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.

Snow Still / Flip Flap Frozen

Here are two decidedly shivery offerings from Nosy Crow Books

Snow Still
Holly Surplice
Nosy Crow

A young fawn experiences the world while taking its first steps in a snowy landscape.

Told through a sequence of rhyming couplets beginning ‘Snow white. // Snow slide. // Snow chase. //Snow hide. and gorgeous visuals, we follow the little creature through a series of beautiful watercolour scenes that show a game with rabbits; an encounter with a group of perching birds; an owl gliding high overhead across a silent empty plain;

a squirrel curled up in the hollow of a tree … and finally as the fawn struggles with the extra depth of a further snowfall, we meet the adult deer ready and waiting to provide a warm safe haven for their little one.

I love all the different perspectives used and how the seeming simplicity of the words allows the visual landscapes plenty of space to convey the beauty and starkness of the countryside – its woodlands with the berries all aglow, the umbel seed heads a-sparkle with touches of silver, and the vastness of the open field. (This is some of the best use of silver highlighting that I’ve seen in a picture book certainly this season).

Lyrical and lovely; a beautiful book to share with the very young on a chilly winter’s day.

Flip Flap Frozen
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

There’s a decidedly icy feel to the latest in Axel’s terrific Flip Flap series.

Readers can discover what happens when a polar bear is crossed with a walrus (you get a polrus), or a reindeer with an orca (a reinca – naturally!) and a host of other brilliantly bonkers species as they play around with the spit pages.

Samuel experimenting with combinations

Of course if you play it straight then Axel’s animals have provided factual rhyming descriptions about themselves and they even accompany them with their characteristic sounds.

Guaranteed hours of fun whether consumed solo or with the help of an obliging adult reading the main text and a youngster making the noises and flipping the flaps.

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.

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree / All Aboard for Christmas

Pip and Posy The Christmas Tree
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow Books

Pip and Posy are a duo much loved by countless under fives and now they star in a lovely new tale that’s a great seasonal treat.
It’s Christmas Eve and the best friends bring home a Christmas tree. Once installed in a large pot, they set to work decorating it.

First off they bake some festive biscuits to hang on it. Then Posy goes to get the candy canes but when she comes back, one of the biscuits has mysteriously vanished.

The same thing keeps happening: each time she turns her back to find more goodies to add to the tree, there’s one less decoration when she returns. Hmm!

Young children will of course relish seeing what Posy doesn’t. Nor does she realise what’s been going on until she finds Pip flat out on the sofa with a rather bulging tum and saying he’s feeling sick.

Posy keeps quiet and allows Pip time to confess and then the two work together towards a satisfying solution to their lack of tree ornaments

and for listeners especially, there’s a lovely, even more satisfying finale come Christmas morning.
An enormously appealing festive addition to this ever-popular series of Axel’s.

All Aboard for Christmas
Andrew Kolb and Nichole Mara
Abrams Appleseed

There’s a train full of seasonal fun just waiting at the station – it’s Santa’s Christmas train with a gingerbread driver. Inside (lift the flaps to see within) it’s packed full of brightly coloured things to look for and to discuss, questions to answer and most important, lots to enjoy. There are elves and reindeer, penguins, pies and plenty of other good things to eat, toys and other treats.

Once extended, the train is over a metre long and you can reverse the extended carriages to see the frozen, snowy landscape through which Santa journeys, all the while searching the carriages for his missing boot..

With its die-cut windows, there’s plenty to engage little ones who take the ride on Christmas Eve.

Time for Play with Nosy Crow: Alphabet Street / Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set

Alphabet Street
Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

It’s the alluring design that immediately attracts young children to this concertina alphabet book though I don’t imagine any wanting to let go once they start exploring inside. It’s terrific fun, folding out to make an entire street of shops – thirteen in all – each with an apartment above; and all are populated with animal characters either shopping or doing something of a homely nature.

For instance we might choose to stop at Coffee and Doughnuts café outside which two elephants are enjoying a drink and a snack.
Lift the flap and inside we have ‘Dd D is for Dog, who is drying a dish’, an illustration of same, and two more customers drinking.
Above them in the apartment … ‘Cc C is for Cat, who is cooking some fish.’

The shop names make up the entire alphabet ending with

In between are all sorts of wonderful places to visit, not least of which is this one:

Jonathan Emmett’s cleverly constructed, fun alliterative rhyming text, together with Ingela P Arrhenius’ bold, bright, retro style illustrations make for a splendidly interactive book and even more clever, on the back is a complete fold-out park scene which can be used as a backdrop for small world play. So too can Alphabet Street itself which could perhaps be used in conjunction with a play mat. The learning possibilities, in addition to the obvious alphabet element, are enormous.

Pip and Posy Book and Blocks Set
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

This set includes a board book copy of Pip and Posy: The Big Balloon and a set of nine jigsaw puzzle building blocks.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, essentially it tells what happens when Pip lets go the string of his prized shiny red balloon and it floats away. The best friends give chase but the balloon bursts. Fortunately Posy is ready and willing to provide cheer in the form of bubbles – lots of them. And if they pop, well it doesn’t matter for that’s what bubbles are supposed to do.

The blocks can be used to make 6 different scenes from Pip and Posy stories: toddlers may need some help with this activity but a pictorial guide is provided.

If you’re looking for a fun present for a little one, this gift set might well fit the bill: Pip and Posy are a delightful duo.

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo / Why is the Cow on the Roof? & Smart Girls Forever

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Maverick Arts Publishing

At Purple Hill primary School there’s yet another supply teacher in 4X; they’ve gone through quite a few already so the question is, how long will the strange-looking Mrs Ogg survive, particularly when she decides to take the class on an outing – their first ever – to the zoo? Can she possibly keep seventeen unruly children under control for a whole day? It’s particularly important, for their attendance at the end-of-year party depends upon the trip being 100% trouble free.
Arlo decides it’s unlikely, so he assigns himself the role of chief back-up.

Mrs Ogg however is no ordinary supply teacher and the zoo she’s taking them to is no ordinary zoo, which probably accounts for the inclusion on the ‘don’t forget’ letter sent to parents just prior to the trip, of a T-bone steak.

Is the outing a success and do they arrive back at school with all seventeen children plus teacher safe and sound? And, are they allowed to go to that eagerly anticipated end-of-year party? You’ll have to get hold of a copy of this action packed story and find out.

With its twisting-turning plot, it’s certainly lots of fun. Packed with zany illustrations by Kathyrn Durst

and promises of further adventures to come, let me just say, there’s a whole lot more to class 4X than previous teachers had thought: Mrs Ogg manages to unearth a whole lot of hidden talents therein.

Why is the Cow on the Roof?
Smart Girls Forever

Robert Leeson illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Walker Books

These two books of short stories were first published 20 years ago and they’re as amusing now as ever – great for reading aloud or for solo reading.

Why is the Cow on the Roof? is one of the five folk tale based renditions in the first book, the story being based on the Norwegian, ‘The Husband who was to Mind the House’ and is a hilarious account of what happens when a husband and wife swap their round of daily tasks to see who works hardest.

The other four stories also pose questions including ‘Why are you such a Noddy, Big Ears?’ and “Who’s Next for the Chop?’, the former, a pourquoi tale being based on a Native American ‘Rabbit’ character and the latter from a story in the Arabian Nights..

In each case, Leeson’s renditions are full of humour with plenty of dialogue used to great effect; if you’re reading them aloud to a group, don’t forget to share Axel Scheffler’s funny line drawings that introduce each story.

Smart Girls Forever contains six tales from various parts of the world, all of which have resourceful female lead characters; they are, Leeson tells us ‘Russian, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Persian and English’ but ‘could be from anywhere’.

Look out for Natasha who outwits the devil and Oonagh who gets the better of the terrible giant Cucullin, an act for which her husband Fin M’Coul will be forever grateful.

Animals, One Cheetah One Cherry & Flip Flap Pets

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Animals
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio
This over-sized picture book by Swedish illustrator/designer Arrhenius is sure to have youngsters poring over its gigantic retro-style pages. It features thirty two animals large and small from grasshopper …

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to gorilla, and hippo to frog …

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Every one of the pages would make a lovely poster and it’s hard to choose a favourite animal: I love the muted, matt colours used and the careful placing of pattern; and the lettering fonts and colours seem to reflect the essence of each animal portrayed.

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If you’re looking for something impressive to generate language in youngsters, try putting this book on the floor in your book area and see what happens.
It might also be put to good use in an art lesson for older children.

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One Cheetah, One Cherry
Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books
Absolutely stunning paintings of wild animals grace the pages of this stylish, smallish counting book. We start with ‘One cherry, one cheetah’ showing a graceful beast with a luscious-looking cherry between its paws and continue, encountering two dogs, three bears, four foxes …

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five elephants, six tigers, seven pandas, eight otters, nine mice, ten cherries – all carefully poised, thus :

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which takes us back (numberwise) to None. The cheetah has feasted on those ten delicious cherries and looks mighty pleased about it.
What a wonderful array of animals and activities. The language too is so carefully chosen: alliteration abounds as here: ’Four fine foxes/ sharing strawberries.’
or, try getting your tongue around this one: ‘Seven giant pandas, with pretty painted parasols.’

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Such delicate patterning on those parasols and lantern. Indeed pattern is part and parcel of every painting, so too is gold-leaf; but that’s not all. The end papers are equally gorgeous, the front being a dance of numerals, orchestrated by the cheetah and the back shows the number symbols in order with animals/cherries alongside.

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Flip Flap Pets
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Axel Scheffler offers a multitude of opportunities to create quirky creatures in his latest Flip Flap rhyming extravaganza. Youngsters can turn the basic ten or so popular pets into a whole host of crazy combinations of feather, fur, scale, shell and more. What happens for instance when you cross a stick insect with a budgerigar? You get a STICKERIGAR of course …

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Try crossing a goldfish with a tortoise – that results in a GOLDFOISE:

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and a snake crossed with a cat gives something pretty irresistible – a cake!
It’s possible to make – so that butterfly on the back cover of this bonkers book informs us – 121 combinations. What are you waiting for? If my experience of previous titles in this series is anything to go by, this new addition to the series is likely to inspire children to set about making their own flip flap books.

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