The Tickle Test / Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit

The Tickle Test
Kathryn White and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
Tickling has been the topic of picture books on previous occasions but there’s never been one wherein a tiny mouse is being tested for a job in the ‘Tickle Squad’. The little animal is charged with test tickling all kinds of creatures, great and small, while established members of the squad look on and comment on each and every ticklish encounter.

Did I say ‘creatures great and small?’ Maybe I should add here that each one is a pretty formidable proposition be it the jiggling, wriggling bear; the stinky gorilla, the parping pachyderm,

or even the sniggering snake.
I’d rather he than me when it comes to tackling the jaggy-toothed croc. and I’d beat a hasty retreat when it comes to the final challenge – that’s if you aren’t partial to a spot of tickling particularly from an enthusiastic mouse anyhow.
Kathryn White’s rhyming narrative in combination with Adrian Reynolds’ rib-tickling visuals make for a fun read aloud. Love the endpapers too!

Beware though of finger-fidgets on behalf of your listeners as they try hard to resist testing their own tickling skill on those around them during the story.

Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Runaway Biscuit
Jane Clarke and Loretta Schauer
Five Quills
Sky Private Eye has another case to solve when she answers the call of the Little Old Man who reports anxiously, “Our Gingerbread Boy is missing!” Before you can say ‘biscuit’, Sky and her trusty companion, Snuffle are off on the scooter to the source of the call. There they learn that gingerbread lover, Foxy Loxy is in the vicinity and are given permission to search the Boy’s bedroom. It’s there Snuffle discovers a crucial clue concerning new running shoes, which Sky immediately links to the forthcoming Fairytale Olympics.
The race is on: can they track down Gingerbread Boy before Foxy Loxy gets to him?

Furthermore will the sudden shower of rain reduce the runner in training to a soggy heap?
The recipe is akin to the previous case: cupcake baking, a deft move on Sky’s part …

and a thoroughly satisfying finale. Whether or not you met Sky in Sky Private Eye and the Case of the Missing Grandma, then do so now. The chief ingredients: Jane Clarke’s toothsome telling and Loretta Schauer’s appetising artwork, wield their magic again.

I’ve signed the charter  

An Animal Kind of Christmas

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Happy Hooves Oh! Oh! Oh!
A.Bogie and Rebecca Elliott
Fat Fox Books
Christmas Eve brings excitement for the Happy Hooves brigade. Galvanised by Cow’s urging to get their homes spick and span in readiness for Santa’s visit, they stir from their afternoon slumbers and set off to clean up their respective abodes. But a terrible realization soon dawns for first home, Pig: he has no chimney for Santa to come down. Sheep offers to put him up but then he too remembers he has no chimney.

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Both flee to Donkey’s abode but the same applies here. Off they go to Foal’s but once again it’s a case of a chimneyless residence. What use are sparkling clean homes if Santa can’t get in? It’s not Ho! Ho! Ho! but Oh! Oh! Oh! The despairing friends seek out Cow.
Oh Cow, this news will make you glum,
We’ve got no chimneys for Santa to come!
Fortunately Cow knows that Santa will deliver his gifts anywhere just so long as a mince pie is left to welcome him. However, she makes the others an offer they can’t refuse and so, panic over, gathered together in Cow’s warm barn, they hear that, now welcome, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!‘ of Santa in the distance.

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Snow Bunny’s Christmas Gift
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow
As Snow Bunny snuggly wrapped in her red cape, joins her friends Mouse, Fox and Bear in the snow just before Christmas, she’s full of anticipation at the fun they’ll have. Sledging is first but the chill wind sends Mouse scampering for the warmth of her home.

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Ice-skating makes Fox shiver so he too departs, then when the snow starts falling in the forest, Bear heads off home leaving a sad Snow Bunny all alone. On her way home she discovers a coin shining in the moonlight and off she goes to Badger’s shop. There she buys something that, after a lot of hard work with her knitting needles, means that her friends need never feel cold again. Fox, Mouse and Bear all have their warm Christmas gifts but their creator has the very best present of all – their friendship.

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A warm-hearted, tenderly told tale full of the true spirit of the season and with added sparkly touches at every turn of the page.
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The Sheep that Saved Christmas
Jason Page and Adrian Reynolds
Red Fox pbk
Unfortunately for her flock-mates, Cynthia, is a sheep obsessed with Christmas, starting her anticipation of the festival in January. Fortunately for them however, maths is not her strong point so they come up with a cunning plan to pack her off on an extended holiday far away. And where do they dispatch her? – To the North Pole where Cynthia begs Santa to give her a job as one of his helpers. Seemingly though, she isn’t cut out to be a present wrapper, nor a cook’s assistant or even a sleigh puller. A disappointed Cynthia is on the point of heading home when she learns that disaster has befallen Santa himself. Christmas is cancelled, he announces but Cynthia thinks otherwise. Finally, the determined ewe gets her chance to save the day …

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Crazy, seasonal fun illustrated with Reynolds’ characteristic verve and humour. Cynthia’s changing fortunes are captured beautifully in her facial expressions and body language.
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Yikes, Santa-Claws!
Pamela Buchart and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Frivolous Christmas frolics dinosaur style delivered by the creators of Yikes Stinkysaurus …
Who is that green scaly creature sporting a red hat and beard and coming down the chimney as the dino-tots snuggle up in bed eagerly awaiting Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve? It’s one Santa-Claws and it seems he’s hell bent on wreaking havoc and wrecking Christmas at their and every other home too. It’s just as well then, that a sparkling tree stops him dead in his tracks

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just as the real Santa arrives to put a stop to all the mischief and mayhem caused by this imposter and making Santa-Claws to see the error of his ways.
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Unexpected Arrivals

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George and the Dinosaur
Felix Hayes and Sue Heap
Brubaker, Ford and Friends (Templar)
When George’s passion for excavation results in his unearthing a dinosaur egg, little does he know that its contents – a perfect creature no less – will have such a voracious appetite. Insatiable in fact, for not only does it consume the furniture, TV, fridge and everything inside, down goes a garden tree, the paddling pool, even the tiny mouse in George’s care belonging to Class 2. From then on things go from bad to worse: the dino. swallows both George’s parents, two sweet old ladies, cars and larger vehicles – quite literally everything. Finally only George remains; so what does the dinosaur do? Well, it opens those terrible jaws and SNAP!
Of course we all know what happens when a digestive system gets over-loaded; it makes lots of gas and …

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Moving in and out of rhyme, the text reads aloud beautifully as one would expect – it’s written by Gruffalo actor Felix Hayes and he should know.
But, when he cleans his treasure he finds …
the gems are stones, dirt and dust.
The sword is a spoon all covered in rust.
The leg is a root, cracked and dried.
But the egg’s still an egg
With something inside.
George puts the egg in the cupboard under the stairs.

Sue Heap’s mixed media illustrations are full of amusing details and show much more than is said in the words:
Young audiences will particularly enjoy spotting the whereabouts of the items burped out by the dinosaur on the final spread; and Hayes’ final sentence leaves space for children’s own flights of fancy.
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What Makes a Hippopotamus Smile!
Sean Taylor and Laurent Cardon
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
It’s not every day that a hippo comes to visit but when one does – or should that be, if, then take the advice of the small girl narrator of this funny picture book. Open wide the door,

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play a splashy-sploshy game, then give him a warm bath with silly toys thrown in to make him laugh, after which you should share a very large crunchy salad, freshly harvested, naturally. Oh, and make sure when it’s time to bid your new best friend farewell that you do so in style – a little dance might be appropriate. That’s if you want him to come again, of course. Err …

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It’s all in the interplay of Sean Taylor’s playful words (which sometimes rhyme) and the comical scenes created by Laurent Cardon using mixed ink techniques and digital art. Herein, it’s the antics of the bit players, largely froggy,

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as much as the hippo’s (mis)behaviour that make the scenes so amusing. Then, there’s that almost throwaway last line and don’t forget to take a look at the endpapers with those telltale footprints too.
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Gracie is amused at the animals’ antics

There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes
Michelle Robinson and Jim Field
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Just like many children, Eric, the narrator of this story and his brother Dan have been saving cereal box coupons for a free gift; here ‘it’s a ‘Free Lion’ on offer. They’d bought so many boxes of cornflakes it took a year’s pocket money to pay for them and forever to cut out the hundred coupons needed. With said coupons duly sent off, the children wait, anticipating the fun they’ll have with the lion.

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A week later nothing has arrived although numerous others have their lions – real ones. Monday comes again and with it a delivery truck. Out steps – wait for it – a huge grizzly bear, the only trouble being it’s sent next door in error; well not quite the only trouble: Mr Harper’s back yard is trashed too.

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Complaints are made and the animal replaced but, not with a lion (they’d run out of those) but a crocodile. More complaints … another replacement animal  …

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a face to face encounter with the cereal people … compensation of the packet kind … furious children’s faces … some serious thinking …

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Mmm yes, the alternatives do have their advantages and after all, lions are just so common nowadays.
Well what about the next offer then? Err
This totally crazy tale, which brings together for the first time the talents of Michelle Robinson and Jim Field, is a joy to read aloud. The former has caught the conversational style of a young boy narrator beautifully. The latter’s wildly energetic illustrations are crammed full of delicious details to pore and giggle over.
Definitely destined to become a story time favourite.
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press pbk
There is a wonderful, surprise twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mums. What is Mummy Cow to do when confronted with a Lion Cub demanding meat in the middle of a field?

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And baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee!” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.

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With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round and a text that trips off the tongue, ‘Baby Bunny bounced into Squirrel’s drey./He clung to a branch with his claws all day.’ this is one to share with the under sixes and will assuredly prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Tinies and Monsters

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Very Little Red Riding Hood
Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap
David Fickling Books
With Red Teddy in hand and blanket, tea-set and a box of cakes safely stowed in her pull along bag, Very Little Red Riding Hood sets out to her Grandmama’s for a sleepover. Before long, what should she meet but a Wolf. “A Foxie!” she cries in delight giving him a big hug. More than a little put out at her lack of fear and her refusal to give him a cake, the Wolf suggests gathering a bouquet for Grandmama. Red – insists our feisty young heroine, inviting ‘Foxie’ to a game of chase all the way to Grandmama’s and a ‘cuppatea’ when they get there. But is this a step too far? Well, there’s a rib-tickling ending but if you want to find out what happens, then get your hands on this sweetly funny variation of the traditional story.
With her toddler talk and winning smile, Very Little Red Riding Hood is an absolute charmer.

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Rosa and Nina sharing Little Red’s exploits

The end papers show the route she took to her Grandmama’s house but also a number of other homes occupied by ‘Very Little’ fairy tale characters. Is this then the start of a series? I do hope so. Certainly this first time collaboration between Heapy and Heap is a whole heap of fun.
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The Tiny King
Taro Miura
Walker Books
In a castle far away lived a king. But the castle was very, very big and the king was a very, very Tiny King. The Tiny King had a big army and a big, big table for his meals but delicious food isn’t much fun if you’re all alone. It’s a good thing then, that the Tiny King fell head over heels in love with a princess, albeit a Big Princess and she agreed to be his wife. Before long, the Tiny King and the Big Queen had lots of children and what seemed like a very big castle for one Tiny King now felt just right with ten children playing and laughing the whole day.
Of course, big families mean lots of sharing: sharing meals, sharing the space on the big white horse’s back and sharing a riotous bath time; and what comes of sharing? Happiness; certainly that’s so in the case of the Tiny King.
Japanese artist and author, Taro Muira uses precision, patterned cut-outs in bold, bright colours and white, to construct simple shaped collage scenes, which stand out dramatically against flat black backgrounds. These scenes remind me of scenes from young children’s small world and construction play.

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Told in a straightforward manner, this simple neo fairy tale is a delight to share with under fives.
(Quite apart from the story, there is a wealth of learning opportunities here: talking about sharing, counting, identifying shapes, mathematical language and concepts relating to size, pattern making, block play, collage and small world castle play.)
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Upside Down Babies
Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
There is a lovely twist at the end of this funny rhyming tale of a world turned upside down when ‘the earth went blue and the sky went brown.’ On this fateful topsy-turvy day, all the baby animals find themselves with the wrong mothers. What is Mummy Camel to do when confronted with a baby Polar Bear in the middle of the desert and baby Rooster’s dawn greeting of “Cock-a doodle-dee” definitely does not go down well with a sleepy Mummy Owl trying to get some shut eye in her tree.
With its bold, bright, wonderfully expressive pictures of the consternation all round, and a text that trips off the tongue, this is one to share  with the under sixes and will prompt many an encore to the huge enjoyment of readers and listeners alike.
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Enormouse
Angie Morgan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Enormouse was big; much, much bigger than all the other mice in Mouse House. But being big had its advantages. Enormouse could lift REALLY heavy cheese, reach high up things and give lifts to tired-legged little mice. One day while out exploring he and his best friend Tinymouse find a large book with pictures of furry animals. That’s when Tinymouse concludes that his pal is actually A RAT. How the other mice laugh at poor Enormouse. Off he goes to find a new home with the rats but, what a shock he gets on arriving at ‘Rats’ House’; there’s mess everywhere. His offer to clean up is laughed at and once again Enormouse feels at odds with his housemates. In the meantime, his mouse friends have seen the error of their ways and set off in the hope of bringing their absent friend back home. But it’s now dark and they don’t know where to go…
From the mouse photo portrait endpapers, every turn of the page brings much to talk about and explore in the mixed media illustrations. The squalor of the rats’ house is truly disgusting with the grubby rodents lolling amongst half eaten fruit, discarded chips, over-turned cans, fish bones, filth and flies. You can almost smell the pong.

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Rosa couldn’t resist coming to see what we were so disgusted at.

The story too offers plenty of food for thought with its themes of not judging by appearances, self-belief, friendship and finding ones place in the world.
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Here Be Monsters
Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene
Macmillan Children’s Books
With the fiercest pirate crew and the fastest pirate ship, fearless Captain Cut-Throat is the meanest pirate to sail the seas. So, when he hears of an island strewn with giant gemstones he is determined to set sail straight away. His crew members though are far from happy; monsters are hiding in the mist, so the legend tells. At first all goes well but then they reach the MIST from which emanates all manner of alarming sounds. “Sail on!” commands the Captain and they do – into the swirling white. ‘ “Here be monsters!” cried the lookout…
‘ “Nonsense!” growled the Captain. “Monsters simply don’t exist.” ‘

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And so he maintains, heading on, unaware of the diminishing crew numbers, until an island comes into view. Once ashore, the penny finally drops but undaunted, the greedy Captain has his mind only on those giant jewels littering the shore. Oh foolish one!
Emmett’s riotous rollicking rhyme rattles along apace and when read aloud, it will have delighted audiences joining in with the repeated refrain of the fearless captain, as they see what he does not – his crew disappearing one by one.
Poly Bernatene draws his inspiration for the dastardly crew from the less attractive members of the animal kingdom with crow, rat, crocodile and blue-bottomed baboon all featuring. The almost filmic quality of his arresting illustrations adds to the dramatic impact of the story.
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