Food Fight

Food Fight
Alex Latimer
Oxford Children’s Books

Brimming over with wit and humour is this story of young friends Grape and Mushroom. These two have a problem though. Since way, way back in time and for reasons completely forgotten the Vegetables and the Fruits have been bitterly at odds, hurling insults at each other and attempting to put paid to the friendship between Grape and Mushroom. 

Now things have escalated so much that the two young ones hide themselves away during the fighting to discuss what, if anything can be done about this constant warfare.

They decide to ask the advice of the Wise Old Cheese – if such a being even exists – said to live, if the legend is correct, on the Top Shelf of the fridge. This entails scaling the heights on a perilous journey through blizzards and quicksands, each encouraging the other through the worst parts. (Beware of the puns). Finally, utterly exhausted Grape and Mushroom reach the object of their search. 

Wise Old Cheese, exceedingly old, stinky and a tad mouldy, is fast asleep on that Top Shelf. Having explained their plight, the wedge promises through its moustache to think about the problem, but then promptly falls fast asleep once more.
Very disappointed, the friends return, find the Fruits and Vegetables still battling and are about to part company when they become aware of a ‘mysterious milky light’ accompanied by ‘a familiar pungent pong’. 

All squabbling ceases as there before them is the wise Old Cheese. The mouldy wedge announces the purpose of his visit and draws their attention to Mushroom and Grape, wonderful examples of cooperation united in a single purpose.

And so it is that the two factions, impressed at what they’ve heard, decide they have rather a lot in common and resolve to try peaceable living.

With a plenitude of wordplay, speech bubbles, splendidly expressive garden produce and instantly recognisable kitchen equipment, this is a delicious story demonstrating the all-conquering power of friendship and the importance of focussing on similarities not differences.

Pip & Egg

Pip & Egg
Alex Latimer and David Litchfield

This week for the first time in many months I’ve been able to spend time with some of my very close friends and I know just how important strong bonds of friendship are. This poignant story is a demonstration of what true friendship really means.

When Pip and Egg meet, there’s an instant attraction on account of the similarity in their shape and size. Their friendship grows but so too do they: Pip grows roots that hold him in one place, which means that for the friendship to continue, change is necessary: Egg makes daily visits to see sapling Pip. Over the weeks though Egg is transformed with a beak, feathers and wings –

wings that grow so strong she eventually takes to the air.

With Pip’s blessing, Egg decides that it’s time to explore the big wide world. Off she flies leaving a broken hearted Pip rooted to his spot, where he’ll always remain should she ever return.

From the air Egg is amazed at the sights – the forests, lakes, mountains and most of all the city where she stops, forming new attachments.

Eventually though, she knows it’s time to return to the valley from whence she came …

Like everything he does, David Litchfield’s illustrations for this story are stunningly beautiful: rich in fine detail and texture, and the way he uses light and shade creating atmosphere and focus on Egg in the city especially, is truly magical.

Mole Hill

Mole Hill
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer has brilliantly combined two of young children’s favourite picture book topics into one splendid rhyming tale – Mole Hill.

Mole and his two children live happily in their cosy subterranean home until one morning the foul stench of diesel fumes pervades their molehill.

Mole surfaces to investigate and what he sees fills him with horror. There before him are three enormous trucks, Dozer grim and yellow, even larger, bright orange Excavator and a smaller red toughie, Loader.

As they move towards Mole’s mound with their scary sound Mole surprises the machines by taking a stand.

He issues a challenge to the threatening threesome

following it with some quick thinking and an instruction to dig for the bones of his last adversary.

What they unearth scares the daylights out of them

causing them to beat a very hasty retreat.

Safely back home Daddy Mole regales the event to the little moles. They however armed with some bedtime reading, are ready to challenge the veracity of his machine-scaring story.

The scale of Mole’s task is highlighted in Alex’s bright, bold images of the huge machines towering over the diminutive hero and I love too the sprinkling of minibeast onlookers that adorn every spread.

Lula and the Sea Monster

Lula and the Sea Monster
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

A new highway is due to be constructed and as a result, despite their protestations, Lula and her family are soon to be forced out of their family home, an old house on the beach.
One morning just before their move out date, Lula takes a walk along the beach armed with sandwiches and her bucket and spade. Suddenly she comes upon a tiny creature that looks as though it’s about to become a seagull’s tasty breakfast snack.

Lula however sees off the seagull, scoops up the little creature in her bucket and decides – on account of its size – to name it Bean.

She takes him to a suitable sized rock pool and frees him there, feeding him a sandwich, which the creature soon demolishes.
Promising to return next day, she goes home and in the morning makes extra sandwiches for her new friend, Bean.

Overnight however, Bean has grown considerably and now won’t fit in the rock pool. Lula takes him to a larger one, feeds him generous amounts of sandwiches and they spend some time playing together.

The following day she returns with a veritable Bean feast.

Bean meanwhile has grown enormously and using the food as bait, she lures him to a very large pool where he gobbles up everything.

By now Lula’s attachment to Bean is considerable, so much so that she cannot bear to visit him next morning. Come lunchtime though, she’s feeling braver and off she goes again but there’s no sign of Bean in the rock pool.

All too soon it’s moving day and as the bulldozers arrive, Lula stages one final protest. Can she possibly prevent the demolition squad from getting to work?

Perhaps not single handed, or even with the help of her human friends; but what about Bean? …

I could see little Luna becoming a member of the young guardians of the environment movement that has been so much in the news recently with their protests and marches. Good on her and on them. In Alex’s magical, heart-warming story, as in life, it’s down to children to make a difference and his portrayal of little Lula as a determined, don’t mess with me character is terrific.

With its seaside setting, this is a great book to share and discuss with youngsters especially during the summer time, but its message is an important one no matter the season.

Wild Violet!

Wild Violet!
Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books

Following on from Woolf, the brothers Latimer return with their second collaboration and it’s young Violet who is star of the show. That’s not quite how others see this extremely spirited little miss however.
By all accounts she was born wild and despite predictions, has failed to outgrow this wildness on reaching four years old.

Washing isn’t on her agenda, nor is anything that might vaguely resemble good table manners; her hair is disgusting – full of all manner of undesirable bits and pieces; wall art and nocturnal shrieking are more her thing.

Imagine how tiring all this is for her parents. One day as exhaustion overwhelms them, they decide to call on her grandmother, begging for an afternoon’s respite.

Gran obliges and decides the zoo with its calming fresh air and plethora of birds is a good place. However the animals are not good role models for the little miss and by the time they reach the Monkey House gran is shattered.
So shattered, that come home time, she catches hold of the wrong hand,

delivering a rather different looking ‘Violet’ back to her parents.They too fail to notice; after all the new Violet’s habits are almost the same as those of the old.

Violet herself meanwhile is having the time of her life in her new abode, until that is, night comes and with it insomnia. Now there’s nobody to clear up her mess or read her a bedtime story; there’s no morning bath or tasty breakfast, let alone warm parental embraces.

A quick phone call by the zoo-keeper soon has the switch sorted out, but it’s a rather different little girl who greets her parents when they come to collect her.

Is Violet now a reformed character? Well yes and no. Mostly it’s the former but on the days when her mum takes her to visit her simian pals, that’s the time her wild side manifests itself.

We adults all know a Violet-type character and I’ve certainly taught a few children who could give her a good run for her money. This makes Alex Latimer’s story all the more enjoyable for readers aloud; children on the other hand will simply revel in Violet’s utter irrepressibility so wonderfully portrayed in Patrick Latimer’s scenes of mischief and mayhem.

Another winner for the Latimer partnership.

Am I Yours?

Am I Yours?
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

Alex Latimer certainly keeps his audience guessing in this rhyming tale concerning an identity issue.
If you’ve never heard of an egg that speaks, you’re about to in this review.
Said egg, having been blown from a nest and spent a cold dark night at the foot of a hill emits a gentle ‘Excuse me, please, but am I yours? I’m sure I am a dinosaur’s.’
Yes it’s another dinosaur tale with lots of children’s favourites making an appearance.
First to come  along is Stegosaurus but the egg doesn’t fit its specifications, says so, but remains upbeat.
Nor does it fit those of Brachiosaurus, Triceratops, Corythosaurus

or Tyrannosaurus, by which time an entire day has passed and the egg, feeling lonely begins to cry out ‘… I can’t stay out in wind and storm! / I’ll freeze alone! I must stay warm!
The sun sinks and in so doing renders the eggshell translucent allowing the five concerned adult dinosaurs a view within.

Now they know what to do with the lost egg: back it’s rolled up the hill from whence it came, and there, to the sound of heavy feet, it makes a final plea:
One last time – I must be sure – / Are you the ones I’m looking for?’ …
In addition to the enjoyment of meeting some of their favourite prehistoric creatures in the story, with its invitation to join in the telling through the rhyming repeat refrain, ‘What do you look like inside that shell? / I can’t see in so I can’t tell.’ children will love becoming co-inquisitors of the egg,
(There’s lots of potential for small world play here once you’ve shared the story.)

For dinosaur enthusiasts who like to colour:

Fuzzy Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
illustrated by Papio Press

This is a touch-and-feel book with 7 spreads to add colour to, featuring animals of the prehistoric land, sea and sky, set out in chart-like form with brief snippets of information relating to each featured (numbered) animal one side of the spread, opposite which is the colouring page on a dramatic black background with the numbered creatures and other flora and fauna.
The book is written in association with, and fact-checked by, the National History Museum.


Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books
The trials and tribulations of pretending to be something you aren’t are sensitively and humorously explored in this collaboration between Alex Latimer and his illustrator brother, Patrick.
Part wolf, part sheep, Woolf is the offspring of an unlikely and much frowned upon marriage between a sheep and a she-wolf.

Woolf has both sheep and wolfish characteristics but as he grows older, he experiences an identity crisis. Out exploring one day, he encounters a pack of wolves and as a result decides to rid himself of his woolly coat.
Thus the pretence begins; but inevitably as the wool starts sprouting again, maintaining the disguise becomes tedious and Woolf leaves for pastures new.

Over the hill he comes upon a flock of sheep: again Woolf isn’t true to himself, lying about his wolfish characteristics and then adopting a new ovine look …

Once again, pretence proves unsatisfactory for Woolf and his stay with the flock short-lived.
Convinced he doesn’t belong anywhere, the little creature is distraught and that’s when his parents step in with some timely words of wisdom, pointing out that trying to be something other than your real self can never make you truly happy. Much better to accept and celebrate all that makes you truly special and unique.
Patrick Latimer’s illustrations executed in an unusual colour palette of black, greys, browns, greens, teal, cream and biscuit with occasional pops of purple, blue and pink are delectably droll.
Like me you may well find yourself howling with laughter at Woolf’s attempts to fit in but there is a serious and important life-lesson at the heart of the book: true friends accept and love you for being you.

I’ve signed the charter  


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Alex Latimer
Picture Corgi
Buster is the best dog in the whole world: that’s Ben’s opinion at any rate though his parents might not endorse that …

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And that is why when it’s time for the family holiday Buster will be left in the care of Grampa.
Ben, like the majority of pet owners is worried about leaving his pet for others to care for so, he acts on Mum’s suggestion to write instructions for Grampa. He doesn’t write just one note though, he creates a whole host of them with detailed instructions and information on every ‘Buster’ topic you could imagine and some you probably couldn’t …

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And not only that but once he reaches his holiday destination, Ben continues to send further instructions – on postcards this time, dozens of the things.
There’s one vital communication though, that fails to arrive on time because Grampa and Buster have
gone for a walk to collect a parcel …

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and the result, as you might expect is disaster – from the postman’s point of view certainly.
Grampa’s too, so he decides it’s time to take matters into his own hands: a bad behaviour cure is the order of the day, or rather, many orders of some pretty exhausting days I suspect. It’s time well spent however and by the time the family returns Grampa has Buster pretty well trained and is himself ready with some notes for Ben.
And future holidays? Well that would be telling …
Love that ending!
Alex Latimer’s illustrations are chock-full of witty details that should amuse adult readers aloud as much as children. I love the way he incorporates scraps of paper torn from notepads, postcards and various other bits and pieces of mark-making paraphernalia into his artwork. And, the sight of Buster hurtling down the middle of the road after that departing car is hilarious.

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