Happy Narwhalidays

Happy Narwhalidays
Ben Clanton

It’s holiday time in this, the fifth instalment in the series starring the delightful duo, Narwhal and Jelly as they consume warm waffles, do some singing while swimming and eagerly anticipate the coming of the Merry Mermicorn. In case like Jelly you’re wondering what that might be here’s Narwhal’s description of her …

We meet the friends in several scenarios including The Perfect Present wherein Jelly makes a discovery and then spends ages racking his brain over the perfect present for Narwhal.

Then comes The Mean Green Jelly Bean, a story the friends co-write and illustrate about a unappealing sentient jelly bean. This sour being is, in its own words, flavoured like ‘pickle-scum snail-slime puree’ and unsurprisingly not to every one’s taste, but is it to anyone’s?

As per usual in this funky series, sandwiched between the events are some facts on ocean life – in this instance of the particularly ‘cool’ kind; and underlining the kindness theme, the book ends with a rendition of The Merry Mermicorn Song. (the friends’ version of ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’)

Perfect for new solo readers at this time of year are these delectably daft seasonal diversions of Clanton’s underwater pals, one ever the optimist, the other, decidedly not.

Curious EnCOUNTers / I Spy ABC: Totally Crazy Letters! & I Spy 123: Totally Crazy Numbers!

Curious EnCOUNTers
Ben Clanton and Jessixa Bagley
Little Bigfoot

A child shares with readers the sights, sounds and smells she encounters on a hike through the woody countryside. Setting off, who knows what might be there to observe or ‘where the trail will lead’. Pretty soon though it’s clear that this is not to be a calm peaceful appreciation of nature. Rather, it’s a series of tallies from 1 to 13 of somewhat crazy outdoor antics, each leading on from the previous one, and each being described through an alliterative sentence – ‘2 Raccoons reading and rocking out,

Six squirrels sporting sweaters through to ‘13 Thirteen seagulls soaring and searching’ and a final invitation to join the frolicking friends for a fabulous feast whereat not all the animals are forest dwellers. The story eventually comes full circle as the final page shows the child, now sitting hidden behind an abundance of foliage, and seemingly sketching the animals.
Throughout there are playful, punny conversations between the creatures featured, “I overheard you were c-lamb-ering for wool.”; “It was wool-y great of ewe to give us all this wool!”; “What a wonderful way to unwind.” “Shear is!”

A comical counting book and an adventure too that provides both fun and plenty of learning possibilities.

I Spy ABC: Totally Crazy Letters!
I Spy 123: Totally Crazy Numbers!

Manuela Ancutici and Ruth Prenting
Firefly Books

Make no mistake, these two visually incredible, stimulating books are not intended for little ones who are just learning the alphabet or to recognise numerals/numbers and to count. It’s the ‘I Spy’ part of the title that is key, for what the letters and numerals are doing is to act as templates onto which themed items are arranged and to which the text directs users to look for various objects relating to that theme. Each page or spread is introduced by the words, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ immediately engaging users young and not so young.

On the gorgeously autumnal coloured C we’re to search for ‘a long snake, a starfish, a beetle, and yellow lizard (tricky to locate); then there’s a turtle supposedly on the move along the letter, as well as eleven or so pinecones, fourteen shells, a walnut, five soft feathers and finally, five acorns. Phew!

Among the thematic materials used (sourced largely from flea markets) are toy vehicles, gorgeously coloured flowers, beads, food, art materials, nesting dolls and sewing. In no way does the text cover the wealth of items included for each letter or number and that leaves the way open for adult and child to play their own games of I-Spy thus adding to the countless hours of enjoyment and potential for visual development offered by the books.
With the numbers book, after 10, the double-digit numbers featured get a double spread each rather than a single page,

while the ABC allocates a single page for each letter.

There’s a wealth of learning opportunities between the covers of both the ABC and 123 and each offers countless hours of fun too. And just in case you’re stuck on any of the searches, the final pages provide solutions.
Great for both home and school use.

Narwhal’s Otter Friend

Narwhal’s Otter Friend
Ben Clanton

This is the fourth graphic novel style Narwhal and Jelly book and it’s as brilliant as ever.

It begins with an encounter between best pals Narwhal and Jelly, and newbie Otter. Narwhal declares self-professed ocean explorer, Otty, “Otterly awesome!” Ever-sceptical Jelly on the other hand, is less enthusiastic and disinclined to believe some of his stories.

His enthusiasm wanes further when Narwhal invites Otty to accompany him on an adventure. “Really? Does this mean we’re friends?” Otty asks. “Pretty much!” comes the response.

Guess who is jealous and feels left out. So much so that he decides to seek out a new friend; not very successfully
and eventually he befriends a rock, he names Rocky.
They play ‘oodles of awesome games’ that Rocky excels in ‘Go Fish . . . Marco Polo . . . Staring Contests’ as Jelly informs Narwhal and Otter when the latter finally hunt them down.

You’ve probably surmised that it was never Narwhal and Otter’s intention to sideline Jelly and he’s over the moon – or rather, the rainbow – to be invited to join them on the ‘awesomest adventure ever’. ‘Seas the day’ guys!’

As always Ben Clanton’s illustrations are terrific – whimsical, witty, wonderfully expressive. His text has its measure of splendidly groanworthy puns and there’s the usual sprinkling of animal facts as well as another Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick offering, from Jelly and Rocky on this occasion.

Plunge in and relish the three tales and more in this friendship tester; it’s a laugh-out-loud winner once again.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut Butter and Jelly
Ben Clanton

I spluttered my way through this third book in Ben Clanton’s graphic novel style Narwhal and Jelly series, over my porridge breakfast – no peanut butter, jelly or even waffles in sight, I hasten to add.

Herein Jelly takes it upon himself to turn parental and persuade Narwhal to try something else instead of his relentless diet of waffles, the something else being in this instance, peanut butter. Out comes that “How do you know unless you try it?” so many youngsters will be familiar with as a result of their own parents’ coaxings to try unfamiliar foods, especially veggies.

Having ascertained there aren’t any allergen issues, a peanut butter cookie is proffered by Jelly

and accepted by Narwhal who devours the entire thing declaring it “fintastic’ and ‘yumptious’. No surprises there, but Narwhal aka Peanut Butter,

aka all manner of other names, then goes on to consume jar after jar after jar of the sticky stuff with super-silly results for both characters.

Delivered in dialogue form and garnished with groan-worthy puns, bonkers humour once again reigns in these three tales of oceanic friendship between the unlikely duo. Don’t miss the jokes and fantastic facts sandwiched between the stories.

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea / Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Ben Clanton

In Unicorn of the Sea. Ben Clanton introduces readers to Narwhal, a self-aggrandising creature.

In the first of three sub-aquatic adventures, while cruising in ‘new waters’ Narwhal encounters a jellyfish and despite doubting each other’s realness, the two interrogate one another, forge a friendship and eat waffles together.

The second tale sees the two involved in forming their very own ‘podtastic’ pod of awesomeness that includes other ocean buddies – shark, turtle, blowfish, octopus and of course – though he’s very nearly left out – Jelly, each of which receives a tusk tooth in honour of the occasion.

My favourite of the three stories is the book’s final one wherein Narwhal introduces Jelly to his ‘favourite book in the whole wide water and probably the rest of the universe too!’ It’s a book without any words or pictures and Clanton provides two blank pages for maximum effect here. Narwhal tells his pal that ‘it’s an imagination book … you’ve got to pretend.’ Brilliant! And so thinks Jelly too for having tried it out, he wants to borrow it right away.

With its splendid dialogue, this is irresistible, sub-aquatic bonkersness of the first order delivered in graphic novel style for young readers. There’s even a silly narwhal song so sing and clap along to.
This twosome is up there with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, and Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggy.

In Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, Narwhal swathes himself in superhero-ness assuming a secret identity and appointing a sidekick (Jelly Jolt) but despite this, he seems to lack the necessary superpowers, so he thinks. Nonetheless fuelled by waffles – the friends’ ‘super weakness’ – he sets about helping a star(fish) to become a cosmic being. This involves cannon blasting and wishing (I won’t say which, if either, works).

There’s also a comic – no prizes for guessing it’s a waffle-themed one, created by none other than Narwhal and Jelly themselves.

And then in the final tale here, Narwhal finally does discover his very own superpower; it’s a super-important one too, discovered by an act of altruism towards crab.

Once again the whole thing – super sea creature facts and all – is super-brilliant and full of heart. I just love how it effortlessly demonstrates the importance of friendship, of encouragement and that all of us – if we look hard enough –possess a world-improving superpower. With laughs aplenty and the most adorable illustrations, this book is an unmissable gem, not only for young readers, but adults too.

Boo Who?

Boo Who?
Ben Clanton
Walker Books

The pals from Ben Clanton’s Rex Wrecks It! – dinosaur Rex, robot, Gizmo, Sprinkles the unicorn-rabbit, and furry monster, Wild return; but there’s a new kid on the block and he wants to play.

The others are accommodating and try their level best to include him in their games; but for a ghostly apparition, bounce-ball is a non starter (the ball bounces right through him); ditto ‘pick-up twigs’ (Boo has no hands); and his would-be friends can’t feel a thing when Boo tags them.

Enough is enough: the four run off to play another game leaving Boo all alone and sad – ‘Boo-hoo’. Would anyone even care if he just disappeared, Boo wonders.
Meanwhile a game of hide-and-seek has started. Now that’s surely THE perfect game for a little ghost.

Three cheers for the established group and their patience and perseverance. It pays off in the end: and what a great example to young audiences, especially those just starting nursery or school.
Clanton’s artfully drawn characters portray the sensitive and empathetic way the friends treat the newcomer. Their changes of expression speak volumes about their feelings, as do those of Boo and his uncertainty about being accepted by the others, about fitting in and discovering his own strength.
Share and discuss with early years listeners.

I’ve signed the charter  

Co-operation Rules OK

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Rex Wrecks It!
Ben Clanton
Walker Books
What are T.Rexs renowned for? – destruction and Rex, the small one in this funny fable is no exception. In fact you can probably find a human one of similar disposition in every single nursery or reception class the world over. In total contrast Gizmo (a robot), Sprinkles (a cute pink unicorn rabbit) and Wild (monster) love to build. Rex would probably be deemed to have ADHD were he human; he loves nothing better than wrecking every single thing they make so “RAWR!” smash – that’s Gizmo’s OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD rocket ruined, “RAWR! RAWR!” Bang goes Sprinkles’s MAGICAL heart; “RAWR! RAWR! RAWR!” – you’ve guessed it – Wild’s ‘wooden wonder of WOWDOM’ is no more.
Out come the drawing boards: the three decide to co-construct a block castle so big that even Rex cannot topple it.

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They build; Rex destroys. Three furious friends, one remorseful (“rawry”) Rex.
Then Gizmo has an inspiration and it’s back to the drawing board, this time with Rex’s involvement at the outset,

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to build something even bigger and better and…

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eminently more wreckable.
One cannot help but applaud Rex’s playful exuberance despite its sometimes catastrophic results. (Clearly he needs help to channel it rather than misuse it.) Clanton catpures that beautifully in his pen, ink and watercolour illustrations which positively fizz with energy.
Inclusion and accommodation are the main themes that emerge from this witty portrayal of small characters and their imaginative block play.
A must have for early years settings and families with young children.

Another story where co-operation is key is:

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Bubble Trouble
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
A bubble blowing bonanza leads to a bust-up in more ways than one as erstwhile best friends Rueben and Felix build bigger and better machines in their endeavours to blow bigger and better bubbles than one another. When the day of the ultimate contest dawns, their complex constructions lead to catastrophe and it’s not just the bubbles, but the machines that burst well and truly.

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Back to the drawing board chaps: it’s not technology you need but teamwork – that plus a few preparatory yoga breathing exercises perhaps.
Best friends again? It all depends on Rueben’s response to Felix’s final comment.
It’s not so much bubble talk as bubble flaps in this funny cautionary tale. There is bubble talk too and lots of other environmental print that forms an integral part of the effervescent illustrations – an additional talking point.

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