The Pancake Champ / The Monster Who Was Scared of Soap

These are new additions to Bloomsbury Young Readers: thanks to Bloomsbury Education for sending them for review

The Pancake Champ
Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Ana Gómez

A new boy at school, Manjit has yet to make any special friends but then he works with Leon and they quickly become good friends. Then comes an invitation to tea from Leon’s dad and the panic begins. He frets about various possibilities, the worst being what he’ll be offered to eat. Nonetheless he agrees to go but then Leon’s dad says it’s pancakes for tea – it couldn’t be a worse prospect. But suppose you have the opportunity to join in the making and even choose the flavour, that might just make all the difference …

An amusing tale of friendship and facing your fears by author Joanna and illustrator Ana that will go down well with learner readers at home or in school.

The Monster Who was Scared of Soap
Amy Sparkes, illustrated by Jack Viant

A very funny tale of Gerald a little monster that hates the idea of a bath and whose mother goes to special lengths to get her little one to comply with her bath time regime. Gerald in response does his level best to get out of the annual watery, soapy situation, dashing out of the house to hide. Will the promise of a special secret surprise lure him to the bathroom and if so what will be the outcome? In Ana Gómez’s bright jolly illustrations Gerald’s mum bears remarkable resemblance to something your granny might have created as a bathroom accessory back in the day. With its surprise finale Amy Sparkes’ addition to Bloomsbury Young Readers series should definitely go down well with learner readers.

Both books have the usual tips for grown-ups and fun-time activities inside the front and back covers respectively.

The Tower at the End of Time / Diary of an Accidental Witch: Flying High

The Tower at the End of Time
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

Reformed pickpocket Nine, Eric the troll, wizard Flabbergast et al return for a second wonderful adventure that again mixes wit, magic, some nail-biting moments and occasional chaos.

Now the curse on the magical house has been lifted allowing the friends to travel between worlds, their first destination being The Wizarding Hopscotch Championship. It’s particularly important that Flabbergast attends the championships – he’s missed three years already and his worthiness is at stake. Moreover, the final prize for winning the event is a visit to The Tower at the End of Time, where one question can be asked!

There’s a problem though, for the house, being nervous about travelling again, is beset by an attack of the hiccups, which unsurprisingly upsets plans somewhat as with each HIC they bounce from one world to another till they finally reach those championships. More problems ensue when Flabbergast discovers that the hopscotch grid is aflame and he encounters many obstacles thereon, but negotiating it is the only way he can get the answer to his question.

In the end everything becomes a race against time, or rather gigantic sand-timers, with every contestant desperate to find an answer to their particular question. And what about Nine? She too has questions concerning who she really is and who left her that music box she treasures so much.

Hugely inventive and sparkling with excitement: primary readers with a penchant for high octane fantasy will jump at the chance to read this.

Diary of an Accidental Witch: Flying High
Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Kate Saunders
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

With her first diary safely hidden away and her first half term at the School of Extraordinary under her belt, Bea Black starts a new one for this second book.
At home she’s still struggling to give sufficient time to her neighbour and close friend Ash who goes to an ordinary school..

With the Winter Solstice fast approaching, the main topic of conversation after the break is the forthcoming Grand Tournament and Bea finds herself a vice-sports captain. With the Go matches coming up, it’s even more important that she polishes up her broomstick skills. And then following a to do involving buns in town, headteacher Ms Sparks announces that in the hope of improving relations between the two schools, she is inviting the pupils from the Academy to participate in the Grand Tournament and that means no magic, no flying and definitely no Go after all. Indeed the event has now been renamed Sports Day.

Can the rift between the two establishments be healed? Then what about that egg or rather Egg, that Professor Age has given her to tend at home?

Honor Cargill’s smashing illustrations are sprinkled throughout and once again this is hugely engaging and lots of fun, with all the pupils having to deal with similar concerns and issues that readers themselves are likely experiencing.

The House at the Edge of Magic

A House at the Edge of Magic
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

Life is tough for young Nine: it certainly doesn’t give her strawberries. She spends her time on the streets stealing whatever she can to pay back Pockets, the Fagin like character who has sheltered her since her infancy in the Nest of a Thousand Treasures.

One day when attempting to steal a woman’s handbag, a tiny house-shaped ornament falls from it. Nine stuffs the object in her satchel and flees to a safer place to examine it more closely. As she strokes it imagining what life might be like to live in such a place, she touches the door knocker Bizarrely it emits a buzzing sound and the whole thing becomes a large, higgledy-piggledy house.

Thereafter the situation becomes progressively surreal for she’s pulled inside the house and she meets first a weird troll named Eric, shortly after to be joined by a strange wizard introducing himself as “Flabbergast. High Wizard, Chair of the Tea Tasters Committee, World Hopscotch Champion 1835”, and a spoon, aptly named Doctor Spoon, clad in a kilt and brandishing a sword. She learns that the three have been trapped in the house under a curse for years. They request Nine’s help to break said curse and set them free. For her help she’s offered a priceless gem.

At first she leaves without agreeing but then later realises that she’ll be far better off returning to the cursed house and helping its occupants. With the possibility of a new life, back she goes. Before you can say “cup of tea” it’s revealed that they have only till the clock strikes fifteen to discover the magic words to break that curse or face extinction. No pressure then.

Deliciously quirky with lots of humour, this story will definitely keep readers turning the pages till its wonderful finale. The magic house residents are brilliant fun. I love that feisty Nine finds solace in books she ‘acquires’ thanks to a genial librarian and that despite being desperate to escape her life on the streets, she acts for the greater good.There are some terrific bit-part players too.

Whether read solo, or aloud to a primary class, this will leave audiences wanting more – this reviewer included.

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane / Ellie’s Magic Wellies

Emma Jane’s Aeroplane
Katie Howarth and Daniel Rieley
Templar Publisihng
We meet young aviator Emma Jane as she takes off into the night sky heading so it appears for a distant city with its shining lights. London is her first stop-off and approaching the London Eye in the rain, she spots a fox and takes it aboard.

Before long. ‘Up ahead is something bright – it’s a city’s shining lights …’ Paris is the next stop where having looped around the Eiffel Tower, Emma Jane spies on Notre Dame, a rooster and …’So Emma Jane in her aeroplane, / a fox who doesn’t like the rain, / and a rooster who crows wherever he goes / fly on.’ … towards Venice and thence New York, Beijing and Sydney.

By now the plane looks pretty full and it’s heading straight into a storm; a storm that pitches them right into the churning sea. Are the plane and its passengers, not to mention Emma Jane, destined to be lost at sea or do all those animals possess skills that can be called upon in their hour of need?
Let’s just say that all ends happily, with fond farewells as our pilot drops each of her new friends off in their home city before whizzing off once again …
Katie Howarth’s peppy rhyming tale of travel, significant sights, and friendship without boundaries zips along nicely and is fun to share, all the more so if time is given to linger over Daniel Rieley’s delectably droll illustrations be they spread, single page, double spread or vignette.

Ellie’s Magic Wellies
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing
I’ve yet to meet a young child who doesn’t love to splosh around in puddles; it’s certainly so with Ellie Pengelly who has just been given a shiny new pair of wellies by her Auntie Flo who has come to do a spot of child-minding while Ellie’s mum visits the dentist. Having donned her polka-dot winged wonders, off heads Ellie in search of some lovely splash-about in puddles. Having located a particularly large one she leaps in and as she does, gets the surprise of her life. What should appear, courtesy of Ellie’s new ‘magical wellies, but a creature introducing itself as a “Flibberty-Gibberty” – a Flipperty Gibberty out of its puddle just waiting to play.
And play they do; the F.G. seemingly having boundless energy.

(Not sure the creature should be encouraging young Ellie to do headstands though, thinks the yoga teacher in me).
Play over, the two go indoors for a spot of something to eat, or rather, that’s the intention but what happens is something quite different and extremely chaos making.
Can they get the house back to its former tidy state before mum’s return? That is the crucial question…

Perhaps so with a little help from those magical wellies of Ellie’s.
Amy Sparkes’ sparkling rhyming text combines beautifully with Nick East’s equally sparky illustrations to produce a lively read aloud that is likely to induce a whole lot of puddle jumping – ready steady SPLOSH!

I’ve signed the charter  

Pants, Birthdays and Robo-Snot

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The Prince of Pants
Alan MacDonald and Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic Children’s Books
Prepare to be dazzled by Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations for this crazy pants-centric tale of little Prince Pip and his nearly calamitous birthday. The young lad leaps from bed on the morning of his special day and his first task is to choose which of his many pairs of underpants are best suited for the occasion.

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But when he opens the drawer marked ‘Pants’, disaster has struck; it’s completely empty.
Thus begins a search all over the castle …

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and its grounds, a search that yields nothing to the birthday boy, though listeners will enjoy spotting the whereabouts of the various patterned articles; mine certainly did.
But just when it seems as though this is to be a birthday sans pants, Pip opens a door and receives not one, but two, pantalicious surprises.

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This is one more to add to the collection of underpants picture books for which many youngsters have a seemingly insatiable appetite.

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If a T.Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party
Jill Esbaum and Dasha Tolstikova
Sterling
Now there’s a thought – a T.Rex at your birthday party; but that’s exactly what happens to the small boy narrator of this book when he opens the door and discovers a Tyrannosaurus standing on the threshold holding a birthday present.
Seems there’s only one thing to do, though perhaps the birthday boy should have thought twice before allowing this particular guest an entry.
Those T-Rex toenails are not good for the bouncy castle; he gets more than a tad angry when he isn’t allowed to blow out the birthday candles or open the presents, and games are a total no go area.

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In short the whole party turns into a roaring disaster. What’s more, the interloper refuses to help clear up; he flatly refuses to leave when asked, gives his host a funny look and …

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Hmm.
There’s a surprising final twist to this whole silly scenario to add to the fun, humorously captured in Dasha Tolstikova’s concluding spread.

Another favourite topic with early years listeners is featured in:

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Robo-Snot
Amy Sparkes and Paul Cherrill
Scholastic Children’s Books
Robots and snot: surely not? Perhaps never before, but when Little Robot’s nose starts to feel uncontrollably itchy and a vast amount of gooey green stuff shoots from his nostrils, that’s what he decides to call this strange nasal emanation.
Pretty soon his siblings have designs on the sticky stuff – seemingly it can be put to all manner of uses – but Little Robot isn’t prepared to share; he has his sights set on the big time …

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Everything goes swimmingly for a while but then disaster strikes in the form of an unexpected sneeze; Little Robot is left alone and well and truly up to his knees in the now-infamous, green goo of his own making.

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Time for some snot-blotting but what can he use …
Told in jaunty rhyme and through brighter than bright, action-packed illustrations, this is a laugh aloud tale that I suspect will become a ‘read it again’ story time choice.

 

Once Upon a Wish & Thank You!

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Once Upon a Wish
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox
Deep in the forest, in a giant oak tree, lives a magical wishgiving boy, as you’ll soon see …
By night, as the wishes drift his way, he spends his time concocting and conjuring up wish magic for girls and boys,

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then delivering it right to them …

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Despite their delight at receiving their heart’s desire, these children quickly forget the wish giver who also has a wish of his own, for it’s a lonely life he leads in that secret lair of his. The lad wishes for a pet or a friend to keep him company but try as he might, his own wish is unfulfilled …

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Then one night this wish wafts his way “I wish I could fly” and immediately our lad is up and doing, sprinkling, stirring and filling a bottle of potion, before sailing off to deliver same to the waiting wisher. This particular recipient however, is rather different. Yes, she’s absolutely over the moon at being able to take her maiden flight, but it’s what she does next …

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that makes all the difference, though not right away. Her kind words take a little while for their own particular brand of magic to do its work …

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Amy Sparkes’ brilliant to read aloud rhyming verses mixed with Sara Ogilvie’s sparklingly gorgeous, richly and humorously detailed, glowing illustrations make for a magic mix all of their own: sheer delight from cover to cover.
If you’ve ever forgotten to thank, or overlooked saying, thank you to anybody, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this one and send it to them forthwith; actually buy a copy no matter what; you’ll surely find someone or many, to share its enchantments.

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Thank You!
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed
A variety of animals, small and large, a toddler and an adult demonstrate ways of showing thankfulness in this delightfully playful board book. There’s an additional way of showing gratitude too herein: paying it forward. Cat proffers Dog a ball, then dog in turn gives a flower to hummingbird;

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hummingbird then offers panda a bamboo shoot ; panda extends his paw with peanut to elephant and so on. Each act of kindness receives a characteristic thankful response – “Growl growl!”,Toot toot!” and so on until we come full circle to the cat, now the recipient of a ball of wool.
Next, we see each of the recipients enjoying their gift and a small child watching and wondering. And then comes a final human sharing time with adult and child rounding things off neatly.

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Long constructs this whole concatenation cleverly with each animal stretching out of its border and across the gutter with its offering.
If you’re endeavouring to teach your young infant to respond appropriately when given something, this is the perfect book; just make sure you don’t end up with a confused child barking, humming, growling, tooting, eeking, oinking or meowing. Actually though, those speech bubbles are great for joining in with, and a slightly older sibling would likely enjoy reading the book to a very young brother or sister.

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An Unaware Jackdaw and A Nautical Mouse

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What the Jackdaw Saw
Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt
Macmillan Children’s Books
Jackdaw flies over the ocean, the farm, the town, and a forest towards a looming black cloud, issuing his invitation “Come to my party!” to all and sundry, ignoring the warning signs from octopus, horse, cat, and squirrel until he whizzes headlong into the thundercloud and thence …

 

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Why didn’t they warn me?” he asks the owl. “Why didn’t you see them?” comes the reply, … Every one of them touching its head, Danger! Danger! That’s what they said.”

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Time for a lesson in signing for that heedless jackdaw, courtesy of owl of course and then hurray, jackdaw flies forth using his wings to sign “Come to my party!” to all his animal pals. Then off they all got to he seaside where a fantastic time is had by all those animals and just a few other guests too …

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Nick Sharratt’s powerful, expressive spreads capture the scenes of impending disaster, and the joyful exuberance of the jaunty tale with great aplomb.
After you’ve enjoyed the story, don’t miss the opportunity to practise signing some of the key words from the book; eight of them are found on the final spread.
Two years in the making, this book is the result of the author’s workshop (organized by Life and Deaf) for deaf children -20 are named – and of course, her collaboration with artist, Nick. What an ingenious and brilliantly inclusive book it is; and what a wonderful testament to the power of sign language and all who use it including finally, that jackdaw.

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The Mouse Who Sailed the Seas
Amy Sparkes and Nick East
Egmont Publishing pbk
The sight of those chunky bumblebees perching tenuously atop their beehive immediately appealed to my sense of the ridiculous when I turned from the introductory ‘A mouse he went to sail the seas. He sailed the seas/to look for cheese,/But all he found were …

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The jaunty story continues with an invasion of purple peas of the alien variety,

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a drop in from a pair of hairy-kneed goats and some magic-sneezing elves. Surely disaster must be close at hand with such a load methinks and … CREAK! SQUEAK! LEAK! Oh dear me.

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But, could that concatenation triggered by a timely sneeze from the elves work its magic and save the day? Well, you will just have to get hold of this wonderfully madcap tale to find out that and to discover whether our intrepid sailor mouse finally does find the object of his cheesy search. Assuredly, it’s pretty nail- biting stuff.
Nick East’s exuberant and garish illustrations are brimming over with delicious touches of completely crazy detail – just the thing to complement Amy Sparkes’ super and stupendously silly saga.

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Witches, whales, washing and wandering

Rich Witch Poor Witch
Peter Bently and Jim Field
Macmillan pbk.
Meet twin witches, poor Rose who provides her services free to the ordinary folks and rich Rita whose wealthy clients include royalty. Indeed it is the King himself who calls asking for help to cheer up the young Princess Anna Lucinda Cecelia Grace who just will not smile. However, no amount of wand wielding and magical trickery makes one iota of difference to the gloomy miss. Before long the whole palace is in utter chaos with drapes aflame and tables trashed but what of the princess? It’s left to butler Mort, to announce not only the arrival of Witch Rose but also the whereabouts of the missing Anna Lucinda. Both are outside playing chase and yes! the Princess has an enormous smile on her face. Magic or what? Definitely not explains Rose; all that the princess needed was someone to play with.
This rhyming tale fizzes and sparkles with energy and the appropriately gaudy illustrations abound with visual jokes.
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The Storm Whale
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Noi lives a rather lonely life in a beach-side house with his fisherman father and their six cats. One morning after a stormy night, he goes down onto the seashore and as he walks he comes upon a small whale left high and dry by the storm. Noi manages to get the whale home and into the bath where he tells it stories about his island life. Concerned about his dad’s reaction to the newcomer, Noi keeps quiet all evening but finally his secret is discovered. Then he has to face the fact that his new friend belongs in the sea and together father and son return the whale to its rightful home.
A gentle tale of loving and caring enough to let go. I love the fact that Noi is shown playing records of Sounds of the Sea and Handel’s Water Music to the whale in the bath. Understated as it is, this warm-hearted book packs a powerful punch.
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How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
Michelle Robinson & Kate Hindley
Simon and Schuster pbk.
Presented as an instruction manual, a small girl narrator provides a step-by-step guide to performing a very tricky and likely to be, protracted, operation – Woolly Mammoth washing or rather, bathing. Should your mammoth need this treatment, make sure you don your mackintosh and wellies and have to hand: a broom, spooky mask, skateboard, heavy-duty crane, cake, and of course, shampoo. Just make sure the latter doesn’t go in its eyes though. Oh, oh! … for STEP EIGHT: To get said ‘wet woolly mammoth down from a tree you’ll need … a very STRONG trampoline.’ To discover the remaining steps, you’ll just have to get hold of a copy of this delightful book. Beautifully understated, simply told in dead- pan style, the text leaves Kate Hindley plenty of scope to exercise her sense of the ridiculous in both her full-page scenes and smaller comic cut capers.
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Pi-Rat!
Maxine Lee
Caterpillar Books pbk.
Meet the fearless Pi-Rat and his mates as they sail the high seas. Seemingly nothing daunts them be it crocodiles, sharks or the darkness but when the brave pirate captain sights a hairy paw through his telescope it seems the hearty crew are about to meet their doom.
The visual clue to the setting of this adventure is the name of Pi-Rat’s craft on the back cover and the first spread. This bath-time tale of the imagination is told almost entirely through speech bubbles and bold visuals that zoom right in on the action. There is plenty to laugh at in the larger than life illustrations inspired by the treasure trove of bath-time and everyday toys; I love the space- hopping and pogo-sticking crew members as they leap and bounce across the crocodile-infested waters. I envisage this one being asked for over and over again.
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Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo
Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox pbk.
When the boy narrator receives a letter announcing he’s won a prize, off he cycles to run a zoo for the day. And what a strange, chaotic place this turns out to be. Its inmates include the growling Grimblegraw, the dangling Dinglebee, the Morph, Quees, Furry Furbles and horror of horrors, the child gobbling Squirgal, to mention just some of the crazy creatures he encounters. But in our small, prize-winning hero, those recalcitrant rioters more than meet their match.
Crying out for audience participation, this story certainly went down well with several groups of under fives who loved the tongue tingling rhyming text and crazy mock scary monsters.
It’s a good one to stimulate young children’s artistic and verbal creativity: have huge sheets of paper, paints and large pens at the ready.
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Dog Loves Counting
Louise Yates
Red Fox pbk.
Louise Yates’ endearing bibliophile Dog returns for a third adventure. Now he’s looking for alternatives to sheep to count, so that he can get to sleep. And the vehicle for his search is of course, a book.; a Big Book of Curious Creatures wherein he discovers all manner of fascinating things to innumerate, beginning with one baby dodo that emerges from a large egg. The two of them continue through the book encountering in turn, a three-toed sloth, … a five-lined skink… to a ten-legged (pincers included) crab and so on to an infinitely grained sandy desert whereupon the the all-important number one is counting stars. And we leave the whole cast star gazing and still counting, until … it’s morning again, the start of another day filled with books, friends and, let’s hope, many more adventures.
This flight of fancy is another winner from the inspirational Lucy Yates. It’s wonderfully imagined, cleverly constructed and brilliantly portrayed through both words and pictures. Moreover, it is likely to make young listeners enjoy counting just as much as the chief protagonist who has already encouraged countless children to become like him, lovers of ‘Books’ and ‘Drawing’.
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The Acorn
Edward Gibbs
Templar Publishing (BF&F) pbk.
This wonderfully simple book has lessons a-plenty between its covers – reading lessons and science lessons but more important than those, the whole thing is a real pleasure to share with the very young.
A little yellow acorn falls from a tree, a little acorn with a large purpose. But there is a problem – also large –all manner of hungry forest animals think that an acorn would make a tasty tidbit. Such are the acorn’s powers of persuasion ‘Oh, please don’t eat me now, … I’ll be even tastier later.’ that it manages to escape the jaws of white mouse, orange squirrel, blue bird, grey rabbit, brown boar and red deer. Then the acorn begins to grow, time passes and true to its words, it becomes a huge shelter-giving tree with acorns aplenty. And, in familiar folk-tale, patterned text style, the whole thing begins over again…
Each spread is cleverly linked to the previous one so that every turn of the page serves to move the visual narrative seamlessly forwards. Gibbs’ delightfully scribbly animal images on the forest floor are a treat in themselves, and, there is a further fold-out surprise at the end.
Perfectly predictable, endlessly re-readable.
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