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.