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.

Monsters

Monsters
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!

dscn0056

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 …

dscn0057

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.

dscn0058

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.

dscn0059

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

DSCN5941 (800x600)

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 …

DSCN5942 (800x600)

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? …

DSCN5944 (800x600)

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

DSCN5946 (800x600)

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

DSCN5947 (800x600)

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.

DSCN6015

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 …

DSCN6016

followed by Dog …

DSCN6017 (595x800)

and finally, shopkeeper Guinea Pig …

DSCN6018 (800x600)

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

DSCN0637 (800x600)

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.

DSCN6062 (800x600)

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.

Use your local bookshop    localbookshops_NameImage-2

Toddler Christmas Books

DSCN5932 (800x600)

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 …

DSCN5933 (800x600)

ATCHOOO!

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

DSCN5934 (800x600)

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

DSCN5935 (800x600)

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?

DSCN5936 (800x600)

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.

DSCN5937 (800x600)

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.

DSCN5939 (800x600)

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…“)

DSCN5940 (800x600)

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.

DSCN5910 (800x600)

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.

DSCN5911 (800x600)

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.

DSCN6006

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 …

DSCN6009

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.

DSCN5948 (800x600)

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 …

DSCN5949 (800x600)

and post cards and party.
There are candy canes …

DSCN5951 (800x600)

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

DSCN5952 (800x600)

… 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).

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2