Rosie Is My Best Friend

Rosie is My Best Friend
Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster
‘Rosie is my Very Best Friend. And I think I’m hers.’ So says the narrator of Ali Pye’s new picture book.

We then hear how a little girl and a small dog spend a brilliant day together. Rising early they play quietly before breakfast so as not to disturb the grown ups …

Then after a spot of training the two set about helping with some jobs – gardening, shopping and tidying, none of which receive due adult appreciation. Instead they’re packed off for a long, albeit rather muddy, walk in the park

that concludes with an encounter with a large, extremely scary looking dog.

Safely home, having had tea, the friends spend some time in imaginative play before nestling up together in their very favourite place.

‘… tomorrow could be even better’ says the narrator anticipating another wonderful day and re-stating as the two snuggle into bed, ‘Yes, Rosie is the Very Best Friend …’

But there’s a twist in this tale that listeners may, or may not have been anticipating, as we learn who in fact the storyteller has been.

Who can resist the two faces looking out and drawing readers in from the cover of this wonderfully soft-hearted story of a special friendship? Ali Pye’s characteristically patterned illustrations of child and canine friend are adorably cute without being at all sentimental; even this very dog wary reviewer immediately warmed to the small black and white pooch.

Girls Can Do Anything

Girls Can Do Anything
Caryl Hart and Ali Pye
Let’s hear it for girl power!
This is a celebration of what girls can do narrated in Caryl Hart’s enormously empowering jaunty rhyme:
“I’m a GIRL! I’m FANTASTIC! I’m strong, brave and proud!” so say a huge diversity of girls in no uncertain terms as they talk about their attire – anything goes; demonstrate their unique prowess as sports participants and students favouring a huge variety of subjects – maths, writing, science, music, art and more.
The older they get, the more amazing they become: there are environmentalists, vets, zookeepers, scientists of all kinds, machine operators

and life-savers.

They can be rough and tough or soft and gentle, they can speak up for others …

and a great many help improve people’s lives.

Ali Pye’s cast of splendidly inclusive young females have enormous va-va-voom;

and the front endpapers are a gallery style presentation of possibilities for the future, while those at the back are fifteen named portraits (some more recognisable than others) of high achievers in many walks of life including Malala Yousafzai, Serena Williams, Olympic medallist LGBTQ boxer Nicola Adams, first woman-British firefighter Josephine Reynolds and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Having read the book together with a five year old in the park after school , I spent 15 minutes exploring the endpapers with her; a woman came and sat on our bench with her phone. After a couple of minutes she put it away asking if she could listen as she thought the book ‘so brilliant’. I said ‘Be my guest’. She then called her friend over to share the experience. Five-year-old Emmanuelle instantly recognised Serena Williams but I had a fair bit of explaining to do with several of the others. Well worth the effort though.

In short, in this highly infectious adulation, it’s a case of no holds barred when it comes to girls; they’re undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with, cheered and applauded. Once again, let’s hear it for girl power!

Things to Do with Dad / You Can Never Run Out of Love

Things To Do With Dad
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books

Dad and a small boy make and consume breakfast pancakes together. A promising and joyful start to the day but then Dad turns his attention to the ‘Things To Do’ list tacked to the fridge door – not so joyful.

Dad makes a start with the chores with his son playing alongside. Washing up and bookcase building go smoothly enough but after a vacuuming incident,

the boy seizes the to-do list and his green crayon, and amends the list, starting with the title.

From then on imaginative play rules: ‘Make the beds’ becomes ‘Sail a pirate ship; ‘Hang out the laundry’ is changed to ‘Join the Circus’ and best of all methinks, ‘Water the garden’ morphs into a fantastic jungle adventure.

Good old Dad; he enters into the spirit of things heart and soul, so much so that at the end of the day, an exhausted but happy father and son snuggle together for a well-earned rest under a tree.

With only the list for text, Sam Zuppardi lets his own inventiveness flow in superb scenes of playfulness and the power of the imagination: the characters’ expressions say so much without a single word being spoken between the two.

The ideal way to turn boring chores into a fun-filled day: bring it on. We’re even supplied with a list of further ideas on the final page. I wonder which chores might generate these items.

You Can Never Run Out of Love
Helen Docherty and Ali Pye
Simon & Schuster

‘You can run out of time. / You can run out of money. / You can run out of patience, / when things don’t seem funny. BUT …// You can never (not ever), / you can never / run out of LOVE.’

That’s part of Helen Docherty’s tender, gently humorous rhyming text celebrating love- giving and accepting – and its inexhaustibility. Other things might be in short supply, but never love.

We see, in Ali Pye’s warm-hearted illustrations love in many forms – love between family members; love between friends, love for animals, love between a boy and girl next door …

Affectionate? Yes. Joyful? Certainly. Slushily sentimental? No; but it’s inclusive and perfect for bedtime sharing with young children.

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Copy Cat


Copy Cat
Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
Meet two cats – Anna and Bella. Bella is totally besotted with Anna and tries to do everything she does, from hula-hooping to playing princesses and that is where the trouble begins; it’s all over a crown – the only crown. And, the result is this …


which leaves Bella alone with no one to copy. There’s only one thing to do and Bella does it; she engages in some self-initiated solo play and discovers that practice makes perfect. She also discovers – eventually, but not straightaway because she’s so engrossed in improving her skipping skills – a watcher. Her name is Chloe and she too wants to be a skipper. Easily solved, Bella says, “Just copy me!” and soon both are happily engaged in their rope turning
Anna meanwhile has discovered it’s not a lot of fun being a princess all by herself …


and decides to go and seek out her imitator.
Pretty soon, thanks to the accommodating nature of both expert skippers, not to mention the setting aside of her crown and a whole lot of hard work, Anna’s rope turning skills are up to the mark; and then Chloe has a brainwave …


Seemingly, where this trio is concerned, threesomes can be harmonious: sometimes they are happy copying one another, other times they do their own thing entirely


unless …
A-DOR-A-BLE pretty much sums up this, Ali Pye’s debut as author/illustrator. How well she knows young children (and cats!) is demonstrated brilliantly by the manner she portrays these ‘littles’ finding their own ways to manipulate and manoeuvre the world of the play space they find themselves in, or indeed, co-create in an early years setting. Her characterisation is spot on and I love her choice of colour palette, as well as the gentle humour of the whole thing.

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Nixie Splashy Summer Swim


Nixie Splashy Summer Swim
Cas Lester illustrated by Ali Pye
Oxford University Press
Already famous for her ability to manipulate the truth is Nixie the mischievous fairy who is, once again, up to all kinds of frolics – by the pond mostly herein; and when a story begins ‘BOING! BOUNCE! SPLAT! “Bumblebees’ bottoms! I can’t do it!” (bottom-sits on the cobweb trampoline) newly independent readers will surely be unable to resist. With an ‘accidental watering of the too-good-to-be- true, Adorabella (and it’s VERY cold water) as she lies peacefully reading; a float that (with just a small flick of Nixie’s wonky wand) turns into a real frog and hops away;


and a burst lilo – the snazzy new one belonging to the Fairy Godmother who is supposed to be having a relaxing day off, it seems the day is set fair for fiascos. Of course, they are only some of the things that Nixie gets up to. There’s also this …


plus a spot of fin building – that’s for Willow who’s more than a little scared of the water; and of course, there’s the inevitable water bomb battle. And to round off the day, courtesy of the long-suffering Fairy Godmother, there are fab. ice-creams, not all of which are quite as delicious as anticipated …
There is however an ‘Ice cream sundae generator’ after the story so readers can discover which of the fairies shares their taste in the confection.
What are as delicious as anticipated however, are those wonderful Ali Pye illustrations liberally sprinkled throughout this sparkling book. The Lester/Pye combination works that special brand of magic once more. Don’t miss this one if you’re a ‘just flying solo’ reader or know one.

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Party Time with Teeny-Weeny Queenie & Nina

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Teeny-Weeny Queenie
Claire Freedman & Ali Pye
Scholastic Children’s Books
I was sent a very early proof of this and it was read to destruction in no time by the group of enthusiastic under 6s that I shared it with. The book’s narrator is would-be monarch, young Queenie who, in her opening speech announces herself as having a very BIG plan – to be Queen when she grows up. Her parents try their best to dispel this notion but young Queenie’s having none of it and we discover that she has already started her queenly practices.
There’s that treasure-filled Royal Handbag …

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a Lady-in-Waiting to be brought up to scratch …

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and a royal tea party to organise – with or without little sis.

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This involves a great deal of baking, not to mention the appointment of a Special Royal Footman and then finally the big p-day arrives. What ensues isn’t quite what her royal majesty intends but that said, young Queenie makes a vital regal decision that is entirely appropriate in the event and learns a very important royal lesson to boot.

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Both words and pictures are an absolute delight from cover to cover – and back again!


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An After Bedtime Story
Shoham Smith and Einat Tsarfati
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It’s bedtime for young Nina – well that’s the plan but no sooner have her parents tucked her up and crept away than she’s up and demanding hugs and kisses and worse. Refusing to take no for an answer, the young miss is bounding out of her room to join the adult party where she very quickly becomes the centre of attraction as she samples the tasty treats …

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tinkers with the tumblers …

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and even baths her doll in the bowl of punch.

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The noisy goings on wake her younger sibling and before long there’s not one but two tinies on the scene, ignoring their parents’ “Go to bed” instructions, directing the fun and games, and eventually, leaving their exhausted Mum and Dad collapsed on the sofa. At least they join in the clearing up though.

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Tsarfati’s droll illustrations, executed in a limited colour palette are absolutely full of humorous details showing so much more than is said in Smith’s rhyming couplets. Nina is one bundle of mischief and, the fact that at the start she’s shown in bed sporting necklace and tiara, rather give one the impression that she’s planned the whole thing all along.
It’s probably best not to share this one with youngsters just before bedtime: let them enjoy the fun earlier on in the day or it might just give them ideas of the Nina kind.

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School Is Fun

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Hugless Douglas Goes to Little School
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
Miss Moo-Hoo certainly has her hands, or rather hooves, full when Douglas spends his first day in her care at Little School, especially when he gets that characteristic TICKLE in his tummy in response to her question “what do you like doing best?

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Indeed I suspect she was somewhat surprised at the responses from some of Douglas’ classmates too, especially “Thinking“.
I’m pretty sure that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the art activity especially bottom printing; now there’s a thought!

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And the interpretation of “wash before you eat” is interpreted rather liberally by her charges

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but at least they get rid of all that paint before lunch.
Probably the best bit of the day was the co-operative block play … Oops!

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I’ve no doubt young Douglas will eagerly join that walking bus when it leaves for school on the next day and the next and … wouldn’t you?
Enormous fun (despite the ‘naughty step’ – one of my pet aversions) and just the thing for those starting nursery or reception when term starts once again.

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Owl Wants to Share at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow pbk
It’s time for the pupils at Miss Moon’s School to get creative: They are to draw “a FAVOURITE night-time THING.” Mouse announces hers will feature “a dark and glinty SEA.” Bat’s will be a “dark and whispery TREE.” Cat chooses a BEE, one that’s dark and mysterious; but Owl’s picture is top secret. Because he’s so slow in starting, all the night-time colours are in use and his classmates refuse to share

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(selfish lot) so Owl is forced to use daytime shades instead.
His effort is belittled by the others, but Miss Moon, (the subject) is more supportive

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commenting that Owl has made her look special and different.. This leads to a swapping of crayons, additions to each picture and a satisfactory outcome for everyone.
A story about learning to share resources and making creative use of what’s available to you. The gently humorous text, with its unusual characters and setting, is delightfully brought to life in Ali Pye’s glowing lunar-lighted scenes. Her characters all look enchanting despite some unfriendly behaviour towards Owl; and their pictures really do look as though they’ve come from a nursery setting.

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Starting School

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A Big Day for Migs!
Jo Hodgkinson
Andersen Press
Migs’ big day has arrived; he’s starting school. Off he goes somewhat reluctantly, fighting back the tears as he bids goodbye to his mum. In the classroom, it’s a shy Migs who watches all the others enjoying themselves and then, in the dressing up corner, he discovers just the thing to boost his self-confidence.

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Before long there’s a super hero mouse roaring and rampaging around the room, cloak flowing behind; but like others, super heroes need to watch where they are going. WHOOSH… SPLOOSH! A whole pot of water spills over Rokko’s boat painting.
Even a super hero’s handiwork cannot repair the damage and a tearful Rokko makes his feelings known in no uncertain terms. But can that same super hero’s brain come up with a super plan?
Thanks to some great teamwork and creative crafting, it’s not too long before harmony is restored.

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Then it’s time for lunch, a story session and everyone departs smiling happily and eagerly anticipating another day of fun with new friends.

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Anyone who has spent any time in a nursery or reception classroom will recognize the way things can all too easily escalate from well-intentioned exuberant romp to minor mishap, and thence to complete disaster in a very short space of time. Jo Hodgkinson captures this so well here both in her amusing illustrations and the jaunty rhyming text, as she does too, those mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension about starting school.
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Dolci is fascinated by Mouse’s antics

Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School
Simon Puttock and Ali Pye
Nosy Crow
It’s little Mouse’s very first night at Moonlight School, Miss Moon’s establishment for nocturnal creatures. The other members of the class, Bat, Cat and Owl have all arrived but there’s no sign of Mouse: She is having an attack of newcomer’s nerves and has gone into hiding.

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However, Mouse’s mother has given strict instructions about good behaviour to her offspring and so when Miss Moon calls the register, she finds herself revealing her presence and eventually creeps out to show herself. The accommodating Miss Moon responds to her “I like hiding” by suggesting a game of hide-and-seek and the class members scamper off to hide. Owl, Cat and Bat’s whereabouts are quickly discovered but where is Mouse? (Observant readers will have spotted her hiding place). A careful search ensues but to no avail;

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Miss Moon begins to worry but eventually little Mouse can contain herself no longer … out she pops just in time for midnight snack with her new friends and what’s even more exciting, shyness overcome, she has discovered something she can do better than her classmates.
The nocturnal setting of this story with its friendly witch teacher, gives it a pinch of something extra so it is not just a ‘starting school’ story. Children love the idea of the teacher not being able to find mouse but I don’t think they needed to be told her whereabouts; perhaps better to let the pictures do the talking here.
There are lots of amusing details in Ali Pye’s muted, candle-lit illustrations and I just love those gorgeous, lunar-lighted landscapes, in particular, the endpapers.

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Funky Fairy Tale Flights of Fancy


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 …


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!” ‘


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.


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.


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.


Soon both Jack and goose are fearing for their lives, as the ground shakes and they hear
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.


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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