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.