Baby, Sleepy Baby

Baby, Sleepy Baby
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

Exuding warmth and tenderness from every one of Angela Brooksbank’s illustrations is this lullaby.

Author Atinuke introduces the entire family on the title page and thereafter we see mother, father, a girl sibling and a grandmother, each of whom is shown cuddling the baby in the sequence of stunningly beautiful spreads that follow.

Although the narrative doesn’t rhyme it is lyrical: ‘Baby, sweet baby, / I’ll call on the winds // and you’ll sail like a ship / through the sky.’ it begins with infant on mother’s lap and big sister sharing the adult’s embrace.

The babe is then passed to Grandmother who bestows a kiss

then cuddles the little one with a fondness that is palpable.

We assume but it’s not certain who speaks on each spread,

although this reviewer suspects it is the person holding the little one: other readers might think differently but picture books can always open to more than one interpretation.

Once each family member has wrapped the baby in love

as well as allowing in turn, the wind, clouds, stars and moon to do likewise, everybody feels so calm and peaceful that sleep comes easily and they drift off to slumberland, with the little one between its mother and father.

Gentle, soothing and utterly gorgeous: what better book than this to give a family with a new baby.

Can You Whistle, Johanna? / Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls

Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

Here’s a book from Swedish author Ulf Stark that will surely touch your heart.
The boy narrator of the story, Ulf has a grandfather he visits regularly. His friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather but wishes he did so he could enjoy a similar relationship, so Ulf tells him that he knows just the place to find one.

The following day, he takes Berra to visit an old people’s home and there they find an elderly man, Ned

who although initially surprised, is more than happy to accept Berra as his grandson.“There I was, just sitting and feeling a bit lonely, and then you came along!”

A wonderful connectedness develops between the two with Ned remembering his wife, Johanna, and things about his world – the smells, colours and simple joys, as well as those that are now too much of a challenge. The boys learn from Ned new skills and they have tremendous fun

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

although there is one particular skill that Berra finds difficult to master – hence the book’s title.
This leads to the boys’ visits to Ned becoming less and less frequent but not before the boys give him a very special birthday celebration.

Finally, after several weeks Berra is ready to demonstrate to Ned his whistling prowess but when he boys get to the home they learn that Ned has died. Berra is devastated.

Despite being profoundly affected by his loss, Berra wants to go and say a final farewell at Ned’s funeral and it’s then that he whistles the old man’s tune.

We see how this special relationship has enriched the lives of both Berra and Ned, and that’s what shines through this sensitively told story despite the boys’ loss. Equally moving are Anna Höglund’s wonderful droll illustrations that support the text splendidly.

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls
Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

This is the second enchanting book of three short tales starring Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their grandmother in a crowded, run-down flat in Lagos.What she lacks in stature, Tola makes up for in spirit and determination. Money is short and so Grandmummy spends almost all her time selling groundnuts at the roadside to earn sufficient for the children’s schooling but little else.

The first story takes place on a Saturday with all three siblings indoors but only Tola doing the chores. As she squats picking out the stones from the rice, her brother Dapo is using his knees to play with his football (strictly forbidden inside) while big sister Moji is studying on a computer on loan from her school.
Ignoring her warnings to stop or incur Grandmummy’s wrath, Dapo dislodges the contents of a shelf with a wild ball sending her gold earrings flying into the air. One is quickly retrieved but can they manage to find the other one before Grandmummy returns?

In the second episode Grandmummy falls ill with malaria and the siblings resort to desperate measures to buy her the vital medicine she needs; and Dapo surprises everyone by using his skill to make money.

The three fine girls of the title are cool, indulged young misses in their fancy gear that Tola notices when she’s out and about. The same three posh ones that she manages to impress later on when she accompanies Mr Abdul to the masquerade.

There are so many things to love about young Tola especially her resourcefulness and ability to think on her feet; but her entire family are a delight. Onyinye Iwu’s black and white illustrations are a delight too, filling in some of the details about the life of this Nigerian urban family.

Catch That Chicken!

Catch That Chicken!
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

Set in a West African village compound this is essentially Lami’s story. Lami has a special talent for catching chickens and everyone of the villagers knows she’s the best.

That’s not to say that her family and friends are without talents of their own – sister Sadia is a super speller,

brother Bilal is brave with bulls

and friend Fatima is a super-speedy plaiter of hair.

One day while chasing a chicken around the compound, Lami ignores the shouts of “Sannu! Sannu!”, “Slow down!” as she dashes madly towards and up the big baobab tree.

Suddenly as she makes a grab for the bird, Lami slips and comes hurtling to the ground where we see a painfully sprained and very puffy ankle and a very tearful little girl.

Some well-chosen words from her Nana Nadia result in a change in Lami’s chicken strategies but it’s one that proves that there’s more than one way to be an ace chicken catcher.

Once again team Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank have created a winning, enriching, gently humorous story, which shows the strong community spirit of Lami’s village wherein everyone is valued. Angela Brooksbank’s spirited scenes abound with colour, texture and pattern showing much about this particular way of life in West Africa.

A great book to add to the family shelves or foundation stage/KS1 classroom collections.

Hugo / Cat Ladies

Hugo
Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Atinuke uses an unusual narrator for her heartwarming story that’s set in and around a small, urban park, it’s Hugo the pigeon. Hugo is a park warden and every day, through all the changing seasons he patrols the park looking after various humans –

that’s his particular Spring task, while in summer he has to clean up the mess left by picnickers and his autumn days are occupied with child care (to give their mothers a rest).

On chilly wintry days Hugo sees it as his role to visit the apartments near the park to remind the residents that spring isn’t too far off.

At one window though the curtains never open but Hugo knows someone hides whenever he knocks.

Then one day the curtains part to reveal a small girl whom Hugo treats to his ‘Spring-is-coming’ dance moves.

Not long after the bird is late to arrive and the child leans right out to look for him. So enthusiastic is his ‘here I am’ dance that Hugo fails to notice another arrival.

Happily Hugo lives to finish his story but receives an injury that completely changes the lonely life of his young rescuer, for the better. No wonder Hugo loves his job.

Birgitta Sif’s illustrations are the perfect complement for this offbeat tale – gently humorous and alive with deliciously quirky details at every page turn; and her colour palette is always beautiful, no matter which season she portrays.

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of Princess, a well and truly pampered moggy: she has not one but four ladies with whom she shares her time. That involves plenty of work but Princess doesn’t mind for she receives more than her share of treats for participating in ‘grooming days’ with Millie, running errands with Molly,

and a spot of bird watching with Merthel. Band practice time spent with Maridl is the noisiest activity but Princess has ‘everything under control’.

Then one day, horror of horrors, Princess discovers that her favourite napping spot has been usurped by a ‘stray’. Not only that though, this creature seems to have taken over other roles too.

When her efforts to retrain the ladies fail, Princess ups and leaves in a jealous sulk. However things don’t quite go smoothly when she searches for an alternative place to take her catnap and the moggy finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately the young interloper has an acute sense of hearing and picks up the ‘MEOWW!!!’ issuing from the feline and all ends happily with four ladies becoming five.

Susi Schaeffer’s bold, lively digital art is given a textured feel by the addition of hand-painted designs; the older human characters are delightfully eccentric and the story will appeal particularly to cat lovers young and not so young.

Africa: Amazing Africa

Africa: Amazing Africa
Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag
Walker Books

Nigerian-born storyteller Atinuke takes us on an exciting journey through the countries of Africa in her celebration of this incredible continent – its history, culture, religions, traditions and languages.

She divides the 55 or so countries into regions – Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and North Africa providing quintessential details of each country: the wild life for which Kenya is famous;

the irresistible drumming rhythms of Burundi – (who can fail to respond to the sound of those awesome Royal Drummers of Burundi, certainly not me),

the diamond industry and contrasting cattle-herding of Botswana for instance.

There are also maps, pages featuring hairstyles, football and religions.

Mounti Feddag’s vibrant illustrations are superb, exploding into colour and pattern on every page.

I’m fortunate in having many friends from different parts of this huge continent but have never visited it other than for a childhood holiday to the island of Mauritius, and occasionally in transit; brimming with gorgeousness, this book has made me want to change that.

Those with a thirst for finding out about life in different parts of the world will also enjoy this activity book:

This Is How I Do It
Matt Lamothe
Chronicle Books

The creator of This Is How We Do It, Matt Lamothe invites the reader to document his or her own daily life and compare and contrast it with children from over 50 other countries. Included in the book are punch-out postcards, sheets of stickers, a fold-out map and photos of members of four families.

B is for Baby

B is for Baby
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

Here’s an absolutely cracking circular story that’s simply bursting with love. Atinuke’s verbal narrative focuses entirely on things starting with the letter B as she takes us on a journey through a West African rural landscape.
First though we meet the titular Baby; see her mother Beading her baby’s hair and Baby raiding the Banana basket, toppling in and partaking of some Breakfast.

Brother is next on the scene; in he bops and loads said basket complete with baby, on the back of his bicycle ready to go to visit Baba.

Oblivious to his stowaway passenger, he pedals along the Bumpy road towards Baba’s bungalow.

Passing beneath the Baobab – a Big one – they emerge into an area with fields either side; and a bird from the previous spread is now seen in full view with its gloriously coloured plumage – Beautiful – as is the blue butterfly that flies behind the bike, while ahead are trees filled with baboons.

As they pass under a tree a Baboon grabs the lid from the basket revealing the stowaway baby.

The journey continues with baby handing out a banana to a child leaning from the Bus window as they pause before crossing the Bridge (B is for Bridge) and before long they arrive as their destination: a Bougainvillea surrounded Bungalow outside which waits a happy-looking Baba … ‘B is for … Baba!’

That happiness increases enormously though when he opens the basket …

One shocked brother and an overjoyed Baba.

After all that there’s only one thing to do: sit down together and partake of some yummy snacks – ‘B is for Biscuit!’ as well as some bubbly bottled liquid refreshment; and I bet they polish off the whole lot.

A sensory delight if ever there was one, is this rural ride from one much loved family member to another. (The last two spreads show the return journey, which culminates back where the siblings started, and finally, a relieved-looking mama clutching tight her Baby.) Visually stunning, vibrant and infused with humour, the entire book is bursting with energy, warmth, rich colour and beauty.

A total treat to share and to pore over; an enriching must have for home, nursery or school collections and another terrific Atinuke/ Angela Brooksbank collaboration.

Baby Goes to Market

Baby Goes To Market
Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank
Walker Books

I love a good market and this one, located somewhere in West Africa, absolutely exudes atmosphere immersing readers in a multi-sensory experience so you can almost feel the heat and dust, smell the roasting sweetcorn and taste the juicy tomatoes.
We accompany a totally adorable baby and his mother as they wander through the hustle and bustle with Baby charming every stallholder they stop by. So much so that none can resist giving the lively little chap something.
From Mrs Ade it’s six bananas: one goes in Baby’s mouth, five in Mama’s large basket along with the yam she purchased.

Mr Femi offers juicy oranges: one Baby sucks on; four go into the basket. And so it goes on and all the while the cheerful little fellow is receiving bounties from the vendors: four biscuits, three roasted sweetcorn and two pieces of coconut.
Purchases complete, Mama hails a taxi; after all, she thinks, Baby must be a tad hungry after all that shopping. Putting down her basket to wait, she gets a very big surprise …

Then, reassured by the traders, Mama gets on the taxi and away it goes: Baby slumbering replete with goodies. “Poor Baby!” says Mama. “He’s not had a single thing to eat!

Essentially Atinuke’s zingy, patterned text is a shared joke between author and audience. The latter will relish the antics of Baby and savour Mama’s total unawareness of what is going on behind her back.
Angela Brooksbank captures all the vibrancy and excitement of a crowded tropical market: the rich, bright colours and patterns, the dusty byways, the goods for sale and those wonderfully observed characters.

I’ve signed the charter  

Double? More? Too Much?

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Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!
Atinuke and Lauren Tobia
Walker Books
When Anna Hibiscus discovers that the ‘big bump’ is twin brothers, she knows that she’s in for some “Big Trouble” as her cousin Chocolate puts it. What it means immediately though is that none of the family seems to have time for her any more; they’re all far too busy with extra work that’s a result of the two newcomers. Uncle Sam is busy making food for Anna’s mum; her Grandmother has been up all night and now needs to sleep and her aunties are baby minding.

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Poor Anna Hibiscus finally loses her temper and shouts, which sets the babies off bawling and she herself dissolves into tears. Oh Dear! It’s then that Papa finally takes notice of her and explains the implications of Double Trouble: sharing is now the order of the day.
Eventually though, people do pay her attention  and then it’s the turn of that big sister to become a comforter.

 

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It will take time for young Anna Hibiscus to learn how to accommodate those newcomers, and she has to learn to take turns for her mother’s hugs and sometimes even share them with others…

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I’ve loved all the Anna Hibiscus stories: this one too is a real delight and it’s absolutely perfect for those with a new baby in the family or anyone anticipating a new arrival. Those gorgeously warm-hearted illustrations are just the business.

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More!
Tracey Corderoy and Tim Warnes
Little Tiger Press pbk
In most very young infants, the acquisition of a new word is a cause for celebration. However when young Alfie rhino adds “More!” to his vocabulary the result is destruction,

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and all manner of excesses, some dietary, others very noisy or messy or, on occasion, something rather more desirable.
So when he is invited to a fancy dress party he gets more than a little carried away with the design of his costume

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and despite its amazingness, it has distinct disadvantages when it comes to joining in the party fun especially at cake-sharing time …
Fortunately though having more than just a few friends is one thing that does work in his favour, and all ends happily.
The young charmer is sure to win further friends with his latest romp: as always it is delivered with appropriate verve and exuberance in both words and pictures. Share with Alfies and other littles of the human variety and I suspect they’ll straightway ask for MORE!

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No More Cuddles!
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
Despite living alone in the forest, Barry suffers from a surfeit of cuddles: he’s literally smothered by them and it’s all a bit too much.
A disguise might do the trick, he thinks to himself; but it just isn’t scary enough.

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Angry growls and scowls don’t work either; something more drastic is required seemingly. So Barry advertises for a relief cuddler and finally along comes one that meets the job description perfectly. Even then though, the animals continue to hurl themselves at Barry and he finds himself hurtling into a mucky swamp and it’s there that he gains a bit of well-earned respite.
Exuberant scenes and a decidedly cuddle-able main character, not to mention a host of delightful bit part players, are the chief ingredients of this warm-hearted story.

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Hubert Horatio
Lauren Child
Puffin pbk
Child prodigy, Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent, (referred to as H by his ultra-rich, but forgetful parents) starts to call the tune right from his early infancy. He cannot however do anything about the fact that the nightly cup of cocoa he and his parents share is always cold by the time the lad has climbed the numerous flights of stairs to the parental bedroom. Despite this, life jogs along happily for Horatio until one day his parents throw a party and the jelly runs out halfway through. Very odd, thinks Horatio but that is only the start of the family’s woes and before long he realizes that his parents are financially embarrassed, to say the least.
The young lad takes the initiative and money-making plans intended to refill the family coffers are soon put into action. But Mr and Mrs Bobton-Trent continue to party and live the high life

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until a frustrated HH decides downsizing is their only option. The family moves to a new home – 17b Plankton Heights – and there surprisingly, Horatio’s mum and dad settle quickly and woopy-do – because of the short distance to walk, everyone’s cocoa is still warm by the time it arrives at the parental bedroom.
Highly entertaining with wonderfully whimsical, richly patterned collage-style illustrations, Hubert Horatio is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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