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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Shine
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

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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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