Category Archives: read it yourself

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace / Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box

The Rescue Princesses: The Amber Necklace
Paula Harrison
Nosy Crow

In the 15th and final adventure in the series, it’s up to Zina and her friends to save the tamarind trees of their rainforest home. These trees are the only ones that provide year round food for the lemurs but they’re scheduled to be cut down to make way for the carnival that has been re-routed on account of the usual road being flooded.

Princess Zina is horrified at the prospect; but the princesses must use their intelligence, co-operative skills, kindness and courage to protect the animals and their precious tamarinds.

With their camouflage ninja gear and Zina’s special amber necklace, said by her grandma to hold the heart of the forest it might just be possible to persuade Ando and his workmates to find another path. If not, could the amber jewel works it magic? …

Another exciting tale with short chapters, plenty of line drawings and an exciting and intriguing plot to keep readers turning the pages, this is ideal for new solo readers.

For readers who like longer stories there are two new fiction titles from Maverick Publishing coming soon: one is

Arlo, Miss Pythia and the Forbidden Box
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Mike Garton
Maverick Publishing

4X have become 5P and they’re back with another highly unusual teacher, not from the stone age this time but nevertheless there’s something not quite normal about Miss Pythia.
For a start, she always seems to know exactly what is about to happen; she has a weird-looking symbol tattooed on the back of her neck; she never seems to change her clothes, and there’s that box she keeps on her desk. Mmmm! And could it be sheer co-incidence that she shares her name with a priestess of the Ancient Greek world?

When I taught nursery children we often did an activity called, ‘What’s in the box?’ Singing a little ditty based on those words served to arouse the children’s interest and enthusiasm before the lid was lifted and we investigated its contents. And that is just what Miss Arlo does when she instructs her class that opening the particular box she has in her safe-keeping, is strictly forbidden.

But then 5P are selected to participate in A Play a Day, electing to perform a version of Pandora’s Box and Arlo is chosen to act as director. Can his classmates resist the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s actual box as they rehearse?

What Arlo doesn’t immediately spot as he gets engrossed in his directing role is that the replica box made for the drama has been switched.

Then with the play in full swing a terrible realisation comes upon him …

Another winner from Alice Hemming; it’s full of suspense, gently humorous and splendidly complemented by Mike Garton’s lively, expressive drawings, which provide additional details and humour.

Now set fair to become a super series, this story is great for solo reading as well as highly appropriate as a class read aloud especially if the Ancient Greeks are on the agenda.

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows / Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall / Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows
Rose Lagerercrantz and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is my first encounter with the delightful Dani whose adventures began with My Happy Life.In this, her sixth instalment the girl is spending the winter break staying with her grandparents because her father has again become sad and is now spending time with his mother and brother in his home city, Rome to ‘think about his life’.

While out ski-ing, the normally cheerful Dani gets that gloomy feeling but then she suddenly thinks of her best friend Ella and remembers that it’s almost her birthday. What better birthday present than an experience – a surprise visit from Dani?

There’s a slight snag though: Ella lives miles away in Northbrook. Of course, being the positive child she is Dani’s sure one of her grandparents will drive her: maybe she doesn’t have a problem after all.

After consideration Grandma asks her if she dares go from Stockholm to Northbrook on the train by herself so long as Ella’s mum collects her at the station. Granpa needs a fair bit of convincing but eventually Dani is on the train bound for her destination.

When she arrives at Northbrook however things start to go wrong; the station is covered in snow and there’s nobody there to meet her. That however is only the first bad thing that happens …

With her near indomitable spirit, Dani is an adorable character. In this book, in a very short space of time she emerges with a lot more understanding of the adult world with its ramifications and frailties.

With its bitter-sweetness, Rose Lagererantz’s writing really rings true and her characterisation is superb.

Eva Eriksson’s splendidly empathetic black and white illustrations are a delight and add an extra touch of piquancy to the book.I will definitely seek out the earlier titles in this series.

Wholeheartedly recommended for solo reading and as a class read aloud for KS1 and early KS2.

Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall
Astrid Foss, illustrated by Monique Dong
Nosy Crow

This is the 4th and final magical adventure of the three sisters, with special powers to enchant, who reside in a castle on the mystical island of Nordovia.

Now Magda, Hanna and Ida must draw on all their strength and bravery to undertake their final quest in this battle of good versus evil, for it’s the Day of the Midnight Sun and the nefarious Shadow Witch is absolutely determined to do whatever she must to obtain the power of the Everchanging Lights and make the skies forever dark.

As always the combination of magical fantasy, highly engaging characters (some animal), a powerful plot with just the right amount of darkness, and plenty of Monique Dong’s lovely black and white illustrations will ensure that early chapter book readers will lose themselves in the adventure.

And do the sisters succeed in ensuring that the Everchanging Lights are in their rightful place by the time the clock strikes the midnight hour? Let’s just say that where’s there’s light and love, there is hope.

For roughly the same age group, there’s more magic in:

Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

This series for the countless young unicorn lovers out there takes us yet again to Lakeside Unicorn Academy for another instalment of magical unicorn delight.

The pupil in question herein is Rose and her unicorn partner is Crystal and after just a month at the school the two are off on a rule-breaking adventure in search of the magical map. It’s not all down to the twosome however, teamwork is involved and they both have to learn what being a member of a team entails.

Engaging, undemanding fun.

Two Sides / Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise

Two Sides
Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Talib
Stripes Publishing
Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise
Swapna Haddow and Alison Friend

To help bridge the gap between picture books and assured fluent reading of chapter books Stripes Publishing are creating a short fiction series with a colour illustration at every page turn; these are the first two titles. Both are beautifully designed and illustrated.

Two Sides explores a friendship between total opposites, Lenka and Lula. Born on the same day, the former is neat and tidy, a cat lover and enjoys drawing; her best friend is a dog enthusiast, messy and something of a chatterbox.
A perfect twosome it seems and so it is until the fateful morning when Lula oversleeps after which everything goes terribly wrong.

Lenka’s forgotten pencil case containing the coloured pencils she needs to complete a competition entry, but now lying on Lula’s bed and a rejected present made by Lulu for Lenka lead to a fierce row and by the time their bus reaches school, a special friendship has fractured.

School feels a totally different place; the two girls sit far apart in the classroom but then their teacher allows the class a play stop en route for the library.

An opportunity for the rift to be healed perhaps …

The author acknowledges that even the very best, closest of friendships can have their ups and downs; and words said in the heat of the moment can really hurt. This is something young readers will definitely acknowledge as they lap up Polly Ho-Yen’s story with Binny Talib’s expressive scenes of the girls.

Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise opens with a bored Little Rabbit whose Mama, siblings and friends are all too busy to play with her. But then her grandfather invites her to become his assistant for the day and the young rabbit is in for surprise.

Instead of merely spending all his time with his friends, Big Rabbit devotes himself to altruistic activities, the first of which concerns Mole’s dark tunnel and Little Mole’s imminent birthday party.

Next comes a visit to Granny Hedgehog who is suffering from a bad case of the snuffles.

Dormouse too is in need of help: his little ones are hungry and their nest isn’t big enough to accommodate them all.
And then there’s Squirrel. She’s injured her paw and so can’t forage for food for her children.

It’s all in a day’s work for Big Rabbit but by the next morning it seems that Little Rabbit’s been infected by her grandfather’s enthusiasm for helping others and her friends too are willing to lend a hand.

Celebrating kindness, Swapna’s gentle telling in combination with Alison’s adorable woodland watercolour illustrations make for a delightful read alone, or a read aloud to younger children.
Readers will close the covers of both books with a boost of confidence having enjoyed a longer story: thoroughly recommended for home reading and for classroom libraries in KS1 and early KS2.

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)

A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)
India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer (trans. Solange Ouellet)
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

The story opens with the 15-year-old narrator telling us, as she and her parents walk down the hospital corridor, “In just a few minutes, they’re going to tell me how much time I have left to live.”

It’s five years since she was diagnosed with leukaemia and as she awaits her prognosis she shares with readers her years of treatment with the threat of death hanging over her. We hear of the sadness she feels over the death of her best friend Maxine which was “definitely not because she wasn’t strong enough or didn’t fight hard enough”; and are shown how her grief renders her temporarily limp limbed.

She talks of the hospital sounds, smells and colour scheme, how her parents react to her illness – her father’s jokes;

her mother’s insistence “that she had so much confidence in me, and she knew I’d get well …’ in contrast to her own it isn’t ‘ a battle…because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.”

There are high points too: she goes to a party, meets Victor and experiences her first love.

And finally, as we know from the title, the news the doctor gives is good; the narrator is going to live.

This no-holds-barred story is a real emotional roller coaster but the first person telling serves to bring a sense of calm to the whole sequence of events, be they dark or bright. Ferrer’s almost dreamlike, at times, surreal visuals, highlight the intensity of feeling, moving from predominantly grey to plum and claret when ardour prevails.

The author was asked by a ten year old cancer patient she met on a hospital visit to write a cancer story that ends happily. This is the result and serves to remind readers that 8 out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer are cured, and to give hope to any child who has cancer.

Pirate Pug

Pirate Pug
Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Their latest adventure sees Pug and Lady Miranda holidaying in Pebbly Bay.

They’re just preparing to indulge themselves in a hotel breakfast of some rather yummy jam tarts when in through the window flies a parrot. Showing a distinct lack of interest in the tasty fare on the tray, the bird takes off with a teaspoon.

Thus begins a seaside sojourn, which might be a bit of a challenge, for Pug is scared of water.

Things don’t go too well and before long, the dog is flat out in the vet’s operating theatre on account of an unlucky accident.
Lady Miranda’s comment on his being given an eye-patch to wear sparks one of her good ideas and soon Pug is also sporting a pirate’s hat.

Meanwhile in the town square crowds are gathering for a rehearsal of the Pebbly Bay Parade.
It’s in celebration so the mayor tells Lady Miranda and Pug, of the day the town was freed from pirate rule.

As she’s showing them her special gold chain of office, down swoops that pesky parrot Rio who seizes the chain and flies off with it.

Is Pug brave enough to sail the high seas and join the others on a boat trip across to Finders Keepers Island to rescue the treasured item?

Arch-enemy Finnian and his gang are already on the ocean in their own craft so it looks like trouble is in store.

With the usual brand of charm, humour, fun and frolics, Pug’s fourth book is ideal for new solo readers and a fun read aloud. Make sure you give your audience time to see Eglantine Ceulemans’ engaging illustrations if you share it.

Peter in Peril

Peter in Peril
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Let me introduce Peter, although as narrator of Helen Bate’s debut graphic novel, he introduces himself in this true story of a six year old Jewish boy living in Budapest during World War 2.

Peter always makes the best of things; he trims the sides off newly baked cakes and frees buttons from his mother’s coat to use in his play

but when his beloved Roza (who lives with the family and helps his mother) has to leave as she’s no longer allowed to work in a Jewish household, the lad is bereft.

That though is only the start of the upsetting things that happen but Peter’s story is not all dark and bleak. Despite the fact that under Nazi rule, Peter’s family were forced to leave their home, split up and had then to live in hiding in constant fear for their lives, there’s humour too; it’s rightly subtitled ‘Courage and Hope in World War Two’. Indeed with its fine balance between horror and humour, it’s pitched just right for 9+ children.

Thanks to enormous good fortune and the amazing kindness of individuals including a soldier,

Peter and his parents escaped a number of nightmarish situations and survived, although (as we learn in the afterword) his grandmother, aunts and uncles were killed in concentration camps.

Moving, accessible and offering a less well-known perspective on WW11 and the Holocaust, with its skilful balance of illustration and text, this is definitely a book to include in a primary school KS2 collection.

With Holocaust Memorial Day coming shortly, if you missed this poignant book when it was first published, it’s worth getting now. It could also open up discussion about other children, victims of more recent horrific events, who on account of their ethnicity or religious faith for instance, find themselves victims of persecution and perhaps forced to become refugees.

Particularly in the light of recent and on-going conflicts in various parts of the world and the current upsurge of nationalism, we would all do well to be reminded of Amnesty International’s endorsement statement on the back cover, ‘ it shows us why we all have the right to life and to live in freedom and safety.’

Pigsticks and Harold: Lost in Time / Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure

Pigsticks and Harold: Lost in Time
Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure

Alex Milway
Walker Books

With aspirations to become more like his brilliant inventor Great-aunt Ada Lovepig, Pigsticks is busy preparing for the Tuptown Science Fair – the ideal place to demonstrate his own inventive prowess. There’s a problem though; it’s the day of the competition and his entry for Best Invention is not going at all well, indeed it’s a mess.

But then Pigsticks comes upon a time machine left by said Great-aunt and he enlists a rather reluctant Harold, (fuelled by thoughts of yet to be invented cakes) to accompany him to the future where he’s certain they’ll discover how to build a real spaceship.

However, thanks to some hamfisted handling of the time lever at the start of their travels, the two find themselves not going forwards in time but hurtled way back for a scary encounter with dinopigs.

That though is only the start of their adventure: thereafter they slide straight into Cleopigtra, fall into a flaming London – ‘what’s so great about his fire?’ Harold asks; do a spot of dangling in New York City and bump into Julius Squealer before being captured by one Hamfrida, the Viking chief and her vicious minions.

It looks as though the end is nigh for our time travelling twosome; or, could cake perhaps be their salvation …

Fast paced and full of superbly silly moments, not to mention some very sticky ones, with its delicious wordplay this twisting, turning romp, the fourth of the hilarious Harold and Pigsticks series, is another winner for early chapter book readers especially.

Said readers will relish Alex Milway’s comical illustrations that are liberally scattered throughout the tale.

Another laugh out loud adventure of the two friends is:

Pigsticks and Harold: Pirate Treasure
In their third adventure, Tuptown is under threat from one Sir Percival Snout who claims their much-loved town belongs to him and what’s more, he has the paperwork to prove it. Or so he claims and he plans to destroy the entire town unless the pair can find a vast sum of money by the very next day.

Finding the three million pounds Pigsticks has so recklessly agreed to come up with is totally crazy since the pig is absolutely penniless.

Fortunately though Pigsticks then remembers that his great-great-grandpig was a pirate who’d left a legacy of treasure buried somewhere as yet to be discovered.

All the two friends need to do is to solve the riddle on the map his ancestor had left behind. With clues to follow, there’s little time to discover the whereabouts of that treasure and thus save Tuptown.

As always with these comic capers, there’s a wonderful final twist in the tale.

If your newly independent readers have yet to encounter Milway’s Pigsticks and Harold, I suggest starting at the beginning and binge reading the whole series from the start; those who already know the duo will delight in this cracking adventure.

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder / Forgiveness?

Can I Tell You About … Auditory Processing Disorder?
Alyson Mountjoy, illustrated by Kelly Davies
Can I Tell You About … Forgiveness?
Liz Gulliford, illustrated by Rosy Salaman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

These are two recent additions to the excellent Can I Tell You About series aimed at primary school audiences, their families, teachers and others who work with them.

Each illustrated book has a child narrator, and in the Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) book it’s Amy who herself has the disorder. After an explanatory introduction for adults, she talks about how the condition affects her; how she got her diagnosis and how she is supported both in school and at home.

We also learn that APD isn’t the same for all those affected: one of her friends, Tom has the condition too but has different challenges to cope with. Amy’s dad also has APD but received his diagnosis after his daughter.

One of the most important things for teachers to know is the emotional strain that children like Amy are under and in addition to this being a helpful book for young readers, it’s one teachers should read too.

Amy herself ends on an upbeat note: having described both her own and Tom’s particular strengths she says, “Work hard, believe in yourself, and you can make your dreams come true too.” How adults can help a child make this so are listed in the final pages.

Forgiveness, as author Liz Gulliford states in her introduction, is a complex, frequently misunderstood concept. It’s one that she has researched for many years. Liz feels it’s important for children not to be made to apologise automatically after a dispute between classmates for instance, something that can happen in schools or between siblings at home

Here she uses Joseph as her narrator and together with his family offers a story designed to stimulate discussion on forgiveness at home and school.
Joseph talks about different scenarios – his best friend telling others something Joseph confided in him, thus breaking his trust in Billy.

He then goes on to talk of an instance when he took his sister’s ball without asking and lost it, which required not only Joelle’s forgiveness, but also self-forgiveness on his own part.

There’s also the important consideration of another of Joseph’s school friends, George who is being bullied. Perhaps forgiveness in this instance is not appropriate in case the perpetrator then goes on to bully another child. Could a degree of compassionate concern, at least from Joseph be better?

These are some of the ideas explored in this book that will certainly be a valuable resource in starting explorations of forgiveness in PSHE lessons at KS2. To this end the final pages are devoted to notes and key learning points.

Christmas Gifts That Last – Magical Myths and Legends / The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty

 

Magical Myths and Legends
chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author, Michael Morpurgo has chosen his favourite magical tales from all over the world for this bumper gift book of ten stories.

Morpurgo retells Gawain and the Green Knight himself and the other storytellers are Michaela Morgan, (3 tales), there’s a retelling of Icarus from Susan Gates; Jeanne Willis has versions of the wonderful legend from County Durham, The Lambton Worm, (one of my favourites) and a King Arthur adventure – The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel.
Both Thor and the Hammer and a tale of the Roman Fire God entitled Vulcan and the Fabulous Throne come from Tony Bradman while Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is a John Dougherty retelling.

Each tale is beautifully and distinctively illustrated providing nine different illustrators an opportunity to showcase their work.

Whether you prefer interfering fairies, talking frogs, or giant worms,

you’ll surely find something to enjoy in this timeless treat.

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty
Jessica Courtney-Tickle and Katy Flint
Lincoln Children’s Books

The Christmas season is a time when families visit the theatre perhaps to see a pantomime or performance of a ballet such as the Sleeping Beauty. Here’s a book (the third of The Story Orchestra series) providing a musical journey into the classic ballet story with words and pictures to add to that magical theatrical experience; or to enjoy in its own right.

Each spread includes a ‘press here’ button that when pushed, plays a brief well-known excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s music.

We start with the party thrown by the King and Queen Florestan in celebration of the birth of their baby daughter princess Aurora.
Then in comes the Lilac Fairy with her gift-bearing fairy godmother troupe each of whom performs and bestows a gift.
Suddenly through the window comes the evil fairy Carabosse who places a curse on the infant princess.
The Lilac Fairy is able to modify this death curse with a good spell so that the Princess will fall asleep for 100 years, unless her true love awakens her with a kiss..
Sixteen years later as the Princess is celebrating her 16th birthday Carabosse returns; this time with a disguised spindle on which Aurora pricks her finger and falls asleep. Thereafter the hunt is on for someone who is able to break that evil curse

and the rest is fairy tale history …

The book concludes with notes on the composer and the ten soundscapes.

Beautifully illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, this Story Orchestra presentation adds an additional sensory layer to the whole production.

The Afterwards

The Afterwards
A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Let me say at the outset, this is a remarkable book; intensely moving and quite unlike anything else, even the author’s previous stories, The Imaginary and The Song From Somewhere Else.

The story starts with best friends Ember and Ness who are pretty much inseparable but then comes an announcement in school assembly. There’s been an accident in the park and one of the pupils has died; it’s Ness.

For Ember, the world is unimaginable without her bestest buddy. Then, through another grieving person, she becomes aware of a strange grey afterworld and there she finds Ness again. Can she bring her back? That is Ember’s plan but should she fail, it seems she too will have to remain in that eerie place, leaving behind her Dad and Penny, his partner.

The push and pull between the two worlds presents Ember with a dilemma that is unbearable, especially when she discovers that Ness is not the only one of those she loves in the netherworld.

I’ll say no more about the story itself except that I urge you to read it.

A.F. Harrold’s writing is totally gripping, dark, profound, occasionally scary, and suffused with grief; but it’s also full of love and tenderness, and there’s hope too. There’s also a cat that keeps putting in an appearance. Does that sound a little familiar?

Emily Gravett’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text, making one’s reading experience of The Afterwards feel like a seamless whole.

Treasure of the Golden Skull

Treasure of the Golden Skull
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Mildew and Sponge learn of the possibility of their school’s closure, despite being less than enthusiastic about almost all aspects of Maudlin Towers, a thoroughly gloomy establishment, the two boys do regard it as home and resolve that something must be done. The money supposedly stowed safely away by Reverend Brimstone to cover much-needed repairs to the place has been stolen (along with the chair he stashed it in) and now the school coffers are empty and the governors totally unwilling to help – anything but in fact.

The two boys conclude they’ll be sent to separate places of education if the school is shut down and that’s unthinkable; a rescue mission must be put into action forthwith.

It’s a mission that begins with a surprising revelation concerning a pirate connection and continues with a hunt for buried treasure, the onset of green parrot sightings by Sponge and a new boy going under the name of err, Newboy who manages to bend the will of others to his own.

Add to this the fact that Sponge’s predilection for biscuits shows no sign of abating, as his pal points out in the staff graveyard, “Your head is full of biscuits. Buck up, Sponge. How are you ever going to detectivate? Finlay Feathering wouldn’t let a bit of biscuitlessness bother him”.

Oh and there’s also an entire new set of very strange replacement staff.

Throw in a floating eyeball and a werewolf (both feature in the plethora of delicious line drawings herein) to satisfy spooky-loving readers and the result is a sequel to Curse of the Werewolf Boy that is every bit as silly and entertaining.

And the treasure? Let’s say ‘busted’ about covers it.

Seems there’s to be a third biscuit-fuelled adventure somewhere on the horizon … eagerly anticipated by countless Maudlin Towers fans I have no doubt.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy / Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books

The team who gave us I am Yoga and I am Peace now explore what it means to be human.

Humans have a playful side and find joy in relationships, we hear; but on the negative side sadness brings a heavy heart. This though, is countered by a reminder that part of being human is the ability to make choices.
Positive actions – such as compassion and helping others, being fair and treating all people equally, bring a feeling of connectedness with fellow humans.

In keeping with the child narrator’s mood, Reynolds changes his colour palette from bright to a dull bluish grey as the actions switch from positive to negative.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes but Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s little book of empathy is perfect for starting a discussion with young children about making good choices. To this end, there’s also a loving-kindness meditation to share.

Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Featherstone (Bloomsbury)

Most young children will bring up the subject of death either at home or in school, or both, and many adults are unsure of how to engage in a discussion about it. This book, written in child-friendly language by a teacher, will for those adults especially, prove extremely helpful.

Each double spread – there are a thirteen in all – takes a different aspect and almost all start with a question such as ‘Are there different words for death?’; ‘What might you feel when someone dies?’ …

‘What do people believe happens after death?’ and, the only one that isn’t prefaced by a question, “To remember a person who has died, you could …’.
There’s a brief ‘It’s important to know’ paragraph at the end of most sections and Sarah Jennings has provided bright, appealing illustrations (often including speech bubbles).

The tone of the entire book – both verbal and visual – is spot on for the primary audience and is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

All Except Winston / Good Rosie!

All Except Winston
Rochelle Brunton and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears
Young giraffe Winston is left out no matter whether the other giraffes are eating, drinking, playing their favourite game or sleeping. Winston does all these things alone.

Then one day when all the other giraffes are so busy grazing on yummy fruits high in the treetops, he hears a sound. His fellow long-necks ignore the rustle and the snap but Winston lets out a very loud, shrill whistle just in time to warn the others that a lion is on the prowl, hungry for its next meal.

Off they all dash for safety – just in time
Now Winston is ignored no longer; instead he’s a hero.

This seemingly simple story with it’s themes of celebrating difference and finding where you fit into a group is ideal for young children who have just started school or nursery, especially those who like Winston at the start of the book have yet to find out where they fit in.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s richly coloured, textured scenes reflect the glow of the savannah setting adding further warmth to Rochelle Brunton’s gentle telling.

Good Rosie!
Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Walker Books

Rosie is a terrier who lives with her owner George. She loves her owner but is eager to find another friend of the canine kind: (her reflection in her empty food bowl never answers).

On their daily walks together George and Rosie look at the clouds and one day George points out a dog-shaped one; this saddens Rosie so George suggests something new.

That something is the dog park but Rosie is overwhelmed by their sheer number and doesn’t know how to make friends; she feels a little afraid. Then she meets first Maurice a large Saint Bernard, then bouncy Chihuahua, Fifi. Initially she doesn’t like either of them, but then something happens to change all that.

Then it’s down to little Fif (what happens results in a name change for the Chihuahua) to demonstrate how to make a friend and before the end of the day, the three dogs are best pals and Rosie has something to look forward to on future walks with her human.

This warm-hearted, thoughtful, gently funny story presented in nine parts, is a neat blend of picture book and graphic novel: Harry Bliss’s humorous illustrations contrast nicely with Kate DiCamillo’s understated text in what is an ideal book for those making the transition to independent reading.

A Scattering of Magic: The Magic Misfits: The Second Story / The Littlest Witch / Lavinia and the Magic Ring

The Magic Misfits: The Second Story
Neil Patrick Harris with Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton
Egmont

I hadn’t read the first The Magic Misfits book so in case you’re in the same situation, it tells how young street musician Carter having been taken in after the disappearance of his parents, by his Sly ‘uncle’ Mike, escapes and ends up becoming friends with other variously talented children who together form The Magic Misfits.

This second story continues right on from the first only the focus now turns to Leila Vernon who lives with her two fathers above Vernon’s Magic Shop.

One day out of the blue, a stranger from Dante’s past appears in the shop. The woman, Sandra Santos, aka Madame Esmerelda, was so she says, a friend of Carter’s father.
What though is she doing in Mineral Wells? Whatever it is, it might be that she knows why Leila was placed in an orphanage and by whom. Could it be that Sandra holds the key to these questions?

Scattered throughout this intriguing pacey tale are riddles and puzzles as well as some magic tricks to try and a liberal sprinkling of black and white illustrations by Lissy Marlin.

Carter, Leila and her friends are well worth getting to know, especially for readers who like their stories sprinkled with magic.

The Littlest Witch
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Mark Beech
Catnip

The author of this crazy book is considered to be one of Italy’s best childrens’ writers. It’s a tale of a young man, Alfonso Terribile and what happens when his Great Uncle Sempronio dies.

Alfonso is left a fortune but there is a condition: he has to marry a witch and do so within a year and a month or else his fortune will go elsewhere.

There’s a zany cast of characters including the Zep’s seventh daughter, the infant Sibylla who seems to be behaving in a rather strange fashion. Could she perhaps be the one? Maybe, but there are a lot of other possible contenders too, not least being the spirited Wanda …
Greed quickly consumes Alfonso but will he manage to fulfil his uncle’s criteria? That would be telling; let’s just say that he receives his just deserts.

Mark Beech’s line drawings scattered throughout the book add to the delightful quirkiness.

Lavinia and the Magic Ring
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Catnip

Imagine what might happen if you were a little girl and received a ring with a very special power. That is what happens one chilly Christmas Eve, to seven-year-old Lavinia, a modern-day match girl residing in Milan.

Lying in the cold just before midnight dreaming of good things to eat, she’s suddenly awoken by a beautiful lady dressed unsuitably for the cold, asking for a light and professing to be a fairy. Lavinia is nonplussed but agrees and by way of thanks, the witch slips a ring onto her finger, a magic ring that turns things into poo – yes poo!

The girl’s reaction is to try and pull the thing off right away, but the ring is stuck fast.

Now it’s up to Lavinia to use her weird powers judiciously.

There are a lot of decidedly stinky situations in this story so definitely don’t give it to a squeamish child; the rest however will doubtless revel in the ponginess of Lavinia’s mess-making escapades hilariously illustrated by none other than the inimitable Quentin Blake.

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
Angela McAllister, illustrated by Alice Lindstrom
Lincoln Children’s Books

I was one of those not turned off Shakespeare at school despite having to study several plays between the ages of 11 and 16 and my favourite, despite having to ‘do’ it for O-level, remains Twelfth Night. This is largely thanks to an amazing English teacher that I had throughout my time at grammar school, who managed to bring out the magic of the plays we read and now the beauty of the language completely enthrals me. So, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories wherein Angela McAllister retells a dozen of the bard’s most popular plays, both comedies and tragedies.

However, she does it in such a way that young readers will be engaged immediately . Each one is introduced with a quote and a pictorial cast of characters, and the tellings themselves are up to date so that youngsters will quickly find themselves immersed in the story, be that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night,

Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, The Tempest

or any of the others included.

Alice Lindstrom’s artwork, whether a full page illustration, or a smaller one, is absolutely fabulous, really capturing the atmosphere of each tale, drawing in the audience and making them feel as though they’re watching a staged performance.

Also included is a wealth of information about the great man himself, a complete list of his plays and a taster paragraph about each of the twelve plays herein.

Yes, we have lost the Bard’s awesome language here, but instead, what Angela McAllister offers is access to that language for youngsters by way of stories that can be read aloud to an individual or class; or read alone, before the exam treadmill turns them off from the riches that are Shakespeare’s legacy.

Short Fiction Roundup: A Case for Buffy / Dear Professor Whale / Corey’s Rock

A Case for Buffy
Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
Gecko Press

Detective Gordon (a philosophical elderly toad) returns with a final case to solve. This, the most important one in his whole career, sees him and young detective, cake-loving mouse Buffy attempting to solve a mystery that takes them to the very edge of the forest as they endeavour to discover the whereabouts of Buffy’s missing mother. In their search, they’re aided by two very new recruits,

who accompany the detectives, as they follow clues across a mountain and over water, all the way to Cave Island.

There’s an encounter with Gordon’s arch-enemy, a wicked fox who might or might not make a meal of one of the detectives.
All ends satisfactorily and there’s a sharing of cake – hurrah!

I’ve not encountered this charming series before but this one is a gentle little gem made all the more so by Gitte Spee’s whimsical illustrations.

Read aloud or read alone, either way it’s a delight.

Dear Professor Whale
Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Gecko Press

Professor Whale is now the only whale remaining at Whale Point and thus feels more than a little bit lonely. He remembers the days when he was surrounded by friends and they participated in the Whale Point Olympics.
In an attempt to find some new friends the Prof. sends out letters to ‘Dear You, Whoever You Are, Who Lives on the Other Side of the Horizon’ His only reply comes from Wally, grandson of an old friend. After getting over his initial disappointment, Professor Whale is inspired, to organise, with Wally’s help another Whale Point Olympics. It’s full of exciting events such as The Seal Swimming Race and The Penguin Walking race and there’s also a Whale Spouting Contest.

Friendship and kindness abound in this gentle tale, a follow-up to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, which I’m not familiar with. However after enjoying this warm-hearted story, I will seek it out. With it’s abundance of amusing black and white illustrations,

It’s just right for those just flying solo as readers.

Corey’s Rock
Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray
Otter-Barry Books

After the death of her young brother Corey, ten year old Isla and her parents leave their Edinburgh home and start a new life in the Orkney islands.
So begins a heart-wrenching story narrated by Isla wherein she discovers an ancient Orcadian selkie legend.

This becomes significant in her coming to terms with her loss and adjusting to her new life.

It’s beautifully, at times poetically written, interweaving elements of Isla’s dual heritage, folklore, the Hindu belief in reincarnation, coming to terms with loss, making new friends, family love, rebuilding lives and more.

Equally beautiful are Jane Ray’s illustrations that eloquently capture the tenderness, beauty and the magic of the telling.

This is a treasure of a book that deserves a wide audience and at the right time, could help grieving families come to terms with their own loss.

Midnight Monsters / The Ultimate Spell-Caster

Midnight Monsters
Helen Friel
Lawrence King Publishing

Billed as a ‘Pop-up Shadow Search’, this is a really clever take on the search for hidden objects book. To make it work you need these two things:
a) a largish blank wall, and b) a torch (the powerful kind is best).

Now, turn off the lights, stow away any screens that might be lurking (unless you happen to be using your mobile as a light source), place the book on a flat surface, open up the book, power on your torch and prepare to journey to five pop-up scene locations starting with the wild woods’ Therein, lurking among the branches are a jabberwock, a bigfoot, a werewolf, a dingonek and a headless horseman. (Brief descriptions of each are supplied).

Other settings are creepy caves, mysterious mountains, a misty lagoon and a haunted castle, in each of which hides five creepy creatures whose whereabouts you should seek among the shadows cast on the wall.

What a great thing to produce at a Halloween party; it will keep your guests absorbed for ages as they hunt for all those mythical beasties – a grandylow, a krampus, a tikbalan and a grootslang to name just a few.

Perfect after dark reading of the spooky kind: Spellbinding indeed.

The Ultimate Spell-Caster
Mike Barfield
Lawrence King Publishing

Can you imagine a magical book that offers potential witches and wizards more than 60 million spooky spells of the silly kind? No: then you definitely need Mike Barfield’s splendidly interactive, spirally bound volume that provides the means of doing just that.
If incantations are your thing then the five interchangeable strips presented in a variety of fonts, providing spooky or daft phrases along with the occasional contemporary one for good measure will keep you entranced for hours.
Here’s one spellbinding possibility:

And another: ‘Flap of cat and gum of boot, turn your dad into a self-propelling snot bottler.’

Embellished with speckled strips, luminous green endpapers and the occasional splattering of potion, the book has the appearance of an ancient tome.

Why not gather together with a group of fellow spell-casters suitably clad and have some fun conjuring up some weird and wonderful spells this Halloween.

Cackles and giggles guaranteed.

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror
Dan Metcalf, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Maverick Arts Publishing

This, the second in a series of four, will be welcomed by those who relished The Rise of the Raptors but equally, new readers will quickly be sucked in to this new adventure of Adam Caine, sister Chloe and friends. They’re still on that quest to obtain all four Dilotron crystals and thus disarm the lab. producing the biological weapon that will wipe out all dinosaur life on their planet; the lab. with the computer that Adam had accidentally activated. Thus far the adventurers have two of those crucial catastrophe-preventing crystals and the hunt is on – urgently.

Their possible location is Pteratopolis, city of pterosaurs, unknown territory for Adam and his gang.There’s a slight snag though, these particular dinos. are flying creatures and Pteratopolis is a fortress with enormously high, wooden walls. Climbing skills are crucial if the friends are to enter. Or, alternatively what about Dag’s suggestion that he makes use of his heli-kit, albeit with some modifications to the metal blades. In other words, the proposal is that Dag turns himself into a living saw mill; it might just work.

adventure,

It does; now all they have to do is locate the next crystal. What could be easier?

A spot of tree-scaling is needed and inevitably, adventurous Adam is on his way up before his companions can utter, “… break his neck”. But then having reached his destination, he finds himself, courtesy of imprinting, the adopted mother of a newly hatched pterosaur. Oh dear! Consequences again Adam …

Co-existence, co-operation, kindness, diplomacy and daring are all part and parcel of this absorbing, fast-moving,  turning twisting tale; so too are Aaron Blecha’s super comic style illustrations that are scattered throughout the story.

As for securing the object of their quest? You’ll need to secure yourself a copy of the book to find out what happens when Adam and Chloe enter the labyrinth …

The Yark / The Island of Horses

The Yark
Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Gecko Press

Meet the Yark, a voracious child-guzzling monster that restricts his consumption to the flesh of ‘very good’ children on account of his delicate digestive system. Consequently it doesn’t do, if you’re a child, to be good or even compliant
The creature has a problem though, for in our modern times, the supply of such well-behaved, and thus gobblable youngsters, has become increasingly hard to come by. The present crop yields virtually no nutritional value so far as this particular monster is concerned and Yarks as a species are on the verge of extinction.

Yark is now wandering the forest in the dead of night, hungry, weary and seeking shelter when an idea pops into his head. Santa Claus has a list of all the well-behaved children in the entire world.

Donning a polar bear disguise, the creature pays Santa a visit:

Santa however sees through the disguise but still the dastardly Yark escapes the North Pole with the list in his clutches.

His first port of call thereafter is France where in Provence resides the altogether desirable little Charlotte. Surprisingly instead of being petrified of the marauding intruder, the child is positively thrilled to find this thing she’s read of staring down at her. Seemingly at this particular moment she no longer wants to be on that list of good children; rather she intends to be the complete opposite. And so she is; thus putting paid to the Yark’s anticipated meal.

Lewis is next on his list, a London dweller; will he too thwart the creature’s plan to make a meal of him? If so who, or what next? …

Suffice it to say that our Yark does finally redeem himself thanks to a doting little girl, Madeleine.

Laurent Gapaillard’s fine gothic style drawings of the shaggy, toothy Yark complete with his ridiculously diminutive wings set in richly detailed landscapes, against murky cityscapes or intricately rendered interiors are sometimes scary or shocking, at other times comical or endearing. Rich language, dark humour and equally rich art combine to make an enormously enjoyable read.

The Island of Horses
Eilís Dillon
NYRB Kids

This is a re-issue of a novel by respected Irish author Eilis Dillon that focuses on two teenage boys, Danny MacDonagh, 15, and Pat Conroy, a year older, residents of Inishrone, an island three miles off the coast of Connemara, near the mouth of Galway Bay and offers a view of village life in the first half of the 20th century.

The two boys take off in a boat on an adventure to the forbidden Island of Horses. Thereon they need to hone their survival skills and are thrilled to discover in a valley, a herd of beautiful wild horses.

What happens thereafter is an exciting tale, eloquently told, of colt-capture, kidnapping and more that may well still grip some readers as much as it did me when I first read a Puffin Books edition as a child many years back.

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Big Game

Good Knight, Bad Knight and the Big Game
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing

The two young rival knights are back, not in picture book format but in what looks to be the first of a series and if this one is anything to go by the aptly named Tom Knight is on to a winner.
In case you didn’t meet the cousins in their previous incarnation, Berkeley Paggle is the bad one, Godwin the goody. A rhyming introduction sets the scene reminding us of how Berkeley saved the day by using a terrific stink bomb to send an evil-intentioned dragon skywards.
Now school is about to start again and Berk with his new hero status is eagerly anticipating the day for the first time ever.
Thus begins a delicious tale of derring-do, a dark magic dabble – the dabbler being Warrick Pitchkettle (Berk’s best pal), who has come across an ancient spell book.
The plot is frenetic and throughout, the dialogue is peppered with mock-medieval exclamations, some just plain crazy, others with a tinge of toilet; and there are diary entries, a weird game called bladderball – Berk’s current obsession,

dastardly deeds – of course, great danger in the form of a brush with the evil hordes

and a surprising admission (Berk again, but Godwin too).

The tale is spicily summed up in a few final verses sung by the cast and there’s a glossary should you struggle with some of the wonderful medieval words.

I’ll say no more other than it all adds up to a cracking read liberally littered with super illustrations by Tom himself.

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom / Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom
Colin Mulhern
Maverick Arts Publishing

Buttercup Sunshine is the ‘friendliest, most angelic little girl you could ever imagine.’ So thinks Granny Fondant. Why, then, when the woman looks out of her window one fine morning, does she see the child running down Honeysuckle Lane towards her little house wielding a chainsaw? And even more strange, why is she asking Granny for petrol ,of all things?

Buttercup has alarming information to impart: zombies are on the loose and they’re heading towards Buttercup and Granny intent on eating their brains.
Even more alarming is the news that the chainsaw belongs to lumberjack, Mr Blackberry, one of the undead advancing upon them at that very moment.

Time to close the curtain, put the kettle on, make a cuppa, flourish a tray of shortbreads and sit down to hear what Buttercup has to say. Apparently the whole affair had begun with a star.

Seemingly the young lady, aka Agent Sunshine, was investigating a crime one night. The crime being the theft – so she thinks – of a thimble and thus, aided and abetted by the torch, a micro walkie-talkie and fellow detective Barry, who just happens to be a computer-hacking toad , the hunt is on for the mystery thief.

Back to that star. It, we learn was a meteorite that had landed slap bang, in a cemetery right in the centre of the Wicked Woods of Woe. Being Agent Sunshine, she just had to sally forth into those woods and that’s where everything kicked off.

Buttercup encounters Mr Blackberry who suggests that the meteorite might be made of diamonds.
It turns out though, that said meteorite appears to have magical properties capable of rendering dead bodies into a state of undeadness – an undeadness that means being ‘Huuugrry …’.

The question is, will the shortbreads run out before Buttercup has finished telling Granny her tale and if not, how, if at all, does this crazy situation resolve itself?
I’ll merely say that with Buttercup adopting warrior pose, standing firmly beside Granny armed with a pair of her longest knitting needles,

a plan gets underway. A plan entailing a great deal of hammering and banging not to mention needle-clicking, oh, and a vacuum cleaner.

The story is bursting with zany humour to which the author has added a liberal sprinkling of laugh-inducing line drawings; it’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy their giggles mixed with occasional gruesome chills and that I suspect is a lot of young readers.

The same can be said of:

Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Neal Layton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This, the third in the series starring Malcolm and his awful uncle, has each of them with a plot; hence the crazy title and needless to say Uncle Gobb’s plot isn’t a good one, in fact it’s downright dastardly.

Uncle Gobb is intent on setting up a school right behind the one Malcolm attends; the difference being, this educational establishment, or should I say non-educational, alternative is Dread Shed School of Facts. Now what that has to do with being educational, the author and I both agree upon and I’ll leave you to work it out.

However there’s no need to work out that this is a crackingly bonkers read, equally zanily illustrated by Rosen’s plot partner, Neal Layton whose daft artwork adds further gigglesome moments to this wonderful tale of plot and counter plot.

As to who is the victor of the battle for young brains, I’ll let you work that one out too.
Better still head off down to your nearest bookshop, obtain your own copy and laugh your way through it.

Mike the Spike / Barkus Dog Dreams


Mike the Spike

Stella Tarakson and Benjamin Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Small for his age, Mike has red hair; it’s his pride and joy, particularly because it makes him look taller when he’s gelled it into spikes. The trouble starts when his class is busy engaged in hat making for the great hat parade to be held in a couple of days. Everyone’s hat is well under way except Mike’s; he’s having trouble deciding what to make on account of his itchy head, which has been bothering him all day. Dandruff maybe, he wonders. But then as the lad gives his head yet another scratch, something becomes wedged under his fingernail. Oh no! Mike has head lice.

Determined to keep the matter a secret both from people at school and his mum, the boy takes matters in his own hands; but his lice-ridding attempts fail miserably.

Seizing the opportunity to go to the chemist when Mum needs some more contact lens cleaner, Mike asks the chemist for what he thinks he needs.

Eventually though he has the right shampoo for the task, a task he decides must be done in the school toilets. No easy task since the stuff needs to be left on for twenty minutes.

Will he ever rid himself of this pesky problem and can he manage to make himself a stylish hat in time for the parade?

The gigglesome moments as the lad tries to sort out one scratchful incident after another are likely to induce splutters of mirth from newly independent readers whether or not they’ve suffered from having those uninvited guests in their own hair. Watch out when you read this review (or better still, the book,) that you don’t suddenly get that urge to scratch.

A sprinkling of coloured louse-some, laugh-some illustrations from Benjamin Johnson have wriggled their way into the tale.

Barkus Dog Dreams
Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

Five further episodes, one per chapter, in the life of the mischievous Barkus, his little girl owner Nicky, feline Baby, and their family.

Once again Nicky acts as narrator relating a visit to see Robin the vet on account of a problem with Barkus’ ear (it’s infected);

a birthday party for the town in which they all live when Barkus finds temporary fame as a singer as he comes to the aid of a soprano struggling to reach the high notes;

and a search and rescue for some missing farm animals. Barkus makes friends with the next door neighbour’s dog, Millie and an exchange of toys takes place. The final chapter has Millie and owner Miss Daley staying with Nicky’s family while a storm rages and there’s a power cut.

It’s all highly entertaining, generously illustrated with Marc Boutavant’s bright, funny pictures and there’s just the right amount of action and detail to keep those just starting to fly solo as readers interested and involved.

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure
Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

The creator of the wonderful Claude books does it again with this the first of another adventure series. It stars Mr Penguin of Cityville (think Indiana Jones crossed with Sherlock Holmes or even Wallace and Gromit) who has just set himself up as a professional adventurer. He has all the gear: a dashing hat, large magnifying glass, a somewhat battered satchel and a smart-looking office complete with revolving chair. Like others of his ilk, he also has a sidekick, Colin the kung-fu-kicking spider.

Mr P. sits in his office, with a decidedly reduced bank balance and a distinct lack of clients, despairing that he’ll ever be asked to solve a mystery.

Happily he gets a call from a frantic-sounding Boudicca Boones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. She wants to hire him to find some lost treasure buried long ago by a relative.

An adventure at last; but can this oddly matched pair manage to follow a map and solve clues let alone locate the whereabouts of that missing treasure?

Their search, which ends up involving more than just Mr P. and Colin, sends them down into the depths to a subterranean jungle under the museum itself.

What a cracking, fast moving adventure it turns out to be with a host of cliff-hangers,

surprises and delicious characters, not to mention brushes with the criminal fraternity, the odd alligator and more, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as well as chortling at the wonderful dialogue.

As one would expect of Alex Smith, the entire tale is imbued with the absurd, both verbal and visual; and be sure not to miss those press excerpts before and after the beginning and end of the book.

Readers will be thrilled to learn, as I was, that this is the first of a new wacky adventure series. Bring on the next one …

A Different Boy

A Different Boy
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

Following on from the wonderful A Very Different Dog, Paul Jennings has written a second very different, equally gripping book.

Orphan Anton has recently arrived as a resident at Wolfdog Hall, a terrible place where no-one even knows his first name, lessons are miserable affairs, the teachers thoroughly unpleasant.
Pretty soon, the boy makes a break for it, and surprisingly, despite threats to the contrary, he isn’t followed. He is however without money or friends.

Hearing the horn sounding from a ship down the hill in the harbour the boy makes his way to the pier. The ocean liner has yet to leave and Anton watches people making their way up the gangplank, bound for a new land of promise, peace and plenty.

One of the passengers is Max, a rather strange-looking boy with a face resembling a porcelain doll and wearing a jumper absolutely covered with ribbons, labels and badges looking like, so Anton thinks, nothing less than a noticeboard. He’s also wearing a black arm band.
A peculiar exchange takes place between the boys after which at Max’s instigation, they exchange name labels and Max leads him aboard. Unlike Anton, the lad is accompanied by his mother.

Thus begins Anton’s new life as a stowaway.

During the voyage he gradually comes to know more about the rather strange seeming Max who has identical bald-headed boy puppets, one wearing a green jumper, the other a red one.

In tandem readers discover through text printed in italics that he once had a brother, Christopher, who died in a fire while Max was rescued.

Later in the main text Max’s mother explains that this was a recent event, and that now her son needs someone to look out for him in his twin brother’s stead. She also posits the idea that when they arrive in the ‘New Land’ Anton could live with them. A deal is made.

Shortly after, disaster strikes, there’s a rescue, a startling revelation concerning the identity of who had really died in the fire, another startling revelation, about Anton this time. And, there’s a satisfying ending; what more can you ask? Oh yes, there are occasional slightly spooky line drawings too.

Like all books by Paul Jennings, this one (based very loosely on the author’s experience of emigrating to Australia from England as a boy) draws you in immediately and grips you throughout . Like the author’s previous titles too, it’s superbly written without a wasted word. Having said that, it’s also quite unlike any of his previous titles.

The Dodo Made Me Do It

The Dodo made Me Do It
Jo Simmons, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Instead of the usual deadly dull summer holidays, 10-year-old Danny yearns for adventure. As usual though, he’s sent off to spend six whole weeks with Granny Flora who lives in the wilds of Scotland in a farmhouse, in a village called Kinoussie. To make matters worse nothing ever happens in this outlandish environ, it receives an awful lot of rain, has a population of ‘weirdies, oldies and older weirdies’. Promising it is not, particularly as his gran is porridge obsessed and the place is over-run with midges.

There’s only one person of around Danny’s age anywhere in the vicinity and that’s science-mad Susie. ‘You can make this work, Danny!’ his mum tells him as they part. ‘There is fun to be had up here. You just have to make it happen!’
And make it happen is what Danny does.

Over breakfast – yes porridge – Danny learns of a shipwreck just off the coast a very long time ago.
Quickly the lad hatches a plan of action A & E: Adventure & Excitement, he calls it, that involves visiting the precise location of the shipwreck, finding enough treasure to make him sufficient money to buy a train ticket home and once there to spend his booty on a holiday in a sunny spot somewhere distant.

Instead what he discovers is something even more unlikely than ancient treasure, it’s can you believe, a dodo!

Thereafter, said dodo gets Danny (along with Susie who becomes a kind of sidekick) into all manner of tricky situations just trying to keep the creature safe, fed and quiet.

In addition though, he finds himself confronting a criminal who’s come to Kinoussie seeking a place to hide away. Hmmm!

Why did he ever wish for excitement?

With a liberal sprinkling of comical drawings from Sheena Dempsey, this cracking Jo Simmons’ tale is to say the least, hilarious. Perfect holiday reading.

If you need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading, you could try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Help! I’m a Detective

Help! I’m a Detective
Jo Franklin, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Troika

This is the 3rd story to feature middle in the family, Daniel Kendal, and his pals who are polar opposites of one another.

It starts badly with Dan being blamed for the fact that little Timmy has been wielding a stapler, and then just as he’s on the point of leaving for school, the police come knocking on the door. No, the officer hasn’t come to arrest Dan despite what his big sister says to the contrary.

However when he learns about the burglary at Miss Duffy’s residence and then tells his two best friends geeky Gordon and Freddo at school, it seems there’s nothing for it but to assume the role of detective and help the police apprehend the thieves.

Being the near victim of fratricide, a second burglary involving a stolen x-box – surely big sister Jess and boy friend Dazzer couldn’t be the thieves, or could they? Plus an almost ‘friendicide ‘with Dan on the receiving end, as well as a plethora of poo, of the pooch variety I hasten to add, will the boy detectives ever succeed in their task? Can Dan possibly emerge as a hero for once?

With hilarious dialogue, an action-packed, fast moving narrative and suitably zany illustrations from Aaron Blecha, the whole unlikely story is exceedingly silly but enormous fun.

Wizarding for Beginners!

Wizarding for Beginners!
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

Dave the dragon spent his last tale honing his skills as a would-be knight and now returns, along with his best pal, Albrecht; he of story-telling prowess, the glossy-coated, somewhat noxiously smelling goat.
Now they’re going undercover as wizards in order to gain entrance to the decidedly shady Wizarding Guild with the aim of freeing their friends from the evils of dastardliest of all wizards, the hair-obsessive, tantrum throwing terrible Terence: he who has ambitions to take over the entire world.

But once inside this exceedingly strange rule-bound place,

No bums on the table especially on spaghetti night.

it isn’t many hours before Albrecht has managed to get himself kidnapped and shoved into a sack (on account of his glossy coat so we later learn) and it’s down to Dave to rescue him. In this enterprise he’s ably abetted by Brian who just happens to be a female wizard – something Dave discovers when he follows Brian into the loo, the ladies loo no less. But her gender isn’t Brian’s only secret; her magic so she admits is rather reliant upon porridge – yes porridge – but that does happen to be Dave’s favourite breakfast (mine too actually).

A deal is struck: the two team up and with additional assistance from an emotional wreck of a monster named Pansy who’s large, lonely, lacks self-confidence and is all ‘owie’ on account of having fought a tiger.

While all this is going on poor Albrecht is having a pretty terrible time. Terence is making him confront the magic mirror,  a thoroughly nasty piece of work that appears to have nothing good to say about anyone or anything.

Or does it?

If all these shenanigans haven’t whetted your appetite for this splendidly silly saga, then let me just throw into the mix a brand new dessert called Squirrel Parfait, some further great reveals in the gender department, rule rubbishing galore, a reunion and errr, that would be telling!

Hurray for porridge power, for the splendid plugs for books, reading and libraries, and the plethora of jokes herein.

Elys Dolan’s second Dave saga is as deliciously daft and enormously enjoyable as Knighthood for Beginners. This is a great read, especially for those who like their stories liberally sprinkled with crazy illustrations of the Dolan kind.

Need more help finding summer reading for your child? Try the Toppsta Summer Reading Guide

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees

Bee Boy: Attack of the Zombees
Tony De Saulles
Oxford University Press

We’ve heard about the parasite infected ‘Zombie’ bees in the USA and now here they are in this, new Bee Boy book.

For those who have yet to meet Melvin Medley, he lives with his mum and keeps a hive of bees on the roof of his tower block. His secret power is that he can, when his beloved bees need him, become a bee himself.

This is his second story and at the start he walks to school with best pal Priti to discover at the gates a boy dressed in a hoodie with golden cuffs, golden trainers and boy band styled hair stepping from a Rolls Royce. It’s newcomer to St John’s Primary, Berty Crump, nephew of millionaire business tycoon Sir Crispin Crump. And, Melvin is charged with looking after him on his first day.

Eager to do anything for his favourite teacher, Melvin introduces himself to Berty who immediately announces that he hates bees. “Gross” he calls them. Things are not looking good.

Then when a peculiar sickness bug that turns people yellow suddenly hits the school, starting with his arch-enemy Norman Crudwell and Berty, both of whom have honey sponge at lunch time, Melvin knows he has to start investigating.

His first question is to Daisy who gave Melvin his bees. She talks of bees getting sick on account of feeding on plants treated with noxious chemicals, suggesting sick bees might make sick honey.

Further questions crop up when Mel and his own bees discover a factory on the edge of the woods, a field full of gigantic flowers, drones spraying nasty chemicals, metal-suited beekeepers and oh, my goodness, Zombees!

Could all this have anything to do with that dastardly-looking uncle of Berty’s?

Passionate bee advocate, Tony De Saulles has penned another funny, exciting, pacy story, with a vitally important conservation message. Liberally scattered throughout are his comical cartoon style illustrations.

Need more summer holiday recommendations for your children? Try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

Going Solo: The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday / Hubert and the Magic Glasses

The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday
Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Princess Black has a double identity moving between Princess Magnolia and her black clad alter ego and it’s a pretty full-on, hard going existence and one that causes her to pay the penalty of a lack of a decent night’s sleep.
Now her slumbers are disturbed once again and having donned her transforming dark disguise, despite near exhaustion, she’s ready to leap into action once more.

Consequently when the Goat Avenger (who bears a close resemblance to her pal Duff the goat boy), offers to take over goat-guarding

and keep watch against marauding monsters, thus allowing the black sporting princess to take a much needed holiday, she cannot resist the opportunity.

Bags packed, Princess Magnolia is off on her bike to the seaside.

However her much-needed rest and relaxation are short lived for even on the beach, a monster shows up, emerging from the waves to cause havoc and scare the sunbathers out of their wits.

Time, (while Goat Avenger is still bravely playing the hero back home), to grab that black garb, step up and do battle with the brute.

Of course, in the end, our resourceful princess does finally get that much-needed holiday sans monsters, sans screaming humans, just her and sand, sea, sunshine and the odd bit of shade courtesy of a few coconut palms.
Brimming over with action, humour –due occasionally to the princess not recognising her friends, as well as monsters of the not really scary variety, the Hale partnership has penned another great chapter-book adventure story for readers just flying solo that’s bursting with engaging, action-packed illustrations from LeUyen Pham to smile at. Equally though, plenty of in-built sound effects to let rip with, make it a super read aloud.

Also ideal for new solo readers is:

Hubert and the Magic Glasses
Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman
New Frontier Publishing

When it comes to soccer, young Hubert’s skills as goalie for the under 12s Goodview Primary Able Ants team leave a lot to be desired: at best he’s mediocre. But then his team itself isn’t likely to be under enormous pressure in their next match when they take on the Wandering Wombats, reputedly the worst team in the district.

We first meet Hubert as he sits in the changing room struggling to tie his own boot laces, so nervous is he feeling while the other players are already on the field warming up. However despite the lad letting several goals in, his team does manage to win that match.

Next, Hubert’s team have to play in the quarter finals – a real challenge against a decent team – but then at dinner Hubert is faced with yet another problem when his mum announces that she’s made an appointment for him to see an optometrist.

The verdict? Astigmatism and Hubert is prescribed glasses: he’s not happy.

Just over a week later though, as he’s attempting to eat his breakfast Hubert is finally persuaded to put on his glasses and from then on everything in his life takes on an altogether different view.

With a new version of their goalie, can the Able Ants eventually win through: after all those glasses of Hubert’s aren’t just ordinary ones.

Issues of confidence building, team relationships, taking charge of your life, peer pressure and more are embraced in this amusing pacy narrative that has cool colour illustrations by Joe Spellman sprinkled throughout.

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star

Me and Mister P: Ruby’s Star
Maria Farrer, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford University Press

Mister P is back and now he’s dropped into young Ruby’s already packed life. With absent father, a mother and a little brother Leo to take care of, let alone attending school, her days and nights are pretty jam-packed and there certainly isn’t room in it, or their not very big flat, for a large white furry polar bear.

He’s certainly not what she had in mind when she made that wish for a birthday surprise. The trouble is, having drifted down in a hot-air balloon and landed in the nearby park, it doesn’t look as though he’s going anywhere in a hurry.
Thank goodness then for kindly neighbour, Mrs Moresby, who’s not averse to supplying the odd packet or so of fish fingers.

Activities as diverse as busking (to raise money to repay Mrs Moresby), and skateboarding (Ruby is a fan on account of her father and eager to improve her skills; Mr P. needs four skateboards and he’s pretty inept but determined) feature large and very large.

‘Perseverance, guts, determination, friends’ those are the requisites for Connor to be a skateboarder. They’re also what Ruby deems she needs to survive.

Survive she does and much more, emerging by the end, emotionally stronger, with a greater self understanding and generally an all round better person, thanks in no small part to Mister P. a character that utters not a word throughout the whole story, but also thanks to Mrs Moresby, an understanding headteacher and new friend Connor.

This fine book encompasses a number of themes including empathy, tolerance, acceptance and diversity, all of which are subtly woven into the story that also includes the needs of young carers. It’s beautifully illustrated by Daniel Rieley.

The Truth About My Unbelievable School…

The Truth About My Unbelievable School …
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Henry returns in a new story, and on this occasion he’s charged with taking a new classmate on a tour around school. If you’ve met Henry previously, you’ll already know that he’s more than a little inclined to exaggerate. Here though he’s up to something different: “… there really isn’t much to see …” he tells the girl as he shows her the class pet – a gigantic jellyfish. She appears singularly unimpressed, as she does at the sight of the music teacher,

the art class in progress and the maths lesson.

Not even the long tentacles escaping from a part closed door, the short cut to the playground …

or the flying mashed potatoes in the cafeteria cause her to bat an eyelid.
After a few more stops including a Smaug-like den and the principal’s office (reached by rowing boat),

the two arrive back at their classroom just as their teacher is bidding the class farewell. Perfect timing. And then we get a wonderful surprise ending.

(Observant readers may well have noticed the odd clue as to what’s coming already, as well as enjoying the various literary allusions scattered throughout in Chaud’s wryly funny illustrations.)

Keep an eye on Henry’s dog: the animal seems to have muscled its way into the action and is sure to make readers smile.

Delicious fun and another likely winner for Cali and Chaud.

Little Guides to Great Lives: Nelson Mandela

Little Guides to Great Lives: Nelson Mandela
Isabel Thomas and Hannah Warren
Laurence King Publishing

Nelson Mandela is one of my all time heroes so I was particularly pleased to see this little biography aimed at children around the age of the class I was teaching (7/8) at the time he was released from prison in 1990. I remember we all got up and cheered and jumped around. Yes, we were quite political and had already done some work on apartheid and Mandela in class.

One of a new series, the book is written by Isabel Thomas in an accessible style for young readers.
It begins with a look at his village childhood when the young boy was named Rolihlahla (pulling the branch of a tree’ or perhaps ‘troublemaker’) and includes a local game.

After the death of his father, the teenage Nelson lived with the acting king of the Thembu people and became great friends with his son, Justice.

Brief details of his time as a university student lead on to running away to Johannesburg and, set against factual information of socio-political happenings, the events that took place up to and after he obtained his law degree; his work with the ANC against apartheid in particular, and his time (27 years) in prison, mostly on Robben Island.

The final pages tell of Mandela’s release from gaol, his leadership of the ANC, the scrapping of apartheid laws, his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize and his becoming the first president of South Africa to be elected by all the country’s people, ending with his death at 95 years of age in 2013.

There’s also a timeline and a glossary.

Hannah Warren’s retro style illustrations executed in a limited colour palette, using mainly the ANC colours, add to the book’s appeal.

Also in the series and equally worth seeking out is the story of aviation super star and women’s right pioneer:
Amelia Earhart

Isabel Thomas and Dàlia Adillon

 

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur / Get Me Out of Witch School!

The Misadventures of Winnie and Wilbur
Laura Owen and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press

It’s good to have the ever-popular picture book duo, Winnie the Witch and her cat Wilbur, in another chapter book format edition.
This one has eight short stories, each one profusely illustrated by Korky Paul in his distinctive zany style.

In the first, Winnie gets her knickers in a bit of a twist when her new enterprise isn’t quite the resounding success she’d hoped, but then Winnie doesn’t exactly employ the kind of sales talk that will have her new products whizzing off the shelves.

No matter: the ingenious uses she finds for her unwanted wares are bound to give readers a good giggle.

The second story has Winnie cooking up a feast for her interfering sister Wilma. It’s not the special fresh batburgers she originally planned – she hasn’t the heart to serve up relations of her ’diddly bat’ friend – but, thanks to some timely assistance from Wilbur, Wilma leaves after supper thoroughly satisfied with her meal.
That should suffice to give you a flavour of the hilarious escapades within; the others being concerned with bothersome bubbles, a whopping great whale and other fishy findings, a car boot sale with a difference,

some high drama in a big top, extraordinary doings at a soccer game involving the odd bit of knicker elastic zapping and finally, a spot of excavating.
Sheer hilarity from beginning to end, and perfect read alone fare as well as a hoot to read aloud.

More witchy shenanigans in:

Get Me Out of Witch School!
Em Lynas, illustrated by Jamie Littler
Nosy Crow

In the second book of Daisy Wart’s adventures at Toadspit Towers, Witch School of Conformity and Strickness, the reluctant young witch is now known as Twinkle Toadspit.
She’s yet to gain full control of her witchy powers and still holds ambitions to be an actress. But when she determines to rescue a ‘cute, cuddly kitten’ Twinkle inadvertently sets off a chain of chaotic happenings.
It’s down to Twinkle and her pals to save Toadspit Towers. Can they do so, and in time for the would-be star of stage to tour her “Bottom”?

Bursting with wonderful characters, this is total spellbinding fun to keep readers in suspense throughout. Equally it makes a thoroughly enjoyable read aloud for those not quite ready to fly solo. However it’s read, Jamie Littler’s illustrations add to the enjoyment.

Bad Nana Older Not Wiser

Bad Nana Older Not Wiser
Sophy Henn
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the first book in what is to become a series and it’s mega-talented Sophy Henn’s debut as a writer of profusely illustrated younger fiction. It certainly looks as though she had great fun creating the three wickedly funny episodes narrated by young Jeanie, age 7¾ about the outrageous exploits of the grandma known to the family as Bad Nana; she of the black dress, pointy black shoes and gigantic earrings, who carries a walking stick – not necessarily for that purpose – and a massive handbag crammed with everything from emergency knicker elastic to stinky fish paste. All this and more, including things about Nana’s friends and acquaintances

and some of her past escapades, we learn in the first part “Things You Should Know’.
One of Bad Nana’s favourite locations is the park and part two of the book tells of Bad Nana’s extremely mischievous way of dealing with the plethora of “DO NOT” signs put up all over the park by the new and inordinately officious park keeper; and then goes on to recount what took place when a sweet wrapper just happened to drift from her hand and land in front of said park keeper.

Bad Nana lends a hand in the final and longest part. She somehow manages to get herself engaged as a school-trip helper when Jeanie and her class visit the local history museum, probably THE most boring museum ever.
Not so however, when a certain trip-helper decides to well and truly bring local history to life by inserting herself into one of the displays.

The whole episode is utterly hilarious and had this reviewer spluttering with laughter all the way through.

Sophie’s distinctive narrative voice in tandem with her splendiferous artwork makes for a stonklingly good chapter book for primary readers whether or not they cut their teeth on Pom Pom and her other picture book characters.

Mabel and Sam at Home

Mabel and Sam at Home
Linda Urban and Hadley Hooper
Chronicle Books

It’s moving day for Mabel and Sam and things look pretty chaotic from the viewpoint of the siblings.

To keep out of the way of the grown-ups they embark on a series of adventures related in three chapters. The first is ‘On the High Seas’ and here Captain Mabel and First Mate Sam set out in the good ship Handle With Care. Bossy sis. gives the orders as they go sailing on the high seas, a dangerous voyage full of pirates, whales and sea serpents

until they spy some friendly landlubbers, after which it’s “All ashore” for some tasty pizza.
‘At the Museum’ has curator Mabel showing Sam new ways of looking at old familiar things: the dialogue here is especially wonderful with Mabel “Behold“ing at every opportunity as she introduces the various artefacts to her brother.

Finally, after supper the two become astronauts blasting through space heading for Planet Perfecto and for this they need to be especially bold, “Space Bold” Astronaut Mabel declares, “Space Bold is bigger, because space is bigger.

Linda Urban’s entire text is a delight – funny, full of charm, reassuring and cleverly structured so as to embrace the kind of things that cause young children moving day anxieties; and before the end, the children are feeling upbeat about the move with Mabel concluding that their ‘new planet was surprisingly homey’.
Hadley Hooper’s illustrations (created with printmaking techniques and Photoshop) are, like the siblings’ adventures, wonderfully imagined, both in their rendering of the children’s adventures and the portrayal of the somewhat frazzled parents at the end of the book.
Just right for sharing with a child or children moving home.

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo / Why is the Cow on the Roof? & Smart Girls Forever

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Maverick Arts Publishing

At Purple Hill primary School there’s yet another supply teacher in 4X; they’ve gone through quite a few already so the question is, how long will the strange-looking Mrs Ogg survive, particularly when she decides to take the class on an outing – their first ever – to the zoo? Can she possibly keep seventeen unruly children under control for a whole day? It’s particularly important, for their attendance at the end-of-year party depends upon the trip being 100% trouble free.
Arlo decides it’s unlikely, so he assigns himself the role of chief back-up.

Mrs Ogg however is no ordinary supply teacher and the zoo she’s taking them to is no ordinary zoo, which probably accounts for the inclusion on the ‘don’t forget’ letter sent to parents just prior to the trip, of a T-bone steak.

Is the outing a success and do they arrive back at school with all seventeen children plus teacher safe and sound? And, are they allowed to go to that eagerly anticipated end-of-year party? You’ll have to get hold of a copy of this action packed story and find out.

With its twisting-turning plot, it’s certainly lots of fun. Packed with zany illustrations by Kathyrn Durst

and promises of further adventures to come, let me just say, there’s a whole lot more to class 4X than previous teachers had thought: Mrs Ogg manages to unearth a whole lot of hidden talents therein.

Why is the Cow on the Roof?
Smart Girls Forever

Robert Leeson illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Walker Books

These two books of short stories were first published 20 years ago and they’re as amusing now as ever – great for reading aloud or for solo reading.

Why is the Cow on the Roof? is one of the five folk tale based renditions in the first book, the story being based on the Norwegian, ‘The Husband who was to Mind the House’ and is a hilarious account of what happens when a husband and wife swap their round of daily tasks to see who works hardest.

The other four stories also pose questions including ‘Why are you such a Noddy, Big Ears?’ and “Who’s Next for the Chop?’, the former, a pourquoi tale being based on a Native American ‘Rabbit’ character and the latter from a story in the Arabian Nights..

In each case, Leeson’s renditions are full of humour with plenty of dialogue used to great effect; if you’re reading them aloud to a group, don’t forget to share Axel Scheffler’s funny line drawings that introduce each story.

Smart Girls Forever contains six tales from various parts of the world, all of which have resourceful female lead characters; they are, Leeson tells us ‘Russian, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Persian and English’ but ‘could be from anywhere’.

Look out for Natasha who outwits the devil and Oonagh who gets the better of the terrible giant Cucullin, an act for which her husband Fin M’Coul will be forever grateful.

Timeless Tales: I Really Want to See You, Grandma / I Wish I Was Sick, Too!

I Really Want to See You, Grandma
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

First published in Japan (the home of the book’s creator), in 1979, this story about a small girl and her grandmother and their efforts to see one another is now available in English for the first time.

Yumi and her Grandma live some distance apart, Yumi on a hill, her grandma on a mountain, and simultaneously each decides to visit the other – why they didn’t ring one another one can only assume is due to there being no mobile phones in those days.

They both leave home in upbeat mood, Yumi boarding a bus, her Gran taking a train.

Both arrive at the other’s home to discover the muddle and head back to their own homes …

missing each other again.

Will they ever get to meet or are they destined to spend the day passing each other on the way?

Gomi’s illustrations fill in much of the detail not mentioned in his simple text: ‘How come she was allowed to go on a bus without a grown-up?’ my listeners wanted to know after hearing this story of mix-ups and changing emotions.

Those in the early stages of becoming readers may well be able to try this one for themselves having heard the story read aloud first.

I Wish I Was Sick, Too!
Franz Brandenberg and Aliki
The New York Review Children’s Collection

I first came across this book as a young teacher in its Picture Puffin incarnation, I Don’t Feel Well.

It features sibling kittens, Elizabeth and Edward. Elizabeth is resentful of the attention her brother receives when he’s ill in bed. “It isn’t fair! … I wish I was sick, too!” she says.
When her wish comes true a few days later, she realises that, rather than all the attention received, it’s as her brother says, “The best part of being sick is getting well.

Aliki’s chalky illustrations capture the emotions of the infant cat characters superbly and the story’s as amusing now as it was over three decades ago.

Share and enjoy no matter the state of the listeners’ health; equally, with its clear print and inviting layout, it’s a good book for solo readers to try for themselves.

Testing Friendships – Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories / Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury

Fox & Chick: The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Chronicle Books

Let me introduce Chick and Fox. Fox is an equable character who enjoys reading, cooking and painting; Chick, in contrast, is totally irrepressible – a bit of a pain to say the least. Surprisingly these two are friends. They star in three comic style episodes aimed at those just taking off as readers.

The first story (which gives the book its title) is I think the funniest. Chick calls on Fox, gains entry asking to use the bathroom and then proceeds to throw a party for his pals therein.

In the second story, Good Soup, Chick gives Fox a hard time about his vegetarian predilection wondering why he eschews frogs, small furry creatures, grasshoppers and er, little birds as ingredients for his soup.

Finally, Sit Still focuses on Chick’s total inability to do just that , leaping up every few minutes for a cushion, food and a drink while Fox endeavours to paint his portrait.

How long-suffering Fox puts up with Chick is anybody’s guess: – shades of Lobel’s Frog and Toad here – but their interactions are highly amusing, the text very readable and the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolour are wonderfully expressive and enormously engaging.

Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Andersen Press

I’ve been a huge admirer of Stewart and Riddell’s Rabbit and Hedgehog since A Little Bit of Winter (one of the four tales included here) was published about twenty years ago. If you’ve not met these two enchanting characters then this book of four stories is a great opportunity to get to know these two and the challenging nature of their friendship: one is awake all day and the other all night.

In the first neither of the best friends knows the date of his own birthday let alone each other’s. To be on the safe side they decide to celebrate the very next day and each goes about finding a very special gift to give the other.

Rabbit’s Wish is the second story but when he wishes that hedgehog will stay awake so they can spend a whole day together, the outcome is not quite what was anticipated.

In the third episode a remembering game tests the friendship between the two protagonists but an accident serves to remind them of the strength of their bond.

The final A Little Bit of Winter sees the friends facing another challenge. As Hedgehog prepares to hibernate he carves a message on the bark of an oak tree asking the somewhat forgetful Rabbit to save him a little bit of winter so he can find out what the season he’ll sleep through is really like.

Despite the chilly nature of the season, it’s a truly heart-warming story and like the others, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.

Animal Allsorts: Bugs!, Snakes and The Zoological Times

Bugs!
Snakes!

James Buckley, Jr.
Liberty Street

Animal Planet have added two new titles to their Chapter Book series of non-fiction titles for newly independent readers. With eleven chapters per book, they are absolutely packed with information, every spread has at least one coloured illustration; there is clear labelling and sidebars such as ‘In your newsfeed’
Bugs begins with insect anatomy and life cycles and then moves on to look at a variety of insects. There are chapters on dragonflies; mantids and phasmids (stick insects); beetles; mosquitos, flies and fleas; butterflies and moths and ants share a chapter with bees and wasps.
There are also chapters on life cycles, food and feeding, movement and insect senses and throughout the facts are presented in an interesting, fun way but there isn’t a hint of talking down to the reader.
The whole look is one that says, ‘read me’.
The same is true of Snakes! wherein readers encounter the fastest, longest, heaviest, largest

and most deadly snakes – beware of elapids such as cobras, mambas and death adders in particular.
Did you know that some snakes swim, a few are amphibian and others can climb trees? Fascinating and exciting.

The Zoological Times
Stella Gurney and Matthew Hodson
Lincoln Children’s Books

Following on from The Prehistoric Times comes a new edition of their exciting newspaper style books that offer a fun way of learning especially for those who are keen on the comic format. Now hot off the press is a look at the animal kingdom and it’s chock full of exciting information, black and white photos, wacky illustrations, puzzles, games and activities; there’s even a problem page.
Animal conservation is an issue for us all and this is addressed here too.
In brief, educative and enormous fun.

Distinctly Different Chapter Books – Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo & Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives Fabio the world’s greatest flamingo detective: slender, pink and extremely clever.

When Fabio and his associate Gilbert the giraffe stop at the Hotel Royale for a cool glass of pink lemonade,

he allows himself to be persuaded to head judge the hotel’s talent competition, a competition intended to boost its business.

Disaster strikes however when Julia, the jazz-singing hippo and most promising of the contestants, takes to the stage and as she does so, the lights go out and Julia goes missing.

The police are called but it’s time for Fabio to put that thinking cap of his back on, hone his questioning skills and set about solving the mystery and one or two more that crop up along the way.

Delicious comic humour that will delight young readers and listeners, day-glo greens and pinks to dazzle in Emily Fox’s delicious illustrations and a layout that’s just right for newly confident readers, this comedy cum mystery looks – just like Julia – set fair to captivate its audience.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief
Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin
Flying Eye Books

This bumper graphic novel style edition contains 21 episodes featuring Akissi, a little girl who lives in a town on the Ivory Coast. This spirited miss is supremely self- confident and frequently finds herself getting into trouble for misdemeanours often involving her brother Fofana or her friends.

Her far from exemplary behaviour finds her engaging in such activities as ‘borrowing’ a neighbour’s baby for a game of “mums”; adopting as a pet a mouse that causes all manner of problems; barging her way into the boys’ football games and generally getting into fights and scraps.

During the course of all these mischievous scenarios and more, readers learn not only about the main protagonist, but also about her family and her life – in one story she gets tapeworm; another describes her being responsible for her nan getting knocked out by a falling coconut; there’s also a ‘head-lice’ episode and toilet humour too.

And if your stomach is feeling up to it, there are a couple of bonus recipes courtesy of Akissi, as well as instructions for hair braiding African style.

A comic book hero who could surely give Dennis the Menace a run for his money – memorable and for many I suspect, irresistible.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Princess and the Crocodile

The Princess and the Crocodile
Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Floca
Walker Books

Cossetted from the start, the ‘perfect’ being that is Princess Cora is then – once the realisation dawns on her doting parents that she’ll one day be the ruler of the land – scheduled for every single minute of her time for fear she won’t measure up to the task.

A nanny is hired to ensure she’s always neat and clean – a three baths a day regime is introduced; and when she’s not in the tub, her mother is making her life a misery with deadly dull tomes or her father subjecting her to a gruelling fitness regime.

One night though the girl decides a dog might just make her life bearable but neither her parents nor the nanny are willing to entertain such an idea. In desperation the Princess writes to her fairy godmother and then rips the letter to pieces and tosses them out of the window. Here Schlitz injects a lovely magical touch “because it was a letter to her fairy godmother, every scrap turned into a white butterfly and flew away’.

Perhaps though she isn’t sufficiently specific in her request for the following morning what should be at the foot of her bed but a gift-wrapped crocodile.

The two strike a deal. For a day, in exchange for cream puffs the crocodile will take Cora’s place giving her a day of sheer unadulterated freedom.
First though there’s the issue of a suitable disguise: that comes in the form of a frilly frock and mop wig together with a promise not to eat anyone.

The creature keeps his promise while managing to create utter havoc around the palace with an appropriate degree of ferociousness: dunking in the tub and nips for the nanny,

insults and nips for the Queen and lashings, clawings, bitings …

and incarceration for the King, allowing Cora a wonderful day outdoors being thoroughly wild,

getting messy, wet, and even managing to step in a cowpat.

Witty writing and delicate yet energetic, and often very funny illustrations, make for a wonderful read aloud or read alone chapter book. Either way, I imagine a good many listeners or readers wanting to devour this whole riotous neo fairytale in a single sitting.

Enchanting from begin to end. A book that will appeal to those who love princesses, justice, a good giggle and even perhaps, crocodiles. The latter will certainly love the one herein.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry / The Night of Wishes

It’s great to see The New York Review of Books bringing forgotten children’s books back for a new audience; they have some wonderful titles on their list. Here are two recent ones:

Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry
Rosalie K. Fry
New York Review Children’s Collection

As a child I was an avid collector of Puffin Books and had one with a Welsh setting called Snowed Up by Rosalie Fry, so her name rang a bell when I received this review copy.
It’s a tale of erstwhile city dweller, ten year old Fiona McConville who goes back to live with her grandparents in a village on the Scottish coast.
With her she takes memories of her lost little brother Jamie whose cradle had been swept from the shore of Ron Mor several years before, and disappeared at sea.
From her Grandfather she learns that fishermen tell tales of a child of the seals; could this possibly be her lost brother? Fiona determines to find out.
Poetically told and imbued with folklore of the Western Isles, and illustrated with line drawings by the author, this magical tale was the basis for the classic film, The Secret of Roan Inish.
It’s a small treasure.

The Night of Wishes
Michael Ende illustrated by Regina Kehn
New York Review Children’s Collection

It’s New Year’s Eve; Shadow Sorcery Minister Beelzebub Preposteror is in his laboratory when he discovers he has a visitor. It’s one Maledictus Maggot, come to remind him that he has only until midnight to fulfil his contractual obligations re pollution, extinction of species, tree destruction, plague and devastation, or have his powers rescinded – a ‘personal foreclosure ex-officio’ is how Maggot puts it.
There is seemingly, only one way to avert this terrible fate; Beelzebub must collaborate with his aunt Tyrannia Vampirella (who has also received a similar ultimatum) in the brewing of the ‘Satanarchaeolodealcohellish Notion Potion’. This dastardly and powerful spell will, on New Year’s Eve alone, grant its imbiber a wish for every glass downed in a single gulp.
Can the two possibly accomplish the task in the face of an attempt to counter the plan from animal spies, Beelbezbub’s cat Mauricio and Tyrannia’s raven Jacob, and hence save the world from destruction?
Written by the author of The Neverending Story and translated by Heike Schwarzbauer and Rick Takvorian, this twisting, turning comic fantasy of good versus evil should enthral older readers, who will appreciate the word play and injections of verse. Regina Kehn’s wonderful illustrations, and the ticking clocks throughout, add to the atmosphere.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.

With Giving in Mind

Little Hazelnut
Anne-Florence Lemasson and Dominique Ehrhard
Old Barn Books

What a simply gorgeous presentation is this tale of a hazelnut dropped by squirrel …

and buried by a heavy snowfall.
Other woodland animals, furred and feathered, come and go but the nut remains undiscovered.
In the spring, a little tree shoot emerges – literally – and a sapling begins to develop: a little nut tree, no less.

Readers are taken on a journey through the changing seasons in this wonderfully crafted pop-up story. The limited colour palette and occasional patterned backgrounds are most effective and the paper-engineering superb.
A book to share, to treasure and to give.

Greatest Magical Stories
Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Oxford University Press

Michael Morpurgo has selected a dozen magical tales from different parts of the world for this collection, the final one of which, Jack and the Beanstalk is his own retelling. This first person telling from Jack Spriggins aka ‘Poor Boy Jack’ is especially engaging for young listeners. Morpurgo also provides an introduction as well as an introductory paragraph to each story.
Ten illustrators have been used with Victoria Assanelli and Bee Willey having two tales each. Most arresting as far as I’m concerned are Ian Beck’s wonderful silhouettes for Adèle Geras’ rendition of The Pied Piper.

From Japan comes Yoshi the Stonecutter, retold by Becca Heddle and beautifully illustrated by Meg Hunt, the only non-European offering.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk are ‘almost part of our DNA’ says Morpurgo in his introduction: they are universal.
Perhaps not a first collection but this read aloud volume is certainly one worth adding to a family bookshelf or primary classroom collection.
Not included in the above but certainly magical is:

Beauty and the Beast
illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova
Templar Publishing

To satisfy his youngest daughter’s wish, a merchant steals a rose from the garden of a hideous-looking beast and Beauty, to save her father’s life, goes in his place to the Beast’s palace, falls in love with him and well, you know the rest.
The classic fairy tale is retold in a truly beautiful rendition – a feat of paper-engineering and lavish, cut out illustrations by self-taught illustrator Dinara Mirtalipova.

She has created six multi-layered scenes by using three layers of paper cut to look 3D, so that each spread simply springs into life when the page is turned.
Magical!
I really had to exercise my powers of persuasion to get one listener to part with my copy after we’d shared it.

A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Otter-Barry Books

I clearly remember my father reading Robert Louis Stevenson poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses on many occasions; most notably Rain. The Swing, From a Railway Carriage, Autumn Fires, Where Go the Boats? and my very favourite, Windy Nights (which I still know by heart).
Here’s a beautiful book of those same poems that were first published in 1885, and a century later illustrated by Michael Foreman, beautifully packaged with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith for a new generation of listeners and readers.
For me Foreman is the perfect illustrator for the poems, his watercolours imbuing them with a sense of timelessness and innocence. One for the family bookshelf.

Space Adventure Activity Book
illustrated by Jen Alliston
Button Books

There’s plenty to engage young children during the long winter evenings in this space-themed activity book. There are things to count, to colour and to make; plenty of puzzles, wordsearches and more, plus 4 pages of stickers. All you need are pens, pencils, scissors, a paper plate or so, a couple of sponges and 2 rubber bands (to convert your shoes to moon boots) and some basic ingredients for the Stellar Cakes (plus the help of an adult).
With 60 pages of spacey fun, this should help fill a fair few hours of darkness.

Halloween Briefing: Monsters Galore and a Witch or two

There’s a Monster in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books
Here we have one of those interactive picture books that are in vogue at the moment and it comes from the co-writer of The Dinosaur That Pooped series.
The book is invaded by a rather cute-looking little monster that seems intent on wrecking the whole thing. ‘Let’s try to get him out,’ suggests the narrator which is clearly a good idea.
Readers are then asked to shake, tickle, blow, tilt left, then right, wiggle and spin the book, turning the page after each instruction. All the while the monster lurches this way and that around a plain background looking far from delighted at the treatment being meted out to him.
None of this succeeds in dislodging the creature but he’s definitely feeling dizzy so loud noises come next; then even louder ones.

This works but ‘Now he’s in your room!’ That’s even worse than being contained within the pages, at least from the reader’s viewpoint, so now the idea is to gently coax him back into the book. There he can stay while receiving some tender head stroking and a soft ‘goodnight’ until he falls fast asleep. Ahh!
With Greg Abbott’s cute, rather than scary monster, this is a fun book to share with pre-schoolers particularly just before their own shut-eye time; all that shaking and shouting will likely tire them out making them feel just like this.

SHHHH!

Ten Creepy Monsters
Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gigglesome twist on the nursery countdown featuring a mummy, a witch, a ghost, a werewolf, a vampire and others who, having gathered ‘neath a gnarled pine’ begin to disappear until only one remains. But what sort of creepy monster is that? Be prepared for a surprise.
Trick or treaters, if mock scary ghastly ghouls are your Halloween thing then look no further than this gently humorous, little paperback offering.

Scary Hairy Party!
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Monster’s having a party; it’s at 3 o’clock and all her friends are invited. Fortunately they’ve just got time to nip into Raymond’s salon for a hairdo first.
Seemingly Raymond’s not on top form however, as one after another receives a style disaster.

What on earth is Monster going to say when she sets eyes on her pals with their new make-overs?
Light-hearted rhyming fun illustrated with crazy, brighter than bright scenes of barnet mayhem: just right for those youngsters who like their Halloween stories to be on the silly, rather than the spooky side.

The Pomegranate Witch
Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books
A deft rhyming text, imbued with spookiness and replete with rich language, tells a tale of how five children desperate for a pomegranate from the witch’s tree, and armed with all manner of unlikely implements, do battle with its owner to get their hands on a tasty treat from its branches. A veritable Pomegranate War is waged …

until finally, one of children succeeds in bagging the object of their desires and they each have a share of the spoils.
The following day, Halloween, a Kindly Lady (the witch’s sister) appears to offer cider and a celebratory surprise fruit to all the town’s children: ‘And not one child wondered who was who, or which was which. / The shy old Kindly Lady or the Pomegranate Witch.’
Surely they couldn’t be one and the same – or could they?
Not for the very youngest listeners but a fun read aloud for KS1 audiences. As your listeners savour Denise Doyen’s story, make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy Eiiza Wheeler’s delightfully quirky ink and watercolour illustrations.

For older solo readers:

Witch Snitch
Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The (Witch Wars) Sinkville witches are preparing for Witchoween and it’s the first Tiga will experience. This is especially exciting as Peggy has asked her and Fran to make a documentary about the town’s most famous witches. With Fluffanora acting as fashion adviser, what more could she ask?
This book with its numerous activities, facts and character information as part and parcel of the narrative, is sure to make you giggle. So too will Laura Ellen Andersen’s line drawings.

Barkus / Lulu Gets a Cat

Barkus
Patricia Maclachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books
Meet large brown dog, Barkus, “Smartest dog in the whole world.” So says globetrotting Uncle Everton when he arrives on the doorstep one day with what he calls “a present” for the young narrator, his niece Nicky. Nicky is reassured to learn that Barkus doesn’t bite and thus begins a beautiful friendship.
Over the next four short chapters we learn how Barkus follows Nicky to school and is adopted as the class dog; celebrates his birthday in a very noisy manner;

discovers a kitten and is allowed to keep it, naming it Baby; and finally, camps out for the night and enjoys an autobiographical story by torchlight.

The five amusing episodes are linked but the separate events provide suitable stopping points for readers just embarking on early chapter books.
Marc Boutavant provides appropriately cheery, retro style illustrations that range from full page to vignette.
All in all an upbeat, engaging read about family, friendship and the benefits of having a winningly positive attitude to life and its possibilities.

Lulu Gets a Cat
Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw
Alanna Books
In her latest story Lulu wants a cat and sets about showing her mum that she’s ready to have one by doing some research on their care and putting in some practice on her cat toy. Eventually Mum is persuaded and off they go together to the cat shelter.

There, Lulu doesn’t so much choose a cat, but is chosen by one of those she’s shown.
Cat shelter worker, Jeremy provides some helpful advice; they go home and make preparations; and return next day to collect the new pet. Lulu gives her cat the beautiful name, of Makeda, which means African Queen and after a period of adjustment, it’s not long before Makeda is well and truly settled into her new home.

Lulu never fails to delight: this new story, endorsed by the National Cats Adoption Centre, ticks all the boxes for showing the very young that becoming a pet owner involves considerable responsibility, as well as introducing the basics of adopting a cat.

I’ve signed the charter  

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
I have to admit that I’m a great fan of the Mango & Bambang series, this being the fourth book; and they seem to go on getting better and better.
What is the snowiest meal you can think of: whatever it is I’ll bet it’s not half as delicious as that consumed by the little girl and her best friend and tapir, Bambang in the first of these four linked, although separate, stories. It happens because, Mango is trying to provide the best possible experience of snow for her pal without there actually being any likelihood of the chilly precipitation in their neck of the woods, especially as it’s summer. Instead she decides to ‘bring snow to the tapir’; and they end up breakfasting on lemon sorbet, cream soda, crushed ice topped with whipped cream plus meringue chunks and marshmallows – white ones naturally. That of course is only part of their snowy Saturday outing, which does get more than a little hairy at times …

The whole episode is sheer delight though, especially the finale that you’ll have to discover for yourself by getting your hands on a copy of this enchanting book.
In the other three stories, they spend a night at the fair and poor Bambang ends up with Bambang sustaining a rather nasty injury, inflicted by one of the duo’s arch enemies when Bambang puts his own safety second in order to protect Mango.
Being quick to recover though, its only a few days before the two are ready for their next two adventures, the final one of which sees them reunited with Bambang’s somewhat sassy, diminutive young cousin Gunter at the international premiere of his new film.

I absolutely love Bambang’s assessment of the canapés offered as ‘just normal food, made too small.
Charm simply oozes from these wonderfully uplifting, fun-filled tales; but what over-arches everything is the bond of affection between the two main protagonists, one of which has an unfailing capacity for innocent havoc wreaking.
As always, Clara’s delectable, retro-style illustrations – this time with touches of orange – add visual charm to Polly’s stories; the combination once again creating the perfect book for newly independent readers, or for sharing with those not yet ready to fly solo.
If you’ve yet to be delighted by this team, get a copy of this book right away; I suspect you’ll then want to read their previous stories too.

I’ve signed the charter