Zoom: Ocean Adventure & Zoom: Space Adventure / Where’s My Peacock?

Zoom: Ocean Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Sam Rennocks
Zoom: Space Adventure
Susan Hayes, illustrated by Susanna Rumiz
What on Earth Books

These are two titles in a new board-book non-fiction series for curious toddlers.

In the first we meet Noah and join him and his turtle on an ocean adventure as he takes his boat out to sea, dons his diving gear and plunges into the water.

His first location is a coral reef, a good place for a game of hide-and-seek with some fish. Next stop is a seagrass meadow with its seahorses, dugongs and a wealth of other creatures, some of which emerge from the kelp.

Danger suddenly looms in the shape of a hungry great white shark from which Noah must make a hasty escape by climbing into his submarine and diving down to the darkest depths.

There’s also a sunken pirate ship with treasure and more to discover as Noah heads for the Antarctic and an iceberg with penguins atop, made all the more dramatic by its large die-cut shape,

Indeed die-cuts are a feature of every spread and with their clever placing each one offers a different view depending on whether the page is turned forwards or back.

The Space Adventure is Ada’s and begins with her (and her cat) boarding her rocket ship and awaiting the countdown which is delivered through wordless die-cut illustrated pages shaped as the numbers 5 through to 1.

Then the rocket blasts off skywards towards the moon, docking at the International Space Station to make a delivery and for Ada to perform some urgent repairs before making a lunar landing to collect scientific samples.

Thereafter, the rocket explores the Solar System viewing all the different planets before heading home once more.

Characteristic of both, rather longer than average board books are: the surprise pop-up on the penultimate spread, the wealth of visual details in Sam Rennocks and Susanna Rumiz’s vibrant illustrations, the die-cut pages, the relatively short narrative and the fact that both Noah and Ada actually experience their journeys through their imagination.

Sturdily built, these are well worth putting into a nursery collection or adding to your toddler’s bookshelf.

Where’s My Peacock?
Becky Davies and Kate McLelland
Little Tiger

In their latest touchy-feely, hide-and-seek board book, thanks to Becky Davies’ simple repeat patterned and Kate McLelland’s alluring patterned art, toddlers can follow the trail of footprints and discover a long tailed lemur, a feathery owl and a brightly hued toucan before locating the dazzling tailed peacock that has almost, but not entirely, hidden himself away.

Tactile fun for tinies and the possibility of learning some new vocabulary.

Impossible! / I’m Sorry

Here are two recently published picture book from Little Tiger:

Impossible!
Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal

Dog runs a laundry in a busy city but has a longing to see the ocean.

One day he comes upon Ocean Magic, a new kind of washing powder. The product promises ‘seaside freshness with every wash’ but apparently there’s something else within the box too.
Into the machine goes the powder and out later, along with the clean washing, emerges a crab suffering from a bad attack of nausea.

Dog and Crab discuss the situation over a cuppa

and eventually after declaring several times that driving Crab all the way back home is impossible, Dog lets himself be persuaded to undertake the trip.

Off they go together on a journey that takes several weeks during which they create a special memories map of their trip.

En route they encounter other travellers with seemingly impossible challenges of their own.

Now it’s Dog’s turn to utter the ‘nothing is impossible unless you say so’ maxim and with the assistance of their new friends, Dog and Crab finally reach their destination.

Both are delighted with the ocean paradise but then Dog declares he must return to his city job – or must he?

Follow your dreams and don’t allow obstacles to stand in your way, is the message Tracey’s tale imparts to youngsters. Equally the ‘it’s only impossible if you say so’ message is one we all need to remember especially in challenging times.

Tony Neal’s bright, lively, illustrations inject additional humour into the telling offering fun details to enjoy on every spread.

I’m Sorry!
Barry Timms and Sean Julian

In Walnut Wood live best friends, Scribble (squirrel) and Swoop (owl) and each morning they walk a considerable distance bringing their special things to their regular meeting spot.

Scribble has a special pencil that acts as word assistant in his play script writing, the finished dramas entertaining his friend. Swoop’s special thing is a toolbox that enables her to build anything and everything.

One day they decide to move in together; their place has ‘room for two and a little left over’.

It’s the left over bit – the veranda – that causes a rift, for each has designs on it.

A huge row ensues over the ownership of this: should it be a stage or a workshop?

Scribble decides to try and make amends with the aid of his trusty pencil but can a single word apology fix things or is something else needed?

There’s food for thought and discussion with little ones in this story that demonstrates that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sean Julian’s beautifully expressive watercolour illustrations are for me the true show-stealers in this book.

The Stars Just Up the Street

The Stars Just Up the Street
Sue Soltis and Christine Davenier
Walker Books

Mabel’s grandpa loves to tell stories of the thousands of stars in the night sky where he grew up and this draws in his granddaughter Mabel who loves to look at the five stars she can see through her bedroom window and the nineteen visible from her back garden’s ‘narrow patch of sky’.

When Grandpa and Mabel go walking in the town looking for the myriad of stars he saw in his youth, the plethora of street lights and houselights make it impossible.

What can she do about the lack of the real darkness that would allow the stars to become visible?

Now Mabel has a mission: to convince other people to turn off the lights. First she goes to her neighbours who having done as requested are amazed at the number of stars now visible – around two hundred. “Look, the Big Dipper!” cries one in surprise.

More people agree to switch off but to get the street lights turned out, Mabel must appeal to the town’s mayor. This, with dogged persistence and a reminder that everyone was a starry-eyed, star watching child once upon a time, she eventually does.

The story concludes with a community celebration with everybody gathering up on the hill to view the wonders of the night-time sky, now filled with stars,

an event that seems destined to become an annual new moon tradition with  picnics and telescopes.

Sue Soltis’ beautifully told, inspiring story of the love between Grandpa and grandchild, of determination, community and controlling light pollution, will appeal to urban star-gazers especially, as well as one hopes encouraging youngsters to take up the challenge and campaign for what they believe is right and to stand against those things which are detrimental to our world. Christine Davenier’s ink-wash illustrations capture both the beauty of the night sky liberally sprinkled with stars, and the young girl protagonist’s heartfelt determination.

Would that it were so relatively easy: our towns and cities at night are ablaze with unnecessary artificial lights, almost wherever one looks: every town, every city needs a Mabel.

Midge & Mo / Judy Moody Super Book Whiz

Midge & Mo
Lara Williamson & Becky Cameron
Little Tiger

Starting at a new school is almost always a bit scary and many children go through those ‘I want things to be how they were before we moved’ feelings. It’s certainly the case for Midge in this latest story in the Stripes series of full colour fiction for new solo readers.

Midge’s parents have separated and Midge is faced with having to start at a new school with all the challenges that presents. He really doesn’t want to embrace the change, instead he wants his old school and friends, and his parents together.

On his first day he receives a warm welcome from teacher, Mr Lupin who asks Mo to be Midge’s buddy. This proves to be a challenging role, for no matter how hard she tries, Midge remains sad and silent.

At the end of the day, Mr Lupin encourages her to keep on trying.

Back at home that night, Mo has an idea. She reaches for the snow globe her mum and dad gave her when she was a newbie at school and sits down with her parents whose words of wisdom inspire her to create a special something for Midge.

At school the following morning, she tries again with Midge and her actions precipitate a change in him: little by little, the clouds begin to shift …

Told and illustrated with obvious empathy, Lara’s words and Becky’s illustrations express so well, the emotional turmoil of Midge. It’s a lovely warm-hearted story for young just-independent readers as well as providing an ideal opportunity to explore the feelings associated with changing schools and/or a parental separation.

Judy Moody Super Book Whiz
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

My goodness, I hadn’t realised just how many Judy Moody books there now are.

Although there is a competition in this story regarding factual recall of things in stories and I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that, books and reading rule and that must be a good thing.

Judy Moody and her brother Stink are both on their school bookworm team (along with Frank and Judy’s erstwhile arch nemesis Jessica, Frank and Sophie). They have to read all the books on the list in order to beat the team from a school in the nearby town. There’s money for the school library as a prize and their much-loved teacher, Mr Todd is asking the questions, but can team Virginia Dare Bookworms out-perform The Fake-Moustache Defenders with their star, ‘Mighty Fantasky, Fourth grader’.

In order to be in with a chance the Bookworms will need to read at every possible opportunity – on the bus, in karate class, at the dining table, sick in bed, even.

Judy tries speed-reading while Stink fashions a cape using sticky post-it notes both of which are not quite the answer.

However, enthusiasm for reading never wanes in this exciting bookish battle, (all titles read are listed after the story), and let’s just say that it’s a win for books, for hard work and for determination.

I’ll leave you to decide to whom that applies and suggest you get a copy of the book for your classroom or a bookish young reader. Either way the final list of books, as well as the story, with its liberal scattering of funky Peter H. Reynolds illustrations, provide literary inspiration and enjoyment.

Smell My Foot!

Smell My Foot!
Cece Bell
Walker Books

If you happen to be looking for a book for readers who might have struggled a little or want something funny and a tad pungent in graphic novel style then Cece Bell’s bonkers book will tick those boxes.

Without further ado let me introduce its comedic duo: Chick is the pedantic, manners obsessed one; The socially inept Brain, despite appearances, can’t quite get the hang of such niceities as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and simple greetings, despite Chick’s modelling them for him. Instead of copying, his response is direct action. For instance Chick says, “ But I will not smell your foot until you say PLEASE.’ … ‘Like this ; please smell my foot.’ ‘Oh! OK!’ comes Brain’s response followed immediately by …

and so it goes on until finally the pair have smelled each other’s feet.

Chapter two sees the arrival of Spot the dog and a lot more social behaviour modelling and foot sniffing ensues until Spot invites his tutor home for lunch – UH! OH!

Chapter 3 demonstrates beautifully how clueless Chick really is: will he become a dog’s dinner or might his supposedly daft counterpart come up trumps by stepping in at the crucial moment? Polite, Chick-pleasing foot sniffing might not be his forte but sniffing danger could be an altogether different matter.

I’ll leave you to surmise and move rapidly on to the final chapter: oops that’s a bit of a giveaway but this hilarious saga does have a happy ending just about!

I absolutely love the way the author sends up the awful reading scheme language of yesteryear books such as Janet and John, Peter and Jane or the US equivalents Dick and Jane, the latter just happen to rhyme with this book’s delectable duo.

Super, slightly stinky spluttersome silliness of the first order, a friendship you won’t forget in a hurry, priceless comic-strip sequences with a dialogue only text, and short, bite-sized chapters: what more can a perhaps less than eager reader ask? Once anyone samples this, I suspect the demand will be “More of Chick and Brain please!”

 

 

The Grizzly Itch

The Grizzly Itch
Victoria Cassanell
Macmillan Children’s Books

What do you do if you wake from your winter slumbers with an itch? If you’re a bear of the grizzly kind then you’d most likely go in search of a tree for some scratching relief. That’s exactly what Victoria Cassanell’s Bear does in her debut picture book.
There’s a major snag though, in the form of a rather large queue at Bear’s favourite scratching tree.

Even worse, when it comes to his turn, this happens …

The beaver in question is apologetic and being a beaver, is also fond of trees and familiar with a good many in the vicinity. He takes Bear and together they hunt in the forest.

After seeing several that just don’t cut it as a suitable back scratcher, they come upon one beside the river that looks promising. Up Bear climbs, wobbles along a branch and …

Wet through, Bear despairs of ever finding a tree to do what he so badly desires. Beaver sitting beside him, is sympathetic and as it happens rather more …

By nightfall a firm friendship has been forged: I’ll say no more on the matter, other than this is a delight to read aloud and Victoria’s illustrations are smashing. Her portrayal of both the animal characters and their natural habitat, painted in ‘layered watercolour’ are captivating. I love the different view points especially that of Beaver and Bear looking upwards to the top of the tree Bear then climbs; and that back view of the two animals sitting side-by-side.

Funny, full of heart and a pleasure to read aloud, this story has vital messages about the relative importance of friends and ‘things’, and the surprising things that can happen if you offer help to others.

What Will These Hands Make?

What Will These Hands Make?
Nikki McClure
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Having posed the title question on the first spread, a grandmother narrator explores various possibilities encouraging her audience to join her as she imagines and celebrates a plethora of crafts that are used in creating the various items that might be made.

So, ‘will these hands make: ‘a teacup for a child / a bowl round and shiny / a quilt to warm / a chair for listening?’

Venturing into the great outdoors, the ’Will these hands’ refrain is repeated and answered thus ‘a hat for a baby’s head / a wall to walk along / a gate to open / a garden for many?’

Nikki McClure’s signature cut-paper, beautiful inky scenes extend  the words as she continues to ask ‘WILL THESE HANDS MAKE: … ’ on a further eight spreads between which are double spreads – superbly detailed wordless scenes of a townscape, a busy street, people going to a birthday celebration

and a close up of same.

By the end we see a community wherein all feel safe and nurtured;

and the final spread provides two large ovals asking the reader to consider “What will your hands make” and to trace one hand in each circle.

In most illustrations, McClure uses a pop of colour – red, creamy yellow, blue or white – to highlight fabric, hair, a bicycle frame, a boat.

There is so much to love here: the ‘what if? nature of the entire book; the collaborative community created as we follow the unfolding story the author/illustrator fashions of a family preparing to go to the party; the wide age range the book speaks to; the notion that the best gifts are those made by hands, voices and hearts – our own or other people’s.

Board Book Treats

Dress Up!
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

Little ones can make sure the characters in Jane Foster’s Dress Up! are suitably clad whatever the weather or what they want to do.

Bear needs to go out but there’s a downpour so a coat and wellies are required. Hamster is thinking of a stroll in the sunshine – a pair of sunglasses and a hat are a good idea for her.
Brrr! Cat is venturing into the snow: warm mittens and scarf are just the thing.

Frog on the other hand needs to be geared up with goggles and armbands for swim time.

It’s the end of the day when we meet Monkey. Once he’s got on his PJs and slippers, it’s time to say “toys away” and bid him ‘Goodnight’.

On each recto, opening a flap on Jane’s vibrantly portrayed animal, and a slider alongside, enables your little one to assist the animal with its snazzy outfit. A simple descriptive phrase followed by ‘Can you put on … ?’ set against a bright background poses the challenge.

Interactive fun, a predictable text and alluring art – what more can a toddler ask of a board book – oh yes, the chance to develop manipulative skills too.

I Forgot to Say I Love You
Miriam Moss and Anna Currey
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is a sweet story to read with the very young and it’s now available in a sturdy board book format.

It’s time Little Billy Bear was up, dressed and having his breakfast ready for nursery but he’s procrastinating on account of Rabbit his favourite soft toy. Mum though hasn’t time for his dawdles or she’ll be late for work.

Consequently she hurries him along

all the way to where Mrs Brown is waiting at the nursery door where she hands him over and dashes off.

Poor Billy is more than a little bit upset as Mum has left without saying that all important “I love you” to her son; moreover she still has Rabbit in her bag across her back.

Billy is convinced that Rabbit’s lost. Mrs Brown tries to placate the little bear who is now distraught, when suddenly in bursts Billy’s mum with Rabbit safe and sound and she’s ready to comfort him and tell her son she loves him. Then all is finally well.

Anna Currey beautifully captures both Billy’s changing feelings and the inherent warmth of Miriam Moss’s text with her scenes of the early morning rush that include details that make you want to slow down

and savour them rather than rush along with the characters.

Deep Secret

Deep Secret
Berlie Doherty
Andersen Press

This story by Carnegie Medal winner Berlie Doherty, was first published over 15 years ago.

Set in a Derbyshire village situated in the bottom of a valley, it’s a tragic tale of death and destruction; but there is hope too.

The death is that of Grace, one of inseparable twins, so alike that even family members are often unable to tell who is Grace and who is Madeleine; and this results in a secret.

The destruction is of the farming valley, flooded in order to make a reservoir, and is loosely based on the construction of the Ladybower reservoir.

The losses cut deep and there’s intense grieving both for the girl and the village.

Madeleine needs to find ways to move forward as does the entire community.

There’s SO much raw emotion in the story, but the author is such a superb writer, both of place and human feelings, that readers are never completely overwhelmed by the sense of loss. Moreover her lyrical style sweeps the reader along catching you up in her characters: there’s the vicar’s son Colin for instance, who is fighting against what seems to be his pre-established path in life; and the gentle, blind boy Seth, whose super-sensitivity enables him, among other things, to discern the difference between the twins.

As the story progresses secrets start to be exposed, some however are forever hidden, submerged for all time as water floods the valley. By the end though many villagers have been able to adjust to new circumstances and start to look forward to a different life.

I missed the book when it first appeared; maybe you did too: if so it’s well worth reading in its new incarnation; and the cover is absolutely beautiful.

Pugicorn / Once Upon a Bedtime

Pugicorn
Matilda Rose and Tim Budgen
Hodder Children’s Books

The vogue for unicorn stories doesn’t appear to be waning but a Pugicorn – that’s something a bit different and certainly not what little Princess Ava has in mind when she visits Twinkleton-Under- Beanstalk’s Magic Pet Shop to pick her perfect unicorn pet.

Informing her that they’ve sold out, the kindly Mrs Paws offers Princess Ava instead, another horned creature with a ‘snuffly nose’ and a curly tail.

A challenge is then issued to her new pet by the determined Princess … ‘Think Unicorn!’ she tells him.

Such thinking proves useless on many occasions and despairing of her acquisition, Princess Ava heads off to the Unicorn Picnic sans Pugicorn.

Yes she does have a wonderful time; but on the way home she and her pals lose the way

and their unicorns prove useless path finders through a now, creepy-seeming forest.

Can loyalty in the form of a little pet Pugicorn save the day (and the night)?

Acceptance is the name of the lesson for young Lola and for the countless little unicorn fans out there who will fall for this new horned character adorably portrayed in Tim Budgen’s magical scenes for Matilda Rose’s enchanting tale.

Once Upon a Bedtime
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books

It’s sundown in Sleepy Street as a long yawwwwnnn floats through engulfing a very tired Rabbit.

It’s time for bed but Rabbit, eager for a bedtime story, still has to have a bath as Ellie elephant points out.

Various other toy characters, Ollie ostrich,

Monkey, Bird , Crocodile each in turn adds something to the routine until at last all are ready assembled in bed with a cuddly apiece and rabbit begins to read the story.

Suddenly there comes a strange sound from beneath the bed.

The others take cover, leaving Rabbit to investigate.

What she discovers is another character who hasn’t got a cuddly. What is to be done? Can the friends help?

Full of endearing characters, this warm-hearted book showing the importance of having your cuddly close by at bedtime, from the Hugless Douglas creator David Melling, is sure to appeal to little ones as a wind-down to sleep story.

Red Red Red / Ravi’s Roar

Here are two picture books about young children and their anger

Red Red Red
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

It’s tantrum time for the toddler in Polly Dunbar’s new picture book. A tantrum that’s precipitated when the infant attempts to extricate a biscuit from the jar up on the high shelf, bringing both jar and child hurtling to the floor.

A sympathetic mum is quickly on the scene but her attempts to placate her little one only make things worse until she suggests a calming, counting strategy that gradually transforms the toddler,

allowing all that fury to dissipate.

Polly’s scenes of anger and its management – of biscuits,

bumps and breathing – are sheer delight. The cathartic counting sequence in particular is absolutely brilliant.

Just the thing to share post-tantrum with little ones – make sure  they’ve completely calmed down first of course.

Ravi’s Roar
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet Ravi; he’s the youngest and smallest member of his family. This is perfectly fine most of the time but there are days when everything goes wrong.
The day of the family picnic was one of those.

First of all he’s squished into a train seat between a grown-up and a farty dog; then the game of hide-and-seek is a dismal disaster.

Ravi’s lack of stature puts paid to his enjoyment of the adventure playground but then his Dad steps in with a suggestion intended to help diffuse the lad’s rising anger.
That too goes badly wrong causing Ravi to lose it completely.

He’s suddenly transformed into a furious roaring tiger, which does seem to result in some short-term advantages.

But then the tiger overdoes his wildness, so much so that nobody else wants anything to do with him.

All alone, sadness starts to take the place of Ravi’s fury: what was it that had caused his anger anyway? The reason eludes him but he knows that an apology is called for.

After that the rest of his tigerishness seeps out leaving a calm child once again. PHEW!

In case you’re wondering, that was the last time Ravi ever became a tiger although he does still emit the occasional moderated growl …

Once again Tom Percival demonstrates his empathetic understanding of young children and his skill at exploring a subject that is very much part and parcel of their emotional make-up.

Add this enormously engaging book to your family collection or classroom shelves.

Nits! / Encyclopedia of Grannies

Here are two picture books from New Zealand publisher Gecko Press

Nits!
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

In the latest Simon story, Sephanie Blake brings her own brand of humour to nits, the dreaded little creatures that make your scalp itch.

Simon decides he loves his classmate Lou, but she loves another named Mamadou.

Then Lou gets nits.  Where might they have come from?

Now Simon is in with a chance … The outpouring of affection he receives from Lou isn’t the only thing she bestows upon her new love however.

Nits are part and parcel of foundation stage classrooms nowadays, so much so that the mere mention of them from a parent or carer gives we teachers itchy heads too; (even reading this book made me start scratching).

This simple, funny story provides a good opportunity to reassure everyone how it’s not shameful to have those ‘little visitors’ and to talk about how they can be treated.

Share at home or at nursery or playgroup.

Encyclopedia of Grannies
Eric Veillé (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Gecko Press

Here’s a modern and amusing take on grannies that starts with a focus on the different kinds of grannies you might come across, followed by a look at age: ‘Some grannies are 58 … some are 69 … and some are even 87!’ (Perhaps it should span an even wider age range. I once taught a five year old whose granny was 35 although she called her ‘mummy’; her actual birth mother was then 18 but the child had been told she was her big sister.)

Veillé employs questions to explore inside a granny;

and out: ‘Why do grannies have creases?’; the mystery of why grannies travel on buses –we don’t learn the answers to the last two however; and ‘Do grannies only knit cardigans? – definitely not.

Other scenarios look at flexibility; time – grannies appear to have more of it at their disposal than others;

what a good rummage in a granny’s bed might yield, hairstyles, travels and more.

In reference book style, the book includes a contents page (of sorts), a glossary and a list of suggested further reading (all tongue in cheek of course) and the illustrations are a quirky delight. There’s one snag though, apart from the “Green Gran’ included in the reading list, every single one is white.

Sturdily built to withstand the frequent reads this book might have; but don’t be deceived into thinking it’s for the very young; the droll humour requires a degree of sophistication.

Playing with Collage

Playing with Collage
Jeannie Baker
Walker Books

I still have a treasured copy of Jeannie Baker’s exemplary Where the Forest Meets the Sea as well as several more of her books, and so was excited to learn of this one.

Following introductory spreads on basic tools, some key tips and ‘playing with materials’, the author has divided her books into four main sections, Paper, Out in Nature,

On the Beach and In the Kitchen.

In each one she offers practical tips for assembling your chosen materials, advising readers to look closely, let the items themselves and their textures act as a guide be they scraps of torn or cut paper, leaves and lichens or shells and seaweed.

I like the way she guides rather than instructs and that her examples give the impression of being unfinished and totally unintimidating, albeit exciting and beautiful.

This is a perfect book to encourage playfulness with materials right from the early years (when children generally are that way inclined anyway) through to adulthood when that creativity may have got buried and need re-awakening.

The clear photographic illustrations, that leave plenty of space on the page, along with succinct captions, help make the entire topic approachable and fun. To add to the book’s playfulness, there’s a final collage quiz.

Highly recommended as a resource for home and school use.

Why Do We Poo? / Where Does the Sun Go?

Why Do We Poo?
Where Does the Sun Go?
Harriet Blackford and Mike Henson
Boxer Books

These are two TechTots™ Science titles in a new STEM series for the very young.

The Tots, Oscar, Isla, Seb and Mia are a quartet of mini Tech superheroes who act as investigators exploring the sort of questions young children ask.

In the Poo book, a pigeon pooing beside Mia as the Tots sit eating lunch on the beach one day precipitates Seb’s question, “Why do we poo?”

Rather than finish their picnic, the four, armed with bowls, a resealable bag, some food (and a pair of tights Oscar just happens to have brought along) they set about conducting an investigation.

Using straightforward language with plenty of dialogue, with the aid of their equipment the four take a look at the digestive process from mastication to excretion; the narrative concluding as Oscar enters the loo.

Like the characters in this scene, I’m sure your little ones will supply similar comments as you share this playfully informative book.

Whether or not you want to provide the facilities for practical investigation by your audience, I’ll leave to you; but use left overs such as fruit/vegetable peelings, not edible food for all kinds of reasons.

The Sun exploration begins as the four sit swinging in the park in the setting sun with Seb wondering, “Where does the sun go?” This little guy seems to be the questioner among the friends and this time it’s Isla taking the lead.

During the course of the investigation we learn that it ‘takes a day and a night for the earth to turn around once’ and that it turns at around 1000 mph. The account of their exploration finishes with Seb’s comment that “there’s a lot to learn about our planet”, no doubt paving the way for further investigations by the team.

This one’s more easily re-investigated in a foundation stage setting as it only requires a globe (any largish sphere would do), a blob of playdough, a small paper flag to mark where on the globe we live, a torch, a child to hold it and another to hold the globe.

We all want children to grow up with enquiring minds: this series with Harriet Blackford’s clear, concise narrative and Mike Henson’s bold, bright amusing illustrations should help them on their way to becoming young investigators themselves.

Daddy Frog and the Moon / Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief

Here are two new picture books from Little Door Books; thanks to the publisher for sending them for review:

Daddy Frog and the Moon
Pippa Goodhart and Augusta Kirkwood

Pippa pens a tale of paternal love frog style, in her sweet story wherein a father frog sets out to find something to show his baby froglet just how much she is loved.

Baby Frog though is more interested in being shown how to squiggle and even when presented with a perfectly round stone, all she asks is that he shows her how to swim. Not content with his first offering, Daddy goes off searching again but the flower wilts and Baby is eager to learn hopping. Once again, she’s left to perfect the skill herself while Daddy seeks further proof of his love for her.

By now he’s searching by moonlight. But not even with his gigantic leap can he reach the moon.

No matter, for what he does find is something much better: Baby Frog, and she has some exciting news to share …

Warmly told by Pippa using plenty of dialogue and repeat join-in phrases; and with Augusta Kirkwood’s beautiful, textured scenes of the pond, its flora and fauna, this sweet story is ideal for human sharing around Father’s Day and any other day too.

Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief
Emily Dodd and Giulia Cregut

When Rosie squirrel discovers her stash of nuts has been raided and almost all are gone, she and always hungry, Charlie, decide to become Crime Squirrel Investigators. The clue is in the shells and off they go on the thief’s trail.

First stop is Dora Dormouse but she’s soon eliminated, as are Tappy the woodpecker and Squeaker the wood mouse.

Throughout  their investigation, Charlie has been trying to tell Rosie something and finally, he gets a chance to speak. What was it he wanted to tell his friend?

All ends happily with the friendship intact, and a plethora of hazelnuts to feast upon.

Rosie is quite a good detective when it comes to identifying nutshell clues and young listeners/readers will enjoy anticipating what is coming when Charlie eventually speaks out.

Equally they’ll enjoy Giulia Cregut’s amusing illustrations, which bring out the inherent humour in Emily Dodd’s telling.

Both books have additional material – audio versions and songs – that can be found at the publishers website. 

 

I’m a Baked Potato

I’m a Baked Potato
Elise Primavera and Juana Medina
Chronicle Books

As a stylish woman sits relaxing in her garden she admires her potato plants for she has a particular penchant for potatoes.

She also has a great liking for dogs and one day she goes out and gets a little brown terrier, likening it to her favourite baked potato food and constantly calling it “Baked Potato” as they spend their days inside together.

One day though, the two sally forth but not together.

As the dog searches for the woman, little by little he starts to wonder whether perhaps after all, he’s not a baked potato; but nor is he as the big dog tells him, a groundhog; nor is he a plump bunny like the fox says, igniting his oven and licking his lips in eager anticipation.

Happily for the ‘bunny’ an owl happens along and taking the little canine under its wing, explains that he’s a dog and points out that “dogs are very good at finding things, especially with their noses.” And the rest, shall we say is a sniffing journey and a joyful reunion.

Slightly crazy, but full of cosy charm and gentle humour is Elise Primavera’s telling; and with Juana Medina’s brightly coloured, detailed, swirling, whirling digital art, the book is a delightful read aloud either to a class or individuals with lots of possibilities for adult/child dramatising along the way.

Catch Me / Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure

Catch Me
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books

In this double-ended seek-and-find book a long-necked cat, Big Meow and a spotted dog, Little Woof hunt for one another as they dash through eleven, mostly very busy scenes, changing their colour to blend in with each one.

Begin at the front to follow Big Meow’s journey through the pages and to try to catch Little Woof, work backwards. Either way there’s a pre-chase introductory spread introducing the characters.

The search-and-find pages have no words apart from a sign with Japanese symbols in this springtime café scene …

Each one of Arhoj’s incredibly busy, bright digital scenes will likely make the reader linger long after finding Meow and Woof as they enjoy the quirky details be that in the beauty salon, the alley with its shadowy creatures …

the park, the animal show, the cloud based carnival or any of the other zany locations. Each one is rendered in a different colour palette, which ups the challenge and interest levels another notch.

Enormous fun, the entire book is totally immersive; I hate to think how long I spent poring over it. Love those clever die-cut covers, each with its pair of alluring staring eyes; young readers will too.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure
Lomp
Little Tiger

Following their Totally Wild Chase famous explorers Wilfred Wiseman and Olbert Oddbottom are off on another action packed adventure.
While out shopping one afternoon the friends enter a time portal and in so doing find themselves cascading through thousands of years of history and unbelievably all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

Landing in a prehistoric ocean 360 millions years ago they confront among other creatures a Dunkleosteus, and readers are asked to search and see how many trilobites they can find.

From there they make a hasty exit and land up in a swampy forest of the Carboniferous period.

Further retreats into the time portal take them not home but in turn to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed and they have a narrow escape from a Stegosaurus.

Thereafter they enter the Cretaceous period and come upon even more dinosaurs, followed by the Neogene period, the Quaternary ice age where they meet a mammoth as well as encounter some human cave dwellers before leaping once more through the portal and right back home where it’s time for tea, followed they suppose by a well-deserved rest.

But then they look through the window where a big surprise awaits.

My head was certainly spinning after all that, so I’m certain the two friends needed a lot more than a cup of “Earlier Grey’ or ‘Oo-So-Long’ tea to calm them down.

Frenetic, crazy, action-packed and bursting with speech bubbles: search-and-find enthusiasts especially, will quickly be sucked through the portal along with Will and Ollie, taking a considerable time to emerge from this absorbing book. Fortunately the solutions to the puzzles are given inside the back cover along with a message from a nautilus that issues a further challenge to readers.

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate / The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate
The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

I know a fair number of newly independent readers who will be dancing in delight at these latest The Princess in Black stories.

In the Mysterious Playdate, Princess Magnolia, aka the monster-fighter, Princess in Black has an engagement with Princess Sneezewort.

Off she goes, accompanied by Blacky, to execute her ‘mysterious plan’ leaving Goat Avenger guarding the hole into Monster Land to prevent any monsters escaping. Or so she thinks, for a shape-shifting monster is following her and manages to hide away on her carriage as Frimblepants pulls it to her friend’s kingdom and her castle residence.

While the two princesses play

the monster’s hunger gets the better of him and he tries to eat someone’s kitten.

Soon both princess have made excuses to leave the castle, donned disguises and set out to rescue the little animal.

When kitten’s duly saved there’s still the matter of the elusive monster. With ninja moves aplenty, they might just succeed in capturing the monster as well as keeping their secret identities undiscovered.

Princess Sneezewort is a thoroughly delightful addition to the bum-wiggling superhero troop in this action-packed treat.

In the Science Fair Scare, Princess Magnolia’s destination is the Interkindgom Science Fair, an event she hopes to keep monster-free especially as she’s going to present her project poster on the growth of plants.

Once there though, having met her friends, she begins to feel her project is inferior to those of the other participants particularly that of Tommy Wigtower. His talking volcano soon has the princess’s alarm bells ringing.

Happily her new friend aka The Princess (Sneezewort) in Blankets just happens to be nearby and before long a fierce battle is under way and it’s not just those two princesses, but three more, who join the fray.

Can they succeed in their endeavours to prevent the goo monster from devouring everything in its path?  Perhaps it could find a new home through that hole to Monster Land so zealously guarded by The Goat Avenger.

Welcome three more princesses to the superhero brigade. It’s good to see an addition to the series of a STEM story with its teamwork and spot of problem-solving alongside the monster pounding.

Another satisfying tale from the Hales with as always, splendidly spirited illustrations from LeUyen Pham.

Toppsta have a new reading record that is particularly appropriate for school use: see the details on Toppsta

Brilliant Ideas from Wonderful Women / Little Miss Inventor / Amazing Women Sticker Scenes

Brilliant Ideas from Wonderful Women
Aitziber Lopez and Luciano Lozano
Wide Eyed Editions

Let’s give three rousing cheers for the brilliantly inventive women behind the first car heater, the game Monopoly, disposable nappies, the dishwasher, the domestic surveillance system, Kevlar, maritime flares, non reflective glass, WIFI, one-hand operated syringes,

the submarine telescope, diagnostic tests in medicine, the life raft, windscreen wipers and the E-book.

All these ground- breaking inventions came about thanks to the work of the pioneering, creative spirit of the women featured in this book. Each one has made a significant contribution to science or technology in either the 19th or 20th century and they are each given a spread in this celebratory book.

For several of those included, the invention featured is not their only one. For instance Chicago-born Margaret A. Wilcox is credited with inventing the first washing machine in addition to the car heater discussed here; Hedy Lamarr, in addition to WIFI – surprisingly inspired by piano keys we’re told – invented Bluetooth and GPS. And, Marion O’Brien Donovan went on to invent a number of other things – dental floss, a soap dish that drained and a hanger that could hold up to 30 garments – being some of them.
It will come as no surprise to learn that these women inventors all had to overcome enormous odds to get their work patented and marketed, not least African-American Marie Van Brittan Brown the brains behind the 1966 domestic surveillance system; indeed she (and her husband) weren’t successful in marketing their system although many others made fortunes inspired by the original patent.

Maria Beasley inventor of the life raft did not have her invention taken seriously until the disastrous Titanic sinking. Maria’s life rafts were on the liner but not in sufficient numbers to save everyone.

All this fascinating information and more is included in scientist Aitziber Lopez’s inspiring book.

I love the way, illustrator Luciano Lozano has cleverly incorporated both the inspiration for, and use of each invention, into his amusing spreads.

This is a book I’d certainly want to have in my KS1/early KS2 classroom as well as recommending it for families who want to celebrate with the children, the achievements of women, and that should be every family.

Little Miss Inventor
Adam Hargreaves
Egmont

Adam Hargreaves (son of Roger) has created a new Little Miss and who wouldn’t love a book with a young female inventor?

Little Miss Inventor has a brain brimming over with good ideas; ideas that she transforms into inventions in her garden shed. Her self-imagined, self-built mobile house is chock-full of her awesome inventions and she loves to create useful things for her friends as well as herself.

One day however, her brain power is tested to the limit: she needs to make Mr Rude a birthday present; but what can one give to a person who hurls insults at everyone he meets. Can she think of something appropriate and if so what could it be?

Feminist power with a STEM theme and a laugh out loud finale for your little ones.

Amazing Women Sticker Scenes
illustrated by Isabel Muñoz
Red Shed

This book contains ten illustrated backdrops  by Isabel Muñoz that include basic key information about ten women who have made in their own fields, significant contributions to society through their achievements in aviation, girls’ rights to education, science, literature, sport, women’s rights and architecture.

In addition there are six pages of stickers to add to the relevant scenes. This could be a good way to introduce the numerous sticker-mad youngsters to these wonderful women.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
L.Frank Baum adapted by Meg McLaren and Sam Hay
Egmont Publishing

This is a version of the Baum classic like you’ve never seen or heard before.

In Meg Mclaren’s 21st century retelling, Dorothy has become Little Dot, a pre-schooler and it’s she who is indoors when the tornado whisks her home with her and Toto inside, up and away, far, far away to a strange land.
It’s there where she meets all manner of unusual characters, one of the first being the Good Witch from the North, identifiable by her starry cloak (as opposed to sparkly silver boots – those are worn by The Bad Witch that Dot’s house has just squashed).

The Good Witch tells Little Dot to go home forthwith but when Dot tells her that she has no idea of the way, instructs her to “Follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and get help from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Donning the Bad Witch’s silver boots, the little girl sets off accompanied by Toto. Thus begins their big adventure.
Before long they meet first, Lion, looking very worried, and shortly after, the talking Scarecrow without a brain.

They both join Dot on her journey, the former hoping the Wizard will make him braver, the latter hoping to be given a brain.

Their next encounter is with Tin Can, a diminutive being in need of a heart; he joins the journeyers and they cross a bridge.

Suddenly “Boo!” Out jumps the Even Worse Witch who’s been lying low, waiting to ambush them. Fearless Dot soon deals with her, courtesy of a host of ginormous jelly snakes that emerge from beneath the surface of the road

and a yogurt that she whips from her backpack and squirts at their assailant just in the nick of time.

Having seen the evil witch off, the friends proceed to the Emerald City wherein waits The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Dot tells him their story and is surprised to hear the wizard’s response: they’ve done the job themselves, they don’t need his help after all. He even awards each of them a ‘good work’ sticker.

Now there’s just one remaining matter; that of getting Dot and Toto home. Apparently Dot herself is wearing the answer to that …

Highlighting the importance of friendship, kindness, bravery and home, this is ideal for early years audiences who will be enchanted from the sparkly front cover right through to the satisfying ending. Along the way they’ll thoroughly enjoy meeting the unusual, mainly endearing, cast of characters as portrayed in Sam Hay’s engaging scenes.

Can You See a Little Bear?

Can You See a Little Bear?
James Mayhew and Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

Stunningly beautiful illustrations by Jackie Morris accompany James Mayhew’s sequence of rhyming statements relating to a variety of animals and a question ‘Can you see a little bear …?’ as we accompany the young polar bear on a fantasy journey.

It takes us through a medieval landscape during which he encounters hot air balloons, entertainers of various kinds, a camel train and a host of exotic creatures including an elephant, musical mice, parrots, peacocks, a walrus, zebras and a whale, beautiful moths, foxes, dolphins and geese.

Little bear engages in activities such as balancing on a ball, and head standing; he tries on items of the performers’ attire

and even participates in a performance.

Then, towards the end of the book into the array comes a big bear carrying a light to guide the little one homewards

for a bath, some tea and then, as he’s drifting into slumbers, bed.

The patterned text and questioning nature of the rhyme serves to draw the listener’s focus into the spectacular scenes, gently guiding attention towards the little bear’s named activity among the wealth of gorgeous detail on each spread. For example ‘Parrots can be green / and parrots can be red, / Can you see a little bear standing on his head?’

Full of mystery and magic and along the way introducing colours, opposites and contrasts: this book was first published over a decade ago. If you missed it then I urge you to get hold of a copy now: it’s sheer, out of this world bedtime enchantment for both child and adult sharer.

Billy and the Beast

Billy and the Beast
Nadia Shireen
Jonathan Cape

Billy is a girl with an amazing head of hair – she sometimes uses it for secreting useful items, items such as doughnuts for the occasions, pretty frequent by all accounts, when her sidekick, Fatcat, gets an attack of the tummy rumbles.

This is what happens near the start of this yummy story while the pair stroll through the forest together greeting various woodland creatures – Hedgehog, Fox, a trio of mice and ‘three adorable little bunny rabbits’.

However on their return journey, as they notice a distinct lack of their forest dwelling pals they’re suddenly plunged into darkness.

That darkness being the inside of a sack clutched by something introducing itself, having released his two captives, as a “TERRIBLE BEAST

In response to Billy’s inquiry concerning their capture, said beast informs her that he’s on the lookout for unusual ingredients for his terrible soup. Seemingly he’s already found quite a few on his list.

Quick thinking combined with a few deft digs among her curls serves to bring about the substitution of some of the listed ingredients and, despite a sudden attack of terrible tummy rumbles on the part of the beast that serves to further his determination,

the consequent release of Billy’s woodland pals.

However, hunger-induced anger notwithstanding, the Beast is determined to secure the most important ingredient of all for his concoction.

Can the sassy young miss save the day one more time? Or, will it be a satisfying ending for the Beast.

I will reveal that its certainly a case of ‘yum yum!’ but to find out whose hunger is sated, you’ll have to bag a copy of this delicious offering from your local bookshop.

Absolutely brilliant for reading aloud to large groups of listeners who will relish not only the story but joining in with noisy rumbles, hellos and more. If my experience is anything to go by, this book is sure to be a much requested story time offering. Both words and illustrations are absolute delight: whoever would have thought a mass of curls could be such a boon.

The Wondrous Dinosaurium / My Perfect Pup

The Wondrous Dinosaurium
John Condon and Steve Brown
Maverick Arts Publishing

Danny is thrilled when his mum finally agrees to let him have a pet and he knows what he wants. Not a common or garden cat or dog but something much more exciting – something prehistoric no less. And he knows exactly the place to go: an establishment belonging to Mr Ree.

His first choice, a Diplodocus requiring vast amounts of vegetation every day quickly proves too much, so it’s back to the shop for something slightly smaller.

In fact Danny returns to Mr Ree’s Wondrous Dinosaurium quite a few times, trying out a range of possibilities …

until finally he comes upon a box in a dark corner of the shop.

His mum thinks he’s brought home a tortoise but she’s in for a surprise when the creature comes out of its shell.

John Condon’s amusing tale about the pitfalls of not doing any research before choosing a pet will hit the spot with both dinosaur lovers and pet people.
Steve Brown’s illustrations of the dinosaur menagerie are at once droll and yet recognisably authentic dinosaur species: avid dinosaur fans may well be able to put names to all Mr Ree’s stock of creatures, one of which was new to this reviewer.

My Perfect Pup
Sue Walker and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

Siblings Max and Millie have definite ideas about what they’re looking for as they head for the Perfect Petshop, very different ideas. However they both fall for the same beguiling little pup.

Inevitably though, Tiny, as they decide to call him, doesn’t remain so for very long; nor does he live up to Millie’s ‘pretty’ requirement. In fact he’s so far from perfect by both siblings’ standards …

that one day they return him to the pet shop.

Tiny himself has ideas about the perfect owner and when Joe Barnaby arrives on the scene it looks as though he might just be the one.

Joe and his family live on a farm with sheep, and Joe loves to play, to run and sometimes to take a ride on the dog, now named Horse. What better place for a sheepdog?

Expectations, acceptance and being patient are key themes in Sue Walker’s enjoyable story for which Anil Tortop’s spirited illustrations really bring out Tiny/Horse’s personality.

How To Fly Like An Elephant

How To Fly Like An Elephant
Kyoko Nemoto
Puffin/VA

What a preposterous idea – flying like an elephant! Everyone knows that elephants are way too heavy for flying and furthermore they lack the vital appendages for so doing. End of story!
Not quite. Certainly not for the elephants featured in Kyoto Nemoto’s new book. This trio – a big one and two smaller ones – are playful pachyderms, inclined to imaginative ideas; ideas that admittedly require considerable thought and a plan but never say never.

All that’s required are some ‘useful things’ – a propeller for example – and when the elephants can’t locate one, then readers can step in and help by opening the doors of the attic cupboard.

I didn’t know that elephants are skilled tool users but seemingly it’s so and they’re also excellent at working as a team.

Of course, as we’re constantly reminded, ‘elephants can’t fly’.
As I said, they are determined animals and willing to make enormous physical efforts to get themselves airborne even if they subsequently need a bit of human help to reshape the wings of their craft. (We literally have to fold over the corners of the page to make their machine aerodynamic.)

Even that though isn’t quite enough for the perfect plane so it’s back to the drawing board and some work on modifications such as larger wheels and seats.

Will that hard-working threesome ever get themselves well and truly to the point of proving that ‘Elephants CAN fly!’
What do you think? After all they’re not ones to give up easily;

they are great at team work, have the vital playful, determined attributes, are super thinkers and planners so …

With its themes of creativity, teamwork and determination, this is an absolute cracker of a book to inspire young listeners (and adults). From the start we’re willing those elephants to succeed and reader involvement is guaranteed throughout, fuelled by the flaps and folding, as well as Kyoko Nemoto’s enchanting illustrations of the elephants at work and play. These she creates first by making sketches in pencil to which ink-rollered texture is added, and then these are digitally worked.

An exciting debut picture book from one who, like her characters clearly has creativity and persistence aplenty.

Frankenbunny / Ten Little Superheroes

Frankenbunny
Jill Esbaum and Alice Brereton
Sterling

Youngest of three brothers, Spencer, knows monsters don’t exist until his siblings Leonard and Bertram start talking about the terrible Frankenbunny just to scare their little brother.
It’s relatively easy being brave during the daytime when mum or dad are on hand to reassure him that monsters aren’t real,

but come bedtime it’s much harder to ignore the graphic descriptions of “crusty fangs, ginormous jaws and flashing red eyes”.

Having made it through the night however, Spencer discovers something in his cupboard next morning that enables him to start planning his revenge on his brothers.

And indeed, it’s truly satisfying.
Light and dark are used to effect in this first person narrative that provides just the right frisson of fear without overdoing it; and shows youngsters it is possible to overcome your own fears in the end.

Ten Little Superheroes
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books

Riotous play superhero style begins when in mid flight, the Ten Little Super-Kids spy the League of Bad Guys plotting in their lair.

And then it’s a case of action stations, as they set about saving the city from the dastardly plotters.

Full of pows, vrooms, bishing, bashing, boshing, splats, zaps and more: can those Super-Kids overcome the very tricky Monstro’s Gang and thwart their villainous attack on Metro Hall? If so they’ll have to contend with cyclonic firing, sticky resin and Kraken’s flailing tentacles, not to mention a sonic boom and a hypnotic yogini.

I suggest a few practice run-throughs before reading this aloud to a group of small super-hero enthusiasts; it’s pretty fast paced and needs lots of ‘wellie’ to deliver the onomatopoeia-packed action.

However thereafter time will be needed to explore the kaleidoscopically coloured scenes of mischief and mayhem.

I’ve signed the charter  

Canine Capers: A Dog with Nice Ears / My Secret Dog / Safari Pug

A Dog with Nice Ears
Lauren Child
Orchard Books

Another deliciously funny, wonderfully whimsical Charlie and Lola story from the current Children’s Laureate is sure to delight countless readers both young and not so young.
Herein Lola’s current obsession is dogs; she can talk of nothing else and would like one more than anything. “More than a squirrel or an actual fox.
In turn, she pretends to be one, pretends Charlie is one and pretends she has one.
There is a slight snag however: her Mum and Dad will agree to a rabbit – Dad will even take her to the pet shop to buy one – but they’ve stipulated, ‘ABSOLUTELY NO DOGS!’
Nevertheless, it will come as no surprise that Lola remains utterly convinced that she will leave the pet shop with the dog of her choice, and goes on detailing her specific requirements for same. Requirements that include “nice ears

a bushyish tail like a fox” and “It must absolutely do barking.

Lola-isms such as these are an absolute hoot for adult readers aloud.
I won’t spoil the ending but let’s just say that it concludes highly satisfactorily with the naming of Lola’s new pet.
With Lauren’s trademark mixed media, droll illustrations this is a canine caper par excellence.

My Secret Dog
Tom Alexander
Jessica Kinglsey Publishers

In a first person narrative account a little girl relates the trials and tribulations of having a pet dog and trying to keep it a secret from her mum who has decreed they don’t have room for a dog.
It begins when the cute-looking stray dog follows her home and she allows him in, initially just for something to eat.
Her mum is out and by the time she returns, the little girl has the dog safely hidden in the cupboard.
A sleepless night follows and then it’s time for school. Another challenge especially when the dog, after behaving well all morning, decides to demolish a scarf and pair of gloves, and then leaves a deposit in someone’s wellies.
Thereafter things decline rapidly until finally the narrator is forced to reveal her secret.
There follows a mother/child chat where keeping secrets is discussed and mum also explains why the dog cannot remain with them.

All does end happily though and there’s a wonderful final twist to the tale.
Simply told and illustrated, this engaging story will have readers smiling, perhaps even laughing, at the young narrator’s antics.
Discussions about keeping secrets and the consequences of one’s actions might well take place in a classroom setting after the book has been shared. Equally so at home where it can also be helpful for any parent whose child wants a dog in inappropriate circumstances.

Safari Pug
Laura James, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third adventure starring Pug, the dog is awoken one night by screams from Lady Miranda who goes on to inform him that there’s a lion in the bedroom.
A search follows and housekeeper, Wendy, assures them there is no lion and offers to stand guard overnight just in case.
Next morning Lady Miranda decides Pug must prove to Wendy that he’s not scared of lions and declares a visit to the local safari park to confront one, is necessary.
On arrival the ticket seller refuses to allow their sedan chair inside the lion enclosure, deeming it totally unsafe, and diverts them to the Animal Adventure land.
Thus begins a crazy adventure involving meerkats, penguins, monkeys and yes, there’s even a rare white lion cub named Florence and a decidedly dodgy character by the name of Arlene von Bling who seems to be showing more than a little interest in the lion cub.

Humorously written, and illustrated throughout by Églantine Ceulemans whose art work is equally funny, this is a super book for readers just starting out on chapter books.

Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew / Pirates in Classroom 3

Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew
Harry L. Herz and Benjamin Schipper
Sterling

Shiver me timbers, I cannot imagine how many crews of piratical dinosaurs there be a’sailin’ the high seas, however here’s one more to add to their number. Meet Pat, Terry, Kyle and of course, their captain, Rex. A right troublesome journey it is they’ve embarked upon too.
First the ship’s rudder becomes fodder for a giant shark; then down comes a fog and having survived those mishaps thanks to some clever steering on Pat’s behalf …

and Terry’s navigation skills they find themselves on dry iand and faced with a volcano at the bottom of which, the treasure might just be buried.
And buried it is but having unearthed same, there follows the question of ownership of the booty. Cap’n Rex doesn’t want to share: his crew think otherwise and let him know in no uncertain terms …

Who is cleverer, Cap’n or crew: that’s the vital question?
With its pepperings of “Arrr“, “Aye” and “can’t ye?”, this is a fun read aloud with plenty of silliness, a bounty of comical illustrations and a final author’s note of piratical words just a few of which come up in the narrative.

Pirates in Classroom 3
Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse
Maverick Arts Publishing

Still those pirate tales keep on coming; here’s one that starts off in a class of lively children.
When Ms Bitsy leaves her classroom unattended, the children are more than a little surprised by the sudden appearance of Captain Calamity who claims to be searching for treasure; treasure which according to his map is located ‘under the sea’ in their classroom.
The children are eager to help in the search …

but can they locate the booty before the dreaded Pirate Bloodloss gets his hands on it?
Perhaps the clue is in the alphabet frieze, there’s certainly a C there.
Before you can say, ‘Ms. Bitsy’, their teacher has returned and is ready to join them all in an underwater hunt.

A teacher who throws herself into a piratical adventure and is willing to stand up to a bullying pirate will surely win over early years listeners.

Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures / Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures

Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures
Matt Sewell
Pavilion Books

Of the 1,000 dinosaur species that have already been identified, (so we’re told in the introduction) some fifty grace the pages of this beautifully illustrated book by wildlife author and artist Matt Sewell.
In a note about his illustrations Sewell reminds readers that rather than imagining them as big lizards with muddy-brown or dull green scales, palaeontologists now think that many dinosaurs may have been colourful creatures, some even feathered,. This is reflected in his illustrations herein. Did you know for instance that Yutyrannus, a relation of Tyrannosaurus rex, discovered in 2012 had a complete covering of feathers?

Accompanying each one is a paragraph or two of factual information into which the author injects not only occasional surprises but gentle humour too.
I was fascinated to learn that the ‘teenage’ Pachycephalosaurus, termed ‘Stygimoloch’ aka ‘the horned devil from the river of death’ lost its horns in adulthood.

Splendid to look at – I love the large images set against a plain white background – and likely to have a wide age appeal.

Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures
Emily Hawkins and Lucy Letherland
Wide Eyed Editions

This enormous volume – a veritable prehistoric journey of discovery – comes from the team behind Atlas of Adventures.
Herein, through a series of maps

and large colourful dino-inhabited scenes, readers are taken, one continent after another, on a world tour of the various different land regions over different eras, up to the late Cretaceous period when the creatures died out. This was due, it’s thought, to a massive meteorite colliding with Earth resulting in mass extinction that effectively ‘wiped out most of life on Earth.’
Thirty-one dinosaurs (or prehistoric reptiles) are featured (frequently hunter and hunted) but many others are also named and given brief descriptions in the richly coloured scenes within which they’re shown.

Various aspects of dinosaur life, including birth, learning to fly (that’s baby Pteranodons – ‘cousins of the dinosaurs’), to being killed by predators are included and each spread, in addition to the large descriptive paragraph, and the mini info-bank for each creature featured, is littered with relevant, and often memorable, facts. What child is likely to forget that ‘the ‘massive droppings of T-Rex were as long as a human arm and weighed the same as a 6-month-old baby’?
I’m less keen though on some of the visual humour. For instance the Leaellynasaurus (Australian) sporting a striped scarf and bobble hat; or the Oviraptors in what is now Mongolia, wielding what looks like a butterfly net, while perhaps appealing to dinosaur-mad children, to me seemed a tad too frivolous.
Nonetheless, this is a bumper feast of dino-info. and a novel way of presenting same. It’s likely to appeal widely: I certainly learned a fair bit from it.

Unplugged

Unplugged
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Steve Antony has departed from his usual illustrative style for this new book, a book with a vital message, very cleverly constructed and beautifully portrayed.
We first meet Blip in her plugged in black and white world, a world where yes, she learns new things, has fun, dances, travels even, albeit virtually, all day and every day.

Then one day there’s a power cut, disconnecting Blip from all of that, plunging her world into darkness and causing her to trip and go hurtling into the great outdoors.

There, Blip discovers are new things to learn, fun games to play, music to dance to and faraway places to visit, all day long and in the company of some wonderful new friends.
Inevitably though, the time comes for her to bid her friends farewell and return from this world of soft colours and joyful exuberance,

to go back to her plugged in existence. Now though, she knows at least something of the delights the real world has to offer.

Yes, we’ve heard the message before but never conveyed with such finesse as here. Steve has already set the bar extremely high with his Mr Panda stories and The Queen’s … sequence: now he’s reached new heights with this modern day parable.

Mopoke

Mopoke
Philip Bunting
Scholastic

Ever heard of a mopoke? I certainly hadn’t until this book arrived and even then I thought at first it was a made up word. Then I discovered a note at the back telling readers that a ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, their smallest and most common owl species.
The particular mopoke of the title is the star of Philip Bunting’s debut picture book, which unsurprisingly begins ‘This is a mopoke.’
What follows is a deliciously playful sequence in which the mopoke, sitting on its branch longing for some solitude, becomes a highpoke, a lowpoke, a poshpoke and a poorpoke.

One then becomes two and then, more pokes, and a wee poke. Thereafter the real fun starts with a ‘Fee-fi-fo-poke’.

Before long the creature has become a ‘yo-poke’ – twice thanks to the addition of an exclamation mark.
Other animals also put in an appearance – there’s a wombat, totally unexpected, a snail riding a tortoise …

and a crow(poke) until finally the long suffering creature has had enough and flies off, presumably in search of a peaceful spot, leaving an empty branch.
Gently humorous, with a deceptively simple text and delightfully droll illustrations, this extended wordplay joke is great fun to share; and perfect for beginning readers of all ages.

Jessica’s Box

Emmanuelle, who starts school this week,  engrossed in the story.

Jessica’s Box
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Jessica’s mind was too busy for sleep. / Her thoughts are already with tomorrow.’ …
‘tomorrow’ being the day Jessica is starting school. The whole family is excited. She’s determined to make friends and to that end, with her to school goes a large cardboard box.
On the first day it contains her teddybear; but the other children are unimpressed and leave her alone. The second day is really no better: she fills the box with cupcakes.

They quickly draw a momentary crowd, but ne’er even a thank you.
Time for some serious thinking.
On the third day, Jessica takes her dog, Doris in the box. She has a temporary success but then the school caretaker steps in and Doris is returned home.
Day four arrives and Jessica takes an empty box ….

Then a little boy notices her and the seeds of a friendship are sown …

Carnavas’s potent images, with and without full colour, need few accompanying words to relate the emotional rollercoaster of Jessica’s first few days at school. The message is clear, just be yourself: true friends will love you for what you are; you cannot ‘buy’ friendship however hard you try.
A perfect, starting school story; but equally, with its friendship theme, a lovely book to share at any time: the author really does see things from behind the child’s head.

I’ve signed the charter  

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission / Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase / Animazes

Dinosaur Detective’s Search and Find Rescue Mission
Sophie Guerrive
Wide Eyed Editions
In his plane, which looks more like an inflatable toy than anything capable of carrying a dinosaur, famous Dinosaur Detective sets forth on a mission: to find five missing items as requested by the likes of a dog, a princess, a teacher and a distraught wife, hidden somewhere in eleven different locations including what looks like a Medieval European village, an underground cave network, atop a mountain,

a funfair, a forest, a completely crazy-looking outer space neighbourhood and a city.

It’s difficult to know where to start each search as your eyes keep getting drawn to features of interest – mine did anyway – and some of the spreads are so densely packed, it’s mindboggling, and easy to get absorbed in the surreal nature of the whole thing rather than the task in hand. It’s just as well there’s an answer spread at the end.
Dinosaur Detective’s plane transforms into a kind of tank (to find the missing toad) and a flying saucer – another fun feature.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Totally Wild Chase
Lomp
Little Tiger Press
Herein we meet natural history explorers Wilfred and Olbert and follow them on a quest to discover a new animal and thus win the coveted Nature Discovery Prize. And when an unidentified butterfly just happens to float through the window, they decide their chance has come. Off they go in hot pursuit but who will be the one to claim the prize?
Their journey has them dashing through forests, diving into oceans, crossing deserts, and wild grasslands,

scaling mountains and delving into tropical jungles …

as they battle to reach the butterfly first.
In the end teamwork wins out and mission complete, they claim their trophy.
The whole adventure is perilous and it’s something of a task to keep track of the two competitors and their antics en route – almost being the next meal of a lion, or being engulfed by ice, for instance – but the whole crazy drama is totally engaging, full of funny moments, things to search for, and of course, wild animals.
Wild too are Lomp’s hilarious, cartoon-like illustrations, full of daft doings and silly speech bubbles making every spread a treat to linger over.
Action-packed they surely are!

Animazes
illustrated by Melissa Castrillión
Big Picture Press
This unusual book of mazes follows the journeys of fourteen animal migrants from Antarctic krill and Monarch butterflies to Humpback whales and Mali elephants.
For some of these creatures such as reindeer, finding food is the reason for their journey; for others, such as Rockhopper Penguins, it’s to seek a suitable environment for the survival of the next generation.
In tracing their journeys, the aim is to discover the one safe path for each animal and in so doing, readers will discover a host of fascinating facts about the creature. Did you know for instance that Mali elephants all pass through one narrow passage, The Porte des Éléphants on their migratory travels? Or that Wildebeest participate in the largest mass migration of mammals on earth?

It’s Katie Howarth who provides these and the other interesting snippets of information that support Melissa Castrillión’s intricately detailed illustrations through which the mazes are woven.
Absorbing, fun and educational.

Sam and Jump

Sam and Jump
Jennifer K.Mann
Walker Books
Many young children form a special bond with one of their soft toys. Sam’s very best friend is Jump, his soft toy rabbit; they’re pretty much inseparable.
One day they go to the beach where they meet Thomas. Sam and Thomas spend the whole day playing together …

and have such a great time that Sam leaves Jump behind, forgotten on the beach.
When he reaches home, Sam realises Jump isn’t with him. It’s too late to go back but his mum promises they’ll go and search for him the following morning. Sam passes a miserable evening and a worried night and early next day, Mum drives him back. But there’s no sign of Jump anywhere. Nothing is fun without him. But then suddenly, standing right there on the beach is …

A gentle tale of abandonment, loss, friendship and love is simply and tenderly told and illustrated with great sensitivity in watercolour and pencil. By leaving plenty of white space around her images, Mann focuses the audience’s attention on the interactions between characters, and on the feelings of each individual; and the use of blue-grey backgrounds after Jump is left behind underline Sam’s feelings of distress.

A small book that offers much to think about and discuss.

I’ve signed the charter  

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey / The Dictionary of Dads

My Daddy is a Silly Monkey
Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson
Otter-Barry Books
A little girl shares with readers, the characteristics of her dad, likening him first thing in the morning, to a huge, yawning, grizzly, grouchy bear. Then as he performs his ablutions, a toothily grinning crocodile …

He becomes octopus-like as he texts, brushes her hair, overturns a chair, burns the toast, spills the milk, ties shoelaces and prepares her lunch. PHEW!
His chitter-chatter monkeying around makes our narrator late for school too.
Afterwards though at the pool, he’s a …

And then after a spot of kangaroo bouncing, he turns into a ravenous, tooth-gnashing tiger; after which he still manages to summon the energy to morph into a monster ready to boss, chase, catch and …

Unsurprisingly after all those energetic activities, there is only one thing to do: snuggle up for some well-earned rest having earned the final “just my lovely daddy”.
This adorable, sometimes rhyming, portrait of a single dad is a delight and perfect for sharing with young children, no matter what their family situation.
Carol Thompson’s exuberant, mixed media scenes are at once funny, full of love and at the same time, show a father struggling to cope with the frenetic life of being a single parent of an energetic youngster and managing to stay upbeat and entirely lovable.

The Dictionary of Dads
Justin Coe illustrated by Steve Wells
Otter-Barry Books
Dads come in all shapes and sizes: in this, his debut collection, performance poet, Justin Coe introduces a veritable alphabetic assortment. From Abracadabra Dad to Zen Dad we meet over fifty of the paternal species, the least energetic of whom, surprisingly, is Sportsman Dad: ‘Dad’s favourite sport / On the couch with the baby / Synchronised snoring.

For the most part the mood is upbeat but there are also plenty of reflective, sometimes sad poems too, such as Prison Dad which takes the form of an apologetic letter from a dad to his children. Having acknowledged that he let them down, he says this … ‘Despite my bravado I’m no macho man. // How can I act hard when these guards have got me sewing? / And sitting in my cell, I’ve even started writing poems! / Days go by slowly. I’m lonely and the only times / That I can find to be close to you are in these rhymes.
Totally different, but equally poignant, is Old Dad wherein a snow-haired man and his brown-eyed boy take a walk in the park in late autumn and the man is mistaken for the child’s grandpa. The two collect seasonal souvenirs and as they leave; ‘the boy picks up one last leaf/ a gift for his father. // “Is it mine to keep forever?” / the old man asks. / And this time it is his boy’s turn to nod and smile. // The old man beams with pride, / holds the leaf gently to his lips / and kisses it, / as if this gift were some kind of / golden ticket.
There’s a poem about having Two Daddies and we also meet Mum-Dad – a mum who plays both the maternal and paternal role and as the child tells readers, ‘However wild the weather / She’s got a way to get it done / And I could not have asked for / A better dad than Mum.
My favourite I think though is Storytelling Dad (there are seven S dads) wherein we hear that this particular father actually seems to undergo a metamorphosis to become various characters from The Wind in the Willows, ‘ … But best of all / was when Dad turned into a Toad, / a horn hooting, / toot- tooting, poop-pooping Toad, / Motor-Car Maniac, / menace of the Road.

It’s impossible to mention all the dads that feature in this collection but it’s certainly one I’d want to add to any primary class collection, or to a family bookshelf. Steve Wells’ visual pen-and-ink embellishments are numerous – at least one per spread – and add to the individual reader’s enjoyment.

I’ve signed the charter  

Spot the Mistake : Lands of Long Ago

Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago
Amanda Wood, Mike Jolley and Frances Castle
Wide Eyed Editions
Many children love to point out the mistakes made by adults. This large book capitalises on this, giving them the opportunity to search Frances Castle’s ten historic scenes to identify the 20 impossible elements that have found their way into each one, as they accompany two young detectives who are on the hunt for those visual errors.
Their first visit is right back to the Stone Age or more precisely around 12,000 years back to the Late Stone Age when humans started living in communities, building permanent homes, growing crops and keeping animals.
From there the questers move forward to 5,000 years back and the Land of the Pharaohs.

The double page scene is followed by another about the same location and provides reasons for the 20 visual anomalies as well as facts about what the ancient Egyptians would have had instead. This pattern, spot the mistakes followed by information spread, is used for each stop throughout the entire time travelling adventure.
Other scenarios are ‘An Outing to the Acropolis’, ‘The Emperor’s Palace’ in ancient China; ‘Life in Ancient Rome’; ‘At the Temple of the Sun’ – the Mayan Empire;

Sailing with the Vikings’; ‘Jousting with the Knights’; ‘The (Mughal) Emperor’s Parade’; and finally, there’s a beach location for ‘Pirates Ahoy!’.
Frances Castle’s aptly bordered, alluring scenes have an ironical, lightheartedness about them that is just right for this time-travelling investigation. I envisage groups of children captivated as they play visual detective together.

I’ve signed the charter  

I’m Going To Eat This Ant

I’m Going To Eat This Ant
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I did see many years ago, several kinds of insects – albeit cooked, chocolate covered and dried, being offered for sale in a Hong Kong market; but ants? Surely they wouldn’t be worth the effort: unless of course, you happen to be, like the narrator here, an extremely hungry anteater. This character is, in fact, fed up with the whole ‘licking, wriggling, tickling, stinging, biting’ little insects but his hunger appears to have got the better of him. That leaves him just one choice and that is to contemplate the most palatable way of consuming one particular little black wriggler: might it be thus,

or sucked up a straw perhaps; what about mint sauce smothered, splatted with a spatula or swallowed from a spoon full of simmering soup. (love all the sibilant alliteration) Not to your taste? There are less soggy sounding alternatives such as …

even seared, steak-like, speared on a stick or squished in a sausage -DISGUSTING!
I could go on but my stomach is already heaving, so let’s skip the sweet possibilities and move on to find what our anteater chooses …
Oopsie! Looks as though the pesky minibeast has done a runner.

What now? … Our poor narrator is quite simply salivating …
The conclusion is priceless but I’m no story spoiler so lets leave the creature there contemplating.
A total hoot of a book that’s definitely going to get the taste buds of listeners tingling from the outset and their stomachs sated by the final scene. Greatly gratifying, gigglesome graphics grace every page; and there’s a tiny pinch of Klasson in the whole droll dish. Try it and see, you’ll love the insouciance.

I’ve signed the charter  

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf
Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
Book Island
Author, Kyo Maclear (The Listzs) and Isabelle Arsenhault, illustrator (Cloth Lullaby) have together invented an episode from the youth of Virginia Wolf, narrated by her sister Vanessa when the former was overcome by depression: ‘She made wolf sounds and did strange things … ‘ Unsurprisingly, her actions affected the entire household –

‘She was a very bossy wolf. The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.’
Vanessa is a very understanding and supportive sister and does her upmost to cheer up her sibling. Eventually she responds to Virginia’s wish to fly to a perfect place … with “ABSOLUTELY NO DOLDRUMS”, a place called Bloomsberry, by creating, as Virginia sleeps …

a glorious ‘Bloomsberry’ garden.
This has the effect of lifting the gloom that has engulfed her sister– for the time being at least.

Strong emotions are part and parcel of childhood but comparatively few children go on to develop the dark melancholic, depressive feelings that would frequently engulf Virginia in her adult life. Not everyone, however hard they try will be able to help a depressed family member, but this is no detraction from what is undoubtedly a beautiful picture book.
Arsenault’s eloquent illustrations capture superbly the whole gamut of emotions of Maclear’s text: the graceful beauty of the pictures Vanessa creates would surely bring solace to almost anyone. The use of a hand-lettered text that sometimes almost explodes off the page, further adds to the impact of what is an immensely powerful and intensely personal tale of love and hope.
This is a book to share and discuss with older children (from around ten, and into early secondary school). I hope teachers have the insightfulness and perhaps courage to do so: its potential is rich.

I’ve signed the charter 

Museums and Machines

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The terrific twosome of The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School fame have combined forces in another zany Henry adventure; and as always he is accompanied by his dachshund pal. This time the protagonist is put on the spot by a question about the class trip to a museum. The lad seems to have been rather tardy in his arrival at said museum and consequently undertaken his own explorations therein. Whether he, or the exhibits were more entertained, one can only imagine. He supposedly got up to all manner of unlikely activities: balloon sculpting for the Neanderthals,

and there was certainly plenty to feast his eyes on. A T.Rex for instance, sculptures, a great whale and a woolly mammoth, lots of paintings –

some abstract art requiring the odd finishing touch here and there, and the museum’s storage facilities needing a bit of reorganisation.
See how many art references you can spot …that dachshund portrait does appear to bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa. And yes, Henry does eventually catch up with the rest of his class, albeit by some rather risky means.
Pretty off-the-wall stuff; but those who have enjoyed the previous flights of fancy delivered by Cali and Chaud will certainly find plenty to amuse herein.

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper book of three, re-named, previously published titles featuring the much-loved duo, Winnie and Wilbur in Space, Winnie’s New Computer and Winnie and the Big Bad Robot will surely appeal to those of a mechanical bent.
The first sees the pair hurtling skywards in a rocket and discovering the ‘Purrfect” picnic spot, then having their picnic invaded by a horde of hungry space rabbits. The odd swish of her magic wand produces the ideal fare for the bouncing bunnies; but the voracious consumption of their favourite metallic meal leads to the visitors being without any means of getting back home. Can Winnie’s wand save the day once again?
You’d think after all that excitement in previous adventures involving machines, now renamed for this compilation, Winnie would have learned to stay clear; but her first foray, that involving a misunderstanding on Wilbur’s part, the scanning of her spell books into her computer and a mal-functioning mouse – Wilbur’s doing; and the second, an extremely unfortunate experience with the robot constructed by Winnie in her weekly creativity class at the local library, didn’t deter her at all. Hence her ‘big adventure’ in space.
The magic still holds good, no matter how the stories are packaged.

I’ve signed the charter 

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books
Mr and Mrs Tati live together in a little yellow house, but one thing is missing from their otherwise happy life: Mrs Tati longs for a “sweet little baby”.
Mr T. visits the Baby Shop asking for a “fat, happy baby” for his wife but all they can offer are all the things that, without a baby, she has no use for at all. On his way home however, he encounters a man offering baby pigs for sale. Could one of those be the answer to Mrs Tati’s dreams?

For a while the Tatis are blissfully happy with the new addition to their family and eventually Potter is old enough to start school and that is when the trouble starts …

Potter’s parents decide their attempts to turn him into a little boy were a mistake and he’s allowed to be messy with mud and sleep outdoors instead of going to school.

Weekends though are inside times; and it’s on one such occasion that Mrs Tati makes another wish. A wish that leads to a whole chain of further wishes culminating in Mr Tata’s wish upon a falling star. “I wish, I wish, I wish, that when we wake up in the morning … we will all look the same.” …
Do you think his wish came true?
This corker – or should it be porker? – twist-in-the-tail story is an absolute delight. With themes of family love, acceptance and diversity, this is perfect for sharing both at home or school. Niki Daly imbues every illustration, large or small, with his wonderful wit and joie de vivre.

I’ve signed the charter 

Counting with Tiny Cat / The Fox Wish

Counting with Tiny Cat
Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books
Tiny Cat is an energetic bundle of mischief with a particular penchant for red wool. At the outset there isn’t any but then yippee! A ball of the red stuff rolls right along. That quickly becomes TWO! THREE! FOUR! Which is all the creature can really juggle; but still they keep coming.

Clearly Tiny Cat’s counting skills have yet to develop further, though oddly the feline’s vocabulary encompasses ‘ABOUT A DOZEN– emphasis on the about here I should add.

Still though, the creature’s appetite for the red stuff isn’t satisfied: ‘LOTS’ leads to a very greedy ‘AS MANY AS YOU CAN GET’ but even that isn’t sufficient. SOME EXTRA gives way to …

Will the frisky thing ever realise that enough is enough?
A wonderful visual comedy with a delightfully playful star: Tiny Cat most definitely commands the performance, and viewers will definitely demand instant encores.

The Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman and Komako Sakai
Chronicle Books
A small girl – the narrator – and her younger brother return to the playground in search of the skipping rope left behind earlier. There’s no sign of their rope but they follow some sounds of laughter and in the clearing, come upon, not the friends they’d anticipated. but a group of foxes enjoying a skipping game.

Doxy, foxy, / touch the ground. / Doxy, foxy, / turn around. / Turn to the east, / and turn to the west, / and choose the one that / you like best.
The children decide the foxes are less adept skippers than they on account of their tails and Luke lets out a giggle. Fortunately the foxes aren’t offended: instead they approach the children and ask for some coaching. Soon animals and humans are playing together happily, taking turns to hold the rope ends. When the little girl’s turn comes to do so, she notices the name, painted on the handle.

It’s her name, but also happens to be that of one of the foxes; and, the little creature has assumed it now belongs to her because of a wish she’d made.
Does the little fox’s wish come true: what does the little girl decide to do?
A wonderful, slightly whimsical tale of empathy, altruism and kindness, and a delightful portrayal of the way young children so easily slip between fantasy and reality, told with sensitivity that is captured equally in Sakai’s glowing illustrations and Aman’s words, which in their direct simplicity, echo the voice of a child. Such exquisite observation.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Night Gardener

dscn9923

The Night Gardener
Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
William resides in Grimloch Orphanage and as he gazes from his window one morning he discovers that overnight an enormous owl has been fashioned from the foliage of the tree outside. Now if one turns back to the dedication page it’s evident that the same child has been at work, drawing a similar feathered creature in the dust, and that passing by, is a bowler hatted man carrying a ladder and a bag of tools. The title page shows that same man working with his shears on the tree in front of the orphanage building.
Awed by this seemingly magical happening, William spends the day staring at the piece of topiary, and at bedtime he goes to sleep ‘with a sense of excitement’.
The following morning another amazing sight meets William’s eyes and, the scene has taken on a rather more colourful appearance as other members of the community too, have come to wonder at the sight.

%0a

Subsequent mornings bring further wonderful creations (the spreads, in tandem take on more colour)

dscn9925

and as William ventures forth, excitedly following the crowds, he discovers that not only have some of the neighbours been doing a spot of grooming of their own tatty-looking abodes, but also the topiarist has created his best work yet and celebrations are in full swing.

dscn9927

As night envelops the town, William returns home and en route, encounters a certain gentleman who is about to change his life for the better (well strictly speaking, he’s already done that and that of the other community members)

%0a

but the gifts he receives, as the seasons change the look of the foliage, will have a lasting effect on everyone in the neighbourhood, not least of whom is William.
This is a superb demonstration – visual and verbal – of how a caring adult, art and a touch of magic can transform the life, not just of one small boy, but also, of a whole community. The text flows perfectly but its combination with the Fan Brothers illustrative artistry puts this into a realm far above most picture books.
FAB-U-LOUS!

There’s a Pig Up My Nose!

dscn9758

There’s a Pig Up My Nose!
John Dougherty and Laura Hughes
Egmont Publishing
Can you imagine anything less likely than having a pig up your nose? Probably not, but that’s, seemingly at least, the problem troubling young Natalie when she wakes one morning, bounds down to breakfast and emits an OINK! from her nostrils. The doctor confirms it is indeed so …

%0a

a note requesting she’s let off games is penned by her parents and duly delivered to a very sceptical Mrs Daffodil, her teacher.
Morning lessons proceed rather badly with a lot of oinking disturbing her classmates; playtime hide-and-seek is a disaster and story-time’s totally ruined.

%0a

After lunch (sans ham rolls of course), Mrs Daffodil sets the class a spot of problem solving: ‘inventing a way of getting a pig out of Natalie’s nose’, is the task and it’s one received with enthusiasm by her fellow pupils, some of whom, it has to be said, appear to have a slightly sadistic bent …

%0a

Mark and Joseph’s solution works a treat though, and a new pet is duly added to the gerbil enclosure.
That however, is not quite the end of things where nasal passages and noises are concerned, but hey! Who wants to be a story-spoiler? Let’s just say, the finale will certainly set your nostrils twitching.
Totally, delightfully bonkers but Dougherty’s tale certainly held my audience and the finale received snorts of approval, a round of applause, and a ‘read it again’ request. Laura Hughes’ illustrations are full of fun and I’ve developed a special soft spot for those smiley twins – the problem solvers.

bookgivingdayblogbadge-1

Don’t forget 14th February

Animal Allsorts

dscn9536

Hello, Mr Dodo
Nicholas John Firth
Alison Green Books
I absolutely loved Nicholas John Firth’s debut Hector and the Hummingbird, so was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this, his second offering. It also has an avian theme and once again, is a delight through and through.
Martha is an avid bird lover and twitcher spending much of her time in the woods with her binoculars; there isn’t a bird she can’t identify until that is, the day she comes upon an extremely large specimen she doesn’t recognise

%0a

and it bears a very close resemblance to a supposedly extinct creature.
Before long a secret friendship has developed between Martha and her discovery, who shares with her, a particular penchant for doughnuts …

%0a

Then one afternoon Martha accidentally lets slip her secret and the following day she’s besieged by a crowd at her front door. Time for some quick thinking: the dodo has to disappear.

dscn9541

Is that to be the end of a beautiful friendship?
The wonderfully retro look of the book (there’s a slight touch of Roger Duvoisin about it) comes from the artist’s choice of colour palette, yet this is a thoroughly modern and enchanting tale.

%0a

One Very Big Bear
Alice Brière-Haquet, Olivier Philipponneau & Raphaële Enjary
Abrams Appleseed
Mightily impressed by his own stature, a bear make an announcement: “I’m very big! … I’m almost a giant!” This claim is quickly countered by a whole host of other polar creatures that turn up in turn: two walrus, three foxes, four sea lions, five penguins and six sardines, the latter have the cheek to call him ‘foolish

%0a dscn9553

But who gets the last word …
Minimalist artwork, an easy to read text, mathematical opportunities aplenty and a giggle-inducing finale make for a fun book to share and discuss.

dscn9542

I Need a Hug
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Childrens’s Books
We all need a hug from time to time but when you’re covered in spikes it makes things just a little tricky and so it is with the prickly creature in this tale.
When a porcupine declares he needs a hug, unsurprisingly he doesn’t get any offers.

dscn9543

Then something happens to change his luck but it’s not quite what he was expecting …

dscn9544

With themes of looking for friendship and embracing difference, this brief rhyming tale offers food for thought and discussion with early years groups or individuals.

dscn9548

Superchimp
Giles Paley-Phillips and Karl Newson
QED
Sporting his red underwear and feasting on fleas, a young chimp spends his days whizzing around in the jungle coming to the aid of troubled animals,

dscn9549

zooming through the trees in his super-cool chimpmobile or occasionally, relaxing in his secret cave. Known as Superchimp, he’s loved by all the rainforest inhabitants; in fact he’s nothing short of their hero …

dscn9550

Come nightfall though, from afar there comes another booming voice; but it’s not a voice asking for assistance this time. Now Superchimp doesn’t look quite such a hero and it’s not just his underpants that are a dazzling shade of red.
Rhyming text from Paley-Phillips and vibrant rainforest scenes from Newson combine to make a fun read for young would-be superheroes.

Where’s the Baboon?

%0a

Where’s the Baboon?
Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
Andersen Press
Is it a book or is it a game? Actually the mouse on the cover hits it on the nail ‘It’s a Super Bookgame!’ he asserts and it might be time to get out those plastic letters for a visit to the crazy animal school herein, as we respond to this invitation … ‘Let’s search for hidden words!

dscn9269
Question one is ‘Who is the headmaster?’, the answer being … got it? Next comes ‘Who brought the apple?’ That’s it: the red letters highlight the answers, each one being an animal of some kind, the tricky creature itself appearing in part …

dscn9275

or wholly somewhere on the scene, while the mischievous mouse trio makes an appearance on every spread.

dscn9271

These little creatures seem about to launch a glue missile at two unsuspecting readers in one of the scenes.
The final birthday surprise bursts – literally – onto the scene proclaiming as he makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms …

dscn9274

Exploding with fun – and not just from the penultimate spread – this is absolutely perfect for sharing and for having a good giggle over the crazy shenanigans of the pupils, before trying to invent some animal capers of your own; or even re-making those featured with coloured letter shapes. Totally engaging in every respect. Teachers, don’t miss this one: it’s packed with potential such as ‘Think of an appropriate sentence, write it and then create a scene around it.’ Of course the spelling will need checking though.

Big Bob, Little Bob / Mine Mine Mine Said The Porcupine

dscn9219

Big Bob, Little Bob
James Howe and Laura Ellen Andersen
Walker Books
The possibility of friendship seems unlikely when Big Bob moves in next door to Little Bob: the boys are just so different and it’s not just their relative size; their interests are totally different too. Little Bob likes quiet activities such as block building and playing with dolls; Big Bob’s play is altogether more boisterous. “Boys do not play with dolls,” he asserts. Despite this Big Bob does make efforts to involve his neighbour in his play …

dscn9220

but nothing can bring the two round to the same way of thinking or doing.

dscn9221

However when a girl moves into their neighbourhood, the first person to jump to Little Bob’s defence when she questions his choice of play activities is none other than Big Bob. “Hey! You stop picking on my friend!” he tells her. “Boys can do whatever they want!” Gender stereotyping is seemingly not so fine now.
But then it turns out that Blossom prefers trucks to dolls: can the three find a way to accommodate everyone’s choices …
Any story that challenges gender stereotyping is worth a look in my book. This one is delivered with a gentle humour that is accentuated by Andersen’s comical scenes of the children at play. Definitely a book to share with those around the same age as the characters herein; it will give them plenty to think about and discuss.
Also looking at building friendship is:

dscn9216

Mine Mine Mine! Said the Porcupine
Alex English and Emma Levey
Maverick Arts Publishing
Alfie returns and this time he has a porcupine as his visitor; a porcupine whose sharing skills leave a lot to be desired. Alfie does his best to engage the porcupine in some play, but everything he offers is immediately seized by his visitor. “Mine!” he claims at each attempt.

dscn9217

Eventually, Alfie decides enough is enough and leaving the possessive creature to his own devices, he goes to play on his own. Now the porcupine has what he wants – or has he? Can he perhaps find a situation where that word he loves so much, is appropriate?

dscn9218

A gentle lesson in sharing delivered in a rhythmic text easy enough to read so that those around Alfie’s age can try it for themselves. Emma Levey portrays the porcupine as hirsute making him appear cuddly rather than a prickly character and he certainly knows how to talk with his eyes.

Hyde and Squeak

%0a

Hyde and Squeak
Fiona Ross
Little Tiger Press
Meet Squeak, inveterate competition enterer, and Granny with whom he shares a residence, as they learn of Squeak’s latest win …

%0a

What emerges – literally – from the parcel is something green, wobbly and decidedly whiffy; it’s no wonder Granny puts it straight into the bin.
During the night Squeak cannot resist creeping downstairs and sampling the goo. Big mistake! In no time at all he’s turned into an enormous monster mouse with an insatiable appetite …

%0a

If this isn’t bad enough, the following morning after Granny has disposed of the previous night’s mess and set out to buy supplies, another prize is delivered and the whole things starts ALL OVER AGAIN! This time however, there being absolutely zilch to eat, Squeak is forced to turn scientist cum inventor. Move over Professor Branestawm.

%0a

Back comes Granny who is dumfounded by the sight that meets her eyes. She immediately puts in a report to the constabulary and learns that similar things are happening all over the town.
Can Granny save Squeak from the monster’s clutches? That is the question …
For the answer, you’ll need to get hold of a copy of this super-silly book and find out for yourself. Watch out for any lurking goo and beware of jelly.
Fiona Ross’s crazy comic-book style spin on the Jekyll and Hyde classic will have young listeners revelling in the messy mayhem and the massive, munching, mouse-machine. They’ll also relish the opportunities to ‘PARP! POOF! and PING!’ along with Hyde, then ZAP along with his machine.
If you work with early years children, I suggest making some green dough and inviting some creative jelly making (strickly no eating!) and perhaps a session of Mega Munch Machine building. The possibilities are endless, just like Squeak’s appetite for competitions.

Pattan’s Pumpkin / Prince Ribbit

%0A

Pattan’s Pumpkin
Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac
Otter-Barry Books
Subtitled ‘An India Flood Story’ it seemed highly appropriate to be opening the parcel containing this book on the day of my return from a trip to India during a very wet monsoon season. Essentially it is a retelling of a tale from the Irular tribe of the southern state of Kerala. It relates how a man called Pattan finds and nurtures an ailing plant …

%0A

until it grows and thrives becoming an enormous pumpkin (a bottle gourd in the original). One day Pattan awakes to a furious storm raging outside his hut and so worried is he about the fate of the animals and plants that he lays awake all the next night: he knows he and his wife must leave their mountain home but how can they take so many creatures with them? Looking out through his window he sees the pumpkin lit up by lightning and an idea strikes him. Next morning he grabs his axe and sets to work on the pumpkin, hollowing it from within.

%0A

Eventually all is ready and having rolled down the mountain with animals and humans inside, the pumpkin sails off on the rushing river. Having sailed for many nights and days, the pumpkin and contents reach the plains and out come Pattan, his wife, Kanni, and all the animals safe and ready to continue their lives …
Frané Lessac’s naïve style illustrations are a kaleidoscope of colour and the playful expressions of the animals inject humour into the straightforward, direct narrative. A must for primary classrooms; why not try sharing it around harvest time.

DSCN8623

Prince Ribbit
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
The author/artist team in this funny picture book put a fresh spin on the traditional Frog Prince fairy tale. The frog herein is a cunning fellow who happens to overhear a conversation between Princess Martha and her sisters. Arabella and Lucinda who have just read the story of the Princess and the Frog. The latter two are romantic tale enthusiasts whereas Martha prefers facts and real frogs to fairy tales and what’s more she’s heard a real frog croaking in the royal pool.
Now all the while, a clever little frog has been listening to the princesses discussing fairy tales, in particular those featuring princes; indeed a princely kind of life-style has great appeal for him, and this gives him an idea. The thing is he needs to convince those princesses that he is indeed Prince Ribbit and then maybe, he’ll come in for some right royal treatment. He’s certainly pretty determined but Princess Martha is going to take a lot of convincing …

%0A

The others however are ready to indulge …

%0A

So who is right? There’s one point that all parties make use of, including Prince Ribbit but can the answer really lie in one of those books …

%0A

Or is there another, more practical way to find out for sure: “True Love’s Kiss” no less.
Author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Polly Bernatene bring their own brands of magic to this spin on the classic Frog Prince fairy tale. The illustrations are vibrant, funny and full of dotty details. Young audiences will delight in spotting all the visitors from other classic tales in this scene …

%0A

Emmett’s telling is also full of fun and I particularly like the use of “Just because it’s in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s true.” by the various characters. Wise words indeed.

Mix-Ups & Disguises

%0A
The Hippopandamouse
Jools Bentley
Macmillan Children’s Books
Things are all of a tizz at Fluffey’s Fine Toys as the workers prepare for a royal visit: the princess is coming and everything has to be perfect. Any toys that don’t pass muster are consigned to the dreaded unstitcher…

DSCN8645

In all the panic, one hippopotamus is put on the wrong table and ends up looking thus:

%0A

The resulting mistake goes un-noticed by the fussy Miss Fluffey who is eager to usher in Princess Flo and show her all the wonderful toys. The young lady show polite interest but is unimpressed until she spies the mistake. Miss Fluffey orders its instant withdrawal and off it’s sent to the dreaded unstitcher. Much to the displeasure of one small royal miss who is determined to spend her pocket money on just one very special item. But can that machine be stopped in time to save that very special item from destruction …
Mistake he might be, but the Hippopandamouse is a winner with youngsters be they or be they not princesses.

%0A

Jools Bentley’s creation demonstrates beautifully that we don’t need to be perfect to be lovable; that and the fact that everybody needs a break from time to time, no matter how important the job being worked on.

DSCN8699

How to Hide a Lion at School
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
What do you do when your best pal and companion isn’t allowed to go with you to the place you spend a great deal of time in – school? At first, Iris does nothing – there’s no need: her lion follows her there every single day, sneaks in and does his best to merge in but unsurprisingly Iris’s teacher, Miss Holland (like most teachers) has eyes in the back of her head and sends him packing. That works when the children are staying put in school but there comes a day when the class is off on a school trip. Moreover, their mode of transport just happens to be the very bus upon which Iris’s lion languishes to watch the goings on in the playground. So, with class aboard off speeds said bus, lion atop – to the museum.
What a splendid hiding place this turns out to be with all those fascinating exhibits.

DSCN8702

Nobody, not even Iris notices him until, they reach the ancient Egyptian room. Here, Iris has to do some quick thinking, and a whole lot of loo roll snitching, in order to attempt a disguise.

DSCN8701

It’s pretty effective until one of the museum visitors has a touch of the tickly noses … and that’s when the plan starts to unravel …
What happens thereafter really puts the lion’s thinking skills to the test but suffice it to say that a certain large-maned creature ends up as hero of the hour …

%0A

and earns himself a new job to boot.
As with previous adventures of the duo, this one is lots of fun. If you’ve not met Iris and her friendly lion previously you can start here, after which I suspect you’ll want to go back and get hold of the two books How to Hide a Lion and How to Hide a Lion from Grandma.

A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting

black bear (800x600)

A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting
Michelle Robinson and David Roberts
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
2016 looks set to be the Year of the Bear so far as picture books go anyway (I’m counting in the Gough/Field offering here). And now here we have an achingly rib-tickling treat from Robinson and Roberts who just want to make sure we’re all fully informed before going on a bear hunt, so to speak. I have to say here at the outset, that bear country itself looks pretty hostile and that’s even without a single bear sighting …

DSCN6407 (800x600)

Oh I tell a lie – our intrepid ursine explorer has something looking distinctly bear-shaped attached to his luggage.
Right then, on with the show: there’s the black bear (aka Ursus Americanus) and the brown bear (Ursus Horibilis), both of which can be highly dangerous and not at all averse to gobbling you up. Sometimes however, their coats might just show a touch of otherness. so it’s important to keep your wits about you at all times. Now, which kind could this little – oops! I mean large- beauty be?

DSCN6408 (800x600)

Did I hear you say, “back away” just then; well that advice doesn’t seem to have been altogether reliable in the circumstances …

DSCN6409 (800x600)

And nor does the pepper spray, so what about the bubble gum??

DSCN6410 (800x600)

Oh well, at least that bought a bit of time but now desperate measures are called for…

DSCN6411 (800x600)

Hmm seems this might just be going to work …

DSCN6412 (800x600)

Errr! Or should that be, Grrr!?
I’m totally bearsotted with this one and it certainly takes field notes to a whole different level.

Use your local bookshop        localbookshops_NameImage-2