Wild Days: Outdoor Play for Young Adventurers / The Gruffalo and Friends Outdoor Activity Book

Wild Days: Outdoor Play for Young Adventurers
Richard Irvine
GMC Publications

The author of this super book runs Forest School training for new leaders as well as Forest School programmes so most certainly knows what he’s talking about. I was convinced of this as I read in the book’s introduction, ‘To be safe in the world, young people need to be allowed to take risks.’ In fact, wearing my teacher’s hat, I’d say that risk taking is key in any real learning, not only that which takes place outdoors.

There are three main sections ‘Making’, ‘Games and stories’ and ‘Exploring’; but before plunging into these it’s important to read the pages on responsible behaviour (Leave no trace being key), being prepared before setting out, suggestions for tools you might want to take along and what you might do with them.

The Making activities vary from den building and campfire cooking to painting with natural materials. I loved the Forest friends spread, even more so the later suggestion that the characters created could be used in Storytelling, one of the ideas in the Games and Stories section.

Another idea that I can’t wait to try with some youngsters is Leaf Bashing aka Hapa Zome – a method of making leaf prints that works well on old sheets or similar cotton material and of course, the bashing part is a great way of letting off steam and a terrific lockdown antidote.

A great group activity in the second section is a ‘Finding things’ Treasure hunt and with younger children especially, the author’s suggestion to stay in pairs is advisable.

Much of the third Exploring part is concerned with identification, be that of plants, birds and their songs, butterflies or invertebrates, but a gentle word of warning: it’s important not to get too obsessed with mere naming to the exclusion of observing and relishing the beauty of nature’s flora and fauna.

I could go on extolling the virtues of this cracking book but instead I’ll suggest that as well as families, all education settings add a copy to their collections, and start putting some of Richard Irvine’s ideas into action whatever the weather. Each one of them has a list of what you’ll need and step-by-step instructions as well as colour photographs. What better way to get youngsters of all ages outdoors learning through and about nature; in fact it covers pretty much every area of the curriculum.

The Gruffalo and Friends Outdoor Activity Book
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Macmillan Children’s Books

The twenty four activities in this spirally bound book have been created by Forest School specialists, Little Wild Things and are based on Julia and Axel’s The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle, Room on the Broom and Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book.

Each section has a context setting spread with a quote from the relevant book ‘A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. / A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.’ and every activity has a list of what’s needed, numbered ‘What to do’ instructions, hints and tips and some extension suggestions.

Whether used with a group or by an individual, there’s lots of fun learning across the curriculum herein.

Toddler Bookshelf

The Great Big Egg Hunt
Ekaterina Trukhan
Nosy Crow
It’s a special egg hunting day with Rabbit and her friends. Having collected her basket, Rabbit and readers start the search. First Chick joins in and they search the bathroom where they discover Duck but no eggs. The search continues in the kitchen then moves out into the garden where eventually, after a few false starts, the five friends have an egg each. Hurrah!
With its simple, predictable text, plenty of flaps to explore and cute illustrations, little ones will enjoy participating in this seasonal search-and-find game.

Not quite a board book but sturdily made is:

Pip and Posy: The Friendly Snail
Axel Scheffler and Camilla Reid
Nosy Crow
Best friends Pip and Posy are spending time together outdoors in the garden. Pip is enjoying a spot of peaceful gardening but Posy is in a noisy mood banging and bouncing around. Suddenly Pip discovers a friendly snail while Posy continues with her noisy play, even frightening the snail back inside its shell. Enough is enough: Pip tells Posy to go away and upset, she disappears somewhere leaving Pip to continue with his work. So engaged is he that he fails to notice another creature getting ever closer to the snail. Happily Posy has been watching and now has the ideal reason to make a lot of noise …
An engaging tale illustrated in Alex’s trademark style, demonstrating an important life lesson: differences should be valued if friendships are to flourish.

Sleep, Cat, Sleep
Antje Damm
Prestel
The cat in this little board book is not happy; he’s trying hard to sleep but the fact that somebody has opened the first page has roused him from his slumbers. He tries hiding and pleading, which seem to do the trick, but then the page is turned again and those delightful dreams disappear. However the sleepy creature perceives that the destroyer of his dreams is now also rather in need of some shut-eye – maybe it’s time to turn the tables …
Simple, playful, interactive fun for pre-bedtime sharing with sleepy little humans.

A Little Snail Book: Hide-and-Seek
Shasha Lv
Chronicle Books
Bear is playing hide-and-seek with his friends, Little Mouse, Little Turtle, Little Cat, Little Duck, Little Pig and Little Snail. Despite their best efforts he successfully finds all but Little Snail. The other animals are amused at the fact that the tiny creature is hiding in plain sight and little humans will have a good giggle at the fact that the smallest animal can outwit the seeker. It’s he that acts as narrator sharing his search in a simple first person narrative throughout the game.
Silly but lots of fun; Shasha Lv uses a limited colour palette effectively in her amusing scenes of the animals’ game.

All Manner of Board Books

Hello You!
illustrated by Stephen Barker
Campbell Books
With its die-cut cover, this is a smashing book for adults to share with their babies. Herein they can meet familiar family faces : mummy (being funny), daddy doing a wiggly dance, a snoozing grandad and a snuggly grandma.
The final spread is a gatefold guessing game that’s just right for developing early language and there is also an additional peep hole to play peek-a-boo.
Stephen Barker’s alluring captioned images stand out from the brightly coloured backgrounds.

Lizzy the Lamb
Axel Scheffler
Campbell Books
Lizzy the lamb is a lively creature. As she frolics and cavorts in the fields, she sometimes gets splashed by the geese so she shakes her fleece dry before moving on to chase the bunnies, but they’re too quick for her. It’s a tired but happy Lizzy that ends the day bleating her satisfaction, with a “Baa, baa!” to her farmyard pals.
Accompanying the rhyming narrative are Alex Scheffler’s droll illustrations – the full page ones capturing Lizzy’s joie de vivre perfectly and the vignettes that focus on some of the other animal characters. Little ones will enjoy working the sliders and wheel, joining in with the relevant animal sounds and perhaps, adding some leaping, shaking and hopping actions. In so doing they’ll be developing their fine and gross motor skills, and sound/symbol awareness.

Honeybee
illustrated by Teresa Bellon
Campbell Books
A honeybee acts as the narrator of this ‘eco-friendly’ natural history book, introducing little ones to her world through a rhyming text and labelled scenes.
The latter offer a look inside a beehive and a close up of a honeycomb while the bee describes simply, the processes of pollination, the collection and use of nectar in the making of honey, as well as how little humans can help the honeybees that live close to their homes.
Teresa Bellon’s illustrations of bees at work are engaging and playful; most have moving parts to add to the fun. Aimed at encouraging preschoolers to become nature lovers, this is one of a new “My Little Green World’ series that are sustainably made with FSC paper and printed with vegetable inks.

Goodnight Farm
Carmen Saldaña
Little Tiger
Peep-through pages enable little ones to discover a wealth of farm animals and bid them a “goodnight” as, accompanied by a collie dog, and guided by Becky Davies’ brief rhyming narrative, they visit a hillside, a grassy pasture, hen house, a pond, the stable, a flock of sheep in the field as the moon shines bright above.
In addition to the main rhyme, simple farm related facts are scattered throughout Carmen Saldaña’s starlight scenes offering simple snippets of information such as ‘Ducks can sleep right on the water.’ or ‘Pigs sleep a lot – up to 11 hours a day!’ (something even this adult reviewer didn’t know.)
Just right for sharing with sleepy humans just before bed.

Let’s Go! On a Plane
Let’s Go! On a Digger

Rosalyn Albert and Natalia Moore
Catch a Star
Whether they prefer the excitement of boarding an aeroplane and jetting off to a holiday destination in the tropics or keeping their feet firmly on the ground and watching the digger driver hard at work on a construction site, the very youngest children will find plenty to interest them in these new additions to the popular Let’s Go series.
In both books children act as narrators of Rosalyn Albert’s simple text which takes the form of rhyming couplets, while Natalia Moore’s strikingly coloured spreads fill in the detail.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts / Flip Flap Snap! Pets

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Minibeasts
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow

Award-winning illustrator Axel Scheffler has created another in the Flip Flap series and the possibilities just might be even more bonkers than ever with this one of minibeast muddle ups that can be created from the dozen real minibeasts – over 120 if my reckoning is correct.

So, what would you get if you cross a butterfly with a bluebottle? That would be none other than a buttottle – Flutter! Flutter! Bzzz! Bzzz!

And what about an earthworm with a grasshopper? That, naturally (or rather unnaturally), is an earthwopper.

Youngsters (and grown-ups) will delight in discovering all kinds of splendidly silly creatures and their weird and wonderful sounds in this playful book.

Giggles galore for sure thanks to Alex Scheffler..

You’ll have to wait till early September for this one:

Flip Flap Snap! Pets
Carmen Saldaña
Templar Books

Want to meet a rabbigar? Or maybe you’d like to see a gecky? By flipping the flaps little ones can create some petty permutations at the same time as learning a little from the pet narrators whose rhyming information is accessed by lifting the flaps on the left-hand side of each double spread.

The fun pop-up facial features that are part and parcel of Carmen Saldaña’s amusing illustrations will likely encourage toddlers to play for some time with this jolly mix-and-match book.

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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Animal Magic, Cuddly Cow, Portly Pig, Baby Elephant & Baby Reindeer

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Animal Magic
Phil Allcock and Gina Maldonado
Maverick Arts Publishing
Delightfully playful is Phil Allcock’s nonsense rhyme featuring what starts out as a hedgehog – a funny one – and morphs into eight other animals – small and smaller. There’s a hopping one, a wiggler…

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a strutting clucker, a quacking swimmer, a jogger, a hopper (furry this time) and slimy slitherer and finally …

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Toddlers will have enormous fun guessing what each new disguise will be before the page is turned to reveal it in one of Gina Maldonado’s enchanting dayglow spreads.

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Cuddly Cow/ Portly Pig
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Another two lovable animals star in the latest ‘Sound Button’ farmyard stories from the inimitable Axel Scheffler. The first features a very dozy Cuddly Cow intent on finding a quiet peaceful spot for some shut-eye. Her own meadow’s no good because the other cows make too much of a din: surely there’s somewhere else though, after all it is past sundown.
The chicken shed’s full of clucking hens, the horse is inhospitable, there’s a right old row in the pig pen – thank you ducks – but what about the sheep field? Maybe a spot of counting might help …

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Portly Pig’s troubled on account of his clean, pinkness. He’s against green grass, yucky flowers and trees as he describes them, and sets off in search of a mucky place. Soon he discovers just the thing: a cool, muddy pool; and a delightful day of splashing and sploshing follows. Until that is, the sky changes colour …

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Pig, like most young children is a real mud lover but unlike them, he can keep on getting muddy, letting the rain wash him off and immediately getting mucky all over again – in an instant. Youngsters will delight in Portly’s mucky, messy coat and might well be tempted to emulate his actions – adults beware!

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Baby Elephant / Baby Reindeer
illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
Chronicle Books
In the first of two new offerings in the ‘Finger Puppet’ series we discover how Baby Elephant greets her Mama, finds food, keeps cool and communicates with fellow baby elephants.
Baby Reindeer lives in a contrastingly cold tundra climate and to find food, has to use his hooves to dig in the snow and uncover tasty lichen. Like Baby Elephant, he too swims in a river – albeit a very icy feeling one and snuggles against Mama Reindeer for warmth at the end of the day.
Both board books provide a lovely way for human adult and baby to interact with a book.

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Family and Friends

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My Grandparents Love Me
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon and Schuster
That special relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is explored in this charmer of a book, narrated by a young zebra, be it the welcome embraces, gifts in the bedroom, a baking session with indulgent, ever-patient Gran …

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an outing to the funfair rounded off with large ice-creams and a picnic or a spot of rocket building in Grandpa’s shed,

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a stay with Gran and Grandpa is bound to be loads of fun.
Sometimes though, the young zebra has his grandparents to stay at his home where boating or swimming lessons might be the order of the day,

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followed by a noisy musical interlude before it’s time to snuggle up close for a story sharing session before bedtime.

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With bit parts played by additional friendly-looking jungle animals, Judi Abbot’s excursion scenes provide extra entertainment for young listeners while the zebras young and adult take the star parts throughout, be they indoors or out and about.
Claire Freedman’s warm story will appeal particularly to grandparents and the very young who not only share that special loving bond part and parcel of which is the joys of book times together.

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Together …
Emma Dodd
Nosy Crow
A mother sea otter and her young one spend a day together sharing the beauty of the rising sun, then watching and dreaming as the clouds drift by. They laugh and play in the water, learning new things from one another …

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and sometimes, just drifting side by side, holding paws and watching the sun start to sink as the day draws to its close. Togetherness days such as that are the ones both mother and child will remember.
Simply beautiful, full of tenderness and perfect to share with the very youngest, this latest of Emma Dodd’s Animal series has alternate spreads that sparkle with silver foil.

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Pip and Posy: The New Friend
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Best friends Pip and Posy are spending a day at the beach but their friendship seems threatened when Pip goes off to play with Zac …

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while Posy snoozes in the sun. So noisy is their laughter that it wakes up Posy who is none too happy and feels excluded.

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Off go Zac and Pip to buy ice creams with Polly following behind but then down swoops a seagull and snatches Zac’s ice cream. Who do you think offers the very last coin so he can buy another one?
Established friends of Pip and Posy will doubtless welcome the opportunity to catch up with their activities and delight in the final co-operative effort.
In addition to being a fun story to share with early years groups and individuals; the easy to read text makes it a good one for those just beginning to read for themselves to enjoy (once you’ve shared the story first). Axel Scheffler’s illustrations as always offer plenty of humorous details to delight and to talk about.

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Playful Books for Little Ones

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Peek-a-Boo You!
Jane Cabrera
Templar Publishing
A frisky cat plays peek-a-boo with a small girl and her ted as it frolics through the peep holes in the pages of this delightful rhyming book. Kitty delights in activities such as jumping into a shoebox

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and overturning a beaker, although perhaps she isn’t quite so delighted by this …

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However, the playful puss has a surprise for the little girl …

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and there’s a surprise finale for readers too.
Great fun to share with the very young. Equally, with its predictable patterned text, this book is ideal for beginning readers and so much more fun that dull reading scheme fodder.

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One Lonely Fish
Andy Mansfield and Thomas Flintham
Templar Publishing
‘A counting book with bite!’ announces the cover of this playful book as we begin with one very tiny fish swimming through the sea watched only, or so it seems, by a couple of crabs from the ocean floor.
Flip the fin-like page and a second fish is revealed now swimming behind the first.

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Continue in similar fashion until nine fish of increasing size swim one behind the other, still watched by that pair of crabs that are now looking decidedly alarmed and turning over one more time will reveal the reason why.

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What follows is a satisfying finale? – Err, that all depends on your viewpoint.
Great fun and full of mathematical potential within and beyond the pages of the book.

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Brown Bear Colour Book
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing
This charming concept book is also an invitation to play hide and seek with Brown Bear – he peeps through the increasingly large die-cut circle on every colour spread. The three primary colours plus orange, green and purple each have a double spread which follows the same form: text on the left-hand side; seven small pictures, plus bear peeping through, on the right. The text too, keeps to a repeating pattern: here is Red …

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In fact pattern is key to the whole thing. The individual objects are beautifully patterned

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and often set against a patterned background in a shade of the featured colour.
As the pages are turned the previous colours are visible through the increasingly large hole on the left hand die-cut circle until the surprise grand finale …

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Those of us who have taught young children /and or/ are parents, will know that the very young do not generally acquire colour concepts from books, rather they develop them through experiences of the real world and interactions with adults. However, this book will certainly help to reinforce ideas relating to colour and is a delight in itself. There is so much to talk about on every spread; and the predictable, repeating pattern of the whole thing makes it a book that beginning readers can enjoy trying for themselves.

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Gobbly Goat
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
It’s lunchtime and Gobbly Goat has a rumbly tum. He wanders around the farmyard in search of something tasty to munch. Ugh! That straw hat tastes pretty disgusting, the rosy apples are way too high and Horse isn’t keen on sharing his hay so what can Gobbly gobble? …

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Told with a rhyming text and with deliciously funny farmyard scenes, this is a tasty treat for toddlers who will delight in pressing that sound button and making Gobbly bleat.

In similarly delightful Scheffler style and also in boardbook format is

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Higgly Hen
Nosy Crow
Here, although Higgly is hungry as the story begins, food is not the main object of her search. No sooner has she begun her food finding walk than her eggs hatch – six in all –

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and it’s those she wanders around the farm in search of. Silly hen; it’s a good thing that the cat, horse, pigs and other farmyard animals are on hand to help with her hunt.

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Flips, Flaps and Dots

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Find the Dots
Andy Mansfield
Templar Publishing
This dotty book is truly amazing. Herein it’s creator – paper-engineer extraordinaire, Andy Mansfield employs every trick imaginable and then some. The set of instructions: PUSH, PULL, LIFT, TURN, TWIST, FOLD, LOOK, PEEK should also include GASP (in awe) as one reaches the grand finale …

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There’s even a mirror discretely tucked under the invitation to ‘Find 6 blue dots’.
Hours of absorbing manipulating, some frustration and lots of delight are guaranteed.
I’m putting chains on my copy…

 

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Flip Flap Jungle
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
What crazy creatures will you meet today?’ asks the butterfly on the title page of Scheffler’s latest Flip Flap book in which he features eleven jungle inhabitants. What’s crazy about jungle animals, you might ask; well nothing really if you mean the tiger, frog, monkey, toucan, armadillo, leopard, gorilla, parakeet, porcupine, chameleon and anteater; but that’s because you haven’t tried any of the numerous combinations possible in this highly amusing split page book.
I randomly opened the book and found myself confronting a Toucadillo,

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followed by a Frey (poisonous, blue with clever hands for climbing, fruit picking or maybe checking Mum for fleas.) Ribbit! Ribbit! Ooo! Ooo!

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Each animal has two descriptive verses, one on the top half of the page, the other at the bottom so these two get mixed along with the animal tops and bottoms, adding to the fun.
Guaranteed hours of enjoyment from this one and, children will most likely be paying close attention to how the animal names, real and invented, are put together – an added bonus.

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An Unforgettable Wedding

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The Scarecrows’ Wedding
Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler
Alison Green Books
Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay are in love. He proposes: she accepts. They plan for their wedding, “A wedding that no one will ever forget.” How do they plan? They make a list of course: a comparatively simple one comprising just five items.
Then, arm in arm, they set off around the farm to find:

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First things first – and that’s easy thanks to some obliging geese who furnish a feather a-piece. Said feathers, we learn are to be duly sewn together by a spider friend. The cows, of course, agree to be bell ringers (the last item on the list taken care of); a crab – yes a crab – just happens to scuttle along with a shell necklace, that’s item two sorted, and a couple of mice find suitable matching rings. That just leaves item number three – pink flowers.
Off goes Harry, in the company of a large bee to find those, leaving Betty to have a doze. Hours later, they reach a field full of pink flowers – job done. Well not quite … wilted flowers won’t do and it’s a long way back so water is needed and …
Meanwhile back on the farm Betty is troubled by her loved one’s absence. The farmer quickly makes a replacement, one Reginald Rake.

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The name says it all and before long, in an effort to impress the lady, he’s whipped out a packet of Havanas, lit up and …
There’s no smoke without fire …we all know the saying. Guess who is beating a hasty retreat through the cornfield.
All is not quite lost however. The timely return of Betty’s fiancé ‘with a pail on his arm’ saves the day

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and provides the final item on their list.
So next day, it’s a case of ‘Here comes the bride’ on the arm of her savior for what everyone has to agree,
“Is the best wedding ever, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget.”

 

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A wonderfully rhythmic tale – this is Julia Donaldson, so one would expect no less – with high drama, suspense, romance and humour in a rhyming narrative that just trips off the tongue. Alex Scheffler brings the scarecrows to life through their expressive eyes and mouths despite their stiff limbs and populates his pictures with all manner of farmland extras from grasshoppers to goats, butterflies to badgers.
There are few scarecrow picture books around; this is the only one that really works, but then it is from the Gruffalo partnership.
A sure fire winner in my book.
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I Spy …

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I Spy in the Sky …
Edward Gibbs
Templar Publishing (Brubaker, Ford & Friends)
Information is painlessly and playfully  absorbed as young readers engage in a game of I-Spy in this series; here the focus is birds, the format is the same as for previous titles.
On the right hand side of each double spread is a die-cut peep hole. This offers an up-close view of a portion of a wing of the particular flying creature being ‘spied’ be it parrot, hummingbird, pelican, eagle, owl or other bird. The left-hand page provides a look at the bird in question’s own eye. To aid the guessing there are factual verbal clues relating to food, manner of flying, and colour of plumage whilst a glimpse of the animal’s habitat is presented across the double spread; add to that additional information in the form of speech bubbles, then turn the page to reveal a wonderfully dramatic vision of the bird itself executed in Edward Gibbs’ characteristically bold style.
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Maisy’s World of Animals
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
Join an appropriately clad and equipped Maisy and visit such contrasting environments as the icy Arctic, snow-capped alpine mountains, the scorching sandy desert, the hot grassy savannah,

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the Oceanic depths, a lush jungle and finally, the freezing South Pole. At each location we are can spot four different kinds of animal (except at the Pole), one or more of which can be moved by a tab-pull or opening flap.
Yes, I’m sure the very young will  be absorbing some basic science concepts but more important, they will be expanding their horizons, increasing their vocabulary and vitally, having fun sharing the book with an adult or older child. How long the movable parts will last in enthusiastic hands, I’m not sure, but I suspect this one, like other Maisy titles, will get many re-reads.
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Pip and Posy Look and Say
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Illustrations from Pip and Posy’s other titles have been reworked into this large format I Spy book. My first thoughts when I saw the title of this one were: Are the publishers/author trying to oust the current phonic obsession that presently holds our nation’s beginning readers in its thrall? Would that they were.
Actually though I don’t think that is the intention (more’s the pity). This is essentially a sequence of playful scenes showing the friends in a variety of locations – the park,

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the town, home and garden engaged in those everyday activities that can make special moments for small children. We see them scooting, flying a balloon, peering out at two birds tugging at a worm in the rain, tobogganing, pulling off wellies, playing with building blocks and trains, sharing a snack, dressing up, using play-dough and more. Each double page scene has an accompanying narrative and underneath is a series of eight small, captioned, telescope-view style pictures preceded by an invitation from a minibeast, bird or toy “Can you find these things?” Hence, many hours of enjoyable togetherness with small child, book and adult or older sibling.
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Not actually an ‘I-Spy’ book, rather one that invites the very young to count is:

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Giraffe’s Jungle Boogie
Liza Miller and Sarah Pitt
Templar Publishing
Giraffe loves to dance but without a tune to follow, she makes it a leg-tangling disaster. Off she goes (seemingly armed or should that be legged?) with instruments in search of a band to keep her on beat. She encounters in turn one elephant – he receives a bell, two monkeys – they get cymbals, three zebras – drums for them

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and four lions – they become banjo strummers. But then elephant downs tools or rather bell and the other animals quickly follow suit. Time for some quick thinking and a new plan… Before long there is a reconvened group starring an elephant trumpeter and five jiving giraffes.
Having said this isn’t an I-spy book, it could, with the assistance of an adult mediator, very easily become one. As well as the animals to count, there are all manner of minibeasts, brightly coloured flowers, musical instruments and other items in the landscape to spot and/or count.
With jolly, bright and often amusing, images from Sarah Pitt, paper engineered pop-ups by Jonathan Litton and Liza Miller’s rhyming text, this one should provide lots to engage preschoolers.
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Stephen Biesty’s Giant Vehicles
Stephen Biesty, Rod Green and Andy Mansfield
Templar Publishing
This sturdy book (it will need to be) is a veritable feast for the eyes, not to mention the mind. Biesty has chosen eight giant movers to be the subjects of this thoroughly engrossing info-graphic book. The featured whoppers are ‘The Super-Train’, The Giant Jumbo (Airbus A380), The Whopper Chopper (Russian Halo helicopter),

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Saturn V, the rocket that powered the Apollo spacecraft, The Caterpillar 797F dumper truck, floating hotel the Oasis of the Seas, the Russian naval submarine Typhoon and the world’s biggest ship Maersk Triple-E.
Countless hours, weeks even, of child (or adult come to that) absorbed in book are assured with this one. In addition to the numerous written facts (provided by Rod Green) visible on the page, lift the flaps – over 40 in all – (Andy Mansfield engineered those) to reveal further informative annotations to Biesty’s mind bogglingly detailed, pen/ink and watercolor washed, illustrations.
I can see it being read to death – literally. Buy to give and buy to keep. It’s an infinitely better way to turn young minds on to science/technology than any endless testing regime.
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