The Screen Thief!

The Screen Thief!
Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty
Alison Green Books

Watch out, watch out, a Snaffle’s about. Newly arrived in a city near you and on the lookout for some playmates, the creature is puzzled to see that everyone she sees is too busy staring at their screens. But what exactly is so special about these things, that nobody has time to notice a newcomer?

Puzzled, the Snaffle feels lonely but then she hears a beep! beep! coming from a phone on the ground so she does what all inquisitive creatures do, sniffs it and chews it and then gobbles the lot. Hmmm! Pretty tasty.

Off she goes in search of further screens to sink her teeth into, but the more she consumes, the hungrier she becomes. Before long the library has lost twenty computers and the TV shop almost sixty of its largest sets. But there’s worse to come as the hungry-for-more Snaffle makes her way through the city towards the park.
Therein are lots of very sad children eager to find the culprit and one child called Max: Max is forgiving and happy to contemplate life sans screens. Meanwhile the Snaffle is now suffering from an attack of ‘scrindigestion’ and a kind of empty inside feeling. But then she looks up and sees a happy-looking screenless child playing just inside the park and in a flash …

Suddenly the two become aware of the large angry crowd that has gathered ready to give chase. Will they listen to what Max has to say? And if so, might his words precipitate a degree of change …

Assuredly, it’s a case of put your screens away, take a rest from your play; come sit and listen to this fun, timely treat of a tale told in Helen’s faultless rhyme and Thomas’ wonderfully detailed scenes of screen obsessives who learn a very important lesson, thanks to a visit from the friend-seeking Snaffle..

Shhh! QUIET!

Shhh! QUIET!
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Little Fox is a quiet creature, a close observer of the wildlife around her about which she loves to make up stories. The trouble is though that her friends are exceedingly noisy and their boisterous activities drown out all her attempts to regale them with one of her tales.

One day Raccoon becomes aware that Fox is looking especially sad, tells the others to be quiet and asks Fox what’s upsetting her. Happily Owl, Squirrel and Raccoon are all lovers of stories and ask to be told one there and then.

Of course, Fox is ready to oblige and starts her tale of a bear; but no sooner has she spoken the word ‘bear’ than the others are off roaring and pretending to be bears up in a large tree. Back on the ground below Fox notices some claw marks that look suspiciously like those of a real bear.

But are her friends ready to listen? Oh dear me, no: instead they frolic in the river then cavort across a bridge while Fox grows increasingly alarmed.

Will she ever get them to stop and heed her words? And if so, who will listen while she tells her story?

Nicola’s narrative is a super one for adult readers aloud to let rip with, as well as for youngsters to join in with the noisy exuberance of Fox’s friends. This exuberance spills out into her illustrations of the drama and she has included some diverting details including Fox’s book, the minibeasts and Bear’s teddy comforter.

Found You

Found You
Devon Holzwarth
Alison Green Books

It’s difficult enough moving home, but having to flee your homeland leaving all your friends behind, to move to a new country as a refugee has challenges like nothing else.

That’s how it is for young Sami who, since his arrival with his family, has become a loner. Everything looks and feels totally different; people don’t speak your home language and it seems as though you just don’t fit.

One day Sami and his mum are visiting the park and watching from the trees is a little bird, all alone too. Suddenly she whizzes downwards smack into Sami. The little creature says she is lost and asks for his help in finding her friends.

Gradually during their search Sami finds that the people he’d previously thought of as standoffish are quite the opposite. The old lady from the bus no longer scowls; rather she smiles offering Sami grain to feed the birds.

Then the baker offers to share his lunch.

Suddenly Sami recalls where it was he’d seen birds just like Little Bird; off they go but in his anxiety and rush to help, Sami ignores the chance to play with a little girl from his nursery.

At the cherry tree Little Bird’s friends are waiting and seemingly it’s job done and time for a farewell. Little Bird thanks Sami, making him feel proud by adding “You’re a very good friend” and flies off with the others leaving the boy alone once more. Until something surprising happens …

It’s then revealed that Little Bird’s mission isn’t over just yet for in this wonderfully heart warming story there are others in situations similar to Sami’s that also need her help.

With its gorgeous colour palette and superbly expressive scenes which show much more than is said in her text, Devon Holzwarth’s debut picture book is one that’s certain to foster empathy and understanding, showing how important it is to offer a welcoming environment to newcomers. It can all begin with holding out a hand (or wing) in friendship.

Kind

Kind
Alison Green & 38 illustrators
Alison Green Books

With a foreword by Axel Scheffler, this book about kindness has been illustrated by 38 ‘kind’ artists (including Axel) all of whom donated their work for free in aid of the Three Peas charity.

‘Imagine a world where everyone is kind. How can we make that come true?’ are the opening lines and what follows are a host of suggestions for fulfilling that dream which almost every single human being would love to come true.

Most of what’s suggested are easy, everyday acts such as smiling at somebody, listening to people especially when they’re feeling sad, hugging a lonely person; offering a hand to hold to someone who is frightened or worried, or helping someone in trouble.

by Pippa Curnick;                    by Barbara Nascimbeni

Stories can help make others more cheerful be they listener or teller and it’s vital to ensure nobody feels left out or uncared for.

top LHS by Moni Port, bottom LHS by Anke Kuhl: top RHS by Philip Waechter, bottom RHS by Jörg Mühle

I’ve had a kindness jar like the one suggested in some of my classrooms and I know how fast it can get filled up; and acts of kindness can be directed towards animals as well as humans.

Everyone needs to be given the opportunity to shine – after all we’re all good at something.

by Sarah McIntyre:               by Benjamin Chaud

There are occasions however, when extra kindness is required – maybe towards a newcomer, or somebody who is trying to learn our language whatever that may be and it’s always good to learn some important words in their language too. Then there are those who have overcome tremendous odds in leaving their own country which is no longer safe and travelling to find a safe haven elsewhere – let’s listen to their stories but only when they’re ready to share them. Meanwhile toys and creative acts can be shared; and people might need accommodating so it’s wonderful to invite them in …

by David Barrow:             by Marianna Cop

An open mind and an open heart are what’s required similarities and differences notwithstanding. Who knows, if everyone tried just that little bit harder, something extraordinary might happen; now is the time to start. What will you do – today? And tomorrow? And …

We all need constant reminders in the current climate, no matter what part of the world we live in.

I’d absolutely love to be able to show every single one of the awesome illustrations in this celebration of kindness but I’ve only been able to include a few as examples in a book that’s bursting with inspiring suggestions and positivity.

The final spread is devoted to the work of Three Peas a charity that gives crucial practical help to those who have had to flee their war-torn countries and seek a safe haven elsewhere. (£1 of every copy sold goes to the charity).

What a terrific book to share over time with a class, perhaps using a spread or illustration as the starting point for the day and should you exhaust the ideas herein, children could suggest their own perhaps together making a follow-up book or picture gallery spreading throughout an entire school.

Meanwhile I’d like to see a copy of this in every home and classroom, after all children are the future.

A Little Bit Brave

A Little Bit Brave
Nicola Kinnear
Alison Green Books

Luna and Logan are great friends but they’re very different. Luna loves outdoor adventures while Logan never sets a paw outside declaring it much too scary.

One day Luna tries her best to persuade her friend to join her in the great outdoors but her invitation is turned down and she goes off in a huff telling him that sometimes, he just has to be a bit brave.

The morning proceeds with Logan engaging in several of his usual activities but he feels upset about what has happened and decides to puts things right with Luna. The trouble is that means going outside.

Into his bag go a torch, a snorkel and a tin of freshly baked biscuits, and with scarf wrapped around him, off Logan sets on his very first adventure.

It’s scary in the woods and he needs to find his friend so he calls her name as loudly as he can. There’s no response from Luna but Logan’s cry summons a host of other woodland animals. From them he learns more about the brave things his friend enjoys.

If he wants to find her, it seems Logan has no choice but to follow the mouse’s advice …

Logan’s search opens up three new worlds to him; his snorkel, scarf and torch come in very useful

but of Luna he finds no sign. Nevertheless, astonished at what he’s done, he’s just about to reward himself with a biscuit when suddenly he hears a familiar voice shouting out.

Terrifying as the sight that meets his eyes might be, Logan knows he has to act fast or his friend will become the wolf’s next meal.

Could it perhaps be time to make use of that other item he has with him …

Nicola’s colour palette is gorgeous; there are woodland greens, oranges and browns with a plethora of eye-catching flora and fauna.

This is a great confidence-bolstering tale perfectly seasoned with frissons of fear and surprises; and who wouldn’t love a story where biscuits play a crucial role?

How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

How to Hide a Lion at Christmas
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books

It’s Christmas Eve and Iris and her beloved Lion are eagerly anticipating spending Christmas together at Auntie Sarah’s. But then her parents announce that the lion must remain behind. After all, a train journey with a large lion would be unthinkable and anyway he might frighten the local residents. Seemingly no amount of hiding is going to work: Lion will be left all alone.

It’s an unhappy Iris who sets off to catch the train but unbeknown to her, they aren’t the only ones to leave the house.

A certain lion, having managed to hide himself during the train journey, falls fast asleep and remains so when Lucy and her family reach their station.

When he finally wakens from his slumbers the train has reached the end of the line and there’s nobody about.

The lion’s not going to give up easily; but will he manage to locate the house where Iris is celebrating the festive season

and if so, how will he make his presence felt to her?  …

Yes, this story has a very snowy setting, but it’s full of warmth and humour and a lovely festive addition to the Iris and the lion-hiding series.

Dylan the Baker

Dylan the Baker
Guy Parker Rees
Alison Green Books

Dylan the exuberant stripy dog is back once again and this time we join him as he dons a chef’s hat and apron ready to bake a birthday cake – his favourite extra special Choccy-Banana one for his pal Jolly Otter.

The trouble is that right from when those wonderful baking smells start wafting from the oven, Dylan’s tum starts to rumble.

Trying not to eat the yummy cake becomes Dylan’s major preoccupation as he removes it from the oven, leaves it on the table and dashes outside to distract himself.

It’s there that his friends Purple Puss and Titchy Chick find him and they too join Dylan in the not-eating-cake activities. First it’s head-standing, then spinning around in the woods,

followed by swinging and a host of other games; the problem being that before long Dylan isn’t the only one suffering from tummy rumbles and super salivation.

Will Jolly Otter get even so much as a sniff of his birthday cake when three friends all have an irresistible urge to sink their teeth into the delicious confection?

Look out for Dotty Bug, another of Dylan’s pals who pops up on every spread encouraging listeners to join in with this fun story. And fun it certainly is especially as the anticipation builds with those ‘Rumbly-tumbly- grumbly GRUM tummies, not to mention Dylan’s song to sing along with; and the final twist in the baking bonanza is entirely satisfying.

 

Moreover, if you fancy trying some of Dylan’s cake, he’s been kind enough to include a recipe at the end of his story.

Sofa Dog

Sofa Dog
Leonie Lord
Alison Green Books
When it comes to the sofa, the canine narrator of this book reigns supreme: the only person he’ll allow to share it is the aptly named, young Sophie, his ‘human’. Hence his name, Sofa Dog.

Seemingly others, be they animal or human are unaware of the territorial rule; they too want to share the springy seat. And it seems the doorbell is never going to stop ringing.
Before you can say, “Budge up, Sofa Dog!” there are a couple of cats from next door, three aunties – all avid knitters,

friend Polly plus pony, a host of rabbits, Grandpa (from Bavaria) with his orangutan oompah band, and a panda; and they’ve all piled onto the sofa.
Hang on though, there’s an additional guest, a very tiny one that’s managed to sneak in unnoticed. Now what could that be? And why has everyone suddenly started scratching?
Is this perhaps an opportunity for Sofa Dog to regain his rightful place on the sofa? It can’t be much fun sitting outside all on his own, now can it?

Utterly crazy, and bursting with zany characters to delight both readers aloud and listeners. Leonie Lord portrays every one of them, and the chaos they create, with great panache.
Who can resist falling for the charms of the exuberant Sofa Dog in particular, though I did rather fall for the drum-playing member of Grandpa’s Bavarian band too.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Best Chip

The Best Chip
Kate Leake
Alison Green Books

Chubble – what a lovely word; apparently it’s urban slang for ‘to move or be like a mass of fat’. Mmm; maybe I don’t like it quite so much now.
In fact, I’m not a big fan of chips although I’m not averse to pinching a few from my partner’s plate when he indulges himself.
In this veritable ode to chips, our narrator is so she says, “the world’s Chip-Chubbling Champ!” Now there’s a claim to fame; and throughout this rhyming chip extravaganza, she extols the virtues of the humble chip in all its shapes and sizes. Well perhaps not Granny’s frazzled ones, nor those black-eyes ones.
Apparently she comes from a family of chip lovers; Dad too is a huge fan although he’s rather a messy eater.

It’s our narrator’s largest and ‘bestest’ chip though which gives rise to enormous anticipatory excitement and all manner of flights of fancy …

not to mention crazy a song and dance act, all hilariously visualised in lip-smacking scenes.
But will that much -lauded titbit ever actually pass through the lips of its owner?
I’ll say no more on that matter but just add, there’s a spot of fickleness in the finale.

I’e signed the charter  

 

Who Ate the Cake?

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Ellena engrossed in the story

Who Ate the Cake?
Kate Leake
Alison Green Books
Bob the dog is a mischievous creature, always in trouble, mostly for consuming the wrong things. Freddie is a boy – Bob’s boy – and equally likely to be in trouble, not for eating but on account of his passion for collecting things. Every week his collection grows due mainly to his purchases from Collectors’ Weekly catalogue. This pleases Bob too as it means a constant supply of delightfully chewable items.
Eventually Freddie’s parents seek to put a stop to all this collecting: “No more things!” they decree but barely have they spoken when another delivery arrives unexpectedly. Even more unexpected is what emerges when the lid is removed …

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Freddie swears Bob to secrecy.
Now the one thing about pelicans is they’re big and flappy, another is the capacity of their beaks; Bob is anything but happy especially when things start to disappear – Mum’s knitting, Dad’s daffs. Gran’s best china not to mention some French pastries, but the final straw is the loss of every one of his very own favourite chewy toys. “Pesky pelican!” he cries. Worst of all though is that poor Bob is blamed for the whole sorry disaster.
Things go from bad to terrible. Next day it’s Freddie’s birthday and there’s a very special birthday cake just out of the oven and smelling absolutely yummy. Bob rather fancies a slice for himself so he’s determined to be on his best behaviour, even if that includes having a pre teatime sniff of the confection. What he finds though when he tiptoes to the kitchen is that someone’s got there before him.

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Surely poor Bob won’t get the blame for this disaster too?
He does, but then is quickly reprieved when Mum suddenly spies a certain big-beaked bird perching on the fridge; and he’s given a delicious treat too.

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That’s not quite the end of this crazy saga of mischief and mayhem though. There’s a wonderful final twist to the tale …
Katie Leake provides plenty to explore and giggle over in her busy illustrations.
Bob is undoubtedly the star of the show here but that pesky pelican certainly gives him a run for his money.

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Animal Allsorts

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Hello, Mr Dodo
Nicholas John Firth
Alison Green Books
I absolutely loved Nicholas John Firth’s debut Hector and the Hummingbird, so was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this, his second offering. It also has an avian theme and once again, is a delight through and through.
Martha is an avid bird lover and twitcher spending much of her time in the woods with her binoculars; there isn’t a bird she can’t identify until that is, the day she comes upon an extremely large specimen she doesn’t recognise

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and it bears a very close resemblance to a supposedly extinct creature.
Before long a secret friendship has developed between Martha and her discovery, who shares with her, a particular penchant for doughnuts …

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Then one afternoon Martha accidentally lets slip her secret and the following day she’s besieged by a crowd at her front door. Time for some quick thinking: the dodo has to disappear.

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Is that to be the end of a beautiful friendship?
The wonderfully retro look of the book (there’s a slight touch of Roger Duvoisin about it) comes from the artist’s choice of colour palette, yet this is a thoroughly modern and enchanting tale.

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One Very Big Bear
Alice Brière-Haquet, Olivier Philipponneau & Raphaële Enjary
Abrams Appleseed
Mightily impressed by his own stature, a bear make an announcement: “I’m very big! … I’m almost a giant!” This claim is quickly countered by a whole host of other polar creatures that turn up in turn: two walrus, three foxes, four sea lions, five penguins and six sardines, the latter have the cheek to call him ‘foolish

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But who gets the last word …
Minimalist artwork, an easy to read text, mathematical opportunities aplenty and a giggle-inducing finale make for a fun book to share and discuss.

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I Need a Hug
Aaron Blabey
Scholastic Childrens’s Books
We all need a hug from time to time but when you’re covered in spikes it makes things just a little tricky and so it is with the prickly creature in this tale.
When a porcupine declares he needs a hug, unsurprisingly he doesn’t get any offers.

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Then something happens to change his luck but it’s not quite what he was expecting …

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With themes of looking for friendship and embracing difference, this brief rhyming tale offers food for thought and discussion with early years groups or individuals.

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Superchimp
Giles Paley-Phillips and Karl Newson
QED
Sporting his red underwear and feasting on fleas, a young chimp spends his days whizzing around in the jungle coming to the aid of troubled animals,

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zooming through the trees in his super-cool chimpmobile or occasionally, relaxing in his secret cave. Known as Superchimp, he’s loved by all the rainforest inhabitants; in fact he’s nothing short of their hero …

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Come nightfall though, from afar there comes another booming voice; but it’s not a voice asking for assistance this time. Now Superchimp doesn’t look quite such a hero and it’s not just his underpants that are a dazzling shade of red.
Rhyming text from Paley-Phillips and vibrant rainforest scenes from Newson combine to make a fun read for young would-be superheroes.

Mix-Ups & Disguises

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The Hippopandamouse
Jools Bentley
Macmillan Children’s Books
Things are all of a tizz at Fluffey’s Fine Toys as the workers prepare for a royal visit: the princess is coming and everything has to be perfect. Any toys that don’t pass muster are consigned to the dreaded unstitcher…

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In all the panic, one hippopotamus is put on the wrong table and ends up looking thus:

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The resulting mistake goes un-noticed by the fussy Miss Fluffey who is eager to usher in Princess Flo and show her all the wonderful toys. The young lady show polite interest but is unimpressed until she spies the mistake. Miss Fluffey orders its instant withdrawal and off it’s sent to the dreaded unstitcher. Much to the displeasure of one small royal miss who is determined to spend her pocket money on just one very special item. But can that machine be stopped in time to save that very special item from destruction …
Mistake he might be, but the Hippopandamouse is a winner with youngsters be they or be they not princesses.

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Jools Bentley’s creation demonstrates beautifully that we don’t need to be perfect to be lovable; that and the fact that everybody needs a break from time to time, no matter how important the job being worked on.

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How to Hide a Lion at School
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
What do you do when your best pal and companion isn’t allowed to go with you to the place you spend a great deal of time in – school? At first, Iris does nothing – there’s no need: her lion follows her there every single day, sneaks in and does his best to merge in but unsurprisingly Iris’s teacher, Miss Holland (like most teachers) has eyes in the back of her head and sends him packing. That works when the children are staying put in school but there comes a day when the class is off on a school trip. Moreover, their mode of transport just happens to be the very bus upon which Iris’s lion languishes to watch the goings on in the playground. So, with class aboard off speeds said bus, lion atop – to the museum.
What a splendid hiding place this turns out to be with all those fascinating exhibits.

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Nobody, not even Iris notices him until, they reach the ancient Egyptian room. Here, Iris has to do some quick thinking, and a whole lot of loo roll snitching, in order to attempt a disguise.

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It’s pretty effective until one of the museum visitors has a touch of the tickly noses … and that’s when the plan starts to unravel …
What happens thereafter really puts the lion’s thinking skills to the test but suffice it to say that a certain large-maned creature ends up as hero of the hour …

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and earns himself a new job to boot.
As with previous adventures of the duo, this one is lots of fun. If you’ve not met Iris and her friendly lion previously you can start here, after which I suspect you’ll want to go back and get hold of the two books How to Hide a Lion and How to Hide a Lion from Grandma.

Bear on a Bike

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Bear on a Bike
Hannah Shaw
Alison Green Books
Meet Bear, an immediately engaging character who has made a scrummy-looking cake for his pal Mouse. But, on arrival at Mouse’s house, he discovers that said friend has already departed, zooming off on his trusty motor scooter. Thus ensues an amazing chase with Bear in hot pursuit having quickly abandoned his bike, bagging rides on all manner of vehicles: a lorry, a bus, a trolley,

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a skateboard, a train,

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a canoe, a crane even. This one deposits our ursine hero onto a steamboat and he then moves to a campervan, a tuk-tuk, (love it!)

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a stately sedan, skis, a biplane, and finally, a parachute that drops him unceremoniously into the welcoming arms – almost – of …

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And you might guess where the meeting takes place.
This one is fab. Totally brilliant. Especially the fact that all the while during the chase, Bear has Mouse in his sights and oh, so nearly within his grasp.
And, even better, it has all the vital elements for beginning readers and some: a hugely enjoyable story, great characters, text perfectly matched to hugely humorous, story-telling pictures (these are visually cumulative in places and every one is a potential starting point for children’s own flights of fancy,) rhyme and rhythm, speech bubbles, signs – great to see a bookshop among them and more…
With its circular structure what more can any one ask?
I have been thinking for some while about re-doing elements of Learning to Read with Picture Books (that I penned as a fledgling teacher) as a weblog. This will be among my very first recommendations thereon.

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Feline Encounters Featuring Gracie Grabbit & Gawain Greytail

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Gracie Grabbit and the Tiger
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
Young Gracie Grabbit is the daughter of Bobby Grabbit a robber (who reminds me somewhat of Ahlberg’s Burglar Bill).
One day father and daughter visit the zoo, Bobby with swag bag at the ready. Gracie threatens to tell the zookeeper to set the tiger on him if he gets up to any of his nefarious activities but no sooner has she taken her eyes off him than he sets to work stealing from both animals and humans.

 

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When she discovers what her light-fingered father is up to, she goes to tell the zoo-keeper but he’s otherwise engaged and doesn’t respond. Not so the sleepy-looking character nearby though. He sees all that’s going on – once he’s got both eyes open that is.

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And one of the things he sees is Gracie retrieving the stolen articles from her dad’s swag bag and returning them to their owners; or rather, that’s her intention. She gets things a bit muddled …

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and has no idea who should have the key she’s left with.

 

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Her decision about said key however proves a turning point, not only for its recipient but also for Gracie’s dad who is in for a shock and a surprise when he’s unceremoniously seized by the seat of his pants.

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That’s not quite the end of the story however; let’s just say Bobby Grabbit becomes a reformed character and a whole new career opens up for him.
The illustrations are full of warmth and humour: like the author’s How to Hide a Lion series, this book has a lovely retro feel and look to it.

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Gawain Greytail and the Terrible Tab
Cornelia Funke and Mónica Armiño
Picture Squirrels
Sir Tristan of Twitstream, lord of Raven Castle has, with the help of Tab and her knife-sharp claws, put paid to almost all the castle’s mouse population within a month. Three mice, Shuffle, Snuffle and Scuffle remain but are in danger of death by starvation if not by feline claws.
Enter one Gawain Greytail, famous mouse knight, and feared by all cats, come to the aid of those last surviving castle mice.

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Before long, thanks to some heating and hammering, there’s not one but four knightly mice, armed and ready to do battle with the ferocious feline adversary. “Cower and shiver, terrible tab! … clear off before we cut your mangy coat to pieces!” challenges Gawain as the poking, stabbing and chopping commences.

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Do the brave foursome manage to see off the best mouser in the land? Let’s just say that this is the sight at Sir Tristan’s breakfast table the following morning …

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And this is what they found in the only remaining mouse controllers thereafter …

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This is the very first Picture Squirrel hardcover and like all other Picture Squirrels has a Dyslexia-friendly font and tinted background for ease of reading. Here, the text is displayed on what could be parchment handbills spread out opposite, above or below the dramatic, action-packed illustrations which bring to mind stills from an animated film.

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Hector and Hummingbird

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Hector and Hummingbird
Nicholas John Frith
Alison Green Books
In this smashing picture book debut, set in the mountains of Peru we meet unlikely best pals, bear, Hector and a hummingbird called, err, Hummingbird. The latter is a garrulous creature who appears to intrude in Hector’s activities at the most inopportune moments …

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so much so that Hector, desperate for some peace and quiet finally loses it with his friend

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and storms off deep into the jungle.
But it turns out that the peace and tranquility he sought isn’t quite so fulfilling as he’d imagined.

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And when darkness falls there’s nobody there to share a bedtime story

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… or is there?
There’s so much to love about this one: the fantastical colour palette with its contrasting sludgy greens and browns and contrasting flashes of brilliance, the fusion of flat, retro (almost Dahlov Ipcar style) design and the contemporary –rhomboid, coloured speech bubbles, those sprinklings of off beat, up-to the minute dialogue and the inherent dissonance in a relationship between the two characters. One really wants to spend ages perusing each and every spread, lingering over the details of the deliciously droll manner in which this friendship of the tiny frenetic bird and the large, languorous bear is portrayed. Not forgetting the opportunity to spot the fifteen other creatures who act as observers of the action. Observant young audiences will particularly relish the fact that Hummingbird too is a silent onlooker in many of the scenes.
A humdinger of a book in every way and one not to be missed.

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Fabulous Pie & The Monkey and the Bee

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Fabulous Pie
Gareth Edwards and Guy Parker-Rees
Alison Green Books, Scholastic pbk
When a very bad bear bakes a very large pie-crust – ‘f’laky, warm and wide,’ he plans a wicked plan to get it filled: but what is to go in this fabulous pie? Bear certainly has ideas but his cry of “Fabulous pie! Fabulous pie! Who will help to make the filling for my fabulous pie?” is more than a little ambiguous to the other forest animals and immediately Mouse agrees to help. He collects plump juicy blackberries but bear isn’t satisfied and asks again: squirrel supplies hazelnuts and in they go but that mixture is still not satisfactory. Out goes that cry again… and again … as badger, then mother and daughter otters,

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provide tasty offerings until the animals get cross at bear’s dissatisfaction with berries, honey, nuts and salmon. Things then turn decidedly unpleasant for those willing helpers when …

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Seems it’s time to make a move guys and gals. I wonder who has the last laugh – or should that be bite? …

 

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Simply scrummy is this offering from Edwards and Parker-Rees. Their recipe for a tasty tale is: wickedly funny illustrations liberally sprinkled with assorted animals, – drolly drawn; mixed with rip-roaringly funny, tension building textual teasing. – audiences know what the animals do not: that bear is definitely no vegetarian. Assuredly, one to put on any early years menu.

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The Monkey and the Bee
C.P. Bloom and Peter Raymundo
Abrams Books
Slapstick abounds in this minimally worded, powerfully visual, fast-moving drama, the essential elements of which are, in addition to those mentioned in the title, The Banana and The Lion; oh and a large palm frond essential for waving, wafting and whacking. The question is, will the Monkey and the Bee work in tandem – once they’ve got over their differences concerning that banana –

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and get the better of a very angry-looking lion that definitely did not appreciate that head-bashing he received courtesy of – you’ve guessed it – the Monkey?

 

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Or does said Monkey value a whole banana more than his life? He most certainly has to run for it once the King of the jungle is on the rampage.

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A completely crazy caper and one that will appeal most strongly to those readers who prefer their stories told mainly through visuals. I suspect it will be read over and over and …

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Keep Out & The Fox in the Dark

 

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Keep Out!
Sally Grindley and Peter Utton
Hodder Chidren’s Books pbk
‘KEEP OUT! ‘and ‘BEARS ABOUT!’ caution the signs on the cover and title page of this book by the duo who gave us SHHH! This brilliantly interactive lift-the-flap sequel is equally all involving.
Despite the trepidation of the narrator who is constantly urging would-be adventurers not to proceed, we cannot help but disobey all the warning signs and continue the journey through the book, deeper into the woods. Woods where creatures lurk behind stones and logs, in ponds, under bridges

 

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and in trees. Then there’s a door in the wall – definitely not to be passed through; who knows what could be waiting beyond. But through we go of course: what are all those bees doing buzzing everywhere and why the hives? We know which animals like what they provide.
KEEP OUT! says the doormat outside the cottage and BEWARE OF THE BROCCOLI! warns the notice in the garden – watch out veggiephobes! In we go however and knowing readers will quickly realize they are following in the footsteps of Goldilocks – that’s if they haven’t already. But the bears are very much in residence so there’s only one possible escape …

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There is so much to explore in every new scene (some are wonderfully mock-scary) that one reading just won’t be enough. One five year old I shared it with commented, “It’s my favourite book ever.

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The Fox in the Dark
Alison Green and Deborah Allwright
Alison Green Books pbk
PHEW! A terrified rabbit dashes home in the nick of time, safe from the “fox in the dark.” Before long though there’s a Rat-a-tat-tat! on his door: surely it can’t be that fox, can it? No, it’s Duck followed shortly by Mouse, then Lamb

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and then – OH NO! … ‘A FOX IN THE DARK!’
Wait a minute though, this fox doesn’t look very scary:

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but what’s that shadow looming? … another knock …the tension mounts …
This is definitely one to keep young audiences on the edge of their ‘seats’ as the beautifully rhythmic, rhyming text gallops along at a pace to that final satisfying climax.

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Deborah Allwright uses contrasting dark and light to maximum effect – in the moonlit, shadowy outdoor woodland scenes and those inside Rabbit’s burrow, some of which are illuminated by lantern,

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others by the moon shining in, and also in the animal silhouettes and ghost-like outlines against the black. Every turn of the page brings a visual treat.

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Grans are Great

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How to Hide a Lion from Grandma
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
In this follow up to How to Hide a Lion, Iris has a tricky problem: where to secrete her leonine companion when her parents go away and her Grandma comes to stay. When she duly arrives, Grandma brings an enormous box, so heavy that it’s a real struggle to carry it up the stairs: those hats and bits and bobs must be very heavy ones think her parents as they heave it to gran’s room just before they leave. Seemingly though Iris’s worries are unfounded: her Grandma is so short-sighted she mistakes the lion for all manner of household items from a lamp to a sofa

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and she doesn’t even notice when he accompanies them to the supermarket. So why is she buying such vast quantities of milk, bananas, peanut butter and honey (clue here)? Supposedly Grandma suffers from night time hunger pangs. Why too does she ignore Iris’s pleas to play dressing up with the contents of her trunk?
If you haven’t met Iris in How to Hide a Lion, then do make her acquaintance now; she’s a delightful character. So too is her Grandma – a really endearing, fun-loving person and just right for Iris.
With a slightly retro feel, and rendered in a somewhat subdued palette, Helen Stephens’ illustrations have an old-fashioned charm and are suffused with a gentle humour.
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There’s another funky Grandma in:

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How to Babysit a Grandma
Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Young babysitters like the little girl narrator of this companion to How to Babysit a Grandad know just how to keep a Grandma happy when it’s a sleepover at her house. The recipe is pretty much the same as before, much of the information being offered in the form of lists with vital tips on such things as how to say a silent I love you and how to make shadow foxes kiss goodnight at bedtime.
With a mix of full-page illustrations and smaller vignettes, there is much to feast the eyes on: some spreads are choc full of busy details such as the shoe shop

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and decorated gran scenes, (did I catch a glimpse of Grandad and his charge in the park pictures?) Others offer space for a more reflective lingering look like that of gazing at the first star of the evening.

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Just the thing for Grandmas to share with their charges and vice versa, especially when called upon to babysit.
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A Scarf and a Half
Amanda Brandon and Cataline Echeverri
Maverick Arts Publishing pbk
Granny Mutton just loves to knit so when Little Lionel’s birthday draws near she starts making him a rainbow scarf. The only trouble is, she doesn’t know when to stop so it just gets longer and longer and longer … Having completed said scarf, she rolls it up, makes a parcel and gives it to her grandson. Excitedly, Little Lionel looks at its bulgy shape and convinced his present is a football, anticipates the fun he’ll have with his friends. Imagine his disappointment on discovering the contents of his parcel: off he goes looking decidedly bundled up and before long convinced that “… you can’t have a laugh with a scarf” abandons his useless gift. However his friends have more imagination and it’s not long before said article is being put to good use for all manner of fun activities for, as his friends all tell him, “That’s not a scarf, that’s a scarf and a half!” His Granny’s pretty cool too.
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An Unforgettable Wedding

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The Scarecrows’ Wedding
Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler
Alison Green Books
Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay are in love. He proposes: she accepts. They plan for their wedding, “A wedding that no one will ever forget.” How do they plan? They make a list of course: a comparatively simple one comprising just five items.
Then, arm in arm, they set off around the farm to find:

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First things first – and that’s easy thanks to some obliging geese who furnish a feather a-piece. Said feathers, we learn are to be duly sewn together by a spider friend. The cows, of course, agree to be bell ringers (the last item on the list taken care of); a crab – yes a crab – just happens to scuttle along with a shell necklace, that’s item two sorted, and a couple of mice find suitable matching rings. That just leaves item number three – pink flowers.
Off goes Harry, in the company of a large bee to find those, leaving Betty to have a doze. Hours later, they reach a field full of pink flowers – job done. Well not quite … wilted flowers won’t do and it’s a long way back so water is needed and …
Meanwhile back on the farm Betty is troubled by her loved one’s absence. The farmer quickly makes a replacement, one Reginald Rake.

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The name says it all and before long, in an effort to impress the lady, he’s whipped out a packet of Havanas, lit up and …
There’s no smoke without fire …we all know the saying. Guess who is beating a hasty retreat through the cornfield.
All is not quite lost however. The timely return of Betty’s fiancé ‘with a pail on his arm’ saves the day

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and provides the final item on their list.
So next day, it’s a case of ‘Here comes the bride’ on the arm of her savior for what everyone has to agree,
“Is the best wedding ever, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget.”

 

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A wonderfully rhythmic tale – this is Julia Donaldson, so one would expect no less – with high drama, suspense, romance and humour in a rhyming narrative that just trips off the tongue. Alex Scheffler brings the scarecrows to life through their expressive eyes and mouths despite their stiff limbs and populates his pictures with all manner of farmland extras from grasshoppers to goats, butterflies to badgers.
There are few scarecrow picture books around; this is the only one that really works, but then it is from the Gruffalo partnership.
A sure fire winner in my book.
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Animals and a Vegetable

 

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Dolci and her mum enjoy the story together

Fiddlesticks!
Sean Taylor and Sally Anne Garland
Simon and Schuster pbk
Mouse’s house is perfect – well almost. There’s just a slight slope to one of the windows. Easily fixed, thinks Mouse but not so; he can’t reach up far enough. “FIDDLESTICKS!” Surely big, strong Bear can help though – oops!

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One broken window… “FIDDLESTICKS and RATS!” But Squirrel is an ace climber and woodworker … Oh no! …With flood water to contend with, filthy footprints all over the kitchen wall (courtesy of Otter), a gaping hole in the roof – Moose’s offering, Mouse’s house is pretty near wrecked.

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Time to bale out; off goes a distraught Mouse.
Meanwhile as the day progresses those destroyers have become creators and by sundown, when our little friend decides to return to his wreck of a home, he’s in for a big surprise.

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Those pals of yours have done an amazing job, just keep your paws off that door, little Mouse,
The author says he was inspired to write this amusing story when listening to Flanders and Swann’s The Gas Man Cometh. The slightly understated telling certainly works well and the built-in repetition and cumulative nature of Mouse’s expletives delight young listeners. So too do Sally Anne Garland’s cute illustrations executed in muted shades of blues, greens, browns, pinks and greys; and the whole thing is printed on high quality paper – an added bonus.
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A Day with the Animal Mechanics
Sharon Rentta
Alison Green Books pbk
Young Dylan Basset’s big day has arrived. He’s off to help his Dad at the garage he owns. When he arrives he sees the mechanics already hard at work; there’s so much to learn,

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things like how to use the car wash. So why is it that the hot afternoon is so quiet – not a single customer. Then… time to get moving Animal mechanics; grab the spare tyres, spanners, a snack and off you go. What a jam they discover on the coast road, all because a huge lorry up front has shed its load of boxes. It’s not only the cars that are overheating the mechanics find, so it’s fortunate that young Dylan decides to investigate the contents of the spilt cargo …

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Guess who gets the vote for best mechanic that day. Now you’ve all earned a refreshing seaside dip too…
Rich in detail, with plenty to amuse, explore and absorb, this latest episode with the Animal work force is sure to please young audiences and those who share the book with them.
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Cheese Belongs To You
Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books pbk
Starting once again with a simple scenario, the creator of the brilliant There are Cats in this Book and There are No Cats in this Book has co-created a hilarious, totally brilliant, crazy story concerning the ownership of cheese, or rather, one particular, holey chunk of the stuff. Rat Law has it that, if any rat has the cheese, that rat is the owner of same –

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unless that is, a bigger, quicker, stronger, scarier, hairier or even a dirty rat (especially a gang boss), wants it. Which rodent eventually gets to partake of that cheese though?

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All manner of rats, and potentially extremely dodgy situations have been entertained with verve and vigour in reds and greys (the cheese though is a glowing yellowy orange) and through co-creator Alexis Deacon’s wonderfully clever, cumulative text.
There is so much to explore and discuss herein that I guarantee sharing it with a class of 4s to 7s will keep everyone engaged for ages; begin with the cover and cheesy endpapers and just FOLLOW THAT CHEESE! With its cleverly inbuilt repetition, this book is perfect for learner readers too.
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Catch that Crocodile!
Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas
Tara Books pbk
Herein, it takes a young fish-seller, Meena to solve the problem of how to deal with the jaw-snapping reptile that Falguni Fruit-seller discovers in a ditch. And, what’s more she does so in an entirely non-violent manner

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(luring it back to the river with a trail of her wares). That of course is after the likes of Probin Policeman, Doctor Dutta and wrestler Bhayanak Singh have all attempted to do their worst to the croc and definitely come off second best.

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With its clever, eye-catching typography, folk-style illustrations that look almost like woodcuts and catchy rhyme, this is good fun to read aloud with small groups of children who will need to be able to look closely at the pictures to get the most from the story.
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Supertato
Sue Hendra
Simon and Schuster pbk
Whoever heard of a superhero spud? I certainly hadn’t prior to seeing Sue Hendra’s latest offering. Said superspud is hot on the trail of one dastardly pea that has got loose from the freezer and caused all kinds of suffering among the inhabitants of the vegetable section of the supermarket.

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Supertato’s search sends him creeping through the cakes, the cheese and the cans but just as he’s about to grab his prey, he finds himself plunging into the icy depths of the freezer above which the pea lurks wielding a spud masher.

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Is our superhero destined to become mere mash? Not quite but it’s a pretty close call.
Hmm! What’s that green spherical object in the jelly?
Totally crazy but there’s something rather appealing about a spud with superpowers careering around a supermarket at night.
The bright, almost brash colours of the produce and their surroundings make for suitably eye-catching scenes and the playful language adds spice to this tongue-in-cheek drama.
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Picture Book Medley

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The Strongest Boy in the World
Jessica Souhami
Frances Lincoln
Jessica Souhami’s latest offering is an alternative take on an old Japanese tale, the first records of which go back to the 13th Century. The original story featured an adult warrior whereas here, Souhami’s would-be hero is a plucky though puny boy who dreams of becoming a champion Sumo wrestler. Kaito sets out from his village to the Kyoto tournament and en route meets Hana, a girl with much greater strength. Hana decides to toughen him up but can she do it in the three weeks before the tournament? Training begins in earnest with a strict diet of tough meat, bony fish and semi-cooked rice together with a regime of running, jumping, kicking, lifting and punching.

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Finally Kaito is declared ready to fight and sets off once again for the city. The enormous and famous wrestlers he meets therein scoff at him but Kaito overcomes every one he comes up against and is declared champion. Greatly impressed, the Emperor invites him to live at his court as Imperial Champion. What is Kaiko’s decision? Suffice it to say he is the strongest boy in the land but both he and readers know of an even stronger young person, someone without whose help he could not have achieved his dream.
Striking collage illustrations, beautifully crafted and suitably energetic, underline the humour of this tale. It’s wonderful to have a female character with such strength of body and mind – a celebration of ‘girl power’, but at the same time, an acknowledgment of male strength, making this a book that will be pleasing to both genders.
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Counting Chickens
Polly Alakija
Frances Lincoln
Young Tobi’s pride and joy is his hen: his village friends have animals of their own too. One Monday, Ade’s cow has a calf and Tobi’s hen lays one egg. The next day, Tunde’s sheep has two lambs; Tobi’s hen lays a second egg and so it goes on.

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On Sunday it lays a seventh egg. The hen sits, Tobi waits and waits… After three weeks both are rewarded with a brood of seven, newly hatched, yellow chicks. The following year those chicks become mother hens with their own babies – so many Tobi needs help to count them all.
This lovely story with its Nigerian village setting is beautifully illustrated with earthy tones that contrast with the strong colours of the villagers’ clothes and vehicles. Patterns abound in the details of the weaves of baskets, designs on some of the clothing and the natural designs of the African flora and fauna.
With its counting opportunities, days of the week and most important, a great opportunity to share a story with a Nigerian setting, this is a book I would recommend highly to those in nursery and infant settings as well as anybody who wants to expand the horizons of their young child/children.
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Mr Tiger Goes Wild
Peter Brown
Macmillan Children’s Books pbk
Dapper looking Mr Tiger sports a top hat, suit and bow tie and lives in a street of houses the residents of which are very proper, upright people who drink tea and sit nicely at the table. Mr T. however becomes bored with this dull existence. Time to explore life on the wild side, he decides. Soon he isn’t content with being on all fours; clothing dispensed with, he’s off to ‘the wilderness’ as instructed by his now, horrified friends. There, his wildness is given full rein but roaring and roaming freely in the wilderness proves less than completely satisfying: Mr Tiger misses his friends and city home. Back he goes to discover that not only can he now be more true to his real nature, but that his friends too have become both more accepting and relaxed in themselves.

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There are echoes of Rousseau in Peter Brown’s digitally edited Indian ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations. These begin with an almost monochromatic palette (apart from the tiger’s face) becoming brighter in tandem with Mr T growing wildness.

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Brown lets his illustrations do much of the talking. The ‘be yourself’ message comes through loud and clear from the pictures whereas he keeps the verbal content understated and to the point.
This clever picture book has much to offer although I wouldn’t suggest using it with under fives unless they have already had exposure to a wide variety of picture books and some experience of talking about and interpreting them.
The book is most assuredly an excellent starting point for discussions relating to being yourself, difference/divergence and acceptance for children in primary and even secondary schools.
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Never Ask a Dinosaur to Dinner
Gareth Edwards and Guy Parker-Rees
Alison Green Books pbk
Definitely don’t do that nor, says the boy narrator of this very funny, rhyming cautionary tale, should you share your toothbrush with a shark, never let a beaver in the basin or use a tiger as a towel. A bison will be a bully so despite its woolliness, don’t choose one for a blanket

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and a barn owl is nocturnal so most certainly not a suitable night-time companion. Shun them all and instead stick with your tried and trusted Ted for a blissful sleep in bed.
Delightfully dotty and made all the more so by Parker-Rees’s illustrations. His glowing colours are gorgeous, the scenes hilarious and the, oh so endearing cast of characters he portrays, make one immediately want to ignore the advice and snuggle up with all of them – well maybe not the shark on second thoughts.
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That Dog!
Gillian Shields and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Hodder Children’s Books pbk
Unloved, indeed virtually unnoticed, the Jones’ family dog is thoroughly miserable. So, determined to get some attention, he ups and leaves home. But then what is a hungry dog to do? Get a job, he decides and tries his hand or rather paws at washing up, taxi driving, farm working, litter picking, fire fighting, nursing and more.

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Eventually our canine pal is not only skilled, but also very knowledgeable. It’s then that the Jones spot their erstwhile pet on a TV talent show but of course, it’s too late; that amazing dog now has plenty of people to give him love and friendship.
Believe in yourself and you are unstoppable is the message that dog sends out loud and clear in this off-beat story. The illustrations abound with pattern and there is much else to entertain in the detail too.
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There’s a Shark in the Bath
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic pbk.
Join Dulcie in a riotous bathroom farce wherein she discovers not one, but three sharks in the bath full of cold water left overnight by her dad. Now being breakfast time, Papa, Mama and Baby Shark have just one thing in mind and you can guess what that is. Quick-thinking Dulcie however, has others. First there’s the ‘Brushety-Brush Game’ with the toothpaste,

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then the ‘Wiggety-Wig Game’ involving masses of pink bubbles, hastily followed by the ‘Happy-Wrappy-Uppie Game’ an excellent diversion that results in a very large entanglement of sharks and toilet paper. No mess at all, she assures Dad who is anxiously waiting outside the door; so then one final game is called for. PHEW! Time for breakfast – Dulcie’s not the sharks’ I hasten to add . . .

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Wonderfully silly both verbally and visually. The wacky, over the top or rather, over the edge, bathroom scenes are cleverly so nearly catastrophic and are a perfect match for the tongue-in-cheek telling.
A brilliant one to share with individuals or groups large and small.
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Gracie is highly amused at the exploits of Aldrin and friends

The Great Moon Confusion
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Raccoon Aldrin is something of a know-all; he impresses his friends Fox, Rabbit and Woodpecker, but he’s not quite as clever as he likes to think. So, one night when Rabbit asks why the moon has changed its shape, too embarrassed to admit he doesn’t know, Aldrin proposes an investigation. A week later, with some clues provided by his friends, he concludes, erroneously, that the bears, Hubble and Lovell, are engaged in moon theft.

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The truth however is something far more constructive.
One cannot help but laugh at, but also have a little sympathy for, self-elected expert, Aldrin who does, before this funny tale is out, learn an awful lot, not only about the moon but also about showing off, jumping to hasty conclusions,

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accusing, and apologising and perhaps most importantly, about friendship, as he engages in one hilarious, blunder-making situation after another.
Get hold of this book for its hilarious story and wonderful illustrations, I love the endpapers too. Also, embedded within, is some basic information about the moon that young listeners will absorb effortlessly.
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Nursery Time
Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
Hodder Children’s Books
The animals are bemused: Suzy Sue has disappeared. They search high and low to no avail and then cow discovers a sign – Sunshine Nursery. That’s where she has gone. The animals pay a visit and discover what a wonderful place it is; but is it so good Suzy Sue will never want to return to her farmyard pals? The animals hatch a plan and enter the nursery in disguise intending to take her home right away. That was the plan but the place is such fun that they want to stay too playing with the sand, water, bouncy balls, building blocks and much more.

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But, ‘oh my goodness’ their cover is blown; Suzy Sue spots them and tells them it’s a children only environment. Quickly though, she explains “I’m not going to live here, I just come every day. I play for a while and then go away.” Much relieved cow, sheep and the others return home with another plan in mind. Then it’s a case of home from home…
A reassuring, indeed enticing view of nursery is portrayed (not sure about the bookshelf though) in this amusing, rhyming tale. There are plenty of details for those already at nursery to spot and enjoy; those yet to start should be filled with eager anticipation. Adults too will enjoy the visual humour especially those who have spent time in a nursery.
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Boris Gets Spots
Carrie Weston and Tim Warnes
Oxford University Press pbk
This is the fourth Boris adventure. Herein his teacher makes an exciting announcement: Mr Gander from Gosling farm is coming to pay the class a visit. There is great excitement with everyone except Boris who merely wants to stay quietly in the book corner. When the special visitor arrives, Miss Cluck and her class go outside and enthusiastically experience all Mr Gander has to offer until Boris’s absence is discovered. Back to the classroom goes Fergus and then comes the cry, ‘Boris is covered with spots!’ Back they all dash to find a red -spotted Boris looking very sorry for himself. ‘Chicken Pox” announces Miss Cluck who fortunately knows just what to do.

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Before long though, she has an epidemic, not to mention an empty classroom on her hands. Time to put that honey cookies recipe to good use with the delicious ingredients Mr Gander left them.
Those who work in early years will immediately relate to this one. On several occasions I’ve had my nursery or reception class decimated by a chicken pox epidemic, perhaps not quite all at once as is the case here however. Authorial license notwithstanding though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story to share with young children with or without the dreaded spots. There is so much to explore in relation to the food items and other things Mr Gander brings to show Boris’s class.
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