Hugo / Cat Ladies

Hugo
Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Atinuke uses an unusual narrator for her heartwarming story that’s set in and around a small, urban park, it’s Hugo the pigeon. Hugo is a park warden and every day, through all the changing seasons he patrols the park looking after various humans –

that’s his particular Spring task, while in summer he has to clean up the mess left by picnickers and his autumn days are occupied with child care (to give their mothers a rest).

On chilly wintry days Hugo sees it as his role to visit the apartments near the park to remind the residents that spring isn’t too far off.

At one window though the curtains never open but Hugo knows someone hides whenever he knocks.

Then one day the curtains part to reveal a small girl whom Hugo treats to his ‘Spring-is-coming’ dance moves.

Not long after the bird is late to arrive and the child leans right out to look for him. So enthusiastic is his ‘here I am’ dance that Hugo fails to notice another arrival.

Happily Hugo lives to finish his story but receives an injury that completely changes the lonely life of his young rescuer, for the better. No wonder Hugo loves his job.

Birgitta Sif’s illustrations are the perfect complement for this offbeat tale – gently humorous and alive with deliciously quirky details at every page turn; and her colour palette is always beautiful, no matter which season she portrays.

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of Princess, a well and truly pampered moggy: she has not one but four ladies with whom she shares her time. That involves plenty of work but Princess doesn’t mind for she receives more than her share of treats for participating in ‘grooming days’ with Millie, running errands with Molly,

and a spot of bird watching with Merthel. Band practice time spent with Maridl is the noisiest activity but Princess has ‘everything under control’.

Then one day, horror of horrors, Princess discovers that her favourite napping spot has been usurped by a ‘stray’. Not only that though, this creature seems to have taken over other roles too.

When her efforts to retrain the ladies fail, Princess ups and leaves in a jealous sulk. However things don’t quite go smoothly when she searches for an alternative place to take her catnap and the moggy finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately the young interloper has an acute sense of hearing and picks up the ‘MEOWW!!!’ issuing from the feline and all ends happily with four ladies becoming five.

Susi Schaeffer’s bold, lively digital art is given a textured feel by the addition of hand-painted designs; the older human characters are delightfully eccentric and the story will appeal particularly to cat lovers young and not so young.

Paolo Emperor of Rome

Paolo Emperor of Rome
Mac Barnett and Claire Keane
Abrams Books for Young Readers

One of the only ways we’re going to be able to visit Rome in the near future is through stories, so it’s particularly welcome to be transported there thanks to Mac Barnett and Claire Keane’s tale of dachshund Paolo, resident of that beautiful city.

Poor Paolo however is forced to spend most of his time stuck inside Signora Pianostrada’s busy hairdressing salon staring out through the shop door with little if anything to enjoy other than the occasional whiff of the great outdoors.

By night and most of the day Paolo would dream of escape.

Then one day an old lady leaves the shop door open and that’s when Paolo seizes his chance to break free.

Once in the wild streets he soon discovers a world of beauty, excitement and yes, danger, first in the form of a hostile feline among the ruins. His attitude to the moggy though is, ’The biggest among you has scratched my cheek, and I did not flinch. Will any other cat challenge me?’

They don’t, but then he encounters a pack of dogs as he searches for food. Antagonistic at first, they soon make him their leader and together they enjoy the city by night.

Next morning Paolo becomes a hero, saving six nuns from the Trevi Fountain. I can’t imagine how they managed to fall in, but the pooch becomes a hero.

Most important though with his indomitable spirit, he has succeeded in conquering the city.

I’ve not visited Rome for real for many years, but Mac’s narrative, together with Claire’s illustrations truly do evoke the sights, sounds and smells of this ancient city absolutely brilliantly: I love the brio of the telling, the textures of the scenes, and the portrayal of characters both animal and human, is sublime.

Somewhat reminiscent of the likes of Ludwig Bemelmans, this book has all the makings of a classic.

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.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

I can’t think of a better time than now for this continuation of the Questioneers series to appear: young Sofia Valdez has a vision to make the world – in particular her own neighbourhood – a better place.

From a very young age Sophia has been a caring, helpful child and one morning on the way to school with her much loved Abuela (granddad) a squirrel chasing dog precipitates the downfall of a huge mountain of rubbish, causing an injury to her grandfather.

Thereafter, Sofia decides to become an environmental activist leader who campaigns for the mess mountain to be cleared and a community park constructed in its place. Her neighbours are on board with ideas but then Sofia has a crisis of confidence.

However, despite feeling daunted she heads to the City Hall next morning and after being directed from one office to another,

she eventually rallies the support of all the employees including the mayor.

Operation Blue River Creek Citizens’ Park is underway.

A slight departure from STEM subjects, this fourth, rhyming story adds a social science/citizenship strand to the series: stand up for what you believe is right is one message in this tale of empathy, finding your own voice, courage, leadership, community spirit and creativity. For adults wanting to encourage any of those in youngsters, this is must have book. Along the way readers will enjoy meeting some old friends from previous books before David Roberts’ wonderful, uplifting final spread.

What Not to Give an Ogre for his Birthday / Caveboy Crush / Iguanas Love Bananas

What Not to Give an Ogre for his Birthday
Will Hughes
Little Door Books

Stanley and Martha love buying birthday presents for people and always manage to find just the right thing; but when it comes to their new neighbour, Len the friendly ogre, the task is shall we say, a challenge. The usual things – a bike, clothes, a theatre trip or a pet don’t really fit the bill and a ride in a hot air balloon would be somewhat problematic.

Can the two come up with an idea that could make Len’s birthday the best he’s ever had?

This story of determination and friendship is the first of the Little Door Debuts imprint and it appears as though the publisher has found a new talent with Will Hughes, whose scribbly style illustrations are great fun, putting me in mind slightly of Quentin Blake’s work.

Caveboy Crush
Beth Ferry and Joseph Kuefler
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a sweet story of a first crush Neanderthal style.

Meet caveboy, Neander, who falls for the ‘most beautiful girl in the prehistoric world’ short, hairy Neanne, who is perfect in every way. His parents accurately diagnose the problem when he becomes all moony.

Armed with flowers picked from The Field of Bees, Neander rushes off to try and woo the little cave-girl but …

and there she isn’t.

The disappointed caveboy decides a grander plan is needed but this too is a dismal failure of the CRUSH kind and Neanne decides her wooer is just a little a bit crazy.

Could it be a case of third time lucky perhaps …?

A fun tale with splendidly expressive illustrations should make for an enjoyable, somewhat noisy storytime as youngsters enjoy the opportunity to let rip with a CRUSH or two during the telling.

Iguanas Love Bananas
Jennie & Chris Cladingbee and Jeff Crowther
Maverick Publishing

I suspect the authors of this crazy rhyming narrative about animals and their food predilections are fans of Kes Gray & Jim Field’s ‘Oi!’ picture books.

In this story we meet all kinds of creatures, large and small, dining on their favourite foods much to the consternation of the humans from whom they steal or otherwise procure such things as fajitas – that’s cheetahs; sausage rolls – the water voles raid a picnic basket for theirs; vindaloos, though these are seemingly paid for at the take-away, but the people on whom they sneeze on account of the spices are less than impressed.

I’m unsure how the manatees got hold of a crate of blue cheese but the end result is constipation, so we’re told.

I have to say though, that I’m with the guy on the final page who is the only one relishing Brussels sprouts. Yummy!

Jeff Crowther clearly enjoyed himself creating the illustrations for this culinary romp; his scenes of all those animals stuffing themselves are full of gigglesome details.

Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain / Who Am I?

Our precious wild animals are under threat as these two books show:

Snow Leopard: Grey Ghost of the Mountain
Justin Anderson and Patrick Benson
Walker Books

Here we have the latest addition to the Nature Storybook series that Walker Books does so brilliantly.

Filmmaker Justin Anderson debuts as an author; his narrative is accompanied by award winning Patrick Benson’s awesome,  finely detailed illustrations. The result is a wonderful look at the animal the inhabitants of the high Himalayas call the “Grey Ghost’, a very rare and beautiful animal.

Patrick Benson takes us right up close to the creature as it weathers a blizzard,

then communicates with other snow leopards by squirting pee.

She uses her camouflage coat to sneak up close to her prey – half a dozen ibex – lower down. Her meal however eludes her on this occasion because her cub alerts them to the danger.

We then follow mother and cub as they seek the sun’s warmth, then briefly curl up together before as the sun sinks they wake and continue their climb, disappearing into the silence of the mountain.

A final note provides further information highlighting the vulnerability of the species and detailing conservation organisations, while accompanying the narrative, in a different font, are snippets of factual information not woven into
the main text.

One feels privileged to have met these stunning animals in this quietly beautiful book.

Who Am I?
Tim Flach
Abrams Books for Young Readers

The award winning photographer Tim Flach whose superb photographs grace the pages of this ‘peek-through-the-pages’ book of endangered and threatened animals is passionate about rewilding.

Here, using riddles, full page shots, small circular images of parts of animal faces, and die-cut peek-through windows,

he introduces youngsters to a dozen animals (or rather they introduce themselves) including the Bengal tiger, a white-belied pangolin,

an axolotl and a giant panda.

In the final pages we learn what makes each creature special and why it’s endangered, and the author ends by asking young readers to help save these amazing animals, indicating how best to get involved in so doing.

A rallying call indeed.

I Am Love / The Golden Rule

I Am Love
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Showing love and compassion towards others is one of the most powerful things we can do for our fellow human beings.

What’s more it doesn’t cost us anything; we just need open hearts and the willingness to give some of our time.

That is what the child narrator in Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s latest ‘I Am … ‘ book demonstrates.

When we discover somebody is going through a tough time, perhaps something has happened to make them feel hurt, sad or angry, something unfair maybe; if a person is fearful and it seems as though darkness is all around, a listening ear may be all that is required … or a loving hug and some softly spoken, reassuring words like “Everything will be alright.”

Love is also gratitude: being thankful for what we have; it’s taking care of our minds and bodies.

Understanding is key and on occasion love is expressed creatively and takes effort.

Remembering is another way of showing love – remembering those who have died or are no longer with us for other reasons, perhaps a friend has moved away but they still need our love.

Small gestures can mean so much; they’re a way of demonstrating our connectedness to every living thing in the world, no matter what life brings.

The book concludes with an author’s note, a few heart-opening yoga poses and a final heart meditation.

Add this to your foundation stage PSHE class collection.

The Golden Rule
Ilene Cooper and Gabi Swiatkowska
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In a city street a boy and his grandfather stand together looking at a sign that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The boy asks what it says. Grandpa reads and explains that the world over it’s called the Golden Rule.

As they walk further they talk about its meaning and for whom it’s applicable. Grandpa says it’s for “Everyone, everywhere”.

No matter the religion, the same basic tenet – essentially the cross cultural, universal reciprocity principle – is found in the holy book of the six examples he cites – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Shawnee tribe.

On a park bench the discussion turns both more realistic and philosophical, as the old man asks the boy to imagine himself in certain situations and asking how he would react. It then moves on to embrace countries as well as individuals – … “maybe there wouldn’t be wars,” comments the lad

before coming right back to the notion that, as Grandpa states in conclusion, you can’t make others practice the Golden Rule, … “It begins with you.”

Somewhat didactic yes, but the message also holds good for those of no religious faith such as this reviewer and Ilene Cooper’s text offers a good starting point for discussion with primary school children.

Incorporating both traditional religious symbolism and floral, avian and animal imagery Gabi Swiatkowska’s richly pattered, painterly illustrations, have an old fashioned look about them that feels just right for the book.

Love You Always / Mama’s Work Shoes

Love You Always
Frances Stickley and Migy Blanco
Nosy Crow

There’s a definite autumnal feel to this book portraying the loving bond between a mother hedgehog and her son Hoglet but despite the little hedgehog’s occasional shivers as the two creatures wander home through the woods, this is a warm-hearted tale.

Hoglet notices the season changing and his mother explains that … change makes nature lovlier with every passing day.’ Hoglet then asks, “Mummy … / would you love me more…if I changed?”

As they encounter other mother-child animals – dashing squirrels, fluttering dragonflies, bouncing frogs, fluffy rabbits,

Hoglet asks his question again and on each occasion gets the same response ’I couldn’t love you more’.

Just before they reach home, Hoglet raises the all important “But, Mummy… will love always last forever, / even if I change just like the seasons or the weather?” And as little humans will be eagerly anticipating, her “Always” promise of unchanging love acts as sufficient reassurance to allow her offspring to curl up and having repeated her final ‘Always’ to fall fast asleep.

With its combination of Frances Stickley’s soft-spoken, pleasingly constructed rhyming narrative that mostly works, and Migy Blanco’s richly hued scenes of the autumnal countryside, this is a lovely bedtime story for parent humans and their little ones to snuggle up together with and share just before bedtime.

Mama’s Work Shoes
Caron Lewis and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Little Perry’s mum has a plethora of shoes, a pair for every occasion and Perry knows them well: the ‘swish-swush’ ones for indoors, the ‘zip-zup’ ones for running and skipping, ‘flip-flop’ ones for sunny days and those that go ‘pat put’ in puddles.

One morning Mum puts on a new pair of shoes that go ‘click-clack, click-clack’. They sound interesting but what could they be for, wonders Perry.
When she discovers they signal the start of a new routine that means she and her Mum are to spend time away from one another, Perry is not happy.

Left with her Nan, the child lets her feelings out with a tantrum.

Eventually of course, Mum comes to collect her and back home they go where eventually Mum’s explanation finally reassures her little one that yes those clickity-clack shoe sounds will take her to work but they’ll always bring her back as fast as ever she can.

With Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s bright mixed media illustrations capturing Perry’s changing emotions, Caron Levis’ story will reassure the very young who like little Perry are faced with a parent returning to work.

How Do You Dance?

How Do You Dance?
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers

How Do You Dance? That question is posed on the title page followed by some responsive ‘like this’ moves, while there’s a little boy shown opposite sitting reading.

Turn over and some adults have joined the fun ‘like this’ they say, while the same boy, now standing digs his heels in: “I don’t”.

Out from behind him leaps a girl “I do” she counters indicating a cleaner …

Others take up the beat, the joy of each one being beautifully captured in Heder’s watercolour and pencil illustrations, as they beckon, bop, flit, scrunch, pull faces, swirl and twirl.

The same small girl then shows a series of moves

before leading readers to assorted locations wherein to continue the dance – the kitchen for shimmying on account of your delicious cooking;

or outdoors

and sometimes you just need to cheer yourself up with some floppy steps; there are just so many possibilities.
(A chart is provided should readers feel like experimenting).

This dance thing is just SO infectious that Dads and even animals kick up their heels and eventually they all (bar one) come together in a wonderful climactic celebration of dancing …

But what of our naysayer – does he ever dance? He insists he wants to be left alone …

If this utterly joyful book doesn’t get you on your feet and trying out some new moves, I’ll hang up my dancing shoes.

The Hideout

The Hideout
Susanna Mattiangeli and Felicita Sala
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This truly is a book of surprises.
It begins with a call, “Where are you? Hurry up, we have to go!” But Hannah is nowhere to be found and all we see is her bedroom …

We then see Hannah in a park and it seems she’s not leaving any time soon (she’s heard the voice, we learn).

In fact she’s made herself a feather cape, a bed of leaves, a bow and arrow and we see her accompanied by an ‘Odd Furry Creature’ for which she has fashioned another feather cape – a much larger one to accommodate its huge bulk – and a bed of leaves beside her own. Together they forage for food, which they share, but nobody else enters their secret hideout.

After some while Hannah hears a voice. “Where are you?” it asks and she decides it’s time to venture out and show the Odd Furry Creature things he’s never before seen out in the world beyond.

Pretending to hear an affirmative response, she takes off its cloak, placing it beside her own, extinguishes the fire and the two leave their secret hideaway and paw in hand, walk around the park.

“Hurry up!” comes the distant call, “We have to go!”

Then a page turn reveals the unexpected: Hannah sitting busy creating a scene: all the while she has been drawing the story …

From the outset (there’s the soft toy in her bedroom basket on the first spread), there have been allusions to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are – a visit to a dreamlike wild place, safe yet without parental interference, from which she’s called back from her imaginary journey – the journey that she has all the while been drawing on her paper; even Sala’s colour palette is similar to Sendak’s.

Mattiangeli’s telling is enigmatic and powerful; I love her concluding lines: “From the outside, no-one would have imagined that deep within the drawing, at the end of a long road made of brown and green pencil marks, a little girl had lived for a very long time. “

How perfectly she shows the way in which children’s art can, if they’re left alone, take them completely out of themselves into flow mode where they do indeed become as one with their creations.

Sala’s largely muted illustrations are the perfect complement for the author’s words, richly detailed and having the power to pull the reader right in to every scene, so that they too feel almost a part of the story – a story in which imagination and creation are inseparable.

Small World

Small World
Ishta Mercurio and Jen Corace
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Quietly powerful is Ishta Mercurio’s lyrical story of Nanda.
Her life starts as a tiny baby, wrapped safely in the ‘circle of her mother’s arms.’

As she grows, so too does her world; it grows to encompass the ‘circle of her loving family’ and spreads outwards and outwards to become ‘a sway of branches …’

… ‘a sun-kissed maze of wheat … Pinecone-prickled mountains and the microscopic elegance of fractals in the snow.’

As a young woman her interest in flight takes her to the skies, piloting a plane and then as an astronaut, clad in a spacesuit far out into space, the culmination of her pushing out the edges of her world.

Standing among ‘A sea of stars’, gazing into ‘ink-black space’ viewing Earth from afar she realises that she’s come full circle;

for what she sees is a distant place ‘safe, and warm and small’, as it was when she was that tiny baby in her mother’s arms all ‘those years ago.

The author’s richly detailed narrative paints a gorgeously meditative picture of the girl’s life and this is beautifully visualised in Jen Corace’s gouache, ink, and acrylic, richly patterned spreads that have a quiet, graceful serenity.
The empowering message that emerges from both is that the combination of learning and of the imagination has the potential to open up the entire world.

All in all it’s an elegant celebration of dreaming big, working hard and the joys of discovery especially in things STEAM.
This is a book that should work with older readers/listeners rather than little ones.

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees

How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees
Vincent X. Kirsch
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Saying goodbye to a close friend is always hard especially when they’re moving away as Adelia is in this story.

She however, has planned a special farewell gift for Roger, which she delivers before she departs. It’s a lesson in how to climb a tree and, since Roger is a worrier, how to fall out safely.

She starts by collecting all kinds of memorabilia: leaves, feathers, abandoned nests,

rugs and cushions, favourite toys,

boxes and clothing.

All these memory-laden articles are shown on the verso of the spreads while on each recto, we see the two sharing their remaining time together with Amelia instructing her friend and demonstrating how to get up into the tree’s branches: “Shimmy up the trunk and don’t turn back” … “Hang on tight with both hands” … “take it one branch at a time” and as we’d expect, finally, “Letting go will be the hardest part!’

When the time comes for Roger to make that solo climb just after his friend’s departure, he scales up easily

but then inevitably … falls.

Thanks to Amelia’s carefully and lovingly compiled construction though, he does so beaming from ear to ear.

Kirsh’s story is as carefully constructed as Amelia’s landing pile while the expressive illustrations are nicely detailed: and the girl’s instructions to her friend could equally well be what she needs to tell herself too.

Leyla

Leyla
Galia Bernstein
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Young hamadryas baboon Leyla finds her large family overwhelming with their constant noise, grooming and snuggling.

She just wants some peace so decides to run away in search of a quiet space of her own.

Having run sufficiently far, so she thinks, for there to be nothing around, she stubs her foot on a sharp rock

and then comes upon a lizard; a very still, quiet creature “very busy doing nothing” so he says.

At her request, the lizard teaches Layla to do the same: they sit peacefully in meditative mode feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the rustling of the leaves, the buzzing of insects.

Some time later, Layla opens her eyes and realises that she now misses her family and is ready to go back to them. She does so however, safe in the knowledge that she can always return to doing nothing with her new friend for “I’m always around,” he assures her.
As a result she finds herself better able to cope with all the attention she receives from her welcoming family, partly because true to his word, that lizard was ‘always there.’ And she certainly enjoys talking about her adventure.

As someone who practises meditation (and yoga) daily, I can attest to the benefits of what that lizard offered Layla.

The author’s warm story, we learn was inspired by watching hamadryas baboons, in particular a very young one, in a Brooklyn zoo. Her expressive illustrations created digitally with the addition of hand-painted textures, say plenty about Layla’s feelings be they overwhelmed, angry, in pain, scared, peaceful, happy or excited.

In our ever busy, pressurised lives, we all, young and not so young, need to become more mindful; this book is a fun demonstration of the importance of mindfulness.

When Sue Found Sue

When Sue Found Sue
Toni Buzzeo and Diana Sudyka
Abrams Books for Young Readers

“Never lose your curiosity about everything in the universe – it can take you to places you never thought possible!” so said Sue Hendrickson the palaeontologist subject herein, her quote being the starting point for this fascinating book that tells the story of the discovery of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever unearthed.

Living in Indiana, Sue was a shy child with a heuristic drive, particularly for anything in the natural world; she also had a passion for finding lost items, was often found with her head in a book

and loved to visit the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Her interests led in her teens to her joining first a team of underwater treasure hunters looking for tropical fish, lost boats, planes and cars; and then teams searching mines for prehistoric butterflies, deserts for prehistoric whale fossils and finally, the hills of western South Dakota for dinosaur fossils.

In her fourth summer of digging Sue was drawn towards a sandstone cliff and after four hours of hiking in the heat,

looking up, she spied three enormous pieces of what look like back bones protruding from the cliff. Almost unbelievably Sue and her dog, Gypsy had come upon fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Then began the arduous task of removing the 300 bones in the intense heat, a piece-by-piece task that took several days.

After an ownership dispute we see the dinosaur reconstruction duly named after Sue on permanent display at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Both Buzzeo’s narrative and Diana Sudyka’s detailed gouache and watercolour illustrations will surely inspire young readers to be mindful of the book’s opening words, to make sure they look closely at the world around them and to hold onto their own spirit of adventure and pursue their passion whatever that may be.

An author’s note about Sue Hendrickson’s contribution to the scientific community, and two resource lists end the book.

Dancing Through Fields of Colour

Dancing Through Fields of Colour
Elizabeth Brown and Aimée Sicuro
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Right from its opening page whereon we learn that the young Helen Frankenthaler was a rule breaker, I knew I was going to love this book.

Helen’s parents encouraged her divergence, especially her artistic tendency towards abstraction, while her school art class in contrast, laid down strict rules which had to be followed in order to pass.

After the death of her beloved father, Helen went through a dark period, unable to put anything on canvas until eventually her memories of the colours and warmth of her father’s hand on country walks had a healing effect and she begun painting once more.

Towing the professor’s line, she passed through college and returned to New York where she encountered the work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock,

Helen started to travel further afield and eventually, inspired by the shapes and colours of the countryside,

and led by emotions that fuelled her artistic decisions, she found her own path, – ‘Colors jetéd across the painting, merged and connected, like rivers into oceans’ – becoming with her soak-stain technique, a leading artist of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s

and playing a vital role in the evolution of Colour Field Painting; (these details we learn in the detailed notes in the pages that follow the story).

Elizabeth Brown’s text describing the artist’s processes is itself poetic, while Aimée Sicuro’s watercolour, ink and charcoal pencil illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

Through words and pictures, readers really share Helen’s emotions and creative journey and sharing the book in a classroom will surely inspire listeners to experiment with their own creativity be that with paint, dance or even perhaps another medium.

When the Crocodiles Came to Town / My Funny Bunny

When the Crocodiles Came to Town
Magda Brol
Orchard Books

One day to everyone’s surprise two crocodiles turn up at Dullsville town and judging by their luggage, it seems they’re there to stay.

The problem, so our young narrator explains, is that they look different and behave differently and when it comes to the town’s rules, they show a complete lack of understanding which infuriates the inhabitants, and the mayor more than most, especially when they cavort on the precious golden donkey.

As for their ice-cream stall, that proves too messy and way too much fun for the killjoy Dullsvillites. In no uncertain terms, the crocs are given their marching orders.

That night however, as they pack up their belongings, two other outsiders, Glen and Freda Grabbit creep into the sleeping town helping themselves to items from all the houses.

Their eyes though are on the main prize – that precious golden donkey – and as a result they hurtle straight into the leavers.

A chase ensues but unbeknown to the robbers, the crocs have their own special weapon and it’s a highly effective one when it comes to apprehending the thieves.

Could it be that at as a result of the narrator’s plea to the Dullsville mayor, two leavers are about to become remainers after all?

Debut picture book author/illustrator, Magda Brol has created a very funny story with a very serious message about rejecting prejudice, and accepting and celebrating difference. Her zany illustrative style is action-packed and each spread has a wealth of details to chortle over.

My Funny Bunny
Christine Roussey
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In her latest ‘pet’ book, Christine Roussey features a rabbit and a small boy.

It’s the boy’s sixth birthday and he receives a large gift box from his favourite uncle. Eagerly anticipating the dwarf rabbit of his dreams the lad opens it to discover, yes a bunny, but this one resembles a large potato with yucky, clumpy fur and wire-like whiskers. Hmm!

Thoroughly disappointed, the boy lets off steam in his room before telling his new acquisition that he was unwanted and unlovable; and then going on to carry out a series of destructive acts before collapsing in a sobbing, snivelling heap.

The bunny however, isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. He leaps from the box and makes soothing advances to his owner.

Before long, with damage repaired …

and temper tantrums assuaged, the two have become firm friends, celebrating a funny bunny birthday together and forging a lifelong attachment.

An adorable furry character and an emotional little boy narrator show young readers the importance of getting to know someone or something rather than making a snap judgement.

Roussey’s characteristically quirky illustrations and her outspoken narrative work beautifully in tandem making for a lovely story to share.

The Brontës / Along Came Coco

The Brontës
Anna Doherty
Wren & Rook

According to the cover claim this is the ‘fantastically feminist (and totally true) story of the Astonishing Authors’ of the title. It’s certainly a smashing short biography of three of the most gifted female writers ever.

We start with a pictorial spread that introduces the family and other members – human and animal of the Bronte household.

Thereafter, starting in 1822, the story looks at family life in Haworth, where father Patrick was a priest and the children loved to explore the moors, using them as inspiration for their own stories and poems.

Thrown back on their own company, the four youngsters become incredibly creative and when Branwell is given some toy soldiers, they use them to create their own imaginary world. This leads to dramatic productions, story and poetry writing, illustration and 3D maps all based on Glass Town.

The young people work as teachers or governesses while daydreaming a lot of the time.

Then over the next three years, books of poetry and the three novels – one each – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey are published under the pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell., followed by Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Sadly during the next two years Branwell, Emily and Anne fall sick and die leaving Charlotte who lives only another six years during which she publishes Shirley and Vilette.

The final spreads comprise annotated portraits of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne, followed by details of how wonderfully feminist were these Victorian sisters. Their legacy lives on and continues to inspire readers today: I can’t imagine being without their awesome novels.

Youngsters will be fascinated to learn of these strong-willed writers and their achievements against the odds, in Anna’s highly readable narrative style biographical account. Her illustrations are a quirky delight

Another truly creative spirit was that of Coco Chanel celebrated in this biography:

Along Came Coco
Eva Byrne
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Born in 1883, Coco’s early life was spent in a French orphanage where she found the rigid discipline of the nuns very hard to abide by

although she was fascinated by their dramatic, mysterious demeanour as they walked about the convent in their habits.

The young rule transgressor did however learn the sewing skills that later on led to her fame, while at the same time nurturing her dreams, her imagination and her sense of style and fashion.

As soon as she was old enough, Coco left the orphanage determined to follow her highly individual fashion sense and talent for sewing. Taking inspiration from everything she saw,

she soon opened two shops, one selling quirky hats, the other stylish yet comfortable clothes. Her designs though were not to everyone’s taste, but Coco with her understanding of what women wanted, was undaunted.

Her simple, rule-breaking designs became however, a huge trend-setting success.

Popular too were her new short hairstyle and her eschewing of restrictive corsets, both of which were practical and revolutionary, changing forever how women dressed and looked.

While this story is incomplete, it’s fascinating and inspiring, especially to divergent thinkers; and at the end of the book, the author gives additional background information, mentioning her subject’s wild imagination and difficulty in distinguishing fact from fiction, along with a select bibliography for those who want to dig deeper.

The author’s suitably stylish watercolour, pen and ink illustrations capture the spirit of her subject throughout and the inky endpapers are great fun.

Follow your dreams is the message herein.

The Very Last Castle

The Very Last Castle
Travis Jonker and Mark Pett
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In the centre of a small town stands a castle, the very last castle. Every day Ibb walks past it and notices up in a turret, the guard watching the passers by.

Speculations are rife about who or what is within. Could it be monsters, or giants; snakes even?

They certainly make snaps, thuds and hisses. Ibb however is ready to be more open minded “Maybe it’s something terrible … but maybe it’s something else,” she thinks. She decides to investigate but what happens makes her run away in fright.

Shortly after she receives an invitation. Stay away comes the advice, but come Sunday Ibb ventures forth and does something nobody else in her town has done: she enters the grounds.

What she discovers isn’t monsters, giants or snakes: a warm welcome from the guard awaits. He shows her around and finally reveals what he wants – someone brave and curious to take his place.

Ever thoughtful, Ibb agrees but with a proviso and eventually the castle grounds become a welcoming place for everyone.

Beautiful illustrations by Mark Pett in pen and ink and watercolour, combined with Travis Jonker’s spare text create a lovely tale of curiosity, courage, reaching out and creating community.

Mae’s First Day of School / No Frogs in School

Mae’s First Day of School
Kate Berube
Abrams Books for Young Readers

I loved the author’s Hannah and Sugar book and this one is equally charming.

It’s Mae’s first day at school and she definitely does not want to go.
En route while her mum enthuses about all the fun things school has in store, Mae worries about all the possible bad things that might happen: the other children won’t like her, she’s she only one unable to write; she’ll miss her mum.

Once at school she hides in a large tree, refusing to come down; but then somebody else joins her; it’s Rosie another reluctant new pupil.

After a while, some of the other children go inside; not so the tree climbers. Suddenly up the tree comes a tall lady, Ms Pearl.

It’s also her first day and she too is worried. Suppose the children don’t like her, supposing she forgets vital spellings; suppose she misses her cat …

As well as her list of worries though, Ms Pearl has some reassuring words for Mae and Rosie. Perhaps rather than becoming tree dwellers they should venture down and go in together for their first day …

A reassuring, first day story that’s perfect for those just starting in a reception class. It’s full of charm and gentle humour; Kate Berube’s expressive illustrations portray those first day nerves wonderfully well.

No Frogs in School
A LaFaye and Eglantine Ceulemans
Sterling

Pet loving Bartholomew insists on taking one of his animals to school every day. On Monday it’s Ferdinand frog but the creature causes havoc in the art lesson so teacher Mr Patanoose bans frogs.

On Tuesday Sigfried salamander needs company so off he goes with Bartholomew (after all he’s not one of the banned animals). However he too causes classroom chaos and is put on the banned list along with all other amphibians.

Wednesday sees a hamster in the classroom via the pocket on Bartholomew’s bag but the creature gets out and the consequence is a ‘no rodents in school’ rule.

A snake is Thursday’s school visitor and the outcome is a ban on reptiles.

Friday is show and tell day but ‘no pets’ is what Mr Patanoose firmly insists. Now surely it wouldn’t hurt to take Rivka rabbit along would it, thinks Bartholomew.
But can he get away with taking a soft furry mammal for the event? After all he’s something of a rule subverter …

Fun and also informative is this story of classroom chaos and a pet-loving boy who tries to keep one step ahead of his teacher. The energetic illustrations are zany and full of things to enjoy.

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Ada Swift is back with a STEM activity book that’s packed with exciting projects related to both the physical and the biological sciences.

With Ada’s help, it takes readers through the entire scientific process and using the headings ‘Scientists are Curious’, ‘Scientists Think’, ‘Scientists Keep Thinking’, ‘Scientists are Observant’ and ‘Scientists use details to describe things’, ‘Scientists Learn from Others’, ‘Scientists look at things in new ways’, ‘Scientists are Patient’ and ‘Scientists are Persistent’ introduces the essential characteristics of a scientist.

All the time the text encourages children to add their own ideas, as in this tree observation page.

Or in the ‘Decomposers’ spread whereon readers are asked to write their own responses to ‘Why don’t colourful leaves pile up, year after year, until the trees are buried beneath them” Why do they turn brown?’
This is followed by practical activities and observations.

I could go on at length talking about the various activities, which are many and varied (over 40 in all) but will just mention a few: there are word searches, an energy game, tracking the phases of the moon, designing a vehicle that uses wind or solar energy or another form of renewable energy and watching seeds grow and recording related observations.

Very much hands-on, this is an ideal book to inspire youngsters from around 6 to become scientists like Ada Twist, indeed Ada’s very own story is told at the outset.

Thoroughly recommended even if you haven’t yet encountered Ada or her friends, Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

I’ve signed the charter  

World Make Way / Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me

World Make Way
New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
ed. Lee Bennett Hopkins
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” so said Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci who was also a poet.

Award winning poet Lee Bennett Hopkins and the Museum asked a number of poets to look at and respond to classic art from the Museum’s collection and create poems that reflect their feelings.

The outcome is this collection of eighteen poems in many different styles by poets some of whom are completely new to me, as are some of the wonderfully diverse works of art from artists including Gustav Klimt, Mary Cassat, Henri Rousseau, the contemporary Kerry James Marshall whose Studio painting inspired Marilyn Nelson’s ‘Studio’ poem.

and Han Gan whose handscroll painting is dated c.750.This was the inspiration for Elaine Magliaro’s ‘Night-Shining White’.

Hopkins has included brief notes about both the artists and the poets at the back of the book.

It’s a beautiful book to savour both visually and verbally, and equally, one to share and discuss with both primary and secondary age children.

Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me
Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi
Tiny Owl

Eloise Greenfield is a well-known poet in the USA and I was fortunate to come across some of her books when travelling in the States many years ago and still have them in my collection. Her poems are not however, well known in the UK so it’s wonderful to see that Tiny Owl are publishing this as part of their programme to ‘promote under-represented voices and cultures in literature’ and have Iranian artist Ehsan Abdollahi (When I Coloured the World and A Bottle of Happiness illustrator) to provide the art work for the book.

The book comprises sixteen poems, which focus on a boy named Jace, his dog aptly named Thinker and the friendship between them. Many are penned from Thinker’s viewpoint; in one or two, dog and boy converse while others – also conversational – have Thinker and Jace writing on the same topic.

There’s a sequence beginning with You Can Go wherein Jace tells his dog about the next day’s event at his school. Next comes ‘Pet’s Day’.

This gives Thinker’s musings on being in the classroom for the occasion; it’s followed by Jace’s ‘That’s My Puppy when his proud owner talks thus:
I thought Thinker might / shame me, but I am proud / of him. I pat him on the back’ …
The dog’s response ‘Thinker’s Rap’ is the grand finale– a dog poet that can create rap – how cool is that!

This is a delightfully quirky poetry book with each poem different in style, some very brief including

‘Birds Fly’ and this ‘Weather Haiku’,: ‘Cool out here today, / but I don’t need my sweater. / My hair is enough.’

It’s most likely to appeal to animal loving children and may well motivate readers to take up the author’s suggestion to ‘take some time, now and then, to write a poem or two.’

Inspired by Ehsan Abdollahi’s wonderful collage style illustrations, readers may also emulate the book’s artist and create their own collage pictures.

I’ve signed the charter  

They Say Blue

They Say Blue
Jillian Tamaki
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In her debut picture book, Jillian Tamaki explores colours, the seasons and aspects of the natural world through the eyes of a child narrator.

As the book opens the girl sits under a blue sky acknowledging that, as she’s been told, the sea from a distance looks blue, but goes on to observe as she plunges in, ‘But when I hold the water in my hands, it’s as clear as glass.

She also ponders upon things she hasn’t seen. ‘Is a blue whale blue?’ she asks, though she accepts that an egg yolk is orange without having to crack the shell, and that her blood is red.

Her contemplations take her away from the sea itself to a field: this she likens to a ‘golden ocean’ upon which she imagines sailing in a boat she herself has built.

Blown by the wind, storm clouds gather and reality again sets in: it’s cold and rain starts to fall; but within the grey is something new and beautiful – a small purple flower.

The whole thing then takes something of a surreal turn as the girl sheds her thick layers and morphs into a tree …

in which form she continues with a series of seasonal observations before falling fast asleep.

The book concludes with an affectionate parting of her hair by the child’s mother as, with the curtains open, together they view the soaring black crows ‘Tiny inkblots on a sea of sky’ that is very far from blue,

and wonder what the birds might be thinking.

Visually beautiful (Tamaki renders largely impressionistic acrylic and photoshop paintings), thought provoking and perfectly in tune with the way young children think, wonder, imagine and respond, this is a book likely to inspire further musings, discussion and creativity on the part of its audience.

My Lazy Cat

My Lazy Cat
Christine Roussey
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Boomer is a chubby cat, found ‘spread out like a pancake’ on the doorstep of the young narrator’s home. With his tiger-like purrs and wonderful hugs, he quickly becomes the girl’s best friend. There’s only one thing wrong: Boomer is a complete lazybones liking nothing better than drowsing and snoozing, in complete contrast to the narrator. She’s constantly on the go with her busy schedule of judo, swimming, yoga, painting, pottery, knitting, soccer, and cycling. On her way out however, a snoozing Boomer causes her to trip and go flying.

One the verge of tears, she catches sight of the cat and laughter takes over.
Boomer then leads the way out into the garden. Flat out on the grass, child and cat watch the ladybirds and listen to the wind blowing through the pine tree, then stroll to the pond where they watch fish and listen to the sounds of the water and the frogs.

Lunch is a feast of berries, tomatoes, and fruit from the trees, after which they lie back contentedly gazing at the clouds.

The girl’s response to her parents’ “What did you do today?” is “Nothing” and a huge smile, which speaks volumes about her frenetic existence and the over-scheduled lives led by so many children nowadays.
Well done Boomer (and Christine Roussey) for showing the importance of allowing children time for slowing down, relaxing, enjoying the natural world, and just being.
There’s a child-like simplicity in Roussey’s scratchy-style illustrations that make the story feel even more immediate.

How Monty Found His Magic / Starring Carmen!

How Monty Found His Magic
Lerryn Korda
Walker Books

Meet the Magnificent Trio: Monty, his dog named Zephyr and his rabbit named Snuffles. They have ambitions to show their magic in front of a real audience and with Mr Twinkle’s Twinkling Talent Show coming up they’ve a chance to realise their dream.

First though, Monty must overcome his fear of public performance.
The day of the talent show dawns and Monty has a bad attack of butterflies in his tummy. His pals reassure him, “ … we’ll be fine … we’ll be together.
But will Monty be able to remember their words when they’re under the spotlight up on that stage in front of all those people.

This is a tale of finding your inner courage and working together as a team that will resonate with those children in particular who find doing anything in public a trial. Equally it demonstrates that behind every public performance lies a great deal of a gentle kind of magic that comes when friends support each other just because …
With its vibrant scenes of friendship and prestidigitation this should be a winner with young audiences.

Another performance tale is:

Starring Carmen!
Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Carmen is a drama queen of the first order: she acts, sings, dances and even makes costumes.
Her little brother, Eduardo is desperate for a part in her shows, so she gives him a silent role in her latest extravaganza.

Then when her parents ask for an intermission, the showgirl stages an enormous sulk. What good is a stage show when the audience are merely toys?
There’s one member of the family though who never seems to tire of performances and it turns out, he has much to offer when it comes to high drama too.

With its sprinkling of Spanish dialogue – I like the way the Spanish phrases are naturally dropped into the narrative – and brighter than bright illustrations, this story will appeal most to those who enjoy being in the limelight – one way or another.

I’ve signed the charter  

Halloween Briefing: Monsters Galore and a Witch or two

There’s a Monster in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books
Here we have one of those interactive picture books that are in vogue at the moment and it comes from the co-writer of The Dinosaur That Pooped series.
The book is invaded by a rather cute-looking little monster that seems intent on wrecking the whole thing. ‘Let’s try to get him out,’ suggests the narrator which is clearly a good idea.
Readers are then asked to shake, tickle, blow, tilt left, then right, wiggle and spin the book, turning the page after each instruction. All the while the monster lurches this way and that around a plain background looking far from delighted at the treatment being meted out to him.
None of this succeeds in dislodging the creature but he’s definitely feeling dizzy so loud noises come next; then even louder ones.

This works but ‘Now he’s in your room!’ That’s even worse than being contained within the pages, at least from the reader’s viewpoint, so now the idea is to gently coax him back into the book. There he can stay while receiving some tender head stroking and a soft ‘goodnight’ until he falls fast asleep. Ahh!
With Greg Abbott’s cute, rather than scary monster, this is a fun book to share with pre-schoolers particularly just before their own shut-eye time; all that shaking and shouting will likely tire them out making them feel just like this.

SHHHH!

Ten Creepy Monsters
Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gigglesome twist on the nursery countdown featuring a mummy, a witch, a ghost, a werewolf, a vampire and others who, having gathered ‘neath a gnarled pine’ begin to disappear until only one remains. But what sort of creepy monster is that? Be prepared for a surprise.
Trick or treaters, if mock scary ghastly ghouls are your Halloween thing then look no further than this gently humorous, little paperback offering.

Scary Hairy Party!
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Monster’s having a party; it’s at 3 o’clock and all her friends are invited. Fortunately they’ve just got time to nip into Raymond’s salon for a hairdo first.
Seemingly Raymond’s not on top form however, as one after another receives a style disaster.

What on earth is Monster going to say when she sets eyes on her pals with their new make-overs?
Light-hearted rhyming fun illustrated with crazy, brighter than bright scenes of barnet mayhem: just right for those youngsters who like their Halloween stories to be on the silly, rather than the spooky side.

The Pomegranate Witch
Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books
A deft rhyming text, imbued with spookiness and replete with rich language, tells a tale of how five children desperate for a pomegranate from the witch’s tree, and armed with all manner of unlikely implements, do battle with its owner to get their hands on a tasty treat from its branches. A veritable Pomegranate War is waged …

until finally, one of children succeeds in bagging the object of their desires and they each have a share of the spoils.
The following day, Halloween, a Kindly Lady (the witch’s sister) appears to offer cider and a celebratory surprise fruit to all the town’s children: ‘And not one child wondered who was who, or which was which. / The shy old Kindly Lady or the Pomegranate Witch.’
Surely they couldn’t be one and the same – or could they?
Not for the very youngest listeners but a fun read aloud for KS1 audiences. As your listeners savour Denise Doyen’s story, make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy Eiiza Wheeler’s delightfully quirky ink and watercolour illustrations.

For older solo readers:

Witch Snitch
Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The (Witch Wars) Sinkville witches are preparing for Witchoween and it’s the first Tiga will experience. This is especially exciting as Peggy has asked her and Fran to make a documentary about the town’s most famous witches. With Fluffanora acting as fashion adviser, what more could she ask?
This book with its numerous activities, facts and character information as part and parcel of the narrative, is sure to make you giggle. So too will Laura Ellen Andersen’s line drawings.

I Am Peace / The Two Doves

I Am Peace
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This is a companion book to yoga teacher, Verde, and illustrator, Reynolds’ I Am Yoga.
Here, a worried child narrator, feeling “like a boat with no anchor” …

shares with readers how focussing on the here and now helps to calm all those worries and troubling emotions, allowing them to dissipate and disappear. Inwardly watching the breath enables the child to feel centred and then, through acts of kindness, by connecting with nature and fully using the senses, feelings of at oneness with the world, inner peace pervades and can be shared with all those who need it.

With today’s increasingly fast-paced, pressurised and stressful world, this is a lovely gently joyful reminder to children, and also adults of the importance of cultivating the habit of mindfulness. That (along with yoga), can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just 3 to 5 minutes a day with no distractions, no doing, merely being.
Peter Reynolds’ ink, watercolour and gouache illustrations reinforce the mindfulness message and add a delightful touch of whimsy as he portrays the child, peace symbols and all, balancing, cloud watching, feeding the birds and meditating.
(A guided meditation is included at the end of the book.)

 

The Two Doves
Géraldine Elschner and Zaū
Prestel

In search of a safe place to rest, a white dove lands on a deserted island; deserted save for another dove, a blue one that has been badly injured.

The white dove tends to the blue one until after a few days, it’s sufficiently recovered to take flight,
Together the two birds take wing eventually landing in – or rather in the case of the blue dove, falling – into a large garden where, under an olive tree, a man was painting, while around him some children played.
The man is the artist Picasso. The children see the wounded dove and want to care for it. Soon though both man and children are busy creating pictures of the bird,

pictures that Picasso tells them as their images are borne aloft by a gust of wind, will “go to countries all around the world.
Soon after, the white dove takes flight once more leaving the blue one safe in the children’s care.

This lovely story of Géraldine Elschner’s, inspired by Picasso’s iconic work, The Dove of Peace, is beautifully illustrated by Zaü whose ink drawings filled mostly with greys, greens and blue give a strong sense of both the desolation of the war struck third island and the stark beauty of its countryside.
Adults using the book with primary age children may well need to fill in with a little information about the Spanish Civil War and on the visual references from Picasso paintings that the book’s illustrator mentions in a note at the end of the book.

Hibernation Hotel / Still Stuck

Hibernation Hotel
John Kelly and Laura Brenlla
Little Tiger Press

This book really made me think of winter, starring as it does, a bear, who despite it being past hibernation time, is still wide awake.
Bear’s sleeplessness is all down to his over-crowded cave but it looks like he’s thought of a solution.
A phone call later, followed by a drive in his jalopy and he’s checking in at a smart hotel in the mountains. The perfect place for some uninterrupted shut-eye, especially as he’s asked the receptionist for a March 1st wake-up call.

How wrong could Bear be? Noisy, partying guests, an over-soft bed, and heavy bedding are far from sleep-inducing, and the TV shows just upset him.
Perhaps an empty tummy is the cause of his insomnia; room service should soon fix things …

And fix things it does, entirely satisfactorily; only not quite in the way Bear anticipated.
Kelly & Brenlla’s enormous ursine character with his fascination for hotel freebies, fixtures and fittings, is a peevish delight.

In that luxurious alien environment he discovers that creature comforts can come in unexpected forms.
Just right for a pre-bedtime giggle with little ones, especially those who need a bit of help dropping off.

More bedtime shenanigans in:

Still Stuck
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s time for a bath and the independent-minded toddler protagonist refuses help with getting undressed. Good on you, little one. But then, almost inevitably thinks the experienced nursery teacher part of me, his shirt gets stuck – well and truly so.
This sets the infant off on a surprisingly upbeat contemplation of the challenges of ‘stuckness’ and their problem-solving solutions – being thirsty for example …

Then there are the possibilities of friendship with other similarly stuck individuals: that could be lots of fun …

Coldness starts to invade his thoughts so the lad has another go at extricating himself, starting with his trousers – a valiant effort but definitely not a success.

Eventually Mum appears, disrobes the boy and lugs him off (wait for giggles at the bum views) to the bathroom.
But then, come the pyjamas – hmmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Yoshitake’s dead-pan text combined with wonderfully observed, cartoon comic, digitally rendered visuals make for a chucklesome pre-bedtime share for adults and infants.

World Pizza / The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza

World Pizza
Cece Meng and Ellen Shi
Sterling
Who would have thought that pizza could become a peace-maker but you never know.
The vast majority of us wish for world peace and the mum in this story does just that one night when a wishing star appears in the sky. But as she speaks her wish a sneeze comes upon her and her children are convinced her wish is for pizza. Suddenly a large pizza falls from the sky and truly delicious it turns out to be.
Soon yummy pizzas of every kind imaginable are raining down all over the world making people happy and content.

Even bullies become kindly and pirates cease their plundering; everywhere differences are forgotten and unlikely friendships forged and all in the name of pizza. Peace and love fills the world and all unbeknown to the instigator of the whole process.
Interesting and thought-provoking: would that it were that simple though.

More about the power of pizza in:

The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza
Jennie Palmer
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The Wompananny witches, Anita and Winnifred are sisters who like nothing better that preparing a delicious pizza in their kitchen. In fact they seldom set foot outside on account of the local, so they think, wild children. So when three of them come a-calling the two sisters are quite overcome with terror and decide to give vent to their feelings by pounding a new batch of dough.
Before you can say ‘baked pizza’, the dough has morphed into ‘one mean pizza’ that in true ‘runaway pancake style’, has upped and flopped its way out of the oven, through the front door and out into the street, hotly pursued by Anita and Winnifred.

Soon the entire child population of the neighbourhood, hungry and desperate for a nibble of pizza, is chasing after the yummy thing, all the way to the park where something very unexpected happens. Yes, the children are still wild decide the witches, only now witches and children are actually a very tasty combination and all thanks to pizza.

Full of humorous touches, Jennie Palmer’s ink, watercolour and photoshop illustrations for her whimsical tale bring to mind James Stevenson’s art.

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever thought about creating a house entirely out of rubber balls, or building a bridge using only 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti and 20 miniature marshmallows?

These are just two of the challenges to be found in this treasure trove of STEM activities. I’ve done the latter with many classes and it’s always enormous fun and a superb co-operative learning activity.

Altogether there are more than 40 projects and activities that help develop observation, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; and almost all are open-ended.

I especially liked ‘Thinking About Others’ wherein the reader is asked to walk through their home and list the improvements/modifications that would help a person in a wheelchair get in, around inside, cook, bath, relax, sleep and play.

It then asks for modifications for a blind person .
An excellent companion to Iggy Peck Architect; but even if you haven’t read the original story, this is well worth getting hold of; but I urge you to make the acquaintance not only of Iggy, but also of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist.

I’ve signed the charter  

When We Go Camping/ Skyfishing


Who is the narrator of this lively celebration of family camping? Could it be one of the children? A parent? Or perhaps, the eponymous dog that gets into each and every scene? I doubt it’s one of the grandparents; all they seem to do is sit around or participate in some form of spectator sport, with the odd pause for a spot of insect swatting on occasion.
Meanwhile, other family members make friends, play, cook, fish, swim, shiver thereafter: beg your pardon Gramps: there you are boiling up the billy can for a warm-up drink for the chilly swimmers.

Naturally taking a pee involves a bit of inconvenience and perhaps it might be advisable to take a clothes peg along.

Perhaps the highlight of the day is a spot of ‘Hummetty strummetty squeak-io’ singing around the fire before finally repairing to the tent for some dream-filled slumbers.
Sally Sutton’s rhythmic, rhyming narrative is irresistible, especially so those playful refrains that accompany every scenario so beautifully portrayed in Cat Chapman’s watercolours: there’s a ‘Smacketty tappetty bopp-io‘; a ‘Zippetty zappetty flopp-io’ and a ‘Snuffletty wuffletty roar-io’ to name a few: I’ll leave readers to guess what actions they orchestrate.
My memories of camping are of endeavouring to bash pegs into sloping, rock-hard ground, lumpy porridge and noisy sleep-intruding voices in the night. This book in contrast makes the whole experience – well maybe not the loo visits or the odd trip-up – a pleasure, full of simple, fun-filled delight.

Skyfishing
Gideon Sterer and Poly Bernatene
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The young girl narrator’s grandfather loves to fish; so when he moves from his rural idyll to live in the big city with his family, he greatly misses his passion. The child is determined to find a way to engage him, but through autumn and winter, nothing catches his interest.
Come spring, the girl has an inspiration: she initiates a game of ‘let’s pretend’ fishing over the balcony edge and …

The possibilities escalate until they cast their lines deep into the rumbling tumbling ‘ocean’ below: an ocean full of wonderful adventures to last for months and months …

As the narrative unfolds, Bernatene’s vibrant, whimsical paintings show the chaotic city transformed into an ocean teeming with amazing sea creatures.
A warm-hearted story of the special relationship between the young and old, and the power of the imagination.

I’ve signed the charter  

Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers

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Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
From the same Beaty/Roberts team and using art from the original Rosie Revere, Engineer story, this splendid project book will surely motivate primary age children to involve themselves in all manner of exciting and creative science and engineering projects. There are opportunities to make a simple catapult (and analyse it); to design a ‘1000 Egg Picker-Upper’ to help Rosie and Uncle Fred in the zoo (there’s a related egg identification challenge too). I’m sure the marble run making will prove popular – lots of cylinders needed here; and there are projects to design a better bicycle

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Engineers make things better: design a bicycle for the future …

and make a solar oven. I love the improving Great, Great Aunt Rose’s walking stick challenge where her walking aid needs to be adapted as a tool carrier: superb stuff and perfect for developing those vital STEM problem-solving/creative skills,

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as are the reminders about the importance of failing and learning from it. There is even a word search and a story writing project, showing that the book’s creators clearly understand the importance of the development of the imagination.
Famous scientists are introduced too: for instance, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison – with his team of ‘Muckers’ (I’m pleased to see the whole question of teamwork discussed); and there’s Rube Goldberg (a famous cartoonist and engineer).
Empowering and inspiring at the same time. Brilliant stuff.

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Ada’s Ideas

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Ada’s Ideas
Fiona Robinson
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It may come a surprise to young readers of this biographical picture book that Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke a mathematician, and lived in the 19th century. Her parents separated soon after Ada was born and she was never to see her father again. To stop her from becoming anything like her father, Ada’s mother made her follow a strictly structured timetable of lessons: anything imaginative was strongly discouraged.
Despite this however, the young Ada developed a powerful, imaginative streak, partly fuelled by seeing some of the steam-powered machines her mother took her to see in factories …

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She even thought of inventing a mechanical flying horse.
After a period of sickness, at age sixteen Ada found herself thrust into society and that’s how she met the inventor, Charles Babbage who was in the process of inventing the Difference Engine, a machine that would never make mathematical errors.

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A friendship developed and Ada maintained it despite being married shortly after, and thus Babbage told Ada about his new project, The Analytical Engine – the world’s first computer design. It was Ada herself who used her mathematical mind to create the program that would have made Charles’ machine work. She also foresaw the machine’s potential beyond maths believing it could be programed to create music, pictures and words. Although it never was made because of costs, eventually many years later, people came to realise how forward thinking Ada and Babbage were.
With its 3D effect, Fiona Robinson’s collage style artwork is amazing and the whole book is a great tribute to the life of a young woman who refused to be bound by society’s expectations and strictures. What I like most is the way in which it demonstrates so compellingly that no matter what, imagination is behind all scientific and technological discoveries: that, and of course the fact that being a women is not a bar to great scientific achievement.

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Imagination rules: dream high, aim high, believe in yourself; let your mind run free: that’s Ada’s legacy.
An inspirational read and a must for all primary schools.

Meet Ada Twist Scientist, Mira & Em

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Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Readers may well be familiar with previous titles Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck from the creators of this inspiring rhyming read; Ada is the third in the series and like its predecessors, it’s a MUST to add to primary classroom bookshelves.
Ada remains silent, observing, investigating and thinking much until she turns three and then quite suddenly things change. ‘Why?’ she demands to know (of the grandfather clock: “Why does it tick and why does it tock?” “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?

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And once she’s started, there’s no stopping this curious young lass. Her other favourite words are ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘When’. (the very ones that should fill the hearts of all early years teachers worth their salt with delight). Yes, this child’s curioslty and imagination have no bounds and thank goodness she has such encouraging parents to support her.

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Then, one spring day – the first in fact – a revolting smell reaches Ada’s nostrils, setting questions flying and her curiosity into over-drive. Could that stench be emanating from Dad’s cabbage stew perhaps? That’s hypothesis number one.

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No – then where? The cat maybe? Wrong again and now Ada’s parents have had enough seemingly and Ada’s banished, silenced. Silent she may be, but her mind’s still very active and pretty soon, so is her thinking pencil until
thank goodness, Ada’s parents have had a rethink and before long, are back in support.
Will she ever find the answer to that ‘stink’ question? I suspect she might, for despite all her failures and blind alleys, Ada is an unstoppable problem-solver and what’s more, she’s ready to enlist the help of others. If not, then she’ll find other equally fascinating questions to pursue.
Delivered through a rhyming text and brilliantly characterised in David Roberts’ stylish illustrations, this story is sure to please young audiences and readers aloud, especially those who want to encourage the spirit of curiosity and champion the cause of girls in science. Ada is a force to be reckoned with – long may she continue. Seek this out and share it wherever you can.
Also take a look at the tale of another young girl who becomes a scientist :

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Mira Forecasts the Future
Kell Andrews and Lissy Malin
Sterling Books
Mira’s mother is a fortune teller but try as she might, all that Mira sees when she gazes into the crystal ball is herself, “Telling the future is a gift,” her mother tells her. “You have it, or you don’t.” Mira most definitely didn’t; but one day she notices something – the wind whirring the blades of her pinwheel and fluttering the streamers of her windsock.

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That’s the start of her meteorological findings and before long she’s putting her scientific talent to good use in predicting the future; she’s a weather forecaster no less.
Creativity and the imagination are at the heart of all scientific discoveries: they all begin with someone asking ‘what if’ or ‘suppose that’ and now here’s a book claiming to inspire creative play:

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The Way to Outer Space
Jay Eunji Lee
Oxford University Press
Herein we meet Em who on this particular day is feeling bored until that is, she receives a mysterious parcel containing a book and a card. She’s on the point of tossing them aside when she notices some rocket-making instructions and pretty soon here she is …

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blasting off and hurtling through the solar system to a strange place – a place she’s told belongs to her; and it’s in serious trouble. A challenge is issued and, accepted …

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and off she goes creating …
Part story (told in comic strip style), part activities, this unusual book is likely to get young minds buzzing and fingers working on creating some of the ideas suggested herein – and one hopes moving on to projects of their own imagining.

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Party Time with Teeny-Weeny Queenie & Nina

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Teeny-Weeny Queenie
Claire Freedman & Ali Pye
Scholastic Children’s Books
I was sent a very early proof of this and it was read to destruction in no time by the group of enthusiastic under 6s that I shared it with. The book’s narrator is would-be monarch, young Queenie who, in her opening speech announces herself as having a very BIG plan – to be Queen when she grows up. Her parents try their best to dispel this notion but young Queenie’s having none of it and we discover that she has already started her queenly practices.
There’s that treasure-filled Royal Handbag …

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a Lady-in-Waiting to be brought up to scratch …

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and a royal tea party to organise – with or without little sis.

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This involves a great deal of baking, not to mention the appointment of a Special Royal Footman and then finally the big p-day arrives. What ensues isn’t quite what her royal majesty intends but that said, young Queenie makes a vital regal decision that is entirely appropriate in the event and learns a very important royal lesson to boot.

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Both words and pictures are an absolute delight from cover to cover – and back again!

 

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An After Bedtime Story
Shoham Smith and Einat Tsarfati
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It’s bedtime for young Nina – well that’s the plan but no sooner have her parents tucked her up and crept away than she’s up and demanding hugs and kisses and worse. Refusing to take no for an answer, the young miss is bounding out of her room to join the adult party where she very quickly becomes the centre of attraction as she samples the tasty treats …

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tinkers with the tumblers …

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and even baths her doll in the bowl of punch.

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The noisy goings on wake her younger sibling and before long there’s not one but two tinies on the scene, ignoring their parents’ “Go to bed” instructions, directing the fun and games, and eventually, leaving their exhausted Mum and Dad collapsed on the sofa. At least they join in the clearing up though.

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Tsarfati’s droll illustrations, executed in a limited colour palette are absolutely full of humorous details showing so much more than is said in Smith’s rhyming couplets. Nina is one bundle of mischief and, the fact that at the start she’s shown in bed sporting necklace and tiara, rather give one the impression that she’s planned the whole thing all along.
It’s probably best not to share this one with youngsters just before bedtime: let them enjoy the fun earlier on in the day or it might just give them ideas of the Nina kind.

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RESCUED! Hello Little Egg!/Hannah and Sugar

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Hello Little Egg!
Puffin Books
Come with me to Puffin Rock and meet some of its residents, in particular, Oona, her small brother, Baba and Mossy (he’s Oona’s best friend). One day while having a game of chase they come upon an unusual-looking rock …

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They speculate but it’s not a berry; an egg of some kind? Yes, but not one they recognise and thus begins their quest to find its parents. Could it perhaps belong to some seagulls – there are certainly a lot of them around? Off go the three to return the egg to the seagulls’ nest on the cliff edge, which proves to be quite an exciting undertaking.

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On arriving at their destination however, a discovery is made – it’s the wrong nest: seagull eggs are brown. As the friends ponder their next move, the egg itself moves, …
hatches and immediately adopts Oona as its mother. Time to get going; but what’s that Karr! Karr! sound?

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Seemingly the new chick is eager to find out … Hurray! It’s the chick’s parents way down below and there’s only one way to travel that large distance – here goes …

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Then, mission accomplished, it’s smiles all round, a thank you fish from two happy parents, goodbye hugs from the little chick and off go Oona, Baba and Mossy all the way back home.
Satisfying and fun, this story has its origins in an animated TV series and the transition to book form works well. There’s plenty to discuss and a fair sprinkling of natural history information embedded within the delightful narrative.

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Hannah and Sugar
Kate Berube
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Hannah, the chief protagonist of this story has my sympathies; she’s afraid of dogs, even well behaved ones like Sugar who belongs to her pal, Violet P. This is somewhat unsettling as every day, come rain or shine, Sugar waits for Violet P. after school at the same bus stop Hannah’s dad waits for her. Her other school friends eagerly pet Sugar but Hannah is steadfast in her refusals as she clutches her dad’s hand proffering her polite “No, thank you,” each time.

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One day, Violet P. announces that Sugar’s gone missing and a neighbourhood search ensues but come nightfall there’s still no sign of Sugar. After dinner as Hannah sits outside pondering what it might feel like to be lost and alone,

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she hears a strange whimpering sound in the dark and on investigation, she discovers …

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Hannah’s instinct is to retreat but then she closes her eyes, she draws on her inner strength and courage, reaches out her hand and …
Needless to say everyone involved is delighted, as will readers be at the happy ending.
Illustrated in ink and paints, this debut picture book is a delight. Kate Berube’s scenes have an almost child-like quality about them, making the story all the more authentic and her use of empty space –

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is particularly effective in moving the concise narrative forward.

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Artists At Work and Play

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Alphonse, That is Not OK to Do!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books
Natalie and Alphonse are sibling monsters, Natalie being the elder. Big sis. is generally very tolerant and accommodating and the two have a lot in common …

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Sometimes though Alphonse would cross the line, such as when he adds his own marks to his sister’s creations or worse …

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Then one day, he does something much, much worse: he starts consuming Natalie’s very favourite book (perhaps it was the uninspiring lunch that prompted it) and you can imagine her response is far from favourable, resulting in the title exposition, an artistic outpouring…

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and a retreat to the bathroom.
Eager to make amends Alphonse suggests a spot of nifty repair work, which is ignored by Natalie and so replaced by more drastic action that sounds like …

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and looks like ..

 

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An Alphonse style explanation follows along with apologies for his book eating and the revealing of some finishing touches that he’s added to big sis’s picture.
Daisy Hirst’s narrative voice is spot on, her monsters are adorable and I love the chucklesome humour in her illustrations, which are a perfect complement to that deliciously droll text of hers. Alphonse and Natalie could run and run …

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Lion & Tiger & Bear
Ethan Long
Abrams Books for Young Readers
We meet the trio of friends one sunny morning in Green Hills Hollow. There’s Lion doing a spot of painting in his ‘Alone Spot’ when he’s suddenly tagged by Bear, who is eager for a game. Lion however is having none of it and so off goes Bear to try his luck with Tiger. No prizes for guessing who she in turn tags; but still Lion is determined to continue working on his picture and to that end he’s willing to go to a great deal of trouble to ward off would-be taggers.

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Meanwhile the game has become anything but exciting and so the taggers decide to hot up the action somewhat. But even this doesn’t deter our artist and so he moves again … and again until finally he finds the perfect hiding place.

 

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Not quite though. Things finally come to a head, followed by a deal being struck which leaves Lion free to complete his masterpiece and an impressive one it is too –

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though that’s not quite the end of the story …
This is I think, the start of a series featuring the three pals and as such it does the job well; we get an impression of the different personalities of the characters as well as being shown the importance of negotiation and of having some ‘me’ time.
Long’s digital cartoon style illustrations tell most of the story with the action being helped along by speech bubbles and a minimal narrative that holds the whole thing together, making it a good bet for early readers as well as for sharing with young listeners.

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Cloth Lullaby

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Cloth Lullaby
Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Subtitled ‘The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois’, this poetic book give details of the life of the world famous artist, best known for her sculptures. Louise spent the early part of her life living beside a river in a big family house. Her family were tapestry restorers and when she was just twelve, Louise began to learn the trade.

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Her mother taught her about form, colour and the various styles of textiles. As she learned about the warp and the weft, about the tools of the trade and how to dye, the relationship between mother and daughter became increasingly intense, ‘ … patient, soothing … subtle, indispensible … and as useful as an araignée (spider) while that with her father (not a weaver but a buyer of cloth) was more dramatic. She once threw herself into a river, so angry was she at her father’s frequent departures on buying trips.
When Louise’s mother died, deeply affected she abandoned her mathematical studies at university and turned to art. ‘She drew, she painted, she wove, She missed her mother so much, she sculpted giant spiders made of bronze, steel and marble she named maman.’

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Then later she began focusing on fabrics – the fabric of her life -, sewing, stitching, weaving and sculpting smaller, more delicate spiders …

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and other objects in particular cloth books and a cloth lullaby.
Louise Bourgeois worked in bronze, steel, wood, stone and cast rubber and in textiles. Her life story here is rendered in ink, pastel, pencil, watercolour and photoshop by Isabelle Arsenhault whose wonderful mixed media collages, predominantly in shades of red and blue, feature spiders, web designs, water and textiles, music even. These powerfully evoke the rivers and threads that were a constant running through her life, and are a superb demonstration of how we all weave memories into our own lives in one way or another.
It’s difficult to know who would most enjoy this book, adults interested in the artist and her work, those generally interested in shape and form and creativity, or younger readers coming upon this poetic homage to Louise Bourgeois either as part of a topic or simply being attracted to it by the wonderful cover.

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Where My Feet Go & Lucky Ducky

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Where My Feet Go
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Where do your feet go? Probably nowhere near such exciting places as those belonging to the young panda narrator of this delightfully offbeat book. Panda’s feet, once they’re duly clad in socks – one green, the other purple – and inserted into moon boots, take him to wonderful places – one way

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or another …

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And that’s just in the morning.
Next comes a spot of foot resting and dinosaur feeding …

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After which the tootsies take to the skies, do a vanishing act – temporarily …

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and tramp through the desert.
Come night time and there’s underwater exploration, a couple of space sorties, and probably, more magical destinations are in the offing too …
Fuelled by that rich imagination of his, Panda, like many young children, makes everything an adventure and who better to visually document those adventures than Birgitta Sif.
Every one of her scenes is a gem. I love the overall quirkiness of her illustrations. I love the somewhat subdued colour palette and the glorious mismatch between what is said and what is shown. I love the way Panda’s internal imaginings are, on several occasions, allowed to wander expansively across an entire double spread. If only all young children, like this young panda were allowed such space/time to give free rein to their imaginations, rather than being made to do pointless tasks to ‘further their learning’; if only … there I go like Panda imagining …

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Lucky Ducky
Doreen Mulryan
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ducky is one of those characters for whom nothing seems to go right …

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so, determined to change things for himself, he sets off to the park in search of a four-leaf clover. But his search is soon interrupted, first by Pup offering a game of Frisbee, then by Piggy who invites him for a swim. No sooner has he restarted his hunt however, than he spies Bunny suggesting a picnic. By the time the sun is starting to go down, Ducky still hasn’t found that lucky 4-leaf clover but he does now appreciate just how lucky he really is. He’s discovered something much more important: the true value of good friends to share experiences with, no matter what …

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Suitably spirited, comic style illustrations document Ducky’s transition from unlucky to lucky Ducky.

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I Am Yoga

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I Am Yoga
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers
A young girl narrator, feeling overwhelmed by a world that seems to be spinning way too fast for her,

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calms herself through her yoga practice. She quietens her thoughts, focuses on her breath, then closes her eyes and begins first to imagine, and then move into a series of yoga asanas beginning with the grounding Mountain pose and thence into Tree pose and on to what the author calls ‘Airplane’ pose.
I can sparkle with the stars./ I shimmer and shine.” she says in Star pose and in Moon pose …

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I can dance with the moon./ I light up the sky.” thus describing each asana according to how it makes her feel.
Yoga means union and here is a wonderful demonstration of how this child can become through her practice of yoga, at one with herself and with the world …

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and nature itself.
The connectedness to nature is beautifully captured in Reynold’s depiction of savasana:,how perfectly he portrays that feeling of ‘shanti’ in his watercolour picture of the narrator by the sea’s edge.

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Indeed every one of his watercolours is both expressive and so aptly coloured, be it in a single hue, or several.
Verde’s lyrical text is full of both joy and tranquility, and perfectly pitched for young children to engage with the asanas, a more detailed verbal description of each of the sixteen covered, together with their Sanskrit names, being given in an author’s note in the final pages.
As an early years/primary teacher and a yoga teacher, I believe yoga should be part and parcel of every child’s daily experience from an early age and have seen the benefits it yields. For anyone wanting to introduce children to this life-enhancing practice, this little gem of a book, with its affirmations on every page …

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is a splendid starting point. Just get it and get going with some yoga.

If you like yoga why not try meditation with some meditational mood music

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The Bear Report & Land Shark

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The Bear Report
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Homework – bor-ing!
That’s certainly the feeling of most children when faced with something as seemingly dull as Sophie is in this beautiful book. Hardly surprising then that her response is thus …

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That’s it, she thinks as sits down to watch TV. But then …

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The bear – Olafur by name – invites young Sophie to visit his Arctic home. And ignoring her indifferent “Um, no thinks. I’ve seen the pictures.” response, he whisks her away to a glorious world of ice-floes, snowy landscapes inhabited by whales, seals, Arctic foxes and snow rabbits; a place where she can fish with a stick, scramble across moss-covered rocks, birdwatch lying on her back – BRRR!

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and even slide down glaciers.
Inevitably such adventures make for sleepiness so the two snuggle up for some shut-eye but then suddenly find themselves struggling through the sea as the ice-floe melts. Then it’s Sophie’s turn to take charge as she dives beneath the waves calling – summoning – and help comes in the form of a Humpback Whale …

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And as darkness begins to fall, Olafur has one last surprise for Sophie …

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who now has a whole lot more to add to her homework assignment –thanks to that mind stretching adventure.
Inspired by Thyra Heder’s own Arctic visit, this truly impressive book really does, in comparatively few well-chosen words and stunning watercolour scenes in icy blue, grey and green shades shades, paint a breathtaking world while at the same time one hopes, sparking the imagination and engendering a fascination for wild places with their amazing flora and fauna. A delight through and through.
Perhaps homework can be worthwhile after all …

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Land Shark
Beth Ferry and Ben Mantle
Chronicle Books
Shark-obsessive, Bobby is determined to get his parents to buy him a pet shark for his birthday. What is he to do then, when the big day comes and he’s given a puppy? Certainly not fall immediately in love with her no matter how charming she might appear to be. This shark lover’s not for turning …

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Maybe then, the best solution is to sit by and observe as the pup begins to leave a trail of devastation throughout the house, chewing shoes, chair legs and stuffed toys and that’s before she starts on the neighbours’ property.

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Hold it there: didn’t Bobby’s original raison d’etre for that shark demand something like this: ‘frightful, bite-ful, delightful’? Couldn’t that equally well be applied to the most recent resident in Bobby’s household? But no: ‘Shark lovers can NOT be converted to dog lovers.” Not just yet but … then comes a bite to beat all bites and guess whose gnashers are responsible?

 

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That little canine beauty has chomped her way right into Bobby’s heart. QED
This slightly off-beat story, told with wit and charm, and great fun to read aloud is perfectly complemented by Ben Mantle’s deliciously dynamic visuals. Chock full of detail and delivered with aplomb, every character is beautifully realised, best of all being Bobby with his funky fin hairstyle: and what a range of perspectives Mantle uses.
There’s a wonderful ‘tail end’ too: one that leaves audiences free to unleash their own imaginations along with Bobby, as well as perhaps signaling follow-up possibilities. This reviewer says ‘More please!’

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