Bloom

Bloom
Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Tiny Owl

Beneath the window of a large house grows a beautiful flower and every morning as they walk to school with their mum, a brother and sister stop briefly by the flower. The little girl would go up close to savour its beauty with her eyes and nose and address it thus, “Good morning, beautiful flower … I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.” She’d then proceed happily into school.

This went on until one morning having woken earlier than usual the man living in the big house saw what was happening and shouted threateningly at the girl and her brother.

Consequently they decided to change their route to school.

Next morning although the sun came out, the flower didn’t. The poor gardener is blamed for improper watering and the man does the job instead – but still the flower stays closed.

Perhaps it’s shade the flower needs the angry man thinks but again it fails to make a difference. No matter what he does or says the flower remains firmly shut and increasingly droopy.

Totally exasperated and full of complaints, the man calls his gardener again. Despite not knowing what the matter is, the gardener is observant and tells the man exactly what the little girl had done every day.

Finally after consideration, the man goes to the school gate, waits for the girl and her brother and tells them tearfully what has happened.

The little girl offers him some advice and the man rushes home. Instead of self-centred, self-interested orders, can kind, heartfelt words succeed in making his flower bloom again?

With echoes of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, Anne Booth’s ultimately uplifting fable demonstrates the power of words and the importance of considering carefully how what you say will impact upon others: positivity is key.

Robyn Wilson Owen’s finely textured, mixed media illustrations show the contrast between the children’s nurturing home environment and that of the man’s lonely existence as well as documenting the changes in the flower through the story.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Flamingo Party / Little Owl Rescue

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Flamingo Party
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

In this sixth adventure Maya, inheritor of a magical colouring book is feeling a tad jealous. Her best friend Saffron is keen to include new girl, Alicia in their plans for a carnival in the town.

To uplift her spirits she turns to her colouring book and onto its cover start appearing flamingos.: a ‘flamboyance of flamingos’ Maya thinks and very soon she finds herself drawn back to the Kingdom of Birds where a new adventure awaits the Keeper of the Book.

Once there she learns that Lord Astor is up to no good again, luring all the flamingos to his palace lake. It’s on account of their magnificent pink feathers he needs to create the splendid headdress he is planning to wear as self-appointed Carnival King.

It’s up to Maya and Astor’s niece, Willow to make the Lord Astor see the error of his ways at last .

I say last for it appears that this is the final story in this enchanting series although I won’t divulge what happens.

If you work with or know young readers who would enjoy the mix of magic and bird facts characteristic of Anne Booth’s Magical Kingdom of Birds, then I thoroughly recommend they meet problem-solving, loyal friend, bird-loving Maya.

As with the other titles this one concludes with a bird fact file and there’s a recipe for ‘Flamingo-pink cakes’. Adding to the delights as usual are Rosie Butcher’s beautiful page borders and enchanting illustrations.

Another series for a similar readership that also mixes magical happening with saving wildlife is the Little Animal Rescue series, the latest of which is:

Little Owl Rescue
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

Animal loving Fliss is enjoying a trip to the fairground with her longstanding friend, Gabriel, when she is suddenly launched into another rescue mission. This time it’s in Aliceville, a sweetcorn growing area of Texas.

She is led by a white owl into a woodland area that is being chopped down to grow more maize crops. The mother owl has a family of baby owlets that she gathers up and off they fly, all except one little chick that hasn’t yet got the hang of becoming airborne.

Now with dangerous creatures all around and night fast drawing in, Fliss has an important task to save the owlet she names Cookie and to do so she needs to help it learn to fly and much more besides.

Indeed the whole rescue operation turns out to be a pretty dangerous undertaking for both Fliss and the owlet. The former discovers the importance of listening and she’s not one to give up until she’s achieved what she set out to do.

With plenty of black and white illustrations by Jo Anne Davies this is an exciting addition to the series for young readers that both entertains and gently educates.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose / Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

There’s trouble in the Magical Kingdom of Birds: the amazing Silver Snow Goose normally appears to open the Winter Festival and the snow geese then start to migrate south for winter but this year there’s no sign of him, so winter cannot come.

Uncle Astor is causing problems again. He’s furious at not being  guest of honour at the festival and this is the result.

Can Keeper of the Book, Maya, and her friends, uncover the whereabouts of the missing snow goose, and bring winter to the kingdom, even if it means Maya taking her longest ever flight?

With the popular mix of magic and bird facts, Anne Booth’s Maya and her new adventure will certainly please her numerous already established followers and she’ll no doubt win new enthusiasts with this wintry tale. Rosie Butcher’s black and white illustrations and beautiful borders are likely to seduce readers whether or not they’re familiar with the series.

There’s plenty of magic too in

Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 11th adventure set in the school where magic is part and parcel of the pupils’ lives?

Violet is eager to graduate from Unicorn Academy along with all her friends. First though she needs to bond with her unicorn Twinkle and becoming true friends with this creature inclined to put his hoof in it when he speaks and thus hurt other people’s feelings isn’t straightforward.

What’s more he doesn’t really listen to Violet or think about what she wants to do.

In the meantime there’s the identity of the cloaked figure to be discovered.

Her unmasking precipitates an alarming event that sees Violet and Twinkle cascading towards the Frozen Lagoon where almost before you can say ‘binding spell’ they find themselves taken prisoner.

Can Twinkle discover his magic and save not only the two of them, but also all the friends who come searching for the missing pair? A very daring rescue is called for.

Certainly for young solo readers, the magic still holds good.

Ariki and the Island of Wonders / Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds

Ariki and the Island of Wonders
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books

Nicola Davies’s sequel to Ariki and the Giant Shark is equally rooted in island life, the natural world and the Pacific Ocean.

Strong-minded Ariki and her good friend Ipo, who live on Turtle Island, ignore the advice of Ariki’s guardian to learn about wave behaviour from a bowl of water and set sail on Sea Beauty. “We’ll be in trouble, ” says Ipo as they discover the wind is rather stronger than expected and Ariki has to agree.

It isn’t long though before there’s a storm brewing and it’s impossible to turn back: the only option, they realise, is to let the storm blow them where it will.

After several days without food and virtually nothing to drink, they encounter a wounded whale that has become separated from its family, which the children help. The whale then assists them by towing them towards an unfamiliar island that looks like paradise.

On the island they meet a strange man calling himself Crusoe McRobinson and learn of a dangerous creature the man calls “Dog”. There are in fact a number of these ‘dogs’ lurking and because of them the other island residents – humans and animal – as well as the two children, are in jeopardy.

Is there anything Ariki can do and if so will the two friends ever get back safely to Turtle Island?

Zoologlist story weaver, Nicola Davies cleverly entertains and educates at the same time in this gripping tale. Her affinity with the natural world shines through in her narrative with its vivid description of wildlife showing the interconnectness of human beings and the natural world.

To add to the magical mix, Nicola Kinner’s black and white illustrations perfectly capture the relationship between the human characters and nature.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

Combining magic and wonder with facts about birds is this latest story in Anne Booth’s series of chapter books for young readers that began when its main protagonist, Maya was made keeper of a very special colouring book that could draw her into the Magical Kingdom of Birds.

The picture that appears to draw her to the Kingdom (where in addition to being a schoolgirl she is the Keeper of the Book) in this adventure is this one.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular kind of bird, songbirds from many parts of the world are featured; the reason being there’s to be a special singing gala so her friend Willow tells Maya. But can they really trust Willow’s wicked Uncle, Lord Astor, who claims to have become a reformed character wanting only to bring everyone together in friendship?

Of course not: he has set his sights on stealing the songs of all the participants in the event and using them for his own nefarious purposes.

Maya certainly has a big problem on her hands and she also has to face up to singing in her school concert if she succeeds in saving the songbirds.

Another exciting episode, with Rosie Butcher’s enchanting black and white illustrations, this is certain to excite Maya’s established fans and capture some new enthusiasts for the series too.
(The final pages contain fascinating facts on the real birds that inspired the story, plus fun things to make and do as well as additional information about the plight of endangered Indonesian songbirds).

Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer / The Christmas Fairy

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Ollie’s Christmas Reindeer
Nicola Killen
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
It’s Christmas Eve; Ollie is suddenly awoken by a jingly sound. What could it be? She creeps to the window seeing nothing but a snowy landscape. Determined to discover the source of the sound, she boards her sledge and off she goes down the hill and into the dark wood.

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It’s there she comes upon a collar studded with silver bells caught on a tree branch. Then from the darkness emerges a reindeer, a collarless reindeer.

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With its collar safely back on, the reindeer takes Ollie on a magical ride through the starry skies…

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Saying farewell to a new friend is hard for Ollie but she knows that there’s important work awaiting him; and then there’s Christmas morning to look forward to …
Judiciously placed splashes of red and silver are used sparingly to enhance the dramatic effect of the otherwise black and white scenes of all the activity that fills this quiet, snowy night. A gentle, simple and magical story.

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The Christmas Fairy
Anne Booth and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
When Clara hears that ‘Christmas fairy’ lessons are on the curriculum she’s thrilled; being a ‘proper’ Christmas fairy is exactly what she’s been wishing for. The trouble is this involves standing statue-still on tiptoes and staying absolutely silent: in other words no giggling, absolutely no wriggling and positively no singing. As show day draws nearer, it looks as though this whole Christmas fairy thing is just way too demanding for Clara.

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The big day arrives and Clara is distraught. Suddenly though events take a turn. Santa’s there in front of her and seemingly he has not just one, but three roles that need filling, and he thinks Clara fits the bill perfectly. Can she step in and save the show?

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And what about that Christmas wish of hers …
Cute, seasonal rhyming fun for tinies. A lovely demonstration of the idea that everyone has something to offer, especially those who are slightly divergent; it’s just a matter of finding what that special something is.

Refuge

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Refuge
Anne Booth and Sam Usher
Nosy Crow
Anyone who has been watching the news over recent months and seen the refugees fleeing, desperately seeking safety from Syria and other conflict-ridden countries cannot fail to be moved to the core by this heart-achingly beautiful rendering of the Christmas story, in particular, the flight into Egypt of Mary, Joseph and their new baby. Now today, just before writing this review, I have heard Chris Morris on the World at One reporting from Malta saying that the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for all too many who had hoped to find refuge.
I admit to having tears in my eyes as I read Anne Booth’s spare prose. By using the donkey as narrator, she makes the whole thing feel much more intimate and immediate: ‘When the last king left, the scent of frankincense lingering in the air, we all slept and the man had a dream. A dream of danger. …

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And we set off … under starlight, through empty streets, whilst people were sleeping, hoping for the kindness of strangers. Again.’

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Achingly poignant too in their stark simplicity, are Sam Usher’s largely grey, black and white illustrations. Rendered in watercolours and ink they evoke the spirit of the precarious plight of families fleeing both then and now.
May others, like myself and like that oil lamp strategically centrally placed in that final scene of Sam’s, to borrow a phrase from Auden, ‘show an affirming flame.’ 

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Indeed, the creators of this book – author, illustrator and publisher (and others listed on the copyright page) have all collaborated to get this to publication in just six weeks and £5 for every copy sold will go to the publishers’ partner charity, War Child. https://www.warchild.org.uk

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Tickles, Troubles, Rewards and Rides

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Silly Dizzy Dinosaur!
Jack Tickle
Little Tiger Press pbk
Aptly named, Dizzy is a fun-loving young dinosaur that loves tickles – so long as they aren’t too tickly. Find out what happens when he receives an enormous tickling that is all a bit TOO much in this action-packed romp that is chock full of opportunities for shouting, shaking, hiccupping, and of course, tickling. The up-close scenes zoom readers right in to the main action

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but at the same time there are small part actors in the form of minibeasts and fish to add to the fun and frenzy.

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Go To Sleep, Monty!
Kim Geyer
Andersen Press
Max has looked after his toy dog, Snuffly Poo since he was a baby but now he’s a ‘big boy’ his parents have agreed to him having a real puppy. Little does he realize what he’s taking on though when he chooses his pup; Monty needs a fair bit of training to say the very least.

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But when bedtime comes, things prove even more tricky: despite Max’s very best efforts, Monty just will not go to sleep.

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Indeed, he pees all over the kitchen floor. Then Max has a brainwave; he offers Monty Snuggly Poo as a sleep mate. Bad move, Max.
Just what will it take for the boy and his lively pup to get a night’s sleep?
Kim Geyer has created some endearing characters – human and otherwise for her debut picture book, presenting the action very much from Max and Monty’s perspective using a subdued palette for the larger than life scenes. It’s a story that will go down well with under fives at bedtime or any time, particularly those who have a lively pup to look after.

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Babies Don’t Walk They Ride!
Kathy Henderson and Lauren Tobia
Brubaker, Ford & Friends (Templar)
Delectable infants grace the pages of this lovely book as they are pushed, shoulder ride, glide, stroll (in their buggies of course), roll in trolleys (and other things), go bumping in buses,

 

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charge charioteer-like and even fly sometimes;

 

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all courtesy of their parents, carers, siblings and very likely, grandparents and other willing movers and shakers, all of whom huggle and cuddle, and sing to their charges. And those babes if only they could, would join in the chorus of “Babies don’t walk they ride!
What a joyful time is had by all – readers, listeners and of course, those infants and those who care for them in this gorgeously illustrated, rhyming parade of perambulations.

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A great partnership and a ‘read over-and over’-production for the very young and all their adult minders. One (or more) to give and one to keep, I’d say.

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The Fairiest Fairy
Anne Booth and Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
When young, Betty starts Fairy School her teacher despairs of her. Although she does her very best Betty just cannot manage to make dewdrops sparkle in the sun, nor wake the flowers up in the morning

 

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or even paint rainbows like the other pupils. She does have a very kind heart though as we see when she attends to a rabbit’s foot, helps a baby bird learn to fly and rescues a butterfly tangled up in a flower.

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When it’s time for the annual Fairy Ball, a tearful Betty is convinced she won’t be chosen by the Fairy King and Queen. How could such a messy, muddle-making fairy, be the Fairiest Fairy in all the land?
Endearing infant fairies cavort and sometimes, stumble across the rainbow hued pages of this enchanting rhyming take on the joys and tribulations of starting nursery or school for the first time which is at the same time, a demonstration of the importance of showing kindness and consideration to all.

Other recent or reissued titles on first experiences at nursery/school are:

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Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes
Eric Litwin and James Dean
Harper Collins pbk
Groovy Pete dons his funky new school shoes and heads off to school. There he discovers the joys of the library, painting, eating his packed lunch and the slide in the playground. He also tries his paws at writing and basic maths and decides school rocks.
Upbeat and offbeat fun; and a song to sing-along with.
and
Going to Nursery
Catherine and Lawrence Anholt
Orchard Books pbk
A reissue of the beautifully reassuring story of Anna’s first forays into nursery wherein she meets the lovely teacher, Mrs Sams and the rest of her exuberant charges and samples the delights of the exciting range of activities on offer.

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