I DIdn’t Do It!

I Didn’t Do It!
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

In his haste to see the finish of the Big Cycle Race would-be champion bike racer and proud owner of a new bicycle, Milo,

precipitates a concatenation of escalating chaos through the town, shouting “I didn’t do it” at every consequence of his determined haste to arrive before the competitors take the flag.

He does so, reaching the finish line just as the participants are about to make their final sprint,

and just in time to set off in hot pursuit after the thief as he makes off with the prize trophy.

Will Milo succeed in apprehending the dastardly cup snatcher?

What will happen to the baby that’s hurtling through the air and who will secure the prize trophy?

In this story Michael Foreman lets his wonderful watercolour illustrations do most of the talking, keeping the text to a minimum.

As a result, not only is this superb piece of slapstick a terrific read aloud book, but, with its speech bubbles and noises that orchestrate Milo’s journey, it’s also great for children in the early stages of their journey as readers. Make sure you read it to them first though.

Gnome

Gnome
Fred Blunt
Andersen Press

I was recently thinking I hadn’t seen anything new from Fred Blunt and then this cracker from Andersen Press arrived in my mail.

Mr Gnome is a naysayer if ever there was one. No matter how politely the requests made to him are proffered, his response is always in the negative.

So, it’s “No” to accompanying him on his fishing expedition

and a resounding “NO” to coming to the aid of Mr Hedgehog, even for a reward.

As for the plea from the witch who does assist Mr Hedgehog, our curmudgeonly Gnome may be about to get his comeuppance when he flatly refuses to stop fishing in her pond.

Deliciously silly, Fred Blunt’s cautionary tale will have readers and listeners spluttering in delight especially at the finale but not just that. Every spread is chuckleworthy – it’s impossible to choose a favourite – and Fred’s comic timing is spot on as it builds up to the wonderful climactic revelation.

Share it here, share it there, share it everywhere you can: I wouldn’t mind betting you’ll get the same immediate “read it again” demand (maybe with the odd ‘please’) as you close the covers as I did.

The Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue
Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K.Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Andersen Press

This is a powerful and empowering book created by team Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer and the first Muslim woman in hijab to represent the US, novelist A.K. Ali and artist Hatem Aly.

We first meet Asiya and her younger sister, Faizah when their Mama takes the girls to a hijab shop for Asiya to make her choice for that important ‘first-day hijab’.

The following morning the sisters leave for school, Faizah (the narrator) sporting snazzy new trainers and wearing a new backpack, Asiya wearing her brightest blue hijab that reminds her sister of the colour of the ocean, if you squint your eyes and pretend there’s no line between the water and the sky. “I’m walking with a princess” Faizah tells us and “Her hijab smiles at me the whole way.”

Once at school however, the comments from other children start. These are alternated with meditative spreads showing and telling of Faizah’s thoughts about her sister’s hijab, along with Mama’s words.

A bully boy starts laughing.

Come break time, the bullying continues with one boy shouting at Asiya, “I’m going to pull that tablecloth off your head.”

Her sister recalls Mama’s wise words “Don’t carry around hurtful words … they belong only to those who said them.”

At the end of the day it’s a strong, smiling Asiya who awaits Faizah and together they return home, Faizah proudly carrying the picture she’s drawn in class of the two of them.

Having shown the bullies her back, now she too is beginning to appreciate and understand the beauty and strength Asiya and mother see in her hijab.

This beautifully, lyrically told story that highlights the importance of family bonds, with its sensitive illustrations wherein bullies are depicted as faceless, is a must for inclusion on classroom bookshelves.

It also celebrates Muslim girls who are hijabis. I have taught Muslim girls, some of whom as young as seven, have suddenly turned up wearing a hijab and I’ve not thought it appropriate to question them; and I have many Muslim friends both here in the UK and in India but none of them wears a hijab. So I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with young hijabis about this topic, or the coming of age rite it signifies in this book. I found this superb story enlightening, and uplifting in its clear messages about equality and the power of women.

Stories on My Street / Eric and the Green-Eyed God

It’s great to see the return of some old favourites given new looks.

Stories on My Street
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

This brings together four stories featuring the children and their families, who are all residents of Trotter Street. The tales were originally published with Shirley’s coloured illustrations, herein replaced with black and white ones.

In the first, New Wheels for Carlos, friends Billy and Carlos love to race their old bikes down the hill in the park but both of them are outgrowing their old slow machines. With birthdays fast approaching each would truly love a new bike; will it be a ‘Happy Birthday’ for both boys? …

A heart-warming tale of friendship, longings and surprise.

The Patterson family are the focus of The Big Concrete Lorry. It’s a tight fit with four humans and a dog at number 26, their little home. So, after a family conference it’s decided that they should have an extension. The cost won’t be excessive as Dad, (with help from willing neighbours) will build it himself.

All goes to plan until CRRURK! CRRUCK! CRRUCK! the arrival of a lorry bearing the name JIFFY READY-MIX CONCRETE CO on the side and it’s a day early …

Thereafter a massive effort on the part of the community is called for.

This smashing story with its wonderful illustrations put me in mind of the time years back, when my partner and I were installing an Amtico floor that had to be put on top of a self-levelling screed in our kitchen and the antics that ensued to prevent it setting too quickly.

In Angel Mae and the New Baby, Mae’s mother is expecting a baby, something about which Mae has mixed feelings especially as she is to play the role of the Angel ‘Gave-You’ in her class nativity play very soon. But when Mae wakes up on the day of the play, there’s no sign of either her mum or dad; instead Grandma is in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

The tension mounts as the show proceeds with Mae hoping against hope that at least one of her parents will arrive to see her debut performance …

Warmth and humour as only Shirley can do it, abound in this third tale.

The Snow Lady is what Sam and her friend Barney create one chilly day. It bears a close resemblance to their grumpy neighbour, Mrs Dean, Barney decides, and makes a pebble name ‘Mrs Mean’ at her feet.

Mrs Dean is away to spend Christmas with her son, but she arrives back unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve. Conscience-struck, Sam is concerned that come the morning Mrs Dean will see what she and Barney have done and feel hurt.

Of course, like the others, this gently humorous story has a happy ending and is equally deftly illustrated in Shirley’s exquisite style.

Eric and the Green-Eyed God
Barbara Mitchelhill, illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Eric’s mum is soon to marry but there’s a snag; she’s marrying his teacher known as ‘the Bodge’. That in itself is pretty awful but even worse is that his globetrotting Auntie Rose has sent a wedding present sparkling with emeralds and it’s said to be imbued with magical properties that might result in more than one new addition to his family.

Eric and his friend Wez don’t know the meaning of the words his aunt has used in relation to the gift but their pain in the neck classmate Annie certainly does and she insists such objects work.

Eric and Wez simply have to locate this present among all the others and stow it away somewhere where it can’t work before Mum has a chance to open it on her big day.

Locating it is relatively easy but hiding it away is another matter especially since Eric and his fellow pupils are engaged in the ‘Loving the Earth’ project the mayor has set up. Moreover Eric has failed to clear up the mess made when he and Wez were opening all the presents and now his mum thinks there’s been a break in and the police are involved.

Things just keeping on getting worse: how can Eric get himself out of this increasingly troublesome situation?

Barbara Mitchelhill’s mix of zany humour, magic and emotions will result in giggles aplenty from young readers of this episode in the series especially since the inimitable Tony Ross has supplied plenty of wacky new illustrations.

One World

One World
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Even more pertinent today than when it was first published thirty years ago is Michael Foreman’s almost prophetic One World.

As she looks up at the night sky a little girl contemplates all the creatures that share in the sun’s warmth and the moon’s silvery light.

Next morning she and her brother visit the seashore and together they create their own miniature world from items drawn from a rock pool: a ‘new world with its own forests, its own life.’

As they continue adding items during the day, they realise that their actions have altered the environment around understanding how easy it is to spoil the beauty of the world: the world into which various kinds of poisons are being poured, where forests are disappearing, where creatures all over the planet are no longer safe.

Can they in their own way, do at least something to counter the pollution?

First they remove a tarred feather and the tin can from the pool then with another feather skim off the surface oil before dropping back into it the items they’d collected.

As they leave for home that night the sister and brother decide to ask other children to help them in their cause:

after all, ‘They all lived on one world. And that world too, they held in their hands.’

Stunningly beautiful and thought provoking as it was then and is now, with Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion taking up the cause, this is such a timely re-issue.

A book that needs to be read and discussed in every primary classroom from reception through to older juniors, after which let the action begin or continue … We don’t have much time.

Deep Secret

Deep Secret
Berlie Doherty
Andersen Press

This story by Carnegie Medal winner Berlie Doherty, was first published over 15 years ago.

Set in a Derbyshire village situated in the bottom of a valley, it’s a tragic tale of death and destruction; but there is hope too.

The death is that of Grace, one of inseparable twins, so alike that even family members are often unable to tell who is Grace and who is Madeleine; and this results in a secret.

The destruction is of the farming valley, flooded in order to make a reservoir, and is loosely based on the construction of the Ladybower reservoir.

The losses cut deep and there’s intense grieving both for the girl and the village.

Madeleine needs to find ways to move forward as does the entire community.

There’s SO much raw emotion in the story, but the author is such a superb writer, both of place and human feelings, that readers are never completely overwhelmed by the sense of loss. Moreover her lyrical style sweeps the reader along catching you up in her characters: there’s the vicar’s son Colin for instance, who is fighting against what seems to be his pre-established path in life; and the gentle, blind boy Seth, whose super-sensitivity enables him, among other things, to discern the difference between the twins.

As the story progresses secrets start to be exposed, some however are forever hidden, submerged for all time as water floods the valley. By the end though many villagers have been able to adjust to new circumstances and start to look forward to a different life.

I missed the book when it first appeared; maybe you did too: if so it’s well worth reading in its new incarnation; and the cover is absolutely beautiful.

Silly Mr Wolf / Wolf in the Snow

From Andersen Press come not one but two wolfish stories from award winning picture book creators this month:

Silly Mr Wolf
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Like most storybook wolves, Mr Wolf is a very tricky character and a master of disguise – at the outset at least.

Said lupine has long outgrown his ‘sheep’s clothing’ and so in more recent times in order to obtain a juicy sheep for his dinner he’d put a bag over his head and changed his name, first to Mr Jones – which worked briefly; then (with a new suit and bigger bag) to Mr Smith. Again this ruse was temporarily successful,

so could it be third time lucky with a change of bag and outfit?

The sheep appear ready to fight their corner except for an old one . He points out that as well as whacking Mr Wolf, they need to deal with his pals. How can they drive away four wolves?

Is it he who’s the silly one? I don’t want to be a story spoiler so remember the title of the book and decide for yourself …

Daftness as only Tony Ross can deliver it, but there’s an important stranger-danger message here too.

Wolf In the Snow
Matthew Cordell
Andersen Press

Almost wordless, this is a wonderfully satisfying story about a little girl whose kindness is repaid one chillsome day.

The book opens with a view of a family warm inside their home.

Then, clad in a red hooded jacket, the little girl leaves the house, bids her dog farewell and sets off into the gently falling snow.
At the same time a pack of wolves is on the move.

This is no Red Riding Hood tale though, for then comes the title page after which we see the same child waving to her schoolmates and setting off homewards in the now, heavily falling snow.

Turn over and the wolves emitting steam from their mouths are heading in the girl’s direction.

The snow falls ever faster as the girl and a wolf cub approach one another to the accompaniment of the beginnings of a soundtrack.

With the pack’s howls resounding across the distant hills, she tenderly lifts the little creature and proceeds to carry it towards the sound with the blizzard swirling all around. Across streams, past antagonistic animals she trudges until at last she reaches its mother.

By now the child is well nigh exhausted but she continues her journey until she can go no further and collapses into the snow.
Then it’s time for the wolves to show their gratitude and they do so by surrounding her in a protective circle and howling.

Their call reaches her family and eventually all ends happily.

How brilliantly Cordell captures the multitude of feelings, both human and animal, in his pen-and-ink and watercolour ilustrations; and what an enormously satisfying circularity there is – both verbal and visual – to this superb tale.