You Can!

You Can!
Alexandra Stick and Steve Antony
Otter-Barry Books

Here’s a book that began with children: those children from diverse backgrounds who responded to Alexandra Strickland’s question what they would say to their younger selves to inspire, reassure and enthuse them about the future. This wonderful book with Steve’s brilliantly inclusive illustrations using fourteen child characters, represents their answers.

We then follow these characters as they grow from babies (on the front endpapers), to toddlers, to young children, to older children and finally, into young adults (on the back endpapers). The cast of characters truly is diverse, as their wide variety of interests, identities, friendships and futures develop as readers turn the pages.

It’s definitely no holds barred: you can be anything you want, do anything you want (including ‘love a good picture book whatever your age’) hurrah! –

safe in the knowledge that it’s fine to be sad or angry, to talk about your feelings and discover what makes you happy.

Equally, it’s important to have big dreams and pursue them using whatever path it takes, be a leader or a follower, not forgetting to make time for playfulness and silliness along the way.

It’s important to realise that those fears of yesterday will be today’s challenges and tomorrow’s achievements, practice can be fun and learning should be enjoyable.

We see that seemingly small individual actions can inspire other people and together all those small somethings can and do make a difference. Equally though everybody has rights.

Not everybody needs to do things in the same way, but all honest ways must be equally valid: doing something differently is doing it nonetheless.

On this journey through life, it’s crucial to know that making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process; it’s important too, that you forgive yourself as well as others, and ask adults for help if you need. Be yourself, for yourself, determined, supportive, an individual who doesn’t allow others to categorise you, is kind and empathetic: self-belief is key probably now more than ever.

Hugely empowering and inspiring, this a book that needs to be in every home and classroom. Children and adults will love the gentle humour and playfulness in Steve’s illustrations: each spread deserves close study.

Big Dance / Bea by the Sea / The Roller-Coaster Ride

There are three recent releases from Child’s Play – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Big Dance
Aoife Greenham

As the Big Dance draws near, everyone seems excited about their moves, except young Pippa. Despite what her Poppa says she doesn’t think she has a dance inside. To prove his point, he decides to show her what Kit, Hip, Skip and Whizz and the others can do.

However, Pippa remains unconvinced about her own ability so Poppa then demonstrates his dance. “I’m not anything like that. I’m just a ME” muses Pippa but nonetheless she finds herself trying just a little dance and initially things look as though they’re going well but then she decides it’s no go nonsense. Her pals concede that it may be so, but add that it’s also fun – and inclusive. “It’s all of us … where we are all the same and all different … we can all be ourselves together. It’s where we all belong.” How aptly they put it but is it sufficient to encourage the one that’s still missing? What do you think?
Reassuring, all encompassing and a reminder of the importance of having the freedom to be yourself (something not everybody has) as well as a delightful demonstration of the joy of joining in. There’s plenty to talk about be that at home or in a school setting, when this quirky delight is shared with youngsters.

Bea by the Sea
Jo Byatt

Young Bea is a lion expert, thinking about the creatures all day long. When her mum suggests a day at the beach Bea would much prefer to stay at home playing lions especially as she doesn’t like the gritty, scratchy sand at all. Nonetheless she packs her lion paraphernalia, puts on her wellies and decides the best way is to pretend she too is a lion. Off they go with Bea concentrating on hopping from rock to rock rather than noticing the awesome lion sculptures her mum points out.
Suddenly she trips and falls flat on her face scattering her lion things all over the place.

As she brushes herself off a loud voice introduces itself as Sand Lion, suggests she leave her boots off and leads the way towards the sea. Gradually Bea sees as they play together, that sand can be great fun and they spend the entire day enjoying its possibilities, the Sand Lion also making a discovery.
The following day Bea returns eagerly to the beach but the tide has changed everything. No Sand Lion to be seen but Bea knows the best thing to do …
Bea is a delightful character and Jo Byatt’s portrayal of her is superb: I love the resemblance between the Lion’s mane and her hairstyle as well as the way she captures movement in her illustrations.
When you share this lovely book make sure you allow time to explore the factual endpapers.

The Roller-Coaster Ride
David Broadbent

As Vincent and his grandma journey in the purple bus towards the beach they talk of the exciting rides, especially Vincent’s favourite roller coaster, the boy eagerly anticipating and imagining its many interesting possibilities. However when they reach their Funland destination there’s a sign saying it’s closed for repairs. You can imagine Vincent’s disappointment, but Grandma offers encouragement and alternatives in the form of splendiferous ice-cream

and a play park, not to mention an unusual way of getting back to the bus stop.
I was quite surprised to see how accommodating Vincent is and impressed by his flexibility and positivity in not letting unforeseen circumstances completely ruin his day out: a great example to little ones. It’s good to see the author/illustrator’s inclusivity in his lively, brightly coloured scenes -I wonder how many of them will notice Vincent is differently abled on a first reading. The environmental positives include that the bus is electric, the charging points available, the cycle track, wetlands and wild life reserve all shown on the endpapers’ maps.

The Viking Who Liked Icing

The Viking Who Liked Icing
Lu Fraser and Mark McKinley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a story set long, long ago and far, far away.

When it comes to the traditional Viking skills or indeed anything else that requires some kind of sporting finesse, Nut, in contrast to his big sister Leaf, falls well short of the mark. Indeed whenever he picks up his bow and arrow, everyone else takes cover. He’s not entirely without talents however: he’s passionate about baking cakes and does so with lashings of creativity, dreaming about so doing at night too.

There’s one day in the Viking calendar that young Nut dreads more than any other: Viking Sports Day has him shaking in his boots. Nonetheless off he goes, cake in hand to the venue, a reluctant participant if ever there was one.

Things go pretty disastrously

and then comes the Great Horn-Throwing Race …

Is there any way Nut might redeem himself?

With its combination of Lu Fraser’s dramatic rhyming narrative and Mark McKinley’s hilarious scenes of Nut’s sporting ineptitude as well as his mouth-watering confections, and the other characters’ reactions to both, this is a fun demonstration of the fact that everybody has a talent that will win through if nurtured. That way lies happiness.

This will surely be a hit with young listeners at school or at home.

Delightfully Different Dilly

Delightfully Different Dilly
Elizabeth Dale and Liam Darcy
Happy Yak.

Meet Dilly the adorable baby penguin that’s born with a difference: she has only one leg and so doesn’t do things quite the same way as the other little penguins. Instead of waddling she hops and revels in so doing, impressing the other little ones who try to emulate her with only a modicum of success. However they all have fun together

and Dilly’s difference is totally accepted by the young penguin generation as well as her parents.

Not so the other parents however: set in their ways and with a narrow view of life, they upset Dilly by thoughtlessly telling her to stop being different.

Then Dilly gets an opportunity to demonstrate to all the adult penguins just how awesome her difference makes her: indeed she becomes a superhero and in so doing shows the entire colony how much diversity should be valued.

Despite its chilly setting, with its theme of acceptance, Elizabeth Dale’s is a warm-hearted story to share and discuss with little humans. Liam Darcy’s illustrations are splendidly expressive and gently humorous perfectly complementing the text.

Magnificent! / In Her Element

These are two of the titles in the Pop Up Projects CIC 10 Stories To Make a Difference collection, each one inspired by the theme of difference.

Magnificent!
Laura Dockrill and Ria Dastidar

At the start of Laura’s poem, Magnificent! the chief protagonist is trying to cover up individuality, acting like others and trying like mad to blend in – a familiar scenario I suggest. In graphic detail Roa Dastidar shows the trials and tribulations this causes, covering up one’s true feelings and trying to fit in. Social inadequacy, as we see in the playground scenes certainly brings no comfort: overthinking and overcompensating are unrewarding.

Later though, we see a difference – ‘a flip of the coin today’ – it’s time to toss aside boring, cheating sameness and start celebrating differences, no matter what they might be. Quirks are part of what makes us who we are, we’re all different – be that where we come from, how we communicate or how we look.

So long as we remember to reach out to others, especially those who might be struggling, our world can be one of joy where uniqueness rocks.
A smashing book to share and discuss, especially as part of a PSED session.

In Her Element
Jamila Gavin and Jacinta Read

That Jamila Gavin is a superb crafter of tales is evident from the very start of this moving sharing of events in young Sophie’s life, In Her Element. Sophie has cerebral palsy, communicates through her beautiful expressive eyes and a screen, and has a carer, Martin with whom she has a special bond. She loves to be taken swimming , has a special connection with the ocean and dreams of swimming with whales: “Water is my element” she tells Martin, imagining herself as an aquatic creature. Indeed the watery world acts as a metaphor for all the thoughts Sophie cannot give voice to.

Now there’s to be a change in her life: Sophie’s parents tell her that a special residential school they’d previously visited has offered her a place to start the next term. Tears stream down her face as she informs Martin what’s to happen, although she remains calm showing no anger. He in turn is hugely reassuring, reminding her of her ambitions and the importance of becoming as independent as possible.

Almost inevitably, life at school is challenging, especially as Sophie has to share a room with the far from welcoming Amber, an ace swimmer who has been severely injured and now wants nothing to do with the sport or water. So she says, but then one night, Sophie’s actions cause Amber to show what her element truly is. Jacinta Read’s final two watercolour illustrations portray this brilliantly.

What a powerful story with such an uplifting ending. Jamila Gavin paints a picture of an enormously positive main character whose imagination is a key part of her life.

If the rest of the series is as good as these two I’d strongly recommend primary schools get all ten.

Fabulous Frankie

Fabulous Frankie
Simon James Green and Garry Parsons
Scholastic

What does it take to be deemed fabulous? That issue lies at the heart of this tale of flamingo Frankie who more than anything else longs to stand out from his equally fabulous, fellow flamingos. A plan is what’s needed so Frankie gets creative fashioning a new super sparkly, shimmery designer stole. But when he gets to the lagoon what does he see but …

However, a magazine ad. beside the water gives him another idea, but it seems he’s not alone in fashionista fan waving or indeed glitter cannoning.
In the throes of a massive tantrum Frankie finds himself at the feet of his friend Pinkie to whom he cannot help but pay a compliment before flouncing off.

Frankie trudges on his way but having stopped to offer help to Flo (inadvertently upsetting a mule with his comment in so doing)

he hears his friends whispering about him. Has he finally found the key to being fabulous? And if so, what is it?

This ultimately uplifting tale of the importance of being yourself demonstrates how each and every one of us is unique: self-esteem is not reliant on appearances alone – there’s SO much more to being fabulous than that.
Garry Parsons’ fantastically funky illustrations are full of fun and feeling be that upbeat or down.

Not In That Dress, Princess!

Not In That Dress, Princess!
Wendy Meddour and Cindy Wume
Otter-Barry Books

Full of spirit and exuding energy from cover to cover, this is the story of how a strong-minded young Princess Bess tosses aside gender stereotyping norms – “There are things we DON’T DO in a dress!” …

“a princess must always impress” and does exactly what she wants to do, proving that dress notwithstanding, there is absolutely nothing, this determined female can’t do.

Her brothers, the princes More and Less, along with a host of animals large and small, watch in awe as she scales tall buildings, hikes, skis through a storm, goes on safari,

cavorts with a wizard and much more.

Eventually the queen, her highness Gloriana Stephaness, realises that it’s a case of no holds barred: her daughter’s behaviour IS truly impressive. She even decides to make a public announcement concerning dress code; moreover it’s not long before other, unlikely royals, are also sporting dresses.

Wendy Weddour’s jaunty rhyming narrative will have young listeners joining in with the oft repeated “in my dress” as they relish the sight of Bess (Cindy Wume shows her in a different dress for every activity) having the most incredibly exciting time beyond the confines of the palace.

I’ve always had a soft spot for children – real or in stories – who push the boundaries, challenge and subvert pointless rules and are ready to break out of their narrow confines: Bess joins their number

Judge Juliette / Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade

Here are two recent picture books from Sterling Children’s Books:

Judge Juliette
Laura Gehl and Mari Lobo

Juliette is a girl with a dream – to become a judge; meanwhile she dons her mum’s old black skirt and uses her grandpa’s old mallet to play at so being. Already she’s the person those in her locality increasingly turn to for decisions of what is fair from bedtimes to bat losses.

This causes her parents to decide that their daughter has proved herself sufficiently responsible to be allowed that much wanted pet.

But then who should walk into her courtroom but mum and dad: Mum thinks she should get a dog, Dad pins his hopes on a cat and each parent has plenty of evidence to back up their side of the argument. Moreover, both are prepared to try a little bit of bribery on their daughter. This is going to be tricky to say the least.

How can Juliette possibly make a fair decision in this Cat vs Dog case?

Youngsters, many of whom will already have a strong sense of fairness, will enjoy this story with its bold illustrations, especially the finale, and during the course of a book sharing will likely learn some legal terminology.

Bling Blaine Throw Glitter, Not Shade
Rob Sanders and Letizia Rizzo

Make no mistake Blaine is into all things sparkly; he adorns his school uniform, his book bag and cap with glittery things. He’s popular, spreading happiness wherever he goes, is a sporting star and extremely bright. Most people are accepting of his predilection

but a few lack understanding and eventually those hurtful words begin to take effect on the boy especially when someone calls him ‘Sissy!”
Next Monday he arrives at school sans sparkles and this continues through the week and by midweek the entire school has lost its shine. Something has to be done and so his classmates take action: the following morning several children show up defiantly sporting sparkly items of clothing.

This precipitates a change of heart in others, and after some discussion between the pro- and anti-sparkle individuals,

things change: a small gift is given, and a decision is made: everyone is free to be themselves, at least at this school.

A gentle lesson, with expressive cartoon style illustrations, on the individual’s right to be him/herself, and on being an ally. (the final spread talks about what the latter entails).

Julian at the Wedding

Julian at the Wedding
Jessica Love
Walker Book
Love, love love this stunner of a book wherein we see the return of mermaid- loving Julian – at a wedding. Not his of course but he does pretty much steal the show.

As the story starts, we see dapper looking Julian arriving at the celebration accompanied by Abuela, being greeted by a friend of hers who is accompanied by a little flower girl, Marisol. Both children are to be in the wedding – a ‘party of love’. And so it is – in more ways than one.

During the meal, Julian, Marisol and the brides’ dog, Gloria decide to make a break for it

and off they head to a “fairy house” as Julian calls the weeping willow. All three have terrific and rather mucky fun with the result that Marisol’s dress is dappled with paw prints and mud splodges.

Julian comes to the rescue with a creative idea and thanks to the magic of that fairy house … a transformation takes place. Now both parties are dressed divinely and just how they like to be.

Then they’re discovered by their grandmothers– time for Marisol to fess up and face the music but does anybody mind? Of course not: the brides welcome their return to the party and the loving festivities continue … under the stars.

There’s an abundance of love and tenderness, just the right amount of rebellion and wildness, and of course, individuality, acceptance and understanding.

Jessica Love’s illustrations (gouache and watercolour) are simply divine – vibrant and brimming over with glorious details making every spread one to pore over.

Sheer joy from cover to cover.

The Goody

The Goody
Lauren Child
Orchard Books

We’ve probably all met them – the goody goodies; but Chirton Krauss is by all accounts, ‘the very goodest’. He even does good things without being told. He consumes his least favourite vegetable, broccoli, washes his hands thoroughly after using the loo and goes to bed on time without so much as a murmur.
His sister Myrtle on the other hand is anything but a good child. She never cleans out the rabbit hutch when it’s her turn – why would she when Chirton will do it for her?

Nobody invites her to parties any more and she’s been told she’s not good so many times, she now has a reputation to live up to. Moreover their parents have given up trying to make her do the good things her brother does without question.

But then he does start to question: why should Myrtle not have to eat her veggies and why should she be allowed to stay up late watching TV, stuffing herself with choco puffs and dropping them all over the floor?

Maybe, just maybe, being a goody isn’t actually so good after all.

Could it be that a change is about to come upon our erstwhile goody, goody boy? And what about Myrtle? Might changes be afoot in her too? …

Delivered with Lauren Child’s unique humour and charm, and her idiosyncratic illustrative style she presents a smashing ‘goody versus naughty’ story that demonstrates how important it is for children to be allowed to be themselves and to be kind.

Whatever way youngsters present themselves to the world, they’ll love this book with its wonderfully textured art, credible characters and wry look at family life Krauss style.

Be More Bernard

Be More Bernard
Simon Philip and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster

Bernard is a bunny; he does bunny things like nose twitching and ear pricking and he digs lots of deep holes. In fact whatever his fellow bunnies do, Bernard does likewise.

In his dreams though things are rather different; he dreams of decidedly un-rabbity things. But how long can he keep up his pretence of being just like the other bunnies?

One day he decides to eschew the bunny poo baps his fellow rabbits are eating. ‘I can’t do this any more’ he decides.

Little by little Bernard starts to do his own thing, largely ignored by the others until that is, the day of the annual bunny ball when, shock horror, a divergent bunny rolls up!

Ignoring cries of “You can’t wear that!” and “We’re all the same!’ Bernard struts his stuff with joyful abandon, disco dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

Amid the cries of consternation, there’s one little bunny, Betsy, who loves his daring to be different and it isn’t long before Bernard isn’t the only risk taker on the dance floor.

Then comes the big reveal …

which all goes to show that the best possible choice is to be true to yourself whatever that may be.

Long live individuality and difference: that is what is so splendidly conveyed in Simon Philip’s cracking story narrated with such delicious humour by Bernard himself.

Kate Hindley brings out that humour with her splendiferous scenes of the protagonist’s transition from rule adherent to rule breaker, from follower to leader, from ordinary bunny to bunny extraordinaire. Make sure you peruse every spread carefully or you’ll miss the wealth of captivating detail in every one.

Blooming brilliant!

Not Yet a Yeti / Froggy Day

Not Yet a Yeti
Lou Treleaven and Tony Neal
Maverick Publishing

High up in the snowy mountains live George and his family.

All George’s family are yetis: “When will I be a yeti?” the little creature asks.

Having consulted in turn, his grandfather, his dad, his big sister and his mum, George concludes that he lacks the necessary qualities for full yeti status. He has no desire to terrorise visitors to the mountain,

leave scary footprints in the snow (his feet are too small anyway), or chase ramblers like other family members.

Suddenly George knows what he wants to be …

Lo and behold as he speaks, a horn grows from his forehead, his limbs grow hooves and he acquires a swishy tail and mane.

Alarmed, Mum consults Dad and a compromise is reached: after all if his other family members continue eating hikers, the human race faces extinction.

An offbeat tale of having the courage to be yourself and acceptance that manages to include the creature that seems to be every young child’s favourite at present – the unicorn. For this reason, if nothing else, it’s likely to become a crowd pleaser. Tony Neal’s entire family of yetis are, despite their claims, thoroughly unscary and totally likeable creatures as is George himself.

Froggy Day
Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Publishing

Imagine watching the weather forecast on the TV and being told “Today is going to be froggy, very froggy!” by the forecaster. That however is what happens in Heather Pindar and Barabara Bakos’ zany book.

No sooner are the words out of her mouth than chaos descends in the form of little green amphibians. They create havoc in the streets, on the bus, the supermarket is over-run with the creatures,

the building site workers are totally bemused, animals stampede and frog horns boom out warning the sailors at sea.
There isn’t a single place in town without an invasion of frogs – imagine the uproar in the classroom.

Then comes the evening weather forecast: now what might that hold in store, I wonder …

Crazy as Heather’s tale may sound, I was once in Udaipur, Rajasthan during the monsoon season and as we emerged from a café into sudden torrential rain, it did seem as though it was raining frogs: the tiny creatures (not green ones but brown) fell in thousands from the rooftops of all the buildings. Goodness knows how they got up there in the first place but the sight was truly bizarre.

Heather Pindar’s play on words is a great starting point for her gigglesome story and Barbara’s illustrations of the frogs’ frolics are a real hoot.

How to be a Lion

How to be a Lion
Ed Vere
Puffin Books

‘This book is for those who daydream, and those who think for themselves’.
I love that. It’s written in Ed Vere’s inspiring ‘letter’ that accompanied my review copy; it’s also printed on the final page of his eloquent story: I hope it applies to myself, make that, to everyone. I wish everybody could read the entire letter, but instead I urge you to get yourself a copy of the book and share it widely.

It starts philosophically: ‘The world is full of ideas. /Big ones,/ small ones. / Good ones,/ bad ones. / Some think this … / others think that.’ before bringing us back to earth and in particular, lion territory on the African plains where the norm is to be FIERCE! But is that the only way to be?
Enter Leonard: thoughtful, prone to daydreams, something of a poet and above all, gentle.

Enter shortly after, a duck, Marianne by name. Being Leonard, it isn’t a case of ‘Crunch, crunch, CHOMP!’ Instead our lion, polite introductions over, requests her assistance and as luck would have it, Marianne is able to assist in freeing Leonard’s stuck muse and before long a firm friendship has been forged; one that involves stargazing, philosophical musings and above all, contentment and happiness.

Into their peaceable existence comes a pack of ferocious lions demanding to know why the duck has not met its demise.
True to himself, Leonard explains about their friendship and resists their loud growly admonishments.

Their instructions about becoming fierce make him pause and question however, but Marianne suggests a trip to their thinking hill to mull things over. Lo and behold, serious hums and serious quacks together are turned into an idea, and then, poetry that is finally ready to be presented to those fierce lions.

What Leonard says to them is heartfelt, provocative – “Why don’t you be you … And I will be I.” – and one hopes, a game changer.

Ed Vere’s timely fable is profound and intensely moving in the gentle way it offers words as tools of bridge building and change, as well as showing a different male role model. Don’t be pressurised into conforming, be yourself is what shines through both his words and oh, so eloquent, humorous illustrations.

A perfect read aloud with oodles of food for thought, and talk.

Rooster Wore Skinny jeans

Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans
Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos
Maverick Arts Publishing

Be yourself and if that means wearing skinny jeans that make you the butt of jokes from your farmyard friends then so be it.

That’s the conclusion the resident rooster of Rosemary Mill farm comes to after strutting his stuff in his newly delivered denims with their gold stitching, and being on the receiving end of the other animals’ cutting comments.

Having run for cover and taken stock of himself in his skinnies,

the rooster decides to cock a snook at those micky takers – with surprising results.

Jessie Miller’s unfaltering rhyme rollicks along with a sparkle to match the stitching on Rooster’s jeans and if my audiences’ reactions are anything to go by, she has a winner here.

Exuberantly executed scenes of the rooster hero sporting his new purchase brought on fits of giggles from my listeners, young

and not so young; and I suspect adult readers aloud will be rushing to the nearest mirror in their skinnies to see how their rear view compares with fashionista, Rooster’s.

Halloween is Coming: Hugo Makes a Change / Pretty

Hugo Makes a Change
Scott Emmons and Mauro Gatti
Flying Eye Books

Hugo the vampire is a total carnivore: tucking into juicy meat, be it burgers, hot dogs, steak or lamb, is his idea of satisfaction and he doesn’t stop until he’s stuffed himself to bursting.
Then one night he starts to feel bloated, sluggish and downright grumpy. Time for a change of diet he decides and wings it away in search of something new to tempt his taste buds.
Landing in a vegetable garden, Hugo examines the crops and is totally unimpressed with wrinkly leaves, lumpy blobs and bumpy skins. But then he comes upon something red dangling from a tree and feeling those hunger pangs starting up, he sinks his fangs right into the object. Ahhh! the delight; the tang.

Before you can say ‘vegetables’, he’s munching away on crunchy carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers; wisely though he passes on the garlic.
Back home he makes a decision: meat is fine in moderation but a healthy mix of veggies, fruit and nuts is much more satisfying.

Before long he starts to notice the changes in himself: it’s a stronger, happier Hugo who takes his regular evening flight and just cannot resist leaving his mark whenever he stops for a quick bite.

Emmons’ rhyming narrative and Gattis’ bold, engaging illustrations (look out for Hugo’s feline companion therein) make for an entertaining story. If like me you’re a confirmed veggie, you might find yourself heaving somewhat at the opening scenes of Hugo gorging himself on mounds of meaty morsels.
A fun read, and a clever way to demonstrate, without a hint of preachiness, the benefits of a balanced diet: the ideal fare for adults wanting to get across the notion of healthy eating to young children.

Pretty
Canizales
Templar Publishing

Is it better to have ‘a crooked back, a lumpy nose, a big pointy chin and wiry hair’ or have ‘a nice straight back, a neat little nose, a very dainty chin and sleek wavy hair’? That is the dilemma facing the witch when she’s invited for a picnic by the troll.
She starts out duly attired in her best black outfit as her normal self warts and all, but after encounters with Squirrel,

Rabbit, Fox and Mouse, she is persuaded to alter her appearance, with a few deft flicks of her wand, to their perceptions of prettiness.
So effective is her transformation that her date fails to recognise her …

and stomps off in disgust.
The following day the witch invites the troll to a picnic of her own making.
Troll deems the food delicious and it certainly is, in more ways than one, especially if you like your revenge served cold.

A tasty mix of humour, magic, whimsicality and revenge, sprinklings of cumulative narrative and a darkly toothsome final twist, all served up with flat, stylised illustrations in a subdued earthy colour palette: the perfect Halloween offering.

Jessica’s Box

Emmanuelle, who starts school this week,  engrossed in the story.

Jessica’s Box
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

Jessica’s mind was too busy for sleep. / Her thoughts are already with tomorrow.’ …
‘tomorrow’ being the day Jessica is starting school. The whole family is excited. She’s determined to make friends and to that end, with her to school goes a large cardboard box.
On the first day it contains her teddybear; but the other children are unimpressed and leave her alone. The second day is really no better: she fills the box with cupcakes.

They quickly draw a momentary crowd, but ne’er even a thank you.
Time for some serious thinking.
On the third day, Jessica takes her dog, Doris in the box. She has a temporary success but then the school caretaker steps in and Doris is returned home.
Day four arrives and Jessica takes an empty box ….

Then a little boy notices her and the seeds of a friendship are sown …

Carnavas’s potent images, with and without full colour, need few accompanying words to relate the emotional rollercoaster of Jessica’s first few days at school. The message is clear, just be yourself: true friends will love you for what you are; you cannot ‘buy’ friendship however hard you try.
A perfect, starting school story; but equally, with its friendship theme, a lovely book to share at any time: the author really does see things from behind the child’s head.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Only Lonely Panda

The Only Lonely Panda
Jonny Lambert
Little Tiger Press

Deep in the forest, a lonely panda sits among the bamboos longing for a friend. He sets his sights on another panda; but how to go about making friends with her, that is the thorny question.
He spends time observing his fellow forest animals: first the flamingos who befriend one another through a graceful dance. Panda’s efforts at fluffy flamingo dancing however don’t quite pass muster; in fact they’re a total flop.
So what about emulating those bouncing sifakas? Surely being springy like those bouncy creatures can’t be difficult and it’s bound to impress the other panda …

Well, maybe not!
Nor can he manage that majestic booby walk like the strutting blue-footed birds, without losing sight of the object of his desire.

And that peacock is in no hurry to part with any of his tail feathers; so Panda will just have to make do …

until the rain comes that is.
It’s a very despondent panda that plods off to eat his dinner all by himself. But then … Perhaps this is the opportunity he’s been looking for: carpe diem, lonely Panda …
What a gorgeous production this is. Its metallic silver ink finish really makes the gorgeous glowing colours of the forest animals stand out.
Jonny Lambert uses the space on the page with supreme artistry: every spread is skilfully choreographed in what seems like a virtuoso performance of an animal ballet.
Moreover, thanks to Jonny, I’ve now made the acquaintance of two animals new to me – the blue-footed booby and the sifaka. His story, with its important message, reads aloud beautifully but it’s those visual sequences that linger long in the mind.

I’ve signed the charter  

Woolf

Woolf
Alex Latimer and Patrick Latimer
Pavilion Children’s Books
The trials and tribulations of pretending to be something you aren’t are sensitively and humorously explored in this collaboration between Alex Latimer and his illustrator brother, Patrick.
Part wolf, part sheep, Woolf is the offspring of an unlikely and much frowned upon marriage between a sheep and a she-wolf.

Woolf has both sheep and wolfish characteristics but as he grows older, he experiences an identity crisis. Out exploring one day, he encounters a pack of wolves and as a result decides to rid himself of his woolly coat.
Thus the pretence begins; but inevitably as the wool starts sprouting again, maintaining the disguise becomes tedious and Woolf leaves for pastures new.

Over the hill he comes upon a flock of sheep: again Woolf isn’t true to himself, lying about his wolfish characteristics and then adopting a new ovine look …

Once again, pretence proves unsatisfactory for Woolf and his stay with the flock short-lived.
Convinced he doesn’t belong anywhere, the little creature is distraught and that’s when his parents step in with some timely words of wisdom, pointing out that trying to be something other than your real self can never make you truly happy. Much better to accept and celebrate all that makes you truly special and unique.
Patrick Latimer’s illustrations executed in an unusual colour palette of black, greys, browns, greens, teal, cream and biscuit with occasional pops of purple, blue and pink are delectably droll.
Like me you may well find yourself howling with laughter at Woolf’s attempts to fit in but there is a serious and important life-lesson at the heart of the book: true friends accept and love you for being you.

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The Dressing-Up Dad / Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad

The Dressing-Up Dad
Maudie Smith and Paul Howard
Oxford University Press
I’m sure most children are embarrassed by their parents from time to time: I suspect the boy in this funny story with its being yourself no matter what theme, feels increasingly that way as he gets older.
Danny’s Dad, like his son just loves to dress-up: I don’t mean in his favourite gear say, his best jeans and T-shirt. Oh no! Danny’s Dad really gets into the swing of the young lad’s fantasy play, donning whatever costume he deems appropriate for the situation in hand. He might become a space rocket, a fearsome dragon;

a wizard at the library, or a snow bear; and at Danny’s themed birthday parties, you can guess who was the most dreadful dinosaur or the dastardliest of pirates …

As Danny’s next birthday approaches, Dad contemplates his attire: should he perhaps be a ladybird, a dragonfly; there are plenty of bugs to choose from. Danny however, has other ideas for his Dad this year. And yes, he does look pretty cool as an ‘ordinary everyday’ dad but can he resist the invitation of Danny’s pals who have decided they want to be chased by a giant caterpillar. I wonder …

There’s a dilemma at the heart of this story and it’s evident in the body language and facial expressions of Danny’s Dad at the party. He’s doing his level best to enjoy being the perfect ordinary father when inside he’s torn: what he really wants is to don a costume and be a bug too; but how can he please himself and at the same time please his son? Paul Howard portrays all this and much more so adeptly in his enchanting illustrations. The presence of Danny’s lively dog wanting in on all the action and managing to creep in to almost every scene adds to the visual enjoyment of Maudie Smith’s captivating story.

Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad
Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt
Egmont
Little Monster is excited at the prospect of a day trip to the fair with his dad, despite the fact that they’re going by car rather than train: that at least is the intention. No sooner on the road though than they’re held up in a traffic jam; when the car breaks down en route, after which the rescue truck gets a flat tyre, one begins to wonder whether they’ll ever reach their destination at all. Thank goodness then, for the bus: and there’s room for all aboard.

Finally they arrive at the fair ground and it seems as though Little Monster might be going to get his longed-for train ride after all …

With its funny, suitably garish Sharratt scenes with their plethora of flaps to lift, large print and sturdy pages, this will please most little monsters about the age of the chief protagonist herein.

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Little Wolf’s First Howling

Little Wolf’s First Howling
Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
Walker Books
Little Wolf accompanies Big Wolf to the top of the hill, both father and son eagerly anticipating the wolf pup’s first howling. The full moon appears above the hill top and Little Wolf can hardly hold on to that first howl of his but first he must let his father demonstrate “proper howling form.” Then comes the turn of the beginner: he starts conventionally but then adds a little bit extra of his own.
Not wanting to dent the cub’s confidence, Big Wolf performs another howl, then off goes the cub again with a superbly creative version of his own – love you little fella!

‘aaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo dignity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo’

Unsurprisingly, he’s told gently but emphatically, it doesn’t pass muster. No matter how many times Big Wolf demonstrates what he’s waiting to hear from his little one, what comes from the cub is increasingly elaborate verbal creativity.
Then suddenly, Little Wolf’s joyful wild abandon starts to have a different effect on his parent: instead of admonishing his offspring’s outpouring, he joins him, becoming co-creator of an extremely unauthentic duet performed at uninhibited full volume right across the countryside.

After which the two head home “to “tell the others” – just in case they hadn’t heard it.
Kvasnosky and McGee together have produced a superb picture book celebration of the creativity of young children.
Little Wolf’s spirited renderings are a perfect example of the kind of uninhibited imaginative responses of those in the early years, so long as well-intentioned adults don’t step in, take over and try to show them the one ‘right’ way to do something. Long live all the little wolves everywhere (especially those of the divergent kind), and those adults who, like Big Wolf have the good sense to step back and look at things from behind the heads of the very young.
The digitally coloured, gouache resist scenes wonderfully evoke the inky night setting in which wolves might wander, the telling is a delight and the dialogue spot-on. A word of warning to readers aloud though: you may well find yourself completely hoarse after being called upon for immediate re-readings of this wonderful book – happy howling.

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Be Who You Are

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Introducing Teddy
Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
There’s been a fair bit about gender identity and transitioning in the media of late; finally it has become more acceptable: now here is a picture book on the theme. It’s subtitled ‘A story about being yourself’ and this is what it celebrates: something that is of vital importance to us all, whoever we are. Equally it’s a celebration of friendship and in particular the friendship between Thomas the teddy and his pal, Errol who play together every day.

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One day though, Teddy seems sad. Errol hopes a trip to the park will cheer him up …
but even the swing doesn’t work its usual magic. “What’s wrong, Thomas? Talk to me!” Errol urges.

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And reluctantly Thomas explains. “I need to be myself … In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy. I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.” Like the true friend that he is, Errol assures his pal that no matter what, Teddy and henceforward Tilly, is his friend. And when another friend, Ava arrives on the scene, Errol introduces the re-named Tilly to her. After minor adjustments to her adornments, Tilly joins the others in a session of swinging, see-sawing and generally enjoying being themselves …

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Tenderly told and empathetically portrayed with just the right degree of gentle humour, this is a book to share with young children at home or in school.

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Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea
Morag Hood
Two Hoots
Lee is a small green pea; Colin isn’t. Unlike all Lee’s other pals, Colin is a tall carrot stick. They’re close friends despite the fact that Colin isn’t any good at rolling, bouncing …

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or playing hide and seek with the other peas. He does however make a superb tower as well as …

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all of which combine to make him a smashing individual to have as a friend: those unique carroty characteristics are what count where friendship is concerned.
In this quirky celebration of individuality, Morag Hood – with her unlikely characters – brings a fresh spin on uniqueness and being yourself, whatever you are. I love the fact that she created her funny collage and paint pictures with the help of supermarket plastic bags. A great debut; I eagerly anticipate what comes next.
As well as being a great book to share in an early years setting, the simplicity of the text makes it ideal for beginning readers: they surely deserve unique books not dull, uninspiring fodder.

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I Will Not Wear Pink

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I Will Not Wear Pink
Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
Otter-Barry Books
When Plunkett the pig receives an invitation to a pink themed party his reaction is one of more than a little peturbation …

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What him? No way. The one who’s called “Plunkett the plonker. Plunkett the oinker. The hooter, the honker. The toff who shows off, stands out in a crowd.”
There follows a veritable litany of further protestatory outpourings from our porky pal before he states the obvious: “…there is one sort of pink so divine, so sublime, and the best of it is that it’s already mine, from the tip of my tail to the snoot of my snout, pink is the shade of the skin that I’m in. Pink’s where I end and where I begin.” Thereafter he scoots off to state his case for being in the buff to his waiting host, Priscilla …

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and having done so, he proceeds to deliver an exhortation to her other guests to throw caution to the wind and join them in a glorious strip off and plunge party of the wallowing kind.

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Then seemingly, a terrific time is had by one and all.
One gets the impression that both Joyce and Polly Dunbar had an equally terrific time creating this gloriously dotty, thoroughly upbeat celebration of being yourself – au naturel – so to speak. Joyce’s – or should that be Plunkett’s narrative – is pure pleasure to read aloud, especially to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy the opportunity to put on a story-telling performance. Young audiences

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are certain to revel in the hilarious antics of Plunkett and Priscilla as portrayed by Polly in her effervescent scenes.
Altogether a bravura performance by both mother and daughter.

Another lovely picture book with themes of being yourself and friendship is re-issued with a brand new look:

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The Star-Faced Crocodile
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books
This one tells of a developing bond between a banjo-strumming bear and the crocodile of the title, who is not actually star-faced at all but is frightened to reveal his ordinariness to the bear.

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The bear however is perfectly happy in the knowledge that the croc. is just a plain, snippy-snappy creature, but goes to great lengths to transform his new friend into a twinkling animal nonetheless.
Melling’s humorous watercolour scenes are sheer delight.

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Coco Chanel & Frida Kahlo: Little People Big Dreams

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Little People, Big Dreams Coco Chanel
Little People, Big Dreams Frida Kahlo
Ma. Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Ana Albero, translated by Emma Martinez
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Delightfully different are these stylish picture book biographies for young readers, and both feature young women – girls when we first meet them – who themselves were different and proud to be so.
When we first encounter Coco Chanel, she’s called Gabrielle and lives in an orphanage. where the nuns there are far from happy about her unusual behaviour as they deem it, …

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Even at an early age, Gabrielle liked to spend time sewing rather than playing with the other girls and when she grew up, the young miss sewed during the daytime and sang at night. It was then people began calling her Coco.
Then one day Coco makes a hat for a friend, a hat quite out of the ordinary and thus begins her new career as a designer of hats.

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Before long though her flair for design leads her to create stylish clothes that not only looked different but felt different: they were comfortable to wear. Not everyone took to them straight away but gradually women realised that stylish needn’t mean stiff and sparkly:

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Coco Chanel had begun to make her mark on the fashion world and would continue to be remembered as a great designer and style icon even to this day.

Right from the start as a young girl in Mexico, Frida Kahlo stood out from the crowd. But it wasn’t until she was involved in a terrible road accident that Frida’s life really changed. Following the accident, she spent a lot of time in bed and to pass the time she’d draw pictures of first, her foot and then by using a mirror, entire self-portraits.

 

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Gradually she amassed a whole portfolio and decided to visit the famous artist, Diego Rivera. It wasn’t only her pictures that impressed him however, and eventually the two were married.

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Encouraged by her partner, Frida continued painting self-portraits, her pictures reflecting how she felt at the time and a show was organised of her work in New York City. Sadly though, Frida’s health continued to decline but despite this, she carried on painting to the end: her passion for life and for painting never left her. It wasn’t until after her death however, that the painter truly won fame as an international artist whose work is characterised by vivid colours and Mexican symbols.
Truly inspirational are these two women who have both left a lasting mark on the world and made it a better place for us all; and all because they dared to be different and let nothing or no one stand in the way of their dreams.
Both books have a time line at the end as well as additional facts and a brief list of further reading suggestions and museums where their work can be seen.
Definitely worth investing in for KS1 and lower KS2 classrooms and just the thing to help celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March.

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The New Kid (coping with bullies)

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The New Kid
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Hodder Children’s Books
Ellie is a girl with inner strength, most definitely. So, when she moves into the purple house in a new neighbourhood she resolutely wears her grey coat (at her mum’s behest), despite the fact that the other children on her street aren’t wearing theirs when they knock asking her to play (at their mums’ behest). As a result she comes in for some unkind taunting from the others, “Ellie-in-the-grey-coat,” they all chant.
ELLIE-ELEPHANT!” No reply from Ellie. But then she begins, courtesy of that grey coat, to transform herself into an elephant and CHARGE …

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right at the bullies.
Next Ellie, morphs into a seal. The gang members applaud, all except their leader who is the book’s narrator. He feels his position as games-maker-upper is threatened by this newcomer, whose next transformation is into superhero. Time for some quick thinking and action now, boy narrator … there go two superheroes, coats a flying; but then …

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A new friendship is born.
Vibrant, sensitively rendered paintings cover every centimetre of this thought-provoking book that demonstrates the power of the imagination in adversity.
Great endpapers too; I particularly like that there’s a bookshop on what appears to be the main street and the hair of every one of those children is just so tactile in appearance.

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The boy narrator’s voice sounds somewhat detached; for much of the time he appears as an almost passive observer, perhaps reluctantly joining in with the bullying chants. This is an effective vehicle through which to present the way children can at times, all too easily, be cruel to one another, especially to those they view as outsiders. At the same time that same voice talks about positions of power and roles among peers.
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