / Half cat’.

Then, once the room has all the half items mentioned, comes ‘Half a knock on half a door’ and there stands the woman’s other half.

Having come together, she’s wholly ready to dash out to embrace the world beneath a starry sky.

Meanwhile, in through the door left ajar, comes half a cat

to participate with its other half in a half-cat fight’ after which the two entwine un-united, on the mat and fall asleep.

With bold images, this is wholly entertaining and intriguing though perhaps some youngsters will be left feeling just a tad bemused by such an offbeat offering.

Wild is the Wind

Wild is the Wind
Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

This is a story of a journey or perhaps, several journeys – that of young Cassi in her hot air balloon, that of the little swift she has nursed until its wings are strong enough to take to the sky and join its fellows on their path across land and sea, a journey of eight thousand miles, that takes three months to complete; and of course, there’s the path of the wind.

As the morning sun rises in Southern Africa, the world is temporarily on hold until a breeze stirs the leaves and the seeds in the butterfly trees. Then with the strengthening of the wind, it’s time to let go of the tiny winged creature and allow it to join its fellow travellers on a prodigious migratory journey

as a cyclone swirls, spirals and howls, whipping the waves into wild white horses.

Then on over deserts and rocky terrain sculpted by windstorms until at last, the swifts are nearing their destination on the other side of the ocean. And there, without pausing once, Cassie’s little swift and the others are greeted in China by Kûn who has long awaited their appearance.

There too, will they build their nests and rear their young until, once again the wild wind calls them to make their return journey to that little girl so far, far away on distant shores.

With Grahame Baker-Smith’s spare lyrical prose in combination with his equally lyrical, breath taking, powerfully atmospheric, detailed illustrations, Wild is the Wind is narrative non-fiction at its memorable best.

The Boy and the Gorilla

The Boy and the Gorilla
Jackie Azúa Kramer and Cindy Derby
Walker Books

Profound in its impact, this is a story of loss, mourning and grief told entirely in dialogue and through a sequence of absolutely beautiful, understated illustrations.

We see a young boy, his grief palpable, on the day of his mother’s funeral as he envisions a companion – a gentle gorilla

– that accompanies him through those dark hours ready to answer all the questions that the little child is reluctant to put to his father. The creature’s wisdom is demonstrated through its responses to ‘Where did Mum Go?’ ‘No one knows for sure.’ Can’t my mum come back home?’ ‘No but she’s always with you.’ ‘I wish my Mum was here to read to me.’ ‘It’s a good story. Your father might like this book too.’ 

And little by little, through this unlikely friendship, the boy starts to open up and express his feelings: ‘Sometimes I want to be alone.’ … ‘Mum and I loved baseball.’ He also begins to find comfort in such activities as biscuit baking and tending to the garden flowers: ‘The seeds you planted together are like your mother’s love, a gift to keep forever.’

What this gentle gorilla shows is the importance of being able to talk about what you’re going through, particularly with those (like dad) who will be feeling equally sad and alone, as yet unable to open up.

Eventually, we see father and son beginning to feel their way forwards together through sharing a story and planting new flowers

and finally, walking off together, taking those first steps on the path to healing.

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t
Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay
NorthSouth Books

You’ll find it hard not to fall for the racehorse that stars in this true picture book story; I say stars because despite expectations Zippy Chippy never won a single race. Thoroughbred from champion genes, Zippy loved to run but his behaviour on the track was totally unpredictable: sometimes he merely stood and never ran at all, on another occasion he stopped dead in the middle of the track to enjoy the wonderful smells in the air.

After nineteen losses his owner trades him for a truck and then – new trainer not withstanding – fuelled by sweet goodies – Zippy is relegated to the second-rate races breaking the record for the most consecutive losses. However, Felix (the new owner/ trainer) doesn’t give up easily and a year later, Zippy (apparently a lover of being a racehorse despite his ineptitude) is given yet another chance and another and …

Winner he might not be, but Zippy certainly caught people’s attention including his trainer’s young daughter and later on, press sportswriters and the crowds that came to cheer him on. Determined to make the horse a winner, Felix sets up a race against a baseball player and guess who wins …

Down but not entirely out, Zippy comes in second in race number ninety-eight but come race one hundred, he brings up the rear – again! But does Zippy go out quietly and unobtrusively? Absolutely not, for after the starting bell, before taking a single step in the race, he entertains the crowd with a final farewell, bowing out gracefully to tearful onlookers.

A legend indeed, but what he showed not only those involved in horse racing, but readers and listeners too, as author Artie Bennett writes, ‘you can lose and lose and lose and still be a winner.’ Zippy’s attitude is ultimately what counts: you don’t need to be a winner to be loved, being best isn’t THE most important thing, taking part is. In other words, be true to yourself and don’t be afraid to walk your own path: such a great message to give children.

With their changing perspectives, Dave Szalay’s zany illustrations will surely make readers chuckle, capturing both the spirit of the horse, and the heartfelt humour, love and perseverance inherent in Artie’s writing about Zippy.

Ella’s Night Lights

Ella’s Night Lights
Lucy Fleming
Walker Books

Ella is a tiny, moth-like girl who longs above all else to see the sunrise; but she has to avoid the sun, so delicate are her feathery wings. Consequently, Ella leads a nocturnal existence collecting light from all that glows and glimmers by moonlight and sleeping by day. 

This light she would share with anyone who needed some help in the dark, while repeating her heart-warming chant “Here’s some bright light, here’s a night light. / A little ray to calm your fright.”
One night she bestows this light upon a little fox named Sable 

and the two become friends, searching together nightly for ‘shimmering light’.

Another night – a snowy one – she shines a calming light on a lonely little owl in a tree; then Luna joins forces with the light-givers, and the animals always ensured that little Ella was safely back before sunrise.

One night her animal friends decide that it’s time that Ella’s kindness is returned: together they create a very special gift to show their appreciation of her thoughtfulness and altruism, a gift to make her dreams come true.

Through both words and pictures, this story positively exudes charm, and sweetness – of the magical not the cloying kind. It’s a lovely warm-hearted book to share with youngsters especially now when we all need some light and kindness to help us through these difficult times.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Ian Fleming, adapted by Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

This is a retelling of Ian Fleming’s classic tale by the popular picture book author Peter Bently, illustrated by Steve Antony of Mr Panda fame..

The Potts family – mum, dad (a clever inventor) and their two children Jemima and Jeremy – are a poor but happy family. That is, until one of dad’s inventions makes a fortune and off they go to buy a car. 

Unimpressed by any of those on offer at the garage, they’re about to leave when Dad notices something under a cover. Beneath that cover is a large and very much the worse for wear, racing car, destined the next day for the scrapyard.

Young Jeremy has great faith in his father’s ability to restore it to its former glory and after spending weeks shut away in his workshop, Dad introduces them to a splendidly shiny vehicle.

In climbs Dad and when he starts the engine, they hear this ‘CHITTY! CHITTY! BANG! BANG!’ before the vehicle rumbles into life. There’s only one thing they can call this car and you know what that is … Off they go for a drive to the beach and when they get stuck in a traffic jam, a mere push of a knob causes it to WHOOSH skywards as they take flight, 

destination a beach on a deserted island.

Fortunately, the car is better at spotting danger than the humans, and just before the tide engulfs them, Mum presses the flashing button and Chitty is transformed into a speedboat that takes them whizzing through the foggy waters to the coast of France.

What follows is an even more exciting part of their adventure involving a chase (of a famous robber and his gang) 

through the streets towards Paris where a hot-air balloon awaits the gold thieves. But they’d reckoned without a certain amazingly adaptable car …

Peter’s telling sweeps you along in the mounting excitement and Steve’s terrific, detailed illustrations provide readers with varying perspectives from which to witness the action. Together they’ve created a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to the original story.

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery

Molly and the Mathematical Mystery
Eugenia Cheng and Aleksandra Artymowska
Big Picture Press

There are challenges aplenty in mathematician and maths advocate and demystifier Eugenia Chen’s picture book for older primary children. In collaboration with illustrator Aleksandra Artymowska she presents a plethora of mind-boggling mathematical ideas in a creative and enormously alluring mystery story that involves readers who join Molly in a series of challenges as she ventures forth into a weird world where everything is other than it appears.

If you are one of those people who when somebody says the word ‘maths’, thinks of times tables and numerical problems, then this interactive journey will surely show you that it’s about SO much more, most importantly about imagination.

With letters to read, clues to find, flaps to explore, wheels to manoeuvre, and an absolute wealth of mathematical information at the end of the story, this incredible book will have you confounded, bemused, astonished and absorbed.

Aleksandra Artymowska has packed so much into every double spread scene, be it the impossible staircase,

the garden of hidden shapes with its tessellations, that hall of endless doors with their intricate patterns, the steam room with its plethora of pipes, wheels and vents, the room adorned with carpets of awesome designs. Then come the mixed-up library where you’ll love to linger among the books of all sizes, the beautiful symmetry garden,

the high-walled fractal garden or the scene that shows Molly all the places she’s visited or even her very own bedroom at home wherein the adventure starts and concludes.

Highly recommended for school and home.

There’s A Mouse In My House

There’s a Mouse in my House
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

A tiny mouse has had the temerity to move into our Bear narrator’s residence so he tells us. Outraged, Bear is determined to oust his unwanted interloper by telling him ‘he has to go.’ But what he doesn’t know it that the little rodent has been taking lessons in taekwondo – of all things – and you can see who comes off worse in that encounter. OUCH!

So what about suggesting alternative spots Mouse might prefer to be – Luxembourg or Borneo perhaps. But it’s no go on that score. Apparently, the intruder is staying put and is making it known in no uncertain terms by usurping Bear’s chair.

Yes, Mouse might be a dapper dresser as well as being a diminutive creature but he has a gargantuan appetite and is eating his host out of house and home – literally. Then there’s the nocturnal noise pollution habit: how on earth is our narrator supposed to sleep with all that row? But it’s the bathroom disaster that’s just about the last straw …

Uh-oh! Someone’s come a-knocking on this snowy night. Who on earth would venture out right now? And why? …

Delivered with Ross’s characteristic rollicking rhyming panache and brilliantly droll scenes showing how in this sequel Bear gets repaid (to begin with anyway) for his misdeeds in There’s a Bear on My Chair. But it’s the clever interplay between text, illustrations and design that is SO well done.

AGAIN! I hear the cries from young humans, who will relish this delectable drama (along with the adults who read it aloud).

Snow Ghost / Snow Woman

Here are two super snowy picture books – the first new, the second, a reissue:

Snow Ghost
Tony Mitton and Diana Mayo
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In a lyrical tale of hoping and searching, Snow Ghost flies through the snow-filled sky seeking a place that she can call home.
She swoops first towards a town all a-twinkle with its lights in shops and houses; but it doesn’t feel right, so it’s on through the darkness and into the woods. There though she meets shadowy darkness and that too feels unwelcoming.

Windblown to a hilltop it’s impossible to rest with those hostile murmurs telling her to go, the Snow Ghost drifts towards a small moorland farm.

There in the fields are a boy and a girl playing snowballs and seeming full of joy. Now here’s a place which might just afford the welcome that can end the Snow Ghost’s long search …

– a place she can finally call home.

Tony Mitton’s rhyming narrative flows with the grace and beauty of his subject, gliding perfectly off the tongue as you read it aloud. Diana Mayo’s equally lyrical illustrations that almost float over the pages are mesmerising; the colour palette pervades every spread with an ethereal quality, and oh wow! those endpapers are exquisite.

A memorable magical wintry book from cover to cover that’s destined to become a seasonal treasure.

Snow Woman
David McKee
Andersen Press

David’s wry look at the question of gender, Snow Woman, has recently been reissued. It tells of Rupert who informs his dad that he’s building a snowman, only to have his terminology corrected to ‘snow person” by dad. And of Rupert’s sister Kate who before embarking on her snow construction, tells her mum, it’s to be a snow woman. Mum accepts this.

The completed snow people stand side by side duly dressed and are photographed along with their creators, by Mum.

The following morning the snow twosome have vanished, along with their clothes. Kate makes a thoughtful observation about a possible reason and the two decide a to build instead, a snow bear – not a man or a lady -merely a bear, Rupert suggests.

Playful and pertinent still, McKee’s deadpan humour shines out of his illustrations all the way through to that seeming throwaway final line of Rupert’s. Make sure you study all the household décor and other ephemera lying around indoors, particularly the art adorning the walls; it’s hilarious.
This book will surely appeal to both children and adults.

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales / Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard

These are two special gift editions with Christmas in mind

David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairy Tales
written by Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books

This sumptuous edition brings together three of the brother and sister team’s fairy tales previously published as separate books, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Lynn’s texts written with enormous verve and David’s magnificent illustrations that set each of the stories in a different era combine to re-energise tales from way back making readers experience them with fresh eyes, ears and hearts.

For Cinderella we’re transported to the art deco 1920s, age of flapper girls and glamour, where Greta’s (aka Cinderella) stepsisters, are Elvira (the wicked one) and Ermintrude (she’s exceedingly dim).

Her fairy godmother is a fashionista and her stepmother is a stone cold-hearted bullying female who immediately evicts Greta from her room giving it to her own offspring instead.

Rapunzel is set in the 1970s when platform shoes were all the rage. The beautiful miss in this version has a red-haired stunner as its star and she resides in a tower block flat, (or rather is imprisoned by her Aunt Edna who owns a ghastly pet crow).

Edna insists that safety is the reason for her niece’s current incarceration, and she uses occasional gifts of second-hand records and magazines to placate the girl, promising to show her the city sights once she’s older. Said aunt is employed as a school dinner lady, one who almost force feeds her charges with such ghastly fare as lumpy custard. Enter stage left, young Roger, lead singer of the school band. Could he be the one to rescue the red-haired damsel?

Sleeping Beauty has an entirely female cast, a 1950s vibe and a science fiction loving young lady Annabel who on her first birthday, falls under the evil spell of spiteful witch Morwenna, and wakes many more years later than the sixteen she’d first thought.

If you know somebody (or several people) who love fairy tales, then buy them this totally brilliant book: I’m going to have to invest in several copies this season. And, KS2 teachers just think of the potential this offers in the classroom.

Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford University Press

This bumper book with superbly spirited, full-colour illustrations by Lauren Child (who better to illustrate this Pippi 75th anniversary edition?) is an ideal present for a lively child with an inquiring mind, and a cracking way to bring Pippi, fellow residents of Villa Villekulla, monkey, Mr Nilsson and her horse – the one she can lift with her super strength – (strictly speaking he lives on the veranda), and her next-door friends, Annika and Tommy, alive to a new generation of readers and listeners.

The episodes herein include that where Pippi gets a trifle carried away when she goes on a shopping spree with a pocketful of golden coins. The consequences are pretty unlikely (unless you’re Pippi) with a bit of bother over a false arm and whether or not the particular shop is self-service. She also gets carried away in the sweet shop buying rather an excessive amount of sugary confectionery, and uses her common sense in the pharmacy.

Another time there’s an addition to the school role, though only briefly; Pippi also livens up the school outing;

has an encounter with a rather large ’kitty’, she gets shipwrecked and almost leaves her ‘more organised’ Villa Villekulla life and sails away with her father to live a thoroughly disorganised one.

Hours of pleasure visual and verbal, lie between the two covers of this gift edition.

A Thing Called Snow

A Thing Called Snow
Yuval Zommer
Oxford University Press

This wonderful book has classic written all over it. It’s absolutely gorgeous from cover to cover; but one has come to expect nothing less from Yuval who puts his heart and soul as well as that of the natural world into every book he creates.

The story tells of arctic creatures Fox and Hare; springtime born, they grew up during the summer, and come autumn were best friends. Expert at sniffing distant things, Fox finds joy in leaping and bouncing while Hare – also a lover of leaping and bouncing has superb hearing ability.

One day Fox’s nose twitches and Hare’s ears prick: ‘Winter’s on its way,’ Tern tells them, pausing on its journey southwards, going on to talk of ‘this thing called snow!’ wherein the friends can jump, leap and bounce. 

But what on earth is snow?

Off go Hare and Fox into the forest to try and find out. Bear’s answer to their question provides information as to it its colour, while Caribou adds that snow’s cold and Salmon tells them it’s fluffy like their tails. Having heard from Goose that it also sparkles, the friends still haven’t found the complete answer they seek, though they have had some misconceptions corrected. They’re also cold and tired, and as darkness starts to descend they stop beside a lake, too far from home to return. 

Snuggled up together they fall fast asleep. Next day they awake to a ‘cold, fluffy, sparkly’ surprise; but that’s not the only surprise they get that joyful sparkling morning. 

Despite the chilly season of this story’s setting, a feeling of warmth emanates from many of its pages on account of the kindness of the forest animal community. 

With a pleasing circularity and true harmony between words and pictures, it’s a real treasure. Yuval breathes life into his characters with those trademark eyes, yet every one of the animals shows his love of and respect for, nature. 

With its sparkling, tactile dust jacket, this book is a must have this season.

Kindness / Moo-Moo, I Love You

Kindness
Helen Mortimer and Cristina Trapanese
Oxford Children’s Books

This is one of the publisher’s new ‘Big Words for Little People’ series that aims with carefully selected ‘feature’ words embedded in a short narrative,, to help young children develop an understanding of how by means of words, they can best deal with their emotions and first experiences.
Kindness starts with a welcoming word – ‘hello’ perhaps and a welcome smile to help newcomers feel at ease.
Sharing,

Giving, Understanding (especially another person’s feelings), Listening, Helping, Caring (for the natural world as well as other people and ourselves), Being thankful, Loving (by reaching out with kind words and actions), Taking turns, being Thoughtful, showing Kindness are each given a double spread illustrating the action with stylised youngsters and a brief descriptive text.There’s also a final spread giving helpful guidance to adult users and a short glossary.

A useful addition to a preschool setting for both personal, social and emotional development, and language development, or for family use.

Moo-Moo, I Love You!
Tom Lichtenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Abrams Books for Young Readers

What a delectably adorably moo-vingly mood-uplifting way to tell your little one how mooch you loove them, is this moo-cow monologue (almost) directed at her little moo (who actually has the last word – or actually, four words).

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s word play is crazily comical and exuberantly expressed, becoming even more comical when combined with Tom Lichtenheld’s thickly outlined cow characters clearly relishing being in each other’s company as they share their love of pizza, popcorn and farm hu-moo-r;

the adornment of their residence so it morphs into a moo-seum …

and a moo-se moo-ve-ment. Ma moo even states her readiness to launch herself loo-nar-wards to express her fondness for her little moo.

This crazily moo-ving manner in which a moo-ma shows her infant moo how much it’s loo-ved could also work as a valentine, especially if your partner’s into word play and you think they’d find it a-moo-sing.

Diamonds

Diamonds
Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin

Thought-provoking, enormously powerful and definitely not for little ones, this picture book begins with a girl, Carolina, watching her mother put on a pair of diamond earrings in preparation for an evening out. She asks how much they cost receiving the response, “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Uncle Winston. He bought them for me. … because he loves me very much.” Carolina is an inquisitive child, so the questions continue: where did the earrings come from? What is mined? Where are diamonds mined?
After receiving a cavalier reply to her question about their maid Amina’s lack of diamonds despite like the gemstones, coming from Africa, Carolina is left in the care of the maid, and her mama departs.

Then comes a series of wordless spreads beginning with Amina seeing Carolina into bed. 

There follows a nightmarish account documenting the journey of these conflict diamonds from their source to the giving of the earrings. Greder shows how the miners extract the gems from the ground while being brutalised and perhaps worse by overseers. 

They are then passed through a corrupt chain of middlemen until they reach an up-market jeweller’s shop to await purchasers.

The book ends with Amina comforting a tearful Carolina who has woken from her horrendous dream.

Hugely unsettling, made particularly so by the sombre, haunting charcoal images in the wordless scenes, this important book raises highly pertinent issues of social injustice, exploitation and human rights, and of human consumption and greed. The clever juxtaposition of concerns about Amina’s role as a domestic servant in a wealthy home with those of the exploitation of the mine workers, as well as Carolina’s mother’s attitude towards her daughter’s probing about the diamonds, ensure that this book truly packs a powerful punch, leaving the reader with a determination to endeavour to ensure they have no part in any oppression of other human beings.

A book to discuss – with the aid of the three afterwords that talk of conflict diamonds and The Democratic Republic of Congo – with upper primary children and beyond.

Fact and Fiction for your Early Years Bookshelves

All Kinds of Families
Sophy Henn
Red Shed (Egmont)

No two human families are exactly alike but assuredly each of them is special in its own way. So it is for animal families and that’s what Sophy explores in this picturebook as she portrays various ways of parenting in the animal kingdom.

Orang-utan mothers are solely responsible for looking after their young and look after their offspring longer than any other animal parent. In contrast, it’s the emu father that tends the eggs and raises the chicks. 

Clownfish males and females share the care of the little ones – sometimes a mother can lay as many as 1000 eggs, so it’s no easy task, and that’s alongside keeping the home clean for the eggs.

I was interested to learn that in a Long-tailed tit family as many as twenty birds might live together with older infants helping to care for the younger ones. Come winter they can all snuggle together to keep warm. 

Elephants do things completely differently living in large family groups. A senior female takes charge, sharing her knowledge with younger members of the family and all the elephants look after the babies.

Young humans will also find information about the long-living Orca whale families, learn that sometimes two female albatrosses pair up and raise chicks, as well as that for example among cheetahs, little ones without a family might be adopted and reared by two males 

and that Meerkats live in communities.

The final spreads are devoted to first a family portrait gallery and then a double page giving a factual paragraph about each of the animals whose family has been featured. Sophy emphasises that love is key, no matter what in this gorgeously illustrated, first celebratory look at the diversity of family life.

Recommended for foundation stage settings and families with young children.

The Golden Treasure
Marie Voigt
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

As young Max considers whether or not to take his soft toy dog, Toffee to school for show and tell, he spies something glowing high up on the ‘Unreachable Shelf’. It looks like a treasure chest and having wished he could reach it the boy finds himself and Toffee embarking on a magical quest to reach the Golden Treasure. First they convince a knight of their worthiness to continue on their way through the Land of the Brave, 

then comes a challenge by a racing car driver in the Land of the Fast, followed by another from a scornful unicorn in the Land of the Shiny. 

With Toffee’s morale-boosting support and his own bravery, the two finally reach the chest and open it. Then comes a surprising revelation: the greatest of all treasures isn’t what Max was expecting. Now though he has no doubt as to what he’ll be taking for that show and tell session.

This simple fantasy is essentially a tale of friendship, valuing and appreciating what you already have, self-belief and not letting others influence your confidence to make your own decisions. Marie’s glowing illustrations are suffused with warmth, light and a feeling of magic. Young listeners will especially enjoy the various characters Max and Toffee encounter on their journey.

Where Snow Angels Go

Where Snow Angels Go
Maggie O’Farrell and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Walker Books

‘Have you ever woken suddenly, in the middle of the night, without knowing why?’ So begins Maggie O’Farrell’s debut picture book wherein it’s young Sylvie who wakes unexpectedly to find her bedroom pulsing with a glimmering light, her curtains disturbed and a chill in the air. Suddenly a breathtaking sight meets her eyes, glowing white with a shimmering outline and an enormous pair of snow-white feathery wings. Before her an angel is creeping across the room muttering softly to himself.

Amazed that Sylvie can see him, he says that he’s her snow angel, there to look after her: Sylvie, he insists, is not as well as she thinks. He also reminds her that she has, despite what she says, heard of a snow angel, having made one the previous winter.

Assuring the girl that he’ll always be there watching her, the being disappears.

Many months later, after a long illness, Sylvie is feeling much better and recalling the visit, longs to see the angel again, for it was he who saved her life. Now she has a lot to tell him and even more she wants to know but of the snow angel there is no sign. Sylvie decides risk taking and putting herself in danger might precipitate his return, but throughout the summer nothing works. Then, as summer draws to an end, there are occasions when she feels he’s responsible for saving her life, but still she doesn’t see her angel.

Determined that those she loves – family and friends – have their very own protector, the girl tries asking if they too have ever made snow angels. Maybe if she calls on her Snow Angel to grant her a very special wish, something truly amazing can happen …

Maggie O’Farrell together with artist Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, have created their own small miracle in this powerful, exceptionally beautiful book that is essentially a 21st century fairy tale about a little girl, bravery, wishing and love – and of course – the wonders of snow. Daniela’s illustrations are hauntingly ethereal at times, at others superbly realistic, but always full of charm and in perfect harmony with Maggie O’Farrell’s compelling, suspenseful story weaving. (I love the circularity of her telling.)

Destined to become a seasonal classic assuredly. Make some hot chocolate, snuggle up and read with family this winter.

Who’s Driving? / What a Ship Sees

Who’s Driving?
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

Toddlers and pre-schoolers will absolutely love playing this matching /prediction game wherein Leo Timmers invites them to guess ‘Who’s driving …’ – in the first instance the fire-engine – from the animal character line up on the verso each clutching a key and hastening towards the vehicle shown on the recto. Turn the page ‘wheeooh wheeooh wheeooh’ and the answer is revealed along with the vehicle’s destination. (Sharp-eyed youngsters will likely have spotted some of the clues as to the driver on the first spread.)

A different four animals appear as possible drivers for each of the new vehicles depicted – the limousine, the racing car,

the tractor, the convertible, the jeep and finally, the aeroplane.

There’s an element of the Hare and the Tortoise fable here too, though probably only appreciated by adults. Little ones will love the explosive onomatopoeic, sound-making opportunities that seemingly make the vehicles whizz right off the pages; and the unlikely drivers depicted in Timmers’ acrylic illustrations. Both visual skills and observation skills will certainly have been stretched too after sharing this.

What a wealth of learning potential there is in this fun little book: it’s a must for nursery/preschool settings and enormous fun for home too.

What A Ship Sees
Laura Knowles and Vivian Mineker
Welbeck Publishing

In this cleverly designed concertina book, we follow the journey of a little red ship as it sets out from the jetty on a voyage across the sea. This is no smooth journey though as a storm blows up shortly after the boat has passed a desert island, but all is well and the sailors pause for a while to help remove some of the floating plastic litter before continuing to move north to chilly waters and finally reaching home shores once more.

During the unfolding trip guided by Laura Knowles chatty style narrative, youngsters can enjoy spotting in Vivian Mineker’s illustrations, various sea craft – fishing vessels, a tanker and an enormous cruise ship, as well as dancing dolphins, a shoal of flying fish,

and the changing weather.

There’s a wealth of talk and story-telling potential in the 2.5 metre long unfolding drama, on the reverse side of which is a cutaway of the little red boat, as well as individual elements of the journey along with further information about each one be that ocean fauna, nautical communication,

safety, or ships and boats.

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts
Steve Smallman
Graffeg

This is exactly what we all need right now: a little book to have to hand when everything is getting on top of us, the pandemic news is getting worse day by day, and the thought of not seeing friends and relations looms large. It’s so easy to start feeling like Little Bunny at the start of this book – lost and alone, all at sea.

But as the little creature slowly, slowly discovers through mindfulness, that looking at things from a different perspective,

perhaps by something as seemingly simple as looking outwards instead of inwards, it’s possible to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Yes, better days will surely come and in the meantime, it’s wise to return to Bunny’s reminder as he shares his thoughts in a rhyming narrative, that ‘life’s not as bad as it seems’.

I was fascinated to read how this book of Steve’s developed as he was experimenting with a new technique using a soft pencil. The outcome is a pocket /handbag size book that is assuredly one to give and one to keep. I will certainly be doing both in the coming weeks.

Judge Juliette / Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade

Here are two recent picture books from Sterling Children’s Books:

Judge Juliette
Laura Gehl and Mari Lobo

Juliette is a girl with a dream – to become a judge; meanwhile she dons her mum’s old black skirt and uses her grandpa’s old mallet to play at so being. Already she’s the person those in her locality increasingly turn to for decisions of what is fair from bedtimes to bat losses.

This causes her parents to decide that their daughter has proved herself sufficiently responsible to be allowed that much wanted pet.

But then who should walk into her courtroom but mum and dad: Mum thinks she should get a dog, Dad pins his hopes on a cat and each parent has plenty of evidence to back up their side of the argument. Moreover, both are prepared to try a little bit of bribery on their daughter. This is going to be tricky to say the least.

How can Juliette possibly make a fair decision in this Cat vs Dog case?

Youngsters, many of whom will already have a strong sense of fairness, will enjoy this story with its bold illustrations, especially the finale, and during the course of a book sharing will likely learn some legal terminology.

Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade
Rob Sanders and Letizia Rizzo

Make no mistake Blaine is into all things sparkly; he adorns his school uniform, his book bag and cap with glittery things. He’s popular, spreading happiness wherever he goes, is a sporting star and extremely bright. Most people are accepting of his predilection

but a few lack understanding and eventually those hurtful words begin to take effect on the boy especially when someone calls him ‘Sissy!”
Next Monday he arrives at school sans sparkles and this continues through the week and by midweek the entire school has lost its shine. Something has to be done and so his classmates take action: the following morning several children show up defiantly sporting sparkly items of clothing.

This precipitates a change of heart in others, and after some discussion between the pro- and anti-sparkle individuals,

things change: a small gift is given, and a decision is made: everyone is free to be themselves, at least at this school.

A gentle lesson, with expressive cartoon style illustrations, on the individual’s right to be him/herself, and on being an ally. (the final spread talks about what the latter entails).

Curious EnCOUNTers / I Spy ABC: Totally Crazy Letters! & I Spy 123: Totally Crazy Numbers!

Curious EnCOUNTers
Ben Clanton and Jessixa Bagley
Little Bigfoot

A child shares with readers the sights, sounds and smells she encounters on a hike through the woody countryside. Setting off, who knows what might be there to observe or ‘where the trail will lead’. Pretty soon though it’s clear that this is not to be a calm peaceful appreciation of nature. Rather, it’s a series of tallies from 1 to 13 of somewhat crazy outdoor antics, each leading on from the previous one, and each being described through an alliterative sentence – ‘2 Raccoons reading and rocking out,

Six squirrels sporting sweaters through to ‘13 Thirteen seagulls soaring and searching’ and a final invitation to join the frolicking friends for a fabulous feast whereat not all the animals are forest dwellers. The story eventually comes full circle as the final page shows the child, now sitting hidden behind an abundance of foliage, and seemingly sketching the animals.
Throughout there are playful, punny conversations between the creatures featured, “I overheard you were c-lamb-ering for wool.”; “It was wool-y great of ewe to give us all this wool!”; “What a wonderful way to unwind.” “Shear is!”

A comical counting book and an adventure too that provides both fun and plenty of learning possibilities.

I Spy ABC: Totally Crazy Letters!
I Spy 123: Totally Crazy Numbers!

Manuela Ancutici and Ruth Prenting
Firefly Books

Make no mistake, these two visually incredible, stimulating books are not intended for little ones who are just learning the alphabet or to recognise numerals/numbers and to count. It’s the ‘I Spy’ part of the title that is key, for what the letters and numerals are doing is to act as templates onto which themed items are arranged and to which the text directs users to look for various objects relating to that theme. Each page or spread is introduced by the words, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ immediately engaging users young and not so young.

On the gorgeously autumnal coloured C we’re to search for ‘a long snake, a starfish, a beetle, and yellow lizard (tricky to locate); then there’s a turtle supposedly on the move along the letter, as well as eleven or so pinecones, fourteen shells, a walnut, five soft feathers and finally, five acorns. Phew!

Among the thematic materials used (sourced largely from flea markets) are toy vehicles, gorgeously coloured flowers, beads, food, art materials, nesting dolls and sewing. In no way does the text cover the wealth of items included for each letter or number and that leaves the way open for adult and child to play their own games of I-Spy thus adding to the countless hours of enjoyment and potential for visual development offered by the books.
With the numbers book, after 10, the double-digit numbers featured get a double spread each rather than a single page,

while the ABC allocates a single page for each letter.

There’s a wealth of learning opportunities between the covers of both the ABC and 123 and each offers countless hours of fun too. And just in case you’re stuck on any of the searches, the final pages provide solutions.
Great for both home and school use.

All Because You Matter

All Because You Matter
Tami Charles and Bryan Collier
Orchard Books (Scholastic)

This wonderful, empowering celebration of young Black lives is for everyone, not just those with black or brown skin. Herein author Tami Charles’ lyrical prose poem, an ode to a ‘dear child’ spoken by a parent reads like a love letter to said infant whom we watch in Bryan Collier’s sequence of tender, mixed media portraits, grow from new born infant, to toddler taking his first steps, to story sharer,

to school child, mocked on occasion by cruel classmates.

The author uses ‘matter’ as both verb – ‘The words and pictures / coming together like / sweet jam on toast / … sun in blue sky … / all because you matter.’ And as noun: ‘But in galaxies far away, / it may seem that / light does not always reach / lonely planets, / covered moons, / stars unseen, / as if matter no longer exists.’

Ancestors are recalled – queens, chiefs, legends – but the focal point is always the child being addressed. Yet, this book reassures all youngsters that no matter what, they are loved and cherished ‘strength, power, and beauty lie within you’.

Affirming, awe-inspiring, and acknowledging and remembering those victimised by racial violence – teenager Trayvon (Martin), 12 year old Tamir (Rice) and young man Philando (Castile),

as well as for me, the not mentioned young Damilola Taylor who lost his life in the UK twenty years ago to the day as I write, when just short of eleven years old. What we have here is a great starting point for a conversation that puts forward the notion that Black Lives Matter, indeed, All Lives Matter at all times in their homes, in their community, in the entire universe.

Everyone is an amazing individual; everyone has something to offer whoever and wherever they are; but it starts with children … Parents know that, we teachers know that; it’s up to us to make sure youngsters know that. One way so to do is to share this book at home and in classrooms.

Detective LB and Hopper: The Case of the Missing Chocolate Frogs

Detective LB and Hopper: The Case of the Missing Chocolate Frogs
Janey Gaston and Anil Tortop
Little Steps Publishing

It’s hard to resist a picture book with chocolate in the title especially when the cover’s as alluring as that drawn by Anil Tortop.

Meet Detective LB, a ladybird mystery lover and her best friend and side-kick Hopper, a lively, sometimes overly sugar-fuelled bunny with a special skill at solving mysteries. Clearly a well-matched duo and on the Tuesday in question, they’re both fired up and ready for a new case, so are thrilled when there’s a loud banging on the door signalling somebody outside with a mystery that needs solving.

In comes Mr Poppy (cat) owner of Poppycat Candy Company announcing that he suspects someone is stealing his packages of ‘extra-special, extra-yummy chocolate frogs’ destined for his Grandma Rose which, for the last couple of weeks, have failed to arrive.

So, who has been stealing said items; comic book addict Hopper, and LB, are on the case immediately; the enterprising two must amass information and search for clues in order to crack this tasty case. Perhaps Hopper’s penchant for superheroes can be utilised;

and maybe the thief has a motive that just might be a mitigating cause.

A pacy, full of fun adventure and with Anil Tortop’s comical scenes of animated animals and chocolatey clues, highly entertaining with a not very subtle message about owning up to one’s errors.

How to be a Bug Warrior

How to be a Bug Warrior
written by Stephanie Stahl, illustrated by Loyal Kids
Little Steps Publishing

Young Danny Dino is fed up. His mum insists that if he wants to go and play with his pals in the park, he must wear a mask since many Dinoville residents have been ill recently. Off they all go: his friends don masks but not so Danny who claims he is uncomfortable and he can’t breathe.
Then along comes another friend who sneezes sending her germs all over the other little dinosaurs.

Back at home Danny’s Dino Mummy serves up some yummy chocolate muffins; his pals all go off and wash their hands; Danny merely starts stuffing cake into his mouth.

A few days later, Danny feels poorly – he’s sneezy, feverish and has a sore throat. Dr Pterosaur pays a call and hears about Danny’s maskless foray to the park. Flu is his diagnosis and a stay in bed to rest.

Once he’s somewhat recovered his friends pay a visit as does the doc. who explains why it was only Danny who caught the virus. He goes on to tell them all about the importance of correct hand washing – the ‘seven-step super handwash’ and other ways to help prevent the spread of any viruses that might be circulating. After a week Danny is up and about and determined to stick to his hand-washing regime.

After the story – yes, it’s didactic – but extremely important and full of wise words, come several spreads about viruses,

with reference to Covid-19 as well as a quiz and a page of tips on protecting oneself and others.

With those sure to be popular characters, and a highly relatable story, this is a book to share with youngsters both at home and in foundation stage classrooms and nurseries.

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows
Smriti Halls and David Litchfield
Walker Books

My first thought on seeing the amazing cover of this book was the first song that I learned to sign, the foundation stage favourite, Sing a Rainbow. As I turned the pages, I felt that both Smriti and David truly are singing a rainbow in this awesome book that was originally released as a free download during the summer in partnership with Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories campaign.

On the opening spread we’re in the company of a girl as she follows a fox through a rainstorm, ‘Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun,’ we read as Smriti’s lyrical rhyming text takes the child to the departing day as she pauses, illuminating the fox with her lantern under a star strewn sky.
The walking continues and we read of mountains to climb, ‘Journeys to take.’ …

until it’s time to rest under the now star-filled sky and dream hopeful dreams.

Yes, there are likely to be dark days when worries beset us; days when storms rage both within and without,

but somewhere there’s light and footsteps to follow, friends who care, to guide us all through troubled times, out of the dark and into the light where new life will always come, little by little seed by seed, flower by flower,

bringing hope and cheer, and the promise of better things beyond that darkness, under that rainbow …

Both author and illustrator have clearly put heart and soul into this breath-taking book. Smriti’s reverie of resilience is honest and reassuringly uplifting, while David’s dazzlingly spreads are out-of-this-world gorgeous. Every single one is a place to pause, reflect, imbibe its beauty (even the dark ones), and only then to move on, empowered and full of hope.

The Kiosk

The Kiosk
Anete Melece (translated by Elīna Braslina)
Gecko Press

Imagine living and working your entire life in a small kiosk – impossible you might be thinking – but so it is for Olga the protagonist of Anete Melece’s picture book. She has customers aplenty and lots of friends among them as she spends her time selling, chatting, assisting others and generally being a good, kindly person going about her daily routine. Come evening when the crowds have gone, Olga remains stuck inside her small domain, reading of faraway places and dreaming of distant sunsets.

One morning though, after a chain of unfortunate incidents, disaster strikes and the kiosk topples right over taking Olga with it. Physically unhurt, up she gets and off she goes walking within her erstwhile fixed abode and for a while all is well. But then comes a canine encounter which precipitates a fall –

and Olga, kiosk and all are pitched off the bridge and into the river.
After several days afloat in her mobile home,

Olga arrives at the seaside where enterprisingly she sets herself up in a new business … and each evening from her beach vantage point she enjoys the sun setting – ‘splendidly’.

Yes it’s hard sometimes to make changes, but sometimes it’s good to step right out of your comfort zone and just to “go with the flow” seeing what life brings and embracing new things with an open heart. It’s never impossible if you really want to find a way …
That’s what Anete Melece shows us with humour and heart.

Binny’s Diwali

Binny’s Diwali
Thrity Umrigar and Nidhi Chanani
Scholastic
‘All over the world, Diwali marked the victory of goodness and light.’ So young Binny’s mother tells her, and surely more than ever right now we could all do with goodness and light to help us through the coming months that promise little of cheer.

Binny is due to talk to her class about the celebration of this important Hindu festival; she’s wearing her new clothes, has eaten a sweet breakfast and can’t wait to tell her friends about Diwali at circle time. But when it’s her turn to speak, she gets an attack of nerves and can’t get her words out. Her fear is almost palpable but then so too, is her delight and enthusiasm when she finds her voice after some reassurance from her teacher. She tells of her favourite holiday, of how people light diva lamps and put them outside their front doors to chase away the dark and guide the light and good fortune to their homes.

She explains how the festival lasts for five days and how fireworks colour the air (not often now though at least in some countries on account of the pollution), and best of all she creates her own rangoli pattern on the classroom floor using the bags of coloured powder she’s brought specially.

Then after sharing a box of sweets with everyone she feels that after all she’s done Diwali proud in her classroom. Then walking back home she’s able to feel that in her class she’s celebrated her very ‘own victory of goodness and light’.

I especially love Nidhi Chanani’s beautiful diva endpapers reminding me how much I will miss celebrating the festival in India this year. I’ll be interested to hear how my friends there do so during the pandemic; no doubt many be they Hindus or from another of the faiths followed there, they’ll find a way. Yes, Diwali is a Hindu festival but many Indian friends who do not share a Hindu worldview, also celebrate (and that’s despite the current political climate).

Thrity Umrigar (herself from a Zoroastrian family) provides a brief account of the Diwali story – the triumph of good over evil – at the back of the book along with an explanation of the five days of the festival.

This is a lovely, uplifting, colourful book to share with youngsters in KS1 classrooms as well as in a family.

Too Much Stuff!

Too Much Stuff!
Emily Gravett
Two Hoots

I suspect that since the start of the pandemic a large number of us would be finding that we, like Meg and Ash the pair of magpies in Emily Gravett’s funny rhyming story have Too Much Stuff.

The two birds create a wonderfully snug nest in the tallest tree and before long Meg lays four bright blue eggs therein. Everything is perfect surely? But not so in the opinion of the parents to be; to make that nest the best, more stuff is needed.

From the ground below the forest creatures watch in astonishment (as do readers and listeners) as Meg and Ash take turns to collect items that their chicks are ‘really going to NEED.’ Really?
In come clocks, socks, blue plastic pegs, a dilapidated ted, a bin complete with rubbish, a pram even;

the pile gets ever higher until of the nest there is no sign. All that’s visible is a near-to-toppling tower of acquisitions those chicks might like one day.

Inevitably disaster strikes – CRACK – down comes the entire teetering tree tower …

right on top of those precious blue eggs.

It’s fortunate that all the animals are willing and able to rally round and assist with operation clear up. Between them all they manage to find a use for everything; the rubbish becomes homes, a vehicle, or is otherwise utilised.

And those eggs? They too have become something else …

This is a terrific way to introduce children either at home or school, to the idea of waste, recycling and re-using. It’s great entertainment with that build up and anticipation of the impending catastrophe and there’s SO much going on in Emily’s detailed illustrations, every one of which is a mini-story in itself.

Make sure you look carefully at every single part of this book: the ‘STUFF magazine’ endpapers are enormous fun. I love the library ad. And the FOUR ‘R’s’ of RECYCLING’ demonstrated by the squirrels. Children will relish spotting the items from the story in the ads.
Definitely a book to add to your collection – however large! Of books you cannot have too many.

All Cats are on the Autism Spectrum

All Cats are on the Autism Spectrum
Kathy Hoopmann
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This book is an updated version of the author’s 2006 All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome and since then what is considered acceptable terminology has changed and the author says in her note for this edition that people’s views are not all the same and that she hopes ‘readers will see past the finer details of disagreement and join me in celebrating, and deepening our understanding of, the richness and diversity of the autistic community.’ You can’t say fairer than that.

Essentially the book shows a sequence of photographs of cats/kittens in various situations accompanied by a sentence relating the visual to an element of being on the autism spectrum or as I prefer to say, neurodiversity. Thus the book opens with a shot of a kitty wrapped in a scarf and wearing a woolly hat introduced by ‘The first signs of autism are usually picked up very young.’ Now I could from my own experience challenge that for several reasons, but will say no more other than it’s generally truer for boys than girls, and remember the author’s words on her introductory page.
What I think Kathy Hoopmann is intending to present to readers how a child with autism might view the world: thus we have ‘Autistic people often have exceptionally good hearing, and loud sounds and sudden movements may scare them.’ 

and ‘Daily rituals comfort them, and they get worried if their schedules or surroundings are changed.’ 

as well as ‘When they are spoken to, they may refuse to make eye contact. When they talk, they go on and on about the same topic or ask the same questions over and over again …’

It’s great to read the acknowledgement that ‘with their unique perspective on life, their eye for details that others often miss and their passion for researching something they love, many will reach the top of their chosen fields … those on the spectrum are just like everyone else. They need love, encouragement and a purpose for life … and then everyone can sit back and enjoy the unique individuals they become.’

Poignant at times, funny at others, this book is a useful resource for teachers, parents, siblings, therapists; indeed everyone could benefit from reading it.

Where’s Baby Elephant?

Where’s Baby Elephant?
Ali Khodai
Tiny Owl

Here’s a gorgeous, interactive book – the first with unfolding flaps published by Tiny Owl – that involves readers/listeners in a search for a missing Baby Elephant.

Stunningly illustrated, the journey takes us to meet all kinds of animal families by means of the cleverly designed double fold on every double spread. In the first sequence there’s a majestic lion and cubs, a hedgehog and hoglets, an orangutan and her little one. The missing infant pachyderm is “not under the sea …

“or in the trees …”

nor with a fox and her kits in the den,

nor with that snappy crocodile and its offspring, nor the bird with its nest of hatchlings. It’s far too chilly in the Antarctic but joy of joys, the bear finally knows where that elephant baby is …

Little ones will absolutely love unfolding the flaps to reveal the various animals and their young, but I especially loved the ingenious, innovative way in which illustrator Ali Khodai seamlessly blends the animals together.

What a wealth of fun learning lies between the covers of this smashing book. It’s as well it’s so sturdily produced as I’m certain it will become an oft read favourite among tinies fascinated both by the animals, and the way the book brings the animals to life as they manipulate the pages.

Who Pooed in My Loo?

Who Pooed in My Loo?
Emma Adams and Mike Byrne
Scholastic

I know from considerable experience that young children LOVE toilet humour so I have absolutely no doubt that Emma and Mike’s tongue in cheek offering will go down very well with listeners.

Herein one morning, the boy narrator is desperate to discover who has deposited a rather large and unsightly dump in the family’s loo and thoughtlessly left it for all to see. He contemplates various possible culprits – a stomping romping, plonking dinosaur,

a jaw snapping, tooth gnashing shark annoyed over the lack of floss of an appropriate thickness and strength, a fire-breathing dragon in need of a hasty early morning poop. Or, could it have been a giant with a belly-ache? He’s quickly ruled out on account of the deposit being insufficiently gigantic.

What about a clunking pachyderm who stopped for a bath too; possibly even a sore-bottomed lion suffering from an excess of breakfast. Surely it wasn’t a Christmas elf in festive garb who left that rather whiffy aroma along with his poo;

so maybe – on account of the rainbow – a unicorn stopped by … No magic though, so no unicorn visitor.

The determined lad runs through all the rejected candidates and then – lightbulb moment – there’s a possible of the human kind living right alongside our narrator … maybe somebody who needs a bit of guidance and encouragement when it comes to bathroom etiquette…

Silly? Decidedly so, but also great fun, a timely reminder of the importance of bathroom hygiene and dare I suggest, likely to become a much- requested book in foundation stage settings as well as families in a similar situation to the young narrator of this rhyming saga. Youngsters will relish both Mike Byrne’s hilarious scenes of potential bathroom visitors performing their morning rituals at a convenient place, and the opportunities to join in with some, stomping, sploshing, shaking and roaring.

Counting Creatures

Counting Creatures
Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
Two Hoots

Gorgeous illustrations of adult animals and their young by Sharon King-Chai accompanied by an expertly constructed rhyming narrative by Julia Donaldson make for a terrific book to share with young humans who will want to spend ages pouring over the wonderful details on every spread. There are cut-away pages, die-cuts, fold-outs and flaps that are part and parcel of such scenes as the flying bat with a wing covering just 1 baby, a sheep with 2 baby lambs (one eating, the other bleating), a leopard with 3 tottering, swaying, punching, playing cubs.

Particularly striking is the seemingly lone wild dog behind which are hidden 4 pups, two nosing and nestling the other two writhing and wrestling.

Having reached 10 (piglets) the numbers go up in 5s, so next comes a turkey with 15 poults either peeping or cheeping and the question (repeated each time), ‘Who has more babies than that?’. In this instance the answer is ‘This butterfly’ whose wings cover 20 munching caterpillars, followed by a frog on a lily pad where beneath another there are 25 wriggling squiggling wiggling tadpoles.

The final two spreads serve to send readers hunting back through all the pages to locate ‘LOTS of spiderlings that Julia informs are ‘all over this book.’ (Surely not literally! I hear you cry!) Plus another quite challenging question to answer.

Hours of pure pleasure for adult sharers and their young ones, who will certainly need no persuading to peruse the pages that show the various animals, their habits and their habitats, as well as doing the intended counting on their wildlife journey.

The Bear in the Stars

The Bear in the Stars
Alexis Snell
Puffin Books

Accompanied by a series of stunning lino-cut prints, Alexis Snell tells the story of a polar bear, forced to leave the ‘cold, glistening place’ that is her home, on account of climate change.

In this fable we learn how over the years as the ice gradually disappeared, one by one, other animals have had no choice but to move on and seek new places to live. Now it’s the turn of the Great Bear to leave her natural abode and search for another safe location.

Swept across a raging sea, she finds a likely-seeming place

but it’s only temporary and then she’s swept on again down a rushing river upon the banks of which she encounters another bear – black and kindly – that tells her of a cool lake with fish aplenty.

Off she goes again and having sated her appetite, is briefly happy, but then the sun comes and off she goes to look for somewhere cooler. Now over-hot in her thick white fur, all she can find are lemon trees – no food for Bear these sour fruits. Her only solace is the stars in this changed world and with the morning a troop of monkeys come to her aid guiding her towards a ‘place that may help you’. Many hours later they reach a ‘human town’ and there, having settled her in a cool building, the monkeys leave her to sleep – long and deep.

On waking however, it’s not long before she learns that in this increasingly hot human world, it’s only the temperature that is growing ever warmer: human hearts remain cold and unwelcoming … until one single, small act of kindness changes everything … most certainly for our ursine traveller;

but what about those humans? One can but remember, wish and hope … and …

Using a changing colour palette from blues to reds, and then as the world recovers, to greens, Alexis’s is a tale of hope for a future that is better. That’s the vital message that one wants youngsters to take from this beautiful book. That and the determination to be part of the change that MUST be made by every single one of us.

A book for all, everywhere.

Why? / It Isn’t Rude to be Nude

Why?
Billy Dunne and Rhys Jeffreys
Maverick Publishing

Young children are innately curious about the world around them, always asking questions and wanting to discover new things. So it is here with the girl who is out walking with her dad when he points out a rainbow in the sky saying, “You get them when the rain has passed and the sunshine comes instead.”
“Why?” comes the girl’s softly spoken response. This precipitates a sequence of further questions “Why?” followed by explanations from Dad who speaks first of colours in a light beam being split when they pass through rainy weather;

then the fact that blue light bends a little more than red.
The next “Why” invokes an explanation of this fact. The girl’s whys intensify and Dad moves on to more sophisticated talk. After which the poor fellow is feeling somewhat frazzled and in need of a rest. But still comes another “Why?”

What the guy says in response gets right to the crux of the complex matter but story spoiler I won’t be, so I’ll leave you to wonder or ponder upon this – unless of course you’ve sufficient knowledge of physics to answer for yourself. Whatever the case, his daughter is delighted, and all ends satisfactorily – just about!
Just right for youngsters eager to find out about their world (rainbows in particular) and their weary adult responders.

Billy Dunne’s rhyming narrative making accessible some tricky science, is easy to read aloud (great final throwaway comment from the daughter) and is well complemented by Rhys Jefferys’ illustrations. I love the way he shows the changing expressions of the father as he does his utmost to keep up with and ahead of, his daughter’s “Why”s and his wordless spread showing ‘The complex composition of the photon field’ is a complete contrast to the relatively spare previous ones.

It Isn’t Rude to be Nude
Rosie Haine
Tate Publishing

Open this debut book of Rosie Haines and almost immediately you’re faced with this spread with bums

after which we see nipples (normal things), ‘willies’ (not silly) and vulvas. Thereafter come changes to some parts – boobs might grow, and hair (don’t be scared).
On view too are bodies of all kinds and a variety of body colours and markings

as well as hair (or lack of it). We’re shown people whose bodies stand, sit, or leap and dance, and sometimes strut across the spreads

all with one object in mind – to promote body positivity and to show how bodies change over time as we grow and get older.

Children for the most part do have a positive and healthy attitude to nudity; it’s often the attitudes of adults that trigger those feelings of shame about the naked form and being naked. So, it’s three rousing cheers for Rosie’s book illustrated with a wonderfully warm colour palette and a pleasing fluidity of line.

One Girl

One Girl
Andrea Beaty and Dow Phumiruk
Abrams Books for Young Readers

A little girl sits outside her home one night looking somewhat dejected when all of a sudden from the sky there falls a book, aglow like a falling star. It lands close to her feet. ‘One Girl. One spark.’ On opening it a flaming flower springs forth from the pages, igniting a spark that the girl follows to a wonderful land of possibility. As she continues her allegorical journey her lonely world is transformed into a bright place full of wonder and opportunity.

So impassioned is the girl that she takes her book into school to share with her classmates. Then, further inspired, she takes a pencil and her imagination takes flight as her own, original words flow through her writing, creating a story she also shares with her class.

This kindles a spark in them too and they appear not only to find their own voices but to discover joy and wonder in reading.

Now they too have a burning desire to share their wonderful new discovery with others and thus they send forth

‘Words like comets through the night. / Blazing streaks of blinding light. / Seeking out the darkest dark …’ and thus, the story comes full circle and another girl’s life begins a transformation.

This beautifully written and illustrated book spoke so powerfully to me. I could have been that girl whose life was totally transformed by the magical power of books as was the child in Andrea Beaty’s spare rhyming text, a text wherein every word is chosen for maximum impact. In my case though it was thanks not to what happened in my school, but to my wonderful father who took me every Saturday to our local library and also enrolled me in a book club at a young age, so I received new magic every month. It’s also a spark that in my role as a teacher, I’ve always strived to ignite in every single child I’ve ever worked with, and will continue to do so ad infinitum …

Although there’s complete harmony between the words and pictures, Dow Phumiruk’s radiant illustrations convey much of the story illuminating with their details the transformational power of books, of writing and of education.

Leaving much to the reader’s interpretation, this is a book to share widely, to ponder upon, to discuss, and one hopes, one that will ignite that spark in all who are open to the might of their own potential.

Ollie’s Lost Kitten / The Grinny Granny Donkey


Ollie’s Lost Kitten
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Ollie returns for an autumnal tale that is every bit as enchanting as her previous stories.
One crisp, blustery autumn morning Ollie, sporting her cat suit and pursued by her beloved moggy Pumpkin, head outdoors. Suddenly Ollie, about to jump into a leaf pile sees that it’s moving and then a sudden gust of wind reveals, hiding among the leaves, a tiny shivery kitten.

Having warmed it up, Olllie and two felines frolic in the leaves, catching them and playing forest explorers until they’re tired out. Before long the little kitten is ready for more play so Olllie joins in, totally forgetting about Pumpkin still slumbering beneath a tree.
The two dash off deeper into the woods where they spot lots of ‘lost kitten’ posters.

The girl knows she must try to find the kitten’s home so off they go, following a path revealed by the leaves, all the way to a little cottage where the kitten lives.

It’s a somewhat tearful Ollie who heads back, suddenly realising that her very own Pumpkin has been left alone. Feeling sadder still, she sits in the dark, lost and a bit fearful, till all of a sudden, she hears a rustle,

and then an extremely welcome ‘miaow’ that she recognises …

Gently suspenseful and beautifully illustrated, Nicola’s gorgeous graphite scenes with pops of orange and occasional cut-outs, give the story an autumnal feel making it ideal for sharing with little ones, just now especially.


The Grinny Granny Donkey
Craig Smith and Katz Cowley
Scholastic

Here’s a tooth-troubled addition, in the form of Grinny Granny, who joins Wonky Donkey and Dinky Donkey in the daft donkey family delights related by Craig Smith and beguilingly illustrated by Katz Cowley.


No grey lady is this one with her swanky styled titfa and adornments of the jewelled kind.

There’s nothing this granny donkey likes better than to sit playing her banjo, sipping a cup of her favourite brew and dunking in her biscuits,

but there’s a snag of the dental kind; her false teeth just won’t stay in her mouth.

Occasionally however she does get a bit down in the mouth, not on account of her teeth (those can be put back pretty niftily) but when her family fail to visit for a seemingly long time. That makes her grumpy and cranky, until up trot her son Wonky and her granddaughter Dinky. Then back comes that toothy smile and it remains, lighting up her donkey countenance for weeks and weeks – hee haw how splendid is that!

Herein with its wonderful sounding dunks, plunky-plinks,

clunks, clinks, clanks and zonks, Craig’s ‘Hee Haw’ -ing cumulative narrative plonks along nicely in time with Granny’s banjo strumming; adorably depicted in Katz’s scenes of this gentle grinning granny jenny.

Little ones will love it especially when read by their own grannies. It’s great for developing awareness of rhyme and sound/symbol associations to boot (or maybe hoof).

Everything is Mine

Everything is Mine
Andrea D’Aquino
Tate Publishing

Meet Marcello Von Cauliflower Bonaparte Jackson, usually called Marcello by friends. He is, so he says, kind, clever and very loyal. There’s one snag however, out narrator pooch considers that everything belongs to him – yes everything.

A pink fluffy slipper? Definitely his – one’s surely enough for his ‘mum’. The pork chop on that plate? His assuredly (there’s no label saying it’s Leo’s after all.)

Ditto Squirrel’s acorn and even that tree. That’s sticks for the rest of Marcello’s life sorted. Indeed, the whole park is his so it’s his rules that must be followed.

So what about the entire universe? You guessed: that’s Marcello’s too. It’s on his ‘my stuff’ list.

It looks as though Marcello and his acquisitive nature are totally out of control.

Is there any chance that Leo might, just might show him what truly matters?

Perhaps owning ever more things isn’t really THE most important thing in life after all. This is definitely something that so many of us have worked out for ourselves during the on-going pandemic. Whether this fun story with its vital message was conceived pre-covid I’m not sure, but it’s certainly a timely one. The funky collage illustrations are superb, brilliantly expressive and I love the various footnotes – oops sorry paw notes – asides and comments by the bit part players. Great endpapers too.

The Bear and the Moon

The Bear and the Moon
Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien
Chronicle Children’s Books

A little bear wakes after a long sleep and spies something floating in the sky. At first it’s just a red dot, but as it comes closer he notices more; ‘red as a berry / and round like the moon / with a silver string drifting brightly in the breeze.’ Being of an investigative nature the bear goes to discover what he can. The two are soon engaged in a pas de deux

lasting till evening when the bear stops to eat and then settles down with his companion in the glowing moonlight.

Next morning though the two are soon up and about once more with bear rolling, sitting and cavorting with his new friend until … disaster. An over-enthusiastic bear hug ends the balloon’s life rendering it a scattering of red pieces, one attached to the silver string.

As evening comes Bear is left devastated. And full of guilt: ‘Bad bear, / he thought. / Bad, bad bear.’ With the night though as he swims miserably across the creek,

comes another gift from the sky to bring comfort and cheer as it ‘reached down to him and gently stroked his fur.’ And all is well once more: loving memories endure …

Written in spare, gentle words, Matthew Burgess’ poetic allegorical text is both potent and poignant, highlighting the power of friendship, and of loss. In artist Cátia Chien he has the perfect collaborator. Her mixed media illustrations with those changing viewpoints and colours, are sublime, and finely tuned to the changing moods of bear, from the delight of discovery right through to mourning and finally, acceptance (of self and of loss), and healing. Simply, beautiful.

The Museum of Me / Like A Giant


Here are two picture books kindly sent for review by Tate Publishing:


The Museum of Me
Emma Lewis

‘Everyone says I’m going to love the museums,’ so says the little girl narrator in this delightfully quirky book as we accompany her on a journey wherein she travels by bus, to a variety of museums, showing us what they are, and what each has to offer.


Therein she finds all manner of objects that fascinate her such as ancient toys very similar to her own, pottery,


strange birds and giant bugs, contemporary artworks and lots more besides.

Then there are museums outdoors too, sometimes in gardens,


and our narrator even contemplates the possibilities of a museum in space.
Finally, she takes us to see The Museum of Me – her very own collection of favourite things.
Now that’s a fantastic starting point, once you’ve shared with youngsters this smashing look at the delights that museums have to offer. I love the distinctive, collage style illustrations that imbue the entire book with a sense of the importance of individual responses to museums, indeed to the whole of life.

Why not suggest children create and curate their own personal museums featuring items from their lives and experiences? Such an activity offers both a personal response and a demonstration of the way in which museums the world over have often been created out of the lives and experiences of ordinary as well as extraordinary people. For now I’m going to start thinking of items for my museum of me, restricting it to (desert island discs style) ten.


Like A Giant
Marc Daniau and Yvan Duque

Take a giant – just awoken, a city child – ready and waiting, and a journey; those are the key elements of this picture book that is a wonderful celebration of the power of childhood imagination. Said journey takes the adventurers across the ocean, then moving at high speed beside a railway track, on up towards a wonderful mountainous region abundantly green where it’s time to slow down, stop and relish the serenity of the scene spreading out before them.

Then comes a soaring ride through the skies – snow softly falling – to see deserts, islands, hills and valleys, lakes and more. There’s a place to sate the travellers’ hunger, wonderous verdant gardens and woodlands to enchant and delight.

They’ll travel through all kinds of weather

and through a whole day and night, but though that entire trip has lasted just a short time, it has been an unforgettable, life-enhancing experience for the hero large and the hero small.

With incredibly powerful scenes by Yvan Duque and a travelogue commentary in the imagination of a small child by Marc Daniau, this is an awe-inspiring book to share slowly and meditatively, perhaps at bedtime.

The Runaway Pea Washed Away

The Runaway Pea Washed Away
Kjartan Poskitt and Alex Willmore
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The small green spherical runaway vegetable has already achieved VIPea status so far as this reviewer is concerned thanks to his cracking first outing in The Runaway Pea. Now he returns in a second delicious escapade starring himself but equally for me, his co-adventurer, the little spider that he encounters and proceeds to rescue having met same after being washed down the plug-hole and into the drain along with all the slime and mess. This, surprisingly, doesn’t spoil his fun; indeed, pea positively relishes his surroundings. It’s when he’s so doing that he comes upon the spider all of a panic that’s doing anything but enjoy the lack of a spot on which to stand its eight legs.


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However, the rescue effort quickly turns into an exciting experience – for one of the two anyhow – when they emerge into a stream. As they drift along, optimistic pea wants to take the opportunity to make some new friends; spider on the other hand, proffers several pieces of sage advice that do nothing to dampen pea’s spirits.

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Will the two ever see dry land and safety again?

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Actually it’s a case of yes and no, for the tale, rather like that water down the plug-hole, twists around perfectly to a wonderful conclusion that leaves things wide open for yet more adventures.


Bring it on say I and so will countless young listeners who will doubtless be delighted by pea’s unsquashable joie de vivre. Author Kjartan Poskitt and illustrator Alex Willmore have dished up another cracking rhyming tale with wonderful characters so cleverly given real personalities despite comprising mere spheres and (in the arachnid’s case) the odd few single lines. HapPEA reading.

Count On Me

Count On Me
Miguel Tanco
Tate Publishing

The little girl in this story wherein every one of her family members has a passion, struggles to find hers – at first that is. Her dad loves to paint, her mum loves entomology, her brother is a budding musician but none of these find favour with our young narrator.
Nor do those activities she tries – dancing, cooking, singing or sports, for instance:

not a single one arouses passion in her, worthy though they might be.

All else has failed but what about maths? Now there’s something that really fuels her enthusiasm – a passion at last! Yes maths is amazing

and it’s everywhere once you start looking: there’s an abundance of geometric shapes in the playground, at the lake,

in the block buildings she constructs. There are perfect curves to be discovered; number conundrums to solve over a family meal; then there’s symmetry in making a paper plane, as well as the excitement of launching and tracking its trajectory once complete.

As the girl reminds us, being passionate about maths can be strange to some people – hard to comprehend in fact – but as she says in conclusion, ‘ there are infinite ways to see the world … And maths is one of them.’
Seeing the world through the lens of a mathematical mind can most certainly seem well-nigh incomprehensible. It certainly was to this reviewer whose amazing dad (a Cambridge mathematician), maths puzzle solver extraordinaire, and for whom maths was inherent in his job, failed to understand how it was my least favourite subject at secondary school, and one I couldn’t wait to drop after O-level.

It’s great for those with a maths aversion as well as to demonstrate the power and importance of passions, whatever they are. I love the way in which Tanco shows readers the world through that mathematic lens, illustrating so many different concepts in his watercolour spreads of everyday activities, while also introducing mathematical vocabulary in the girl’s narrative. I love too the final ‘My Maths’ notebook that explains and illustrates the mathematical terms and concepts that are part and parcel of the story. Perhaps if I’d had this gem of a picture book as a child who knows …

The Secret Life of Trees

The Secret Life of Trees
Moira Butterfield and Vivian Mineker
Words & Pictures

Oakheart the Brave, oldest tree in the forest wherein it stands, acts as narrator of this revealing look at what happens beneath the bark and ‘neath the branches, below the roots even, of trees –arguably THE most important life form on our planet. Some of what we read contains truth in the form of fiction, some is fact.

To begin this fascinating book, Oakheart tells of how a marauding mouse seizes the acorn containing the very seed from which emerges the little shoot that is to become our enormous narrator.

He goes on to regale readers with arboreal tales including a version of an Indian one, The Banyan Tree, as well as The Sky-High Tree from Hungary

and some season-related stories: from Scotland comes The Fairy Tree, from Norway, The Summer Storm and with its autumnal setting we have The Tree of Life from Persia, while the final tree tale Magic in the Forest comes from Britain and is a legend about the wizard , Merlin.

There’s plenty of science too, relating to photosynthesis;

facts and figures about the oak’s growth; information about its animal inhabitants – small and very small; how trees communicate; seasonal change is discussed and much more, concluding with the all-important How to be Tree-Happy that explains briefly how to care for our precious trees and how you might grow one yourself.

Moira’s mix of information and story works wonderfully so the book should have a wide appeal; every spread offers an exciting visual experience too. I love the different viewpoints and clever ways of presenting information such as that of Secrets Inside Us.

Thank you Oakheart for your special gift.

The New Girl

The New Girl
Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher
Graffeg

Softly spoken, sensitively rendered and enormously moving is Nicola and Cathy’s latest picture book narrated by a member of the class into which the new girl arrives ‘wrapped up like a parcel’ and not understanding a word that was said by her classmates.

Almost unbelievably, the newcomer is set apart to eat her lunch on account of its ‘funny’ smell and as school ends she walks away quite alone. This cruel behaviour continues day after day as winter arrives bringing with it dark and dreariness.

Then one day into that dark something wonderful appears on the teacher’s desk.

Each day after that another one appears somewhere in the classroom bringing with it feelings of warmth and cheer until the beautiful objects stop coming.

At their teacher’s suggestion, the children start trying to make their own paper flowers, the narrator unsuccessfully … until the new girl shows her how.

Flower making isn’t all that’s learned in that classroom on that particular day though; so too is a new language and the importance of accepting difference, of understanding and of friendship …

Cathy Fisher’s illustrations are startlingly realistic, full of feeling and atmosphere – the ideal complement to Nicola’s text.

Primary classrooms should definitely add this to their collections.

Fearless: The story of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Fearless: The story of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Gattaldo
Otter-Barry Books

In this book paying tribute to his friend Daphne Caruana Galizia the fearless journalist assassinated in Malta in 2017, illustrator/artist Gattaldo has created his first children’s book.

Herein he shows her as a lover of stories and reading from an early age. A person whose reading taught her to think for herself, no matter what.

A person unafraid to expose wrong doing in her journalism.

A person whose belief that peaceful protest could change people’s lives and resulted in her being arrested during a protest gathering and put in a dark cell for two nights. A person who, despite being called a witch and having other awful things done to her by those fearing exposure, continued through her journalistic writing, to fight for what she believed in, and to make the world a better place.

Cognisant of the fact that children love to read about fictional detectives and investigators as he did as a child, Gattaldo’s powerful illustrations and succinct writing style capture the spirit of his friend effectively making this, not only a tribute to one person, but also a contribution to the importance of freedom to choose for ourselves and to freedom itself.

Part of the book’s aim is to promote good journalism to children through the story of this inspiring investigative journalist, the investigation into whose untimely death is still ongoing. Children are always asking questions: it’s how they find out about the world in which they live: here’s something that will, hopefully, inspire them to continue so to do.

(Additional biographical details and some family photographs are included in the back matter.)

Both Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders endorse this book; it’s an important one that should be in every primary school collection.

Julian at the Wedding

Julian at the Wedding
Jessica Love
Walker Book
Love, love love this stunner of a book wherein we see the return of mermaid- loving Julian – at a wedding. Not his of course but he does pretty much steal the show.

As the story starts, we see dapper looking Julian arriving at the celebration accompanied by Abuela, being greeted by a friend of hers who is accompanied by a little flower girl, Marisol. Both children are to be in the wedding – a ‘party of love’. And so it is – in more ways than one.

During the meal, Julian, Marisol and the brides’ dog, Gloria decide to make a break for it

and off they head to a “fairy house” as Julian calls the weeping willow. All three have terrific and rather mucky fun with the result that Marisol’s dress is dappled with paw prints and mud splodges.

Julian comes to the rescue with a creative idea and thanks to the magic of that fairy house … a transformation takes place. Now both parties are dressed divinely and just how they like to be.

Then they’re discovered by their grandmothers– time for Marisol to fess up and face the music but does anybody mind? Of course not: the brides welcome their return to the party and the loving festivities continue … under the stars.

There’s an abundance of love and tenderness, just the right amount of rebellion and wildness, and of course, individuality, acceptance and understanding.

Jessica Love’s illustrations (gouache and watercolour) are simply divine – vibrant and brimming over with glorious details making every spread one to pore over.

Sheer joy from cover to cover.

Coming to England

Coming to England
Floella Benjamin and Diane Ewen
Macmillan Children’s Books

In a colourful autobiographical picture book story of her own life and that of her family, Floella Benjamin celebrates the Windrush Generation, many of whom have been so badly treated as a consequence of our government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

It’s a beautifully written and illustrated account of the move from her childhood home in Trinidad

to England, undertaken first by her Dardie and then a year later by her Marmie and two siblings; then finally Floella and her remaining two brothers.

This new version will surely open the eyes of young children to long voyages undertaken during the middle of the twentieth century, by many, many families from Caribbean Islands who came to England. Certainly it was a shock in so many ways, not least being the cold and greyness in stark contrast to the vibrancy and warmth of Trinidad.

It still hurts to read of the treatment she and her brothers and sisters initially received from other children when they started at school in London;

but the book ends on a happy upbeat note with Floella receiving recognition for all the incredible work she has done for children.

Apart from one or two scenes of England, Diane Ewen’s mixed media illustrations are aglow with rich colours that really make the images come to life on the page.

The way to overcome adversity is through courage and determination: Baroness Floella’s life is an inspiring example of this, and it’s fantastic to see a version of her life story for a younger audience than her earlier 2016 memoir.

All KS1 classrooms need this special book.

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears
Roger McGough and Greg McLeod
Otter-Barry Books

‘The crocodile said to the chimpanzee, “Chimpanzee, I want to be free. The jungle jangle’s not for me.” Said crocodile goes on to utter a similar sentiment to other jungle residents – mosquito,

parakeet, alligator, hippo, a piranha fish, as well as mum, faithfully promising to write to her.

Then with rucksack on back, the crocodile glides off downstream heading seawards. Once there a clever disguise is donned and breathing deeply, the creature dives beneath the waves, jetting towards a banana boat. This little croc seems to have everything worked out.

Safely aboard, our traveller spends much of the voyage sleeping and the rest consuming healthy fare. Then, having docked, it’s more stowing away, now on wheeled transport, destination the big city.

First job in this strange new environment is to honour that promise to mum. The start of a series of Dear Mother letters is penned, telling of London’s dreary strangeness.

These epistles continue over time as croc. sees the sights of the city by day …

and by night. Then comes the snow and enough is enough for our roving reptile: the jungle calls once more and so …

This is an absolutely brilliant read aloud tale (make sure you read it carefully to yourself first though). Roger McGough’s narrative verse is bursting with wit as are those affecting letters crocodile writes home. The inherent humour is wonderfully reflected in animator Greg McLeod’s delectably quirky scenes of the intrepid traveller undertaking the journey of a lifetime. The crocodile’s eye views of our capital city are absolutely priceless.

Assuredly it’s a case of ‘east, west, home’s best’. I can’t wait to share this with young humans.

Pirates vs. Monsters / The Knight Who Might

Thanks to Maverick Publishing for sending these two picture books for review

Pirates vs. Monsters
David Crosby and Lee Cosgrove

Three pirates, Hector (tall, strong and bold), Sue (curly haired and fearsome) and George (rather rotund) meet in their local hostelry one foggy night.

They boast about their monstrous conquests; Hector’s of the poison-spitting Hockler;

Sue’s of the double-headed Crunk …

and George’s of the limb- gobbling Muncher that had feasted on one of his lower limbs,

regaling one another with their modes of over-coming the gruesome beasties.

Truth or fantasy? That is the question.

Meanwhile through the fog a ship approaches … Fiction or phantom? Err … now that WOULD be telling.

This rip, roaring rhyming yarn from debut picture book author David Crosby exudes daftness and delicious mock-scariness, brought into being so the characters almost leap off the pages in Lee Cosgrove’s zany scenes of groggy picaroons and maniacal monstrosities.

I envisage this one becoming a much requested storytime tale in foundation stage classes and families with young landlubbers.

As will this one, coming soon:

The Knight Who Might
Lou Treleaven and Kyle Beckett

With her repeat refrain ‘ “You might not” said the … / (It was a magic …. ) / “But I might,” said the knight.’ (insert ‘sword’, or ‘helmet’ where it fits), Lou Treleaven entertains with her tale of yore wherein the inept titular knight aspires to attain knightdom but discovers that it’s a long road so to do.

Yes, he has the accoutrements,  (or rather he did have); but with their scathing comments– “He’ll be exhausted,” (that’s the horse.) “He’ll be cut to pieces,” (spoken by the sword) and “He’ll lose his head,” (helmet’s put down)

our hopeful champ of derring-do sets out on foot to meet his first combatant ‘The Lord with the Scary Looking Sword’ in a tournament.

After a change of heart, those bit part players (now out of hiding) are somewhat more upbeat than their owner, as the two contestants gallop towards each other.

If you want to know the outcome of their combat, then you’ll need your own copy of Lou’s olde story of trying, replete with its puns and onomatopoeia. It’s illustrated with appropriate verve and humour in Kyle Beckett’s slapstick style scenes of clanking-clonking, stomping, donking and plonking.

Mischief and Mayhem: Good Dog / Vampire Peter

Good Dog!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Our canine narrator lives with his human owner, Melvin, and they rub along pretty well together, with Melvin giving out a fair few affectionate, “Good Dog!” smiling affirmations that make the receiver go all over waggy and excited.
Then yesterday what should be left standing irresistibly, deliciously aromatic on the table but …

Needless to say, upon discovering the culprit consumer of a sizeable slice, here’s what was said …

Time to put an amazing smile-inducing plan into action, the only trouble being our narrator doesn’t choose the most suitable time to enact said plan; the consequence being a less than enthusiastic reception, and the ensuing of a ‘boo-hoo’ kind of a night.
So, what about plan B – that ‘genius idea’ as uttered straight from the pooch’s mouth? Could that perhaps result in the much-desired words from Melvin?

Or might yet another reparative plan be required? …
Even a cynophobic reviewer such as this one couldn’t help falling for the well-intentioned (mostly) narrator of Sean’s hilarious tale of the ups and downs of a canine’s life. David Barrow truly brings to life the waggish creature making it leap into life, almost right off the pages. Those expressions are utterly beguiling and likely to have readers eating right out if its paws, pizza or not. And make sure you follow the cat’s continued consternation throughout too.

Vampire Peter
Ben Manley and Hannah Peck
Andersen Press
With his black cape and frilly collar, wild hair and fangs, new to the class, Peter soon earns a reputation as ‘baddest boy’ in the school. Indeed, his behaviour is somewhat strange and his deeds land him in considerable trouble with the teachers,

as well as resulting in a distinct lack of friends among his classmates.
Inevitably when the class gerbil goes missing, the obvious assumption is that Peter is answerable.

However, there’s a mysterious somebody narrating who knows otherwise, not only about that particular incident but also about the reality of Peter’s ‘bad’ behaviour.
Can both parties exonerate themselves?

With a classroom setting, this is a really fun demonstration that being different doesn’t equate with being bad: we shouldn’t categorise anyone on account of looks or mere assumptions. Make your own judgements rather than following popular opinion.
I love the comical telling and memorable characters, especially Peter. A terrific read at Halloween or any time.