He’s Not Naughty!

He’s Not Naughty!
Deborah Brownson, illustrated by Ben Mason
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Taryn and Jake are best friends, they’re almost inseparable, similar in lots of ways but also rather different for Jake has autism, and Taryn has taken it upon herself to explain for young readers (as well as teachers and other educators, carers, parents and family) what this means.

It most definitely does not mean, despite some of his behaviour, that he’s naughty. Far from it; rather his sensory processing disorder might result in him feeling explosive inside so that he flaps his hands and screams rather than participating in a supposedly fun activity.

Or, his tactile sensitivity might make him cast off his uncomfortable-feeling clothes or shoes and run around without the offending article(s).

Perhaps he might be so engrossed in his own world that it appears he’s ignoring another person; although there are ways to get around this, as there are ways of coping with other ‘mistakes’. After all, everyone– neuro diverse or not -, learns through their mistakes. For example, many grown-ups expect a child to look directly into their eyes when being spoken to; for children such as Jake, listening to and looking at a person at the same time, asks them to use one sense too many and as a consequence, to listen well he looks down at the floor. This is not being rude (a mistake many unknowing adults make); it’s merely coping with being different.

Taste and how food looks, reactions to strangers, taking things literally, feelings, speech (including communicating with sign language and by means of PECS);

making friends, choosing an appropriate school and routines, as well as famous people who have or may have autism are also covered.

This excellent little book is a real gem, written from first-hand knowledge and from the heart – its author is the mother of two children on the autism spectrum – and ought to be shared in all classrooms and by every family bringing up a child with autism.
Moreover, the artist Ben Mason has Asperger’s and his illustrations too are heart-felt and insightful.

The Missing Bookshop

The Missing Bookshop
Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman
Stripes Publishing
This smashing story from debut author, bookseller Katie Clapham took me back to my days working in a children’s bookshop on Saturdays and during school holidays, a job I loved and which always made me want to own a bookshop just like the one Katie has written about. It never happened though: I’ve stayed in education, albeit with a house full of as many books as some bookshops.

Mrs Minty is the owner of the one here, a place young Milly loved to visit especially for the weekly story time sessions when she’d sit transfixed on one of the cushions on the rainbow carpet listening to Mrs Minty read from a book, often in response to Milly’s ‘one with … in’. Times when Milly has saved sufficient pocket money to buy a book of her own were especially exciting.

On one such day Milly notices that both Mrs Minty and her shop have lost some of their sparkle, particularly whens she compares Mrs M. with the picture hanging on the wall behind the counter.

As she sits with her mum in a café after their bookshop visit, Milly expresses her concern, asking, “What do you do if something is old and creaky?”
Mum’s response about careful treatment and the possibility of replacing it with something new upsets the girl who considers Mrs Minty irreplaceable despite her “You’d make a wonderful bookseller,” words to Milly.

The next week, having watched the bookseller at work, Milly’s fears grow: the woman is a veritable encyclopaedia when it comes to knowledge about books – nobody could do better and after the session as she and her mum sit together they talk further about the bookshop’s future. So worried is Milly that she then runs back to tell Mrs Minty about her bookshop’s irreplaceability.

After the weekend the shop is closed when MIlly and her mum pay a visit. It remains so for the rest of the week until a sign appears in the window ‘CLOSED DUE TO UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES’ followed the next week ay the even more concerning ‘CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’. What on earth can have happened?

Another week passes and a van appears outside the bookshop full of items from inside; then a woman gets in and drives away before Milly has a chance to question her. Doom and gloom descend upon Mllly and deepen when a FOR SALE sign appears soon after.

It’s time to launch operation Save Minty’s Bookshop decides Milly and she gets busy right away.

A few days later her mum returns from a supermarket visit with exciting news …

As a lover of local independent bookshops, especially those specialising in children’s books, my heart went out to Milly and Mrs Minty in this smashing story that flies the flag for such establishments. I loved Milly’s resilience and determination as well of course, as the fact that she’s a bibliophile at such a young age.

Kirsti Beautyman’s expressive illustrations portray so well, young Milly’s changing emotions as the story progresses towards its thoroughly satisfying finale.

Another cracking addition to Stripes’ series of full-colour fiction for newly independent readers; it’s bound to be devoured by book and bookshop lovers especially.

When We Walked on the Moon

When We Walked on the Moon
David Long and Sam Kalda
Wide Eyed Editions

Another of the recent, 50th anniversary of mankind’s first moon-landing outpouring of space-related books, both fiction and non-fiction, is this compelling one from David Long.

Herein, using a narrative style, he focuses in the main on the astronauts who took part in the Apollo Missions.
Dividing the text into short chapters he provides both technical details and accounts of the important incidents for the Apollo astronauts, including  pre Apollo space travels such as Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 orbiting of the Earth, before focussing on the Space Race between the Soviet and American teams to be the first to land a human on the Moon’s surface.

The focus of the second chapter is the Apollo11 flight crewed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. We read of such domestic details as how the crew ate cooked portions of beef hash, toast, biscuits and bacon that were freeze-dried in bags; how their drinking water was made and their sleeping arrangements.

The third chapter describes the actual moon landing, how the two who were to walk outside first had to rest for four hours before venturing outside in their space suits. I was fascinated to learn that eleven layers of ‘different fabrics’ were used in their space suits to protect the men from everything from space dust to pieces of flying rock and from spacecraft fire; and that said suits weighed 80kg each.

Then comes Armstrong’s famous first Moon walk,

followed shortly after by Aldrin.

The Apollo 12 mission is described next; the crew, we’re told, had twice as much time as their predecessors on the Moon’s surface and were able to carry out tests and collect samples.

We then read of the almost disastrous Apollo 13 mission and what took place aboard the spaceship following the explosion of an oxygen tank that badly damaged the service module, causing a brief but complete loss of radio communication with Earth. Happily ground staff at NASA working non-stop, together with the awesome ingenuity and courage of the astronauts aboard Aquarius, succeeded in bringing the men back home.

The amazing and absorbing story concludes with the safe return of the final Moon mission team aboard Apollo 17

and a brief look at future space travel with such enormous challenges as reaching Mars; however, as we read, ‘if Apollo showed us anything it is that with a combination of courage, determination and ingenuity we can and will go far.’

The final pages include group portraits of the crews of each Apollo mission together with brief biographies of each astronaut, a glossary and timeline.

Sam Kalda incorporates his love of pattern and texture into double page, single page and smaller illustrations of men, machines, lunarscapes and the Earth from space.

With its plethora of small humanising details, this book is strongly recommended for KS2 classroom collections and for home reading.

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure

Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Not One Tiny Bit Lovey-Dovey Moon Adventure
A.L. Kennedy, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Walker Books

This is the third title in Costa award winning author A.L.Kennedy’s series starring Uncle Shawn, his best pal Bill Badger and a cast of other larger than life, lovable and not so lovable characters.

It’s as superbly bonkers as the title indicates and had me spluttering with laughter on pretty much every page, both at the story and Gemma Correll’s splendid, liberally scattered illustrations of villains and goodies.

Early on in the tale we learn that Sky (one of the twins) has wished herself invisible and no matter how hard she tries to unwish her invisibility – which has distinct disadvantages – her second wish never comes true.

We also discover that Bill has fallen head-over-heels in love with a lovely lady badger (‘possibly the most gorgeous badger in the world’) going by the name of Miranda (although he doesn’t yet know that) and she seems as perfect as any creature could be. Romance is most definitely in the air.

Could it be though that Bill is deluding himself about the desirability of Miranda Badger. Why is it for instance that she is liaising with a bald man with ill-fitting teeth, one Sylvester Pearlyclaws, a notorious criminal?

Is it possible that he is in fact the erstwhile toothless man who had recently emerged from the sea at Shoogeldy Bay swearing to get his revenge on Uncle Shawn et al.?

Meanwhile Sky is still struggling with her invisibility problem, so much so that Uncle Shawn suggests that the way to solve it is  to visit the moon, aka – so he says – the land of wishes; and the means to travelling to their lunar destination will be, wait for it, a giant-size iron soup dish.

The entire plot is fast moving and completely crazy. It totally snares the attention holding it throughout, brimming over as it does with exciting imagery – ‘Uncle Shawn reached down and just managed to catch the magnet, It was going faster than an oiled penguin sliding down an iceberg because it was very late for dinner.’ Or, ‘The monster rattled its fangs together so that they sounded like angry knitting needles and yelled …’. and ‘ Pearlyclaws ran away as fast as he could manage, his floppy feet sounding like old towels soaked in badness.’

Clearly the author has had as much fun writing this story as youngsters will have reading or listening to it; it’s perfect for solo readers or reading aloud. If it’s the latter your listeners will urge you to keep on … and on … to discover what happens next, but do make sure you stop frequently to share Gemma Correll’s wonderful visual images as well the author’s verbal ones.

In a word, priceless.

Flat Stanley / The Flat Stanley Collection

Flat Stanley
Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph
Egmont

I was over the moon to learn that Flat Stanley was to appear in picture book form, especially with Rob Biddulph as illustrator. I could think of no better person for the task and Rob has most certainly pulled it off with aplomb.

Just in case you’ve never come across Stanley Lambchop and his family before, let me introduce them: there’s young Stanley, his younger brother Arthur and their parents Mr and Mrs Lambchop who can be a tad fussy when it comes to matters of politeness and talking properly.

So when a huge pin board hurtles from the wall totally flattening Stanley, they’re more concerned about Arthur’s manner of delivering the news about his brother than the contents of same. Indeed they defer a doctor’s visit until after breakfast.

Happily it’s good news: Dr Dan is reassuring and so the now half inch thick boy can start to take advantage of his lack of girth, though there are snags too.

Next day news of another art theft reaches the ears of Stanley and his dad as they’re out for a stroll.

Stanley has a bright idea that just might help apprehend the thieves and that night it’s put into action: will he pull it off?

Yes Stanley does save the day – or rather the object of the thieves’ desire.

But perhaps being a hero of the extra-skinny kind isn’t all fun and flattery …

I can’t remember how many years ago I first shared the original Flat Stanley book with a class of children but it was certainly a long time back and it’s remained a favourite with me, and many more classes since. Now with this smashing picture book version of the first story, a younger audience can savour the delights of the flat but inflatable, Stanley in the new Rob Biddulph incarnation.

Rob has also illustrated a bumper collection of Stanley Stories:

The Flat Stanley Collection
Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph
Egmont

This chunky volume contains six Stanley books – the first, together with Stanley and the Magic Lamp, Invisible Stanley, Stanley’s Christmas Adventure, Stanley in Space and Stanley, Flat Again!

Guaranteed hours of delicious Stanleyness with plenty of “Hay is for horses, not people” thrown in for extra enjoyment.

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Me and Mrs Moon

Me and Mrs Moon
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

In her familiar graphic novel style, Helen Bate tells a powerful story of how two children, narrator Maisie and her friend Dylan, set about helping their beloved friend and neighbour Granny Moon as she shows signs that all is not well.
Granny Moon has looked after the children during holidays for years filling their days – rain or shine – with fun and adventure.

One day though, things start going wrong.
First Granny Moon is talking about a sister Julia she doesn’t have and later the film about aliens she takes the children to scares Dylan and they have to leave.

As Christmas approaches, things get worse. At the school concert Granny causes disruptions and other children start making fun of her.

Time passes but there are further problems. Granny Moon convinces herself that a little girl is trapped in her radiator and then Dylan’s dad notices her unusual behaviour and is doubtful about whether she should still be allowed to look after his son.

Eventually Maisie’s mum decides to phone Granny’s daughter, Angela in Australia.

Maisie and Dylan then worry about the fate of Granny Moon and her beloved dog, Jack; will Angela decide to put her in a care home? Worse, the friends return home late from school after a café visit with Granny Moon to find a fire engine outside and fire-fighters waiting for them. Thankfully though, there’s no serious damage.

Next day Angela arrives and is extremely troubled by what she finds. She decides there’s only one thing to do. Granny Moon’s house is put on the market and happily it’s not a care home that she’s going to but Australia to live with Angela and her family.

Three days later, fond farewells are exchanged and Angela and Granny depart. A certain animal isn’t accompanying them though, he has a new home – next door with Maisie who now has a companion to share memories about her erstwhile owner with whenever she needs.

The final page lists organisations that offer help for people with dementia, their families and carers.

Love and devotion radiate from the pages of this intensely moving story (based on actual events); but it doesn’t gloss over the enormous challenges those caring for someone with dementia are likely to face. Rather, it offers young readers an opportunity to better understand something of the condition and perhaps be better prepared should they encounter someone living with it.

This is a book that deserves to be in every school and should be read in all families. Particularly, as I was reminded by a charity worker from The Alzheimer’s Society who stopped me as I left Waitrose recently that while I might not know anybody with Alzheimer’s, over a quarter of the population knows someone who has this form of dementia alone.