Mother and Daughter Dress-Up Dolls: Fashion from Long Ago / How to Speak Astromech with BB-8

These two books present opportunities to learn something new and have great fun in so doing.

Mother and Daughter Dress-Up Dolls: Fashion from Long Ago
Gracie Swan and Felicity French
Nosy Crow (in collaboration with the National Trust)

With this hardback book, children can press out eight dolls – four large and four small – mothers and daughters – dress them and learn lots about fashion from Medieval, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian times, as well as the Twenties, the Thirties and every other decade through to the 1970s.

Isabella and her mother Beatrice don their finest attire to attend a medieval banquet anticipating tasty food, loud music and acrobats to entertain them.

Margery and daughter Alice will head to the market once they’ve put on their warm woollen dresses, shawls and bonnets hoping to sell all their homemade bread.

Turn each of the press-out garments around and there’s an alternative story with two different characters, each time – a clever idea that provides a whole set of new opportunities.

Children will love discovering what their older relations wore and those before them, when they reach the twentieth century characters and their geometric mini-dresses, those jump suits, bell bottoms-trousers, maxi dresses and more. It’s amazing how everything comes around again!

In addition to the main items of clothing there’s a page of accessories and shoes to complete every one of the forty outfits. What more can aspiring fashionistas ask? Perhaps for a timeline – but there’s even one of those on the back inside cover.

Hours of fun learning to be had from this fascinating activity book.

How to Speak Astromech with BB-8
I.M. Rollin, illustrated by JAKe
Chronicle Children’s Books

Star Wars enthusiasts will love this sound book- a communication manual – that celebrates the enormously popular, adorably quirky droid character BB-8 that appeared in several of the films.

Included are ten built-in droidspeak audio clips, with translations and conversation tips, and funny illustrated scenarios that will help readers understand and get the best out of their own droid companion in a galaxy far, far away.

Astromech qualities such as playfulness, resourcefulness, determination, trustworthiness and bravery, demonstrated by means of BB-8’s adventures, are recognised herein. Fans will lap up the insider jokes too.

A fun and handy guide indeed, that fans young, and not so young, will delight in.

Build a Skyscraper

Build a Skyscraper
Paul Farrell
Pavilion Books

Following on from his Build a Castle, graphic artist and illustrator Paul Farrell has, with a different colour scheme, created another terrific set of 64 slot-together building cards, this time with the intention that users build something very tall.

I put my set in front of Samuel (5) who delightedly seized it saying, “That’s a bit like the castle one”, clearly recognising the distinctive graphic style of Paul Farrell.

He then spent the next hour engrossed in building, wanting to know if he could build a skyscraper as tall as himself. “I bet it’s nearly up to my head” he commented. (estimating). He then proceeded to find out, carefully slotting the pieces together concentrating hard the entire time

and getting progressively more excited as it grew higher than his shoulder level.

When he put the final piece in place he was thrilled to find his skyscraper was taller than he is.

During the building, Samuel’s big sister came in and she was told to see where it reached on her body which she duly did, with Samuel suggesting he’d need 4 more pieces to get to her height. (estimating again).

Samuel had been watched throughout the building process by his baby sister Faith (6 months) who was clearly fascinated by what was going on. Samuel then went outside for a little while for a kickabout with a ball and before so doing he built a barricade around his construction with cushions and other items.

As soon as he left, Faith started rolling towards his model with a mischievous look about her, seemingly intent on destruction. However, she couldn’t get close enough to do the deed. PHEW! The tower was saved.

There are SO many learning possibilities presented by this set. Samuel clearly was using his fine motor and manipulative skills, his imagination, and several maths skills. The potential for creative play by adding toy characters and working with one or more children is enormous. I suspect it could embrace all the areas of the early years curriculum if used in a foundation stage setting; and if put into a KS1 class, there are further possibilities.

An excellent resource for home or school use.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts / Flip Flap Snap! Pets

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Award-winning illustrator Axel Scheffler has created another in the Flip Flap series and the possibilities just might be even more bonkers than ever with this one of minibeast muddle ups that can be created from the dozen real minibeasts – over 120 if my reckoning is correct.

So, what would you get if you cross a butterfly with a bluebottle? That would be none other than a buttottle – Flutter! Flutter! Bzzz! Bzzz!

And what about an earthworm with a grasshopper? That, naturally (or rather unnaturally), is an earthwopper.

Youngsters (and grown-ups) will delight in discovering all kinds of splendidly silly creatures and their weird and wonderful sounds in this playful book.

Giggles galore for sure thanks to Alex Scheffler..

You’ll have to wait till early September for this one:

Flip Flap Snap! Pets
Carmen Saldaña
Templar Books

Want to meet a rabbigar? Or maybe you’d like to see a gecky? By flipping the flaps little ones can create some petty permutations at the same time as learning a little from the pet narrators whose rhyming information is accessed by lifting the flaps on the left-hand side of each double spread.

The fun pop-up facial features that are part and parcel of Carmen Saldaña’s amusing illustrations will likely encourage toddlers to play for some time with this jolly mix-and-match book.

My First Cook Book

My First Cook Book
David Atherton, illustrated by Rachel Stubbs
Walker Books

I’m far from an expert cook, nor have I really any aspirations so to be as my partner serves up delicious vegetarian dinners every evening. I wasn’t one of the many people who turned to baking during lockdown but nonetheless I was motivated to try some of the exciting recipes in 2019 The Great British Bake Off Winner, David Atherton’s book, aimed primarily at children. David has also been an International Health Advisor and is a fervent believer in the importance of teaching young children about healthy eating.

In My First Cook Book, he presents over forty nutritious recipes organised under four headings: ‘Starting the Day’, ‘Lunches and simple suppers’, ‘Delicious treats’ and ‘Teatime bakes’; and despite its title, this is very much a family book; adult supervision is required for each recipe. The author is an advocate of cooking together as a family and before the recipes, provides an illustrated list of basic kit for cooks, definitions of some terms used, notes on measurement and more.

I’m sure little ones will absolutely love the Banana bear pancakes (so long as they like bananas) – fantastic to see that young spinach leaves are included in the batter mix.

I was especially drawn to the Edible chia bowls that you can fill with whatever you so choose. I’m going to use a plant-based yogurt as the only slight deviation from the ‘live plain yogurt’ suggested in the ingredients.

If you’re thinking of lunch during a walk, why not try the Piggy buns as part of your picnic, filled with something of your family’s choosing. They look almost too cute to consume.

Among the ‘Delicious treats’ are goodies both savoury and sweet including Hummus lion and Energy stars – now they look truly tempting.

From ‘Teatime bakes’ I’m sure few people will be able to resist the Mega-chocolatey cake. I’ll say no more, other than that the recipe given makes 24 servings: what are you waiting for …

I had to laugh at David’s comment about pretending to be a dog as a kid in his Peanut butter bones introduction. It took me back to a reception class I once taught where for the first 2 weeks a little girl insisted she was a dog and crawled everywhere, even down the corridor to the hall for an assembly. The head was less than impressed with me: now these biscuits I’ll make for Farhannah, whom I’ll never forget.

I could go on raving about the recipes herein but I’ll merely say, get hold of his book and tuck in. It’s terrific! Made all the more so thanks to Rachel Stubbs’ fantastic illustrations of both the step-by-step food creation and the families having fun in the processes of cooking and consuming.

Sleuth & Solve History

Sleuth & Solve History
Victor Escandell and Ana Gallo
Chronicle Books

This new assemblage of detective fun enigmas from Victor Escandell (illustrator) and Ana Gallo (author) all have a historical theme.

The brain-bewildering mysteries begin way back in prehistoric Stone Age times with a meal-stealing episode and end with a contemporary conundrum relating to an astronaut who locked herself out of her computer.

Before the sleuthing starts, there are spreads setting out such things as how to go about finding solutions; ways to play (solo, as a family or in teams) and a table of contents in timeline form.

Then the real puzzling begins with an introductory scene setting paragraph, cartoon style visuals, captions and speech bubbles for each mini mystery; and across the top left-hand page of each one is a rating for difficulty, a categorisation of how to solve it (by using logic or imagination), and the number of points for finding the answer (no cheating by peeping under the flap at the outset).

Puzzlers can test their skills in the Mesolithic era; the Babylonian Empire; in Ancient Egypt; among the Ancient Greeks, the Celts (two double spreads needed for this one); with a Syracuse king who called on Archimedes to assist him;

they can try catching a jewel thief during the French revolution; emulate young Thomas Edison, or Sherlock Holmes even.

Just right for youngsters aspiring to become the next Poirot or Precious Ramoswe. Hone up those ‘little grey cells’ and off you go.

Terrific screen-free fun aplenty guaranteed.

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book / Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles, Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers, 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities

The Singing Mermaid Make and Do Book
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s an activity book based on the popular The Singing Mermaid picture book from a few years back that’s especially apt for fans of the story and those who enjoy creating.

There are more than a dozen art/craft activities many of which are mermaid related such as the seaweed crown and tail patterns. For their simplicity I particularly like the ‘Mermaid Tail Footprints’ that can be turned into merpeople

and the sea creatures made from shells and pipe cleaners .
Having made the circus performers, those who want something more sophisticated, can go on to create a circus tent theatre and even put on a show.

Most projects have a lead-in quote from the story, and all have a list of items required, clear step-by-step instructions, some ‘tips, tricks and twists’ and funky illustrations by Lydia Monks. There are also 200+ stickers and some templates should youngsters feel the need to use them.

With school now over for the holidays, this book provides hours of crafty fun.

Jumbo Pad of My First Puzzles
Jumbo Pad of Brain Teasers
501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities
Highlights for Children

Hours and hours of puzzling for youngsters can be found between the covers of these three.

My First Puzzles is aimed at under 6s and the Brain Teasers are for those age 6+, while both age groups will find plenty of things to enjoy in Dinosaur Joke-Tivities.

Younger puzzlers can hunt for hidden items in a variety of scenes, or search for things that are the same and different, or begin with a given letter sound to look for matching pairs, there are mazes, pictures to colour and to adorn with some of the 150 stickers provided, and a wealth of ‘silly things’ to find.

There are over 125 Brain Teasers some of which are of a mathematical nature. Others offer thematic words to unscramble, puzzles that require logical thinking to solve, words to find that rhyme with a given one, quizzes, riddles and much more. (all solutions provided).

With cartoons, tongue twisters, riddles and of course, jokes, there’s silliness galore in 501 Dinosaur Joke-Tivities as well as plenty to exercise the little grey cells of users. There’s even a story to finish. Here’s one of the jokes: ‘What dinosaur loved playing with blocks?’ – answer, Lego-saurus.

With long holidays now upon us, these offer indoor, screen-free fun aplenty.

Monsieur Roscoe On Holiday

Monsieur Roscoe On Holiday
Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books

Jim Field has clearly been doing a fair bit of sitting on his own sit-upon, as he’s both author and illustrator of this picture book. The aim (as well as to entertain) is to set youngsters on a journey to becoming bi-lingual as they join the enormously endearing Monsieur Roscoe and his goldfish, Fry, for a holiday.

First comes the packing – always a bothersome task – and then with luggage loaded behind, it’s onto his bike and away through the big city to the railway station to catch the train.

It’s a close call, but fairly soon it’s time to meet up with Eva for a spot of camping. Learning to put up a tent courtesy of your rabbit friend, once you get to the campsite isn’t the best idea Monsieur R. even if you have come with all the gear.

Next morning Monsieur Roscoe and Fry bid ‘au revoir’ to Eva and board a bus bound for the ski slopes where there’s a rendezvous with another friend, Stan. Seemingly our canine holidaymaker has hidden talents …

The next destination appears a whole lot more peaceful. Caro is certainly happy to see her friends and even allows Monsieur Roscoe to take the wheel of her speedboat but it’s evident that a certain dog needs to hone his steering skills when it comes to watercraft.

The penultimate stop is the seaside where Jojo and Didi eagerly greet the new arrivals. After a splash dans la mer comes the last leg of the journey and a meet up with Dougal duck for a spot of indulgence at the busy village café.

However, even the most charming of travellers must go home eventually, and so it is with Monsieur Roscoe and Fry. Assuredly they’ll have lots to tell their friends back in their home city and who knows, perhaps after a good night’s sleep the two of them will start thinking about their next adventure …

Jim introduces youngsters to plenty of common French words and phrases in the course of this story of the delightful duo. Every double spread has a wealth of humorous detail to explore and giggle over; Fry is an absolute hoot

and there’s even a seek-and-find element to the whole thing, for on the final page are lists of items to spot at the six locations featured.

Bravo Monsieur Field – un livre divertissant et éducatif.

Animal Scramble / Space Puzzles

Animal Scramble
Lucy Volpin
Templar Publishing

Whether it’s counting the curly haired among the crowd of camels in the camp, or searching for the five different fruits in the clutches of the acrobatic apes, youngsters will surely enjoy honing their observation skills as they peruse each and every one of Lucy Volpin’s, wonderfully droll, enormously engaging animal scenes created with coloured pencils.

Each of the spreads has an alliterative title and presents an immersive display of animals, (either large or small) that provides such fun possibilities as ‘Playing with Penguins’, ‘Building with Beetles’ ‘Flipping with Frogs’ – my favourite I think,

or, ‘Swimming with Sharks’ – perhaps not!

There’s an introductory factual paragraph and on the opposite page some thought-provoking questions that invite readers to search for objects – a square fish for instance, count, or perhaps ponder upon their own opinions in relation to say ‘which hairstyle would you like?’ on the ‘Acrobatics with Apes’ spread; or “Who do you think is leader of the pack?’ from this one …

Playfulness abounds throughout and the book concludes with a handful of additional questions to consider.

Assuredly a spotting book that merits revisiting over and over, and one that offers an absolute wealth of language potential if a small group of children look at it together.

Space Puzzles
Highlights for Children

In this bumper book of more than 100 cosmological settings, children have to search for over 1800 objects hidden in scenes ranging from a space race to an alien encounter, and a trip on a space scooter to a classroom in orbit.

Each puzzle page contains all manner of likely and unlikely items hidden in plain sight for the eagle-eyed to find, each of which has a visual prompt in the surrounding border. (Answers supplied at the back of the book in case you’re stuck.)

In these black and white puzzles there are moonstruck bears, aliens visiting a drive-in restaurant, a host of animal star gazers and a stellar souvenir shop to stop off at in the space museum to name just a few.

Hours of immersive enjoyment, especially for space lovers (that’s an awful lot of children) who will have fun sharpening their observation skills as well as their concentration: just what’s needed during holidays when you can’t get outdoors.

Build Your Own Mars Colony

Build Your Own Mars Colony
illustrated by Jana Glatt
Laurence King Publishing

What better way for youngsters to spend some lockdown time than trying out a bit of space exploration? By means of the contents of this nifty box of cardboard sheets they can do just that, blasting themselves into the deepest depths of beyond in a rocket and then coming to land on the red planet aka Mars.

The scope for imaginary play is terrific once all the pieces from the ten sturdy sheets have been assembled and the colony constructed. What does it feel like enclosed in a space ship hurtling through the pitch-blackness? How does life on a new planet feel compared to that on earth?

The laser cut, double-sided pieces pop-out easily providing all that’s needed for an entire mission Mars colony to be built.

Survival and all that entails have been considered here: there’s a dome-shaped habitat that can provide shelter, half a dozen human characters and some animal ones, a variety of vehicles and the ‘technical manual for interplanetary pioneers’ giving basic plans, unfolds into a base on which to put all the splendidly detailed parts once slotted together.

For adults looking for ways to keep their children engaged, this has great potential; it ticks a host of educational boxes but best of all, it’s terrific fun and encourages those all important flights of fancy.

Samuel (just 5) enjoyed assembling the pieces

and once he’d done so, he and his sister (7) played together with them, and Emmanuelle, having added a few items of her own, wrote a chapter of her story about one of the characters setting up a school on Mars.

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome

Find Tom in Time: Ancient Rome
Fatti Burke
Nosy Crow

Published in collaboration with The British Museum, this is another Fatti Burke search-and-find story that plunges young Tom and his adventure-loving archaeologist Granny Bea’s mischievous cat Digby back in time, on this occasion, by means of a coin from the time of Hadrian.

As with his previous adventure, Tom visits all the major sites and his first stop in Rome is the bustling market forum. Where though are Granny Bea and Digby? The search is on but there’s so much else to spot at the forum before moving on to the next location – Circus Maximus where there’s a chariot race under way.

From there Tom tries the beautiful Pantheon building,

a sculptor’s studio; a busy aqueduct building construction site, blocks of flats called insulae (Latin for island); then further up the street, the public baths.

Still Granny and Digby remain illusive so he tries the harbour, two villas – one with a banquet under way,

and even catches sight of the emperor in a chariot as he searches the street, finally ending up at the huge Colosseum amphitheatre. Could it be that here he’ll finally catch up Granny and her cat?

All ends happily of course with the three reunited and back in their own time.

Every alluring spread is packed with fine details to pore over as well as a list of items to find (from a bird nesting in a centurion’s helmet to a fainting lady) and plenty of facts in bite-sized chunks.
Also included – solutions (in case you can’t find all the 100+ items), a glossary and index.
Especially worth getting hold of if your child or class is studying Ancient Rome but it’s lots of immersive fun learning in any case. Perhaps just what’s needed right now.

Only a Tree Knows How To Be a Tree/ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons

Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree
Mary Murphy
Otter-Barry Books

There are SO many things about a tree to appreciate and take delight in. First and foremost is its inherent and unique beauty, but it also provides shelter for all manner of insects, birds,

and other small animals, for as the author says ‘Only a Tree knows / how to be a tree.’

In similar enthusiastic fashion, Mary talks of and celebrates other things in the natural world – birds, dogs, water with its plethora of fish,

Earth whereon all the things mentioned have their homes, but also for its turning that brings both night and day, and the seasons; and there’s the universe with its multitude of planets … “But Earth is our home / and only Earth knows how to be Earth.’

There are people too of all kinds to celebrate every one special and different: these are represented by a host of joyful children

playing, talking, pretending, one even meditates. Indeed children feature in all but one spread. I love Mary’s inclusive, brightly hued, detailed pictures of them all. These alone offer plenty to look at, enjoy and talk about.

Nothing is too insignificant to celebrate here from the tiniest creature to the entire universe. Share, pause, reflect and feel awe.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Changing Seasons
illustrations by Max Williams/ Bear Hunt Films Ltd. Susanna Chapman
Walker Entertainment

No matter the weather or the season, youngsters will find something of interest in this interactive seasonal guide. There are a number of weather related investigations some of which can be done at home, others will involve going out doors. You might make your own rain gauge; or perhaps find a good spot for some cloud spotting.

On a clear wintry night, what about some moon spotting or looking at the stars? Or on a fine spring day, why not take the opportunity to get outside and look for signs of new life – there might be baby animals around.

Then once back indoors you can adorn a field with spring flowers using some of the stickers provided at the back of the book.

There are also seasonal recipes, crafts and I particularly like the idea of ‘Go green lucky dip’ where you can use the discs provided but also add you own counters.

With plenty of fun, learning opportunities, certainly this is a sticker activity book and much more.

Build A Castle

Build a Castle
Paul Farrell
Pavilion Books

Young children are continuously sensing, relating, observing, investigating, thinking and communicating. In so doing they research and create theories about how and why the world and things in it, work. We adults – teachers, parents, playworkers and others – have a unique opportunity to support this through our work and our play, through the arts and our relationships with children.

One such opportunity is presented in this Build a Castle kit that Samuel (age 4) was enormously excited to investigate.
The kit comprises 64 cleverly designed, slot-together building cards (105 x 69mm) – turrets, arrow-slit windows, portcullises, roofs, walls, flags and other things which can be assembled both upwards and outwards, to create a medieval wonder, or many.
Samuel spent a couple of hours completely absorbed, finding out how to slot the pieces together and working on ways to construct.

Having unpacked the pieces he unfolded the ‘Basic Building guide’ booklet and perused it, trying to match the various different cards with the design illustrated. He then began building, trying things out, and altering his design until he’d both used all the pieces and was satisfied with his creation.

His concentration never wavered

and having partly completed his castle he went and got two wooden figures from his toy box and added those, playing and storying with them inside the various rooms as he built.

What a cool way in which to play and learn. I thoroughly recommend Build a Castle for individuals, families, foundation stage settings and schools.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

Grown-ups Never Do That / What’s Going On Here?

Grown-ups Never Do That
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

‘Adults never misbehave.’ So says the opening line of well-known collaborators Cali and Chaud’s latest offering.
But there’s a team of young sleuths at work who might just disprove the veracity of that statement and we then accompany them through the book.

Of course, they’re absolute paragons of virtue these mature people. So much so that following Cali’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Adults are always good’ on the penultimate spread he concludes with the sound advice, ‘So you really should be just like them.’

However those youngsters who have been spying on the yelling, bad temperedness, cheating, sulking, messiness, lateness,

bad manners, time wasting and the other grown-up behaviours they’ve witnessed, may well think otherwise.

The brevity of Cali’s ironic narrative is countered by Chaud’s detailed comical visuals

making for a diverting book that will please readers young and not so young.

What’s Going On Here?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books

This is a mix-and-match book wherein Tallec, in his typical skittish manner, invites readers to engage in storying with a weird and wonderful cast of characters – animal and a couple of human ones – all of which are sporting rather ridiculous headwear.
You can smile at the attire of each, as you read the related plot piece and ponder the question posed before flipping to and fro to try the plethora of possible permutations that the split pages offer.

I’ve used similarly designed books (three-way split pages) with under-confident readers of all ages needing a morale boost, and I’d do the same with this somewhat more sophisticated one.

Deep in the Ocean / The Big Sticker Book of Birds

Deep in the Ocean
Lucie Brunellière
Abrams Appleseed

In this large format board book, readers follow Oceanos, a shiny silver submarine, as it takes an exploratory voyage into the depths of the oceans.
From the first opening, we’re immersed in the ocean’s waters along with the submarine’s scientific crew

but as their craft dives deep and travels through a deep abyss, a fierce storm blows up, whisking the little shiny submarine right off its intended course.

Instead, eddying whirlpools cause it to journey to the polar waters of the Arctic; then it’s pulled by a blue whale towards tropical waters of a coral reef, travelling on until one imagines, it resurfaces, with the crew having collected a wealth of information.

There is a free accompanying 10-minute, atmospheric sound track available to download, though to get the most out of the dual experience, you need to synchronise the track timings with page turns.

It’s easy to get lost in the colourful ecosystems with their standout bright flora and fauna depicted in Brunellière’s multi-layered, finely detailed spreads that do a splendid job of capturing the awe and immensity of our ocean ecosystems.

Dive in and be amazed at the riches therein.

The Big Sticker Book of Birds
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

Following Yuval’s wonderful The Big Book of Birds comes an activity book on the same theme.

Readers are in the company of Polly the Pigeon. She guides us through as we’re told, ‘the feathery world of birds’ and all that’s needed for the journey is a pencil, some colouring pens and ‘a flighty imagination’. Some of the latter might be used in deciding how to adorn the pages with the 200+ stickers provided at the end of the book.

There’s a wealth of fascinating facts embedded within the spreads that are allocated either to specific kinds of birds such as albatrosses or puffins, or to avian topics including feathers, nesting, and migration.

Children might accept Yuval’s invitation to complete a maze,

design a feather for a new bird species, spot the difference, design a bird box, imagine and draw what a dozen magpies might have picked up in their beaks and more. Or what about playing a game of Blackbird bingo or adding foliage to a tree for wild birds to hide among?

I love the way all Yuval’s creatures be they birds or other, have a slightly mischievous look in their eyes, which adds to the allure of the already engaging pages.

Immersive and fun while unobtrusively educating the user(s).

This is Frog / Let’s Find the Tiger

This is Frog
Harriet Evans and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books

Rainforest dwelling Frog (a tree frog) needs help with everyday life and little ones can help him by following the author’s suggestions throughout the story.
Occasionally though the outcome is somewhat unexpected as when having followed him up the page, we discover Frog now upside down, but happily he can use those sticky feet to stay attached to the branch.
When he has a brief attack of forgetfulness as a swarm of yummy-looking flies are blown in his direction, he needs readers to show him how to use his tongue, and then to stop all but the one he’s savouring from buzzing away.

If Frog’s not careful he’ll be the next meal of a toucan who most definitely hasn’t come along for a friendly visit – a loud croak will warn our Frog though, along with a deft hand movement.

There’s more to do however, when monsoon rains come splashing down, especially as our Frog friend, being a tree frog isn’t enthusiastic about swimming, so help is needed to ensure that he ends the day’s adventure safe and sound on his branch to recover for his next round of froggy fun.

With a spattering of playful language throughout and a plethora of interactive opportunities for little ones to perform, Harriet Evans’ narrative should keep them interested throughout.

With occasional cutaway pages, Jacqui Lee’s amusing illustrations of Frog in his lush habitat make for a fun book to share with the very young, and along the way they might absorb a few Tree froggy facts.

Let’s Find the Tiger
illustrated by Alex Willmore
Caterpillar Books

In this seek-and-find, peep through, felt flap board book, little ones are invited to find Tiger. The playful creature has hidden away somewhere in the jungle wherein live lots of other creatures some of which when almost completely hidden away behind the flora or even in the water, might at first glance be the animal they’re looking for.

But the supposed long stripy tail, sparkly white teeth, curly whiskers,

and striped curvy objects are not Tiger.

Could the dark, tucked away location be its hideaway?

With an engaging question and answer, repeat refrain narrative and Alex WIllmore’s colourful jungle scenes to explore, this is both fun and gently educative.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.

What Do They Do With All That Poo?

What Do They Do With All That Poo?
Jane Kurtz and Allison Black
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Of zoo books there’s an abundance, but when it comes to talking about the animals’ poo and what happens to it after passing out of the animals, is another matter. A faecal matter one might say and the author Jane Kurtz knows exactly how to grab the attention of young listeners even before the text begins with poo-filled endpapers – don’t miss those.Then, from the start (with a clever page turn) ‘At zoo after zoo / the animals chew. / And then … // they poo!” she holds that attention throughout.

Thereafter she digs into the diverse nature of droppings using rhyming couplets:‘A hippo sprays a shower / with its flipping, flapping tail. // To weigh a day of elephant’s poo, / you need a sturdy scale.’

Beneath each illustration in smaller print come further facts concerning the animal’s business: ‘Hippos use dung to mark their territories and warn off predators. They shoot their dung out while flapping their tails to spray it around.’ ‘Rhinos can communicate / through piles and piles of scat. // A lion sometimes buries poo – / like any other cat.’
‘Each rhino’s poo has its own unique smell.’ ‘Rhinos smell dung to gather information about each other.’

Cats big and little often bury their poo so it won’t be detected by enemies. But sometimes lions and tigers leave poo unburied as a warning that this is their territory.’

In her playful, scatological scenes Allison Black succeeds in giving each animal a personality with its distinctive shape and wide-open eyes; I love the hippo’s cheeky grin, the snake’s sneaky smile and the wombat’s look of seeming wonder at the shape of its turds.

Having discussed a dozen zoo inmates, the author turns her attention to vast quantities of poo deposited each day (possibly as much as 2,270 kg). Much is taken away in lorries to landfills while some goes to scientists and vets for study and gardeners use some for compost:

did you know carnivore poo can be spread around gardens to prevent deer eating the plants and trees?

In addition to concluding the book with a huge grin on their faces, (apart from the squeamish few who might be feeling somewhat nauseous) little ones will end up having ingested a considerable amount of information to inwardly digest, not the least being that elephant poo can be made into attractive paper products – hmm!

Educative and enormous fun; if used in a school context, children might wish to find out what their nearest zoo does about poo.

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

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

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

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

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Play with Nosy Crow: Alphabet Street / Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set

Alphabet Street
Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

It’s the alluring design that immediately attracts young children to this concertina alphabet book though I don’t imagine any wanting to let go once they start exploring inside. It’s terrific fun, folding out to make an entire street of shops – thirteen in all – each with an apartment above; and all are populated with animal characters either shopping or doing something of a homely nature.

For instance we might choose to stop at Coffee and Doughnuts café outside which two elephants are enjoying a drink and a snack.
Lift the flap and inside we have ‘Dd D is for Dog, who is drying a dish’, an illustration of same, and two more customers drinking.
Above them in the apartment … ‘Cc C is for Cat, who is cooking some fish.’

The shop names make up the entire alphabet ending with

In between are all sorts of wonderful places to visit, not least of which is this one:

Jonathan Emmett’s cleverly constructed, fun alliterative rhyming text, together with Ingela P Arrhenius’ bold, bright, retro style illustrations make for a splendidly interactive book and even more clever, on the back is a complete fold-out park scene which can be used as a backdrop for small world play. So too can Alphabet Street itself which could perhaps be used in conjunction with a play mat. The learning possibilities, in addition to the obvious alphabet element, are enormous.

Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

This set includes a board book copy of Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon and a set of nine jigsaw puzzle building blocks.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, essentially it tells what happens when Pip lets go the string of his prized shiny red balloon and it floats away. The best friends give chase but the balloon bursts. Fortunately Posy is ready and willing to provide cheer in the form of bubbles – lots of them. And if they pop, well it doesn’t matter for that’s what bubbles are supposed to do.

The blocks can be used to make 6 different scenes from Pip and Posy stories: toddlers may need some help with this activity but a pictorial guide is provided.

If you’re looking for a fun present for a little one, this gift set might well fit the bill: Pip and Posy are a delightful duo.

Story Box Animal Adventures / My RSPB Nature Craft Box

Story Box Animal Adventures
Claudia Boldt
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

With the twenty sturdy, double-sided puzzle pieces, users can create endless stories: the pieces are interchangeable and when all are used it’s possible to create an adventure stretching out across 2.4 metres.

Brimming over with narrative possibilities involving a polar bear and his animal friends, wicked pirates, a party throwing tortoise and much more, this is a terrific resource for developing language, especially children’s oral storytelling, either in a classroom or at home. It’s especially good for those (adults included) learning English as an additional language.

Here’s Alesha having fun creating her own stories

The potential is terrific and if used by several children together, turn taking, negotiation and other skills also come into play.

A smashing resource, with illustrations by picture book artist Claudia Boldt, that allows a different story to be told every time it’s used.

My RSPB Nature Craft Box
Sarah Edmonds
Walker Books

This is a collaborative venture with the RSPB. Within the chunky box you’ll find a book full of crafty ideas relating to the natural world: you can for example, discover how to make a nest, birds to sit on it and binoculars for bird watching.

Illustrator/designer Sarah Edmonds also offers minibeast-related ideas, masks to make, instructions to construct a forest diorama, ways to create cards, wrapping paper, baking recipes and more. There’s a ‘you will need’ list for each activity as well as visual prompts.

In the box too, are a dozen activity cards that relate to the activities in the book, 4 mask outlines and 5 metres of pre-cut bunting with natural world images to colour.

All in all it’s a great way to encourage your little ones to get outdoors and explore the natural world.

Treasure Hunt House

Treasure Hunt House
Kate Davies and Becca Stadtlander
Lincoln Children’s Books

When a brother and sister receive a letter from their Great Aunt Martha inviting them to go and stay at her incredible house their mother urges them to accept.
They pack a weekend bag and off they go only to discover on arrival that their aunt isn’t there. She’s been unexpectedly called away but in her stead is her kindly looking housekeeper who introduces herself as Jo. She informs the children that their aunt has planned a treasure hunt to occupy their time until her return.

We join them in the hallway as they attempt to solve the first clue, ‘I have a heart of stone. And a head of stone, too’ and lifting the various flaps on the spread will reveal the solution along with further instructions, as well as cultural and historical information about some of the objects therein.

Thereafter we follow them around as, accompanied by Jo, they visit the rest of the rooms: the kitchen; the bedroom, where we read of the making of the first denim jeans;

the bathroom (this has a trickier riddle and a famous painting reproduction on the wall);

the living room – the cat introduces itself there); the library with its floor to ceiling bookshelves (Aunt Martha is evidently a Shakespeare enthusiast); the olde-worlde dining room; the sub-tropical  conservatory wherein butterflies flittered around the flowers;

the enormously fascinating Cabinet of curiosities packed with biological specimens including a velociraptor skeleton and a shelf of corals; a wonderful art gallery; a hall of inventions (Aunt Martha is an avid collector of incredible inventions, we learn); a music room packed with instruments of all kinds; and finally, a child’s paradise of a toy room. Therein too the final clue is solved and the secret of Jo’s real identity revealed.

Each room is exciting, packed with history and in all there are over 50 flaps to explore.

This is a fascinating and magical book that is likely to engender an interest in both history and art; it’s perfect for all who enjoy playing with or collecting doll’s houses, or have an interest in old houses, and would make a super present.

DIY Circus Lab for kids

DIY Circus Lab for kids
Jackie Leigh Davis
Quarry Books

Did you know that this year is the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK; I certainly didn’t although I live in an area of Gloucestershire that regularly hosts the wonderful Giffords Circus.

This book is written by mime artist, educator, teacher and founding member of the American Youth Circus Organisation, Jackie Leigh Davis, who provides an absolute wealth of circus skills for children; and she makes it clear in her preface that circus sees all colours, all kinds of bodies: it’s inclusive, it’s for everyone. I like that.

Readers are given an overview of the various circus skills: Acrobatics, acrobalance and pyramids, Aerial arts, (for safety reasons, this are not covered in the book), Balance arts, Clowning, Gyroscopic juggling and Toss juggling.

This is followed by a ‘What’s in this book?’ spread that begins with the words, ‘This book empowers you to take your first steps in circus.’ I like that too. Herein are included some wise words on safety, a crucial element, and it also includes a ‘Proceed at your own risk’ disclaimer.

Next come the individual units wherein as well as instructions for learning the skills, Poi for instance,

readers are invited to make their own circus props such as hoops, juggling sticks and balls, poi, stilts and clown hats and nose; T-shirts even.

The instructions are always easy to follow and there are photos to help.

While the particular skill under discussion might at a beginners level, the author also includes fascinating historical references,

the positive impact of each skill learned and, where appropriate links to on-line tutorials.

The section entitled Partner Acrobatics and Human pyramids took me to Udaipur, Rajasthan where on Janmasthami, I regularly see some terrifying-looking human pyramids at a cross roads near a famous temple. I was recently interested to read that this year, a high court in Mumbai has banned those under 18 years old participating in this ‘Dahi Handi’ festival as well as banning pyramids above 20 feet high.

Back to the book, the pyramids taught herein are of an altogether safer type and include vital words on warming up and, crucially, safety, as well as the concise instructions for several pyramid styles. (There’s a whole language of pyramids: I didn’t know that!)

Putting on a show is addressed too and in the final pages are information on additional resources, recommendations for further study and more.

Intended to engender and foster a child’s enthusiasm for circus arts, but in addition think how important skills of balance and co-ordination are for adults as we grow older.

I can even envisage some of the activities being tried with an old folks group.

All in all, this is an excellent book, comprehensive and done superbly: it’s well worth investing in for families, schools and other groups that have an interest in exploring and fostering the circus arts and their potential.

Board Book Beauties: I am Little Fish! / Wiggly Wiggly

I am Little Fish!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

I cannot imagine any little tot resisting Little Fish’s invitation to join him and play,  on the first page of this wigglesome, rhyming, finger puppet delight.

In addition to a whole lot of tail wiggling -at varying speeds – there’s bubble blowing,

as well as showing off his shimmying, twirling and whirling moves.

Then Little Fish introduces his fishy pals who’ve come to join him in a dipping down diving game of peek-a-boo.

And finally, up swims Mum for a spot of kissing.  Just perfect!

Wiggly Wiggly
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books

Here’s a selection of the most join-in-able playful Rosen rhymes from the original A Great Big Cuddle, illustrated by Chris Riddell in super-energetic style.

It’s absolutely certain to get your little ones ‘Tippy-Tappy’ ing, ‘Boing! Boing’ing squash, squishing, ‘wiggly wiggly’ing, ‘buzz buzz buzz’-ing, ‘moo moo, moo’ing, ‘squawk squawk squawk’ing ‘splosh, splash, splosh’-ing, ( doesn’t Chris Riddell draw elephants awesomely,

not to mention finger walking, waving, talking, tiring, flattening, buttering, spreading and ‘bed’ding down.
There’s also plenty of munching and crunching as you lunch with a crocodile.

We meet sad-looking Mo being cuddled following a fall in a puddle and then it’s time for monkey business with half a dozen of the cheeky little animals.

After which, I have absolutely no doubt your toddler(s) will demand that you turn back and start all over again.

If this brilliant board book doesn’t give the vital ‘language is fun’ message to both children and adults, then ‘I never writ nor no (wo)man ever loved’ Apologies to the bard. No, not the author!

Make & Play Safari

Make & Play Safari
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

This latest Make and Play theme will last all year round and enthuse young makers with a variety of activities, the most important being the construction of a safari scene, once the various pieces from the first eight pages have been pressed out and slotted together.

You get a jeep transporting a family of enthusiastic-looking safari goers with cameras and map,

zebras and a hippo, a lion family, two giraffes, a pair of crocodiles, meerkats, another hippo, an adult and infant elephant, a couple of monkeys to swing in a tree, a rhino and another tree with a leopard resting in its branches.

With these sturdy items – both sides of each piece is coloured – children can create and re-create different small world scenes and then carefully replace the various parts back in the equally robust card pages. (Very small children will need a little assistance in the construction and replacing of parts.)

Joey Chou’s art will appeal to youngsters, as will the activities on the other spreads. The crafty ideas are making a ‘bendy monkey’ and a pair of binoculars; the foodie ones are, a yummy snake sandwich and equally tasty-looking animal cupcakes; instructions are provided for creating a safari map to use in a game outdoors.

The words of a ‘Five Little Monkeys’ song take up another spread. I would have chosen another Five Little Monkeys song that has the monkeys swinging from a tree teasing Mr Crocodile, as it seems to fit the overall theme better, but that’s a small criticism.

All in all this is excellent value and should engage young users for a considerable time, not just the once, but over and over.

Are You Hungry? / Lois Looks for Bob at the Seaside & Lois Looks for Bob at the Museum

Are You Hungry?
Janik Coat and Bernard Duisit
Thames & Hudson

There’s a veritable feast contained within the few pages of this new addition to the ‘Flip-Flap-Pop-Up series from author/illustrator Janik Coat and paper engineer extraordinaire, Bernard Duisit.

Starting on Monday, we move through the week with an animal per day sharing a culinary delight or two with us. Or should I say that perhaps not all have such mouth-watering allure.

and, while some will meet with parental approval, others probably will not.

Sunday brings a wonderful pop-up spread of treats to keep one little bear going for several days; let’s hope he remembers to brush his teeth like the rabbit on the final spread.

Playfully interactive, each spread has either a wheel to turn, tab to pull, or pop-up to unfold.
Hours of fun for small hands guaranteed from this sturdily built little book.

Lois Looks for Bob at the Seaside
Lois Looks for Bob at the Museum

Gerry Turley
Nosy Crow

Those who have met Bob in previous books will know that he likes nothing better than a game of hide-and-seek with faithful feathered friend, Lois, a game in which toddlers can take part by lifting the variously shaped flaps he might be hidden under.

The beach is the setting for the first story where we also meet, seagull Geoffrey, turtle Maureen, Victor the crab and wait for it – fish Dolores, Mike and Fay.

Where can he possibly be?

Raf (15 months) is eager to find Bob …

In the second book we visit a museum and once again Lois looks for her elusive pal even starting her hunt before entering the place. He’s not behind the curtain, or the painting; he’s not among the vases, nor in the broom cupboard.
We do discover a variety of other creatures in those places but not Bob. Then, what about the café? Could he be there perhaps?

There’s plenty to amuse and involve young listeners in these two additions to the series, although adult sharers will likely have a good giggle over the wry humour, not least in this spread.

Forest School Adventure

Forest School Adventure
Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall
GMC Publications

The husband and wife authors of this book are passionate about introducing children (and adults) to their wild side, to connect them to the natural environment. The book of more than 170 pages is profusely illustrated with photographs and after an introduction extolling the benefits and importance of outside play in nature, is divided into four sections.

In the first, Nature Awareness, there are such activities as making a bug hotel, creating natural collages and sculptures, leaf and flower plaques, playing with clay and making 3D maps.

Each activity is introduced with the suggested age range, likely time needed, the tools required and the materials to be used. My favourite in this section is Sit Spot – finding a place to sit quietly for ten minutes or more to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural surroundings.

The next section, with more than 80 pages, is Bushcraft and covers knots, shelter building all aspects of fire from lighting one without matches, types of firewood and fire lays, and carrying fire, collecting water, making cordage

and rope, using a knife safely, wilderness first aid, arrow and spear making, making pots and even making a lamp from nuts.

Section three has 25 pages on Wild Food including foraging tips and recipes for cleaver and nettle cordial, nettle tea, methods of cooking chicken and fish over a fire and cooking inside fruit and vegetables.

The final, briefest section, is devoted to games. My favourites were ‘seven second camouflage’ and ‘egg drop’ – making a protective nest around the egg so it doesn’t break when dropped from around 2metres.

Interspersed with all this are half a dozen episodes from the authors’ 5 months stone-age immersion experience in the USA.There’s also a list of resources at the back of the book.

I believe that forest school should be part and parcel of children’s early years and primary curriculum. However, despite the enthusiasm for it, particularly with early years staff, many schools stop offering it for older children claiming pressure from the supposedly more academic curriculum. Perhaps reading a book such as this could re-enthuse or introduce all adults working with children to the benefits of, and learning potential across the curriculum, of forest school.

Every primary school should have a copy.

The Big Book of Outdoor Activities

The Big Book of 100 Outdoor Activities
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Publications

This bumper book is just right for trying out now the better weather has arrived – for a few days at least. It’s absolutely jam-packed with simple and quick activities and creative possibilities that will encourage children to get involved and at the same time find out more about the natural world.

The book is divided into seven sections, the first being Wildlife Spotting – love the pine-cone bird feeder and bug hotel herein. Ditto the ‘Flowerpot person from the In the Garden section.
I’m all for getting messy especially where young children are involved: I know they will thoroughly enjoy making bubble snakes and plunging their hands into the oobleck or cornflour goop and finding petals, leaves etc to add to the mixture – always a favourite with children in my early years classes. Both these are found in the Messy Makes section along with over a dozen other ideas.

The natural paintbrushes in the Art and Crafts pages look terrific fun …

and have great potential for getting creative. So too do the nature faces although I’d rather have the children draw faces for themselves on the card.
There are lots of exciting possibilities in the Rainy Day and Games sections so it’s definitely a good idea to do as the authors suggest in their introductory tips and take a carrier bag for collecting items. You might for instance gather up sticks and fir cones and save them to make a set of the funky stick people. Once done there are lots of ways these could be used – as fridge magnets or finger puppets perhaps: no doubt children will come up with ideas of their own.

All in all this is a great book for using with children – the ideas cost very little or nothing at all – just the thing to pack into a rucksack for a weekend away, or for teachers and others organising forest school sessions to dip in to.

Maths, Manipulations and Mindfulness

5 Wild Numbers
Bella Gomez
Words & Pictures

Vibrant scenes of jungle animals introduce counting and the numerals 1 to 5 in this chunky book.
The thick sturdy pages accommodate a die-cut numeral on each spread with a sliding disc so that small fingers can follow the arrows, move the disc and trace the numeral for ‘One fierce tiger’, ‘Two stripy zebras’, ‘Three parrots’, ‘Four long-tailed monkeys’ and ‘Five pink flamingos’.

The rhyming text introduces exciting words such as ‘paces and snarls’ for the tiger; ‘laze’ and ‘scorching days ‘ for the zebras and even metaphorical language – ‘ their feathers shining bright as jewels’

A fair bit of pressure is needed to move the discs so in my view the value of this activity lies in helping develop fine motor skills but is of limited help in learning to form the numerals.

Shapes Colours Numbers
Dario Zeruto
Words & Pictures

This is a wordless, (apart from the initial ‘How many shapes and colours can you find?) simple, yet ingenious, chunky book that as it unfolds, encourages youngsters to find out about 2D shapes and colours, and do some counting along the way as they explore a series of gatefold flaps.

Playful, engrossing and educational, and all based on five colours, squares, triangles, rectangles, circles and diamonds.

Touch Think Learn Wiggles
Claire Zucchelli-Romer
Chronicle Books

An engaging rhythmic text, inspired perhaps by Hervé Tullet, urges young children to use their wiggly fingers to dance on each spread as they trace shapes, tap and hop, slide up and down, follow circle outlines, zigzags, and spirals as the text is read aloud.

The text is upbeat and playful, the shapes cut out in fluorescent green, pink, or yellow are attractive and inviting but the white type against pale blue pages less satisfying that the brighter shade of blue used for the cover.

ABC Mindful Me
Christiane Engel
Walter Foster Jr.

Mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment, or being in the here and now – is very much in vogue at the moment, with schools adding it to their daily programme, often sadly, tacked on as an optional after school extra rather than it being part and parcel of the curriculum.

Christiane Engel’s sturdy large format board book could help integrate it into the foundation stage curriculum at least. She takes us on a journey through the alphabet linking each letter to an activity – walk, yoga, breathe for example, or a state of mind or concept –awareness, giving, joy or thankfulness.
The rhyming text talks directly to the child and the illustrations are attractive and inclusive.

The book concludes with some creative ideas related to the book’s overall theme.

If you think young children need help to be mindful then this will be useful: I know from experience that if left to their own devices, preschool children naturally reach a state of mindfulness; adults just need to step back – it’s they, rather than children who need a book such as this.

Wild World, The Coral Kingdom and Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?

Wild World
Angela McAllister, Hvass & Hannibal
Wide Eyed Editions

The author has chosen thirteen natural habitats – Rainforest, Arctic, Prairie, Woodland, Coral reef, Desert, Rock pool, Mountain, The Outback, Moorland, Deep sea, Mangrove and Savannah – that are under threat due to human activity, and captures the essence of each one in a series of free verses.
Here’s the opening to Mountain:
‘I am the highest mountain, / Born in a collision of continents. / All is beneath me, except the sun, moon and stars. / I am rock, / Crag, cliff and ledge, draped in veils of white. / I am snow-maker, with glaciers in my arms, / Whose meltwater swells great rivers below.’

In stark contrast is the quieter sounding Savannah, which opens like this: ‘Savannah speaks in whispering grasses, / In the chatter of cicadas across an endless plain. / Spacious homeland of swift cheetah / And gazelle, with the horizon in her eye.’

Using matte colours, the illustrators Hvass and Hannibal showcase the flora and fauna of each location in a series of eye-catching paintings that incorporate the text within them.

Human use, climate change and pollution are responsible for the damage to the environment and after her introductory poem, it’s not until the final pages that the author enlarges upon her conservation message citing the specific damage within the thumbnail sketch of each of the places portrayed. Thereafter she implores readers to use less energy, to recycle and to buy with care.

We’d all do well to keep in mind her final words about our precious planet: ‘Explore it, protect it, love it. / Our Earth is a wonderful wild world. ‘

Also with an ecological message is:

The Coral Kingdom
Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber
Words & Pictures

Our coral reefs, with their gorgeous colours: crimson, red, rose, yellow,

turquoise, emerald, jade, purple, even black, that have taken 1000s of years to grow and give home to a myriad of creatures large and small are under threat.

When the coral is bleached white due to acidity caused by climate change, and stays white for too long, then the reef dies.

Laura Knowles has written a rhyming narrative that outlines the life cycle of a reef and includes a caution that unless we humans take action these amazing ecosystems will be lost forever.

Jennie Webber’s detailed watercolour illustrations show the beauty of the undersea habitat and a final fold-out page gives additional information about coral reef conservation.

A useful addition to a primary school conservation topic box, or, for a child interested in ocean life or ecosystems.

Who’s Hiding on the River? / Who’s Hiding on the Farm?
Katharine McEwen
Nosy Crow

It’s never too early to start learning about nature and here are two board books just right for introducing animals, some wild and some domesticated, to the very young.

Both are beautifully illustrated by Katharine McEwen and there are lots of animals to find in both locations.

Toddlers can spend a day by the river, from a busy morning through to night-time as they explore the pages, manipulate the sturdy flaps in response to the ‘Who’s hiding here?’ on every right hand page to discover tadpoles, cygnets, fish, dragonflies, a stoat, a beaver and more as they swim, wriggle, wade, leap, build and paddle.
The farm book also moves through the day in similar fashion and McEwen’s text is carefully worded to introduce new vocabulary including ‘pecking,’ ‘trotting’, ‘snoozing’ ‘prowling’, munching’ and ‘diving’ along the way.

Published in collaboration with the National Trust these are fun and at the same time, gently educational.

Kaya’s Heart Song

Kaya’s Heart Song
Diwa Tharan Sanders and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing

From the cover illustration it’s evident that the little girl – her name is Kaya and she lives in the Malaysian rainforest– is truly savouring the moment.

As the story begins Kaya observes her mother sitting yoga style and humming. “Mama, what are you singing?” Kaya wants to know.

Her mother explains that it’s her heart song and that having a heart song makes anything possible. Kaya’s response is that she doesn’t know hers: her Mama encourages her to learn to listen for it and sends her daughter off to play outdoors.

Maya follows a butterfly into the jungle and it leads her to an unfamiliar spot but there she discovers someone who is familiar – her friend Pak.

Pak is the guardian of a gate behind which, nestling among thick foliage, is a broken elephant carousel.

Intrigued, Kaya decides to investigate and as she untangles the vines from around one of the elephants her mind begins to quieten and become still. A soft rhythmic beat sounds in her ear as with a Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shak shook / Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shack shook’ the carousel begins to rotate and the elephants move in time with the music.

Suddenly Kaya understands that she has found her own heart song and then, just as her mama had told her, magic happens …

Grounded in the practice of mindfulness – being fully in the present moment – this is a truly mesmerising picture book.

With a lush colour palette Nerina Canzi depicts Kaya’s magical world, creating a truly immersive place both for the main protagonist and for the reader. Her spreads work in perfect harmony with the author’s words and to lose yourself between the covers of the book is to be, like Kaya, in the here and now throughout the experience.

The final page explains simply the practice of mindfulness, linking it with yoga and meditation, and also reminding the reader what brought Kaya to a mindful state.

From the time they start school children today live in an ever more pressurised and often stressful world and this beautiful book demonstrates to both children and adults the benefits of cultivating the mindfulness habit. It can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just a few minutes a day: no distractions; just being fully present in the here and now.

It’s a state of being that young children absorbed in their play (especially with creative materials) reach when adults stand back and watch without interrupting or trying to guide what they’re doing: watch that total concentration, nothing else matters – that’s mindfulness. When I taught 4 and 5 year olds I saw it many times every day; it wan’t taught to them, it’s just how they were.

Surprising Birds / Big Dog, Little Dog

Surprising Birds
Big Dog, Little Dog

Elodie Jarret (élo)
Walker Studio

Here’s a pair of super chic, lift-the-flap concept books created by designer and illustrator Elodie Jarret to share with the very young: they’re in a different league altogether from the usual toddler concept books.

Surprising Birds features a whole host of wonderfully shaped avians that the artist has, with deft touches of colour and distinctive black and white patterns managed to make into enchanting feathered characters.

Part and parcel of each one is a flap – a wing, a tail, a head, a beak –

which when lifted reveals a flash of bright colour and the colour name (eleven in all).

Each bird is set against a pastel coloured background making it stand out starkly, and every one has an element of delight be it the chick sheltering under its mother’s wing or the hide-and-seek owl on the final spread.

With striking images, sturdy flaps and cover, and a perfect size for small hands, this is a super little book to have fun with and perhaps learn some colour names along the way.

Equally enchanting and playful is the assortment of canine characters in Big Dog, Little Dog that features ‘opposites’ (and also introduces some positional vocabulary) including  above/below, long/short, awake/asleep and spots/no spots. Here again flaps and fold-outs are used to effect and every animal has a real personality.

Books for Tiny Hands

A Tiny Little Story: Farm
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow
In the third title of the series the adorable Baby Boo and his mum pay a visit to the farm. They meet the farmer in his tractor,

a mother hen and her baby chicks, the cow, the sheep, some pigs and a cockerel, each of which greets the visitors with its characteristic sound; and then it’s time to leave.
With its soft, squidgy pages, simple, bold, patterned images and a Velcro buggy strap, this boxed book, like its predecessors, is just perfect for giving to a new mum and her baby.

Animal ABC
Jannie Ho
Nosy Crow
Having explored Halloween and Christmas, Jannie Ho’s third ABC book for babies and toddlers features animals large and small, some familiar, others less so, from elephant to narwhal and iguana and owl. One fantasy animal – a unicorn – puts in an appearance too.
Boldly illustrated with just the single word and corresponding letter as text per page, there are talk opportunities aplenty in this sturdily designed little board book. Which ones have long tails? Which have horns? Can your infant think of what noise each animal might produce?
Full of animal fun for sure.

Little Truck
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
In this lovely little board book toddlers share a day in the life of a little pink truck. He’s a fast mover and determined hill climber and is accompanied on his travels by a larger (parent) truck.
The latter is available to give a gentle push up the steep slope …

and when Little Truck enters a dark tunnel, is right behind to ensure he’s not completely lost and is ready to carry the little one when he falls fast asleep.
With a simple text, some of which is addressed to the Little Truck by the larger one, Taro Gomi uses his wonderful minimalist style to imbue both trucks with distinct personalities as well as creating stylised background scenes in contrasting greys, browns and tans.
I love that Little Truck is pink and identified as male in the narrative.

Where’s Mrs Zebra?
Where’s Mr Dog?

Ingela P.Arrhenuis
Nosy Crow
Just right for some playful book sharing time with your baby are these two hide-and-seek board books.
Each one contains five scenes with bold, bright images and an animal that has hidden itself behind an appropriately shaped, brightly coloured felt flap on the spread.
In the first title Mr Rhino, Mrs Gorilla,

Mr Flamingo, Mrs Zebra are hidden or almost so and the final spread has a hidden mirror and asks ‘And where are you?’
The same question concludes the second book wherein Mr Dog, along with Mrs Cat, Mr Mouse, and Mrs Rabbit have tucked themselves away behind various objects all waiting to be discovered by tiny hands.
Award winning Swedish illustrator Ingela P. Arrhenius has illustrated both with just the right amount of detail for the very youngest infant.

Guess Which Hand?
Hans Wilhelm and Ilaria Guarducci
Chronicle Books
Here’s a little board book based on the ever popular guessing game after which the book is titled.
On each of eight pages toddlers are invited to guess the location of the item be it a ladybird or frog, a bone or ball, flower or feather, pink fish or blue, banana or peanut, carrot or clover leaves, star or moth, hidden under one or other of the flaps on each animal’s page. Paws, ears, scallop shells,

hats, fluffy tails, wings and eggs are in turn used as hiding places. The objects are moved by turning the interactive wheel at the side of each page so you can play the game over and over with a toddler.
Each bold bright scene offers more to talk about than the guessing game though but that depends on the users.

Search-and-Find Bonanza – The Walkabout Orchestra, Mice in the City London and Cycle City

The Walkabout Orchestra
Chloé Perarnau
Wide Eyed

What has happened to the members of the orchestra? They’ve all gone missing and there’s an important concert coming up in a few days. Seemingly they’ve dispersed to locations all over the world from where they’ve sent the maestro postcards telling of their various activities. These appear in the top left-hand corner of each locale spread.
In a desperate effort to locate the musicians, the maestro, together with his side- kick, sets off in search of them. Their journey takes them to such diverse places as a fishing village in Iceland, Tokyo, a campsite in France, the pyramids of Egypt, carnival in Brazil and a football field in Abidjan.
In addition to finding the missing musicians, almost every place has a little yellow bird whose speech bubble provides something additional to search for in the lively scenes of the musicians’ sojourns.
Each one is packed with amusing details so that finding the musicians is often no easy matter. However they do all appear within a large arena ready for the concert with their maestro ready to conduct, bird atop his head.
Don’t start reading this if you are short of time, unless you are happy to cheat and look at the answers on the two final spreads.

Mice in the City London
Ami Shin
Thames & Hudson

It’s a mouse takeover: London had been invaded by an army of tiny rodents; some – The Mouses of Parliament for instance, – have jobs to do, others are there to enjoy the sights and some are turning Tate Modern into complete disarray. One daring mouse has even installed herself as Queen Mouse in Buckingham Palace.
A verse introduces each location, opposite which is a detailed whole page pastel coloured illustration of the particular tourist attraction under mouse occupation: every one is full of things to delight and entertain.
The purpose of the book, in addition to enjoying what the mice are up to, is a game of ‘hide-and-squeak’ that entails finding eight things – Inspector Mouse, a stripy tailed cat, Bumble-mouse, a mouse in a bin, a teddy, a Union Jack top hat, a mouse hiding in a top hat and a balloon seller.
Happy Hunting! You’re in for some fun with Ami Shin’s mice.
In the same series is Mice in the City New York. Oh my goodness! Think of the chaos the little creatures might cause in The Strand Bookstore!

Cycle City
Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

It’s the morning of the Starlight Parade in Cycle City but the parade committee has yet to send out the invitations so they decide to call on the assistance of Mayor Snail.
Can he get all those invites delivered in time for the evening? Perhaps, with the help of Little Ella Elephant who has come to visit one of the city’s residents, her Aunt Ellen. If so, who will play the important role of Grand Marshal at the big event?

A captivating search-and-find for slightly younger readers: this one has a clear storyline and a plethora of speech bubbles and is populated by a vast array of anthropomorphic animals. The spreads are less densely packed than some of its ilk, but have plenty of lovely details, and the endpapers are a visual glossary of all the different bicycles included.

I’ve signed the charter  

Stomp! Stomp! / Count on Goz / Night and Day

Stomp! Stomp!
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
In this new addition to the ‘Can you say it too?’ board book series, a handful of dinosaurs have hidden, or rather attempted to hide themselves, in Sebastien Braun’s brightly illustrated spreads.
Very young children will get lots of pleasure manipulating the flaps (plants, a cloud and a rock) to discover what’s hiding beneath them, as well as getting their tongues around the names and noises.

Children beginning to read often find words such as ‘triceratops’, ‘diplodocus’, ‘stegosaurus’, ‘pterodactyl’ and ‘tyrannosaurus’ easy to recognise especially in a meaningful context, so why shouldn’t infants just starting to talk encounter them early on too, perhaps even with that older sibling reading the book with its short, predictable text, with them.

Count on Goz
Steve Weatherill
Steve Weatherill Books
Goz the baby goose has just taken his early morning swim but now he’s managed to lose the other geese. In his search he encounters in turn a cow and her calf, a sheep and 2 lambs, a mother cat and her 3 kittens and a dog with 4 lively puppies. To each he says, “Hello. Are the geese here?” but is greeted with “No, only me and my …” followed by a “Moo!”, “Baa, baa!” and so on …

until finally beside the big pond we spy …
Guess what is tucked in the nest beneath that large wing.
In addition to the baby animals revealed by opening the flap on each spread, the final page has 6 swallows, 7 sheep, 8 eggs, 9 newts and 10 tadpoles for those who want to continue their counting.
First published over 25 years ago, Goz has certainly stood the test of time. In addition to being a first counting book, this re-issue is, with its brief, predictable text, just right for beginning readers and far better than the rubbishy reading schemes offered to children starting to read in schools nowadays.
Equally it’s perfect to share with a small group of listeners in a nursery setting or an adult or older child to read to a younger sibling.

Night and Day
Julie Safirstein
Princeton Architectural Press
In ‘A Big Book of Opposites’, as the subtitle says, Safirstein uses simple shapes, clever design and bold colours together with flaps of various sizes, pop-ups, fold-outs and other interactive devices to help demonstrate opposing relationships such as tiny/ huge (and sizes in between); left/right – which has a secondary numerical element …

high/low; night/day – in this instance a large tree unfolds to illustrate both.
Circular sliders can be manipulated to demonstrate alone/together and next to/far (with ‘in the middle’ also included for good measure).
The whole thing is a handsome and inventive production …

and even the finale is ingenious; a gatefold is lifted to ‘open’ a bright red flower after which the book is ‘closed’ as printed on the back cover.
Once in their clutches, young users will I suspect spend a considerable amount of time with the book ‘open’, being reluctant to ‘close’ it, thoroughly enjoy playing with the various moveable parts so it’s as well the whole thing is sturdily constructed. It might even help them develop a few concepts while so doing.

Towering Tree Puzzle / Lift-the-Flap and Colour:Jungle & Ocean

The Towering Tree Puzzle
illustrated by Teagan White
Chronicle Books
Essentially this is a sturdy box containing 17 large, easily manipulated, double-sided pieces depicting Spring/Summer scenes on one side and Autumn/Winter ones on the reverse. Each piece shows various woodland animals playing and working together; a whole tree community indeed and the puzzle when complete is over 130 centimetres long. Nothing special about that, you might be thinking but, the language potential is enormous, especially as there is no one right way of fitting the pieces together: this open-endedness also means that if more than one child plays with the pieces, there is a co-operative element too.

The artwork is splendid: each detailed piece, a delight.
Every branch of the tree generates a different story, or rather, many possibilities; ditto the completed tree. Some children like to story about the pieces as they put them into place, others prefer to complete the puzzle and then tell one or several stories which may or may not be connected. You could try a completely open-ended ‘take it in turns tell me about’ game with children sitting in a circle for starters, or perhaps choose a focus, say animals, plants or perhaps, events: the possibilities are many.
I’ve used this marvellous resource in several different settings and each time it’s been received with enormous enthusiasm and the users have shown great reluctance to part with it afterwards.

Lift-the-Flap and Colour Jungle
Lift-the-Flap and Colour Ocean

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/ Natural History Museum
In this collaborative publishing enterprise, children can choose from one of two locations to start their colouring in experience. The first is the South American Amazon jungle wherein jaguars hunt, slow sloths dangle, alligators lie in wait for a tasty meal, stick insects and parrots share the lush foliage, and swinging monkeys abound.
In the Ocean they can encounter diving dolphins, and shoals of fish, visit a coral reef with its abundance of sea creatures, notice the seaweed fronds that provide a safe hiding place for fish; and dive right down to the deepest dark depths.
A brief, rhyming text accompanies each adventure gently informing and guiding the young user as s/he explores the location, lifts the flaps and adds colour to the black and white pages – five spreads per book. And the final page of each book has an information paragraph that focuses on the importance of protecting the specific environment.
These will I’m sure be seized on by young enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in wild life and will one hopes, leave them wanting to discover more about the inhabitants of each location.

If I Were a Whale
Shelley Gill and Erik Brooks
Little Bigfoot
This contemplative, charmer of a board book successfully mixes rhyme and science facts. It imagines the possibilities of being a minke, a beluga playing with icebergs, a pilot whale and then these beauties …

If those don’t suit there’s a tusked narwhal, a blue whale, or a humpback perhaps? There are eleven possibilities in all, each one beautifully illustrated by Erik Brooks who manages to capture the essence of each one in those watery worlds of his.
Yes, it’s a small introduction to a huge topic but this is a pleasure to read aloud, is likely to be demanded over and over, and to inspire tinies to want to know more about these amazing mammals.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mouse’s Big Day / All Birds Have Anxiety / Mouse and the Storm

Mouse’s Big Day
Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Mouse is going to school for the very first time and even before leaving home, she’s decided it’s not for her. Her dawdling tactics don’t work, nor does her “I don’t want to” response to all Mummy mouse’s encouraging remarks; finally she’s left at Twit Twoo School in the safe hands of teacher, Miss Hoot.

She has an exciting project for her class: “… go out and find something. Something special. Maybe something only you can find.
Mouse reluctantly joins her classmates all of whom thoroughly enjoy rummaging, upturning rocks, digging and pond peering, although she’s too shy to be anything but an onlooker. While the others are busy contemplating their findings …

Mouse vanishes. Miss Hoot knows just where to look for her though, and eventually a kindly paw proffered by Mole encourages Mouse to emerge from her hiding place and follow the others back indoors.
There she makes a series of discoveries that ultimately lead her to a very important realisation. School is an exciting place after all and she cannot wait for tomorrow.
Populated by adorable animal characters, Mouse’s school is an inviting place and Lydia Monks’ heart-warming story of her first day gets right to the heart of how the less outgoing among 4 year olds are likely to feel on their ‘Big Day’. This is just right to share with a nursery and preschool groups, or individuals, in the lead up to starting school.
Further reassurance about coping with tricky situations comes in:

All Birds Have Anxiety
Kathy Hoopman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Statistics show that more and more children have anxiety problems, often starting at a young age. I’ve talked about educational issues that I feel are to a large degree responsible in other reviews so will just say that here is a photographic picture book that will help children of all ages better understand the condition.
By populating it with birds of all kinds with appealing faces,

and in amusing poses,

the author gives a serious topic just the right degree of lightness and gentle humour.
Anxiety in all its forms is discussed including how stress can effect everyday activities – ‘Everyday jobs, like combing hair, changing clothes or making decisions are too much to think about ’; its possible causes – ‘it often runs in families’; how to deal with it: ‘Being with those who listen to us and accept us makes a world of difference.’ and ‘Exercise, plenty of sunshine and a healthy diet are all a huge help.’ for instance.
Unthreatening, fun and enormously helpful for children of all ages, whether they suffer from anxiety or just want to understand it better in others.
For educators and those they have dealings with, be that in school, at home or in another setting.
Anxiety prone youngsters will benefit from some therapeutic reflexology as in:

Mouse and the Storm
Susan Quayle, illustrated by Melissa Muldoon
Singing Dragon
Reflexologist, complementary therapist and developer of The Children’s Reflexology Programme follows The Mouse’s House with a third story intended, this time for reflexology on a child’s hands.
Using Mouse and the five other animal characters to represent reflex areas of the hand, Quayle weaves a charming rhyming story to accompany the sessions of hand reflexology. It’s especially designed for use with young children, in particular those who have anxieties be they associated with ASD, new experiences, or another condition where calming treatments are required.
With hand instructions at the top of each left hand page and a charmingly quirky illustration on the right, adults can read the story of what happens when the animals awake to discover a storm scattered them far from the comfort of their own homes

while applying the gentle movements to the young recipient’s hands.
Since no prior reflexology experience is needed, this is a book for any parent of an anxious young child to add to the family bookshelf.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Handful of Animal Board Books

The Safari Set
The Jungle Crew
The Polar Pack

Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here we have the first three board books to be added to the Mibo series and they’re some of the best board books I’ve seen in a long while. Each one features a different natural location and all have rhyming texts and some brief, attractively presented snippets of information inside the back cover.
The Safari Set takes us to the dusty, sun-scorched African plains where lions laze, giraffes graze

on high-up leaves, elephants roam, zebras flash past and hippos wallow for hours in the cool water.
In the dappled, leafy jungle we encounter members of The Jungle Crew: a troop of lively monkeys, screeching macaws with their dazzling plumage,

a fearsome-looking tiger stalks, toucans chomp on tasty fruits and tree frogs hop, and drop (when it’s time to lay eggs).
Members of The Polar Pack live in either the far north or far south; many are under threat and need protection. The South Pole is home to Emperor penguins: mighty-tusked walruses, polar bears,

huge-hooved reindeer and snowy owls reside in the North Pole.
Superb, beautifully patterned illustrations and rhyming texts that are a pleasure to read aloud make these top quality little books for the very youngest.

Really Feely Baby Animals
Really Feely Farm

Polly Appleton and Dawn Sirett
DK
A host of animals (5 per book) introduce themselves and invite toddlers to participate in a variety of sensory experiences such as ‘Rub my tufty fur. Then choose a shiny red apple for me to eat.’ or …

Feel my fuzzy feathers. And touch my smooth, pointy beak.

A kitten, a playful puppy and a baby rabbit also want to be similarly explored in Baby Animals.
In Farm Animals we meet first a chicken, and go on to encounter a sheep, a piglet, a duckling …

Feel my soft, fluffy tummy. And touch my smooth, shiny beak.

and a calf.
In both books the photographic images on each recto really seem to leap out from the page, heightening the whole visual experience. On the baby rabbit page for instance, its whiskers glisten as the light catches them. However it isn’t only the animals that are tactile; every item on the page provides a lovely feely experience and a whole lot of language learning possibilities.

A Farm Visit, An Egg Hunt Activity Book & Masha and her Sisters

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Look and Say What You See in the Farm
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
Published in partnership with the National Trust, this book with its thick pages presents us with thirteen farm scenes going right through the year from early spring when there’s an abundance of lambs in the fields, little chicks have been born and there are calves needing their share of milk …

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Back outside at the pond, ducklings and goslings are learning to swim and tadpoles wiggle and waggle their tails. In summer, there is an abundance of insects, wild animals and wild flowers; their presence enriches the farm and some weeks later, it is time for the collecting of yummy vegetables .

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Autumn brings the wheat harvest, pumpkins aplenty and in the orchard, the apples are ripe and ready for picking, so too the pears.. Mmm!
Winter sees the animals snuggling in the warm barn with the door firmly shut against the cold.
Every spread has a strip along the bottom asking readers, ‘What can you see … ? with nine items to search for in the large scene above. Perfect for developing visual literacy, for encouraging storying; and, it’s lots of fun.
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We’re going on an Egg Hunt Activity Book
illustrated by Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The bunnies from last year’s We’re Going on an Egg Hunt picture book return inviting youngsters to participate in a variety of activities including matching shadows to images, egg decorating, spot the difference, a word search and much more. The centre spread has beautiful stickers with which to adorn the pages as instructed – or otherwise if you’re divergent. I suspect some children won’t want to cut out the triangular shapes to make the bunting, especially as there’s a game of hide and seek with the bunnies and a follow the path game on the reverse sides; if so, I’d suggest copying the spread or drawing your own triangles to decorate. These are just some of the games in this attractive book, made all the more delightful by Laura Hughes’ cute bunnies. Just right for Easter.

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Masha and Her Sisters
Suzy Ultman
Chronicle Books
This is a retro delight: a maryoshka doll-shaped board book that, once the cover is lifted, opens downwards to reveal, one by one, five dolls, the first being the smallest. Flip that page down and a slightly larger sister is revealed and so on. First we meet Natasha, the storyteller, then nature lover, Galya; Olya is the chef, Larisa, the performer and finally, Masha who is the collector. The body of each is decorated – front and back – with objects related to their special interest. Thus for instance, Galya has fauna, trees and a tent;

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Olya the chef has herbs, mixing bowls and kitchen tools. Innovative, charming and near enough egg-shaped to make an Easter treat for a small child.

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100 First Words / Animal Sounds & Things That Go / My First Wildlife Sticker Activity Book

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100 First Words
Dawn Sirett and Charlotte Milner
DK
This large format book is definitely a lap style board book not a ‘clutch in the pram’ kind. It encompasses fourteen topics, one per page; and those on opposite pages are related, so we have for instance: My body and My clothes; My toys and Colours, Pets and Wild animals and …

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Naming is an important element of a very young child’s language learning but essentially the language learning potential in this book is far greater than that: focussing on a single image could furnish so much language learning, and that is where it comes down to the skill of the person sharing the book with a baby or young infant, (or equally, a person just starting to learn English as an additional language).

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The labelled photographic images are clear, uncluttered, and pattern is very much part of the whole look of the book.
Definitely a worthwhile investment if you have dealings with tinies

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Animal Sounds
Things That Go
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
Rich in pattern and colour, and rich in language potential, are the two new board books from fabric designer, Jane Foster. Animal sounds include the ‘meow meow’ of a ginger cat and the ‘woof woof’ of an endearing spotty dog, the gentle ‘flitter flutter’ of a butterfly’s wonderful wings and the contrasting ‘ROAR’ of a lion; and these two delectable creatures …

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The final spread comprises 22 named portraits of all the animals, taking a break from sound-making.
The layout of Things That Go is slightly different. We have eleven items represented: some that move through the air, some through water and others across land. I love the inclusion of this …

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Each ‘mover’ has a double spread, its name is given against a subtly patterned page opposite which is the object and an associated sound, I can’t imagine any toddler not enjoying sharing these beauties with an enthusiastic parent or carer.

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I foresee hours of fun and language learning where the three (or four) come together. Both books are a clever, winning mix of simplicity and sophistication.
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My First Wildlife Sticker Activity Book
illustrated by Gina Maldonado
Bloomsbury Activity Books
Published in conjunction with the rspb, this attractively illustrated book asks young children to look closely at what is on the printed page: to search for particular fauna and flora, to find matching pairs, to locate minibeasts, add stickers to scenes, find the odd one out and so on. There’s no substitute for seeing the real thing, but one hopes having done the activities herein, youngsters will be inspired to go out and look at the natural world for real.

Charter logo FINAL.indd

The Painting-In Book / Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad

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The Painting-In Book
Anna Rumsby
Laurence King Publishing
All young children have the potential to be creative; they just need a supportive adult, some basic resources and opportunities to experiment.
Early years teachers will be familiar with the techniques herein (and have offered similar kinds of activities); parents may not be; and they I think, will welcome this large format, bumper book of thirty activities for budding young artists. All that’s needed to get going are: an apron, water-based paints, a mixing dish, paint brushes of various sizes, a sponge, an old toothbrush, some bubble wrap, cotton buds and a container for water. (I’d add to this, a plastic sheet or old newspapers). Activities – and they’re all exciting, fun and educative in the art sense, – range from colour mixing, hand-printing …

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printing with cotton buds, bubble wrap printing, toothbrush paint flicking (a favourite with nursery age children), painting with a sponge, and adding lines to wet paint with the end of an inverted paintbrush.

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The paper used is high quality and the sheets easily removable. Perfect for wet days and holidays when you can’t get outside – or if you can, then move outdoors and do a spot of painting there.

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Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad
Yasmeen Ismail
Laurence King Publishing
Whoppee! Donkey, Cat and Dog come together for the third in the fabulous Draw & Discover series by the super-talented artist, Yasmeen Ismail. Twenty five emotions/feelings from curious to cranky, (where Dog’s hunger is ‘making him cranky’ and the reader/co-creator is asked to put some food on his plate); annoyed to afraid, guilty to gloomy and startled to scared, are presented through delightfully silly situations such as this: what could it be that has scared Dog and Cat? …

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Every single scenario is truly funny; it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I can imagine many children would go for this embarrassing situation for Dog who has had a slight accident and now needs some dry pants …

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A Clutch of Activity Books

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inside, outside, upside down
push, pull, empty, full

Yasmeen Ismail
Laurence King Publishing
As a big fan of Yasmeen Ismail’s work I was thrilled to see these new Draw and Discover activity books. Herein children can, having grabbed their pens and pencils, join Rabbit and Duck and have lots of fun responding to the instructions on every page.
Those who work with young children know that concepts such as ‘tall and short’ …

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‘short/long’, ‘small/ big’ and ‘empty/full’ are learned gradually through experience: inside, outside, upside down will add to such experience. In addition opposites such as outside/ inside, top/ bottom, left/ right …

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are also playfully presented.
Push, pull, empty, full adds scientific concepts – push/ pull …

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and warm/ cool as well as ‘beginning/ middle/ end’ which invites readers to ‘draw the middle’ and colour the rainbow created by so doing.
Draw Colour Discover’ says the message on the back cover: I’d add, Enjoy.

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Woodland Hedgehugs Activity Book
Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson
Maverick Arts Publishing
Spring’s not far away; already catkins are appearing on the hazel trees so it’s a great time to get out into the countryside or park with Horace and Hattie hedgehog (not forgetting Sid the Snail – he pops up on every page) and take up their invitation to engage in some sensory play. They suggest you wear wellies and wet weather gear and take along ‘A pot or box and a spoon, paper, chalk, glue, sticky-tape and ( most important I think), your imagination.’
Suggested outdoor activities include observations of colours in nature, looking for animal tracks, a scavenger hunt, some woodland challenges …

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an exploration of woodland textures, and taking rubbings of bark and leaves.
There’s a page of tree leaves to search for; and an invitation to listen out for natural sounds can be followed by drawing what was heard on the related page,
These are just some of the in-the-field suggestions but there are plenty of indoor ideas too. Why not try making a shaker from a Y-shaped stick, do some messy leaf printing, or creating some tasty ladybird treats starting with an apple.
I like the way the outdoors is brought to the indoors through activities such as these and the woodland map making. The pictorial map outlined in the book can be coloured, but I’d suggest children make their own, either in two or three dimensions, perhaps with the help of photos taken on a walk.

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8 Ways to Draw a Fish
Luisa Martelo
Tara Books
The author of this thoroughly engaging and instructive activity book has enlisted the help of artists from various regions of India. There are eight different art styles in all including Rajasthani Meena work from artist Sunita, Gond art from Madhya Pradesh from Bhajju Shyam, and Subhash Vyam, Madhubani style from Bihari artist, Rambharos Jha, Bhil art from Subhash Amaliyar and Patua style from West Bengali artist, Swarna Chitrakar.
As with all Tara publications, the whole thing is of top quality: the paper itself is beautifully thick (card almost) and each spread is a combination of grey outlines – thick or thin – and colourful design/pattern.

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The suggestion is that users trace the fish outlines and then be creative in how they add their own details and colours. The guidance is subtle rather than overly instructive and accompanying it are snippets of basic scientific information about the fish and their environments.
And of course, the book proves lots of fun, both for its intended child audience and for the many adults who enjoy such books as a means of relaxation. Make sure you read the author’s ‘What is Art?’ on the inside front cover flap too.
Buy to give and buy to keep. I intend to give my copy but first I’ll do some sneaky tracing so I don’t miss out on the creative opportunities.

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Picken / Animal Counting

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Picken
Mary Murphy
Walker Books
What a clever title for this ‘mix and match’ farm animal book. Here youngsters surely can ‘pick ‘n mix’ the opposite sides of this split page board book to create a host of crazy animals. Thus for instance, a Calf can become a Camb, a Cacken, a Catten, a Caglet, a Case …

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(I’ll leave you to work out what animal the rear end belongs to) and a Cappy.
A kitten on the other hand, might be a Kilf or a Kimb …

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or four other strange creatures.
Essentially this is a game in a book and with Mary Murphy’s bold, bright illustrations, a delightful one at that. In addition, it’s a wonderfully playful way to develop some sound/symbol associations.

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Animal Counting
Petr Horáček
Walker Books
This lift-the flap animal book is just the thing to encourage the very young to participate in the development of their counting skills. Brightly coloured images of a giraffe, zebras, cheetahs …

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snakes, crocodiles, chameleons, toucans, pandas, lemurs and finally fish are presented alongside the appropriate numeral and when the half-page flap on the right-hand side of each double spread is lifted, it reveals both a number symbol fashioned from the featured animal and the corresponding number word.

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To add further interest, each animal is described in an adjectival phrase such as-‘Seven Screeching toucans‘ or ‘Nine leaping lemurs‘.

First Snow / Brrr! Brrr!

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First Snow
Bomi Park
Chronicle Books
With impactful minimal text and a limited colour palette, debut picture book artist Park creates the magic of a first snowfall as experienced by a toddler. Said toddler dons warm outdoor gear (good on her) and creeps out into the white world beyond her front door, there to discover the joys of building a snowman. First though it seems, she must roll her ball of snow down urban streets, across a moonlit field, beside an elevated railway track – ‘Fast, fast fast’ –

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into the woods where she joins a throng of other snowman-building children. A magically uplifting moment occurs

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after which reality reasserts itself and we, and the little girl, are returned once more to her back garden and another kind of enchantment.
Go back and look once more at the details in Park’s captivating snow-filled scenes. Notice: the snowflake patterns on the child’s mits, the activities of the pup accompanying her the whole time, and the animals emerging and watching in the dark woods.

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Gorgeous! And as an added bonus, the spare text, with its built-in repetition, is such that beginning readers can, once the story’s been read to them, read those fifty odd words for themselves.
For even younger children is

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Brrr! Brrr!
Sebastien Braun
Nosy Crow
This is one of the series of lift-the-flap books for those ‘just beginning to talk’ and it certainly has a chilly feel to it. Peeking out from behind five objects –an iceberg, a boat, a cave entrance, an igloo and a clump of fir trees, each of which forms the flap, are five animals. Youngsters can enjoy a game of hide and seek in response to the sequence of ‘Who’s that … ?’ questions

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and then join in with the animal sound once it’s revealed. Sebastien Braun’s snowy scenes are a delight: I particularly like the woodland one.

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With the repeat pattern of the simple text, beginning readers can enjoy sharing this with a toddler sibling too.

Fun and Games / Migloo’s Weekend

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Fun and Games
Alain Grée
Button Books
This is chock-full of playful activities –over 50 altogether – all devised and illustrated by artist Alain Grée. There is something that should appeal to a wide age range from around 3 up to 6 or 7. Each activity is given a single page printed only on one side and glued so that it can be removed for use. There’s a variety of matching games, find the odd one out, true or false games, calendar cubes, spot the differences pages …

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and other games to develop visual perception as well as activities that entail cutting, folding and creating objects including a tiny puppet theatre

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and a sentry box. You can even make a stand-up Santa chain.
All the pages are attractively presented and full of details that are the hallmark of Alain Grée’s illustrative style. It’s just perfect for indoor days and likely to keep a child or two engaged for hours at a time. An ideal diversion from endless screens too.

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Migloo’s Weekend
William Bee
Walker Books
A day spent in the company of dog, Migloo and his Sunnytown friends is tiring: a whole weekend is totally exhausting, from an adult perspective as least. Youngsters tend to delight in rushing from one venue to another and there’s plenty of that herein. We join Migloo as he accepts a lift in Noah’s fish van and head for the market where Mrs Luigi has just opened a new café but it doesn’t look as though he’s going to be served any time soon judging by the queue, so off they dash to the farm instead. That too is very busy, but Farmer Tom has plenty on offer: Migloo’s spoilt for choice.

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Appetite sated, the next stop is the museum, followed by the cinema to watch the latest movie, and guess what – that too is action packed. After all the fun, it’s bedtime for Migloo and all his pals. Phew!
Sunday is equally busy and Migloo manages to pack in a visit to the car races and a funfair extravaganza where he gets involved in an exciting rescue of a film star.
There are fold-out pages and things to spot aplenty; there’s even a spread called ‘Busy Page’, though I thought every page was pretty busy .
If you have or know children who like to be involved in a picture book that isn’t (despite what we’re told) a story, this could be just the thing. With plenty to explore and discuss, it’s likely to will keep youngsters amused for hours.

Animals, One Cheetah One Cherry & Flip Flap Pets

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Animals
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio
This over-sized picture book by Swedish illustrator/designer Arrhenius is sure to have youngsters poring over its gigantic retro-style pages. It features thirty two animals large and small from grasshopper …

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to gorilla, and hippo to frog …

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Every one of the pages would make a lovely poster and it’s hard to choose a favourite animal: I love the muted, matt colours used and the careful placing of pattern; and the lettering fonts and colours seem to reflect the essence of each animal portrayed.

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If you’re looking for something impressive to generate language in youngsters, try putting this book on the floor in your book area and see what happens.
It might also be put to good use in an art lesson for older children.

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One Cheetah, One Cherry
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Absolutely stunning paintings of wild animals grace the pages of this stylish, smallish counting book. We start with ‘One cherry, one cheetah’ showing a graceful beast with a luscious-looking cherry between its paws and continue, encountering two dogs, three bears, four foxes …

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five elephants, six tigers, seven pandas, eight otters, nine mice, ten cherries – all carefully poised, thus :

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which takes us back (numberwise) to None. The cheetah has feasted on those ten delicious cherries and looks mighty pleased about it.
What a wonderful array of animals and activities. The language too is so carefully chosen: alliteration abounds as here: ’Four fine foxes/ sharing strawberries.’
or, try getting your tongue around this one: ‘Seven giant pandas, with pretty painted parasols.’

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Such delicate patterning on those parasols and lantern. Indeed pattern is part and parcel of every painting, so too is gold-leaf; but that’s not all. The end papers are equally gorgeous, the front being a dance of numerals, orchestrated by the cheetah and the back shows the number symbols in order with animals/cherries alongside.

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Flip Flap Pets
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Axel Scheffler offers a multitude of opportunities to create quirky creatures in his latest Flip Flap rhyming extravaganza. Youngsters can turn the basic ten or so popular pets into a whole host of crazy combinations of feather, fur, scale, shell and more. What happens for instance when you cross a stick insect with a budgerigar? You get a STICKERIGAR of course …

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Try crossing a goldfish with a tortoise – that results in a GOLDFOISE:

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and a snake crossed with a cat gives something pretty irresistible – a cake!
It’s possible to make – so that butterfly on the back cover of this bonkers book informs us – 121 combinations. What are you waiting for? If my experience of previous titles in this series is anything to go by, this new addition to the series is likely to inspire children to set about making their own flip flap books.

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Flip Flap Pop-Ups & Who What Where?

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This Or That?
Delphine Chedru
Can You Keep a Straight Face?
Elisa Géhin
What’s Up?
Olivia Cosneau
Thames & Hudson
All three of these playfully interactive little ‘Flip Flap Pop-Up’ books have amazing paper engineering by Bernard Duisit and each is likely to bring countless hours of delight to small children who will adore pulling and pushing the tabs and turning the wheels therein. (So too will the adults who might feel the need to demonstrate the various mechanisms!)
Differently themed and differently authored, a treat awaits at every turn of the page and flick of the hand:
Can You Keep a Straight Face? asks the book’s author. I doubt it, as all manner of odd things happen when you manipulate the tabs and wheels on each spread – magical fun of the face contortion kind. Prepare to be amazed.

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This or That? presents a varied (and sometimes difficult) array of choices to respond to, all introduced by, ‘Which is better?’ Chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? No competition here: I’d choose this one every time.

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What about the pet question though – in reality I tend to avoid both cats and dogs! I have issues with both.

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But I especially like the final togetherness spread. If I had to choose a favourite (I love all three books), I think it would have to be …
What’s Up? which introduces various birds from the tiny Robin Redbreast (he almost launches himself from the page) …

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to the flambouyant ‘proud peacock’ …

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What a tail! Cool stuff!

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Who What Where?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books
This is a deliciously playful follow up to Tallec’s Who Done It? And again it’s one where close observation is required to answer the question posed at the top of each page along with a visual of the situation. Four, or sometimes five suspects then form an ID parade on the adjoining, lower page with clues to assist youngsters identify the culprit. Here’s an example …

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Who has left a jacket at home?
Every spread is populated by delightful characters – animal and human – each beautifully detailed and rendered in pencil and acrylics and some require a bit more puzzling than others. How do you find this one :

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They’re all sporting blue so colour isn’t very helpful although we can eliminate the character with a gift. Another clue is needed: a blue face, yes but look at the eye reflected. Is it surrounded by black skin? No. So we can rule out number two and five. Where’s the black dot on the eye in the mirror – central or not? Now you’ve got it …
There seems to be something not quite right in this scenario though:

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Who got stuck in the tree trunk? we’re asked. Now take a look at the protruding feet – which way are they pointing – in or out? Now look at the girth of the upside down character: rather stout, yes? So I can’t see the last two becoming stuck so that leaves the first two – both pretty chunky but foot size leads us to suspect number two in the line up and bingo! That’s correct but then why are his feet pointing outwards at the top and inwards in the line up? OOPS!
Youngsters applying their developing logic to this one might well feel somewhat puzzled – I was!
All in all though, terrific fun.

We Love Dinosaurs / Touch & Explore Dinosaurs

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We Love Dinosaurs
Lucy Volpin
Nosy Crow
Debut picture book artist, Lucy Volpin celebrates her passion for dinosaurs with a rhyming litany to these extinct creatures be they tall or small, fleet of foot or plodders, herbivores or carnivores, those with enormous roars or snuffly snores …

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No matter whether they are spiny, spikey or something other,

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these are probably some of the most talked about, most loved by children, of all animals ever.
Rendered in watercolour and pencil, the dinosaurs herein are sure to delight young addicts and should also create some new enthusiasts among pre-schoolers who will enjoy pointing out their various attributes and finding the descriptive words in the brief text.

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Indeed slightly older children will likely want to have a go at reading the whole thing for themselves once they’ve heard it read aloud a couple of times.

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Touch & Explore Dinosaurs
Illustrated by Ninie
Twirl Books
Dinosaur loving seems to start at a very early age and here’s a board book catering for pre-schoolers who can explore its contents and enjoy a multisensory experience by using their fingers (to feel the numerous textures inset into the die-cut shapes of various parts of the dinosaurs’ anatomies) – even the title is touchy-feely; by looking closely at the details in some of the illustrations or merely, by enjoying the bright colours of these little beauties;

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(I like the playful hues used here accompanying the ‘… today no one knows what colours our skins were.’) and perhaps even creating ROARS and dinosaur shapes with their own bodies.
They can also find out about the smallest known dinosaurs,

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learn something about dinosaur diet, how dinosaurs reproduced, how they came to an end, as well as meeting one or two species close up: Diplodocus the gentle giant – (did you know this plant eater was larger than three elephants?); Triceratops with its frilled neck and small-headed Stegosaurus, and Microraptor with large wings that were used for gliding.
There’s a fair bit of information embedded in this book, much of which will be absorbed with little effort by those ‘littles’ who peruse its pages Did you know a Maiasaurus makes a small crater in which to lay its eggs? I certainly didn’t.
First person, direct language is used to convey the facts so that it appears readers are being addressed by the various dinosaurs, adding to the fun. And Ninie’s digitally rendered artwork with those die-cut touchy-feely bodies almost jumps off the pages. It’s fortunate this board book is sturdily bound to stand up to the heavy handling it’s likely to receive from enthusiastic early years readers.

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Toddler Delights

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City Block
Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed
In this exploration of city life, through clever use of alternating shaped and whole pages we are shown city life from subway to high rise level and everything between. The book is divided into three parts: ways of getting around, places of interest …

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and finally, things to eat. The die cut shape on the first spread suggests its fuller context when the page is turned (or opened) and this pattern is used throughout and in all, two dozen aspects of city life are featured in a whacking 96 pages. Perfectly sized for small hands, we are treated to a series of linked illustrations of what makes a city: its transport systems …

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the multitude of places to visit, food to sample …

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and all – if you really go for it – in a day …

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Goodnight, City!

I really like the way we are gradually shown smaller aspects of this sprawling metropolis – the very different places that all contribute to its fascination and excitement. What are you waiting for, go exploring …

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Hey Diddle Diddle
Happy Birthday
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow
Littles will delight in moving the sliders and bringing to life the favourite songs in these two chunky ‘Sing Along With Me’ board books. In the first, the illustrator uses a fairground setting adding a whole cast of characters to those from the rhyme and there is plenty to talk about in the jolly scenes.

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The cow jumped over the moon.

In the second book, it’s a little rabbit that shares his birthday celebration with readers and of course, his party guests.
Because of the repetition and simple rhyming pattern, reading familiar songs (in addition to singing them) is a very good way to teach beginning reading; and the young child gradually starts to match the words on the page with those in his or her head. By scanning the QR code on the inside cover of each book, users can download an audio version to keep and sing/read along with. (Instructions are provided,)

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Eek! A Mouse Seek-and-Peek
Anne-Sophie Baumann and Anne-Kathrin Behl
Twirl Books
Talk about flap extravaganza – this surely is it – as we join a mischief of mice as they rummage, room after room, through a house, seeking paraphernalia for a party. Starting in the basement they search containers large and small. Next stop is the bedroom – ooh! some secrets here –

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then the kitchen, the bathroom, the attic and …

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What a well-organised household these mice have found. And what fun to explore it with them, opening all those boxes, cans, cabinets, tins and cases listening to their comments as they collect all manner of exciting items and have a few surprises and the odd tasty morsel too.
Comic scenes abound and this is certain to get a lot of enthusiastic handling, not to mention squeals of delight: I only hope it can stand up to the multiple readings I envisage.

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Animal Magic, Cuddly Cow, Portly Pig, Baby Elephant & Baby Reindeer

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Animal Magic
Phil Allcock and Gina Maldonado
Maverick Arts Publishing
Delightfully playful is Phil Allcock’s nonsense rhyme featuring what starts out as a hedgehog – a funny one – and morphs into eight other animals – small and smaller. There’s a hopping one, a wiggler…

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a strutting clucker, a quacking swimmer, a jogger, a hopper (furry this time) and slimy slitherer and finally …

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Toddlers will have enormous fun guessing what each new disguise will be before the page is turned to reveal it in one of Gina Maldonado’s enchanting dayglow spreads.

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Cuddly Cow/ Portly Pig
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Another two lovable animals star in the latest ‘Sound Button’ farmyard stories from the inimitable Axel Scheffler. The first features a very dozy Cuddly Cow intent on finding a quiet peaceful spot for some shut-eye. Her own meadow’s no good because the other cows make too much of a din: surely there’s somewhere else though, after all it is past sundown.
The chicken shed’s full of clucking hens, the horse is inhospitable, there’s a right old row in the pig pen – thank you ducks – but what about the sheep field? Maybe a spot of counting might help …

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Portly Pig’s troubled on account of his clean, pinkness. He’s against green grass, yucky flowers and trees as he describes them, and sets off in search of a mucky place. Soon he discovers just the thing: a cool, muddy pool; and a delightful day of splashing and sploshing follows. Until that is, the sky changes colour …

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Pig, like most young children is a real mud lover but unlike them, he can keep on getting muddy, letting the rain wash him off and immediately getting mucky all over again – in an instant. Youngsters will delight in Portly’s mucky, messy coat and might well be tempted to emulate his actions – adults beware!

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Baby Elephant / Baby Reindeer
illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
Chronicle Books
In the first of two new offerings in the ‘Finger Puppet’ series we discover how Baby Elephant greets her Mama, finds food, keeps cool and communicates with fellow baby elephants.
Baby Reindeer lives in a contrastingly cold tundra climate and to find food, has to use his hooves to dig in the snow and uncover tasty lichen. Like Baby Elephant, he too swims in a river – albeit a very icy feeling one and snuggles against Mama Reindeer for warmth at the end of the day.
Both board books provide a lovely way for human adult and baby to interact with a book.

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