The Secret Unicorn Club

The Secret Unicorn Club
Emma Roberts, illustrated by Rae Ritchie & Tomislav Tomic
Magic Cat

Do you believe in unicorns? Whether or not you do, there are countless children who are obsessed with these mythical creatures. I’m sure many of them would be interested in becoming members of the Secret Unicorn Club whose role it is to search for and look after unicorns in the wild; and this is where Emma Roberts’ book comes in. It will help readers to become experts and thus eligible for club membership; and during their learning journey they will collect ten badges.

Having followed the instruction on the very first page and thus earned the first ‘Friend’ badge, readers are introduced to a mother and baby unicorn. These two stand ready to impart some information about themselves and fellow unicorns including how their poop aroma is affected by the weather conditions at the time it’s deposited; what their tears do and why they are precious; there is also a paragraph about unicorn horns and another about tails and manes. Absorbing all that earns the reader a unicorn knowledge badge.

Subsequent double spreads are devoted to the care of unicorns – interestingly they have a penchant for the Easter Bunny’s prize carrots (cooked three ways);

and next, unicorns in the wild – the wilder the better if you want to find one. We then meet a special team with natural magic that help make the various kinds of weather, for instance a burp from one of these unicorns results in lightning.

Talking of magic, that’s the topic for the next spread; with my messy partner I could certainly do with brewing up some of the tidying up spell. Most magical of all though, is the special nature event, the ‘aurora’.

It’s great to see the next spread devoted to nature conservation for there are, we read, relatives of the unicorn that need protection today – the narwhal, and the rhinoceros.

Now here is something truly astonishing: the Montgolfier brothers had a secret passenger aboard when they took their first ever flight: apparently stowed away in the balloon’s basket was a unicorn that assisted the brothers by controlling the wind with its magical breath. Really? That’s part of the final historical spread whereon readers earn a history badge and thereby become eligible for that membership and the unlocking of a surprise hidden handbook inside the back cover, wherein there’s further precious knowledge that will appeal especially to horse lovers.

With its intricately detailed, whimsical illustrations and beautiful borders,.youngsters with a fondness for mythic fantasy will lap this up

Fish, Llamas and a Visit to the Zoo

1 2 3 Fish in the Sea
Luna Parks, illustrated by Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

There’s tactile fun along with the counting and number recognition between the covers of this brightly coloured, textured, rhyming board book. We start with one three coloured little fishy swimming in the ocean, that one meets a speedy friend, and then another. The three explore inside a cave where they meet fishy number four, followed soon after as they dash around by fishy number 5. But then as they swim 5 abreast a scary shark gives chase. Time to hide little fishes …

Be Calmer, Llama!
Rosamund Lloyd and Gareth Lucas
Little Tiger

In her rhyming, counting down narrative, Rosamund Lloyd starts with five llamas frenetically rushing around. They decide that it’s time to slow down for that way lies more greater happiness so they hope. Each one finds a different way to become calmer: the first does so by means of water, the next gives himself a bit of self-love, leaving three giddy creatures. A wise one does some relaxing exercises, leaving two females; one undertakes some deep exhalations and as the last is anticipating some solo relaxation, back bounce the others. I wonder what happens …
Counting fun set against Gareth Lucas’ five calm-inducing natural backgrounds, each bursting with wildlife that adults and toddlers can talk about together, in addition to trying out some of the llamas’ ways to slow down.

Not really a board book but offering a wealth of language possibilities is

Lola Loves Animals
Imapla
minedition

In this wordless picture book illustrated with brightly coloured digital art, readers join young Lola and her mum on a trip to the zoo. Its clever concertina construction shows the red path they take against a white background on the walk to the zoo and as Lola enjoys her encounters with in turn an elephant, a gorilla, a moose, giraffes and a hippo. (I love the changing emotions on the faces of the characters). Her toy duck meanwhile enjoys making a new friend. 

During this time the weather has changed from sunny to rainy, and as they head homewards, it’s dark.

At the end is a lift the flap door; this gives readers entry to the second part of Lola’s adventure on the other side of the page. Here, a black background shows her dream of flying through the air and having an exciting adventure with the animals she met at the zoo.

The clever accordion fold means that the book stands up easily enabling it to act as a backdrop for a child’s imaginative play (thus fulfilling the cover boast: ‘Book & Playset in one!’) There’s a wealth of storytelling potential between the covers of this clever book, especially if you add some small world characters and objects.

Inside the Suitcase

Inside the Suitcase
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Right from the epigraph inside the front cover, we know we’re in for something special with this book: “A good traveller has no set plans and no destination.’ Lao-tzu and so it seems is the case with Clotilde Perrin’s young boy traveller.

We first encounter the boy inside a delightful little house tucked away behind the hills wherein he stands packing his red suitcase. We’re invited to open this case and view its contents – a seemingly random selection of items. But wait, read on and the importance of each one will be revealed as the journey progresses; a journey that takes the lad across the ocean in a small boat to land on an unknown beach whereon rests a large rock. Behind this stands a small house somewhat similar to the one the boy has left, but how will he gain entrance? How good is the reader’s memory, for this is now a game involving memory.

Once within, the boy makes a discovery; but what will he do with the tempting object? With a decision made and the item stowed safely in his case, the boy consumes one of the things he’d packed and continues his journey. Now he climbs tall, icy mountains – shiver shiver – is there anything in that suitcase to alleviate the cold he’s feeling? At the top of the mountain glowing in the ice is a hole wherein a host of luminous jellyfish swim. How lovely it would be to join them.

Time to check the contents of that suitcase again …

Strangely, having taken the plunge, there beneath the water stands something totally surprising; what could possibly be inside? … A rarity indeed! And definitely something to stow into that suitcase.

Jiggle, jiggle goes the object as the boy continues on his way until there before him is a dark forest wherein lurks – oh no!

Quick, the suitcase might just hold something useful …

Phew, a narrow escape for sure but so deep and black is the darkness that now the boy requires something to help him find his way: saved by a resource from the case again.

Once the night has gone the boy discovers yet another house but there’s nothing much within except a single seed; but a seed of what?

Best to pop it in the case and move on, and so he does, stopping briefly to remove the last item collected from his case before moving through a dense fog cloud behind which stands …

Yes, the boy’s journey has brought him full circle. Is there anything remaining in his suitcase.? I wonder … memories certainly.

Surprises aplenty await any reader in this cleverly designed book into which much has clearly been put, especially in the placing of images as well as the use of overlapping layers of large, shaped flaps and die-cuts. Features such as these make our discoveries as we follow the boy’s journey, all the more exciting. Then there are some touches of surrealism: that fish flying close to the boy’s home on the final spread for example; I’ll leave readers to discover others for themselves. The illustrations throughout are a delight, full of life and executed in a colour palette that enhances the mysterious fascination of the boy’s journey into the great unknown in this superb neo-fairytale.

Originally published in French, the story was translated by Daniel Hahn.

What’s in the Egg? & Funny Birds / In the Butterfly Garden

What’s in the Egg?
Maike Biederstädt
Prestel Publishing

Taking readers to a variety of locations – the branches of a tree, the South Pole, a sandy beach, a coral reef, a tropical riverbank and finally, a milkweed plant, a paragraph of text explores the titular question.

Thus, we see life emerging into view as in turn, a hungry blackbird chick breaks out of its shell; baby penguins emerge from their eggs; tiny newly hatched turtles start their journey from eggshell to sea as dusk falls; a male clownfish keeps watch over babies in their transparent eggs; using her gaping mouth, a mother crocodile carries her newborn baby crocodiles to the river

and on the last spread the entire life-cycle of a monarch butterfly is shown.

The elaborate paper-engineering that Maike Biederstädt uses to make her boldy hued, detailed scenes explode into life is amazing.

Youngsters will learn some interesting facts about each of the animals and their habitats as they enjoy the superb visuals. For instance they’ll be fascinated to discover that a father penguin carries an egg on his feet and uses his feathers to keep it warm.

More superb paper-engineering is the essence of these two books also from Prestel that I missed when they were first published:

Funny Birds / In the Butterfly Garden
Philippe Ug

Philippe’s incredible cut-out illustrations carry most of the story as we follow, in the first title, a group of exotic ‘funny birds’ and the hatching of their new babies. High up in a tree, a nest holds eggs safely hidden from view until the fledglings are ready to emerge and explore their external environment on that first day.
Using rich colours Ug has created eight awesomely intricate 3D scenes of birds of various shapes and sizes

for us to feast our eyes upon.

In the Butterfly Garden little ones can follow the story of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into chrysalis from whence emerges a beautiful butterfly.

There are other tiny insects hiding in the garden’s foliage too, including ladybirds, ants, a dragonfly; there’s even a praying mantis just poised ready to snatch a snack. Then as day gives way to night, it’s time for the moth to take to the wing.

Again in Ug’s eight scenes there’s considerable attention to detail and a rich colour palette.

My Pop-Up Body Book

My Pop-Up Body Book
Jennie Maizels and William Petty
Walker Books

Who doesn’t love a pop-up book especially when it includes SO much learning in such a fun way as this one written by William Petty and illustrated by Jennie Maizels.

It contains a wheel, flaps, even a handful of small books within the main book; and all in just five incredible spreads whereon David Hawcock’s paper engineering is awesome. Scattered throughout the spreads are simply masses of bite-sized chunks of information, some hand lettered by the illustrator.

The level of interactive opportunities is incredible: readers can follow the development of a baby in the mother’s womb by rotating the wheel;

the thoracic skeleton positively leaps out of the pages, and the chambers of a heart can be revealed beneath a flap. Did you know that the heart of a girl beats faster than that of a boy?

The central pop-up from each spread reveals in turn, a baby, the head and organs on and within – a nose mini book lets you emit green snot from the nostrils;

the chest, the tummy and intestines (you can even track poo on the move) and finally, the whole skeleton. There is SO much to explore and discover on every one of the spreads.

An absolutely superb introduction to the body and its biology – its form, functions, growth and repair; and a terrific production, creative, clever and totally fascinating. Delve into this and children will see that they share much more in common with one another than any superficial differences.

Strongly recommended for the family shelves and classroom collection.

Follow the Star / Santa’s Christmas Handbook

Here are a couple of Christmas crackers from Templar Publishing

Follow the Star
Andy Mansfield
Templar Books

‘A STAR appeared, shining bright, to mark a very special night.’ Thus begins the poetic telling of how the Star of Bethlehem lit the sky on the first Christmas and still shines forth today over the countryside, over cities where people hang their own stars and gather together to share their love for each other and to give gifts around the Christmas tree, atop which the star finally stops.

Andy Mansfield, pop-up book creator and paper engineer extraordinaire has worked his own magic on six scenes that, in diorama style, show all this, inspiring readers, certainly this reviewer, to in these increasingly troubled times, wish for peace all over the world not only during the Christmas season but throughout all seasons.

A beautiful book that would make a smashing gift.

Andy Mansfield also created the paper engineering for:

Santa’s Christmas Handbook
Christopher Edge, illustrated by Tim Hutchinson, Richard Johnson, Maggie Kneen, Sandy Nightingale, Mike Philips
Templar Publishing

This seasonal offering is written by Santa’s elves no less, and they let us in on a hithertofore well-kept secret: Santa is extremely accident-prone and when it comes to technology he needs more than a little assistance. Hence this handbook wherein Santa can find exactly what he needs to know so that he can whizz around the entire world in a single night and deliver presents to all those sleeping children and stay in tip-top condition while so doing.

Let’s see what the merry little men in green have to say then: first off we see his high tech. sleigh made so by the mechanic elves who have added such niceties as Booster rockets, an antenna – his link to the North Pole, snow lights, all terrain tracks should the vehicle have to deal with exceedingly bumpy ground. They’ve even given extra padding to the seat, added present nets to take care of any gifts that get dislodged and a host of other refinements.

Next comes a ‘know your reindeer’ guide to prevent mishaps during the journey; this includes a special first aid kit should any of the team get struck down by such ailments as Frost-hoof or Tinsellitis. Yes Dasher, Dancer and co. suffer from pollution too.

Further spreads deal with ensuring that the route can be completed by dawn: the sat nav or rather Santanav, is crucial if Santa is to take the fastest route; the “All About Presents’ instructions has sound advice to cover everything Santa needs to know on that topic. There’s a guide to gaining admission to all residences whether or not there’s a chimney;

instructions on how to behave once inside a house; a how to look after yourself regime;

a bumper assortment of entertainment for the journey and finally, visual ‘do not leave behind’ reminders.

It’s evident that the elves have not only created a comprehensive manual, but also had a wonderful time so doing. It’s totally hilarious, tongue-in-cheek interactive stuff from they who know. Those lucky enough to get this as a gift when Santa comes a-visiting will simply love it.

The House of Madame M

The House of Madame M
Clotilde Perrin (translated by Daniel Hann)
Gecko Press

Following on from Clotilde Perrin’s super-sized Inside the Villains comes another large format lift-the-flap picture book.
Once again this one immediately snares the reader’s attention as they’re invited to enter and explore the residence of Madame B by an extremely strange-looking being.

Enter if you dare for she doesn’t, so we’re told, live alone in this strange house. There too dwell creepy creatures aplenty, hiding in unexpected places to fill you with the frights.

As you peek inside each room you’ll likely be brushed by cobwebs, scuttled over by spiders, grimaced at by alarming monsters and your nostrils will be assaulted by smells of mould and decay; you’ll feel icy winds and hear creaks as you open doors, lift flaps, and come upon jokes of the weirdest kinds.

Hilariously creepy details abound – lurking in the cupboards, in the pots and pans, even beneath the loo seat, in this veritable treasure trove of frights and giggles for chilly nights.

Assuredly a book to relish far beyond the night of Halloween; this is one to enjoy snuggled in a warm place with a comforting hot chocolate and cosy slippers.

I still have a much treasured copy of Jan Pieńkowski’s awesome Haunted House on my shelves. This slightly more macabre offering will sit alongside it as a 21st century complement.

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

The cast from Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do and I Do Not Like Books Any More! are back in another smashing story.

Natalie, Alphonse and family reside in a flat, on the seventh floor. The child monsters love driving their double-decker bed, playing around their large green chair, tending their sunflowers and performing somersaults down the hall and generally junglifying their surroundings until Natalie cries out “OW, ALPHONSE, you’re STANDING ON ME… and there’s MUD on the CEILING!

At this point Dad intervenes pointing out that their shenanigans are unsuitable indoor play. Natalie (who has an answer for everything) counters this with complaints about their lack of a wild jungle garden with a tent for sleeping in.

Eventually Natalie decides the park is where she want to be – alone.

Off she goes and there her explorations lead her to a bush with a hole wherein she finds …

Then, guess who arrives on the scene. A truce is called and a deal struck involving sausages and blackberries, and at Natalie’s insistence, a bundle of sticks.

Turns out there’s more than one place where you can be wild in the jungle, camping and tucking in to tea. Perhaps even sleeping too.

Another acutely observed, vibrantly illustrated tale from Daisy Hurst; these stories go from strength to strength. Everything about this book is quite simply brilliant.

I suspect adult sharers will adore it as much as the youngsters they read it with; this reviewer surely did.

Pop-up Moon

Pop-up Moon
Anne Jankeliowitch, Olivier Charbonnel and Annabelle Buxton
Thames & Hudson

Earth’s moon has long been a source of fascination and inspiration to both children and adults, and with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing later this year, as well as the Chinese landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January, this is a timely publication.

In just eight spreads, engineer and scientist Anne Jankeliowitch has packed a considerable amount of information, but it’s Olivier Charbonnel’s four spectacular pop-up visuals that steal the show.

Readers can find out about how the moon came into being; what its surface and atmosphere are like; why it apparently changes shape and how it can have an effect on the tides.

There’s a look at eclipses and their cause; as well as space exploration including the Apollo landings.

Non-scientific ideas considered by many to be mere superstition, receive a mention too.

Space enthusiasts or not, children will be excited when they open the book and images such as this leap out at them from Annabelle Buxton’s illustrations.

The spectacular nature of some of the paper engineering is likely, I think, to result in such enthusiastic handling that this is perhaps more suitable for home than classroom use.

Inside the Villains

Inside the Villains
Clotilde Perrin
Gecko Press

Wow! This is a BIG book; it’s also a pop-up, lift-the-flap, pull-the-tab volume wherein we meet three of the biggest villains of fairy tale.

If you’ve ever wondered what really lies behind the three characters, this larger-than-life volume supplies the information. It takes readers deep within and around on a tour of discovery that reveals what’s hidden beneath their clothing, what lurks in their pockets and even behind their ears; and be prepared for a peep at stomach contents.

Each character is immaculately constructed with layers to peel back and investigate. For instance in the wolf (my favourite) we’re shown the working of his grey matter and when you pull a tiny thread, the contents of his stomach – see if you can guess what lies therein – the creature’s been pretty busy of late; either that or he digests his food very slowly.
On the opposite page is a self-written profile of the lupine creature wherein he recounts his dietary preferences and describes himself as having ‘highly developed intelligence, natural cunning and exceptional athletic gifts.’

Unfold the left-hand page and you’ll discover a terrific ‘More About Me’ section with story references aplenty as well as a list of other related tales. Opposite all this is the story of The wolf and the seven little goats.

The giant clearly has several layers of adipose tissue – not surprising as he talks of his ‘insatiable appetite’. Beware his beguiling banter “I’m opening my heart to you’. Hmm! Unfasten his belt and take a look beneath that waistcoat, then have a peek behind his hat.

As for the witch, she sports a feathery cape, perfect for ensuring that the contents of her pocket stays toasty warm. Under her dress and petticoat she has a stash of terrible treasures, so ignore what she says about those pockets full of sweets, if you value your life, her gnashers look evil indeed.
Her hidden story is Alyoshka and Baba Yaga.

Brilliantly conceived and equally brilliantly constructed, Clotilde Perrin takes interactive novelty books to a whole new level.