The Rainbow Connection / The Happy Mask

Here are two stories very much of our COVID times both kindly sent for review by Little Steps Publishing.

The Rainbow Connection
Vanessa Parsons and Angela Perrini

During the first lockdown in particular, rainbows were an uplifting symbol of hope and a means of saying thank you to the countless key workers who have bravely continued doing their jobs throughout the pandemic. Vanessa Parsons’ story, though set in Australia, is one that youngsters everywhere will relate to. It’s narrator is a little girl who shares with readers her year’s experiences, mostly rainbow related.

Her elder sister creates a lovely chalk rainbow across the family driveway; she spots rainbow drawings in the windows of houses when she walks James, the family dog; her Grandma wears a rainbow badge during a video call. 

Then their new neighbours leave a rainbow hued thank you card. This prompts the narrator to respond with a box of chalks to the newcomers. And so it goes on with more and more people finding innovative, creative ways to use rainbows as a means of communicating positivity. 

The narrator’s family celebrate her little brother’s fourth birthday with a rainbow cake; there’s even rainbow bread in the bakery. And an old lady who lives nearby really surprises everyone with her funky new hair colours.

As the lockdown weeks turn to months, everyone takes advantage of the small things we’d normally take for granted, like being able to go for walks, but most of all they look forward to the return of normal life.

With a recipe for rainbow cake and a promise of 10 per cent of author royalties going to NHS Charities Together, this is a lovely story to share both now, as well as later as a post pandemic memory, be that at home or in nursery/ KS1 classrooms.

The Happy Mask
Aimee Chan and Angela Perrini

Maggie is bored and grumpy about staying indoors during a lockdown but the answer is in her own hands: she can do as her dad says, put on her mask and they can go for a walk to the shops. Eventually after a bad tempered explosion aimed at her dad she changes her mind, puts on what she terms her itchy mask and out she goes into the front garden to wait for Dad to join her. 

She peers over the fence into the next door garden and waves to Holly and baby Tommy but rather than smiling, he starts crying. Who is this strange-looking person peering at him?

But then a game of peek-a-boo reassures the little boy and by this time Dad is ready to leave. Maggie tells her dad about what just happened, complaining about her mask again and commenting, “And masks make people look mean.”

Dad has an idea and goes indoors again returning with a mirror and some marker pens and before long Maggie’s mask is transformed, her mood too. 

Comments from others on their walk lead to more masks being personalised by their owners. One such belonged to a friendly old lady sitting waiting for a bus who tells Maggie she’s trying to remain upbeat despite having not seen her grandchildren for ages. The girl’s suggestion excites the old lady and she gets to work using Maggie’s markers and mirror. 

What do you think her Dad might draw on his mask when they arrive back home after their walk?

Certainly this should bring a smile not only to young listeners but also their adult sharers: both are likely to have felt very much like Maggie and her Dad during lockdowns. This makes the story a great conversation starter as it gives both the child’s perspective and that of a parent.

Illustrator Angela Perrini uses a lot of different perspectives in her urban environment, showing effectively how social distancing is maintained between Maggie and her neighbours. Then in interactions with others outside her immediate family, there’s mention of hand sanitiser being used.

Harriet’s Expanding Heart

Harriet’s Expanding Heart
Rachel Brace and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

Harriet’s mum and dad are separated and for the little girl that means that in addition to two parents, she has two homes, two different bedrooms, one school and a cat Ginger. Moving between the two homes also means she has to cope with two different sets of rules and routines. No matter what though, she always feels both much loved and safe.

Then one day on a visit to her dad’s, he shares some news: he and his new partner Emily are going to move in together. ‘We’re going to be a step family,’ he tells his daughter. For Harriet this also means a new little stepbrother, Cooper. This announcement leaves her feeling apprehensive and anxious. There follow explanations about what this all means that only leave Harriet with a whole lot of worries whizzing around in her head: what if Dad chooses Emily and Cooper over me? being just one.

After the move some things change, others remain the same for Harriet who experiences feelings being an outsider and sometimes even anger.

It’s going to take time to get used to living with a grown up who isn’t either your mum or dad.

However, little by little with sympathetic understanding and reassurances from her Dad, Harriet begins to feel much less anxious and as her mum explains, ‘there is no right or wrong way to feel’ but no matter what, both her parents will continue to love her very much. She in turn gradually sees that being a member of a stepfamily doesn’t change how much she loves her mum or her dad; it’s more that her heart, along with her family has grown a little bit bigger.

Written by a family psychologist, Rachel’s story, with its straightforward easy to understand language, is especially apposite for new stepfamilies where there are young children. (The author also gives some helpful tips for parents and stepparents.) Angela Perrini really captures the gamut of emotions Harriet experiences during the upheaval in her life.

Pablo the Rescue Cat / Stupid Baby

Pablo the Rescue Cat
Charlotte Williams and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

What would you do if you were feeling just a little bit lonely? You might think of getting a pet and that is just what the little girl in this sweet story does. Off she goes with her mum to the animal shelter with the intention of finding something suitable.

As they walk around the shelter, she immediately falls for the pooches but quickly realises that leaving a dog home alone is a bad idea, so the helpful staff member moves on to the cat section and there, to her delight, the little girl finds the perfect moggy.

His name is Pablo and his previous owner has died.

WIth the adoption formalities done, Pablo can begin his new life and it’s not long before he’s starting to feel like one of the family. And so he remains; as the little girls grows up the friendship continues to flourish. No matter what mischief the animal gets up to, he’s won the heart of his adopter. for as she says, … “you rescued me too.”

Told through a rhyming text that occasionally creaks and scenes of feline felicity and domestic contentment, this gentle tale is a good introduction to what’s entailed in adopting a new pet. A percentage of profits from sales of the book will be donated to UK animal shelters.

Stupid Baby
Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press

Stephanie Blake’s rabbit Simon stars in a funny, somewhat anarchic take on new sibling jealousy.

Simon is far from pleased at being told to play quietly on account of the ‘tiny tiny little baby’ that’s been present in his home for a whole three days. Suppose he stays forever, worries big bro. who feels his own needs are being compromised.
When is the stupid baby going back to the hospital, is what he wants to know. But shock horror! The infant is there to stay forever.

That’s bad enough but come bedtime, Simon’s insecurity is evident. Suppose those big bad wolves lurking outside his window come in to attack him. He needs parental comfort in his hour of need but a rejection is all he receives from that quarter.

Suddenly though he discovers a most surprising source of succour/support …

Great for sharing with the very young around the time of a new baby’s arrival. Despite his bad-mouthing of the babe, Simon is an endearing character whose charms endure no matter what. Stephanie’s bold, bright illustrations are hilarious and splendidly expressive.

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town Good Enough to Eat / My Grandma is 100

Here are two recent picture books from Little Steps Publishing

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town Good Enough to Eat
Maggie May Gordon and Margarita Levina

Imagine living somewhere where the only ‘shop’ is the front porch of your house. That’s how it is for Polly Profiterole, pancake maker par excellence who has mixed more pancakes than she cares to remember for way, way too long in a little town without a school, a bank, a pub or a church.

Then one night as she lies in bed Polly decides something must be done to change things. With her brain in over-drive she enlists the help of her husband and the following morning Polly bakes and Percy builds

the most delicious town you could ever envisage, from the Choco-Chip Church at the very top of the hill, all the way down to the Pork Pie Pub at the bottom with some yummy establishments in between including the Cup Cake Coffee Shop

and the Honey Roll Hairdresser (shame there’s no bookshop)., Finally of course, they make ‘Polly Profiterole’s Proper Pancake Parlour’.

Thus Polly and Percy co- created a unique little town that must surely have become a go-to destination instead of a drive right through one.

If your taste buds aren’t in overdrive after sharing this fun book with youngsters, then I’d be very surprised. Poet, Maggie May Gordon and illustrator Margarita Levina serve up a tale of teamwork and enterprise, that all began because despite everything, Polly never lost the ability to imagine.

My Grandma is 100
Aimee Chan and Angela Perrini

What a wonderfully warm book is this one narrated by a small child whose Grandma Edna (great grandma) is celebrating her 100th birthday.

Plenty of thought goes into getting the day just right. What kind of food can 100 year-old teeth cope with? What should the birthday cake be like? Then there’s the consideration of a suitable present for somebody who now lives in a special home with lots of other people and doesn’t really need anything.

Next morning with mounting excitement at the prospect of having thought of the perfect present, it’s time for the narrator and family to drive to Grandma’s special party. And what a wonderful celebration it is, especially with so many relations,

as well as Grandma’s letters from The Prime Minister, the Governor General and the Queen of England. Grandma Edna is some lady with three children, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

The author, Aimee Chan is the granddaughter in law of ‘Grandma Edna’ and wrote the book as a celebration of Edna Phillips’ life.

I love the way the narrator’s imaginings are given substance in some of Angela Perrini’s quirky illustrations.

Stars Before Bedtime / What’s in Your Mind Today?

Stars Before Bedtime
Claire Grace & Dr Jessamy Hibberd, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
Wide Eyed Editions

As the authors of this book, Claire Grace a writer/editor and clinical psychologist and writer Dr Jessamy Hibberd remind us in their introduction, it’s not always easy to fall asleep in our world of constant stimulation and establishing a bedtime routine can help enormously.

To that end they have created a combination of bedtime story, and mind and body-calming exercises to help youngsters wind down as they bid ‘goodbye to the wriggles and the fidgets’ before dropping off into peaceful slumbers.

Brief stories about the constellations of the night sky,

inspired by mythology, together with instructions for mindfulness exercises related to the particular story form the basic elements; those and Hannah Tolson’s surrounding visuals created with a restful colour palette, which contain a mix of the starry night sky with symbolic representation of the constellations

and homely images of the related physical exercises in a detailed bedroom setting. (An appropriately coloured lavender crescent moon symbol is used to indicate the relevant text for each exercise.)

Among the activities included are yoga style poses, stretches, guided visualisations and conscious breathing.

Pages for grown-ups at the front and back offer ‘how to’ suggestions as well as ways you might use the book. (Each double spread can stand alone if you don’t want to read the entire book, so for instance you could choose to share the story of Draco the dragon and the accompanying stretching snakelike exercise and breathing.)

Wearing my teacher and yoga teacher specialising in yoga with children hats, I recommend giving this book a go. It should pay dividends if you persevere. Try out the different strategies suggested so that you establish that much desired, peaceful routine mentioned at the outset.

More mindfulness for little ones in:

What’s in Your Mind Today?
Louise Bladen and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

There’s always a way to let go all our thoughts no matter what we have in our minds, as this gentle book shows and tells using a variety of children and their thoughts.

By focussing on the simple breathing exercises in Louise Bladen’s calming verses, and Angela Perrini’s attractive, quirky illustrations of the mentioned girls and boys,

both children and adults can quell their busy minds and find a place of tranquillity.

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.