Cavegirl / It’s Too Scary / Manju’s Magic Wishes

Cavegirl
Abie Longstaff and Shane Crampton
It’s Too Scary!
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Sharon Davey
Manju’s Magic Wishes
Chitra Soundar and Verónica Montoya
Bloomsbury Education

These are three recent additions to Bloomsbury Education’s Young Readers series, which aims to help children take that important step into independent reading.

Each book has been written by a popular author, has short chapters providing suitable stopping points and full colour illustrations that make each book look inviting.

Cavegirl Aggie is an independent, creative little girl with a warm heart and a mission: to get a very special birthday present for her mum. She learns that one of the villagers, Gron, has found a piece of amber that glows like the sun and is certain it’s the right gift. She sets about her task, making several trades and finally she has something she thinks Gron will trade for the amber. Gron agrees but then on the way home disaster strikes in the shape of a boar and the amber disappears before her eyes. But Abbie isn’t one to give up and the satisfying story ends happily.

It’s Too Scary! is the story of a visit to the fair. Mum takes Jun and his sister Lin but while she’s eager to try all the rides, Jun who’s first visit to a fair this is, is fearful and wants to avoid anything scary. Can Lin, help her little brother overcome his fear of those ‘big rides’ so that he too can enjoy all the fun of the fair and make his experience one he’ll want to repeat?

Chitra’s Manju’s Magic Wishes is slightly longer in terms of words and like Cavegirl, has a little girl who is eager to give her mum a wonderful birthday gift. The story has plenty of action and excitement and of course magic – there’s a magic lamp, a genie and seven wishes, and an enormously tasty finale. Manju and her cat, Cumin discuss mum’s birthday present and Cumin suddenly becomes excited, rushing into Grandma’s room. It’s there that they accidentally discover Grandma’s magic lamp and by recalling Gran’s instructions Manju is able to call up a genie. He grants them seven wishes – more than Manju is expecting. Those will surely be sufficient to conjure up something very special. However the task isn’t quite as simple as they anticipate; indeed Manju almost runs out of wishes before that ‘just right’ gift is ready and waiting.

For adults sharing them with children, the inside covers of all three books have helpful tips, discussion points and creative ideas to extend the stories.

Who’s Going to Bed? / Somewhere Out There, Right Now

Who’s Going to Bed?
Abie Longstaff and Eve Coy
Puffin Books

‘The stars are out, / the moon is bright’; that means it’s bedtime for the pirates on the high seas, most of the animals in the jungle, the teddy bears in their cottage, the king and queen and their family of young knights.

There’s one mischievous baby though, who embarks on a very noisy adventure. His music making meandering arouses all those would-be slumberers,

who with the infant playing a kind of pied piper role are led a merry dance all the way to the beach where they come upon …

The trouble is, she’s an extremely tired little dragon and wants nothing more than to be allowed some peace and quiet so she can snuggle down for the night.

Now it’s time for that cheeky toddler to take control of the situation. With a single “SHHHH!” he sets in motion a concatenation of actions that see the baby dragon safely tucked up in her bed.

The efforts of his helpers however have brought on a desire for sleep in all the revellers, not least the instigator of the fun; and so finally the little babe is transported all the way home …

to bed. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

An enchantingly playful bedtime story told through Abie’s carefully measured text and Eve’s moonlit scenes of the nocturnal high jinks. I love her colour palette and the way she brings out the inherent gentle humour of a tale that’s a terrific one to share with little ones before bed. (I suggest any musical instruments are tucked right away first though – just in case …)

Somewhere Out There, Right Now
Gemma Wells
Ragged Bears

This softly spoken picture book connects young listeners to the natural world outside while at the same time helping them to find calm within as they wind down for bedtime.

Somewhere in the darkness a monkey takes cover from the heavy rain, baby beetles are buried beneath the earth,

birds come in to roost, there’s a fox out in a city street – perhaps seeking shelter or food – and waves gently lap a moonlit beach; there are kittens snuggling up to their mother.

All these peaceful scenes help to induce a sense of inner calm as the body slows, safe in the knowledge that the beloved listener to the gentle narrative is in a safe, nurturing place and all is well.

Gemma Wells’ affinity for nature is reflected in her bold, digitally worked scenes of the animals, the adult and child looking outwards.

A lovely book for parents and carers to share with the very young just before bed.

Superhero Hotel / Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away

Superhero Hotel
Abie Longstaff and Migy Blanco
Scholastic
Have you heard about the exclusive, top-secret hotel atop a hill that’s the number one destination for any superhero in need of a spot of rest and relaxation?
It’s ably managed by young Joe Malone who knows exactly what each of his special guests most needs to restore them to peak form, which is just as well for he suddenly gets an influx of superheroes.
First comes Captain Power in need of a strength recharge. He’s followed by Gadget Girl, Ice Woman (with a sore thumb), The Flame, whose boots need attention, and last of all, Mr Invisible who slips in unnoticed, except by Joe.
Being superheroes though, it’s not long before they’re back to their former energetic selves and raring to go.
Joe meanwhile decides to do some gardening but the by now, bored superheroes cannot resist joining him and are soon at work making their own improvements to the garden.
Before you can say ‘be careful’ Captain Power has tripped over Mr Invisible,

accidentally precipitating a catastrophic chain of events.
Can the combined skills of the superheroes save Superhero Hotel from disaster?

Abie Longstaff’s fast moving tale with its crazy happenings, teamwork and a wealth of superheroes with their unique and diverse attributes provides Migy Blanco plenty of scope to employ his illustrative imagination; his arresting style will certainly engage young would-be superheroes.

Winnie and Wilbur Up, Up and Away
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper edition containing three stories, all featuring flying machines, is a great way to catch up if, like me you’ve missed some of the individual Winnie and Wilbur picture books.
In the first, Winnie and Wilbur: The Broomstick Ride, Winnie tries various other forms of locomotion after a series of accidents while cruising on her broomstick, only to discover that the solution to preventing further mishaps (especially to Wilbur who seemed to come off worst in all the aeronautical disasters), lies not in alternative forms of transport,

but in something altogether different; something that will improve Winnie’s eyesight.
A flying carpet is the subject in the second story wherein we find Winnie, conscientious witch that she is, busy writing thank-you letters for her birthday presents. There’s one letter left to do and it’s proving especially tricky as her much wanted gift of a flying carpet had turned out to be an absolute disaster.
Can she find a way to use the thing so that she has something positive to say about it? Let’s just say it’s surprising how many alternative uses a single item can be put to …
The final tale sees Winnie off to stock up on her favourite vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially her very favourite – pumpkins. These weekly trips leave much to be desired though and so Winnie decides to grow her own at home instead –

with Wilbur’s help of course; and the odd touch of magic to speed up the process.
And speed it up is exactly what her wand waving does, so much so that very soon her whole house is surrounded by a veritable veggie jungle full of enormous, produce including enough pumpkins – Winnie’s favourite – sufficient to feed not only herself and Wilbur but the whole neighbourhood . What though should she do with a gigantic pumpkin shell? Think propellers; think a highly convenient means of travelling to market …
As with all Winnie books, the stories are terrific fun, but it’s their combination with Korky Paul’s hilarious, highly detailed illustrations that make this series such perennial favourites. (You might even find the odd character from another of his books has dropped in.)

I’ve signed the charter  

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma / The Fairytale Hairdresser and Aladdin

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma
Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer
Five Quills
There’s a new independent publisher – Five Quills – on the block, with a new series introducing Sky, a young detective and resident of Fairytale Town. She has a cupcake making business that doubles up as a detective agency and a canine assistant called Snuffle.
In this tale we meet her as she’s busy with an order for her ‘Just-in-case Cupcakes’ when she receives an emergency call from Little Red Riding Hood reporting the absence of her gran. Before you can say cupcakes are us, Sky has gathered her necessary accoutrements, and is off on her scooter, on a rescue- grandma mission.
Aided and abetted by her Map Nav, she quickly locates Granny’s house and is greeted by a fraught-looking Red Riding Hood. Once inside though, it quickly becomes apparent that far from becoming the Big Bad Wolf’s breakfast, Granny has decided to take a vacation. Seemingly though, once the two set off in pursuit, it appears that she might have been followed: that’s certainly what the evidence attached to a bush suggests.
Lo and behold, when they arrive at Fairytale beach whom should they spy through Sky’s trioculars but …

And it looks as though that lupine character might have designs on Granny after all. Time to don some disguises, Sky decides. Can she get them all out of a very sticky situation with a spot of ‘Carrycake Kit, Bake it Better!’; not to mention a few deft moves with a wooden spoon …

and the odd Just-in-Time Cupcake?
The tale’s telling is terrific fun and with illustrations by rising star, Loretta Schauer, that are full of hilarious details, this series looks set to be a winner. There’s even a cupcake recipe at the back of the book.

The Fairytale Hairdresser and Aladdin
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi
When Kittie Lacey closes her shop and heads off for a vacation courtesy of Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Tours,

she’s hoping for a bit of rest and relaxation but almost immediately on arrival, she realises that is not to be.
First, she has to help Aladdin, with a very low budget, find a very special present for Princess Jamelia. The following day however, Aladdin is nowhere to be found. A search takes Kittie out into the desert where she discovers he’s been duped by the wicked Ibeneeza and is trapped underground. Worse still, the plan is to force Jamelia into marrying the trickster. It’s up to Kittie and Aladdin – once she’s rescued him – to use their wits and all their resources to put a stop to the evil intentions of Ibneeza. Can they do it? Perhaps with the help of the dusty old lamp that Aladdin has discovered in the cave where he was imprisoned.

Kittie is a determined character and likely to have one or two ideas up her sleeve – or in her bag …
Kittie Lacey has a band of enthusiastic young followers already; I’m sure this latest adventure will win her more, as well as delighting her established readership.

I’ve signed the charter  

Operation Bunny / Tally & Squill in a Sticky Situation

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Operation Bunny
Sally Gardner illustrated by David Roberts
Orion Children’s Books
Meet young Emily Vole, nine years old and, having been left abandoned in a hatbox believed to be ‘an explosive device’ at Stansted Airport, adopted by the Dashwoods, who subsequently had their own triplets. Emily is then relegated to the status of a servant and made to sleep on an ironing board in the laundry room. Fortunately for Emily however, kindly neighbour Miss String (a sort of fairy godmother figure) and her huge talking cat, Fidget, step in:

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(I was greatly amused to discover that Fidget liked nothing better than’ ironing while listening to cricket on the radio.’) and within a year, Emily has learned to read, write, do maths and speak both German and French, not to mention Old English. Not only that but her new friends introduce her to a whole new exciting life in a world of magic and danger, a world she’d never even dreamed about. But it’s Emily herself who inadvertently does something that results in her becoming the new Keeper of the Keys.
Subsequently Emily inherits a shop and, aided and abetted by Fidget and a pair of detectives, Buster – a grumpy individual, and James Cardwell – much more equable and sensible, turns detective herself and is determined to solve the mystery of Operation Bunny.
Sally Gardener’s writing style is delightfully quirky and contemporary: Mr Dashwood is a hedge fund manager and his wife has strawberry-blonde hair extensions and ‘trusted in her credit cards: silver, gold and platinum.’
This will make independent readers (not to mention adults) laugh out loud in places and David Roberts’ deliciously spiky illustrations are a real treat adding to the deliciousness of the whole experience. (That Harpella of his is enough to send shivers down your spine.)

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And, with Emily and her friends now running a detective agency, those who enjoy the slightly dark-edged humour in this can look forward to further cases of the magical kind.
The story would also make a great read aloud to share with those not yet confident to read it solo.

A servant girl is also the heroine of another new series, the first of which is:

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Tally & Squill In a Sticky Situation
Abie Longstaff illustrated by James Brown
Little Brown
This story features orphan and kitchen maid Tallulah (aka Tally) and her pet squirrel, Squill. Tally’s home is Mollett Manor, an old mansion; but she’s only to be found below stairs, so to speak in the scullery where she sleeps in a sink. However, Tally’s a very bright young thing and when she discovers first a plethora of spiders, some mysterious ancient carved cubes, an ancient tapestry and then a secret, magical library beneath the manor – a library wherein the books come to life, she’s in her element.
When Mollett Manor is burgled it offers a challenge to Tally who determines to catch the thieves; but can she do it? Well, she has Squill and those magic books …

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plus Lord Mollett’s endorsement, “You’re the most sensible person we have around here.” And what of those flashes of seeming recognition she keeps having: where do they fit in to all this?
Using plenty of short sentences, Abie Longstaff weaves a good tale; and this one’s likely to draw newly independent readers into its web and hold them spellbound throughout. There are touches of humour and James Brown’s illustrations plus the various lists, pages of rules,

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notes and other written items add to the fun of this magical book.

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Mermaid Messages and a Mix-Up

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Dear Mermaid
Alan Durant and Vanessa Cabban
Walker Books pbk
If, like young Holly in this story, you discovered a mermaid’s purse on the beach what would you do? Give it back to the mermaid perhaps? That is what Holly decides is right and she writes a message in the sand.

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So begins a pen friend correspondence (using the mermaid’s purse as a dead letter box) and in the first letter the mermaid, Princess Kora, (daughter of the Mer King and Queen) mentions a missing key. Holly in return determines to find it and the hunt – as well as the pen-pal exchange – continues. Holly provides Kora with updates on her attempts to locate the key, asks questions about Kora’s undersea life and leaves her small gifts. Kora in return responds to the questions and provides details about her mer-life, the creatures around her and the forthcoming Mer Festival.
Can Holly locate the golden key (a key that the Mer Queen needs to open her jewellery box) in time to save her friend having to face her mother’s anger?
This magical story will appeal most strongly to those who enjoy the excitement of the letter exchange, relish small treasures and like dressing up. Vanessa Cabban’s colours are gorgeously dream-like

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and the pages sparkle with gently glowing marine objects

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and bubble with small blessings.

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The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Little Mermaid
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi
In addition to the customers who visit Kittie Lacey’s salon, she also does home visits on occasion. One of her regular clients is Coral, the little singing mermaid who tells Kittie of a special human she’d like to meet – Prince Marino – royal diving instructor. Enchanted by her wonderful singing voice, the prince is equally eager to find its owner; but will the two ever get together? Happily yes, for Kittie is on hand to help. To do so however involves getting the better of the wicked sea witch and her evil enchantment.

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This is the sixth in the Fairytale Hairdresser series and as always, there’s a happily ever after ending and it’s packed with fairy tale characters to join in the celebrations. Doubtless Kittie’s fans (and she has many )will lap this one up too.

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Under a Pig Tree
Margie Palatini and Chuck Groenink
Abrams Books
When is a fig not a fig? Why, when it’s a pig of course. At least that is what seems to be the crux of the matter in this enigmatic picture book subtitled ‘A History of the Noble Fruit. (A Mixed-Up Book) and a mixed up book, it certainly is and a funny one. First of all we are told that ‘Pigs were presented as “medals” to the winners of the first Olympics in 776BC.’  I googled this putting in pigs and figs and the only thing I could turn up was that sometimes figs (dried ones) were recommended as a dietary tip for Ancient Olympian athletes prior to competing. Pigs however were used as a sacrifice, each athlete going to the sanctuary of Zeus and sacrificing one to the god.
I decided not to bother with Google any longer but just to enjoy the on-going battle between the book’s author and her editor in this post-modern foray; not forgetting of course, the wonderfully quirky illustrations provided by Groenink who has clearly had enormous fun creating all manner of porcine characters including celebrities,

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in his mixed media illustrations that also include parodies of ancient Greek vases, those of the Chinese Ming Dynasty and the medieval Book of Hours.

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This is certainly NOT a book for everyone but I can see it appealing to those readers who enjoy something different from a straightforward narrative: something that tickles and teases the taste buds perhaps.

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Fairy Magic at Christmas

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The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas
Peter Bently and Garry Parsons
Hodder Children’s Books
Santa comes to the aid of the Tooth Fairy when she gets lost on Christmas Eve having answered the call of Tim Tucker’s letter.

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He gives her a lift to Tim’s house but they discover that the chimney is blocked so then it’s the Tooth Fairy’s turn to take the initiative. With a wave of her wand and a magical shrinking utterance, the two of them sail through a crack in the window and having regained their normal size, set about their respective tasks. Things don’t go as smoothly as they’d hoped but eventually they’re back safely in the sleigh heading to the fairy’s home where, once she’s safely tucked up in bed, she too receives a visit from Santa.
A jaunty rhyming text complemented by bold, bright images and at times, very funny scenes …

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complete the package of this festive escapade.
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The Fairy Tale Hairdresser and Father Christmas
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi pbk
Fans of the series in particular will welcome this seasonal offering from Kittie Lacey. It begins on Christmas Eve when the fairyland hairdresser leaves Kittie’s Cuts to make a special home visit to the abode of Father Christmas. While she is busy giving Santa and his team a special Christmas makeover she notices Crystal, one of the elves, is missing.
Having tracked her down she and Father Christmas learn that the Snow Queen (who had imprisoned Crystal) has stolen all the presents.

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But can the two of them, with the help of the reindeer, melt her icy heart and get them back in time for that vital evening delivery for the big day?
This Christmas morning scene says it all …

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Readers will love spotting the characters and their respective gifts on this spread but that’s not quite the end of the story. As ever, the Fairy Tale Hairdresser brings plenty to entertain, not forgetting those characteristic touches of sparkle.
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Clicking and Snipping with Chicken and Kittie

 

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Chicken Clicking
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
If ever there was a picture book warning about the dangers of misusing the internet and on-line chat rooms in particular, then this is the one.
One night Little Chick ventures into the sleeping farmer’s house, accesses his computer and ‘CLICK!’ makes some unlikely purchases. The following night she returns spending more recklessly this time.

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The farmer blames his wife; she blames his software. Chick’s mouse mayhem continues with scooters for sheep,

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a car for the cows, a Spanish holiday for the bull and more; soon the farm is empty of animals. Alone now, she decides to find a friend online. With selfie taken and duly posted

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and personal details added, our little chick finds herself a feathery chat room friend.
A face-to-face meeting is arranged….
Wait, little chick; don’t you know the dangers of chat rooms? Should you be heading off to the Wily Wood all alone?

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The final page says it all.
This comical modern fable is told in cleverly contrived, CLICK!- infested, rhyme,
She put her photograph online
She gave her name and age.
CLICK! Another chick appeared
Upon the friendship page.

that builds so brilliantly to the dramatic finale, which readers, although not the gullible chick, anticipate with mounting alarm as the latter continues to click away.
The felicitous Willis/Ross partnership has worked its magic again. Tony Ross’s scenes of the chick and her click-happy purchases are slightly more subdued than some of his other work: his glowing washes with soft pastel/crayon lines are as seductive as the mouse mania that eventually lures Chick to her fateful meeting.
A must-have book for all.
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The Fairytale Hairdresser and Snow White
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi pbk
Kittie Lacey certainly has her work cut out when she embarks on a mission to disguise Snow White and keep her safe from the clutches of the evil queen. How she does so and at the same time helps love struck Snow White get her man is divulged within the pages of this, the fourth of the Fairytale hairdresser series.

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As ever with the Kittie Lacey tales, there is an abundance of fairytale and nursery rhyme characters (including a septet of musical dwarves), plentiful trimmings of the jokey kind and bunches of intertextual links to be made, not to mention that sparkly cover and wedding scene. Oh! And there’s a talking magic mirror too – courtesy of Red Riding Hood.
Great fun for Kittie fans, especially.
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Celebrating Dads

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My Amazing Dad
Ross Collins
Simon and Schuster pbk
Little crocodile, Snip, loves his dad but has absolutely no idea how he spends his time. In contrast all his friends’ dads seem to do amazing things:Monkey Max’s dad ‘Whooshes’, zebra Stripe’s dad is great at hiding, Trunkle’s dad can spray water higher than the trees, Bongo the gorilla has a dad who can beat his chest louder than anyone and Wallow’s dad can stay under water for ages. Seemingly, all the dads are cooler than his, thinks Snip and off he goes back to his Mum to find out just what his Dad does all day.
Mum takes her offspring and shows him that in fact, his Dad, as teacher of all the others, is truly amazing.

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This amusing, warm-hearted tale of fathers and friendship is just the thing for sharing with that special dad on Father’s Day, or any time.
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Just the Job for Dad
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Scholastc pbk
Emma and her brother, Sam explore a variety of exciting sounding jobs for their father whose own job sounds to them, deadly boring. But on closer examination they  all seem to have requirements that would interfere with their Dad’s normal routines. Dragon minding for instance would mean starting at t sunrise, so what about their breakfast?

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A pirate captain’s look out has to report for duty at 5pm (their swimming time) and other occupations would involve performing at dinner time, setting out at bath time, or even being away a whole week. Maybe what Dad already has – the job of being a being a great Dad – is, as he says, himself, “… just the job for me!” But what about Mum?

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Funny pictures, a funny story with the kind of repetition children love joining in with and a caring Dad who reads stories to his offspring: what more can anyone ask? Make sure you explore every single part of this one.
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My Dad and Me
Tania Cox and Lorette Broekstra
Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books)
Small children love to spend time with their dads. Here we have a small celebration of some of the things they love to do with that very special person: things like dancing and singing, chatting on the phone, cooking,

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sharing a surprise; but best of all is that “I-LOVE-YOU-HUG”.
Told through a series of happy scenes and a rhyming text, this simple little book might fit the bill for a celebration of one particular dad on Father’s day.
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Daddy is My Hero
Dawn Richards and Jane Massey
Doubleday
For the very youngest to share, this is an abridged board book edition of a title previously reviewed on this site in the section April Paperback Pick
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