Tag Archives: Alex T.Smith

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure
Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

The creator of the wonderful Claude books does it again with this the first of another adventure series. It stars Mr Penguin of Cityville (think Indiana Jones crossed with Sherlock Holmes or even Wallace and Gromit) who has just set himself up as a professional adventurer. He has all the gear: a dashing hat, large magnifying glass, a somewhat battered satchel and a smart-looking office complete with revolving chair. Like others of his ilk, he also has a sidekick, Colin the kung-fu-kicking spider.

Mr P. sits in his office, with a decidedly reduced bank balance and a distinct lack of clients, despairing that he’ll ever be asked to solve a mystery.

Happily he gets a call from a frantic-sounding Boudicca Boones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. She wants to hire him to find some lost treasure buried long ago by a relative.

An adventure at last; but can this oddly matched pair manage to follow a map and solve clues let alone locate the whereabouts of that missing treasure?

Their search, which ends up involving more than just Mr P. and Colin, sends them down into the depths to a subterranean jungle under the museum itself.

What a cracking, fast moving adventure it turns out to be with a host of cliff-hangers,

surprises and delicious characters, not to mention brushes with the criminal fraternity, the odd alligator and more, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as well as chortling at the wonderful dialogue.

As one would expect of Alex Smith, the entire tale is imbued with the absurd, both verbal and visual; and be sure not to miss those press excerpts before and after the beginning and end of the book.

Readers will be thrilled to learn, as I was, that this is the first of a new wacky adventure series. Bring on the next one …

The Adventures of Egg Box Dragon

The Adventures of Egg Box Dragon
Richard Adams and Alex T. Smith
Hodder Children’s Books

Here’s the result of an inspired bit of decision making from someone at Hodder: the teaming of Richard Adams (now no longer with us) and wonderful illustrator of the Claude series, Alex T.Smith. It’s the first and only picture book from Watership Down author and the last ever book Adams wrote.

Like a good many other children, Emma loved to make things out of egg boxes, not the awful plastic things but the pukka cardboard ones. One day she fashions a fantastic dragon from those egg boxes with the addition of bits of card, scraps cut from bin liners, wire, shiny bike reflectors and paint.

This amazing construction is hugely admired when Emma brings it home and one person not usually given to speaking out declares the “critter’s got magic.”

Doing as she’s bid, Emma puts the dragon to sleep under the moon and waits.
Sure enough the old man is right, the dragon comes to life and yes, he’s a fiery thing but this mischievous beastie has an amazing talent: he’s able to locate the whereabouts of almost anything that’s been lost – Dad’s specs for instance and the neighbour’s tortoise.

Pretty soon the whole neighbourhood has heard of this extraordinary gift and the TV news gets hold of the story.

Then comes a surprise call:

her majesty enlists his help and the Egg Box Dragon finds himself going to the palace to assist her in finding a missing diamond from her crown.

A thoroughly enjoyable tale, full of splendid characters in its own right, but with amazing artistry from Alex that’s simply brimming over with wonderfully imagined details, the whole thing moves to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Sproutzilla vs.Christmas / Santa Claude

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Sproutzilla vs. Christmas
Tom Jamieson and Mike Byrne
Macmillan Children’s Books
Young Jack’s abhorrence of Brussels sprouts is about to result in the ruination of Christmas and not just for the lad himself when his parents come back from a shopping expedition with the most enormous one of the green veggies he’s ever set eyes on. He’s called Sproutzilla and he’s the meanest, greenest Christmas ruining vegetable ever. What’s more, he (and his army of Sproutlings) have their sights set on Santa; and Sproutzilla is exceedingly hungry.

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Seemingly, if the mums and dads, the angry dinner ladies and the furious chefs can’t save Christmas, there’s only one person who can and there’s only one way he can do it. Jack will have to EAT SPROUTS!

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This is a totally ridiculous story over which you cannot help but have a good giggle, as will young children, especially at the final PAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRP-powered delivery, not to mention the tasty final twist.
Sprout lover or not, I suspect you’ll never look at your Christmas veggies in quite the same way again.
More bonkers fun in:

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Santa Claude

Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve night and Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes have left Claude and best pal Sir Bobblysock alone in the house while they go out partying. A super-excited Claude has tucked himself up in bed and is just settling down to read his new Cops and Robbers book when he hears a loud THUD! followed by what sound like a series of heavy footsteps. Convinced whoever has whooshed down the chimney is a burglar, and already anticipating catching same red-handed, off he goes armed with his handcuffs to apprehend the intruder.
Having secured the ‘burglar’ to the arm of a chair in the pitch-dark living room, Claude switches on the light to find himself face to face with none other than Santa. Easy enough to release the handcuffs you might think but oh dear me, no! The key is nowhere to be found.
With Santa out of action there’s only one thing to be done; Claude and Sir Bobblysock will have to make the rest of the deliveries instead. But can they – even with Claude decked out in Santa’s seasonal costume –

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make it round all those hundreds of homes, delivering an absolutely enormous sack of presents and be safely back by midnight when the Shinyshoes return?
Needless to say, things won’t be plain sailing no matter what: let the festivities begin …
With Claude and Sir Bobblysock you’re guaranteed a whole load of gigglesome delight and this fast-paced festive romp is no different. It’s perfect to tuck into a Christmas stocking, or for an excited youngster to hide away with for a pre-Christmas chortle.

Claude All At Sea

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Claude All at Sea
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
What joy! A Claude picture book and it’s a corker of a one too, methinks. If you don’t know Claude, these are the essentials: he’s a small plump pooch who sports, in normal circumstances (if there are such with Claude), a red beret and jumper and lives with his owners, Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes and his best pal, Sir Bobbysock. He and Claude have an adventure every day, once Mr and Mrs S. have departed for work, that is.
On this particular day Claude has got himself into a right painty mess and is in dire need of a bath; so having stashed his painting gear and grabbed his bath toys, off he goes up to the bathroom to turn on the taps ready to perform his ablutions. Or rather, that’s the plan. What actually happens is something altogether else. Before anybody can say ‘You both forgot about the water’ here’s the result …

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which, they quickly discover is ‘very wet and stonking good fun!’
Hang on; what are all those signs that have caught the eye of Sir Bobbysock about?

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The pair quickly discover when they find themselves in a very dark, damp place; and they’re not alone down there. Three people, not to mention a steam-boat, desperately require some Claude style assistance; and helping is one of Claude’s favourite things to do.

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Out comes his trusty red beret into which he just happened to have stashed all manner of potentially useful stuff …

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However, nothing quite works and just when it seems they might be stuck, in Sir B’s words ‘for ever!’ he’s smitten with an attack of hiccups and THIS gives Claude a brilliant idea; one involving a paintbrush and a spot of tickling.
Is this idea sufficiently brilliant to effect a successful rescue though? Well that would be telling and story spoiling now wouldn’t it …
Let’s just say that one of the other objects in Claude’s beret eventually makes a certain large, voracious guzzler a very happy creature.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant fun; every spread brims over with visual and verbal delights. If you enjoy quirky; don’t miss this one … Actually, just don’t miss it.

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Take Off with Mango & Bambang and Claude

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Mango & Bambang: Tapir All at Sea
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Calamitous at cake making and disastrous at dancing – ballet and free dance certainly,

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it seems Bambang is never going to find the right hobby to occupy him while Mango concentrates on her chess moves. But who is this and what can he possibly want?

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Seemingly there’s a lack of male partners in Sênor Churro’s Flamenco class and Bambang’s stomping, thumping trotters are just the thing when it comes to that particular Spanish dance. All that in the first story but there are three more in this cracking sequel to Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig.
There follows a crazy tale of misadventures that include Bambang crash landing onto a romantic picnic and accidentally becoming entangled in a marriage proposal

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resulting in an accusation of causing ‘Havoc and being a Public Nuisance’ and his removal to the local dog pound. All ends magnificently though with Mango being granted this:

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and Bambang making a new friend of the canine kind.
An old enemy making a reappearance in the third tale which sees Bambang beguiled into becoming the chief exhibit in her new venture …

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with astounding consequences; and in the final adventure, as a result of his actions in the museum, Bambang is now headline news and something of a celebrity dancer of the flamenco. The trouble is he lets fame got to his head and finds himself setting sail on board a luxury liner leaving Mango and all things familiar far behind. Will they ever be reunited?

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I won’t be a story spoiler but suffice it to say, Bambang’s new doggy friend Rocket reappears and Bambang is no mean swimmer.
If you know any youngsters just taking off as confident solo readers, then this is the book: funny – indeed wonderfully eccentric with a superb narrative full of delicious dialogue – ‘Mango stopped long enough to say, “He has the beautiful feet of a tapir, NOT a mammoth, and they’re not stampeding. It’s your silly dance that’s all wrong!”, then she ran after Bambang.’; a perfect balance between text and pictures with Clara’s distinctive retro style illustrations bringing delight at every turn of the page. She’s brilliant at capturing ‘the moment’ and every single picture, large or small, oozes charm and vitality.

Another corker of a book for that taking off stage is

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Claude Going for Gold
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
Our beret-wearing pooch is back for yet another adventure along with best friend Sir Bobbysock of course. On this particular day Claude has woken up full of joie de vivre and having created havoc with the breakfast cereal, heads off with his pal to the great outdoors. Before long though they conclude that there’s a decided lack of adventure around; then all of a sudden Claude trips over his own shoelaces and cascades into a marching band that is accompanying these characters

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on their way to participate in the STONKING BIG SPORTS DAY at the local stadium. Finally, something to get excited about and all the more so when Claude himself is given a pair of sports knickers …

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and invited to participate. His shot put skills however leave more than a little to be desired, his sprinting ends in disaster, he misses the swimming competition altogether and his efforts at gymnastics are catastrophic. But then the trophy is seized by a pair of dastardly crooks and there’s only one person – or rather animal – that can possibly save the day …

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Glorious!

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Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

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Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion
Alex T.Smith
Scholastic
A rip-roaring read if ever, is this super-safari spin off of a favourite fairy tale. Herein however, it’s not Grandma who is ill; it’s Little Red’s Auntie Rosie who is suffering from a superfluity of spots. When Little Red receives her phone call, she bids her daddy farewell and off she goes a-visiting, basket in hand on the long walk to her Auntie’s house. She walks and sometimes, creeps, rides and wiggles her way along

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until she decides a rest is called for and it’s then that she’s spotted by The Very Hungry Lion.
With a flick of a tail and a wiggle of his whiskers, the VHL introduces himself chattily and in no time at all – or rather the time it took for a rumble to emanate from his tum, he’s conceived a plan – a very clever, naughty one – and rushed off to carry it out.
By the time Little Red arrives, there in her Auntie’s bed languishes the lion, duly disguised. But, despite the bespotted, beautified make-over there’s no fooling our young heroine who resolves immediately to teach the impostor a lesson. There follows further beautifying of the dastardly creature – by Little Red this time as she proceeds to brush, comb, twist and finally, braid his “tatty hair”.

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That had definitely not been part of the VHL’s plan. Nor was the tooth cleaning which followed Little Red’s oral inspection; most certainly he’d not planned that, nor changing his attire .

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Enough is enough – or rather, nothing is assuredly not enough – decides the VHL as he complains of a grumbly tum. It’s just as well then that this story has a happy, and doughnut-filled ending (courtesy of a forgiving and now fully recovered Auntie Rosie who is willing to share the contents of Little Red’s basket with both her visitors). Actually though, that’s not quite the end for, as darkness descends, the now reformed??? Lion accompanies Little Red on her way home having given his solemn promise not to ever, ever eat another auntie or child but …
This is priceless! I need at least ten copies to give to various friends and relations’ children, all of whom – adult and child alike – will, I’m certain, lap up this delectable tale as eagerly as I did.

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On a re-reading Leo got closer and closer in until he too was part of the story being shared with big sister, Gracie.

 

Littered with rib-tickling details – the tea drinking crocs, the bespectacled, giraffe, the monkey sporting shades and the snorkelling hippo for instance – the illustrations are out of this world and the words written by a wizard of wit. Alex T.Smith’s latest offering is absolutely, amazingly, awesome and for me, his best ever.

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Funky Fairy Tale Flights of Fancy

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Hector and the Big Bad Knight
Alex T. Smith
Scholastic Children’s Books pbk
It’s a case of little versus large in this wacky tale of derring-do and dastardly deeds in the peaceful, bunting-festooned haven of Spottybottom village. Peaceful that is, until Hector’s Granny’s magic wand is stolen by none other than the Big Bad Knight. (BBK hereafter) “You’ll never catch me,” laughs the boastful Knight as he gallops away on his trusty steed. Hector has a plan however, and is determined to prove him wrong, much to the amusement of the villagers. ”You?” they giggled, “But you’re tiny and small! And your spindly arms have NO muscles at all!
Having packed a hanky full of useful things (crisps, scissors and an umbrella) Hector, with friend Norman set out on their rescue attempt.

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Into the deep, dark forest they go whereupon, with a twirl of Granny’s wand, the BBK causes an enormous and very tall tangle of thorny weeds to spring up.
Time for Hector to put plan A into action: SNIP! SNIP! SNIP! Think again BBK.
So over the dingy moat he goes and with a twirl of Granny’s wand, the drawbridge is no more. Time for plan B Hector: boating across umbrella style.

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Up the castle tower flees the BBK – the terribly tall one hotly pursued by Hector and trusty hen, Norman. More boasting and wand waving from the BBK and his horse becomes a hungry dragon, but it’s not Hector that he has his eyes on – oh no! The BBK would make a much more satisfying meal. Quick Hector: plan C – the crisps but first, a quick grab of Granny’s wand.
Then comes a triumphant return for Hector and Norman and a less triumphant one for the BBK. But what to do with the latter, Granny wonders. Luckily Hector has yet another plan – one of the malodorous variety and thoroughly deserved by the roguish thief.

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Alex K Smith’s madcap medieval tale of magic, mayhem and more makes for a marvellous storytime read. His madcap (and occasionally menacing) illustrations, be they large or small, garishly coloured or silhouette, are magnificently mirth-making manifestations of the ridiculous.
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The Deep Dark Wood
Algy Craig Hall and Ali Pye
Orchard Books
What is that little girl thinking about going alone into the dangerous, deep, dark wood wherein all manner of nasties lurk? She certainly doesn’t know the identity of the friendly tagger-on she acquires on her way; she’s off to visit her best friend’s house for tea, she casually informs him. But then, neither does her large black companion know the identity of said best friend. On they go together, deeper into the deep dark wood till there’s a YIKES! from the little girl. She might be frightened but her companion is unperturbed. His bristling and grizzling quickly have that witch running scared. He dispenses with the smelly old troll in similar fashion with some added claws and gnaws.

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On go the sweet little girl and her “very brave” companion … The hungry giant is disposed of howlingly and growlingly and then they are at the friend’s house. Big bad wolf, mouth a-watering, cannot wait to meet her but is puzzled by her place of residence.
Time for the friend to show herself …

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Guess who’s running scared now.
With twists and turns aplenty, plus a wonderfully satisfying finale, this hilarious reworking of the old favourite is guaranteed to keep listeners on the edge of their bottoms even though they know what the large black hairy animal accompanying the little girl really wants.
It’s a real joy to read aloud and Ali Pye’s illustrations are just brilliant, adding even more to the already sublime mock scariness of the story.Don’t miss this one.
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The Princess and the Presents
Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
Nosy Crow
With her head of wild auburn curls and fiery temper, pampered princess Ruby puts me in mind of a modern day Violet Elizabeth Bott.
As her birthday draws near, the princess’s demands are issued loud and clear and if they are not fulfilled, she’ll ‘ “scream and scream and SCREAM!” ‘

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When the presents crammed within, cause the catastrophic collapse of the castle with her most precious possession (so she thinks) crushed inside, Princess Ruby comes to her senses. All is not lost however, for what do the hard-working fire fighters discover in the rubble after hours of digging? the object of their search, safe and sound.

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Then selfishness set aside, the princess and her pater set to work to reconstruct, first a birthday and then, a new residence – just for two.
Pink? Yes. Princessy? Assuredly, but this feisty miss does finally see the error of her ways and does indeed abandon her perfect pinkishness – almost!
An up-to-date cautionary tale with a powerful punch and peachy ending.
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Jack and the Jelly Bean Stalk
Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon
Hodder Children’s Books
This is the third twisted traditional tale from Mortimer and Pichon and another winning, albeit slightly silly, one it is too. (I have to admit to a particular penchant for such stories though).
Jack’s mum sends him off to sell their beloved cow Daisy, which he duly does – for twenty gold coins no less. Unfortunately however, Jack cannot resist the lure of the sweetshop he passes on his way home.

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There he parts with his precious coins for an enormous bag of jelly beans with every flavor imaginable and some unimaginable ones too. Needless to say, Jack’s mum is livid, hurls his spoils outside and despatches him to bed. During the night Jack is awoken by a gloriously mouthwatering smell and discovers in his garden in the moonlight, a gigantic jelly bean stalk. Oh joy!
Off up the beanstalk he goes forthwith, coming upon a golden gate at the top. In he goes tentatively, only to be apprehended by sobbing goose with a tale of woe.

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Soon both Jack and goose are fearing for their lives, as the ground shakes and they hear
Fee-fi-fo-foy,
I smell a juicy boy!
Goose is good but boy’s so tasty,
Served with chips and wrapped
in pastry!

The quick-thinking Jack makes a deal with the giant and is soon hard at work frantically picking jelly beans. The hastily harvested jelly bean feast meets with the giant’s approval but the hungry goose cannot resist partaking of said feast – oh no! All is not lost however; the beanstalk cannot support the jellybean stuffed giant’s weight.

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CRASH! Farewell giant, hello goose and a never ending supply of jelly beans; watch out for those smelly old socks tasting ones though.
Ridiculously funny, with its slightly tongue in cheek telling and bright, appropriately garishly coloured, pictures that are perfectly in keeping with the tenor of the tale and the nature of the beanstalk’s origins. Many of the illustrations are chock full of witty, laugh-making details both visual and verbal.
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