The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift
Alan Durant and Marjan Vafaeian
Tiny Owl

Rabbit is a much-loved creature, always ready to help and share with friends and neighbours. One day Meerkat knocks on her door with news: the birth of a royal baby is announced and the queen is having a celebratory party in the palace. Meerkat urges Rabbit to come along but in her paws she’s holding a gift. Rabbit doesn’t have a gift and she turns down her friend’s offer to share. Back indoors she searches high and low but can find nothing she deems suitable for the new baby.

Then ostrich calls and she too make the same offer as Meerkat, but is also turned down and told to go ahead. Other creatures also stop by, each bearing a gift.

By now the sun has almost gone for the day but still Rabbit won’t join them. As the sun sets she decides the only answer is to go to the party sans gift and ask the Queen’s forgiveness.

With her lamp in her paws, she makes her way to the palace and is surprised on arrival to find the place in darkness. Holding up her lamp, Rabbit approaches her majesty. Imagine Rabbit’s surprise when she’s greeted with the words, “And you’ve brought the perfect gift.” What can she mean by those words?

With themes of selflessness, kindness and friendship Alan Durant’s tale accompanied by Marjan Vafaeian’s delightfully quirky, detailed illustrations (love Ostrich’s knobbly knees) leave you with a wonderfully warm feeling inside. A thought provoking book to share both at home and in the classroom.

Human Town

Human Town
Alan Durant and Anna Doherty
Tiny Owl

Holding a mirror up to us is this story wherein elephants Junior, Lulu and their parents visit Human Town. Whereas their parents suggest it’s likely to be a boring place, the offspring consider it cool.

On arrival they first peruse the list of rules and then start wandering around, Dad warning of the potential dangers and unpredictably of humans. They pause to watch people entering shops empty- handed and coming out with bags stuffed full of ‘things’. Things, says Dad, make humans happy. The young elephants are shocked to learn that some humans eat sheep, chickens and cows. “You can’t judge them like us, … they’re wild animals,” is Dad’s comment.

The football game is a disappointment; but even worse is the stream full of rubbish and the foul-smelling air, both the results of human carelessness and hence points out Mum, one of the reasons they are dying out;

so too is the “farting car” Junior spies. The church, cinema and school are completely empty: not a human in any of them; and those outside their homes are shown fighting one another

while inside others watch a boring thing called ‘Teevee”.

Then totally unimpressed, the elephants stop for a family picnic before returning home. First though Junior asks one final question about the likelihood of humans becoming extinct. Mum’s answer along with her young one’s response on the last page are thought-provokingly alarming.

Cleverly presenting consumerism, conflict, pollution and the vital importance of the environment and protecting animals, this book is an excellent starting point for discussions with children on those themes. Yes it’s wryly humorous, but the truths of what we see and read are evident the world over: we can no longer turn our backs on what is happening on this planet that we – humans and wildlife – share.

Quill Soup

Quill Soup
Alan Durant and Dale Blankenaar
Tiny Owl

This droll tale, the third in Tiny owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ enterprise is a wonderful retelling of an African variant of folk tale classic Stone Soup.

Here the protagonist, Noko is a tired, very hungry porcupine that dupes a whole village of selfish, well-sated animals into contributing to a wonderful meal even though they’ve asserted one by one that they have absolutely nothing to spare for the stranger.

Noko’s initial request in the seemingly empty village he arrives at is to the resident of the first house. But his “Do you have anything I can eat?” request is met with Warthog’s response, “I’m sorry, I ate a big lunch and all my food is gone.” Really?

Further excuses come from Rabbit, Monkey, Aardvark,

Meerkat and Pangolin, and all the while Noko is convinced the animals are lying.

Though his body may be tired, the porcupine’s brain most certainly isn’t – it’s as sharp as his own quills and he comes up with a plan to get some of that food stashed away in the villagers’ homes.

The animals feel obliged to his requested large pot of water and some fire, and learn that the visitor is to make his own quill soup using three quills from his own back – a flavourful soup fit for a king.

Mightily impressed that Noko has met the king, one by one the villagers provide the ingredients he mentions as he samples the contents of the pot until eventually the porcupine declares the soup “Perfect’ and then it’s time for a shared feast under the stars.

And by the time Noko requests a hole to bed down in, the other animals have realised that he deserves a much comfier place than that to sleep – after the communal singing, dancing and storytelling, that is.

Dale Blankenaar’s kaleidoscopic illustrations have a zestiness about them that is just right for Alan Durant’s version of the story. Their combination serves up the full-flavoured message that we  should all offer a welcome to strangers in need, sharing our resources to help them, wherever, whenever we can.

Dads and A Digger-Driving Pirate

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Daddy I Can’t Sleep
Alan Durant and Judi Abbot
Picture Corgi pbk
It’s bedtime for Little Panda but he just cannot get to sleep: He can hear all kinds of scary noises. What could be roaring and howling outside their cave in the forest?
Fortunately, Daddy Panda knows exactly how to quell those fears. Taking Little Panda on his back off he goes into the forest and there they hear not scary sounds, but the gentle music of the bamboos,

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see the palm fronds waving bird-like in the wind and smell the sweet aroma of the fresh juicy shoots. Then having collected stem, leaves

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and shoots they head home and after partaking of a tasty treat, Little Panda snuggles down in bed. But before he sleeps there’s a lovely surprise – or rather, two lovely surprises – waiting for him, courtesy of Daddy Panda.

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A warm, reassuring tale with a pair of delightful characters; what a super, empathetic father figure Daddy Panda is. Judi Abbot’s densely coloured illustrations capture the atmosphere of the moonlit forest beautifully and those panda expressions speak volumes. Snuggle up close and share at bedtime or any time.


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I Want My Daddy
Tracey Corderoy and Alison Edgson
Little Tiger Press
There are times when only a dad will do and Arthur is having one of those days. The first time it’s when his castle collapses, then when his knightly activities cause him to come a cropper

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and after that his foray into fishing proves rather too much for the youngster. But happily for Arthur his Daddy is on hand to rescue the situation every time disaster strikes. After such an eventful day the young knight decides from the safety of his super new castle that it is time to inaugurate a very special king to rule over the kingdom and he sets to work creating …


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Share with Dads (and others) especially after one of those days when everything’s been just a bit too much. We can all applaud the fatherly care and consideration shown to young Arthur in this warm-hearted story for the very young.

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Pirates Don’t Drive Diggers
Alex English and Duncan Beady
Maverick Arts Publishing pbk
Brad comes from pirating stock; his Dad is determined young Pirate Brad should go off and join a crew. Brad however, has other plans: rather than fighting and plundering, he longs for a life driving diggers on a building site. Dad wishes win the day and so Bradley packs his bag and boards ship as crew member of the Salty Dog.

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Right from the start though, Brad fails to live up to Captain Blood’s expectations: his compass reading is topsy turvy, sword fights turn him to a quivering, cowering jelly and he takes a terrible tumble landing right in Blood’s bunk.
Begging for a final chance, Brad is presented with a large map and ordered to return with the treasure or walk the plank, so off he rows, fearing for his life. As luck would have it however, he eventually lands up on shore and having found the X begins to dig but …

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Surely our Brad isn’t about to meet his doom? As he keeps saying, “A pirate’s life is not for me,/ I want to drive a digger, see.” Hold on though lad … what did you just say? Off he dashes to the building site.

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But can he persuade those astonished builders to help him out? What do you think? …

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Mermaid Messages and a Mix-Up

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Dear Mermaid
Alan Durant and Vanessa Cabban
Walker Books pbk
If, like young Holly in this story, you discovered a mermaid’s purse on the beach what would you do? Give it back to the mermaid perhaps? That is what Holly decides is right and she writes a message in the sand.

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So begins a pen friend correspondence (using the mermaid’s purse as a dead letter box) and in the first letter the mermaid, Princess Kora, (daughter of the Mer King and Queen) mentions a missing key. Holly in return determines to find it and the hunt – as well as the pen-pal exchange – continues. Holly provides Kora with updates on her attempts to locate the key, asks questions about Kora’s undersea life and leaves her small gifts. Kora in return responds to the questions and provides details about her mer-life, the creatures around her and the forthcoming Mer Festival.
Can Holly locate the golden key (a key that the Mer Queen needs to open her jewellery box) in time to save her friend having to face her mother’s anger?
This magical story will appeal most strongly to those who enjoy the excitement of the letter exchange, relish small treasures and like dressing up. Vanessa Cabban’s colours are gorgeously dream-like

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and the pages sparkle with gently glowing marine objects

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and bubble with small blessings.

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The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Little Mermaid
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Picture Corgi
In addition to the customers who visit Kittie Lacey’s salon, she also does home visits on occasion. One of her regular clients is Coral, the little singing mermaid who tells Kittie of a special human she’d like to meet – Prince Marino – royal diving instructor. Enchanted by her wonderful singing voice, the prince is equally eager to find its owner; but will the two ever get together? Happily yes, for Kittie is on hand to help. To do so however involves getting the better of the wicked sea witch and her evil enchantment.

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This is the sixth in the Fairytale Hairdresser series and as always, there’s a happily ever after ending and it’s packed with fairy tale characters to join in the celebrations. Doubtless Kittie’s fans (and she has many )will lap this one up too.

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Under a Pig Tree
Margie Palatini and Chuck Groenink
Abrams Books
When is a fig not a fig? Why, when it’s a pig of course. At least that is what seems to be the crux of the matter in this enigmatic picture book subtitled ‘A History of the Noble Fruit. (A Mixed-Up Book) and a mixed up book, it certainly is and a funny one. First of all we are told that ‘Pigs were presented as “medals” to the winners of the first Olympics in 776BC.’  I googled this putting in pigs and figs and the only thing I could turn up was that sometimes figs (dried ones) were recommended as a dietary tip for Ancient Olympian athletes prior to competing. Pigs however were used as a sacrifice, each athlete going to the sanctuary of Zeus and sacrificing one to the god.
I decided not to bother with Google any longer but just to enjoy the on-going battle between the book’s author and her editor in this post-modern foray; not forgetting of course, the wonderfully quirky illustrations provided by Groenink who has clearly had enormous fun creating all manner of porcine characters including celebrities,

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in his mixed media illustrations that also include parodies of ancient Greek vases, those of the Chinese Ming Dynasty and the medieval Book of Hours.

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This is certainly NOT a book for everyone but I can see it appealing to those readers who enjoy something different from a straightforward narrative: something that tickles and teases the taste buds perhaps.

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