The Wall and the Wild

The Wall and the Wild
Christina Dendy and Katie Rewse
Lantana Publishing

At the edge of Stone Hollow town, young Ana grows a garden – a perfect garden, tidy and full of life; it’s in stark contrast to the wild, the place where she tosses her unwanted, left over seeds and against which she creates a boundary to delineate and shelter her orderly garden from the disorder beyond.

Soon Ana’s garden is full of scented flowers, delicious fruit and vegetables, leafy trees and birds and insects in abundance. It’s a place where people like to stop and admire what they see, but while they might be full of admiration, Ana is not.

Certainly not when she notices unfamiliar plants that have started to grow; these she pulls up, tossing them and other seeds that she now rejects into the wild. She also builds her boundary a bit higher and now her garden isn’t quite so thriving: less tasty crops grow and the numbers of visitors both natural and human, diminish. Despite this Ana continues to reject many seeds and shoots, hurling them into the ever-increasing wild against which she keeps on building up her boundary until eventually it’s an enormous wall.

Now at last Ana stops and takes stock of her creation – first on her side of the wall and then finally, she decides to look beyond …

What she discovers is truly astonishing and unexpectedly beautiful in its own way. Time to start removing some of that wall …

Both a fable, and a cautionary tale of sorts, Christina Dendy’s story, in tandem with Katie Rewse’s vibrant illustrations, shows the importance of biodiversity and of embracing and appreciating wildness. It’s great to see the subtle inclusion of Ana’s hearing aid in this beautiful book, which offers a great way to introduce the idea of rewilding and its potential benefits especially to those readers with gardens of their own.

Nell and the Cave Bear

Nell and the Cave Bear
Martin Brown
Piccadilly Press

This story is the first of a series by Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown and it features a young Stone Age girl Nell, and her Cave Bear. Nell has no parents and lives in a cave with her tribe, and her pet and best friend the titular bear.

Everywhere the girl goes, the bear goes too, keeping her safe and comforting her whenever the chores and bossing around she receives get her down.

When she learns that her clan plan to give her beloved Cave Bear away to the visiting Sea Clan cousins, Nell decides that it’s time to run away.

Together girl and bear embark on an adventure which takes them along the stream that passes their cave and soon, as they follow wherever the stream leads, the two become not runaways but explorers. They face thirst and hunger, mammoths and scary hunters

but never give up hope as, joined by a kitten, they keep looking for a safe place where they can be together.

Martin Brown writes simply and beautifully with warmth, a gentle humour and plenty of excitement.

Superbly illustrated this tale of long ago is just right for new solo readers who will be swept along with the adventurers relishing every moment of being in the company of Nell and Cave Bear. This adult reviewer most certainly did.

The Naughtiest Unicorn on Holiday / Super Cute: Fun in the Sun

These are two young fiction books both by Pip Bird, kindly sent for review by Farshore

The Naughtiest Unicorn on Holiday

The latest addition to The Naughtiest Unicorn series sees Mira and Dave off on an adventure holiday – their best ever adventure so Mira anticipates. Especially as there’s to be a secret quest to discover a special Golden Marshmallow. With sleeping bag rolled and rucksack packed with essentials (and a bit more too) she can hardly contain her excitement and Dave is going positively bananas or rather toffees. Having discussed the various poo possibilities for humans and unicorns, members of Red Class are finally ready to make that foray into the Wild Woods where they’ll be under the care , not of their teacher Miss Glitterhorn but of energetic leader, Ms Mustang, a stickler for teamwork.

Will the adventurers ever manage to put up their tents – that is the first challenge followed closely by, will Dave consume all the marshmallows stashed in the special snack box?

Then what about the raft-making activity? Readers will certainly get some laughs over this, but what of team Mira, Raheem and Jake and their unicorns?

With the first day’s adventures duly over it’s time to bed down for some shut-eye but that’s when the weird noises start up: what or who is making those, not to mention the scary shadowy shape? …

With the usual generous serving of farts of the unicorn variety, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp for fans of Mira and Dave and I’m sure having induced lots of giggles, they’ll win a fair few new followers too.

Super Cute: Fun in the Sun

New to me is the author’s World of Cute where preparations are underway for the annual summer Friendship festival.

With Micky Pig in charge, delicious treats to share are baked in Micky’s outdoor kitchen Mudporium. The first taster will be a Special Guest. So will this be, as Cami declares, “The best Friendship ever!” ?

Not if one of the vital baking ingredients is missing … This is the first indication that a saboteur is at work; surely that couldn’t be so – could it?

I’m not sure if this series will gain as many fans as The Naughtiest Unicorn but it’s worth offering to young solo readers to taste for themselves: they’ll certainly find lots of yummy confectionery including a volcano cake that erupts strawberry jam, in this story that celebrates our differences.

What if, Pig?

What if, Pig?
Linzie Hunter
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The porcine character in this story is a thoroughly kind, endearing character that has endeared himself not only to his best pal Mouse, but also to a host of other animals. They all think themselves lucky to have him as a friend but what they don’t know is that he’s a panicker. So when he decides to plan a perfect party, it’s not long before he gets an attack of the ‘what ifs’. ‘What if a ferocious lion eats all the invitations or even the guests … ‘

What if nobody comes (or everyone does and has a dreadful time) or worst of all ‘What if no one really likes me at all?’

There’s only one thing to do – cancel the party, an idea in which he has his friend Mouse’s support.

Off go the two for a walk in the woods during which Mouse reassures his downhearted pal, ‘Things don’t stay grey for very long.’ And sure enough they don’t as what Pig doesn’t know is that Mouse has been instrumental in ensuring that they don’t, for Pig’s friends are more than ready to return the friendship they’ve been shown …and to share some secrets in response to Mouse’s ‘Maybe we’re more alike than we think.’

With its powerful themes, engagingly delivered, this is a terrific read aloud: the author/illustrator makes every single word count and her illustrations are a quirky delight – every one.

‘What if we all talked about our worries?’ provides the ideal starting point for a discussion on feelings, worries in particular, with youngsters either at home or in the primary classroom. If we want children to develop resilience, I suggest a copy in every foundation stage and KS1 class collection.

Sometimes I Am Furious

Sometimes I Am Furious
Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger
Macmillan Children’s Books

Who can fail to fall for the adorable little person standing in angry mode on the cover of this book. She’s the narrator too, so we get the picture straight from the toddler’s mouth as she talks of life as she sees it – the high points and the lows. The times when you feel like sharing some of the good things, or being helpful perhaps; even when one of your special grown-ups has made a mess of things.

All too often it seems though, things just don’t feel fair AT ALL: your parents boss you around, your favourite cake has sold out; your body in your tights feels all wrong and your yummy ice cream splats on the floor. These things are totally INFURIATING.

It’s at times like that when you need a good cuddle and some welcome words of advice spoken softly.

Then next time those ‘not fair’ feelings start to bubble you know some lovely deep breaths, slow counting and a happy song will take care of your fizzly emotion – well almost always.

What a smashing way to present to little ones (and grown ups) the gamut of emotions that are part and parcel of toddler life, as well as some simple strategies to deal with life’s lows. In their dynamic delivery – verbal and visual – of one of life’s vital lessons, team Timothy and Joe have created a cracking book that is just the thing for sharing and discussing with little ones at home, or in an early years setting. (Perfect for supporting PSED.)

Judy Moody Gets Famous! /Judy Moody Saves the World! /Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days

It’s good to see Walker Books reissuing the Judy Moody books including:


Judy Moody Gets Famous!
Judy Moody Saves the World!
Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days

Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

It’s her multitude of moods that make Judy who she is and now she’s on a quest to get fame, fuelled by the fact that arch rival Jessica Finch has got her photo on the front page of the newspaper having won a spelling contest. Green with envy, Judy currently feels ‘about as famous as a pencil’.

Can she too get her own fifteen minutes of fame? Definitely not on account of her spelling skills but what about with that cherry pip that our resourceful miss advertises at the garage sale as a ‘Genuine Cherry Pit from George Washington’s tree’ (dating back to 1743)? Err, maybe not. 

But does Judy ever get her write-up? Yes, but to find out how, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of this charmer of a tale that’s ideal for new solo readers.

Saving the world is the irrepressible Judy’s intention; rather it isn’t actually, for what she sets out to do in the second story is to win the Crazy Strips 5th ‘design your own bandage contest’. But then her little brother Stink decides to enter too and unlike big sis, he has done his design and sent it off before Judy gets an inkling of inspiration.

Thank goodness then for Mr Todd’s science lesson about the devastation of rainforests. Suddenly Judy sees her entire family and people at school using products that include constituents from the rainforest – coffee, ice-cream, chewing gum, lipstick and pencils. At last she has a mission but now all she has to do is save the rainforest … 

Again, delightful, quirky humour eventually wins through.

In Judy Moody Around the World in 8½ Days there’s a new girl in Judy’s parallel class. Like Judy she has a rhyming name – Amy Namey – and she also collects chewing gum. Guess who isn’t happy? What will Amy be: best enemy or new best friend? 

When Amy invites Judy to join the My-Name-Is-a-Poem club, Judy becomes devoted to her new friend, which definitely doesn’t go down well with her old pals.

Something that does though is the ginormous pizza that culminates the Y3 classes project …

There’s a lesson to be learned from this story that puts me in mind of a song a friend once taught one of my foundation stages classes that begins thus, ‘Make new friends /But keep the old. / One is silver. / The other gold.’

Due partly to Peter H. Reynolds’ terrific illustrations, Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody certainly deserves her following and these reissues will surely win her lots more friends.

A Cat About Town

A Cat About Town
Lèa Decan
Tate Publishing

‘A cat about town’ the feline narrator of this book, surely is. Owned by Lisa, the moggy is seldom at home (one day a week to be precise); the rest of the time there’s a busy schedule in operation.

Mondays are taken up by visiting writer and intellectual, Sebastian; Tuesdays are spent downstairs mainly on Mina’s balcony crammed with plants that look and smell amazing.

Come Wednesday on the dot of twelve noon, it’s a trip to Granny Yvonne whose granddaughter visits for lunch – and it’s truly delicious, not to mention, filling.

Thursdays are for artist Maud and a bit of culture, albeit in rather messy surroundings. Apparently our narrator is the favourite subject of this famous creative woman.
Musicians of the local string quartet gather on Fridays so it’s culture of a different kind on that day and our feline visitor has the most comfortable seat in the house.

On Saturdays it’s a case of a double date: Amélie receives a visit from her boyfriend; and the narrator meets the elegant Capucine with her alluring eyes and the two cats take a wander through the city streets.

Sunday though is home and Lisa’s day; it’s she after all’s said and done, who ‘takes care of me’.

Cat lovers especially, will relish this playful, first-feline narration and the alluring, gorgeously colourful scenes of the abodes in which Lisa’s cat spends most of his days. What about the nights, one wonders …

The Corinthian Girl

The Corinthian Girl
Christina Balit
Otter-Barry Books

To the ancient Greeks, female babies were dispensable: it was up to the father to decide whether or not to participate in a special naming ceremony giving the child the right to be a citizen. Sometimes it was a difficult decision for girls were expensive and one day would need a dowry, and so it was for the father of the Corinthian Girl in this story.

He wraps the child in swaddling rags, ties a Doric coin around her neck and leaves her on a stone bench, hoping somebody – perhaps a childless couple, or a merchant wanting a slave – might take her away.

Eventually an elderly slave from Athens takes her home to his master’s house where he raises her with the other slaves. Now the Master of the house, Milos, happened to be an ace javelin thrower and Olympic hero, with just one of his sons, Dion, still at home.

Sometimes Dion would invite the Corinthian girl to play with him and one morning his father stops to watch them. Wondering who this athletic girl is, he calls his son to bring her to see him right away.

Next day sees the start of a year’s training for the Corinthian girl in preparation for the Heraean Games (women only version of the Olympics), during which time she becomes super tough, lithe, fast and courageous.

When spring comes Milos, Dion and the girl go to the stadium of Olympia for the games. There, not only does she prove unbeatable in every event she enters, but she is given the name Chloris by Milos who also announces to the crowds that she is his adopted daughter.

As Chloris carves her name on the column of Hera’s temple somebody in the watching crowd sees the coin around her neck and remembers …

Christina Balit’s painterly illustrations have a power of their own, capturing superbly the slave girl’s spirit, determination and athleticism. Although the characters in her exciting, inspiring story are inventions, the details of place and time are accurate. Further details of the Heraean Games are given in a final factual spread.

Be A Tree!

Be A Tree!
Maria Gianferrari and Felicita Sala
Abrams Books for Young Readers

‘Be a tree! // Stand tall. / Stretch your branches to the sun.’

So begins this gorgeous book. With its lyrical text and beautiful, vibrant watercolour, gouache and coloured pencil illustrations author and illustrator invite readers to look anew at ourselves and at trees, one of nature’s true treasures. By so doing we come to realise that humans and trees share similar physical characteristics: trunks and spines, branches and arms, a protective outer layer – bark and skin, a topmost crown and more.

Throughout, the trees – no matter their particular species, of which many are shown – take centre stage, standing tall and majestic, and viewed from a variety of perspectives, frequently dwarfing the humans who play, sit, walk beneath, or climb upon them.

In addition to basic anatomy, we’re asked to consider similarities such as the importance of sharing resources, alerting one another to danger, (by means of ‘a wood wide web of information’), to see the strength in diversity, while gently urging each and every one of us towards- a ‘family, a community, a country, a cosmos’ where ‘There is enough for all.’

What a wealth of wonder and learning potential is packed between the covers of this book,. It’s one to return to over and over, perhaps first being encouraged be we child or adult, to stretch and uncurl like the tree’s overground parts, then curl, coil and become rooted, as a prelude to considering the ways in which we can take our cue from the trees in how we live our lives. (The final pages suggest ways to help save trees, how to build community, there’s a spread on a tree’s anatomy and some suggested further reading and websites to visit.)

The Rock From the Sky

The Rock From the Sky
Jon Klassen
Walker Books

Quintessential quirky Klassen is this sequence of five connected short comic episodes delivered with the author’s dead pan humour, not to mention that its main characters – a tortoise, an armadillo sport Klassen’s signature style hats.

The entire thing is delivered through (colour-coded) dialogue between Tortoise and Armadillo (plus those characteristic Klassen eye-movements).

The topic under discussion in The Rock is the best place to stand/sit. Tortoise favours one particular spot, “I don’t ever want to stand anywhere else.” But Armadillo is unfavourably disposed towards it, “Actually I have a bad feeling about it.’ And rightly so; he instead goes off to try another spot. A to-ing and fro-ing ensues but it’s not until Snake rocks up to join Armadillo that Tortoise decides to join them too – and only just in time … for something huge and mightily heavy falls on his erstwhile spot. Of course, we readers in on the joke, have been anticipating same all the while as we enjoy the mounting tension.

In The Fall, Armadillo attempts to act helpfully while Tortoise tries to save face zzzz. Episode three sees the two, eyes closed, contemplating the future

watched by a futuristic creature, while The Sunset is a contemplation of same – kind of;

and finally, in No More Room Tortoise takes umbrage “Maybe I will never come back” and is once more under the watchful Eye now no longer in the future,

but perhaps soon to be in the past. Thank goodness for asteroids!

Another weird and wonderful Klassen gem, albeit somewhat longer (90 pages) than usual, set in a minimalist landscape that offers much to ponder upon in a Waiting For Godot for primary school readers.

Have You Ever Seen A Flower?

Have You Ever Seen A Flower?
Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books

This a visual feast if ever there was one. It begins in an intricately constructed city in which the only thing of colour is a small girl with rainbow tresses dashing out through a door where a car awaits within which is a terrier.

As the car moves out of the city, the dreary greyness turns first white and then explodes into a riot of colour, till the car stops.

We next see the child, her joy palpable, surrounded by fields alive with fluorescent flowers. She stops, stoops and, breathing deeply, imbibes the beauty of a single bloom and in so doing has an existential experience of complete connectedness: it’s as though she and the flower become a unified life force.

All the while, the text invites readers to ponder such questions as ‘Have you ever seen a flower using nothing but your nose? Breathe deep … what do you see?’ … “Have you ever seen a flower so deep you had to shout HELLO and listen for an echo just to know how deep it goes?’

We share the child’s exhilaration as she clutches a plucked wildflower, before herself becoming transformed into a flower.

There’s much to contemplate and reflect upon in what is, for both child and reader, a wonder-filled transformational journey into consciousness itself.

An exciting debut for Shawn Harris as author/illustrator. With their changing perspective and focus, his colour pencil illustrations are mesmerising, the playful narrative rich in metaphor with occasional alliteration and assonance. Who can resist its urgent intensity?

Beautiful Day! / Take Off Your Brave

Beautiful Day!
Rodoula Pappa and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Cameron Kids

In the company of a small child we experience the seasons’ riches through a sequence of twenty haiku-like poems. Rodoula Pappa’s words are as if spoken by said child, whose activities we follow starting with Spring: ’Beautiful day! / Teach me, too, how to fly, / mother swallow.’ are illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned scenes beautifully crafted as if from Japanese washi paper. 

There’s much to enjoy no matter the season: Summer offers lush peaches, somnolent-sounding music and ‘Among the reeds, / a new galaxy – / fireflies.’ as well as days by the sea.

Come autumn there’s an abundance of busy chipmunks and dahlias bloom prolifically and its time for the wild geese to travel. 

With winter soft snow falls and there are preparations for Christmas, while ‘In the rock’s crack, / deep green, full of light – / winter blossom.’

There’s a feeling of serenity about the entire book; it’s as though the words are asking us to slow down, stand and stare, imbibing the beauty of the natural world so wonderfully depicted, no matter what time of year.

What a lovely starting point for children’s own seasonal reflections this book would make in a primary classroom.

Take Off Your Brave
Nadim, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books

The Russian writer, storyteller and poet Kornei Chukovsky talked of young children as ‘linguistic geniuses’ playful and creative users of language and this book of poems by four year old, Nadim is a wonderful demonstration of this.

Responding to prompts from his mother, with the initial guidance of poetry teacher, Kate Clanchy (who has written an insightful foreword to this book) the little boy shared his thoughts about a variety of things from his feelings on returning home from nursery school, his best friend,

his mum, doing something scary, his wish. To read each of these is to share in something of how a four or five year old sees the world (something that I as a nursery and reception teacher for many years particularly enjoy); there’s no attempt at emulating adult poetry, rather, this is a child’s voice capturing those moments of happiness, joy, love, loneliness, peacefulness, togetherness, hopes, fears and dreams.

‘You always have sad moments / Happy moments / Nice moments / Angry moments // And when you smush those moments together / They make a great feeling / Called: / ABRACADABRADOCUOUS.’

And rest assured everyone has indestructible love to share for ‘Baddies love their baddie friends / Even very baddie ones. // Nothing can make love disappear / Not spells / Not magic / Not mermaids / Not anything. … ‘

Accompanied by Yasmeen Ismail’s illustrations – who better to capture young children being themselves – this is a lovely demonstration that poetry is for everybody.

Pinkie and Boo!

I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for super Indie publisher Little Door Books’ latest picture book, about a new sibling in the family written by award-winning author of the So You Think You’ve Got it Bad series, Chae Strathie and illustrated by Francis Martin.

Pinkie and Boo!
Chae Strathie and Francis Martin
Little Door Books

When Pinkie learns that she’s soon to become a big sister, she’s far from happy, envisioning such disasters as getting carried off by evil seagulls or being turned into a stinky rat on account of – horror of horrors – a baby. And, on seeing the infant she’s even less impressed by such a strange looking, whiffy being.

Dad tries pacifying Pinkie with the present of a cuddly toy monkey. She names him Boo, noisily introduces him to the baby displeasing her parents who banish her to the garden.

There, Pinkie shares with Boo her concerns about her place as smallest in the family having been usurped by the new arrival, and her fears of being overlooked. Boo comes up with some ‘SUPER-BRILLIANT’ ideas but the results — plucked flowers for dad, a chaotic messy kitchen and misplaced crayon creativity, are anything but super- brilliant so far as the recipients are concerned.

Fortunately Pinkie has help clearing up what she deems ‘Boo’s fault’. But then while she’s having some thinking time in her room, Boo has another of his flashes of inspiration.

Can plan B work the wonders both Pinkie and Boo are hoping for?

Chae and Francis’ portrayal of Pinkie’s feelings of uncertainty about her place in the family, and the way she reacts, are spot on. Their spirited little girl with her wild imagination and don’t mess with me attitude is simply adorable.

Fantastically funny, full of chaos, mess and mayhem and most important, a whole lot of love, even if it does take some time to understand that sharing dad and mum isn’t as terrible as Pinkie anticipated.

I love everything about this book and I’m sure its target audience will too.

Charlie Chooses / The Truth About Babies

Charlie Chooses
Lou Peacock and Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

Charlie is an anxious, indecisive little boy unable to make decisions about such small things as light on or light off at bedtime, and what ice-cream to have, wearing spotty pants or stripy ones, which would often result in going without.

So when it comes to choosing what he wants for his birthday, he really is faced with a problem. Lou presents these difficulties uncritically even this biggie, merely allowing Nicola’s illustrations to do much of the talking to young audiences.

We see a downcast Charlie emerging from the library having consulted the ‘perfect present’ book, then suddenly and unexpectedly being offered that hitherto illusive idea – a rescue dog.

Off he goes but uh-oh! At the rescue centre he’s faced with yet another choice and a very difficult one

so Charlie leaves the centre sans pooch but then …

One determined little canine supplies the perfect ending to this story and Charlie ends up with just the right companion to help soothe those choosing-worries henceforward. But what about a name? Maybe …

Most certainly this delightful book is one I would choose to share with little ones, be that one-to-one or as a class.

The Truth About Babies
Elina Ellis
Two Hoots

A small child narrator talks of the arrival of a new baby as his parents extol the virtues of babies in general.

These tiny beings are supposedly beautiful, fond of sleeping, they’re joyful little bundles, sweet smelling

gentle and delicate – perfect angels no less. Or are they?

Now comes the big reveal from our older sibling who nonetheless considers one particular newcomer to the family monstrously, irresistibly lovable …

There’s a touch of Tim Archbold about Elina Ellis’ comical illustrations of a family with a new baby and what that really means rather than what her text says.

Great fun to share and discuss whether or not listeners have experienced (or are about to) a new addition the family.

The Dodos Did It!

The Dodos Did It!
Alice McKinley
Simon & Schuster

Jack is obsessed with dodos. A dodo is what he wants more than anything else in the whole world so he makes a wish.
Almost unbelievably … 

Not content with just the one dodo however, the boy keeps on wishing until one has become ten. including a spectacle wearer. The huge fun they provide quickly turns to chaos 

and not surprisingly, two decidedly displeased parents . Jack tells them the mess was made not by him but the dodos, though unsurprisingly Mum doesn’t believe a single word.

The creatures then create havoc at the swimming pool, the playground, the cafe and in the library and the supermarket, 

all the while his mum and dad insisting “Dodos don’t exist” when Jack blames the mayhem on the creatures.

After a whole day of dodo disasters Jack is sent to his room where he makes another wish … Oops!
Jack, you really should choose your words more carefully when you make a wish.

This story will certainly provide giggles aplenty for little ones, but what amused me more than anything else was to see on the title page that Alice McKinley has assigned a name to each of the clutch of mischief-makers, but you’ll have to get your own copy of this romp to find out what they are.

The Little Pirate Queen

The Little Pirate Queen
Sally Anne Garland
New Frontier Publishing

Meet young Lucy who makes a weekly voyage on her rickety raft in search of Far Away Land, a place where nobody before has ever set foot.

Over the weeks her raft has become increasingly dilapidated, despite her efforts at repairing the damage; but nonetheless, Lucy’s sailing skills have improved. Even so her craft is no match for the speed of the other children’s boats and that makes her a little downcast. To lift her spirits, she imagines herself a brave ‘Pirate Queen’ which helps, but only sometimes.

One morning a strong wind blows up and an enormous wave leaves Lucy lost and alone on stormy waters.

Alone that is until she spies four other children clutching pieces of wood and rope, desperately trying to keep afloat. Lucy succeeds in hauling them aboard her frail raft

and proceeds to give them lessons in rowing and sail repairs. Come nightfall they’re all able to enjoy Lucy’s tales and songs of lost treasure and pirates.

But will they ever reach that Far Away Island? …

An enjoyable tale of a resilient adventurer, with themes of resourcefulness, empowerment, friendship and more. Young would-be voyagers around the age of Lucy especially, will love this, particularly those wonderful dramatic seascapes.

Swim, Shark, Swim!

Swim, Shark, Swim!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou
Graffeg

In the second of this Wild Wanderers series we join Shark – a blacktip reef shark – in an exploration that takes him on a long, long journey through the oceans of the world searching for a home. Seemingly it’s an almost circular swim that starts and finishes in the waters around Australia.

On his journey he encounters all manner of marine creatures including penguins and a tiger shark off the southern Cape of Africa,

and an angel shark in European waters.

There are blue sharks, octopus and squid in North American waters while off South America lurk Hammerheads. In the Pacific he sees dolphins, humans and in the kelp forest a Great White shark. Off the coast of Hawaii manta rays and green sea turtles dive and dance; 

then finally there is the Great Barrier Reef and a host of other blacktip sharks all of which help the reef in its struggle to survive.

Totally mesmeric is Dom Conlon’s poetry of motion, which cleverly weaves a sub-aquatic non-fiction story that is ideal for sharing with children either in KS1 or KS2. Anastasia Izlesou’s visual images too, transport readers and listeners to an underwater world of wondrous richness and beauty.

As well as the factual information contained in Shark’s odyssey there is a map tracing his path and a double spread of facts about sharks and the other marine animals.

Omar, the Bees and Me

Omar, the Bees and Me
Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle
Owlet Press

One of my favourite weekend walks takes me past a goat willow or pussy willow tree that my partner and I call ‘the buzzing tree’. In spring it’s alive with bees and you can hear them busily working long before you reach the tree. You can almost hear a similar buzz emanating from the cover of this new picture book.

Said buzz is set in motion when newcomer Omar takes a slice of his mum’s special honey cake into school for show and tell. He talks of how once upon a time back in Syria his grandpa who grew apricot trees and jasmine, was a keeper of bees.

This sets teacher Mr Ellory-Jones thinking and before long the members of his class have decorated the entire corridor outside their classroom with paper jasmine flowers and the children are pretending to be buzzy bees. He also tells his pupils about the importance of bees and of growing bee-friendly flowers for them to feed on. The children’s questions prompt further explanation and during playtime, having observed the greyness of her surroundings, Maisie (the story’s narrator) comes up with a wonderful idea. “We should make a REAL bee corridor … All the way from our school to the park next to my grandad’s garden. He’s got a beehive!”

With the backing of their teacher, the class order packets of wildflower seeds. Seeds they sprinkle into envelopes with growing instructions, requesting recipients to put the pots on their windowsills.

Next day operation delivery is carried out and then the waiting starts.
When spring finally arrives, there’s evidence that people have done as asked …

and by the time summer comes two good things have happened. Maisie and Omar have become best friends and there are wild flowers in abundance stretching from school to park. Grandad too is thrilled to have an abundance of bees in his garden.

A new school year starts and now it’s Maisie’s turn to talk at show and tell: her chosen object – a jar of honey from her grandad’s bees. Hurrah! Can you guess what Omar brings into school to share the following day … (There’s even a recipe included).

With themes of sustainability, the environment, intergenerational relationships, and connectedness, this is a smashing book to introduce young children to the importance of protecting and enhancing the natural world, in particular our precious bees.

Katie Cottle’s inclusive, mixed media illustrations complement the story beautifully: she captures the mood and feeling of the classroom, street and garden perfectly.

Can Bears Ski?

Can Bears Ski?
Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

Why does everyone keep asking “Can bears ski?” That’s the puzzle for the little bear narrator of this story.

Dad says it frequently, the kindly class teacher says it,

puzzled classmates say it, “Can Bears ski?”

One day after school Dad takes his little cub to visit an ‘au-di-ol-o-gist’ She does lots of tests and she too asks that same question …

The audiogram shows little bear has hearing loss.

Eventually several weeks and more tests later she prescribes hearing therapy and lip-reading classes. She also gives little bear a pair of ‘plastic ears called hearing aids.’.

These enable the cub to realise what everyone has been asking all along. “Whoa … Is life this loud?!”
All the noise now means that our narrator feels tired sometimes and out come the hearing aids. The library was a place of peace pre hearing aids; perhaps it will be still; and a bedtime story is certainly on the agenda with Dad taking care to speak clearly and look directly at his little one.

And what about answering that titular question? What do you think?

The book’s author, poet and educator Raymond Antrobus, is himself deaf and this, his debut picture book draws on his personal experience, demonstrating how a small deaf child can feel frustrated and isolated in a hearing world. The illustrator Polly Dunbar also brings her own experience of partial deafness to her scenes of the hugely likeable protagonist attempting to cope with a plethora of sensory challenges – shaking bannisters and wobbling pictures, a ground shaking classroom floor for instance..

The resulting collaboration is a hugely compassionate book wherein Dad’s love is evident throughout. (This is just one individual’s experience of being deaf so there’s no mention of BSL or any form of signing.)

A thoughtful story to share in foundation stage settings and families whether or not these include a young one with hearing loss.

A Poem for Every Winter Day

A Poem for Every Winter Day
edited by Allie Esiri
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’m still relishing my daily reading of A Poem for Every Autumn Day as I start writing this review of Allie Esiri’s latest selection, the first month of which is December. The riches herein take us through, with two offerings per day, to the end of February, by which time one hopes, we’ll have a spring selection.

As in the previous book, Allie prefaces each of her selected poems with a brief introductory, background paragraph linking it to the date on which it appears.

You’ll surely find some of your favourites and take delight in making some new discoveries too: I was excited to find a fair few that were new to me and lots of familiar ones both traditional and new, from Coleridge to Wendy Cope and Robert Louis Stevenson to Benjamin Zephaniah.

Ist December remembers and celebrates Rosa Parks and all she stood for, with a poem by Joseph Coelho, and another by Jan Dean, both superb; also on the theme of Black American experience is Maya Angelou’s very powerful Still I Rise that follows straight after.

Wearing my teacher hat, I was enormously moved especially to discover spoken word artist, George Mpanga’s (aka George the Poet) The Ends of the Earth. It begins ‘A child is not a portion of an adult. It’s not a partial being. /A child is an absolute person, / An entire life.’ And concludes ‘Go to the ends of the Earth, for children.’ Equally moving and as pertinent now as when W. H. Auden wrote it in 1939 is Refugee Blues chosen here for 10th December which is Human Rights Day.

Inevitably snow features several times: there’s Brian Patten’s Remembering Snow that talks of the transformative effect on a little residential street and Snow in the Suburbswherein Thomas Hardy highlights its effects on animals. Then as expected there are a number of poems celebrating aspects of Christmas both secular and religious.

Strangely, three consecutive early January choices, Sara Coleridge’s The Months, A.A. Milne’s Lines Written by a Bear of Very Little Brain and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost) are poems I’ve learned by heart and can still recite – the first at primary school, the second at around the same age, at home, and the third at the beginning of secondary school.

What more uplifting way than Edward Thomas’ Thaw to look forward to the coming of Spring: ‘ Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed / The speculating rooks at their nests cawed / And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass, / What we below could not see, Winter pass.’

This superb seasonal celebration is an ideal companion for dark chilly evenings and bright days too, to read alone and to share with the family.

Molly and the Lighthouse

Molly and the Lighthouse
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

This is the fourth title in the splendid series featuring young island dweller Molly.

One night she wakes up and realises that something is very wrong: the lighthouse has stopped working, the harbour and sea are in darkness and the fishing boat aboard which both her own father and her best friend Dylan’s, is out at sea. Worse still a storm is raging: how will the boat find its way safely back to the harbour without a guiding light? One night she wakes up and realises that something is very wrong: the lighthouse has stopped working, the harbour and sea are in darkness and the fishing boat aboard which both her own father and her best friend Dylan’s, is out at sea. Worse still a storm is raging: how will the boat find its way safely back to the harbour without a guiding light?

And what has happened to Old Jamesie, the lighthouse keeper – something must be wrong with him or he’d never have allowed the light to go out.

Having alerted her mother, who heads off to the harbour to make a fire to guide the boat safely home, Molly (plus her doll Megan) and Dylan set out to check on the old man in the lighthouse.

Full of dramatic excitement, this is a superbly told, heart-warming tale of teamwork, determination, the consideration of others and finally, heroism. Equally superb and in real harmony with the telling are Andrew Whitson’s illustrations. The drama and tension is heightened by his use of varying perspectives, textures and a changing colour palette.

A smashing book to share over and over, and for those interested in finding out some information about lighthouses, the inside cover contains 10 interesting facts about them.

Who Makes a Forest?

Who Makes a Forest?
Sally Nicholls and Carolina Rabei
Andersen Press

I received this lovely book the day after I’d spent a gorgeous (slightly damp) morning walking in a forest not far from my Gloucestershire home. I commented to my partner what an uplifting experience it was, (and always is) in stark contrast to all the pandemic doom and gloom in the media. Had I been out with youngsters I might well have asked them if they’d ever wondered how such a forest came into being: now I have an ideal starting point.

On the first page is posed the title question, followed by a number of possibilities, as two children, a male adult and a dog walk in a forest landscape.

How can something so vast and full of closely-growing trees and often, dense undergrowth have come into being? Could it have been created magically – by a giant perhaps? Or, as a large company enterprise? Or perhaps by other groups of humans?

It’s almost impossible to believe that something so huge was once very small but it’s true, as Sally’s effective story tells and Carolina Rabei’s beautiful illustrations show, demonstrating to children the entire process starting from bare, stony ground that becomes soil through the action and interaction of lichens, algae, moss,

and tiny insects causing a gradual fertilisation of the ground and eventual formation of soil.

Then come the first flowers, ferns and grasses,

the seeds and spores of which spread, becoming more flowers that attract bees and insects that feed on them.

Growth and change continue through the years, the centuries until there’s a huge ecosystem that we call a forest.

As the story concludes we come full circle to the ‘who made’ question and then read, “No. / It was the seeds / and the bees and the / roots of the trees. / It was a thousand / thousand tiny things. // And together they changed the face of the earth.’ A fitting finale to an inspiring story.

Not quite the end of the book though for the final five pages provide interesting facts about forests in various parts of the world and a last word about making a difference that relates to deforestation.

Whether for home bookshelves or school classroom collections, I strongly recommend this book.

Kitty and the Great Lantern Race / Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit

The welcome return of favourite characters in two series from Oxford University Press

Kitty and the Great Lantern Race
Paula Harrison and Jenny Lovlie

At the annual lantern festival young Kitty, superhero in training, returns in a fifth adventure, ready to enchant young solo readers with her nocturnal catlike superpower.

Kitty is pleased with the lantern she’s created for Hallam City’s Festival of Light but as the parade is just beginning, a mysterious burglar is at work among the crowds. Having spied a shadowy figure, Kitty knows that she’s going to have to call on her feline superpower as she turns investigator.

Now her mission is to prevent the festival being spoiled and without the assistance of her firework fearing cat crew, she must summon all her superhero skills and bravery to chase the fast-moving thief.

As always Paula’s words and cast of cracking characters, combined with the plethora of Jenny’s arresting two-coloured illustrations are a delight. This tale of friendship, family, building self-confidence and being brave is an ideal read for Kitty’s countless established followers, as well as others just starting out on chapter books.

Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit
Philip Reeve illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

There’s a crisis in Bumbleford. For a whole week, somebody has been slowly but surely stealing the town’s entire stock of biscuits. Make that two crises for now Roly-Poly Flying pony Kevin, stands accused of the crime of stealing said biscuits – all the evidence seems to point in his direction – despite his not remembering eating the biscuits, which he surely would have, fig rolls and all.

The only ones left anywhere (and that’s in the next town), are some speciality Sprout Squashies, good for you but tasting disgusting and fart-inducing, especially when sampled by a certain RPF pony.

To avoid arrest, and hence removal from Max and family, poor Kevin is forced to go on the run – or rather the wing – from the local police constabulary. With Kevin already being dubbed as the Biscuit Bandit, it’s the Horse Prison for him unless Max and Kevin’s friends can help find clues to clear his name.

The search is on: can they unearth the real culprit (not forgetting the biscuit stash) before the police track them down?

Once again team Philip and Sarah have created a hilarious and enthralling adventure – a whodunnit – with its wealth of wordplays and asides, ensuring that readers giggle their way right through to the final reveal.

Never let it be said that Sprout Squashies don’t have their uses.

Great Lives: Martin Luther King JR, Anne Frank, Stephen Hawking & Cleopatra

Martin Luther King JR
Anne Frank
Stephen Hawking
Cleopatra

Button Books

These are four titles in the publisher’s new infographic biography series Great Lives in Graphics aimed primarily at older KS2 school readers.

Whether their interest is in human and civil rights, the holocaust in the German -occupied Netherlands as a member of the Frank family desperately trying to avoid being detected by the Gestapo; an awesome scientist and cosmologist who refused to let his ALS diagnosis hold him back; or, the woman in ancient Egypt who first married her brother, became a wise political figure and writer of books on medicine and science, going on to make a famous match with Antony,

then one of these will definitely be worth seeking out and putting their way.

Martin Luther King’s story is one that, despite his awesome achievements, and his “I have a dream” speech “… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”, which inspired America to end segregation, the world changing, peaceful protests he used in overcoming enormous obstacles, is conveniently and sadly forgotten by a certain element of the population of the US today.

I had to laugh when I read that Anne Frank was dubbed a ‘chatterbox’ by some of her teachers in her Amsterdam school, something that I was also often called at school.

Each book has an introductory page of narrative, a timeline, details of family life and spreads detailing the subject’s key achievements; and each brings to life through its stylish, easily understood infographics, the person and the accomplishments of a memorable human being.

Well worth adding to primary school topic boxes and libraries.

The World Made a Rainbow

The World Made a Rainbow
Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What a gorgeous book this is, and it’s pitch perfect for children at the present time of continuing uncertainty when very little seems normal, and for youngsters a lot of what’s happening isn’t fully understood (and that’s only the children!)

Michelle and Emily’s story begins when everyone must stay at home and inevitably friends and relations are being missed – but only until ‘everything mends’ as the child narrator’s mum says unable to be more specific regarding time.

Meanwhile normal life is on hold but there are things that families can do and this one, like so many others during this 6 months of pandemic, have to carry on somehow, some way. And one way is to make a rainbow – that symbol of hope that so many of us have been displaying.

But mum has to work, so it’s down to dad to look after a little brother (‘who’s going berserk’) with the result that our narrator has to be extra creative.

As she works on her rainbow (aided by dad when he’s free ) the little girl finds each new colour stirs a memory or acts as a reminder of something

or somebody.

Eventually her creation is a truly special piece of art and one that she’s happy to put on display in her window so that everyone can enjoy it. And yes, things aren’t perfect but in the meantime there’s much she (and we) can be thankful for.

The story is so movingly and beautifully written and illustrated.

Thank you, Michelle and Emily and of course Bloomsbury Children’s Books for this touching, heartfelt book.

Yes, it’s one for now, but not just for now: it will surely act as a reminder to reflect on in the future, of that time in 2020 when, with ever more new challenges, we all pulled together as communities, showing what the mum in the book said, “All rainstorms must end, and this rainstorm will, too.”  As the little girl says in conclusion, “And we’ll still have each other when this rainstorm ends.’

(A percentage of the proceeds of sales will be donated to The Save the Children Fund.)

A Robot Ate My Grandma / Level Up! Last One Standing

A Robot Ate My Grandma
Dave Cousins, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri
Little Tiger

This is the third in the series about twins Jake and Jess and their babysitter robot, Robin.

Now in addition to minding the children, Robin has a new job – or rather two: he’s in charge of the lighting for the school play (a musical version of Little Red Riding Hood) and also acting as the narrator of same.

But then the robot starts mal-functioning time and again and the only person who can fix him is his creator, the twins’ STEM expert Grandma. The trouble is she’s gone AWOL and in her place is – can you believe – a robot, albeit an excellent Grandma look-alike.

Mum assures them Grandma has merely gone on holiday so it’s down to the twins to sort things out.

Then they discover someone in her garage workshop and having inadvertently shot the old person, it turns out that she’s none other than Granny Andersen, the twins’ great grandmother accompanied by her ferret, Wee Freddie.

Now there’s a semblance of a team,

but can they discover what’s really happened to Granny, and if necessary, pull off a rescue?

There’s plenty to keep newly independent readers turning the pages of this zany story, not least being the introduction of a new character, Granny Andersen. There are also lots of laughs, a fair few tense moments and terrific illustrations by Catalina Echeverri breaking up the text and adding additional humour and drama to the telling.

Level Up! Last One Standing
Tom Nicoll, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
Little Tiger

Video-game obsessed best friends Flo (narrator) and Max are stuck inside a video game series. As this book opens, one minute they’re in a plane flying over Last to Leave terrain and the next they are parachuting (just) down to land in the middle of the village square. Game on.

Before long they find themselves face to face with an old adversary, Rhett Hodges, commonly known as Hodges claiming he wants to team up with them. But can he be trusted?

Time’s running out so should they take a chance on his offer?Seemingly it’s their one chance and Flo’s Mum needs saving. Determined to make it to the end and get back home, they get into a speedboat with Hodges and away they go.

Fast and furious is the action and with so much at stake in the toughest battle ever, readers will be on the edge of their seats right to the very end. There are plenty of Anjan Sarkar’s black and white illustrations to add to the dramatic atmosphere throughout.

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.