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.