Toby and the Tricky Things

Toby and the Tricky Things
Lou Peacock and Christine Pym
Nosy Crow

If the consequence of young Toby’s burgeoning independence – able to pour his own milk, read his own bedtime stories and reach the snacks intended “just for mummies” – means bothersome breakfast,

‘Bad Buttons’, for an entire day, ‘Wrong Wellies’ likewise and even worse, problematic pants and loopy loo paper, then Mummy Elephant’s Big Boy isn’t happy.

Even when he’s managed to get her attention for two minutes on account of the bathroom disaster, Baby Iris is demanding that attention YET AGAIN! Hmmm!

If that’s how it’s to be, then Toby is off on his own Big Boy’s adventure.

Suitcase packed with potentially useful toys, garden door successfully opened, stairs down duly descended, he’s off flying solo on the swing.

Soon though hunger pangs strike and a sudden downpour dampens his spirits (and those Toys That Might Be Useful aren’t at all so), then who should be there, just at the right moment with words of comfort and encouragement but his very own Mummy Elephant.

Yes, there will still be occasions when sharing a Mummy will be the trickiest of all things but now Toby knows that however big he gets, he will always be her baby.

Lou Peacock’s gently humorous tale looks at one of those bothersome situations that many older siblings have to contend with, doing so in a reassuring warm-hearted manner that will surely resonate with adults and children alike.

Samuel and Ruby absorbed in the story

The Elephant family as portrayed by Christine Pym is absolutely enchanting. She captures the changing feelings of Toby wonderfully and Mum’s love of her offspring shines out despite her obvious dilemma of being torn between two little ones. “Hey, I know that story,” one of my listeners said of the book being shared by the three characters on the back cover.

Gecko’s Echo / Monster Baby

Gecko’s Echo
Lucy Rowland and Natasha Rimmington
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The lengths a soon-to-be mother goes to in order to protect her eggs is hilariously demonstrated in this delicious rhyming tale by debut author, Lucy Rowland. Meet brave Mummy Gecko who stands up to the threats of Snakey,

and Eagle (later in the day) with warnings about “a hundred angry geckos”.
Come the evening, a very nasty-looking, ravenous rat appears, also with designs on the eggs; he though is less easily convinced. His response to Gecko’s, “If you’re staying I can show you … I hope you’re feeling brave.

is met with a spot of lip licking and “Why, yes I’m staying Gecko, / and I’m having eggs for tea./ A hundred geckos living here?!/ I don’t believe it’s true. … /I’m quite sure it’s only you.
Whereupon the wily Mrs G. lets forth an enormous “RAAAAH!” and back come those hundred voices …
Guess who beats a rather hasty retreat, leaving one echoing gecko to have the last laugh. The last laugh maybe, but not the peaceful evening she’d anticipated for, with a wibble and a wobble, what should appear but …

A real winner of a book with plenty of opportunities for audience participation, laughs galore and superbly expressive illustrations by Natasha Rimmington. Her wily animal characters are absolutely wonderful.

Monster Baby
Sarah Dyer
Otter-Barry Books
A topic that has been the theme of numerous picture books already is given a cute narrator herein.
Little Monster is none too thrilled at the prospect of an even littler monster; neither is Scamp, the family pet. Even before the newcomer arrives though, it’s presence is being felt: rest and healthy food are on the agenda and not only for Mum. The expectant monster needs a great deal of rest, which may account in part for her increase in girth, and certainly gets in the way of carrying the young narrator. He’s far from impressed with the scan either:

a wiggly worm is how it appears to Little Monster, but probably because Mum has several months to go yet: even so it’s capable of hearing apparently.
When the big day finally comes around, Granny comes to stay and Dad takes Mum Monster to hospital; the baby is duly delivered and Little Monster becomes a ‘BIG’ one according to his dad.
Having Mum and baby back home gives rise to mixed feelings on the narrator’s part: it’s great to have Mum around; but that noise-making babe is going to take a fair bit of getting used to. The inevitable feelings of being left out soon give way to accommodation and thereafter, the beginnings of a bond of brotherly love starts to form …

Sarah Dyer’s Little Monster is adorable: his account of the weeks leading up to, and just after, the arrival of his new sibling will be enjoyed not only by those in a similar situation, but also general early years audiences, whether this is shared at home or pre-school.

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Little Owl’s Egg

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Little Owl’s Egg
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby Owl’s response to Mummy Owl’s announcement that the egg she’s just laid will become a new baby owl is anything but positive. “I’m your baby owl. You don’t need a new one,” he insists.
As they take a walk together wise Mummy Owl plays a ‘suppose that’ game with Little Owl, suggesting the egg might hatch into a worm,

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a penguin, a crocodile even; or could it perhaps be made of chocolate.

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Little Owl ponders all these possibilities rejecting each: he, although definitely not his  mother – is more in favour of a dragon egg.

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In fact though, it seems he’s becoming rather fond of the egg; something special must be inside he decides, something like a baby “Princess Wormy Choco-Penguin Crocophant Dragowl.” – something that will need a very strange diet.
On the other hand it might after all be better, if what emerged from that egg of theirs should turn out to be a brand new Little Owl, because that would make the present one something even more special – a new Big Owl and that could never change, no matter what.
Tenderly told, this gently humorous story goes to the heart of what many young children fear when a new sibling is on the horizon: that their mother’s love will be transferred away from them to the new arrival. Mummy Owl and Little Owl as portrayed by Alison Brown are totally endearing characters and she captures the inherent humour of Debi Gliori’s narrative beautifully in every scene.
This is just the thing to have on hand when a new sibling is imminent but it’s too much fun to restrict just to such an occasion. I’d share it with a nursery group or class no matter what.

Wolfie the Bunny

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Wolfie The Bunny
Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora
Andersen Press
As the story opens we find the Bunny family outside their apartment where they discover a wolf cub on the front door step. The Bunny parents are delighted: “He’s going to eat is all up!” warns daughter Dot.
The following morning while Mama feeds it a breakfast of carrots, Papa is busy photographing the newcomer; but young Dot sticks to her assertion about them being his preferred repast, and when her friends come to visit they are of the same opinion.

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Dot decides to go and play at her friend’s house leaving Wolfie, who unbeknown to her, cries. On her return, while the parents continue drooling over the rapidly growing, carrot-scoffing Wolfie, he shadows her every move, even to the shops …

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At this point it does begin to look as though young Dot might after all be correct in her assertion; but it’s not her that Wolfie has his eyes on. There’s something very large there and his dinner of choice is not Dot but Wolfie himself.
Time to make a hasty escape Dot? Errm actually, not. Instead the young miss stands up for, and fiercely defends her (adopted) family member,

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showing the large bear that she really does mean business of the consuming kind and off he dashes but then …

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Is that the end after all ??
Actually, fortunately for Dot, this is a totally tongue-in-cheek kind of tale where all ends, let’s say, rather satisfactorily. OHora’s illustrations rendered in bold acrylics in a fairly restricted range of colours (grey, reds, green and gold) heighten the dramatic impact of the deliciously droll telling.
I love the way readers are kept wondering right up to the very last page; love the ever-scowling Dot and the immediately endearing Wolfie, love the whole thing in fact. It’s a cracking good read aloud whether you choose to share it with a class, a group or one to one; and definitely, a fresh take on a new sibling.

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War or Peace? Ninja Baby/Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles

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Ninja Baby
David Zeltser and Diane Goode
Chronicle Books
An original take on a new sibling is offered in this hilarious book written in a wonderfully wry manner. Born a ninja for sure, Nina immediately shows her nature by karate chopping the doctor in return for her ‘make sure she’s breathing thump on the behind’.

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We then follow her path as she masters the sneak attack, hand-to-hand combat, obliteration, even advanced infiltration:

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total independence no less. Life is, one might say, pretty peachy for young Nina until that is, the arrival of a new prodigy: a veritable Kung Fu Master.

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In no time at all, this creature has wormed his way into his parents’ affections by doing nothing other than being utterly adorable. Guess who is far from happy.

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And seemingly young Nina has a few things to learn from the Master and vice-versa …

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Together they can become an indomitable force …

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I love the way the different, contrasting energies are portrayed in Diane Goode’s delectable watercolour and ink scenes: Fast moving, Ninja Nina’s success is her stealth. (That all out tantrum scene is sheer genius in its demonstration of the art of ninja.) Her placid, manipulative baby brother is altogether other. A total heart-stealer if ever there was one (or two!)

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Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books
The Green Lizards and the Red Rectangles wage war on one another as first one side – the GLs – is in the ascendant, and then the other, as tricky tactics from the RRs truly test the strength of the GLs.

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Until one Green Lizard has the audacity to question the whole thing.

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He however is firmly squashed and the battle then quickly reaches epic proportions …

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culminating in total exhaustion on both sides.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” declares a small Red Rectangle and indeed it is for the two sides then face one another for a truce.
And, finally they work together to construct a way of living in peace and harmony.

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Long may it continue …
Seemingly simple, this is a brilliantly clever, totally original fable of our time. It packs a powerful punch about peace (and the futility of war), delivering a message that one hopes young children will take on board and keep with them as they mature. Indeed the questions raised here in this allegorical story are equally relevant to older children and adults. I suggest teachers of children in KS2 and beyond share it with their classes too.

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Tricky Times with Albert and Whiffy Wilson

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Albert and Little Henry
Jez Alborough
Walker Books
There’s a touch of the Not Now Bernards about the latest Jez Alborough offering. It features young Albert who has a particular prowess for storytelling, regaling his parents with his flights of fancy.

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Until, one day there’s a new arrival in the family. “I can’t listen to a story now, … Little Henry needs his bath.” and “Not now, Albie, I’m trying to get Little Henry off to sleep,” is what he hears or “Why don’t you tell us a story later?” from his weary Dad and Mum.
When Albert does as he’s bid and goes to his room to wait for ‘later,’ a strange feeling comes upon him …

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Nobody notices his sudden lack of stature and at Little Henry’s celebration party it’s the same story.

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An angry Albert heads for his bedroom leaving others firmly on the opposite side of the door. Then Mum leaves a special present for him bearing three important words and after that things begin to change – for the better this time. Albert is restored to his former size and those creative juices start flowing once more…
Albert clearly shows how the arrival of a new brother or sister can make a child feel small and insecure. His woeful expressions and temper tantrum are beautifully visualized in Alborough’s adorable scenes or sibling jealousy.
For me, it doesn’t quite have the allure of Where’s My Teddy? and sequels but Albert is sure to find a place in the hearts of any family facing the potential emotional upheavals of a new baby.

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Whiffy Wilson The Wolf Who Wouldn’t Go To School
Caryl Hart and Leonie Lord
Orchard Books pbk
Whiffy Wilson is introduced to the delights of school when he reluctantly allows his friend and playmate, Dotty, to lead him by the paw to the door. From there though she has to use a little bit of force to get him into the reception class. Before long however, she has initiated him into the delights of painting, playdough, and mathematical activities; and then it’s time for lunch and a game of soccer. At this, Whiffy proves something of a star and makes some new friends too.

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The afternoon is spent in some co-operative model making – hard work despite Wilson’s comment, “All we’ve done so far is play!

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followed by storytime.
It’s a contented Wilson who accompanies Dotty home and next morning he’s up and ready for some more school delights but there’s a shock in store …
This hilarious rhyming story (it’s great to read aloud) went down really well with my audience of young children who have already discovered the delights of school. These ‘old-hands’ loved the visuals and immediately recognized the young wolf’s initial fears and laughed delightedly at the comic ending.

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