Monster Christmas

Monster Christmas
Giles Andreae and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

As Christmas approaches, Father Christmas, relaxing by the fire, is feeling somewhat jaded with his creaky knees; he seems to have lost the zest for that delivery job of his. Perhaps it’s finally time to recruit a replacement – someone special – young and different – to take on the role of spreading kindness and good cheer. He writes a wanted notice and duly dispatches it.

Meanwhile in distant Monster Land a family talks over tea. Little Monster informs his parents that it’s time for him to see more of the world.
Just as he’s uttered his intention, what should come wafting in but that note of FC’s.

Then having bid his parents a fond and hasty farewell, he’s up and off trudging through chilly weather, destination the North Pole and Father Christmas’s front door.

There he is eagerly recruited, and a training regime begins. It’s not too long before he’s declared ready for the task

and so off he sets, destination this time, a shopping mall, therein to erect a grotto wherein to welcome all the little children.
Things don’t go quite as planned however as it’s with terror not seasonal delight, that Monster Christmas is received. Sob sob – that’s the monster, not the children who scream and shout. Surely things will improve thinks our optimistic would-be gift bestower. Instead there’s not a single house in a single town prepared to welcome Monster Christmas and his sleigh that year.

Exhausted, the reindeer plummet earthwards to land right on the edge of the world and it’s there that a lonely young lass lies abed slumbering in her cosy igloo.

Will she too send little Monster Christmas packing? What do you think?

With its wonderfully heart-warming conclusion, Giles Andreae delivers a terrific rhyming narrative that will certainly remind readers and listeners of what Christmas is really all about. Nikki Dyson’s depictions of Monster Christmas will definitely win him countless admirers with his adorable demeanour and positive attitude against all the odds.

Monstrous fun: this one’s an instant winner in my book and so it will be with youngsters who will definitely demand frequent re-readings during the build-up to yuletide. Teachers, just think what a smashing school festive performance this would make.

The Caveman Next Door / Twelve Days of Kindness

The Caveman Next Door
Tom Tinn-Disbury
New Frontier Publishing

Penny’s street is perfectly ordinary until a caveman moves in next door to her. He does little but grunt by way of communication, is scantily clad and his only furniture is made from sticks or stones.
Thinking he seems a little lost, Penny decides to befriend him and takes him on a tour of the town starting with the library where he receives a less than welcoming reception.

No matter where they go Ogg seems to manage to annoy somebody or embarrass Penny; seemingly he just doesn’t fit in.

But then, having seen inside Ogg’s cave with its wonderful mural documenting all their adventures, Penny has a great idea;

Ogg will visit her school.
After an initial setback, the headteacher recognises that in Ogg he has not only an interesting artist but someone who can educate his pupils about the natural world.

Tom Didsbury’s fanciful story of friendship and finding a place to fit in, with its wonderfully quirky illustrations will delight and amuse young listeners.

Twelve Days of Kindness
Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows
New Frontier Publishing

When Holly realises that new girl Nabila is having trouble making friends among her classmates she decides something needs to be done to help her.

Both girls are picked for the school soccer team but despite this her fellow team- mates are not showing any signs of welcoming Nabila. With just twelve days left before the first match, the girls still haven’t gelled as a team.

Nabila and Holly devise a plan: for every remaining day they will do something good and kind for the team and gradually not only does the team come together

but the “Twelve Days of Kindness’ is a winning formula.

An effective lesson about acceptance, welcoming strangers, friendship and of course, kindness, beautifully delivered in Cori Brookes’ straightforward narrative and Fiona Burrows’ powerful pictures of the girls is one to share and discuss in lower classrooms especially.

The Same But Different Too / Goodnight World

The Same But Different Too
Karl Newson and Kate Hindley
Nosy Crow

Similarities and differences are highlighted and celebrated in this joyful and engaging rhyming book that uses both human and animal characters to demonstrate examples throughout a busy, fun-filled day from breakfast time to bedtime.

In between come a look at differing heights, climbing skills,

play activity preferences, age, dentition, position, speed and much more; and it’s particularly heartening to find that everyone shares the love of a story session.

Karl’s upbeat words in combination with Kate’s vibrant, zany artwork create a great picture book that’s perfect for family sharing and for foundation stage settings.

With the emphasis on embracing differences it’s a super book to open up discussions about such issues as inclusivity and acceptance. Every spread offers much to talk about and enjoy, helping to highlight how our differences make each and every one of us special and unique.

Goodnight World
Nicola Edwards and Hannah Tolson
Caterpillar Books

Ideal for bedtime sharing is this presentation of the ways of saying “Goodnight” in a dozen languages as well as in English.
Nicola Edwards rhyming narrative takes us through the bedtime rituals of different families as the little ones are hugged, have a bath, brush their teeth, tidy up toys,

perhaps listen to a phone message from a loved one far away,

and share a bedtime story …

Some tinies are just so tired they need carrying up to bed already fast asleep, while others bid each other “Goodnight’ or in German “Gute nacht”.

Others will have trouble falling asleep and need to count sheep before dreams come.

No matter what though, come nightfall, little ones everywhere go to bed having said “Goodnight” or perhaps used the Mandarin “Wān an”, the Russian “Spokoynoy nochi”; the Italian “Buona note”; the Finnish “Hyvää yötä”; or maybe they said “Usiku mwema” (Shahili); “Buenas noches” (Spanish), the Arabic “Tisbah ala khair”; the Hindi “Shubh raatri” or the French “Bonne nuit”.

Safe in their beds under shared moon and stars, everyone finally falls asleep.

In her bold naïve style, inclusive illustrations Hannah Tolson shows all these different bedtime scenarios as they unfold in various places.

The Suitcase


The Suitcase

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Nosy Crow

One day there comes a weary, wan and dusty looking stranger dragging behind him a large suitcase. Challenged by a watching bird as to the contents of his suitcase, the creature answers, ’Well, there’s a teacup.’

Another animal arrives on the scene expressing surprise at the size of the case in relation to a teacup and is told that it also contains a table for the cup and a wooden chair for the stranger to sit on. Up rocks a fox and on hearing what’s being said, implies the stranger is lying.

This prompts him to fill in further details about a wooden cabin with a kitchen or making tea and to describe its surrounding landscape too.

By now the creature is so exhausted he begs to be left alone to rest and falls asleep right away.

The other three creatures discuss things and fox is determined to discover the veracity or not of the information the stranger has given. His friends are less sure that breaking into the case is acceptable but fox goes ahead and the contents of the suitcase is revealed …

The damage is done: still fox insists the stranger lied to them whereas the other two are showing concern.

Meanwhile the slumberer dreams …

And when he wakes up he’s totally surprised at what the others have done …

Audiences will go through the whole gamut of emotions when this heart-rending story is shared, as did this reviewer.

It’s a totally brilliant, brilliantly simple and compelling way of opening up and discussing with little ones the idea of kindness and how we should treat those in need. I love the way the animals and what they say are colour matched and Chris’s portrayal of the characters is superb.

What better book could there be to share with a nursery or foundation stage class during refugee week than this one, offering as it does, hope and the possibility of new friendship.

Mixed

Mixed
Arree Chung
Macmillan Children’s Books

In the beginning there were three colours: Reds – the loud ones; Yellows – the bright ones and Blues – the laid-back ones, and they lived in harmony.
One afternoon though, the Reds took it upon themselves to declare that they were the best colour and that was the start of disharmony

resulting in the erection of fences, tall brick walls and separatism. Does that sound familiar?
However, one day a Yellow and a Blue notice one another and realise that their distinctive characteristics are of mutual benefit:

in short they become best buddies and more, to the alarm of the others of the three hues.
Love prevails, the two MIX and it’s not long before they’ve created a new colour they name Green. She has elements of both parents but is unique and, all the others love her.
So much so that they too begin to mix … and mix …

gradually transforming the entire neighbourhood into a harmonious, multi-coloured environment.
My immediate response to this straightforward story was ‘If only it were that simple.‘ That said the book contains powerful messages about the importance of diversity, acceptance and respect for others, as well as celebrating how  people’s differences can be tools for transformation.

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Boogie Bear

Boogie Bear
David Walliams and Tony Ross
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The tour-de-force that is Walliams and Ross has created yet another winning picture book, this time starring a resident of the North Pole, a female polar bear.

The creature over-indulges, drops off to sleep and drifts far from home. So far in fact that the sun is sufficiently warm to melt away the ice-berg upon which she’s been precariously balanced and she’s forced to swim for shore, employing ‘her best bear paddle’.

Once on dry land it seems worse is to come in the form of an advancing stampede of decidedly hostile-looking furry creatures of a brown hue yelling about a ‘boogie monster”.

Further undesirable episodes follow including the hurtling through the air of various objects – missiles …

and bears – until suddenly, the ursine residents make a startling discovery.

From then on things turn distinctly peachy for a certain polar bear;

but if you want to find out exactly how the tale ends then you’ll have to get your paws on a copy of this hilarious book. If you’re an adult who loves giving a full dramatic performance when sharing a book you’ll absolutely love this one; if you’re a child who enjoys a rippingly good yarn that will make you wriggle with laughter and that’s brilliantly illustrated, then this is for you.

Uproariously funny as it may be, the story has much to say about embracing difference, acceptance, welcoming, friendship, displacement and more. It’s as much needed now as ever.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Creature

The Creature
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

Cats have a habit of dragging things in from the outside; usually it’s a bird or small rodent.
Not so with marmalade cat, Alfie however. What he deposits on the mat is a strange little creature, bedraggled yes, but growly and frightening.

Once inside though, the creature seems to want to stay and when spring comes, smell not withstanding, it’s well and truly settled in and part of the family …

It certainly enjoys a rather strange diet; cardboard, banana skins, plastic and toast being its breakfast favourites.

Night is for roaming; that appears to be part of the creature’s nature, but come morning, it never fails to reappear.
Autumn turns to winter once more and there are clues that the Creature is up to something on the top bunk.

By Christmas however, everyone has forgotten all about it. Has that Creature perhaps got a very special seasonal gift tucked away up there?

With its quirky illustrations, surprise ending and rhyming text that echoes the rhythm pattern of “The Night Before Christmas’, this is a fun read aloud that leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill.

This Zoo is Not for You

This Zoo is Not for You
Ross Collins
Nosy Crow

A misunderstanding is at the heart of Ross Collins’ latest picture book.
It stars a bus-driving platypus who arrives at the zoo on a day when interviews for new admissions are in progress.
He’s duly made to put up with a series of scrutinies by some very self-important residents.
First off is panda, Chi Chi an enormous creature propped up by a large heap of self-promotional items, who disdainfully utters, ‘To get me here / was quite a coup. But you don’t even / eat bamboo. I think this zoo / is not for you.

All the other animals are in agreement. The flamingos liken him to a ‘worn-out shoe’; the monkeys bombard him with poo;

his lack of colour displeases the chameleons and elephant instantly fails him on account of his diminutive stature.
Off goes platypus; the interviewers confer and eventually a monkey actually bothers to open and read platypus’s dropped communication.

Is it too late to make amends?
This playful tale, told in jaunty rhyming couplets accompanied by splendidly eloquent illustrations is a delight to read aloud and destined to become a storytime favourite. With its inherent themes of difference, understanding and acceptance, there is so much food for thought and discussion.

Can I Join Your Club?

Red Reading Hub is thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this cleverly inclusive book

Can I Join Your Club?
John Kelly and Steph Laberis
Little Tiger Press
Children are inveterate club creators (often calling them gangs); and club joiners. There’s the book club, the gym club, dance club, drama club, art club and so on: after- school clubs are numerous and in my experience, extremely popular. Adults too are big club joiners. The trouble is, the issue of insiders and outsiders often rears its ugly head causing upsets, resentment and sometimes, worse: discrimination and prejudice for example.
John Kelly’s wonderful story of Duck’s efforts to become a member of a club – any club – be it Lion Club, Snake Club or Club Elephant find him wanting: he receives a resounding ‘Application DENIED!’ in each case.
Down, but definitely not out, Duck knows just what he must do. He sets up his very own club: one where every single applicant is welcome – Good on you Duck. And best of all, he calls it, eventually, OUR CLUB.

Drum roll for Duck. Acceptance and friendship rule.
How beautifully Kelly takes the issues of inclusivity and the vital importance of embracing diversity and weaves them into this funny book. As someone who is in despair about current issues such as BREXIT, the treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, not to mention Trump’s wall, this is truly a timely parable. This could be seen as a wake-up call for one and all.
Steph Laberis’ animal characters are a treat to behold: the specs they sport in this scene are so ridiculously spectacular.

Almost every scene simply crackles with energy; there is deliberately, the odd exception though – not a lot of dynamism here …

I now hand over to the book’s author to talk about the way he works:

Where do I work? And how do I work? With John Kelly author of Can I Join Your Club?

I work from home.
But the truth is that I work in lots of different places.

I work sat bolt upright in front of my desktop computer, but also slouched on the sofa with my laptop. I draw with big pencils on a drawing board perched on my dining room table, yet I scribble tiny doodles with my favourite fountain pen in a Moleskine sketchbook. I write leaning against the kitchen worktop, hunched over a cup of coffee in a cafe, wrapped up warmly on a park bench. I construct plots, characters and rhymes best in a hot bath, in the shower, laid flat out on the floor with my eyes closed, or walking a friend’s tiny Jack Russell (called Luna) round the park.

My writing work falls roughly into two modes of working.
Rhyming books and Non-rhyming books.

Rhyming books tend to start with a general idea: i.e. ‘What if a dragon was raised as a knight in armour?’
I then just begin jotting down random rhyming couplets that make me laugh or, by a bizarre combination of words, spark some other silly idea.
When I’ve got enough of those (about 40-50) I’ll see if it’s possible to roughly cut them into some kind of order. That order will then (fingers crossed) suggest some kind of story. I then start filling in the gaps with more new couplets. This will then suggest even more silly ideas which, in turn, suggests more stupid plot ideas. I then need new couplets, and the process goes on, and on, and on…

After an indeterminate time (anything from three weeks to two years) I end up with a working story outline. So then I go through it doing everything to make the rhymes as amusing as possible. Then I polish it over and over until I’m not clever enough to make it any better and send it to my agent.
She emails me back saying, “That’s great!” or “That’s awful!” In which case I start again.

Non-rhyming books are a bit different.
They still start with a general idea: i.e.‘What would happen if a Bear checked into a 5 star hotel to hibernate?’
But then I’ll just jump straight into writing in my sketchbook, trying to work out what the story is actually about. I often do drawings as I go along – not because I’m intending to illustrate it myself – but because it helps me find the meaning of certain scenes. It’s like having my own pet actors who can act out scenes to see if they work or not. Sometimes the actors are much cleverer than me and they’ll come up with something I would never have thought on my own.
Eventually I have enough to attempt a rough draft. Then it becomes very similar to the previous method of working. The big difference with non-rhyming books is that I act them out in my kitchen, which I’m sure is enormously amusing/irritating to my neighbours.

I do school visits and have learnt that what works on paper doesn’t always translate out loud. So I’m now a big believer in performing each draft of my texts. I don’t think it’s until I’ve read something out loud, in a silly voice, that I get a sense of whether it works – or not. It’s got to the point now where when I’m writing I’m always thinking, ‘How this will sound?’ in front of a hall full of 150 kids.

(I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall when John is acting out some of those drafts of his.)

I’ve signed the charter

Surprise! Surprise!

Surprise! Surprise!
Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books
Mr and Mrs Tati live together in a little yellow house, but one thing is missing from their otherwise happy life: Mrs Tati longs for a “sweet little baby”.
Mr T. visits the Baby Shop asking for a “fat, happy baby” for his wife but all they can offer are all the things that, without a baby, she has no use for at all. On his way home however, he encounters a man offering baby pigs for sale. Could one of those be the answer to Mrs Tati’s dreams?

For a while the Tatis are blissfully happy with the new addition to their family and eventually Potter is old enough to start school and that is when the trouble starts …

Potter’s parents decide their attempts to turn him into a little boy were a mistake and he’s allowed to be messy with mud and sleep outdoors instead of going to school.

Weekends though are inside times; and it’s on one such occasion that Mrs Tati makes another wish. A wish that leads to a whole chain of further wishes culminating in Mr Tata’s wish upon a falling star. “I wish, I wish, I wish, that when we wake up in the morning … we will all look the same.” …
Do you think his wish came true?
This corker – or should it be porker? – twist-in-the-tail story is an absolute delight. With themes of family love, acceptance and diversity, this is perfect for sharing both at home or school. Niki Daly imbues every illustration, large or small, with his wonderful wit and joie de vivre.

I’ve signed the charter 

Rabbit & Bear The Pest in the Nest

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Rabbit & Bear The Pest in the Nest
Julian Gough and Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
After the first wonderful Rabbit & Bear book, Bear’s Bad Habits, from this duo I did wonder whether the second could possibly be as good. The answer is definitely yes, every bit as brilliant and every bit as uproarious. Here’s a sample of the delights of the dialogue:
‘ “What?” asked Bear. “I’m angry! And I want to be calm! So I’m angry that I’m angry!” …
Why did you kick yourself?
Because I’m annoyed with myself!” said Rabbit. “Because I can’t change myself
But you can change your thoughts,” said Bear.
Change my thoughts? What’s wrong with them? My thoughts are PERFECT,” said Rabbit.
But your thoughts are making you unhappy,” said Bear.
No!” said Rabbit. “The world is making me unhappy! I must change the world … Stupid world! Change!” …
Maybe you could just think about the world differently,” said Bear. “Maybe you could … accept it
Accept! Accept!” said Rabbit … “What’s accept mean?
Saying, well, that’s just the way it is,” said Bear. “Not try to change it.
No!” said Rabbit. (a creature after my own heart; don’t an awful lot of us feel like that right now with everything that’s happening around us?) Bear though, is entirely right when she tells her pal, “Your brain is getting into a fight with the World.
As you’ll have realised – if you weren’t already aware from book 1 – these two characters are pretty much polar opposites with cantankerous Rabbit and reasonable, reasoning Bear.
What in particular though, in this tale, has made Rabbit so tetchy? Only that he’s been woken from his slumbers by a TERRIBLE noise and his place of repose (Bear’s cave) is full of light. No, it’s not thunder and lightning as he fears however, but Bear snoring and Spring sunlight illuminating the cave.

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That’s just the start of things though: worse is to follow. There’s an intruder in his burrow – not the snake he feared but still not wanted …

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and newcomer to the valley, Woodpecker’s ‘BANG! BANG! BANG!’ is utterly infuriating.
Thank goodness then for Bear and her words of wisdom. She has a wonderfully tempering effect on Rabbit and although he won’t, despite what he says, remain “Calm and Happy and Wise forever!” he does now at least have some coping mechanisms: for Bear’s snoring anyway “Mmm, maybe I should think about it in a Different Way. … Yes! I shall stop thinking of it as a Nasty Noise. I shall think of it instead as a nice, friendly reminder that my friend Bear is nearby.” And suddenly the sound, without changing at all, made Rabbit feel all happy and warm. (Must try that one.)
As well as so much to giggle over, Gough give his readers (as well as Rabbit) plenty to ponder upon in Bear’s philosophical musings about the manner in which they react to things: perspective is what it’s about essentially. Field’s visuals are equally sublime in the way they present both the humour and pathos in the relationship between the two main characters, and the situations they are involved in.

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A brilliant read for newly independent readers, but also a great read aloud: adults will enjoy it as much as listeners I suspect.

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Lucy Ladybird / Where’s Mrs Ladybird?

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Lucy Ladybird
Sharon King-Chai
Templar Publishing
This is a re-issue and it’s good to see Lucy Ladybird back in circulation once again.
Ostracised by the other ladybirds, the despondent creature takes off and soon meets Fred Frog. He pays her a morale-boosting compliment and gives her one of his green spots. As she continues to fly all through the seasons, her encounters with Carla Caterpillar, Felicity Fish and Bella Bird yield further compliments and three additional spots …

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after which Lucy returns home feeling like a true ladybird, albeit a variegated one. Will she now fit in with the other ladybirds?
Actually no but something much more exciting happens instead and before long a change has come upon the entire community …

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With its themes of difference, acceptance, sharing and friendship this is a super story to share with early years listeners and if my experience is anything to go by, immediate re-readings will be the order of the day.
This one’s rich in potential not only for discussion but creative work – I’ll leave that to your imagination. Sharon King-Chai’s paintbox hued, mixed media illustrations have certainly sparked off a whole plethora of activies, both artistic and other, whenever I’ve shared the story. Vive la difference, say I.

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Where’s Mrs Ladybird?
Ingela P.Arrhenius
Nosy Crow
Toddlers will delight in this brightly coloured hide-and-seek board book wherein four minibeasts are hiding behind felt flaps, one on each spread, except the final one whereon they watch the revelation of a mirror just waiting to be looked in.
The single sentence question and answer per double spread follows the same pattern, for instance …

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and that makes the audience two-fold: beginning readers can enjoy sharing the book, perhaps with younger siblings.

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Owl Bat Bat Owl

Owl Bat Bat Owl
Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
Walker Books
I’m a big fan of wordless picture books and this one is a cracker. It features two families one of owls, one of bats.
As the story opens, the owls are happily settled on their roomy branch enjoying some shut-eye when all of a sudden along comes a family of bats. They too decide to make their home on that self same branch so we then have …

Unsurprisingly the two families are circumspect: after all owls and bats don’t really make the best of friends.
After a fair bit of positional adjustment, the families both prepare to sleep but baby animals, like humans are inquisitive and so you can probably guess what happens after this …

Now we know that human children are much more ready to accept newcomers than are most adults. The same is true of owls …

though mother owl soon has her youngest offspring back where she wants, beside her and all is peace and quiet. But when the chips are down and disaster strikes in the shape of a storm,

differences don’t seem to matter – co-operation is now the name of the game.
This book works on so many levels and is open to a multitude of interpretations. We often talk about the power of words: here, picture power rules.
What a wonderful demonstration that reading is about so much more than getting words off the page.

Marcel

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Marcel
Eda Akaltun
Flying Eye Books
Meet Bulldog pup Marcel, a native New Yorker from downtown residing with ‘My Human’, his favourite person. Yes, the tale’s narrator is Marcel himself. He tells how he loves his daily walks on Hudson Street with said human …

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They call at Ruff and Sons for the best bagels in the city, stop off for a spot of pooch pampering at the spa …

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and drop in at the park to listen to some jazz. Downtown rocks, thinks Marcel. But uptown? That’s entirely another matter (although it is the location of the American Natural History Museum, which houses rather a lot of ‘scrumptious bones.’
However there appears to be something going on in Central Park of late: Marcel’s human has suddenly developed a particular penchant for jogging around there and, just by chance (of course), keeps running into the same male human. Hmmm?

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In fact Marcel’s whole life seems to be in utter turmoil, for this other human – a Frenchman – starts spending rather a lot of time at Marcel’s apartment, usurping his place on the couch if you please; change is NOT good in Marcel’s book.
Suddenly though, he begins to adapt and think that perhaps this different way of being is not so terrible after all. Could there possibly be room for another human in Marcel’s life …

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and even, peut être, new horizons …

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An unusual and interesting exploration of changing family relationships presented thus may well help young readers understand the confusion a seeming intruder into their close family world can cause. It’s certainly not that easy to accept and adjust to change for any of us, and children especially can feel vulnerable, so Eda Akaltun’s quirky style and light touch narrative are just the thing.
For the change averse, especially, Marcel is a winner. No make that, a winner for all.

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Be Who You Are

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Introducing Teddy
Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
There’s been a fair bit about gender identity and transitioning in the media of late; finally it has become more acceptable: now here is a picture book on the theme. It’s subtitled ‘A story about being yourself’ and this is what it celebrates: something that is of vital importance to us all, whoever we are. Equally it’s a celebration of friendship and in particular the friendship between Thomas the teddy and his pal, Errol who play together every day.

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One day though, Teddy seems sad. Errol hopes a trip to the park will cheer him up …
but even the swing doesn’t work its usual magic. “What’s wrong, Thomas? Talk to me!” Errol urges.

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And reluctantly Thomas explains. “I need to be myself … In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.” Like the true friend that he is, Errol assures his pal that no matter what, Teddy and henceforward Tilly, is his friend. And when another friend, Ava arrives on the scene, Errol introduces the re-named Tilly to her. After minor adjustments to her adornments, Tilly joins the others in a session of swinging, see-sawing and generally enjoying being themselves …

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Tenderly told and empathetically portrayed with just the right degree of gentle humour, this is a book to share with young children at home or in school.

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Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
Lee is a small green pea; Colin isn’t. Unlike all Lee’s other pals, Colin is a tall carrot stick. They’re close friends despite the fact that Colin isn’t any good at rolling, bouncing …

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or playing hide and seek with the other peas. He does however make a superb tower as well as …

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all of which combine to make him a smashing individual to have as a friend: those unique carroty characteristics are what count where friendship is concerned.
In this quirky celebration of individuality, Morag Hood – with her unlikely characters – brings a fresh spin on uniqueness and being yourself, whatever you are. I love the fact that she created her funny collage and paint pictures with the help of supermarket plastic bags. A great debut; I eagerly anticipate what comes next.
As well as being a great book to share in an early years setting, the simplicity of the text makes it ideal for beginning readers: they surely deserve unique books not dull, uninspiring fodder.

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Winter/A Bird Like Himself

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Winter
David A. Carter
Abrams & Chronicle
This small pop-up is full of wintry delights. As the sun goes down and snow begins to fall one chilly day, we see a white-tailed deer and follow deer tracks across the white covering and there’s a cardinal perching in a pine tree. Turn the page and make the snowflakes dance in the air, the snow geese too, take to the air while from behind a fir tree peeps a bear…

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yes there’s something to see at every level on each spread thereafter.
Turn over once again: holly berries deck the tree, a stoat stands stark with its tail aloft, a snowshoe hare hops by and mice are snuggling together to keep warm.
Next we see long-eared owls perching on an oak, long-tailed weasels as they are herein named, face us looking startled and red foxes are huddling from the cold (look behind the sandstone).

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Look on the next moonlit spread and find Orion above, a bobcat, snowberries glowing and creatures peeking and finally …

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Everything is still, everything is waiting under the milky way …

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One year old Jenson investigating the delights of WINTER

Some of the creatures are American but this adds interest for non-US readers rather than detracting from the charm of the book.

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A Bird Like Himself
Anahita Teymorian
Tiny Owl Publishing
When a chick emerges from a seemingly parentless egg, the animals living around take on the role of carers.

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They do their very best and if nothing else they give their new infant plenty of love.

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With such a variety of carers though, it’s not surprising that Baby – so called because he became everyone’s baby – has something of an identity crisis.
But with the winter fast approaching, it’s time for birds like Baby to be flying south to warmer climes and try as they might, none of the animals is able to demonstrate the techniques of flying …

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So what will be the fate of Baby who as yet isn’t really like those other birds? Can he finally spread those wings of his and take flight? Perhaps, with the help of a special friend …

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With its inherent themes of acceptance, parenting and caring, friendship and finding a place to fit in, this lovely book will resonate with adults as well as the many children I hope it will be shared with especially  with refugees from Syria being made to feel welcome in the UK as I write.
Author/illustrator Anahita Teymorian’s densely daubed illustrations are sheer delight. I absolutely love the final double spread whereon is revealed the significance of the chequer board design that appears on every spread – brilliant!

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Blue Penguin

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Blue Penguin
Petr Horáček
Walker Books
There’s a magical and luminous quality to the icy landscapes dazzlingly rendered by Petr Horáček in this sublime story on the theme of insiders and outsiders.
Into a penguin colony, in the far south, is born a new baby – a blue penguin. His fellow penguins are amazed. ”Are you a real penguin?” they ask and indeed Blue Penguin does all the penguiny things like diving and jumping (although he doesn’t excel); but he is ace at fishing.

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Bemused though, they begin to shun him leaving a very sad, empty-feeling Blue Penguin with no company save his night-time dreams.
Into one, repeatedly, comes a beautiful white whale that transports him far from his lonely place every night; and every morning Blue Penguin sings the whale a song sending it out across the ocean.

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This song catches the ear of another penguin drawing her closer day by day until finally, “Teach me your song,” she asks.

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Thus the two forge a friendship as Little Penguin learns to sing Blue Penguin’s song and they play and sing together.
Then comes a night when Blue Penguin decides they should sing a new song. Such is its magic that it draws in the other penguins, who, enchanted by its beauty, also want to learn the song. But his teaching is halted in its tracks by the arrival of a huge white whale that has heard the song and responded to its call.

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Now Blue Penguin has a decision to make: old song or new? Go with his dreamtime friend or remain with his new friend Little Penguin: maybe the other penguins will have some influence on his decision …
Sometimes a book comes along that sends shivers of delight right through you. Such a one is this. If only Blue Penguin’s song could be taught to everyone, the world over; maybe a copy of this beautiful, big-hearted tale should be given to each and every child, educational establishment, organisation and every nation’s leader.

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Gracie and Leo enchanted by Blue Penguin and the beauty of the book

Imagine …

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Hauntings

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Leo a ghost story
Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books
Leo is a house ghost – we readers can see him but others can’t. He’s been in his current residence for years, drawing and reading,

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but one spring day a new family moves in and Leo becomes a host ghost. His efforts definitely aren’t appreciated by the incomers who immediately decide the house is haunted and call in all manner of exorcists.

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Leo decides to move out anyway and goes a-roaming in the city. People walk past or even through him until his wanderings eventually result in an encounter with a young pavement artist, Jane who mistakes him for an imaginary friend.

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If I tell her I am a ghost, I will scare her away,” he fears.
Then late at night a thief enters Jane’s home, Leo apprehends him by donning traditional ghostly garb

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and finally gains acceptance as the being he truly is.
Christian Robinson’s wonderful retro-style illustrations, executed with collage and paint in suitably spectral shades work so well in combination with author Mac Barnett’s  matter of fact, economic narrative style: ‘ A squad car came and hauled the man off the jail. That was that.’ he comments when the thief is taken by the police.

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And, “Jane I told you a lie. I am a ghost … I am just your real friend.” “Oh!” said Jane. “Well that’s even better.
This is a wonderfully wise, warm story of friendship and acceptance, and a great one for sharing at this, or any time of the year, especially accompanied by honey toast and mint tea.

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The Mystery of the Haunted Farm
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Newly moved into the farm, Farmer Grey is more than a little discombobulated by the phantoms that seem to have invaded his residence during his somnambulatory activities.

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So, the terrified fellow calls in the Ghost-Hunters who quickly confirm that neither the pond, nor the farmhouse itself have any ghosts – according to their Scare-o-Meter, the Phantom Finder 5000 that is. So it’s off to check the barn, but the seeming invasion by ‘terrifyingly gooey supernatural creatures’ doesn’t register on that PF5000 either. What can be going on?
But then, a clue leads to the chicken coop up on the hill and it’s a case of follow those goats and see what’s going on in that ‘incredibly creepy chicken coop’

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Once inside and down the stairs, those Ghost-Hunters are amazed at the sight before their eyes: an underground fear factory the likes of which they’ve never seen before.
But why are all those animals taking on ghostly or ghoulish appearance? Mother Hen starts to explain and all is about to be revealed in an amazing show-stopping finale …
I won’t reveal the rest of this brilliantly funny romp but suffice it to say that the moon has something to answer for and those Ghost-Hunters put a pretty clever training plan into action, which is highly effective …
most of the time.

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Definitely other winner from the stupendously clever Elys Dolan

For older readers:

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Witchmyth
Emma Fischel
Nosy Crow
Flo, the modern young witch with a worldy-wise, rather eccentric Gran and a sceptical mum returns for a second Haggspitt extravaganza. Herein she has to take on the horrifying Haggfiend – head and arms of Hagg and body of Fiend with ‘evil in her cold cruel heart’; but is she real or merely a character from that book of Magical Myths.
As with the first story, there’s plenty of excitement and humour sizzling away between those gorgeous Chris Riddell covers. I can’t envisage many 8s to 10s not being caught up and swept along by this super, spellbinding story narrated by Flo herself.  I was!

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For plenty of visual thrills visit the wonderful Children’s Books Illustration Autumn Exhibition at Waterstones, Piccadilly 23rd-29th October         C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]