One Fox / The Button Book

Just right for an early years collection are:

One Fox
Kate Read
Two Hoots

One moonlit night down on the farm, with his two sly eyes, one famished fox is on the prowl. Lots of lovely alliteration describes the happenings:

The three plump hens need to keep their ears and beady eyes open.
However that fox is in for a big surprise when he takes six silent steps towards the hencoop and taps seven times upon the outside …

In a dramatic and satisfying climax (although not for the fox), debut author/illustrator Kate Read takes us right up close to the action in her counting story.

With an economy of words she creates a visual comedy that is both exciting and gently educational; but It’s her superb visuals that carry the power – bright, textured art combining paint and collage – that build up expectations of the outcome

and then turn the tale right over on itself.

The Button Book
Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin
Andersen Press

Take a group of inquisitive animals and an assortment of ‘pressable’ buttons of different shapes and colours; add several generous spoonfuls of imagination and stir. The result is this playful interactive picture book for little ones.

Squirrel starts the whole thing off by prodding at the red button with his stick and wondering what will happen. It beeps, and that sets off the button investigation.

To discover which is the clapping button, which one sings songs;

which blows a raspberry;

what joys the yellow button delivers, and the pink and purple ones, you need the fingers of a child or so, and the willingness to indulge in some pretend play.

This is children’s / YA author Sally Nicholls debut picture book and it appears she’s had as much fun creating it as will its intended preschool audience. The latter will take great delight in all the noisy, occasional mischievous activities offered at the mere touch of a button. Adult sharers on the other hand might well be relieved to learn what the white button does.

Seemingly too Bethan Woollvin had fun creating the illustrations; she’s certainly done a cracking job showing the seven characters having a thoroughly good time as investigators and participants in their own comedic performance.

Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter

Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter
Graham Carter
Andersen Press

Young Otto comes from a family of avid birdspotters who spend all their waking moments spotting their feathered friends from within their hide of a home. Not so Otto however; he loves to explore in the great outdoors and while doing so one day he discovers first a huge footprint, then a very large poo

and finally, a highly unusual little bird hidden in the bushes.

Despite the ‘no pets’ rule at home, the lad sneaks the creature into his bedroom and the bird starts growing and growing until it seems he’ll no longer be able to hide it.

The bird however has a power that he’s yet to show his carer: the art of camouflage, and this enables the pair to have amazing adventures together unbeknown to anyone else.

However a visit to the zoo makes Bird unhappy and Otto realises that it’s missing its family.

Time to introduce Bird to his own family thinks Otto and having recovered from the shock revelation they construct the tallest ever bird-spotting tower. Eventually the missing birds are found and all ends happily with Otto now a bird-watching convert and his parents, fans of the great outdoors and its potential for making discoveries.

A zany tale illustrated from a variety of perspectives and in a multitude of hues, this is an unusual picture book with plenty of visual interest, not least the parent birds hiding in plain sight.

Campsite Revelations: Fergal in a Fix! / Koala is Not a Bear

Fergal in a Fix!
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Fergal (with fiery temper pretty well under control now) returns in a new story.

He’s off to Dragon Day-Camp for the first time and despite assurances from his parents, he’s feeling anxious about it.

Eager to be popular he decides to try and outshine the other dragons at all the activities on offer. But his ‘being the best’ involves behaviour that doesn’t please his fellow campers; he even resorts to cheating.

By lunchtime Fergal is shunned by the other young dragons.
Fortunately the camp leader notices he’s alone and has some wise words to offer, words about being his best self rather than the best at things.

Come the evening Fergal is a much happier little dragon with a lot of new dragon friends.

With a gentle lesson about being yourself and the best version of yourself you can, this second Fergal tale should win the little dragon plenty of new little human friends too.

Koala is Not a Bear
Kristin L. Gray and Rachel McAlister
Sterling

Koala has been eagerly anticipating camp but as it’s her first time away from family and home, she pops a few reminders into her backpack – just in case she feels homesick.

On arrival she searches for her cabin but there seems to be a problem. Just as Grizzly is welcoming her to Bear Cabin, there comes a protest from Kangaroo. “A bit of a know-it-all” is how Grizzly describes the naysayer.

Eager to find a place to rest, Koala tries to prove her ‘bearness’ but Kangaroo is having none of it. Yes she does have sharp teeth and claws but so do crocodiles; lemurs share her ability to climb trees; tigers too can growl. She might be able to perform a reasonable bear crawl but she lacks a tail.

Despite Grizzly’s continued support, Kangaroo continues his assertions when the animals sit down to eat until at last Koala thinks Bear Cabin and even perhaps the entire camp is not for her.

Seeking comfort, out of her pouch comes a photo of a relation – a creature that Kangaroo recognises as his great aunt too.

A few questions from Kangaroo are all that’s needed: it turns out that Koala and Kangaroo are cousins. Hurrah!

The author raises important points about inclusion, similarities and differences during the course of her amusing narrative while at the same time providing a fair sprinkling of marsupial-related facts along the way. Rachel McAlister’s expressive, digitally rendered wide-eyed animal characters will appeal to little ones as they follow Koala’s search for a place to belong.

Elmer’s Birthday

Elmer’s Birthday
David McKee
Andersen Press

After three decades it’s safe to say that Elmer the elephant has become an institution in nurseries, primary schools and families.

This story celebrates his birthday or does it?

The group of elephants he passes on his regular morning walk certainly think he has a birthday the following day and decide to play a joke on him. ‘… let’s act as if we’ve forgotten it …’ they decide intending to produce a celebratory cake at the end of the afternoon.

Off they go to inform his friends and family of their intentions.
The trouble is those elephants don’t pay heed to the responses they receive, dismissing all their ‘buts’ as insignificant.

Indeed not a single animal they speak to is impressed with their trick, but the mention of cake keeps them quiet.

Next morning when he takes his walk, Elmer’s slightly puzzled at the way his friends greet him. Throughout the day the other animals seem to be avoiding him until the end of the afternoon when he’s suddenly confronted by all his friends and family.

Yes, the trick backfires but who can resist the enormous patchwork confection that his fellow pachyderms have baked for all to share, birthday or no birthday.

“ … the cake is a winner,” concludes Elmer before they all tuck in; and a winner is what little ones will think about this shared joke of a tale. I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for second helpings too.

Swarm of Bees

Swarm of Bees
Lemony Snicket and Rilla Alexander
Andersen Press

This is the second ‘Swarm of Bees’ to arrive at my house in the last couple of weeks. A real swarm dropped down our chimney the other day and after an initial invasion of our bedroom, the bees are now safely at home nesting in the chimney flue.

In the story, a boy throws a tomato at a nest of bees. Why, one wonders. He certainly looks pretty angry as he walks along pulling that cart. But to take his anger out on the bees is surely not acceptable behaviour. His action causes the nest to swing, and disturbed, the bees come swarming out: do they do so to protect their queen perhaps?

Through the town fly the bees with the narrator wondering about possible targets for their stings. A sailor? No he’s spent nine months at sea and is rushing home to give his mother a hug. Maybe a mother, a bricklayer,

chefs, a cat or residents of a flat: using repetition the narrator considers each potential target and provides reasons why not.

What about the boy? We then see that he in fact is pelting each of the potential targets with tomatoes; they’re all feeling indignant and chase the boy across a tomato-splattered town layout

in a sequence of wonderfully buzzy spreads.

Eventually the beekeeper calms the swarm and catches them in his bee sack.

The boy meanwhile, is pacified by an embrace from a parent who doesn’t chastise,

but the narrator echoes his thoughts with ‘It can feel good to be angry. / it can feel better to stop.’

Clever use of metaphor for the feelings of the characters, combined with the exuberant illustrations provoke ideas about anger management and the other emotions the characters exhibit in Rilla Alexander’s bold, mixed media scenes, providing a nice balance of humour and emotional charge.

The entire book is thoughtfully designed from cover to cover with the story starting and concluding on the endpapers.

An interesting, thought provoking book to share as a prelude to a circle time discussion with young listeners.

Duck & Penguin Are Not Friends

Duck & Penguin Are Not Friends
Julia Woolf
Andersen Press

Betty and Maud are best friends; they love to play together. Each has a soft toy: Betty’s is Duck, Maud’s is Penguin. The girls are convinced their soft toys are equally friendly, sharing a love of their favourite human activities, swinging, sand play,

baking, painting and playing with ‘Itty-bitty babies’.

So involved are the girls in their own activities however, that they fail to notice what’s going on between Duck and Penguin.

Then the girls leave their toys alone while they go and fetch their baby bottles.

Left to their own devices Duck and Penguin indulge themselves in all the activities they’d previously tolerated with extreme reluctance and waywardness. This time however, because they’ve chosen so to do, swinging, sandcastle construction, baking and painting are fun for the two toys.

After all, who wants to have activities thrust upon them?

I love how the toys look even more ‘loved’ or shall we say, the worse for wear, by the end of the day; I love too the playful onomatopoeia, that relating to the toys contrasting nicely with the girls’ at times; and Julia Woolf’s energetic, wonderfully expressive illustrations will surely make little humans giggle, especially at the toys’ antics.

Super Sloth / The Great Dog Bottom Swap

Two treats from Andersen Press: the first from rising star, the aptly named Robert Starling; the second an oldie but real goodie:

Super Sloth
Robert Starling
Andersen Press

Superhero characters always go down well with little human would-be superheroes, but a Super Sloth? Could one really make the grade?
Jungle resident, Sloth is far from fast and unable to fly; but when he comes upon a picture book story of a superhero he’s totally enthralled and it gets him thinking.

He sets about assembling the necessary accoutrements: mask – tick; cape – ditto. Off he goes in search of rescue possibilities. Before long he hears Toucan’s cry for help, but arrives too late – he is a sloth after all. Nevertheless he’s determined to help find the dastardly mango-thieving Anteater.

Up the highest tree he climbs – an ideal vantage point for Anteater spotting he thinks and so it is.
Wheee! Sloth launches himself skywards but … disaster!

Is that the end of his superhero aspirations? Not quite: when he learns of the potential starvation of the other jungle animals and hears from Bear about the need to break into Anteater’s well-guarded stronghold, it sets him thinking again and makes him extremely angry.

A plan forms in his mind, one that capitalises on his sloth abilities and off he goes,

slowly, slowly making his advance towards Anteater’s garrison until he’s ready to strike …

And there we’ll have to leave him dangling for fear of spoiling the ending of this laugh-out-loud sequel to Fergal is Fumingand just borrow a bit of the old adage, ‘slow and steady … ‘

As well as presenting readers with a dramatically illustrated, delectably droll super-story, Robert provides endpapers of factual information – Sloth Facts and Super Sloth Facts. Love it!

The Great Dog Bottom Swap
Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka
Andersen Press

Thank your lucky stars this isn’t one of those scratch and sniff type books that used to be all the rage when this romp of Peter Bently’s first burst onto the scene a decade ago.

If you’ve ever wondered why dogs sniff each other’s bottoms when they meet, then this book is definitely one you MUST read; and even if you haven’t, I’d still strongly urge you to get hold of a copy. It’s brilliant, delivered in Peter’s faultless rhyme and tells what happens on the day of the Dogs’ Summer Ball.

The dogs, as per instructions …

hang up their bottoms in tidy rows in the cloakroom of the venue and proceed to the table to eat, drink and make merry.

Thereafter they participate in the canine cabaret and generally have a wonderful time.

Dancing is then announced; more fun and frolics until …

Catastrophe! Fire breaks out, engulfing much of the furniture and furnishings in flames: the dogs flee for their lives.

In their haste however, they each grab the nearest reachable bottom and dash out. That’s why when they meet in the street dogs sniff one another’s bums – in the hope of finding their own again.

Cheerful, cheeky – children roll around over it – while adults endeavour – in my case unsuccessfully – to stop themselves spluttering as Peter’s wonderful narrative trips from the tongue. In tandem with Mei Matsuoka’s hilarious illustrations of dogs of all shapes and sizes, this neo-pourquoi-tale is a rip-roaring read aloud gift for teachers and others who share stories with the young (and maybe not so young).