Snow Ghost / Snow Woman

Here are two super snowy picture books – the first new, the second, a reissue:

Snow Ghost
Tony Mitton and Diana Mayo
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In a lyrical tale of hoping and searching, Snow Ghost flies through the snow-filled sky seeking a place that she can call home.
She swoops first towards a town all a-twinkle with its lights in shops and houses; but it doesn’t feel right, so it’s on through the darkness and into the woods. There though she meets shadowy darkness and that too feels unwelcoming.

Windblown to a hilltop it’s impossible to rest with those hostile murmurs telling her to go, the Snow Ghost drifts towards a small moorland farm.

There in the fields are a boy and a girl playing snowballs and seeming full of joy. Now here’s a place which might just afford the welcome that can end the Snow Ghost’s long search …

– a place she can finally call home.

Tony Mitton’s rhyming narrative flows with the grace and beauty of his subject, gliding perfectly off the tongue as you read it aloud. Diana Mayo’s equally lyrical illustrations that almost float over the pages are mesmerising; the colour palette pervades every spread with an ethereal quality, and oh wow! those endpapers are exquisite.

A memorable magical wintry book from cover to cover that’s destined to become a seasonal treasure.

Snow Woman
David McKee
Andersen Press

David’s wry look at the question of gender, Snow Woman, has recently been reissued. It tells of Rupert who informs his dad that he’s building a snowman, only to have his terminology corrected to ‘snow person” by dad. And of Rupert’s sister Kate who before embarking on her snow construction, tells her mum, it’s to be a snow woman. Mum accepts this.

The completed snow people stand side by side duly dressed and are photographed along with their creators, by Mum.

The following morning the snow twosome have vanished, along with their clothes. Kate makes a thoughtful observation about a possible reason and the two decide a to build instead, a snow bear – not a man or a lady -merely a bear, Rupert suggests.

Playful and pertinent still, McKee’s deadpan humour shines out of his illustrations all the way through to that seeming throwaway final line of Rupert’s. Make sure you study all the household décor and other ephemera lying around indoors, particularly the art adorning the walls; it’s hilarious.
This book will surely appeal to both children and adults.

Mischief and Mayhem: Good Dog / Vampire Peter

Good Dog!
Sean Taylor and David Barrow
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Our canine narrator lives with his human owner, Melvin, and they rub along pretty well together, with Melvin giving out a fair few affectionate, “Good Dog!” smiling affirmations that make the receiver go all over waggy and excited.
Then yesterday what should be left standing irresistibly, deliciously aromatic on the table but …

Needless to say, upon discovering the culprit consumer of a sizeable slice, here’s what was said …

Time to put an amazing smile-inducing plan into action, the only trouble being our narrator doesn’t choose the most suitable time to enact said plan; the consequence being a less than enthusiastic reception, and the ensuing of a ‘boo-hoo’ kind of a night.
So, what about plan B – that ‘genius idea’ as uttered straight from the pooch’s mouth? Could that perhaps result in the much-desired words from Melvin?

Or might yet another reparative plan be required? …
Even a cynophobic reviewer such as this one couldn’t help falling for the well-intentioned (mostly) narrator of Sean’s hilarious tale of the ups and downs of a canine’s life. David Barrow truly brings to life the waggish creature making it leap into life, almost right off the pages. Those expressions are utterly beguiling and likely to have readers eating right out if its paws, pizza or not. And make sure you follow the cat’s continued consternation throughout too.

Vampire Peter
Ben Manley and Hannah Peck
Andersen Press
With his black cape and frilly collar, wild hair and fangs, new to the class, Peter soon earns a reputation as ‘baddest boy’ in the school. Indeed, his behaviour is somewhat strange and his deeds land him in considerable trouble with the teachers,

as well as resulting in a distinct lack of friends among his classmates.
Inevitably when the class gerbil goes missing, the obvious assumption is that Peter is answerable.

However, there’s a mysterious somebody narrating who knows otherwise, not only about that particular incident but also about the reality of Peter’s ‘bad’ behaviour.
Can both parties exonerate themselves?

With a classroom setting, this is a really fun demonstration that being different doesn’t equate with being bad: we shouldn’t categorise anyone on account of looks or mere assumptions. Make your own judgements rather than following popular opinion.
I love the comical telling and memorable characters, especially Peter. A terrific read at Halloween or any time.

Who Makes a Forest?

Who Makes a Forest?
Sally Nicholls and Carolina Rabei
Andersen Press

I received this lovely book the day after I’d spent a gorgeous (slightly damp) morning walking in a forest not far from my Gloucestershire home. I commented to my partner what an uplifting experience it was, (and always is) in stark contrast to all the pandemic doom and gloom in the media. Had I been out with youngsters I might well have asked them if they’d ever wondered how such a forest came into being: now I have an ideal starting point.

On the first page is posed the title question, followed by a number of possibilities, as two children, a male adult and a dog walk in a forest landscape.

How can something so vast and full of closely-growing trees and often, dense undergrowth have come into being? Could it have been created magically – by a giant perhaps? Or, as a large company enterprise? Or perhaps by other groups of humans?

It’s almost impossible to believe that something so huge was once very small but it’s true, as Sally’s effective story tells and Carolina Rabei’s beautiful illustrations show, demonstrating to children the entire process starting from bare, stony ground that becomes soil through the action and interaction of lichens, algae, moss,

and tiny insects causing a gradual fertilisation of the ground and eventual formation of soil.

Then come the first flowers, ferns and grasses,

the seeds and spores of which spread, becoming more flowers that attract bees and insects that feed on them.

Growth and change continue through the years, the centuries until there’s a huge ecosystem that we call a forest.

As the story concludes we come full circle to the ‘who made’ question and then read, “No. / It was the seeds / and the bees and the / roots of the trees. / It was a thousand / thousand tiny things. // And together they changed the face of the earth.’ A fitting finale to an inspiring story.

Not quite the end of the book though for the final five pages provide interesting facts about forests in various parts of the world and a last word about making a difference that relates to deforestation.

Whether for home bookshelves or school classroom collections, I strongly recommend this book.

The Spots and the Dots

The Spots and the Dots
Helen Baugh and Marion Deuchars
Andersen Press

Here’s a tale that happened long ago – or was it so long?

Told with an appropriately bouncy rhyming text by Helen Baugh (it does feature spherical objects after all) we discover what happens when the little Spots, paying insufficient heed to their parents oft repeated warning, “If you go over the hill you will be taken away by the dots”,

start getting more daring with their favourite game until Baby Spot, scared and still, finds itself one evening at the apex of the hill.

However, close by is a second small someone, equally on its own.

A conversation ensues, and a revelation, followed by something very exciting …

Flip the book and read the story from the perspective of the Dots. This small tribe are also pod dwellers and their little ones love bouncing too, receiving a similar warning about the ill-intentioned Spots.

Naturally the infant Dots play a similar game to the little Spots and you can work out the rest …

Such a clever tale of colliding communities that celebrates difference and lays bare the idea that fear and prejudice are often fuelled by ignorance, showing that we’re all much more alike than we might at first think.

Helen tells it with a deliciously wry liveliness that is mirrored in Marion Deuchars’ superbly expressive scenes of small spheres and their adult carers.

Do make sure you study closely the grand meet up of the two infant groups wherein Marion has managed to give each of the playful infants a different look.

I can’t recommend this one enough: it’s brilliant.

Fergal Meets Fern / Elmer and the Lost Treasure

It’s lovely to see favourite characters returning in these two recent books from Andersen Press

Fergal Meets Fern
Robert Starling

New sibling unsettlement quickly arises when Fergal’s Mum and Dad bring home ‘the egg’. From this emerges a new baby sister for the little dragon and with its arrival, funny feelings start within Fergal. Even nan’s gift of flying show tickets lift his mood only briefly because Fern’s actions really stoke up Fergal’s inner fire.
Then to make matters worse, comes the news that the flying show excursion is off: Dad has to get medicine for Fern who’s become sick.

Inevitably Fergal’s fiery feeling grows even stronger, so much so that he does something to make him the centre of attention, which it does, once Dad discovers his whereabouts.

After a frank Father and Fergal discussion on feelings, Dad shows his son something by way of explanation.

Later on as the two do some yoga side by side, the feelings discussion continues

and eventually Fergal understands that something in him needs to change. Being a big brother is an important role and perhaps it’s one he can undertake successfully and lovingly.

As with previous Fergal stories, Robert Starling conveys this one with sensitivity, humour and considerable charm.

Share with little ones at any time but it’s especially apt if you’re a family with young child and a new arrival.

Elmer and the Lost Treasure
David McKee

The adorable elephant, Elmer stars in what is almost unbelievably, his twenty eighth picture book adventure.

He, along with cousin Wilbur and three other elephants set out on ‘a long, exploring walk’ through the jungle and after a while find themselves in unfamiliar territory.

After a roll down a steep slope with Elmer in the lead – naturally – they discover an entrance to an old forgotten palace and start exploring within, or rather Elmer and Wilbur do. The others meanwhile have their own agenda. What can they be doing?

The palace is incredible with huge domed halls in shades of blue, amazing mosaics, tiles and carvings. But who will find that Lost Treasure? And what is it?

Another absolutely smashing story of everyone’s favourite patchwork pachyderm and his pals, told and illustrated with David McKee’s usual sense of humour and fun, warmth and heart, that is also reflected in his main character.

Midnight Magic / Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble

Midnight Magic
Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

This is the first of a new rhyming series by author of the A Pinch of Magic books, Michelle Harrison; it’s superbly illustrated by Elissa Elwick and it’s absolutely perfect for young solo readers or for reading aloud.

It all begins when with tummy swollen and heavy, ‘One frosty evening, / A tabby cat prowled / Through white winter fields / While a bitter wind howled.’

Said tabby cat makes her way into a barn and there, watched by the animal residents, produces three kittens that she duly and aptly names Snowdrop, Foxy and Midnight. The third one, born at midnight is different – both mischievous and magical. And this magic seems to be doubling each day and potentially troublesome. Indeed, she soon starts calling herself a ‘cat-astrophe’ and before long forges a friendship with the broom from the barn, naming the thing `Twiggy’.

The two travel together and they’re spotted by a girl named Trixie as she plays in her village.

Trixie takes the kitten home where she’s eventually welcomed whereas the broom is treated less favourably. But with her mischievous nature, will the rest of Trixie’s family allow Midnight to stay?

Trixie is certainly happy with her new friend but it’s not long before sparks start to fly. And then Nan makes a discovery about that broom she’d unceremoniously tossed into the cupboard.

W-hay – it’s up and away …

A magical tale, this surely is; it reads aloud like a dream and is perfect for sharing or independent reading. especially around Halloween time.

Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble
Zoe Antoniades, illustrated by Katie Kear
Andersen Press

Meet twins Cally and Jimmy: twins they might be, but you’d be hard pushed to find two more different people. Cally – short for Calista meaning ‘most beautiful’ – the quiet one, is our narrator and is well behaved, most of the time. Jimmy in contrast (his real name is Dimitri on account of having a Greek mother) is far from quiet and his behaviour, not helped by ADHD, leaves a fair bit to be desired. In class, he has a special table right beside the teacher’s desk and far away from his sister’s ‘top table’.

In four short stories we get a pretty clear picture of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world. His actions frequently land them both in trouble, though there are plenty of fun times too. And even after getting into trouble together they often end up laughing together afterwards.

Like the time when they made brownies using dad’s ‘fool-proof recipe’ only they added some rather interesting extra ingredients to the mixture. Not sure I’d want to sample those.

Then there’s the time they contribute to a class assembly, the practising of which doesn’t quite go smoothly.

The final episode sees the celebration of the twins achieving double digits and celebrating it in style.

Other colourful characters include Yiayia (grandma)

and lunchtime supervisor, Mrs Gutteridge.

Songs for our Sons

Songs for our Sons
Ruth Doyle and Ashling Lindsay
Andersen Press

Here’s a rhyming celebration of a newborn child wherein the narrator shares her future hopes for the infant, encouraging the little one, oh so full of potential, to be the very best person possible. “So dance-up your dreams; / sing out your spirit-song / And let the light that’s inside you, / guide you along.’

Whether the baby grows up to be ‘a sequinned sparkler, a kaleidoscopic colour- catcher’ or ‘a … puddle-pouncing, soil-squelching mud sculptor’ …

the hopes are that they will be proud, free and happy, an appreciator of and wonderer at, the natural world, a ‘champion of change … and non-violent fighter.’

One who rejoices in differences and their own uniqueness. All this and more in the hope of building a gentler, brighter world. Something we all wish for, especially right now.

Whether we read Ruth’s entire text as being spoken directly to the new-born, or to us as readers, the message is potent – it’s fine to show your feelings, to cry, follow your heart – and cleverly organised so that it sits within, or alongside, Ashling’s gorgeous scenes of children exploring and making the most of whatever surrounds them, culminating in an enormously uplifting, whimsically portrayed , finale …

Gentle, hopeful and a perfect book to give a newborn, at a naming ceremony, or as a present at any time throughout childhood.

A companion book Dreams for our Daughters follows in 2021, though it’s only in the title of this one that there’s any mention of gender.

The Train Mouse

The Train Mouse
Uwe Timm, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

Translated by Rachel Ward, this is a new edition of Uwe Timm’s book first published in German in the 1980s that has now been given wonderful new witty illustrations by Axel Scheffler.

The story’s narrator is Stefan aka Nibbles aka The Train Mouse.

Nibbles had started life in the cellar of a house in Munich but redevelopment causes the mice to seek a new abode. As a result his family have to go out foraging for food in various parts of the city including the station.

For Nibbles, this accidentally leads to 18 months of journeying back and forth between Hamburg and Cologne in a train carriage.

One day though, the narrator hears the word Switzerland and he boards an Intercity train

bound to the country he considers mouse heaven. It’s at Basel his destination, that he meets another mouse named Wilhelm and has his dream about this new place well and truly shattered.

A new train takes them to their next stop, Paris, but the place is ridden with cats and Nibbles has no love of danger. Home and family beckon.

After more travelling and further fur-raising adventures both Nibbles and Wilhelm make it back to Hamburg

and thence to the Paradise Street home Nibbles had left so long back. But where is his family? Will they ever be re-united?

Perseverance, courage, resilience and friendship are at the heart of this charming and unusual reworking of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse tale for primary age readers.

Mermaid School: The Clamshell Show

Mermaid School: The Clamshell Show
Lucy Courtenay, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press

We’re back at Lady Sealia Foam’s Mermaid School where Marnie Blue is now well settled in and has two special friends Pearl and Orla (her enemy when Marnie started school).

Marnie is eagerly anticipating the forthcoming Clamshell Show particularly as it was there that her famous singer aunt, Christabel got her big break.

Now both Marnie and Orla are going to audition for the leading role of Queen Maretta.

Enter new pupil Gilly, she of the amazing voice. She too has set her sights on the star part and is prepared to resort to some tricky tactics to get what she wants. She also speaks fluent octopus and has a brother at a nearby educational establishment.

When Gilly learns that Christabel Blue is Marnie’s aunt things really start to hot up, so much so that it seems as though the long awaited Clamshell Show might not even take place at all.

Then who is the mysterious Arthur that Christabel is writing to when Marnie visits her recording studio?

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep young readers immersed in the undersea world of Mermaid Lagoon to the very last page of this second exciting adventure. Added to the fun are Sheena Dempsey’s drawings that bubble up on every spread.

The Huffalots

The Huffalots
Eve Coy
Andersen Press

Eve Coy’s picture book slices of family life are wonderful. First we had Looking After William and now this new one portrays two small siblings and their mother with the focus mainly on the former.

Having been woken from their slumbers by mum, the brother and sister are in a really grumpy mood – totally at odds with the world and one another it seems.

“No!” is probably their most used word until, during breakfast something magical happens and they transform from Huffalots to Huffalittles.

“No” is still said but maybe rather less as they head to the park accompanied in the background by their mother.

It’s there that magical transformation number two happens: the Huffalittles morph into Lovealittles and later comes the third transformation.

Back home again the Lovealots truly enjoy being together, so much so that they get rather carried away making lots of noise and mess.

Guess who, thanks to sheer exhaustion has now become a rather large Huffalot?

Maybe those two little ones can work their own magical transformation so that Mum becomes Lovealot number three.

This reviewer assuredly is a Lovealot when it comes to this brilliantly observed, superbly illustrated story that will certainly strike a chord with parents and their small offspring.

I can’t imagine a single Mum who wouldn’t relate to Eve’s oh so realistic scenes of the ups and downs of family life with small children.

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.

Madame Badobedah / A Sea of Stories / Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost

Madame Badobedah
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is a rather longer than usual picture book story of an unusual older woman and the young narrator, Mabel.

Mabel lives at The Mermaid Hotel an establishment managed by her parents. She’s an only child with a fertile imagination and a thirst for adventure and here she acts as narrator of the tale of what happens when a certain rather unusual guest arrives. Not only does the woman have twenty-three bags, two large trunks, lots of jewels and a dressing table but also two cats, two dogs and a tortoise, oh! and a penchant for toffees too.

So high-handed is her manner that Mabel takes an instant dislike to her, naming her Madame Badobedah and deciding she’s a villain. Donning her large raincoat, hat and sunglasses the girl becomes Mabel the Spy.

One Saturday morning the strange guest invites Mabel into her room for tea.

We learn that Madame Badobedah had long ago come across the sea on a big ship to escape war and had once been a ballerina – hence the jewelled tiara.

Gradually as this rather unlikely friendship blossoms we learn more about Madame Badobedah – she’s ready to apologise when she thinks it’s due, enjoys visiting the mermaids,

and also has some secrets that she wants to keep to herself. I love the way Sophie Dahl’s narrative gradually reveals things about the lonely Irena (as we discover is her real name) but leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill in for themselves.

Lauren O’Hara captures the inherent warmth of the story in her deliciously whimsical illustrations that are just perfect for the quirky telling.

Another story about an intergenerational friendship is:

A Sea of Stories
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Stripes Publishing

Young Roo loves to visit her grandpa who lives in a cottage beside the sea with Bathsheba, his ancient cat and a large collection of Bits-and-Pieces he’s accumulated over the years.

Grandpa has a garden that has become overgrown and wild, the ideal place for a game of hide-and-seek when she goes to stay for a few days. When he gets tired there’s nothing he likes better than to sit in his favourite armchair and tell stories to Roo; stories inspired by the objects in his collection.

They all relate to the hidden cove at the bottom of the cliff, a place that Grandpa’s legs won’t carry him to any longer on account of the ‘rambly-scrambly path’ that leads down there.

On her final night at Grandpa’s Roo turns her wish for a way to bring Grandpa and his favourite cove back together into a plan; a plan that the following day is brought to fruition.

Highlighting the importance of sharing stories, this unusual story is both warm and infused with a delightful quirkiness.

Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost
Alex Rühle, trans. Rachel Ward, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

One day after the holidays Paul returns home from school and gets the surprise of his life: a voice comes from the keyhole when he inserts his key and it turns out to be a tiny ghost claiming he lives in the keyhole.

He names the being Zippel; but later on that same day he learns that the lock on the front door is to be replaced in just three days.

Later that evening Paul’s parents leave him alone and go to a meeting. Immediately the lad informs Zippel and the race is on to find the enormously inquisitive ghost (with an interest in everything including toilets) a new home before the three days are out.

With smashing Axel Scheffler colour illustrations and absolutely full of delicious wordplay and puns, not to mention Zippel’s rhymes, this warm-hearted story about discovering friends in the strangest of places is fun around Halloween especially, but worth reading any time.

The Hairdo That Got Away / My Name is Bear

The Hairdo That Got Away
Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers
Andersen Press

A small child narrator tells us how he’s used to a monthly visit to the barbershop with Dad, till one day Dad isn’t there. We don’t know the reason for this separation – perhaps his cool new haircut precipitated a parental row. The consequence though, is that the child’s hair starts growing and growing.

The days become weeks and then months; the hair grows ‘ginormous’ until his teacher, Miss Clarke is unable to recognise her pupil and Mum can’t hear her own child.

There follows a class visit to the zoo when the child, who is without any spending money, is accused of ‘teasing the animals’.

It seems that it’s down to the headteacher to recognise the recalcitrant child is actually struggling with his now unmanageable tangle of emotions and provide some bibliotherapy rather than a telling off.

All ends happily with Dad’s return (now also with a huge mass of troublesome hair) and a new hairstyle for each member of the now re-united family.

Like this reviewer, others both children and adults may find performance poet and author, Joseph Coelho’s warm-hearted story slightly enigmatic. Assuredly youngsters will delight in the unruly head of hair the narrator grows during his emotional upheaval and the funky stars the barber cuts for him.

My Name is Bear
Nicola Killen
Egmont

The bear in this story has just moved home and is extraordinarily fond of his name, Bear. So much so that he soon starts introducing himself to his neighbours: “Hello! My name is Bear’ he says to Bird and Fish in turn but can’t stop himself from being rude about their respective names.

This doesn’t slip the notice of an observant earthworm that pops up every time Bear stops to talk.

The exchange with Elephant is downright insulting and Bear continues with his rudeness

until he comes face to face with another ursine character. Now there’s a problem: both claim to be called Bear.
However although Bear 1 loses it completely throwing a tantrum on the spot,

the other Bear is ready to compromise. Eventually, after giving it some consideration, Bear number one agrees that perhaps after all they can share the same name.

Thereafter it’s a case of apologies to all the neighbours who in turn start to think that perhaps the newcomer isn’t quite so bad after all.

That’s not the end of this tale though for not long after a third new neighbour, bear number three, arrives and introduces himself … To reveal the finale would make me a story-spoiler so I’ll merely say that the worm actually has the last word.

Nicola Killen’s amusing tale of acceptance and learning how to get along with others is just right for little humans learning to make their way in the wider world, perhaps having started at playgroup or nursery.

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).

The Lost Book

The Lost Book
Margarita Surnaite
Andersen Press

Of all the rabbits in Rabbit Town Henry is the only one who isn’t a book enthusiast; he much prefers real life adventures. Then one day when he discovers a book in the hedgerow, he finds himself drawn into an adventure of his very own, not in Rabbit world but in the world of humans.

He sets off to try and find the owner of the Lost Book and is puzzled to find that those he encounters have no interest in books, they’re all absorbed in their mobiles and seemingly oblivious to everything around them.

Feeling rather lost and beginning to lose hope, Henry starts reading the Lost Book and then an encounter takes place with a little girl. Getting lost isn’t so bad after all for, by the end of the afternoon a new friendship has been formed.

So much fun does Henry have with his friend that he forgets about his mission until the little girl’s mum appears and it’s time for her to go.

What better parting thank you gift could he give to make sure his new friend doesn’t forget him than the Lost Book?

Back home in Rabbit Town that evening Henry’s family greet him in relief and come night-time, a certain little rabbit tells his first ever bedtime story.

An enchanting meta-fictive tale with a meta-fictive poser in its tail that little ones may or may not wish to consider. Doubtless though they’ll become absorbed in Margarita Surnaite’s debut picture book with its techno-saturated visuals be they double page scenes, comic strip sequences or a combination of both full page and vignette strips that on occasion reminded me of   Edward Hopper’s work.

I Want a Bunny!

I Want a Bunny!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

The awesome Tony Ross’s series of stories about a certain young royal goes ever on.

The latest on the list of the Little Princess’s demands is a bunny. This is on account of her recent visit to her ‘awful’ friend Petronella who has a really cute one.

As usual everyone rallies round to see what can be done. The Gardener gives Little Princess a stick insect, nothing surely could be less trouble than Sticky; but the princess manages to lose it almost immediately.

She finds the Admiral’s goldfish boring and that too disappears.

The kitchen cat disappears rather than be pampered by the Princess and that leaves her young highness thoroughly fed up.

Finally the Queen agrees to her wish for a bunny  so long as the Little Princess cares for it properly, and they go and buy ‘Chalky’ from the pet shop.

Initially things go well but then the Little Princess decides to invite Petronella over to see her new acquisition. The outcome is a forgotten royal rabbit

and a new demand from you know who.

Fortunately as always, the King knows just how to deal with matters … well, almost!

Another winner for fans of the Little Princess and with her new tale she’ll likely win a host of new enthusiasts too.

Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!

Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!
Sally Doran and Rachael Saunders
Andersen Press

So proud are they of their daughter Princess Hannah, on account of her impeccable manners, that King Monty and Queen Alice decide she should receive the very best birthday present ever. And what could be better than a huge pudding-making machine?

Come the evening and her birthday ball, the princess soon has delicious cakes and puddings issuing from her fantastic birthday gift. The machine however has a most unwelcome upshot where the birthday girl is concerned, for it exposes the fact that she’s never before been asked to share.

This is something the Queen is ready to acknowledge.

Fortunately though, her young guests are quick to deal with the issue and while the princess is throwing a tantrum, they start pressing the buttons. Then before you can say “blackbird pie” everyone is happily playing together, turning cogwheels and pressing knobs, concocting the most delectable sweetie treats, not least of which is a massive meringue nigh on 20 feet tall.

All is most definitely well that ends well on that particular night as the guests depart thoroughly impressed with young Hannah; and as for the meringue, well that certainly took some eating.

Told in delicious unfaltering rhyme – how debut author Sally Doran managed to sustain it so well throughout is amazing – this is a totally yummy confection. Perhaps it’s down to her penchant for meringues.

A right royal romp for sure made all the more scrumptious by Rachael Saunders’ effervescent scenes of partying and puddingy treats. I’m still drooling.

#Goldilocks

#Goldilocks
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

This series of Jeanne and Tony’s on Internet safety for children goes from strength to strength; #Goldilocks is number three and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Subtitled ‘A Hashtag Cautionary Tale’ it is exactly that with Jeanne delivering her vital message in the jaunty manner of a 21st century Belloc.

Like so many children these days, Goldilocks has a smartphone and is active on social media. Anxious to gain more likes for her posts, the young miss starts posting photos of her family and much more.

After a while though her followers’ enthusiasm wanes and she becomes desperate: something shocking is required to revive interest.

Off she skips to a certain cottage in the woods and takes a selfie as she breaks in;

another #PipingHot and a third breaking a chair #Fun!

And she doesn’t stop at that.

Inevitably it all ends in disaster for Goldilocks who receives a stint of community service at a certain bears’ residence; but worse than that, those photos she so recklessly posted of her thievery and destruction live on for all to see. And that takes us to the final moral words of caution: ‘ … think twice before you send!’

Absolutely hilarious both verbally and visually – the two work so superbly well together – this story is written from an understanding of the attraction for children of social media and is ideal for sharing and discussion at home or in school.

Above all though, it’s a smashing book.

I’ll Love You …

I’ll Love You …
Kathryn Cristaldi and Kristyna Litten
Andersen Press

I doubt little ones these days are familiar with the phrase used on the opening page of this rhyming book, ‘I’ll love you till the cows come home’ but they’ll love the silliness of the whole thing. There are already countless books whose theme is the love a parent has for a child but this one is altogether zanier, without the saccharine sweetness that many of the sub’ Guess How Much I Love You’ kind have.

The nine verses each tell the reader they’ll be loved until … with each of the scenarios becoming increasingly outlandish. ‘I will love you till the frogs ride past / on big-wheeled bikes going superfast … // in a circus for seahorses, shrimp and bass. / I will love you till the frogs ride past.’

Or ‘till ‘ the deer dance by’ (sporting dapper top hats); till ‘ the geese flap down’ (with gourmet marshmallows);

till ‘the ants march in’ and then some, for there’s no end to this love.

The litany concludes as all good just before bed tales do, in a sequence of perfect bedtime scenes.

The catchy rhythm of Kathryn Cristaldi’s telling combined with Krystyna Litten’s portrayal of the animals’ exuberant activities make this a wonderfully silly way to assure your child they’re forever loved.

Alternatively, with Valentine’s Day coming up you might also consider it as an altogether different way of telling that special someone, ‘I’ll love you forever.’

When Sadness Comes To Call

When Sadness Comes To Call
Eva Eland
Andersen Press

Sadness can come at any time, right out of the blue and no matter how hard you try to avoid it or want to hide it away; it can become so overwhelming that you feel as though it has completely taken you over, mind and body.

In this, Eva Eland’s debut picture book she portrays Sadness as an amorphous physical entity, somewhat resembling a Babapapa, that comes a-knocking at the front door of a child.

Better than shutting it away and letting it frighten you, is to acknowledge it by giving it a name, then just let it be for a while. Perhaps there are things you can enjoy doing together – drawing, listening to music or drinking hot chocolate, or venturing outside for a walk.

Changing your response to this feeling is what’s required, rather than trying to change the feeling itself: be mindful of the sadness for things will get better.

Children’s mental well-being has become head-line news of late with more and more children, even young ones having problems with mental health. There are plenty of picture books about anger and how to cope with it, but far fewer on the topic of sadness or melancholy so this book is especially welcome. It’s sensitively written, empathetic and ultimately uplifting.

Eva’s hand-drawn illustrations for which she uses a three colour palette effectively portray the child’s changing emotions.

Her endpapers too show two different responses: in the front ones people are ignoring their sadness and look depressed, while the back endpapers show the same characters interacting with sadness and feeling better.

A book to share and discuss at home or in school. Armed with the knowledge offered therein young children have a tool to use with their own sadness next time it comes visiting.

I Was Made For You

I Was Made For You
David Lucas
Andersen Press

As soon as a woman finishes knitting a soft toy cat, “Why was I made” asks the creature. “It’s a surprise,” comes the response.
The woman gift-wraps the cat with a “no peeping” instruction. The woolly animal remains curious as he’s placed under the Christmas tree.

All is darkness and quiet. Cat peeps out of his wrapping and discovers a gift tag bearing the name DAISY. He’s puzzled for that is not his name and once more asks as he looks out at the darkness, “Why was I made?’

Surprisingly DARKNESS responds telling him to wait until morning. Cat isn’t willing to and having freed himself entirely, wanders through the door and out into the night in search of a satisfactory answer. Unbeknown to the answer seeker though, he catches a thread on a nail protruding from the floor.

He continues asking the same question to steps (down which he skids); the whirling snow, rock, stars, wind, and trees.

Thoughtful responses come from each one, until day dawns and then in the morning light, Cat realises that he’s growing shorter; he’s barely half of what he was.

Sun is the recipient of his final existential “Why was I born?” From the ensuing dialogue, Cat deduces that he’s intended as a gift for Daisy.

By now though, all that remains of our answer seeker is a long, loose woollen thread.

Meanwhile back in the house, presents are being opened, but there’s no present for Daisy. There are clues though which mother and child follow through the snowy landscape with Mummy winding the strand into a large ball.

This she uses to make Cat ‘good as new’.

David Lucas combines a folklore style narrative with folk art style illustrations, many beautifully bordered as in A Letter for Bear to fashion an unusual, seemingly simple tale that is likely to generate philosophical musings on behalf of young listeners and readers.

This would make a gorgeous offering for a thoughtful child this Christmas season.

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny

Santa Claus vs The Easter Bunny
Fred Blunt
Andersen Press

When you see the name Fred Blunt you know you’re in for some deliciously silly nonsense and so it is in this holiday themed picture book.

How on earth have the Easter Bunny and Santa managed to get themselves into the same book was my immediate reaction to this one especially as neither of them seem particularly pleased to see one another.

Oddly enough though, the two are neighbours: Santa is inclined to jolliness, the Easter Bunny to the grumps. Grumps brought on by the fact that the Easter Bunny does the entire Easter egg job totally alone from chocolate making to delivering the eggs.
Moreover, nobody gives him so much as a thank you for his mammoth efforts. Can you blame the guy for feeling down?

In contrast Santa has a huge army of elf helpers in his toy factory and all those reindeer to whizz him around the globe when it comes to delivery time. And then there are all those wonderful gifts left for him by grateful children the world over. Fairness just doesn’t come into it.

Time for some strategic planning thinks Bunny and after a while into his furry head comes a spendid Santa-sabotaging plot.

Having set the plan in motion, our long-eared pal cannot wait for Christmas to come and on the all-important eve his head is awash with eager anticipation.

Next morning, yes, there’s some truly shocking news on the TV;

but what of the children’s reactions? And furthermore how will Santa respond?

It’s all yummily satisfying, not only for the characters concerned, but equally for readers who will relish this smashing story no matter the season.

Guaranteed giggles at every turn of the page with Fred’s crackingly comical illustrations.

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Here’s a book that leaves you with a warm glow tinged with sadness. Published in time for the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, Michael Foreman presents in his own unique style, the true story of Sergeant Stubby, the dog who served in WW1 and became the most decorated dog of the war.

His story is told by Corporal Robert Conroy, an American soldier who adopts Stubby during training in Connecticut, and with a little help of his friends, manages to smuggle the dog aboard the troop ship and all the way to the front line in France.

It’s a tale that brings home to readers the terrible dangers faced by, and amazing bravery of, those who fought in WW1.

Stubby is badly injured

but manages to survive thanks to the care he received alongside the wounded troops and he’s back in action on the day peace is declared.

It’s an enthralling read, with a happy ending. Sadly though, that wasn’t the case for so many of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in that a brutal war. It’s so important that we continue to remember these men, particularly now as there are so few war veterans remaining alive. It’s through such superbly told and illustrated books as this that one hopes we will never forget.

Thanks to Foreman’s wonderful scenes, Stubby and his soldier friends will linger in our minds long after this treasure of a book has been set aside.

Share it widely, pause to remember, and give thanks for the contribution those who served in both World Wars made to our all too fragile peace

An Anty-War Story

An Anty-War Story
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Of all the residents of Antworld, there’s only one little ant with a name. Meet the new born Douglas. Douglas watches the other ants carrying food and longs to fit in and be part of that ‘beautiful line’. But that isn’t the role the Chief Ant has in mind for him; Douglas’s destiny lies elsewhere. He too will march in line but instead of food, he will carry a rifle. Douglas is to be a uniform wearing soldier charged with defending Antworld and making it a safer place for all the little ants.

Douglas is proud of his uniform and his assigned role, as well as the banner-bearing band that marches behind the ‘rifle carrying ants’. But then war does come.

It comes in human form: shells WHIZZ and with a BANG Antworld is completely obliterated.

Ross shows this in a devastating shift from the colourful pageantry as the explosion spread is followed by a gloomy grey view of advancing WW1 soldiers with mustard gas swirling across the landscape and below a smudge of red in one corner, the words “The end.’

Then follows an equally sombre monument to the fallen.

That only serves to bring home the awful reality of how war can change lives in a single instant – one flash and it’s all over for some, or many.

Sobering and intensely powerful, a reading of this allegorical tale is certain to bring on discussion about war wherever it’s shared.

How To Make Friends With a Ghost

How to Make Friends with a Ghost
Rebecca Green
Andersen Press

Written in the style of a guide book, this is a fun story to have at Halloween or any other time – perhaps not bedtime though, if you have an impressionable small child.
Herein we learn how to identify a ghost – very important if you want to make friends with one. Those depicted are of the especially endearing, somewhat whimsical kind.

Divided into parts, we look first at ‘Ghost Basics’, starting with, not to flee from a ghost should one choose to greet you – that’s on account of their sensitivity. Instead appear friendly and bestow upon the apparition a beautific smile.
Then, should it decide to follow you home, welcome it in, if needs be helped by a gentle blow (of the breathy variety I hasten to add). And, it’s especially important to keep your hands clear just in case you accidentally put one of them right through and cause the thing a stomach ache.
“Ghost Care’ describes feeding – preferably plenty of its favourite treats – cooking together …

and recommended ghost-tempting fare. Think I’d pass on sharing any of that.

Recommended activities come next. Apparently ghosts have a special liking for collecting items such as worms, leaves and acorns; reading scary stories is another favourite pastime,

and of course, joke telling – particularly of the ‘knock knock sort.

The more obvious Halloween activities are included, naturally. So too are bedtime considerations (eerie hums and wails make great lullabies); places to hide your visitor should someone come calling; hazards – avoid using your ghost as a nose wiper; banning ghost help with the washing and most crucially, ‘Do not let your ghost get eaten! (in mistake for whipped cream or marshmallows perhaps)

Part Three comprises ideas for life together as you both age for, as we hear, a ghost friend is a forever friend. And to end with a quote from Dr Phantoneous Spookel: “If you’ve been lucky enough to be found / by a ghost that calls you its ‘friend’, / Then your friendship will last / for it knows no bounds – / you’ll be friends even after the end.”

Now that’s a spooky, albeit tenderly poignant ending, if ever.

With somewhat sophisticated gouache, ink and pencil illustrations, executed in an appropriately subtle colour palette, even down to the endpapers and some of the printed text, the whole ghostie experience, imbued as it is with a sense of mischief, is enormous fun.

With a debut picture book this good, I look forward to seeing what will follow.

Hungry Babies

Hungry Babies
Fearne Cotton and Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press

The adorable babes and their associated adults who entertained readers with their yoga activities now share mealtimes with us and they’re a very hungry group of little ones.

Going through the day, we start with Honey enthusiastically devouring her breakfast while big brother Rex gets dog Bingo to help him finish his toast.

The next visit is to Emily who unfortunately isn’t up to eating anything at all on account of her ‘poorly tum’.

Then comes Prakash, out with his granny at the market where most of their purchases go in the basket, but one creates a mango juice design on the little boy’s T-shirt.

We take a look at lunch time both indoors (with Kit) and outside with Sophie and her mum;
then move on to Maya’s birthday celebrations at the café where things get just a tad out of hand before order is eventually restored.

Teatime too looks full of fun if what we see at George’s and Winnie’s homes are anything to go by;

so also does Maya’s birthday tea in the garden when all the friends gather together.

Evening brings a bedtime snuggle up together, milk and story: what better way to end the day for Hungry Babies.

An altogether irresistible rhyming treat from Fearne Cotton with equally engaging Sheena Dempsey scenes to share with your young ones.

Sorrell and the Sleepover

Sorrell and the Sleepover
Corrinne Averiss and Susan Varley
Andersen Press

Have you ever kept something about yourself or family a secret from a best friend so as not to feel inferior? That’s what one  of the main characters in this lovely story decides to do.

It revolves around best friends Sage and Sorrel (squirrels). Pretty much everything about the two is the same: they like the same games, sing the same songs and say the same things at the same time. Even their tails have identical stripes.

Sorrel is thrilled when Sage invites her to stay at her house for a sleepover; rather than feeling nervous about her first night away from home, Sorrel is excited as she packs her overnight nutshell.

Sage’s home is impressive, a huge branching conifer that includes nests for her aunties and her cousins as well as Sage’s immediate family. But as the two friends snuggle up for the night, Sage’s comment about looking forward to a reciprocal visit causes Sorrel to worry so much about the difference between the two homes that she decides not to invite her friend back. Best friends don’t have differences, she tells herself.

Sage however is persistent and so Sorrel invents a series of excuses: a poorly mum, a burst pipe; the painting of their home resulting in the newly pink leaves being too wet for visitors to stay.

It’s this pinkness however that finally puts paid to further inventive excuses on Sorrel’s part. It also results in the truth being revealed about her home.

Sage, being a true and empathetic friend, isn’t at all concerned about their difference; to her it’s a cause for celebration.

Telling it with tenderness and understanding, Corrinne Averiss has created a story of two trees and two squirrels that will particularly resonate with under confident children who have done the same as Sorrel, but it’s a book that needs to be shared and discussed widely in schools and early years settings.

Susan Varley echoes the warmth of the telling in her beautiful illustrations. I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since Badger’s Parting Gifts: her art never fails to delight and so it is here: delicate, detailed and utterly enchanting, every spread.

The Station Mouse

The Station Mouse
Meg McLaren
Andersen Press

Maurice is a Station Mouse bound by the rules in the Station Mouse Handbook. The first rule states ‘A Station Mouse must remain unseen.’ The second is, ‘A Station Mouse must never go out in the daytime.’ Rule number three says, ‘A Station Mouse must never approach passengers.’
Clearly these rules are there for the benefit of humans, particularly that large majority who DO NOT like mice.

Now Maurice being a rule-abiding, recent employee of the railway spends his days (after sleeping late) hiding away and, it’s a pretty solitary life that gives him opportunities to contemplate such things as why nobody ever comes back to enquire about their lost things.

His nights in contrast, when nobody is about, are busy times when the mouse is occupied collecting all the items that have been left behind during the day.

One day Maurice spots a small child dropping a comforter; but what about that third and most important rule? Perhaps, if he values his life it would be safer to remain out of sight like the handbook says.

What about though, if you are absolutely sure that the lost thing IS a wanted thing? Maybe after all, it’s right to break the rule just occasionally whatever the consequences …

Seems there’s a price to pay for so doing which makes Maurice decide to keep to himself henceforward.

But then we are met with rule number four:’ If the bell rings, pull the alarm and return to your duties.’ That’s because a station mouse must not under any circumstances answer the bell – or should this rule too be ignored for it appears that the business about passengers not liking mice might just have some exceptions.

Time for a new rule and perhaps a different modus operandi …

Make sure you peruse both endpapers; they’re an important part of this cracking book. Its story really resonated with me as someone, who as an educator, is frequently accused of being a rule breaker or subverter. Good on Maurice for following his heart rather than sticking to the rule book.
Knowing when so to do is a vital lesson for children and one I believe they need to start thinking about right from their early days in nursery or even before.

Meg McLaren just keeps on getting better and better; this is my favourite of her stories so far. There are quirky little jokes, both visual and verbal wherever you look – even on the back cover. As well as creating superb characters, there’s an impressive sensitivity about everything she draws and she has an amazing eye for detail.

Belinda Brown

Belinda Brown
David McKee
Andersen Press

Belinda Brown is fanatical about bananas, insisting on dining upon them at every meal and in-between times too, even going to the lengths of keeping a spare in her sock should she feel peckish. None of her family or friends shares her ultra-enthusiasm for the fruit; in fact her friendship with best pal, Felicity Jones is terminated thanks to the curvy fruit.

So convinced are her parents that the child is merely going through a faddy phase that they aren’t troubled by this over-indulgence:

it’s left to her Grandma to worry about Belinda’s obsession.
She becomes increasingly troubled until eventually on a walk together, she begs her granddaughter to cut down on the bananas for fear her body should start to mimic the form of same.

Belinda has no wish for her back-bone to take on a banana-shape and so, rather than give up what she loves so much, the girl tries her own method of offsetting any possible curvature that might occur.

The results however, are not quite what she’s hoping for …

Rhyming nonsense from McKee to tickle the taste buds and bring on the giggles. Belinda’s a totally zany character but you’ll also love her small brother Bryan, the balletic, skinny Aunt Sally and the banana-sharing toddler twins, all portrayed in McKee’s signature style.

I Want My Dad! / With My Daddy / I Love You Dino-Daddy

I Want My Dad!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Tony Ross’s latest slice of humour, Little Princess style, has the heroine considering her dad the King, making comparisons with other dads and finding him wanting in many respects. He’s much shorter that they are, is useless at baking, gets wheezy in the presence of any animal large or small, is totally inept in the water

and unlike the Gardener who takes his offspring on forest walks, gets lost in his own castle.

I wish my dad was as much fun as other dads!” she cries to the Maid. … He’s useless.

Her response is to teach the young complainer. First it’s pony riding, then baking, followed by swimming and walking in the woods, none of which are a resounding success. Our Little Princess is left feeling cold, decidedly damp, with hurting teeth and head, and exceedingly hungry.

In short, she feels absolutely useless.

As she heads for home who should happen along but his royal highness out walking and when he hears about her failures, just like all dads, he knows just what to say to put everything right.

With My Daddy
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

In this sturdily built book, a little girl talks about how she feels when she’s with her dad.
He arouses the whole gamut of emotions: a hug makes her feel like ‘a little bird in a warm, comfy nest, … safe.’

He can also make her feel unafraid, ‘brave’ in fact, ‘daring’, ‘confident’ because he inspires self-belief,

being ‘adventurous’ particularly when it comes to swimming, ‘playful’ on the most ordinary of days, ‘calm’, and ‘excited’ especially when he plays at being a monster. Sometimes though he invokes anger but it’s a storm that quickly passes thanks to Dad’s gentle calming hands on the narrator’s back.
Interestingly we never see the complete dad, or even indeed his face. Rather it’s only huge hands, or feet and legs on the final page, that are ever visible. In this way, Christine Roussey emphasises the huge amount of love he bestows upon the small narrator and the scope of his influencing power upon her feelings and emotions.

I Love You Dino-Daddy
Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

According to his offspring, Dino-Dad is a pretty cool guy with all manner of useful attributes. He’s full of fun on trips to the park, , ace at building with blocks, great at playing monsters, pretend wrestling, giving pony rides and doing magic tricks (especially where cake is concerned) ; he’s even great to play with – albeit unknowingly – while taking a nap.

As described in Mark Sperring’s jolly rhyming text and portrayed, with his dapper blue shoes and striped scarf, in Sam Lloyd’s exuberant illustrations, this Dad is a doted-on dino. who is sure to charm your little ones; and this is a lovely fun-filled, love-filled book for dino-littles to give to a dad on his special day be that Father’s Day, a birthday or for that matter, any other day they want to bring a Daddy smile.

Testing Friendships – Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories / Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury

Fox & Chick: The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Chronicle Books

Let me introduce Chick and Fox. Fox is an equable character who enjoys reading, cooking and painting; Chick, in contrast, is totally irrepressible – a bit of a pain to say the least. Surprisingly these two are friends. They star in three comic style episodes aimed at those just taking off as readers.

The first story (which gives the book its title) is I think the funniest. Chick calls on Fox, gains entry asking to use the bathroom and then proceeds to throw a party for his pals therein.

In the second story, Good Soup, Chick gives Fox a hard time about his vegetarian predilection wondering why he eschews frogs, small furry creatures, grasshoppers and er, little birds as ingredients for his soup.

Finally, Sit Still focuses on Chick’s total inability to do just that , leaping up every few minutes for a cushion, food and a drink while Fox endeavours to paint his portrait.

How long-suffering Fox puts up with Chick is anybody’s guess: – shades of Lobel’s Frog and Toad here – but their interactions are highly amusing, the text very readable and the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolour are wonderfully expressive and enormously engaging.

Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Andersen Press

I’ve been a huge admirer of Stewart and Riddell’s Rabbit and Hedgehog since A Little Bit of Winter (one of the four tales included here) was published about twenty years ago. If you’ve not met these two enchanting characters then this book of four stories is a great opportunity to get to know these two and the challenging nature of their friendship: one is awake all day and the other all night.

In the first neither of the best friends knows the date of his own birthday let alone each other’s. To be on the safe side they decide to celebrate the very next day and each goes about finding a very special gift to give the other.

Rabbit’s Wish is the second story but when he wishes that hedgehog will stay awake so they can spend a whole day together, the outcome is not quite what was anticipated.

In the third episode a remembering game tests the friendship between the two protagonists but an accident serves to remind them of the strength of their bond.

The final A Little Bit of Winter sees the friends facing another challenge. As Hedgehog prepares to hibernate he carves a message on the bark of an oak tree asking the somewhat forgetful Rabbit to save him a little bit of winter so he can find out what the season he’ll sleep through is really like.

Despite the chilly nature of the season, it’s a truly heart-warming story and like the others, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.

Looking After William

Looking After William
Eve Coy
Andersen Press

Brilliantly observed and full of humour is Eve Coy’s debut picture book.

It’s narrated by the small child through whose eyes we see what happens when she takes it upon herself to ‘be mummy’ for a day to her dad, William.

How efficiently she adopts the parental role while of course, carrying on with all the other important jobs that mothers have – drawing and colouring, organising a tea party for the toys in her life, or block building.

She’s so matter of fact: ‘William is full of energy and needs lots of exercise. … He needs so much attention …

Sometimes he just needs a little rest.’

How perceptively and enchantingly portrayed is their entire day in those gorgeous inky scenes of love and affection, every one of which is sheer adorableness in every way.

Assuredly this is a book that will appeal to both children and their parents, the latter will particularly appreciate how the ‘mummy’ is able to see potential career opportunities for her beloved and ‘very clever’ William …

Young children love to play at being ‘mum’ either with their toys or siblings, but this is a whole different take on the subject.
I can’t wait to see what comes next from this wonderfully insightful artist; meanwhile I intend to share this one widely.

Not Just a Book / A Couch for Llama

Not Just a Book
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press

A book is for reading, yes certainly, but according to Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross’s latest offering, books can sometimes be so much more.
On occasion they might serve as hats, or make a tent for a cat, prevent a table from wobbling. A book makes a good tunnel for your toy train, can become an extra block for building with,

even perhaps a flower press.
This multi-purpose object is the perfect fly-swatter …

or protector of your drink from marauding wasps.

More important though than any of these additional uses, and that’s the real message herein, books have the power to affect how you feel;

to help you go to sleep, to educate; the best are never forgotten and best of all, a book is something to read and love …

Silly? Yes, Fun? Yes.

Jeanne Willis’s brief rhyming text and Tony Ross’s wonderful illustrations – look out for the mischievous cat on every page – make for an enjoyable and playful message about the importance of books.

A Couch for Llama
Leah Gilbert
Sterling

The Lago family absolutely love their old couch: it’s been the site of many good together times but now a new one is much needed. Off they go in the car to the furniture shop where they find the perfect replacement.

On the way home however, something happens that results in their new item of furniture ending up in Llama’s field. Llama is by nature a curious creature and so he starts to investigate this new arrival. He sniffs it, greets it and even tries sharing his lunch with it but none of these moves elicits any response. Llama tries lunching on the couch instead but it tastes awful and it’s too heavy to move.
The couch is useless, is his conclusion so Llama decides to ignore the object.
This unsurprisingly becomes exceedingly boring and so the exasperated animal leaps onto it and suddenly comes understanding …

By this time the owners of his new lounger have returned to claim their lost item but Llama refuses to budge. There’s only one option that will work for one and all: now what might that be? …
In her debut picture book Leah Gilbert mixes the realistic and the ridiculous with just the right degree of each for the story to work, but the real strength is in her visuals: in particular the scenes of Llama and his couch encounters are hilarious.

After The Fall

After The Fall
Dan Santat
Andersen Press

Most young children and adults are familiar with the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty and now author/illustrator Dan Santat has created a story telling what happened after that great fall of Humpty’s.

No he didn’t remain a splatted mess unable to be repaired.
Instead, in this self-narrated tale, the famous egg relates how he undergoes a long process of healing and recovery that begins once those king’s men have done their best with glue and bandages.

Physical recovery is one thing, but Humpty is suffering from acute vertigo, so much so that he now sleeps on the floor beside his bunk bed and his favourite breakfast cereals stored on the top shelf of the supermarket are out of reach.

Worst of all though is that Humpty is an avid ornithologist and absolutely loved that erstwhile seat of his atop the wall from where he used to watch his feathered friends.

Eventually however he settles for a ground-level view and it’s while looking upwards one day that he spies in the sky something that gives him an idea.

After considerable trials and tribulations,

Humpty eventually fashions the perfect flier of a paper plane; not quite the same as being up in the sky with the birds but ‘close enough’ he tells us. But then the plane lands up on top of a wall. ‘Accidents happen. They always do.’ says our narrator.

Absolutely terrified but full of determination, slowly but surely Humpty climbs the wall.

As someone who is terrified of heights, I really felt for him as he faced his fear, finally making it to the very top of that ladder. Once there he says triumphantly ‘I was no longer afraid.

That though is not quite how the story ends for then comes a final twist. Now the narrator has undergone an inner change that enables him to release himself once and for all; after all’s said and done, an egg doesn’t remain trapped in a shell for ever more: a right of passage must occur for something even better awaits …
This is so much more than just a ‘what comes next’ episode of a Mother Goose favourite.
Santal presents themes of fearfulness, anxiety, determination and ultimately, transcendence and transformation through the combination of his spare first person narrative and his powerful scenes, made so affecting through the changing perspectives and use of shadow.

Read the Book, Lemmings!

Read the Book, Lemmings!
Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora
Andersen Press

Having seen it in the catalogue, I eagerly awaited the arrival of a copy of this latest comedic offering from Dyckman and OHora, creators of the wonderful Wolfie the Bunny and Horrible Bear! It more than lives up to its promise.

The book features three lemmings of the particularly impressionable kind, a whale that doubles up as a container ship, S.S.Cliff , its polar bear captain, PB by name, and first mate Foxy.
The story actually starts on the front endpaper where a sign floating on an iceberg informs, ‘ lemmings: small fuzzy, illiterate rodents who share the icy North with arctic foxes and polar bears. People used to think lemmings jumped off cliffs. Now we know they don’t.’

Close to the iceberg is a cliff and guess what: a lemming jumps proclaiming at the same time “Wonder what that says.” “Me too,” replies a second lemming. “Ditto!” says a third.
The trio lands up aboard S.S. Cliff whereon Foxy has just settled down with his book entitled ‘Everything About Lemmings’. “Huh!” he announces, “Says here, lemmings don’t jump off cliffs.” The lemmings hear just a single word: a four-lettered one beginning with j and …

Foxy requests the use of PB’s bucket and fishes the creatures out, bestowing upon them hats and names – Jumper, Me Too and Ditto, and urging them to “Read the book,” before settling down once more with said text.

A few further foolhardy leaps follow, each one increasingly reckless … “Sinking! Sinking fast!” / “Me too!” / “Glub!

until Foxy’s “WHY didn’t you read the book, lemmings?!” finally gets to the crux of the matter: the lemmings can’t read.

Time for some reading lessons …

After which, er that’s for you to discover when you ‘Read the book!’ (And, be sure to check out the final endpapers.)

Ame Dykman’s brilliantly mischievous text is an absolute treat for readers aloud and listeners alike; and the deadpan humour of OHora’s illustrations with their fun details and supremely expressive faces and body language, is the perfect counterpart for this madcap romp. I love the colour palette.

If this isn’t a superb demonstration of the importance and delights of reading, then one reviewer at least will jump off the nearest cliff.

Ten Fat Sausages

Ten Fat Sausages
Michelle Robinson and Tor Freeman
Andersen Press

Come into the kitchen. There a delicious drama is about to unfold.

Atop the cooker, sizzling in a frying pan sit the ten fat sausages of the title.

All of a sudden one explodes with a ‘POP’ and another, alarmed at the event vows not to meet the same fate, and hops out and across the worktop. At first all is ticketty boo but then disaster strikes …

On goes the rhyming tale with the total of sausages rapidly diminishing two by two thanks to some reckless testing of a liquidiser switch, a flying leap onto a ceiling fan, an encounter with the resident moggy who proves to be in hungry mood,

and some foolhardy cavorting that leads the final succulent pair, (with high hopes of their escape plan,)

into a hiding place within “a squishy thing.”

Michelle Robinson’s yummy story based on the much-loved counting down rhyme is sure to become a firm favourite with early years listeners. The irresistible join-in-ability of the text with its oft repeated “HANG on a minute! … Well, I won’t go BANG and I won’t go POP.” and ‘And Sausage Number Two, (Four,Six or Eight) went hop. hop, hop.’ will ensure a supremely noisy story session wherever this is shared with young audiences.

Tor Freeman’s visuals of the whole sorry saga are a visual treat: how she managed to impart such deliciously gigglesome expressions on those bangers is a wonder in itself: every spread is a flavourful slice of comedy.

It certainly had me in fits of giggles; but then, I’m a vegetarian.

The Weaver

The Weaver
Qian Shi
Andersen Press

The creator of this lovely debut picture book got her inspiration from a spider’s web she discovered with a piece of leaf caught in the middle.

Stanley spider is a weaver of webs; he’s a collector too. The things he collects – seeds, leaves, twigs and other ephemera are carefully woven into his webs.

Then disaster strikes in the form of a downpour that washes away both Stanley’s home and his precious collection, save for a single leaf.

Stanley attempts to secure this leaf but the wind whisks it away leaving Stanley with nothing.
Throughout the night he labours and come morning he’s fashioned something beautiful …

Yes, the web traces the memories, but with those treasures etched in his heart, it’s time for Stanley to move on …

Simply and beautifully told, but it’s the illustrations which embroider and add nuance to the text, furnishing the rich details of Stanley’s journey and his creativity.

A book that’s rich in potential in a nursery or classroom setting too where children might look first at real spider’s webs (a fine water spray will make the details of a web more visible) and then become web weavers like Stanley, adding their own special objects to their creations.

The Bad Mood and The Stick

The Bad Mood and the Stick
Lemony Snicket and Matt Forsythe
Andersen Press

We all succumb to a bad mood from time to time and most of us know how contagious that can be.
So it is here with young Curly who chooses to take her storminess out on her younger brother, Napoleon, by poking him with a stick. That cheers her up but the bad mood is transferred to her mother and thence to carpenter Lou, who ends up in a dry cleaner’s shop.; but, Mrs Durham, the shop’s boss, confronted by the sight of Lou sans dungarees finds herself singularly unaffected by the bad mood

which in fact, sails right out the window and off around the world.
And the stick? It too has a contagious effect; but it is cheer that is slowly spread by the spiky object and, once colourfully clad, it takes pride of place for a while in the twisting narrative,

gaining ultimately, a life of its own and also, bringing into the tale, Bert, proprietor of the ice-cream parlour.
Snicket’s off-beat tale twists and turns in wonderful ways as it reveals a chain of surprises: there’s even a wedding attended by the entire cast of characters, human, animals and even – look carefully – a certain coloured blob …

Despite the prominent Bad Mood character, there’s a great sense of community about the whole thing, visually documented in Forsythe’s deliciously hued, retro-style illustrations of events large and not so large.
If you want a cure for a case of bad moodiness, this is absolutely perfect and even if you don’t, it’s a terrific read aloud for a wide range of audiences.