The Island / Sarah Rising

These are two picture books that deal with current political events and issues.

The Island
Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin

This is probably even more pertinent today than when it was first published in the UK around fifteen years ago.

Washed ashore on his inadequate raft is a man, different from the islanders, which causes them to fear him, but a fisherman persuades the others to take him in. Reluctantly they do so but immediately send him to a deserted part of the island, locking him in a goat pen and leaving him alone. One morning though, the man appears in the town and again is met with hostility except from the fisherman who suggests the possibility of finding a job for the stranger. Excuses pour forth

and the man is returned to the pen but the islanders are increasingly hostile and eventually they reject him completely, savagely driving him with their farming implements, back into the sea.

They turn on the fisherman too, setting fire to his boat and fuelled by their fear, they erect a huge wall around their island to deter further newcomers.

With his brilliant combination of words and deliberately ugly unforgettable images, it feels to me as though Greder is holding up a mirror to the all too many people – including some in positions of power – who are unashamedly hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers. They are the ones who really need to read this book with its themes of prejudice, racism, xenophobia and human rights. With those intensely disturbing scenes of viciousness to another member of the human race, it’s impossible not to feel disgust and shame at such attitudes.

Sarah Rising
Ty Chapman and DeAnn Wiley
Beaming Books

This first person narrative is presented by young Sarah whose day starts in the usual way having breakfast, feeding her insect pets and packing her things in her school bag. But then her Dad gives her some news that changes things completely: he tells her that the police have ‘killed another Black person.’ “They’re supposed to serve and protect us … but they hurt us instead.” ‘ He takes his daughter along to a protest; she joins the throng demanding justice and in so doing she sees for herself the cruel way a police officer attacks a harmless butterfly. Sarah rescues the butterfly left lying on the ground

and rejoins the marching crowd but suddenly realises that in so doing she’s lost her Dad. However with the help of a kindly woman who sees her distress, together with her own inner strength, she gradually overcomes her fear and is eventually reunited with her Dad. A scary experience for first time activist Sarah but one that will surely be the first of many demonstrations of dissent designed to make a crucial difference.

Vividly illustrated by DeAnn Wiley whose scenes include one showing murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were brutally killed by the US police – a vivid reminder of these terrible events. If a girl like Sarah can make a difference so can youngsters everywhere: backmatter includes some suggestions of ways to create change in a community.

Mo and Crow

Mo and Crow
Jo Kasch and Jonathan Bentley
Allen & Unwin

‘No man is an island’ wrote poet John Donne more than 400 years ago but Mo wants it so to be.

Mo is a loner and that’s the way he likes it. He’s built a sturdy house surrounded by a protective wall to deter intruders be that elemental, animal or human kind. Privacy is vital so he thinks.

Then from behind the wall he hears tap tap tap over and over. Mo’s various ways to block out the infuriating sound invading his silence prove futile and it’s not long before the continual tapping causes the displacement of a stone and there is a beak belonging to Crow.

Mo pushes back the stone but the next day Crow pushes out another one and another …

Furious, Mo tries begging, yelling and shouting but to no avail. The invader doesn’t go. The size of the hole increases and eventually Mo seizes the biggest stone he can find and hurls it at Crow. The creature remains. The two sit watching one another; Mo within his house Crow from his perch on the broken wall.

This goes on all day and eventually Mo goes to bed and sleeps. Next morning no Crow. Mo prepares,,,, materials to repair his wall and then as he looks up there’s space, clouds in the sky and hills: a whole world has been opened up.

But where is Crow?

Debut picture book author Jo Kasch and illustrator Jonathan Bentley present two contrasting characters – one a seeker of company, one who eschews it, in this tale of diversity, acceptance, the breaking down of barriers and the importance of friendship. With the economic text occasionally breaking into rhyme and lots of repetition providing joining in possibilities, and Jonathan Bentley’s boldly coloured scenes of the unfolding drama to feast their eyes on, youngsters will certainly have their attention held throughout this thought-provoking allegory.


Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin

Thought-provoking, enormously powerful and definitely not for little ones, this picture book begins with a girl, Carolina, watching her mother put on a pair of diamond earrings in preparation for an evening out. She asks how much they cost receiving the response, “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Uncle Winston. He bought them for me. … because he loves me very much.” Carolina is an inquisitive child, so the questions continue: where did the earrings come from? What is mined? Where are diamonds mined?
After receiving a cavalier reply to her question about their maid Amina’s lack of diamonds despite like the gemstones, coming from Africa, Carolina is left in the care of the maid, and her mama departs.

Then comes a series of wordless spreads beginning with Amina seeing Carolina into bed. 

There follows a nightmarish account documenting the journey of these conflict diamonds from their source to the giving of the earrings. Greder shows how the miners extract the gems from the ground while being brutalised and perhaps worse by overseers. 

They are then passed through a corrupt chain of middlemen until they reach an up-market jeweller’s shop to await purchasers.

The book ends with Amina comforting a tearful Carolina who has woken from her horrendous dream.

Hugely unsettling, made particularly so by the sombre, haunting charcoal images in the wordless scenes, this important book raises highly pertinent issues of social injustice, exploitation and human rights, and of human consumption and greed. The clever juxtaposition of concerns about Amina’s role as a domestic servant in a wealthy home with those of the exploitation of the mine workers, as well as Carolina’s mother’s attitude towards her daughter’s probing about the diamonds, ensure that this book truly packs a powerful punch, leaving the reader with a determination to endeavour to ensure they have no part in any oppression of other human beings.

A book to discuss – with the aid of the three afterwords that talk of conflict diamonds and The Democratic Republic of Congo – with upper primary children and beyond.

The Astronaut’s Cat

The Astronaut’s Cat
Tohby Riddle
Allen & Unwin

‘The astronaut’s cat is an inside cat. And she likes it like that.’

So begins this story of an indoor cat that watches through the window of a spacecraft as an astronaut explores the moon outside.

She is fascinated by this strange lunar environment but setting foot beyond the confines of the spacecraft is not something a cat should do: there’s no air and the outside temperatures range between hot enough to boil a bowl of water in the daytime to ten times colder than a fridge freezer by night. Moreover there are strange objects whizzing around which Cat finds troublesome.

Instead the moggy spends her time playing, eating, and sleeping and dreaming.

Her dreams take her outside where she’s able to leap, pounce and glide, across the dusty, rocky terrain.

She also dreams of another place, a big blue ball full of amazing shapes and forms – the natural sights, sounds and scents of nature where she can become an outside cat.

Through his fusion of photographs of the moon’s surface and the Earth, and his own art, the author/illustrator cleverly melds the real and the imagined, while at the same time weaving some basic scientific information into his lyrical narrative.

So it is for cat, and so has it been for many humans of late, cooped up inside their homes or unable to venture far beyond their own front doors – something I’m sure Tohby Riddle knew nothing about when he created this delightfully whimsical book.

Monkey’s Tail

Monkey’s Tail
Alex Rance and Shane McG
Allen & Unwin

Since his retirement, due in no small part to a serious knee injury in an Australian Rules football game, Alex Rance has written another story in his series of children’s picture books.

This one, Monkey’s Tale, as the author says, is the story of how he got through the traumatic season of his injury in 2019.

It tells of Howler Monkey, one of the jungle’s very best climbers until one day while out with his pals, the branch on which he was climbing snaps sending him flying out of the tree to crash with an enormous thump right on his tail. YEOCH!

How that tail hurts and scares Howler Monkey but instead of letting on to his friends, he clowns around trying to make them laugh.

He may have fooled them but the Howler Monkey can’t fool himself and unable to climb he sits around thinking and becoming increasingly sad.

Then one day the very wise Oldest Monkey sits down beside Howler and asks what’s troubling him. Who better to confide in than Oldest Monkey so, full of self-doubt Howler Monkey reveals his secret worry: am I still a monkey if I can no longer climb?

A discussion ensues with Oldest Monkey asking some key questions that help Howler Monkey realise that no matter what, he can still make his friends laugh; he can still help them;

he still has a loving family and he can still make them proud – just in a different way. In other words, his actions do not define who he is and motivation for those actions is a key factor. Is this enough for Howler Monkey to regain his confidence and self-respect?

Resilience is key in Alex Rance’s story, illustrated digitally by Shane McG and as Oldest Monkey concludes ‘keep on being the best (monkey) you can be.’ Sage advice indeed.

I See, I See

I See, I See
R. Henderson
Allen & Unwin

This seemingly simple, playfully clever book is a great way to introduce the idea of perspective/different points of view to youngsters. Two readers need to sit facing one another, one either side of the book and take turns to read aloud the rhyming text, in a ‘call and response’ type activity.

Each of the pictogram style images offers two interpretations – there’s no right or wrong: a curved mouth is a smile from one direction and a frown from the other; the face belongs to dad or mum depending from which side it’s viewed;

you can see a whole forest or a single tree – both are possible.

In his presentation of the notion of looking at things from another’s viewpoint, debut picture book creator Robert Henderson (with gentle echoes of Hervé Tullet) offers a starting point for conversations on important, possibly controversial, topics,

I look forward to seeing what comes next.

One Runaway Rabbit

One Runaway Rabbit
David Metzenthen and Mairead Murphy
Allen & Unwin

One pet rabbit.
One tiny mouse.
One broken fence.
One dark night.
One hungry fox.

Uh oh! The chase is on. Surely this night of freedom and exploration isn’t to be rabbit’s last.

Using minimal text David Metzenthen has created a suburban adventure full of suspense. In combination with Mairead Murphy’s splendid illustrations that manage to capture both the endearing nature of the rabbit and its curiosity the book becomes a real page turner that has pretty much everything one could ask of a book for the young: a thoroughly satisfying story that helps develop visual literacy as well as being one that beginning readers can read for themselves after an initial sharing with an adult during which they can make predictions.

In addition there are changes of pace and a variety of viewpoints including a bird’s eye map

and things to make youngsters laugh

as well as hold their breath. Make sure you read from endpaper to endpaper too.

A must have for anywhere – home or educational setting – where adults want to help youngsters develop as real readers.


Alison Lester
Allen & Unwin

This is a special sparkly covered 30th anniversary edition of a book that is superb for developing youngsters’ imaginations as well as introducing them to a whole host of animals by transporting them to a variety of different settings. There’s the jungle, the depths of the ocean, a polar ice cap, a farm, a swampland full of dinosaurs, an African plain and finally, the Australian bush. This adds a search-and-find element to the experience.

Each location is prefaced by a scene of two suitably attired children engaging in creative play opposite which are seven lines of rhyming text inviting readers to ‘imagine if …’.

After this comes a panoramic double page spread simply teeming with animals, bordered by the names of the creatures depicted.

Helpfully in this new edition, there is a key to the animals found in each location on the last page and back endpapers; there were some, particularly from the Australian bush, that I couldn’t identify without it.

Alison Lester is spot on in the way she shows how young children create their own imaginary worlds as they play, plunging themselves right in and becoming part of the action. The final spread brings them back closer to reality as they’re shown engaging in domestic small world play.

I still have my original 1991 copy and am happy to find the book has lost none of its allure.

Argh! There’s a Skeleton Inside You! / A Cat Called Trim

Allen & Unwin offer some unusual ways of presenting information in these two non-fiction books

Argh! There’s a Skeleton Inside You!
Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost
Allen & Unwin

Quog (a blobbly armless thing) and Oort (a gas cloud) are in their spacecraft going to a party but mechanical issues hold things up. They need to get out and fix the problem but without hands or arms, opening the door isn’t possible. Or is it? That’s when the narrative becomes interactive – the reader turns the page and … out they come.

‘Give Quog and Oort a wave,’ we’re told and a page turn reveals Quog has grown arms and hands. That’s a good start but there are further issues.

Little by little youngsters are then introduced to the bones,

muscles …

and nerves of the hand – their form and function.

With simple, bright, lively illustrations, this, zany mix of fact and fiction is enormously engaging: little humans will love the idea of helping the little aliens reach their destination, and in so doing learning some basic human biology – anatomy and physiology – as presented by the clever human team Idan Ben-Barak (author/scientist) and illustrator Julian Frost.

A Cat Called Trim
Corinne Fenton and Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin

‘Trim was a cat born for adventure.’ That he surely was having been born aboard the sailing ship Reliance bound for Botany Bay and then not long after, finds himself hurtling over the side of the ship into the inky depths of the Indian Ocean.

Happily for the kitten and his saviour Matthew Flinders, a special relationship is forged, with Trim accompanying his master on all his expeditions until the fateful day when Flinders was accused of spying, his precious books, charts and journals confiscated and he became a prisoner on the Isle de France (Mauritius).

After a while Trim disappeared and his master never saw him again.

Both educative and entertaining, Corinne Fenton’s telling of this true story is compelling and accompanied by Craig Smith’s dramatic, detailed illustrations, and maps, makes for an absorbing starting point for primary readers interested in Australia and its history.

What I Like Most / Goodbye House, Hello House

What I Like Most
Mary Murphy and Zhu Cheng-Liang
Walker Books

A small girl narrator takes us through the day sharing the favourite things in her life.

Assuredly she has much to like – the window through which she watches the comings and goings, apricot jam to spread on her toast, her trainers with the flashing lights,

the tree-lined river, her red pencil, chips, the storybook she knows by heart, her teddy bear.

All these are favourite things but the girl knows that while the view through the window changes, the jam is finished, her feet outgrow her shoes, the river changes,

her red pencil is all used up, her plate empties, the book is no longer interesting, there is someone there whom no matter what, she’ll always, always love and that someone is what she likes ‘the very, very most in the world.’

What a lovely way to express one’s love for a mother while also showing that maternal love is constant. Mary Murphy’s lyrical text combined with Zhu Cheng-Liang’s richly coloured illustrations with their unusual and varied viewpoints offer a wonderful demonstration that it’s not the flashy, expensive things in life that make us happy but the everyday ones we could so easily take for granted.

Goodbye House, Hello House
Margaret Wild and Ann James
Allen & Unwin

Endings and beginnings can be challenging for anyone, but here in this story the little girl narrator appears to be embracing change bravely.

She spends a while on ‘last times’, bidding farewell to things she has loved to do – fishing in the river, running through the trees;

swinging on the gate.

Inside she embraces domestic last times before saying goodbye to the rooms in the country house. Then Emma (only now her name is revealed), changes the writing on the wall to the past tense …

and it’s time to leave.

At the new city house, there are exciting first times

and hellos to be said, new writing to put on the wall and anticipation of things to come.

Yes the landscapes may be very different but with a positive attitude familiarity can be found. . Emma’s body language says much about her emotions, but no matter the location Emma is still Emma.

Margaret Wild’s minimal text combined with Ann James’ muted story-telling illustrations leave plenty of room for the reader’s imaginations.

This heart-warming book offers a great starting point for opening up discussion about change whether or not children have had an experience similar to Emma’s.

My Friend Fred / Pip Finds a Home

My Friend Fred
Frances Watts and A. Yi
Allen & Unwin

An unseen narrator (mostly), dachshund Fred’s best friend tells of the doggy things he gets up to. He loves dog food (disgusting!), chasing balls, sniffing trees and digging holes.

However he doesn’t like stairs unlike his pal; he loves baths, (his friend hates them)

and Fred does some rather odd things like howling at the moon and turning around thrice before sleeping.

Youngsters will delight in guessing the nature of Fred’s best friend (there are some visual clues in A. Yi’s adorable watercolour illustrations) so may work it out before the final reveal. Whether or not they do, with its themes of friendship and difference this is an engaging book to share with your little ones.

Pip Finds a Home
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

Due to a case of mistaken identity Pip undertakes a long journey to the South Pole for that’s where those that look like him live.

He’s met by four friendly Adélie penguins who want to know what kind of penguin Pip is.

They attempt to identify him but he doesn’t have feathers on his head like a Macaroni penguin, is too short to be an Emperor Penguin and lacks the orange beak of a Gentoo.

Perhaps he isn’t a penguin after all.

Nonetheless he’s made welcome by the Adélies until another black and white bird approaches and then Pip learns his real name.

It’s time to go home …

This simply told, beautifully illustrated in watercolours, tale of friendship, similarities and differences and belonging gently informs young listeners too; and the final three pages give additional facts about the four kinds of penguins and the species to which Pip belongs.

Baz & Benz / Mannie and the Long Brave Day

Baz & Benz
Heidi McKinnon
Allen & Unwin

Owls Baz and Benz are best friends: Baz is small and blue; Benz is big and green.

One day while sitting together Baz decides to check if their friendship really is for ever and ever.

He puts forward a series of possibilities – a colour change; a colour change with a spotty pattern? So far so good.

Constant ‘Meeping’? – not at all a good idea.

A scary bat with sharp claws? Err! Rather frightening, but the friendship bond would remain intact … no matter what.

Little humans will delight in Baz’s ability to annoy, and to push the boundaries but remain loved, and they’ll especially relish the way he gets the last “Meep!’

Comforting and reassuring; Heidi McKinnon gets right to the heart of true friendship in this simple, enormously enjoyable story for the very young. The bold, bright illustrations are captivating and the characters with their matching coloured lines immediately endearing.

A book I envisage being demanded over and over.

An altogether different celebration of friendship is:

Mannie and the Long Brave Day
Martine Murray and Sally Rippin
Allen & Unwin

This is a sweet story about a little girl Mannie, her toy elephant, Lilliput and her doll, Strawberry Luca.

Together with a special box of useful things, Mannie takes her friends on an exciting adventure … down the rocky road, through the tall, tall trees, across the winding river

and up the high hill for a picnic.

Suddenly the sun disappears, the sky darkens, thunder starts to rumble and Mannie feels scared.

Now it’s Lilliput’s turn to say the words, “What’s in the box?’

and before long all is well once more.

A truly magical book  that celebrates the boundless imagination of young children. Both author and artist capture the way in which the very young can transform almost anything and everything into the ingredients for their fantasy play.
Sally Rippin’s gorgeous illustrations took me right into the nursery classroom where I taught for a number of years, as did the ‘special box’ in the narrative. We too had a similar item not pink but battered and brown with a hole cut in the top, into which I’d put various items and we’d all sit around it and sing, “What’s in the box, what’s in the box, let’s think, let’s see … what’s in the box” before somebody would put in their hand and extract an item as the starting point for storying.


Anna Fienberg, Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin

I was knocked out by this beautiful book that celebrates the power of friendship and its role in finding the courage to overcome fears.

Many young children go through a night-time monster-fearing stage (under the bed or in a cupboard); and so it is with young Tildy. The little girl knows there are monsters; they’re brought in by moonlit, hiding themselves behind the curtains and so Tildy hates moonlight.

Her dad and mum assure her there are no such things, telling her to go to sleep; her aunts and uncles can’t see them so she writes to her cousins – all 23 of them – but she receives only one response telling her not to eat spicy food before bed.

So, Tildy gives up her talk of monsters but sleeps with one eye open, growing increasingly nervous as the sun goes down: nothing it seems can get rid of her fear.

Then a new boy Hendrik joins Tildy’s school. He draws monsters during maths time explaining to Tildy how he deals with them.

The two become friends and Hendrik invites Tildy to sleep at his house; the plan is to camp in the garden and despite her worries, she agrees, packs her bag including dad’s Oxford Dictionary to hurl at the first monster she sees, and her mum drives her over.

The children have a great time together but as the shadows engulf the afternoon sun, Tildy’s fears reawaken.

Can her friend help her to make the impending dark feel like a safe place so that they can spend that night together

and watch the moon sail like a ship across the starry sky?

Open to many interpretations, this book is superb in every way. Anna Fienberg’s prose narrative is brilliantly expressed and the illustrations both wonderfully whimsical and detailed. It was Kim Gamble’s final book (she died in 2016) with Anna, and her great friend, illustrator Stephen Axelsen took over after she died, helping to bring the project to fruition and to make this special book a celebration of her work.

An absolutely smashing book to share, especially with youngsters who themselves are challenged by and endeavouring to work with, their own fears.

Definitely one to add to a family collection or the class bookshelves.

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence
Eddie Ayres and Ronak Taher
Allen & Unwin

Imagine living in a world without music; it’s almost unthinkable but that’s how it is for young Sonam in Eddie Ayres’ story set in Kabul, Afghanistan at the time when the Taliban forbade the playing of music.

Ayres is himself a musician and broadcaster who spent a year teaching music at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, formed after the 6-year Taliban-imposed ban was lifted.

One of the pupils he met was named Sonam and it is she who inspired his story.

When Sonam, who lives with her mother, two brothers and a sister, turns seven her older brother tells her she is no longer a child: now she must cover her hair and start working, selling chewing gum on the streets of the city.

On the way to work, the girl hears a wonderful sound and follows it to discover, sitting in a room among the pomegranate trees, an old man playing music on a rubab. Sonam is captivated.
The old man tells her that “There is music everywhere, ‘In the wind, in the earth, in the trees. Music is forbidden, but that’s when we need it most. But you can only hear music if you listen with all your heart.”
He gives Sonam his instrument and now although she continues working, the sounds of fear she felt are replaced by the music running through her entire being.

Then one day her brother discovers the girl humming and he takes away her instrument and forbids her to sing. Now her music has been silenced, Sonam’s world is full only of sounds of war.

Desperate she goes to the old man’s garden but he is no longer there; however she finds just one pomegranate. That she picks intending to plant its seeds in her own garden.

As she does so she unearths something that makes her heart sing. Her brother has in fact hidden her rubab to protect her.

Returning to the old man’s garden she sits beneath a withered tree remembering and as she does so, sounds of the old man’s music replace those of fear emanating from the city. Gradually she comes to understand that now, the old man and the music is within her, and deep inside it will always be.

Seemingly simple this is a profound, heartfelt tale of resilience, love and hope made all the more impactful by Eddie Ayres’ use of the present tense; and by Ronak Taher’s powerful mixed media illustrations. These are multi-layered and intricate with backgrounds carpeted with fragments of petals, leaves and grasses in autumnal shades over which are placed the storytelling images and the sinister silhouettes of war.

Like the music that plays such a big part in the story, this book is such that it reverberates in the mind, long after it’s been read.

Nursery Bookshelf

You’re Three!
You’re Four!
You’re Five!

Shelly Unwin and Katherine Battersby
Allen & Unwin
Here are three little books dedicated to being a particular age, each one using different animal characters – a small one and an adult.
Celebrating being three is a little alligator; a small meerkat and a parent look at the specialness of becoming four; and a young goat plus parent explore what being five brings.
Weaving in such concepts as basic one to one counting, addition, numbers, shapes, change, seasons, and the senses into her rhyming text, the author gently builds in opportunities to extend the listener’s language while at the same time celebrating each specific age.
Thus being Three encompasses some favourite fairy tale titles, being halfway up and the idea of triplets.

Four introduces compass points, quarters and the seasons;

and Five mentions the vowels, days of the week, questioning words and the senses.

Each book will need a fair bit of adult/child discussion and exploration with the aid of Katherine Battersby’s engaging art; but the most important element every time is the specialness of the child at which ever age they are.
As a teacher I’ve always been concerned about parents trying to make their children look and act older than they are; these small books are a helpful counter to that.

Archie’s First Day at School
Archie Goes to the Doctor

Emma Brown
Cico Kids
The creator of the Shady Bay Buddies books and soft toys, Emma Brown, a crochet expert, started making up the stories when her daughters were young, and these two titles are part of a series that aims to provide reassurance and information to help very young children overcome their ‘first time’ anxieties.
In the first story Archie sets off for his first day at school with Bunny his toy, his big sister, Amber and his mum. He’s greeted at the door by his teacher, bids his mum farewell, chooses a coat peg and then is allocated somewhere to sit
Soon he’s busy making a model and accidentally spills paint on Bunny.

He spills milk on him at snack time: seemingly Archie is rather excited.
Outside play is followed by lunch with his friend Breeze.
After a story, it’s time to go home and Amber is waiting for him, although surprisingly, not his mum. Archie says he’s enjoyed himself but isn’t too sure about Bunny.
In the second story Archie is outside with his sister and being very adventurous on the swing when suddenly he finds himself on the ground with a hurt arm.
He’s somewhat alarmed to hear he has to go to the doctors with Mum.
In the waiting room he meets his friend Breeze who has earache. Soon it’s time to go into Doctor Hodge’s surgery where after an examination of his arm, Archie learns nothing is broken but he needs to wear a sling.

Then after a quick reassuring chat to Breeze, he goes off home.
With interesting mixed-media backdrops (listeners can search for Archie’s bunny at every turn of the page), appealing cuddly toy characters, and stories told simply and directly, these books should help allay first time nerves.

That’s Not a Daffodil!


That’s Not a Daffodil
Elizabeth Honey
Allen & Unwin
When Tom’s next-door neighbour, Mr Yilmaz,  calls with a crumpled bag containing what looks somewhat like an onion, but Mr Yilmaz assures him is a daffodil, the boy is more than a little sceptical. “Let’s plant it and see,” Mr Yilmaz suggests, so they do, in a large pot. Tom waits and waits but nothing much happens; He calls it a desert so Mr Y. suggests making it rain and he does …


Still, nothing seems to be happening, but they keep watching until Tom declares “a green beak” is peeping through. Inevitably, – as beaks do – it opens up; and becomes a green- fingered hand.


Mr Yilmaz continues visiting, bearing gifts of various fruits and vegetables, Tom’s curiosity growing along with the plant all the while as it becomes “Grandpa’s hairs in the wind”, “a wet rocket”, needs the assistance of “the plant ambulance” when Mr Yilmaz’s grandchildren accidentally knock over the pot in play; and then after some TLC, shines forth as a “street light”, heralding spring.


What though, does young Tom see when the bud finally bursts forth in bloom …
Wonderfully playful, uplifting and full of hope, this beautiful story introduces so much – notions of good neighbourliness, diversity, respectfulness and a whole lot of learning about gardening, and growth – not only of the flower but also of a special friendship. At the same time it interweaves imaginative notions in the form of metaphor and all this through the eyes of a young child.
The author’s gorgeously warm, soft-focus illustrations in, I think, watercolour and oil pastel, exude warmth and a joie-de-vivre.
A perfect springtime share for early years teachers and parents of pre-schoolers.

Surprising Christmases with Slug, Reindeer & Frankie

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Norman the Slug Who Saved Christmas
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Whoever heard of a slug celebrating Christmas; well you’re about to hear of exactly that and more for this crazy tale tells how one, Norman by name (of Silly Shell fame) actually pitches in and averts a seasonal disaster. But that’s to come. We first encounter Norman as he’s tucked up in bed eagerly anticipating a visit from Father Christmas – he’d been a truly good slug after all. Then, down the chimney descends , not Santa but …

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Surely Norman cannot have been that good? No, certainly not; in fact not one of the presents therein is for him. Time to get those slug ideas flowing and put those special slug skills to good use, decides Norman and that is just what he does: sticky tape of course is no problem but who/what is going to pull that cleverly constructed sleigh? …

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And how is Norman going to get that Shelby family’s sack up onto the roof and down their chimney?

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Well, we’ve all talked of snail mail but Norman’s method is something altogether unexpected and genius on his part:

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but quick Norman, you have to hide before those Shelby children appear on the scene.
You can probably guess what he does about that but I’d hate to steal his thunder so either take a guess, or much better, get hold of a copy of this comical Christmas caper and then share it with some under 6s.
Love the story: love this problem solving, divergent thinking mollusc, and love Paul Linnet’s portrayal of same.


Reindeer’s Christmas Surprise
Ursula Dubosarsky and Sue deGennaro
Allen & Unwin Children’s Books
With occasional, gentle echoes of Clement Clark Moore, Ursula Dubosarsky’s text bounces along on its Reindeer hooves as the chief protagonist sets out delivering gifts to his friends. First there’s Cat …


followed by Dog …

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and finally, shopkeeper Guinea Pig …

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Thereafter Reindeer tootles back to the comfort of his cosy armchair for a nice rest and a glass of iced chocolate. Perfect albeit decidedly lonely. But not for long: his snooze is rudely interrupted by a terrible racket – what could it be?
Without spoiling the happy ending, let’s just say Reindeer’s heart is full and he’s lonely no longer.
I love the way the story ends with an open-ended question for readers and young listeners to ponder over

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Here’s Emmanuelle deep in thought over just that …

and discuss.
With its gently humorous, delightfully detailed pictures, this heart-warming antipodean tale is definitely one to enjoy this Christmas. And not just for its sunny, summery scenes.

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Frankie’s Magic Football: The Great Santa Race
Frank Lampard
Little Brown
Soccer fanatics Frankie and his trusty team are on a mission: to make Christmas a white one. But nobody wants an everlasting snowy winter; so can they deal with the evil penguin accidentally awoken when the magic football, kicked by Kevin crash lands in Mr Harris’s front garden? Emperor Frostie, for that is the penguin’s name, is determined to create this winter that never ends, not only in their very own town, but right across the whole world. One thing is certain, first, they have to find the whereabouts of Kevin and deal with the tricky problem of his rescue. It looks like a football match is in the offing … Frostie’s team versus Frankie’s.
Assuredly, another action-packed adventure for fans and a seasonal one at that.

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Toddler Christmas Books

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Santa’s Reindeer
Tom Duxbury, Matilda Tristram and Nick Sharratt
Walker Books
Over-peppering of his pre-delivery supper soup by Santa causes extreme nasal irritation of Reindeer and …

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But can they retrieve it in time to deliver the presents when Polar Bear wants it to button up his his onesie, Robin thinks it might be a tree decoration, Seal needs it to practice tricks for the Christmas show, sending it flying into Arctic Fox’s stocking

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and when he empties it out, the nose vanishes. Hold on though, what’s that in Penguin’s fruit salad?

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Could it possibly be …
A fun idea, hilariously captured in Nick Sharratt’s suitably silly seasonal scenes, complete with a squeaky nose. What better novelty for a Christmas Eve romp?

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Is It Christmas Yet?
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
This is a lovely, squashy-covered board book version of Jane Chapman’s jolly tale.
Young Ted is beside himself with excitement charging round the house yelling.
Is it Christmas yet?” he repeatedly asks Big Bear who is getting to the end of his tether at the frequent question.

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However, the preparations continue at a pace – a slow one – as they work together wrapping presents, search for a suitable tree – easier said than done resulting in a very tearful Ted.

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But happily, team work fixes the problem and finally Big Bear carries his exhausted little one up to bed as it is at last very, very nearly CHRISTMAS!
With a decidedly upbeat text full of delicious words (HEAVED, HUFFED, PULLED, PUFFED and “TOO SPIKY…” “TOO THIN…“)

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and sounds (zzzzzzzzzzzzpft! SNAP!, NOOOOOOO!) to join in and perhaps act out), this is perfect for sharing with over-excited toddlers, (especially those who keep asking the same question as Ted) as Christmas draws ever closer. Adults will surely recognize the feelings portrayed by Big Bear in the deliciously humorous illustrations; and it’s good to see a single Dad coping so well with the high spirits of Ted.

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Bizzy Bear Christmas Helper
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
A seasonal board book offering featuring the popular Bizzy Bear who herein, has been enlisted to aid and abet Father Christmas, First he has to help in the workshop, then there’s the sleigh to be packed, after which it’s ‘up and away!’ delivering toys to all the sleeping animals.

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With the usual ingredients: brief rhyming text, jolly pictures and sliders to push and pull plus the added festive fun, this is just the thing to share with the very youngest during the run up to Christmas.


Jingle Bells
James Lord Pierpont and Pauline Seiwert
Walker Books
This is a sturdily built rendition of the seasonal favourite song with teddies riding the sleigh pulled by a pony, with rabbits bounding along beside, badgers greeting them as they slow down; and a whole host of other woodland creatures joining them as they sing and sleigh slowly towards the candle-lit Christmas tree where they look skywards and see another sleigh pulled by reindeers …


If that’s not enough to captivate the very young, then there’s a button to press and they can sing along with the music.

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This Little Piggy Went Singing
Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland
Allen & Unwin
In their follow-up to the delightful This Little Piggy Went Dancing, the highly regarded Australian picture book creators Wild and Niland come up with a Christmas sequel. Herein, the super-cute five little piggies are busy with their seasonal preparations. They sing and make music, shop, create …

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and post cards and party.
There are candy canes …

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and cakes (of the fishy variety), baubles and bedtime stories, not to mention plum pudding, and pineapple, gingerbread and more …
In ten verses Margaret Wild offers musical alternatives to the ‘wee-wee-wee’ with more upbeat ‘vroom vrooms’, ‘plink, plonk, plunks, ratta-tat-tats, jingle-jingle-jingles’ … and a final

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… all the way home.
Do join those porcine frolics so cleverly rotated so that a different piggy has none each time, in Deborah Niland’s lively, playful , action-packed pictures. And look out for that mouse friend who makes his presence well and truly felt in every spread.
Seasonal enchantment for the very young (and those who read or sing it aloud to them).

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Love London

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L is for London
Paul Thurlby
Hodder Children’s Books
If you didn’t make it to London over half term, don’t worry. You can take a virtual trip courtesy of this fine alphabetic offering from Paul Thurlby. Delivered with tremendous panache, his instantly recognizable retro-modern style graces every page from its Abbey Road zebra crossing …

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to the (London) Zoo; it quite simply exudes style.
Must visit landmarks include the London Eye, the Globe theatre,  

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Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge …

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and Nelson’s Column. You can savour the produce on the stalls at Borough Market, enjoy at least one of the eight Royal Parks, or Kew Gardens …

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travel in a black Cab or board a London bus or the Uunderground.
And no trip to the capital city would be complete without spending time at the V&A museum, browsing in Foyles bookshop or, Harrods for the ultimate shopping experience. Other ‘must dos’ would be to see the Royal Guards in front of Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister and the Olympic Park.
In June/July you can watch the tennis at Wimbledon or if it’s a Christmas visit there is day and night outdoor Ice skating at Somerset House.
Although you might have to Queue, the crown Jewels can be viewed at the Tower of London, which is guarded by those legendary Yeomen warders better known as ‘Beefeaters’.
Finally, if one has time, on the South Bank is the oXo Tower, further along from the Royal festival Hall.
Those heading out of London for an international destination might leave from St Pancras station …

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With a scattering of famous faces, a fox to spot at every landmark and fascinating facts as well, this is assuredly a buy to keep and buy to give book.

An altogether different look at our capital city comes in

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Mr Chicken Lands On London
Leigh Hobbs
Allen & Unwin
In his second adventure, the travelling Mr Chicken descends on London – literally, landing gently in the Thames with his waterproof camera safe and sound. He then hotfoots to his favourite hotel the Savoy, having pre-booked the River View Deluxe Room prior to his trip.
After a Thames view breakfast, it’s off to visit her Majesty the Queen for morning tea. This has to be a brief meeting for Mr Chicken has many other things on his itinerary: a climb up St Paul’s Cathedral, an exploration of the Tower of London, a brief column-sharing view of Trafalgar Square with Lord Nelson and a hasty tour of the National Gallery, all before lunch.
After which comes a bus-ride to the London Eye …

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a perch atop the fountain at Piccadilly Circus and an evening visit to the opera; all that before nine fifteen because at precisely that moment he is inside Big Ben itself. Then it’s back to his hotel – briefly – before a moonlit foray along the Thames. Phew! What a busy day; but next morning it’s farewell to London for Mr Chicken and off he flies in his trusty air-balloon. Whither next one wonders …
Told with a tongue-in-cheek text, there’s an abundance of visual humour in this frenetic madcap extravaganza.

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Loss and Leaving: Shine & Double Happiness

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Trace Balla
Allen & Unwin
Most writers of books about death for children use fiction as a vehicle and in so doing, provide a ‘space apart’ wherein youngsters can explore this disturbing and difficult experience. As we know however, all story grows out of life, indeed all life is story and Trace Balla’s story was written for her sister’s children shortly after the death of their father and is, so we are told, based on the great love shared between their parents and the love they in turn shared with their children.
“We all come from the stars, we all go back to the stars…” so said Granny Hitchcock, grandmother of the author and her bereaved sister and it’s this saying that is at the heart of Trace Balla’s story.
Shine , so called because his kindness made him sparkly and shimmery, was a young horse that grew to become an amazing one that loved to gallop among the golden stars with the other horses. One day Shine notices some hoofprints in the sand belonging to another horse, the lovely Glitter and together they raise a family. Their little ones are called Shimmer and Sparky and there grows a great bond of love between all the family members.
But then, one day Shine learns that it’s his turn to return to his star. “… my time has come. I love you all so much,” he tells his family as he leaves them to join the other stars in the beautiful night sky.

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That night a heart-broken Glitter and her offspring cry and cry creating an ocean of golden tears. They together then climb a high mountain – a mountain of grief – from the top of which they are able to see and come to understand the enormity of the love they shared.

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And, as they curl up together, far above them shines the brightest of all the stars, their daddy’s star glowing golden and bringing them a sense of peace.
Trace Balla’s use of mythical horse characters that have no solidity works well as signifiers of life’s transient nature whereas the dark solidity of the huge mountain is perhaps, a metaphor of the process of grieving itself: a process that is likely to be very hard and take an enormous amount of time to climb, but which can ultimately be transcended by joy and the power of love in the world.
Yes, this is a book about loss but it also offers children an invitation to think about the possibility of light emerging from darkness, an idea that should fit with any world view. Indeed the restricted colour palette – shades of blue plus white and yellow are effectively used to symbolise the opposing concepts light/dark, life/death, love/loss, happiness/sadness.
In addition to being a book to offer young children who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly a parent, this powerfully affecting story has enormous potential for opening up discussions on a number of topics with a whole class or group.

Moving home can also be a very sad time especially for children who have to leave behind their friends and perhaps relations too. Here is a book in which two children cope with the transition helped by their loving family.

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Double Happiness
Nancy Tuper Ling and Alina Chau
Chronicle Books
The book takes the form of a series of twenty four poems relating to moving from a city (San Francisco) to a new rural home. Sister and brother Gracie and Jack both give voice to their feelings as they search for special things to place in their happiness boxes intended to help with the move:
Find four treasures each/leading from this home/to your new.”says their grandmother(Nai Nai) who has given them to boxes
Gracie’s first treasure is donated by Nai Nai, her panda toy – he too is to have a new home.

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But it’s Jack who is first to fill his box, his last object being a blue and green marble.

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Alina Chau’s delicate, detailed watercolour paintings grace the pages, serving to bring the whole thing together into a bitter-sweet account of the family’s transition from old home to new and all that it entails: a looking back and a looking forward – memory and anticipation …

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Exciting event at Piccadilly Waterstones 23rd-29th October – don’t miss it if you are in London: Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition            C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]

New Pet Arrivals

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Rosie’s Special Present
Myfanwy Millward and Gwen Millward
Jonathan Cape
It’s Rosie’s birthday and she’s eagerly anticipating a very special present. Said present meanwhile is having a crisis of confidence from within its wrapping. Suppose all the other gifts look more exciting, will it be overshadowed? What if its owner is a princess or a trapeze artist, a pirate with a squawking parrot even?
As Rosie and her pals party in one room,

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the present has managed, after considerable effort, to get out of its box to investigate the opposition.

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Satisfied that its own wrapping out-sparkles the others, another troubling thought arrives – suppose, despite its superior exterior, Rosie feels disappointed at its contents. So, to counter this, the present climbs up the bookcase and, as the birthday tea is reaching its conclusion in the room next door, the over-anxious gift has wrapped itself in bunting, ribbons and more and crash-landed onto the carpet.

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Thereupon in dashes Rosie and a new friendship is immediately forged…
Winsome characters and an unusual perspective angle on the birthday theme make this a delight to share with young listeners whether or not they are celebrating a birthday: friendship is worth celebrating at any time. Illustrator Gwen’s portrayal of the ‘special present’ – that picture of it clinging desperately to the bunting – is a hoot.

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A delightful joint enterprise from the Millward sisters.

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Lara of Newtown
Chris McKimmie
Allen & Unwin
I’m a real fan of Chris McKimmie’s wonderfully quirky illustrative style and this book wherein Misty/Nigella/Lara seeks a permanent home charmed even cat phobic me.
When we join our feline narrator, she has just been let go by her first owner who has become too old to continue caring for her moggy, and Misty is wandering the streets looking for a new home. Eventually she becomes a Christmas present for one Noni Nice of Pymble where she gets her second name and little else before being shown the door.
There follows a night under the stars for Nigella and then along come the Kafoopses,

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an eccentric couple who are more than happy to add ‘Lara’ to their household residents. From then on life becomes more than satisfactory in every way.
Lara can even do her own entertaining from time to time …

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though on occasions when the Kafoopses have visitors, she finds an alternative place for a retreat. But now she is in her own words “a lucky boots”, loved at last.
Cat owners may well be horrified at the treatment of the long-suffering feline protagonist but despite the two abandonments, this is a story where hope and kindness win through. Chris McKimmie’s collage style is like no other and combined with the array of fonts make for a unique visual narrative whole.

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I Love My Puppy
Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd
Orchard Books
The small boy narrator of the latest Andreae/Dodd offering is the recipient of a new pet – a cute pup. Everything has been made ready for his arrival …

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but even so the little chap is a bit shy initially. It doesn’t take long for the pup to settle in though: he’s playful and affectionate but rather too eager to nibble at things that he really shouldn’t

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and of course, has still to be housetrained. A walk in the park is lots of fun and just the place to try out his bark

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before heading home for a snuggle with his diminutive owner.
As with previous books in this series, the combination of Giles Andreae’s gentle rhyming text and Emma Dodd’s super-sweet scenes bring delight at every turn of the page.

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An Ungrateful Neighbour & An Unexpected Guest

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Little Oleg
Margaret and John Cort
Hodder Children’s Books
A special 50th anniversary reissue of a classic picture book from the Cort husband and wife partnership.
Eric and Oleg are great friends. When Oleg’s slumbers are disturbed one night by a banging on his door, he discovers an alarmed Eric. “Come quickly! he urges. “My house is on fire.” Off dashes Oleg leaving Eric in a state of collapse only to find that nothing can be done to save the house. Good friend that he is, Oleg offers to share his home with his pal and agrees to help him build a new one.

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From then on, Eric really does take advantage of his unselfish host eating him out of house and home, and leaving him to do most of the work building the new house. Thus, Oleg’s vegetable crop is neglected and he’s forced to ask the miller for a loan.
When he asks Eric for some help however, Oleg is given an old coat and this leads to a turn in his fortune,

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thanks to the gold buttons with which it is adorned. But is his erstwhile friend ready to share in his good luck: what do you think?
A charming book with delightful retro illustrations executed with a limited colour palette. The whole thing has something of a folksy feel to it that works so well with the rather mannered telling.

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It’s a longish story so it might need two sessions; equally, children at that in-between stage just before totally assured reading will enjoy it as a solo read.

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The Unexpected Crocodile
Kim Kane and Sara Acton
Allen & Unwin
It has been raining buckets for weeks and there’s water everywhere – even in the chops awaiting cooking: Peggy and her family are expecting guests for dinner. Suddenly there is a Snap Snap! Tap Tap! at the door. It’s not the Dawson’s however, but a dapper-looking crocodile sporting red bow tie and clutching a matching brolly.

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Unbothered by the offer of soggy bakery buns, he is eager to join the dinner party and so is invited in. Not long after the Dawson’s duly turn up bearing “a little croquembouche we whipped up earlier.” as Mrs Dawson puts it.

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Seemingly the Dawsons are far from your ideal guests: the boys are extremely picky eaters and a game of parental one-upmanship rapidly ensues until Peggy’s mother offers coleslaw to the crocodile. “ No thank you. … I’d care for Mrs Dawson,” he replies and SNAP! From there on things go from bad to worse (though perhaps not from the host’s viewpoint) as the crocodile demolishes the rest of the Dawson family one by one leaving only …

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Moreover, he has the audacity to leave before desert having responded to the host’s “Do you always eat the guests? It’s a terrible habit.” With “Not usually … it must be the weather.
One cannot help wondering if the illustrator was perhaps a pupil of Quentin Blake: her ink/watercolours do bear a slight resemblance to the master artist. She captures that croc’s personality to perfection and her wry scenes are a fine foil for Kim Kane’s dryly-humorous writing. Kane’s matter of fact way of telling reminds me of a cross between Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings. Her word-play is wonderful too and will amuse adults readers aloud as well as the intended child audience, as will Peggy’s mother’s response to the whole sorry evening. What a great introduction to farce this book is, while the fact that young Peggy is twice shown with a book showing a crocodile – once at the beginning of the evening before the arrival of any guests

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and once when they’ve all gone – leaves room for audience interpretation, as does the final endpaper scene.
I do hope this story (that originated in Australia) gets the UK exposure it deserves.

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Who Wants a Dog?

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The Cloud Spotter
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsury Children’s Books
Franklin (aka The Cloudspotter) is something of a loner who spends his time watching the clouds, all kinds of clouds that he sees through his various optical devices. Indeed it’s through these that he gets his adventures: underwater,

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as a racing car driver, even as King of the Castle. All is well until along comes The Scruffy Dog; seemingly she too is searching for something, not his clouds, hopes the Cloudspotter. But that canine becomes a shadow and even gets herself into Cloudspotter’s adventures. And that’s when a decision is made. The Scruffy Dog must go. She does – skywards ; but is being alone all that The Cloudspotter had hoped? Or is there room in his life for …

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especially another cloudspotter.
Quirkily delightful characterisation, offbeat visuals and, as with Tom McLaughlin’s The Story Machine, a splendid celebration of the power of the imagination and of friendship. All my readings have elicited positive responses from 5s to 8s.

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I Have a Dog
Charlotte Lance
Allen & Unwin
I’ve never wanted to own a dog – far from it but I have to admit to being enchanted by the exuberant, shaggy canine owned by the narrator of this offbeat, captivating little book. I’m just glad he’s not a member of my household. Pretty much everything is inconvenient so far as the boy is concerned from the moment he wakes, when he has breakfast, gets dressed, engages in a spot of excavating …

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or just wants to play. And really, that’s all his pet wants to do.

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On occasions however this inconvenient creature can be highly convenient – he’s pretty useful when something accidentally gets broken, he’s a great flight launcher, disgusting dinner demolisher, cuddle on the sofa during scary TV programme companion/comforter and finally, bed-wrecker…

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Charlotte Lance uses a muted colour palette for her gently humorous watercolour illustrations of the canine-caused chaos and the contrasting companionship; and by making the patterned text minimal, allows the visuals to do most of the talking. It’s just the thing for dog lovers and anyone needing a reason not to become a dog owner.

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Bathtime Problems with Small Elephant & Bruno



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Small Elephant’s Bathtime
Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press
Tatyana Feeney has created another endearing character, this time in the form of a small pachyderm. Said animal enjoys water in many contexts but despite his mother’s best efforts, most definitely NOT in his bath. Small he might be but Little Elephant has a strong will and, when crossed, a bad temper.

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So, when Mummy Elephant is almost out of ideas for cajoling her young offspring into the bath, she knows it’s time to enlist the help of Little Elephant’s Daddy.

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It’s a good job then that he is prepared to make a fool of himself in a good cause and it certainly does the trick where Little Elephant is concerned.

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Gentle humour, minimal colour and lots of white space allow the visual narrative to make maximum impact and the well chosen words are spot-on.
Yet one more Feeney winner for the very young.

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Whale in the Bath
Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett
Allen & Unwin
Bruno is a boy with a fertile imagination. Ordered upstairs for his nightly bath, Bruno the narrator of this tale is confronted with an enormous whale languishing in the tub, making liberal use of Bruno’s bubble-gum scented bubble bath which it has the nerve to complain about – the cheek of it. Bruno endeavours to explain his problem to sister Ally, his Mum, his elder brother and then his Dad (whose back scrubber the whale also purloins) but to no avail. Well, what would you say to the boy who’d reported a bear under the bed …

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and a walrus in the backyard only recently?
The whale is in no hurry to complete his ablutions no matter how much Bruno urges him and has the cheek to criticize the facilities to boot: “It’d be quicker if you has a bigger bath. I feel like I’m washing in a bucket.”

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Under pressure from Dad to be in the bath in five minutes, Bruno confronts the whale again only to learn he could still be in for a very long wait, whereupon the creature finally comes up with an alternative solution – power shower anyone?

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With a great read-aloud text, gloriously retro illustrations rendered in suitably muted shades, a terrific finale and a chucklesome take on children’s imaginations this one has much to offer teachers in the classroom as well as readers at home.
Children could have great fun writing the story from the whale’s viewpoint or possibly taking another scenario – making the bed, brushing their teeth or doing their homework perhaps.

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Playful Piggies and Penguins


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This Little Piggy Went Dancing
Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland
Allen & Unwin
This is a delightful, fun-filled, action-packed interpretation of the traditional nursery rhyme This Little Piggy. The various little piggies engage in all manner of the physical activities young children love – dancing, hopping, hula-hooping, scooting, skipping, crawling, sliding, running, jumping, juggling even.rainbow 005 (800x600)

What pleasure they exhibit in these and the other things they do at home such as watering the plants – another favourite of young children, playing with water (ditto), pushing prams,

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painting, reading (hurrah!) and teetering around in adult high-heeled shoes.
Deborah Niland’s totally endearing piggies are almost all portrayed as full of exuberance; even some of those who ‘had none’ are enjoying themselves.

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And, listeners will delight in the familiar final ‘And this little piggy went Wee, wee, wee, wee, wee …
all the way home!’
As well as being ideal for sharing with the very young, individually


or in an early years setting, this is a great book for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves, first joining in with an adult and then, gradually taking over the reading themselves. Both illustrations and text have a pattern, there’s a close match between words and pictures and there’s rhythm and repetition – what more can a beginner ask. Oh yes, there are lots of lovely action words too.

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Celestine and the Penguins
Penny Ives
Templar Publishing pbk
Celestine, a little duckling is eagerly awaiting the first snowfall of the year. She’s donned her warmest clothes and brought out her sledge but there’s no sign of that white precipitation anywhere. The determined heroine decides to improvise – first with cotton wool balls – too lumpy; handfuls of flour make her cough and just as she’s trying torn up paper, she spies something very surprising. There behind her in the garden is a whole host of baby penguins – lost and delighted to find some ‘snow’. They tell Celestine they were cast adrift far from their parents and carried by the waves until they landed up on the beach, a walk away from Celestine’s home.

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Celestine tries her best to entertain her guests but they won’t all fit in the freezer, the ice-lolly skates melt and the frozen pea slide soon becomes pea soup. Off they go upstairs but Mum catches them in the bathroom, and Celestine certainly has some explaining to do.
Time for Mum to take control and before long the baby penguins are safely stowed aboard an explorer’s ship bound for the South Pole. And as the ship departs, Celestine feels a cold, soft something tickling her cheek –

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but it isn’t a tear – it’s starting to snow at last.
A cute story with endearing characters, an enterprising heroine and satisfying finale.

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Reindeer Romps with Ruby, Rudey and St. Nick.

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The Naughtiest Reindeer
Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin
Disaster has struck at the North Pole:
Rudolf the reindeer was lying in bed with a runny red nose and an ache in his head.
‘I’m sorry,’ he groaned. ‘I just can’t pull a sled. You’ll have to ask my sister Ruby instead.’
The only trouble is Ruby is anything but a popular choice with the other reindeers: “Not Ruby! Please!” is the unanimous verdict. But like it or not, high-spirited Ruby is what they get.

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Things go pretty well to start with but then boredom kicks in and Ruby starts getting ideas: ideas that result in mayhem at house after house and a very stressed Santa, so stressed in fact that on his return, he discovers he’s missed out one of the house.. Time for Mrs Claus to spring into action, but where is Ruby?

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Oh no! She too has been forgotten. When she finally gets to the house rectify Santa’s error, it seems that Santa had paid them a visit after all.
This hilarious rhyming tale has the rhythm of the Clement Clark Moore classic Twas The Night Before Christmas and veritably gallops along. It’s great fun to read aloud, superb entertainment for young audiences who relish Ruby’s tripping, tangling antics, particularly her drinking from the toilet at 26A and with a surprisingly satisfying ending I can see this becoming one of those favourites that’s brought out every Christmas at home or school. The magic starts right on the front cover with that sparkly, tactile tree and I just love those off beat ‘corky’ reindeer characters Nicki Greenberg has created.
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If you want an illustrated version of the classic poem try:


The Night Before Christmas
Clement Clark Moore and Richard Johnson
Picture Corgi pbk
Richard Johnson’s illustrations are a-glow with festive magic. His interior scenes give a feeling of seasonal warmth that sharply contrasts with the beautiful snowy landscapes of St Nicholas’ journey and I particularly like the beribboned borders that frame some of the verses.
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Rudey’s Windy Christmas
Helen Baugh and Ben Mantle
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk.
Most humans know the consequences of over indulging in Brussels sprouts: not so Mrs Claus. Santa?

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One can’t be sure; but definitely not his reindeer and in particular Rudey who sets off on the Christmas rounds with a tummy full of the little green objects. Guess who fed him those. The result? Suffice it so say, the air is polluted with Rudey’s windy emanations much to the amusement of the other reindeer. Indeed they laugh so much at the plethora of toots that they quite run out of steam. The sleigh comes to a halt in the USA. And there’s only one way to get it air bound again –

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over to Rudey and his turbo-charged rear.
Delivered via a jaunty rhyming text and comical illustrations. Those reindeer certainly have a twinkle in their eyes and on their return to the North Pole, they are greeted by Santa’s elves who have something to say about the quality of the air there too. Mufflers please…
I imagine giggles galore hereafter.
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Circles, Shapes & Time with Esther,Moose & Wilfred

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Esther’s Rainbow
Kim Kane and Sara Acton
Allen & Unwin
As she sits eating her lunch one Sunday, Esther spies a rainbow tip poking out from under her stool – soft, warm and smelling like honey.
But as Esther slides her fingers over the rainbow it vanishes and thus begins a wonderful multi-sensory exploration for Esther and readers alike as she spends the rest of the week searching for it. On Monday she finds violet – in a bruise on her shin, in the velvety-feeling a couch

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and in the taste of Granny’s chocolate creams.
On Tuesday she finds indigo in ‘a wonky hat’, in shiny, hard nail polish and in the smell of the cool midnight sky. Wednesday’s visit to the swimming baths reveals blue in her brother’s ‘swim-cold lips’ and the echoing pool. On Thursday there is green of fishpond slime

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and in the mint smell as she crushes its leaves. Friday is yellow day, with sticky egg yolk and warm tasting pears and Saturday brings orange – a duck’s beak, tea stains and the feel of clay.


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Then it’s back to Sunday once more and there’s red in the ruby-seeds of pomegranate, in the warm bricks of the garden wall and in the smell of her Gran’s roses but still no rainbow.
Monday comes again bringing a rain shower, breakfast pancakes, a honey-hum and at the edge of the mirror– joys of joys as the hum grows louder and light is refracted by her mum’s ring – her very own special ‘rainbow to sing her own.’
There is something awesome about a rainbow to both children and adults – those shimmering hues and almost magical the way it appears. The author and artist have captured this magic in both text and pictures. Kim Kane has chosen her words so well to encourage young listeners to engage all their senses to explore the world around – to see the colours, but also to smell them, feel them and taste them.
Sara Acton’s gentle watercolours are the perfect accompaniment adding further feeling and depth to the story: a story that skillfully and unobtrusively weaves in the days of the week as well as the colours of the rainbow and reads aloud beautifully. And what a delicious ending:

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Esther’s rainbow ends not in a pot of gold, but a pile of sweet-smelling honeyed pancakes. It’s pitch perfect, this one.

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Circle, Square, Moose
Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky
Andersen Press pbk
Having recovered from his near wrecking of an alphabet book, Moose is back on the attack; this time it’s a book about basic shapes he’s invading. Everything starts well with the introduction of a circle.

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Turn the page though and here we go …
that mischievous moose is already making his presence felt. The unseen narrator tries to keep cool: gently ticking off the intruder and moving on to the next shape – triangles. Guess who’s there (plus feline friend) to complete the didactive rhyme: “A TRIANGLE is A Wedge of Cheese/A piece of pie

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Both are told to leave but does Moose do as he’s asked – no chance; he’s even started wielding that paint brush to make his presence felt more strongly.
Enter stage right: an arbitrator, Zebra (also from the alphabet book). He’ll sort things out – err maybe.
Not before a riotous chase wherein Zebra gets entwined in ribbons, and almost frazzled. Then it’s time for Moose to step in and save the day, or try to, with one of the shapes –

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This involves the pair of them exiting through a kind of black hole thus saving the book and further forging their friendship with the help of yet another shape –

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Zebra’s favourite and, what’s more, Moose offers a rhyming finale specially for his pal …
Madcap frolics, endearing characters, all manner of fonts, speech bubbles and riotous illustrations and a few simple shapes, (yes one might argue that some of the examples such as the triangles aren’t, strictly speaking, mathematically accurate.) But hey! This book is about having fun, not learning maths, after all – what more can anyone want?

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What’s the Time, Wilfred Wolf?
Jessica Barrah and Steve Smallman
QED Publishing
Wilfred Wolf has a little problem: he cannot tell the time. So, when he receives Ella’s party invitation he has a problem – how will he know when 3 o’clock comes? He certainly doesn’t want to miss the fun. His pal Boris lends him a cuckoo clock – that should do the trick – 3 cuckoos means 3 o’clock. However the clock doesn’t survive until then, nor does the digital watch Amelia lends him. Perhaps Oscar Owl’s offer of three hoots down the chimney will work.
William dresses up for the party and waits … he hears three hoots and off he goes to Ella’s house.

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Oh dear, Wilfred; don’t you know that owls are nocturnal creatures? Back home he goes and sleeps soundly well into the afternoon. Does he ever get to the party?

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Let’s just say, he has some thoughtful and enterprising friends willing to play that well known children’s game to help him on his way.

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Celebrating Dads


My Amazing Dad
Ross Collins
Simon and Schuster pbk
Little crocodile, Snip, loves his dad but has absolutely no idea how he spends his time. In contrast all his friends’ dads seem to do amazing things:Monkey Max’s dad ‘Whooshes’, zebra Stripe’s dad is great at hiding, Trunkle’s dad can spray water higher than the trees, Bongo the gorilla has a dad who can beat his chest louder than anyone and Wallow’s dad can stay under water for ages. Seemingly, all the dads are cooler than his, thinks Snip and off he goes back to his Mum to find out just what his Dad does all day.
Mum takes her offspring and shows him that in fact, his Dad, as teacher of all the others, is truly amazing.


This amusing, warm-hearted tale of fathers and friendship is just the thing for sharing with that special dad on Father’s Day, or any time.
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Just the Job for Dad
Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard
Scholastc pbk
Emma and her brother, Sam explore a variety of exciting sounding jobs for their father whose own job sounds to them, deadly boring. But on closer examination they  all seem to have requirements that would interfere with their Dad’s normal routines. Dragon minding for instance would mean starting at t sunrise, so what about their breakfast?


A pirate captain’s look out has to report for duty at 5pm (their swimming time) and other occupations would involve performing at dinner time, setting out at bath time, or even being away a whole week. Maybe what Dad already has – the job of being a being a great Dad – is, as he says, himself, “… just the job for me!” But what about Mum?


Funny pictures, a funny story with the kind of repetition children love joining in with and a caring Dad who reads stories to his offspring: what more can anyone ask? Make sure you explore every single part of this one.
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My Dad and Me
Tania Cox and Lorette Broekstra
Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books)
Small children love to spend time with their dads. Here we have a small celebration of some of the things they love to do with that very special person: things like dancing and singing, chatting on the phone, cooking,


sharing a surprise; but best of all is that “I-LOVE-YOU-HUG”.
Told through a series of happy scenes and a rhyming text, this simple little book might fit the bill for a celebration of one particular dad on Father’s day.
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Daddy is My Hero
Dawn Richards and Jane Massey
For the very youngest to share, this is an abridged board book edition of a title previously reviewed on this site in the section April Paperback Pick
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Two Dark Tales


Orion and the Dark
Emma Yarlett
Templar Publishing pbk
The idea that dark is all embracing is wonderfully demonstrated in this story wherein we join young Orion as he confronts his greatest fear.


(There’s a nod to Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s The Dark here.)
I’ve had enough of you DARK! I wish you and your SCARY SOUNDS, your MURKY MONSTERS and your PITCH BLACKNESS would just GO Away!” he yells into the darkness of his bedroom and beyond. Dark however, has other plans and slips in through the skylight. Imagine how Orion is feeling right then. Despite his fear almost beyond imagining, Orion is a well-mannered lad and holds out his hand to greet his visitor. So begins an adventure wherein thanks to the intruder, Orion discovers that some of the darkest places can actually be fun. And those scary bangs, rustles, creaks, growls and all the other scary outside noises are not at all frightening. Just one more job to do now …
Off the two soar, into the night sky – the darkest of all places and it’s there that Orion really and truly concludes that even he cannot possibly be scared of his new friend DARK, a friend that will never be far off and will always return bang on time.


There is plenty to amuse and just that slight frisson of fear for readers within the covers of this one. Children particularly delight in the large reaching hand of Dark as it moves across the page to shake Orion’s hand


and to bid him au revoir at the end of the “SUPER DUPER, SPIFFADOCIUS, INCREDAMUNDO”, as our young narrator describes his adventure.
If you share this story with a group make sure they have opportunities to explore the wealth of detail – visual and verbal – in and around the illustrations; indeed in many places, words and pictures are an integrated whole. I love the benevolent, almost amorphous portrayal of Dark, Orion’s notepad jottings and sketchbook problem-solving ‘thinks’ bubbles,


oh, and the scatterings of stars – on the narrator’s onesie and in other places throughout; pretty much the whole inky everything in fact.
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The Duck and the Darklings
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
Allen and Unwin
Dark in this story is a place, not a comfortable place but a broken, battered one and has been so for a very long time. In this land of Dark, in a loving hole, lives a small child, Peterboy with his Grandpapa; the two share everything. Peterboy goes out with his fellow ‘Darkling childs’ searching the finding fields for things that will bring light to Grandpapa’s eyes: this he does by painting word pictures of things from the outside. Then one day he returns with not quite the scrap of wonderfulness he’d searched and wished for : instead he brings a very poorly Idaduck with little more than hope for a heartbeat. Grandpapa agrees to let her stay only till she’s better, warning of attachment and wanderlust.


So, Idaduck stays.


Grandpapa mends: Idaduck comforts. As Grandpapa’s happiness grows so too does his fondness for the duck but Peterboy is troubled, knowing the emptiness that will be left if she goes.
Tell her about the long-ago,” he begs, so Grandpapa draws on his ‘magnificent remembery’ setting free ‘a symphony of stories’ until all his tales are told. Even so the wind calls to their beloved Ida. Peterboy and duck sit sadly side by side in the darkness till Grandpapa suggests a fare-thee-well never to be ‘disremembered’, one which will cause the stars to shine when people talk of it.
Peterboy summons all the Darklings, old and young, wearing their candle hats, to a clearing for a great gathering.


There’s dancing and singing and then Peterboy tells them all of Idaduck; how she has reignited the stars in Grandpapa’s eyes and that now the time has come to bid her farewell. Standing stock still, the old ones are ashamed at the hurt they’ve done to the earth and seeing how now, forests and flowers have grown anew healing earth’s wounds. And then it’s time for Idaduck to take to the air.


Off she soars watched by those below who now have hearts full, not of dark but of hope.
Occasionally a picture book comes along that moves me to tears; this is one of those rare ones that does just that and not only at the first reading…
Indeed reading Glenda Millard’s words aloud is like having a small symphony playing in one’s ears so memorable are they and so melodic. This is truly a story that reverberates long after the book has been put down and one to return to over and over.
Beautiful too are King’s mixed-media illustrations, which, like the relationships between Grandpapa, Peterboy and Idaduck, exude tenderness and love.


These finely drawn characters stand out starkly against the all-encompassing dark that surrounds them at the start as well as the glorious glow of sunlight and hope of the book’s final pages.
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Animal Antics


Little E engrossed in Teddy’s bedtime tale

Teddy Bedtime
Georgie Birkett
Andersen Press
In this board book we have some sixty words and seven spreads through which toddlers can enjoy sharing in the bedtime rituals of a trio of teddies plus other toys. Said teds play together then go upstairs for some fun in the bath.


After that , it’s pyjamas on, teeth brushed, storytime and lights out.
A jolly rhymimg text and cute pictures with lots of patterns and items of interest for the very youngest; for bedtimes and other times too.
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The Short Giraffe
Neil Flory and Mark Cleary
Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books) pbk
When photographer Boba the baboon arrives to take a photo of the tallest animals in the world, he is confronted with a poser of a problem. The desired perfect photograph can easily fit in five giraffe faces but what about Geri? The shortest ever giraffe offers to step aside but the others are having none of it; all credit to them. Various ideas are proffered – stilts, stacking,


inverting, inflating and winging him; but none is successful and eventually the giraffes’ ideas are exhausted. Along comes a caterpillar with a seemingly simple solution (children of course, will already have got there).


Then it’s just a case of a bit of repositioning and neck arching and with Geri in the centre front … click! Perfection at last.


There are laughs aplenty in this neatly simple story of inclusion, embracing differences and exploring things from different perspectives.
With touches of slapstick, Cleary’s digitally manipulated images set for the most part, against manila coloured paper which has the effect of making the candy-coloured animals stand out, (and up) are bound to make you smile.
Share with individuals and small groups.
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The Mouse Who Ate the Moon
Petr Horacek
Walker Books
Little Mouse adores the moon, so much so that she longs to have a piece of her very own. One morning when she wakes up, there, just outside her hole is a slice of her heart’s desire – so she thinks. It smells so wonderful that she takes a tiny nibble, and another and …


Oh no! No round moon now. But when she tells Rabbit and Mole her sad news, they say that nobody can eat the moon. A distraught Little Mouse returns to her hole until dark begins to fall when she hears a noise outside. It’s her friends Mole and Rabbit and they have something to show her, something large and shiny and ROUND in the starry sky. Time for a celebratory sharing of the rest of Little Mouse’s portion of moon, they decide. Mmm – delicious!
This cleverly designed book, with its peepholes and cutaway pages build up the scenes and extend the action as the story progresses. Horacek’s striking illustrations are created with a variety of media including wax resist and strong watercolours; the various techniques serve to add depth and texture.


After sharing the story adults may well take the opportunity to examine more closely with their young audiences, how the scenes have been created and this could well inspire children to try out the techniques for their own artistic creations. Not only a charming and amusing story, but a great art lesson in looking.
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Nina orchestrating the story for her sister

The Farmer’s Away! BAA! NEIGH!
Anne Vittur Kennedy
Walker Books
When the farmer’s away, the animals play. What a din they make too as they tell the story in their very own words: a story of their day of boating,


picnicking, switch-back riding, waterskiing, taking a trip in an air balloon and dancing. All that, until ‘ARF, arf, ARF’… dog gives the warning of the farmer’s return.Then it’s a mad dash, a CHARGE and a leap over the fence


and shh shh shhhhhhhh. Phew!


With its only words being those neighs, baas, quacks, arfs, oinks, rees, clucks cheeps, ribbets, quacks, moos and more uttered by the farm animals as they enjoy their anarchic day while the farmer – with the odd hmm hmm or oh dee doh – toils away on his tractor in the fields –, this delightfully silly story will appeal to children’s sense of the ridiculous. They will love joining in to create that animal cacophony (what better way to sharpen up those sound/symbol associations than this?) as well as relishing the shared joke between them and the author.
The watercolour illustrations of the rural scenes are an absolute hoot too.
Leave this one around in your infant classroom and you’ll hear those sounds echoing all over as children have a go at reading the story themselves.
(You might even create and laminate those animal sounds and leave them for the children to orchestrate their own versions of the book. Then what about some masks? small world play maybe … endless possibilities here.)
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Numbers, Counting and Dragons


The Hueys in None the Number
Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Those ovoid characters, the Hueys are back and this time they have a mathematical poser. The problem essentially is this: “Is none a number?


So begins a numerical discourse wherein one is added to none and so on until the two conversing reach double figures.


Spectacular, when they’re all together, remarks one of the pair and goes on to say, ”But when you take them all away … you get NONE.” No prizes for guessing what the other one says in response… (there are four words in the sentence and it’s a question.)


Here we go again!

Each counting number is illustrated in Jeffers’ own wonderfully quirky style and an explanatory sentence, seemingly spoken by the Huey who has adopted the teaching role, is written beneath, above or alongside the picture as a caption, together with the corresponding number printed large. Wait a minute though, there’s more to it than that: every illustration is a small story in itself with lots to explore and discuss: take number 5 for instance where readers can help Rupert choose himself a hat,

or number 8 where a party gift is the object of a guessing game.
This hilarious book is simply brimming over with potential – mathematical, story-telling, artistic and more.
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Have You Seen My Dragon?
Steve Light
Walker Books
Starting from a hotel entrance, a small boy searches high and low for his lost dragon – all over the city in fact. As he moves around he ponders on the possibility of discovering said dragon in a variety of unlikely places such as on the bus,


quenching his thirst up on the water towers,


at the book stall,


on the underground even. Having made a thorough (so he thinks) search, the dragon’s owner comes back to the place where he’d supposedly left him and lo and behold, what is that sitting up on a roof in lantern bedecked China Town?


In fact what really seems to be happening is that the dragon is leading the boy on a journey of exploration around the city.
Steve Light has used a minimal text to narrate the story told mostly through his finely detailed, mainly black and white illustrations.
This fascinating book is also of course, rich with opportunities for counting, not only the particular items in the captions but also the people, cars, buildings, architectural features and much more besides.
Children will love spotting where the dragon has hidden himself on each spread and I envisage many being inspired to make maps and their own detailed drawings of particular features or indeed a whole city – real or imagined.
A group might even try using the map as a starting point and collaborating to build a three dimensional model.
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Once Tashi Met a Dragon
Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg illustrated by Kim Gamble
Allen & Unwin Murdoch Books
There’s a dragon that is responsible for bringing the rains; that’s what the inhabitants of Tashi’s village all believe even though they don’t agree on where he lives; and, as his grandma tells him, that dragon is busy, “Cooking up rain, big lashing whooping roaring rains that wash away all the dirt and dullness of the year, and make the air sparkle like a million diamonds.
One year though, the dragon does not appear – there’s a terrible drought and outbreak of fires. Tashi determines to find out what has become of this ancient dragon.
Thus begins his adventure involving a white tiger, a visit to a golden palace and a story


and singing session with a sad little dragon whose mother is in a deep, demon-induced sleep.
As a result, the rain-bringing dragon is awoken, Tashi is granted a wish for his troubles, the dragon opens her mouth, blows wispy dragon words and down comes the rain at last.


Thereafter, the young hero is flown back to his awaiting Grandmother in his newly greened village home.
If you haven’t come across Tashi before then this book is a good introduction to the bold, fearless little fellow who is always ready to take on new challenges. His adventures are recounted with lashings of figurative language and atmospheric watercolour pictures and make for interesting story sessions.
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Tricky Topics – Dementia and Death

Two unusual books dealing with difficult topics, dementia and death, that illustrate children’s creativity and impulse towards transcendence both self and situational and both presented through the eyes of children are:


Really and Truly
Emilie Rivard and Anne-Claire Delise
Franklin Watts
Sensitive, gently humorous, tender, touching and warm are the words that immediately spring to mind, as well as tears to the eyes and a lump in the throat on reading this book.
The power of story and a message of hope come through strongly as Charlie, who is very close to his grandfather, tells how this fun-loving, wise, playful, story-telling person becomes changed through dementia. Lately, Charlie finds, Grandpa has no more jokes and no more stories; all he seems to do is gaze through the window at the cars driving past.


An awful disease has eaten up his memory and his words. It has even swallowed up his smile.
So much does Charlie want to make Grandpa smile that he comes up with ‘storying’ to try and get something of his beloved grandfather back. Such is the boy’s determination, love and patience that he does indeed succeed in igniting sparks of the old Grandpa buried deep within as he responds to Charlie’s retelling of his stories when he doesn’t eat,


smile or even recognize his grandson.
The richly detailed illustrations are cleverly conceived with the background colours reflecting the changing moods of Charlie and Grandpa, DSCN2136

while black ink is used to depict the fantastic pirate, witch, gnome, animals and Japanese ninja as they cavort across the pages and the imagination of the story participants.
Yes, this is an optimistic, spirited view but that’s the one children tend to adopt.
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Scarlett and the Scratchy Moon
Chris McKimmie
Allen & Unwin
Told from the viewpoint of the girl narrator (who but a young child would utter such purely poetic words as “ I had clouds in my eyes” ?),


this gently and simply tells the story of the sadness associated with losing beloved pets and the sheer excitement of welcoming new ones into your family.
Scarlett can’t sleep.


The moon is scratching the sky, and she’s busy counting sheep “Daddy Neema, Mummy Neema” and “three, Baby Neema.
She is feeling sad because her beloved pet dogs, Holly and Sparky, have died. But then, during breakfast the following morning, a knock at the door brings a wonderful surprise and the world seems fresh and full of joy again.


Eclectic, scrap-book style illustrations created seemingly, by the entire McKimmie family though largely the author, with a whole host of different media including watercolour and acrylic paints, pastels, gouache, charcoal, grid paper, manuscript paper and much more, perfectly complement the wandering, slightly distracted, style of the narration.
A quirkily beautiful, honest, evocative portrayal of loss and new life. I can envisage young children being inspired to create their own imaginative visual narratives in response to this one.
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