Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn / The Three Happy Lions

Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn
Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Mere kitty cat, or is she a unicorn?

Kitty has an overwhelming desire to be a unicorn like the one on her poster. So much so that she fashions a paper horn for her head and what she sees in the mirror reflects her unicorn-ness – there’s no disputing that. Or is there? Certainly there is when it comes to Parakeet and Gecko, a pair of denigrating naysayers if ever.

Nonetheless Kitty continues undaunted until come sundown she’s certain the long shadow has convinced the killjoys. Not so though for this shadow belongs to … a unicorn.

Now Kitty feels totally dejected until this compassionate creature does something that completely changes things

allowing Kitty to see herself as the fabulous creature she truly is – not just a kitty but a Kitty-Corn, majestic, magnificent and quite perfect … just as she is.

From two of the creators of The Princess in Black series this is an enchanting tale of acceptance and true friendship: make sure you read from the front endpapers to the back to get the entire story though.

Also with a theme of finding your true self is

The Three Happy Lions
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin
Scallywag Press

First published over sixty years ago and now reprinted for a new audience is this classic tale that tells what happens after Happy Lions One and Two produce an offspring that they name Francois.

Having pondered upon what their cub might do with his life, fate takes a hand in the form of a rich lady who visits the zoo and expresses a wish to have Francois as a pet. Somewhat reluctantly, his parents agree and so begins a pleasant life of pampering.

But like all lion cubs, Francois keeps on growing until the lady decides he’s become too big and she gives him to her friend Monsieur Tambour, a circus owner. However, the creature fails to become either sufficiently ferocious or a flaming hoop jumper and so back to the zoo he goes.

All the while though, Francois has harboured a yen. Perhaps now is the time to follow his true calling: he certainly has a good role model in his namesake…

With its occasional French phrases and its enchanting illustrations it’s good to see this book back in print again. I loved The Happy Lion as a child but was not familiar with this story of being true to yourself.

Rhinocorn Rules!

Rhinocorn Rules!
Matt Carr

Matt Carr’s Ron is a rhinocerus after my own heart – a fun and art loving, rule subverter, full of ideas of the divergent kind.

Being grumpy, a loner and ready to charge should anything approach is not for him. Instead Ron is at heart a fun-loving, art and music enthusiast, brimming over with creativity and joy. Moreover he wants to share his joyful ideas with the other animals but none of the rule-abiding creatures is interested.

Life for Ron is pretty mundane until one sweltering afternoon at the waterhole he catches sight of his dull reflection in the water. Thinking that if only he could show himself as he really is then friendship would follow, an idea strikes him and Elmer the patchwork elephant style, Ron sets to work with his creativity …

Once he’s dried off he is transformed into a true life work of art and as you might expect, he now feels A-MA-ZING!

Time to get himself noticed and so he does: first he impresses the meerkats and before long lots of animals are eager to have fun and be friends with the transformed Ron. Happiness at last.

Happiness however is not what his fellow rhinos feel; oh dear no. Ron is a total embarrassment, so they tell him.

Fortunately though, the meerkats stand up for their new friend and point out something that hadn’t occurred to the rhinos. Realisation dawns and then there’s only one thing to do … and Ron does it in one deft move of his forelimbs.

I wonder what new rules he created in place of old ones. What three would you have chosen?

Through his droll illustrations and heartfelt words Matt has created a thoroughly inspiriting story. The message is loud and clear: be true to yourself, be proud of who you are; and if that means finding a way round, over or under the rules then so be it, and good on you.

Love the cleverly worded title and the final ‘Did you know?’ page.

Jazz Dog

Jazz Dog
Marie Voigt
Oxford Children’s Books

Segregation rules in a world populated by dogs and cats. Dogs play only dog music; cats only play cat music.

However there’s one dog that isn’t happy with this separatist regime; his music is different.

One night he hears a beautiful sound coming through an open window and he’s mesmerised. He’s determined to learn to play like the Jazz Cats, but the cats won’t help so he decides that he must teach himself cat music.

Borrowing instruments and books he sets about learning cat jazz and it feels right.

As he passes the theatre a sign announcing a jazz contest catches his attention. What an opportunity to show his talent; but a dog performing in a cat contest?

Shock horror.

The theatre is packed to capacity with growling dogs and hissing cats. The jazz dog has a crisis of confidence but thanks to some feline encouragement, he decides to stay and play.

Who would have believed that the actions of one determined little dog could have such amazing consequences …

Marie Voigt’s uplifting rendition gets right to the heart of individuality and is a reminder that every one of us is entitled to follow our own path, and to find the inner courage and confidence to stand up for what we know is right, for ourselves and also for others.

A must for families, and for classroom sharing and discussion.

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep

Stephano the Squid: Hero of the Deep
Wendy Meddour and Duncan Beedie
Little Tiger

Life for Stefano squid is far from easy. Why is it that the unique characteristics of a squid go unappreciated? That is what Stefano ponders upon.

His fellow deep sea creatures offer reasons relating to his lack of colours, being unbat-like and not being shaped like a hammer …

while the dolphins suggest he should endeavour to look more intelligent; the sea dragon favours looking more leafy and the sea cucumber’s suggestion is to look more vegetable-like.

All the while Stefano is at pains to point out that being a squid makes their suggestions impossible, and when the anglerfish  asks about his weaponry, all the squid can do is to go and hide himself away in a cave.

There he receives some words of comfort from the Sea Cucumber but they are immediately negated by the comments of the limpets.

However, when Sea Cucumber points out one of the diving crew is in trouble, it’s down to Stefano to come to his aid; small and insignificant as he considers himself to be, he just can’t swim away and do nothing.

Rescue mission achieved, or rather,  the little cephalopod and his pal get the surprise of their lives – make that two surprises -when the identity of the rescued diver is revealed; but the second one comes the following day and to discover what that is, you’ll need to get your fins on a copy of this thoroughly immersive book.

Wendy’s telling is great fun but at the same time reminds us of the importance of self-worth and self-belief. Duncan’s terrific undersea scenes are splendidly expressive and comical, and I love his marine colour palette.

There are talking points aplenty once you’ve shared this super splashy story.

Maurice the Unbeastly

Maurice the Unbeastly
Amy Dixon and Karl James Mountford
Sterling Children’s Books

Oh, I do love a divergent character and vegetarian beast Maurice, sweet of voice, gentle of nature and a delight to look upon, certainly fits the bill. In fact his parents are so despairing of his peaceable ways that they send him off to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts to learn to be more beastly.
Now although alfalfa fritters may be his favoured food, Maurice does not want to be a failure so off he goes, determined to do his best.

After just a few days though, the new pupil is close to being ejected from this educational establishment for singing instead of roaring, unsuitable eating habits in a disorderly dining hall;

dancing dashingly when he’s supposed to be havoc wreaking; and his school photo is positively glamorous despite his best efforts to be hideous.
When a strange creature invades the classroom causing teacher and Beastly students considerable consternation, Maurice steps in with his winsome ways and a timely offering, taming the animal …

and earning himself accolades and a new title from the Head.
That however is not the only new thing Maurice is responsible for at the Academy, but for the rest, you’ll have to get your hands on a copy of this enormously enticing offering.
Remain true to yourself Maurice; long may you prevail.
What a delicious cast of characters Mountford has conjured up using a colour palette of black, sage, olive, rust, mustard and coral tones. I’m sorely tempted to make a puppet or soft toy Maurice.
Meanwhile I’m going to be enthusiastically sharing his story with a whole lot more little beasties.

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Great Dragon Bake Off


The Great Dragon Bake Off
Nicola O’Byrne
Bloomsbury Children’s Book
Followers of TV cookery shows will chuckle at the names of the characters in this tasty treat of a book. There’s chief protagonist, Flamie Oliver – a dragon, enormous and terrifying; well, that at least is the impression he gives but in fact, Flamie isn’t ‘very, very good at being very, very bad.’ This is clearly going to be a bit bothersome when he joins the Ferocious Dragon Academy for the most ferocious dragons-in-training where all his classmates are excellent do-badders.
The other thing about Flamie is his particular penchant for pastry of all kinds.


So whilst his classmates hone their dragon skills, off goes Flamie to have a bake-up; and having perfected his pastry he moves on to more fancy fare. The snag is there’s nobody to share the fruits of his labours with, but even worse Flamie has been neglecting those dastardly dragon skills he was supposed to have been working on.
Consequently, when finals day dawns the lad feels singularly unprepared, even more so as he watches classmates, Heston Blowitall, Scaly Berry and Paul Firewood do their stuff and delight teacher, Miss Puffitup.


Flamie of course, fails to delight, fails all his exams to be precise, leaving him just one way to graduate. “You must kidnap a princess and eat her!” Miss Puffitup declares.
Sick at the thought, but sicker at the prospect of not graduating, off flies Flamie to capture himself a princess. Having secured one, he sits in his kitchen contemplating his next meal – not an appetising sight …



and muttering to himself about sauces when Princess Rosewater speaks up. Before long the two of them are busy concerning themselves with a suitable accompaniment to the princess dish; but nothing seems quite right. Fortunately the princess has an idea: can it be successfully served up for a Dastardly Dragon Skills degree though? Suffice it to say, the proof of the baking is in the much appreciated tasting: a degree? – that would be telling.


This truly mouth-watering tale is a treat to share with young listeners. My audience drooled over the delicacies, despaired at the prospect of the princess’s demise and clapped at one particularly mouth-watering spread; and one girl was thrilled to see a dragon wearing specs similar to hers.

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