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.