You’re Strong With Me

You’re Strong With Me
Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry
Lantana Publishing

For her third ‘With Me’ book Chitra Soundar sets her story on the scorched African grasslands and features a pair or giraffes – a mother one and her baby – taking for her repeat refrain ‘You’re strong with me’; and as with her previous titles, Chitra has done her background research.

Gently and reassuringly, the adult giraffe offers encouragement, advice and information as her little one begins to explore the world around.

There is so much to learn: the little one is unaware of the special symbiotic relationship between oxpeckers and giraffes and so attempts to shoo away the oxpecker that has landed on his mother’s back.

Mother giraffe explains its role (eating ‘itchy insects’ and cleaning her fur) and saying that what hurts her baby’s skin now will feel a mere tickle once her skin thickens. “Until then you’re strong with me” she comments.

The dangers of fire and its role in renewal are also explored,

as is the importance of being acutely aware of any sounds around; that way is to be forewarned of other animals be they foe or otherwise.

Further lessons follow as sunset comes and baby giraffe needs help reaching the water to quench her thirst

and then soon it’s time to stop for the night.

As always, intricately patterned composition and colour palette are key in Poonam’s illustrations. For You’re Strong With Me a multitude of brown and golden hues predominate, strongly evoking the arid landscapes of the setting (I have some curtains from India in a pattern and colour very similar to the endpapers.) and when appropriate she adds teal shades for the creek wherein the little giraffe encounters baby fish and is instructed how to quench her thirst, doing so safely under her mother’s watchful eyes.

The Chitra/Poonam partnership goes from strength to strength: whither next? I can’t wait to see.

Handa’s Noisy Night

Handa’s Noisy Night
Eileen Browne
Walker Books

Yippee! A new Handa story. Handa’s Surprise was one of THE most loved, most read picture books when I taught under sevens, so I was super excited to get my hands on a copy of this.

Handa goes to spend the night with her friend Akeyo and the girls are to sleep alone in the hut.

Having bid goodnight to the rest of Akeyo’s family, off they go but almost before the door is closed Handa hears a snorting sound outside. Akeyo insists it’s just her dad laughing.

During the night there are more sounds – chattering, rattling,

squeaking, slurping, crying and finally a thud. Rather than the grown-ups talking, Mum making music, Grandpa’s rusty bike, Nan having her bedtime drink and Akeyo’s baby that her friend claims are the cause,

readers see what is actually happening outside.

In the morning a tapping wakes Handa and when her friend opens the door, nobody’s there.

Mum’s “Did you sleep well?’ receives an accusation that the noises from other family members meant a wakeful night, which is quickly countered with, “We were as quiet as mice”.

The glowing Kenyan landscape and stunningly patterned clothes of the characters are signature Handa story elements, but here we’re treated to the delights of some of the resident fauna of the area- a bushpig, bat-eared foxes, an African porcupine, yellow-winged bats, a tree pangolin, lesser bush-babies, the magnificent spotted eagle-owl and a Nubian woodpecker, each one in its full glory (all are named in the author’s notes at the front).

It’s hard to believe the original Handa story is now 25 years old; I still have a treasured copy of the first edition and she’s lost none of her magic. Happily now though there are more BAME books available: this one is a ‘must have’ addition to any family bookshelf or nursery/KS1 class library.

The Mud Monster

The Mud Monster
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What on earth is the terrible mud monster that is sending all the animals into a panic? Despite the fact that not a single one of them has seen it, they know for sure it’s huge and horrible.

One day as the monkeys are playing among the creepers they spy something: “Help! It’s the mud monster!” comes the cry. Despite being covered in mud, it isn’t a monster, merely five flamingos, mire-bespattered and desperately in need of a bath in the river. The monkeys are happy to carry them there.

They’re not the only animals to ‘see’ the Mud Monster though. Warthog and rhinoceros also mistakenly identify the moving creature as that which they fear before they too join the throng heading to the river.

When they finally reach their destination, there before them is something huge and exceedingly muddy: surely it couldn’t be that which they dread …

Hilariously illustrated and full of fun, this second tale set in the African rainforest to feature the five flamingos, is one of teamwork and overcoming imaginary fears, and comes from Jonnie and Brita, two people who have a special interest in Africa and its wildlife. Jonnie’s royalties are donated to support conservation projects in Africa, details of which are given at the back of the book.

The Carnivorous Crocodile

The Carnivorous Crocodile
Jonnie Wild and Brita Granström
Otter-Barry Books

What would you do if you were a thirsty creature desperate for a cooling drink from the waterhole, but the animals warned you of a carnivorous crocodile lurking within and claiming ownership of its waters? Probably you’d stay safely on the bank, but that is not what the five flamingos do.
We’re not frightened of a silly old croc,” is their response on hearing about the likelihood of being crunched by said croc. as they sally forth into the water.

As expected the resident crocodile happens along, jaws agaping and threatening, “I’m a carnivorous crocodile who crunches creatures like you. And this is MY waterhole.
Did those flamingos flinch or show any other signs of fear? Oh no; instead they responded thus: “We are flamingos. WE are pink and beautiful. And WE are NOT FOR EATING! If you eat us, you will have horrible hiccups!
This possibility does not appeal to the crocodile and off it swims.

Heartened by this display of bravado, and encouragement to “Be brave”, three giraffes gingerly enter the water. Before you can say ‘snap’ who should be there repeating his threat but that crocodile, only to be greeted by the same “We are flamingos …” mantra and amazingly off swims the jaw snapper.
Next comes a family of monkeys and off we go again.

This time though the crocodile is a tad suspicious but he swims off nonetheless.

Two eager elephants march confidently forwards and they too claim to be flamingos – pink and beautiful.
The crocodile may not fall for this subterfuge again but he’s certainly in for a surprise, for elephants have other, shall we say, more weighty characteristics …

This learning to share story certainly appeals to children’s (and adults’) sense of the ridiculous; and readers aloud will relish the opportunity to ham it up – certainly this reviewer did. Debut author Jonnie Wild, is passionate about environmental issues and is donating his royalties to charities supporting African wildlife conservation.

Brita Granström’s scenes of the various animals shape-shifting attempting to emulate the flamingo pose and take on the flamingo characteristics are highly inventive and delightfully droll; even the elephants make a brave attempt.

A highly successful collaboration and a great book to share; don’t forget to check out the information on some of the animals and conservation on the final page.

Emmanuelle engrossed in the antics of the animals

The Wild Fluffalump

The Wild Fluffalump
Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway
Troika Books

Here’s a lovely rhyming story penned by Bruce Hobson, the well known author, who writes under the name Mwenye Hadithi;
Set on the African plains, it’s a fun read aloud but with a serious intent: Hudson commissioned the book in aid of TUSK (a charity dedicated to protecting wild animals in Africa) with the aim that young children ‘should learn to feel protective towards rhinos and elepahnts’ as well as the more cuddly kinds of wild animals.
When a baby creature goes to sleep beneath a tall Cotton Wool tree, where Leopard’s child has been leaping and bouncing all night, little does it know it’s in for a big surprise the next morning.
When it wakes, it’s as a giant fluffy white ball and doesn’t recognise itself at all.
First on the scene are the Meerkats and they decide it’s a wild Fluffalump.
Other plains creatures come along one by one: Eagle, Buffalo, Lion, Hyena, Vulture, Bush Baby, Rhino, Giraffe and even Leopard’s child …

and with their poking, prodding, pushing and shaking, endeavour to identify the creature.
Down comes the rain, washing off some of its fluff as it heads to the waterhole for a drink. Crocodile cannot resist taking a bite of its bottom causing the thing to emit a loud trumpeting sound.

Recognising the cry, along comes mother Elephant.
She picks up Fluffalump, takes him to the lake, washes off all the fluff and restores the creature to his former self.

He then realises that he is in fact ‘Elephant’s Child.’
Adrienne Kennaway’s paintings of the iconic animals of the savannah are full of humour and suffused with glowing African sunlight. The prodding and poking inflicted upon the Fluffalump gradually expose bits of his disguise so that observant readers may guess the identity of the mystery creature before his mother does.
Great fun and a cause well worth supporting.