A Hero Called Wolf

A Hero Called Wolf
Lucy Rowland and Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books

There are all kinds of heroes in storybooks – big ones, small ones, male and female, but wolves? No, never. That is certainly the experience of the one in author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Ben Mantle’s new book. It’s a wonderful take on the world of fairy tales starring a reformed wolf who now, thanks to the library, has become an avid reader who loves to share that book love with his new friends.

One day however, he pays a visit to the library looking very downcast. He’s come to the realisation that no matter what kind of heroes he meets in the books he reads there’s never, ever one of the lupine variety: wolves are always portrayed as the baddies. The librarian makes a suggestion: write the kind of story you want to read. Do I have what it takes, he wonders, far from sure. Then into the library storms a woodcutter with a blunt axe.

Shortly after a troubled knight appears, followed by a handsome prince, all of whom wolf helps with the aid of books, the prince actually calling him “My hero!”

Suddenly there comes a shelf-shaking stomp heralding the arrival of a giant. The others want to send him packing.

Can Wolf summon up his courage to act … ‘For heroes are BRAVE and they’re CLEVER and KIND.’ Could that now be Wolf? …

The combination of Lucy Rowland’s rhyming text, which is a joy to read aloud, and Ben Mantle’s playful, often arresting illustrations make for a stereotype-challenging tale. As well as being huge fun to share, it demonstrates that everybody can be a hero, no matter who or what they are. That, and giving a real plug to the importance of libraries and the power of reading.

The Battle for Roar / A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine

Two recent fiction books from Farshore kindly sent for review

The Battle for Roar
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Ben Mantle

The superb Land of Roar fantasy series comes to a gripping conclusion in this utterly enchanting adventure that sees twins Rose and Arthur travelling to a group of islands far beyond everything they know: beyond The End.

There’s a storm, a shipwreck, you’ll meet fanged fairies, a possible dragon egg, there are secrets aplenty and prepare to be surprised, shocked even.

To say it’s action-packed is something of an understatement; it’s humorous in parts, pretty scary in others, a wonderful demonstration of the redemptive power of teamwork and a veritable ode to the power of the imagination.

Altogether an absolutely perfect ending to a brilliant trilogy. I gobbled it up in a single sitting, along with a few marshmallows (not magical ones) and a mug of hot chocolate.

A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine
Jim Smith

Having coped with the Danger at Donut Diner and the Attack of the Haunted Lunch Box, Yoshi and his friends Melvin Pebble and Rhubarb Plonsky have another mystery to solve. If he can manage to tear himself away from his phone that is, for like most youngsters, Yoshi has of late, let his phone take up much of his time, particularly uploading his videos onto Donut Tube.

Enter Yoshi’s dad bringing a shoebox containing the ‘smelly eraser collection’ from his own childhood (we’ve all had them) and thus begin some seriously surreal happenings necessitating some serious sleuthing from the three young detectives.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of things so let’s go back to where the three are in HQ aka Brenda the Hut and Yoshi finds an ordinary non-smelly eraser on one of the shelves therein, names it Brenda too and adds it to other smelly erasers now in his pencil case. Then at Rhubarb’s behest he pulls out a dinosaur-shaped one for her to sniff. Uh-oh! Time slip alert!

Seems the pals have just whiffed themselves back to the age of the dinosaurs and that T-Rex doesn’t look too friendly.

All is not lost though for they’ve still got the rest of the smelly erasers. Perhaps one of those can get them back to their own time but then what? …

Well that would be telling, and I’ll leave Jim Smith’s young narrator to do that in his own inimitable way and merely say that what follows is seriously silly and huge fun especially with daft cartoon style drawings adorning every spread adding to the overall wackiness.

Frog vs Toad

Frog vs Toad
Ben Mantle
Walker Books
Seeing beyond our differences lies at the heart of Ben Mantle’s splendidly silly fable.

It begins when an unassuming fly is zapped by the tongue of Frog, followed shortly after by a second attack from the opposite side, this time by Toad. A nightmare situation for sure but what the fly says …

precipitates a set to between the two amphibians both of which feel grossly insulted by the fly’s remark. A tirade of verbal insults are hurled and the squabbling continues

until they reach the swamp where things get even more heated when Frog issues a final threat followed shortly after by some mud slinging of the physical kind, triggering a free for all with everybody joining in.

Both sides are so busy SLIP! SPLAT! SPLOTCHING and SQUELCHING that they fail to notice the approach of a large grumpy reptile displeased at being aroused from its slumbers. Quick to jump to their own defence Frogs and Toads blame one another but the jagged-toothed creature tells them something that comes as a huge surprise.

Both Frog and Toad are ready to accept one another as family members and apologies ensue, followed by some words of thanks to their informer. But that’s not quite the end of the story …

This is the first picture book for which Ben Mantle has written his own words. Being both a cracking storytime read aloud, and with an abundance of droll details – small and large – in every scene it’s a definite winner with me.

King of the Swamp

King of the Swamp
Catherine Emmett and Ben Mantle
Simon & Schuster

In a dark dank swamp living peacefully alone and growing orchids in his neat garden, is McDarkly.

One day, this peaceful existence is shattered by a royal entourage led by a roller skating enthusiast King who wants to turn the swamp into a roller-skate park.

However at McDarkly’s mention of orchids the Princess’s ears prick up and an agreement is made that the royal party will give the orchid cultivator just ten days for his orchids to bloom so that the princess can learn from these wonderful plants.

Determined to save his swampy environment from the King’s destructive clutches, McDarkly labours night and day, and as his allocated time is about to end, he comes upon a small green grub on one of the leaves.

Disaster! But all the more so when the one proves to be a great many of the wrigglers and they devour his precious flowers overnight.

Back come the royals, with the King in high spirits when he discovers the lack of orchid flowers. Once again though, it’s down to the Princess to save the day …

Delectably silly, Catherine Emmett’s rhyming tale is an exceedingly clever and enormously enjoyable way of putting across an environmental message or two so that young audiences will be both greatly amused and one hopes, ready to get behind the conservation crusade that still needs lots more activists.

Ben Mantle’s comical scenes are rich in detail – daft and otherwise. Who can fail to giggle over the sight of McDarkly sitting atop a bush outside his home sipping tea from a china cup, or that of the creature singing to his plants.

Return to Roar / A Most Improper Magick

Return to Roar
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Ben Mantle
Egmont

It’s half term; Rose and narrator Arthur are excited to enter the folded-up camp bed portal in Grandad’s attic that takes them back to the Land of Roar.

Their first stop is to see Win, a wizard ninja whose wizarding skills leave something to be desired. Rose leaves the two boys together and aback a dragon, heads off to look for her merwitch friend Mitch.

She has no success and returns bringing Mitch’s spell book and tattoo kit.

During the night Arthur is woken by a rather sinister presence and hears a whisper asking, ‘Arthur, take me to Home’ that he persuades himself is a dream. But next morning, painted on the wall outside Win’s cave in letters, still wet, he sees WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

Arthur makes an immediate link to the villainous scarecrow, Crowky and convinces the others that he must be out to find The Box (an old cardboard one containing those things the twins most fear) and thus be able to travel back through the tunnel into Grandad’s house.

There’s only one thing to do: they must find the box before Crowky and so begins their next adventure.

What a thrilling, sometimes dangerous, one it is as they encounter a number of their old friends including the Lost Girls (lovers of loom bands and rather wild). There are dragons, unicorns – some more obliging than others – pirate baboons, honey badgers, orang-utans; and eventually Mitch; plus a fair few spells, wolves and a rather unpleasant character, Hatai Skoll.

Readers will certainly feel frissons of fear at times as they become swept up in the dramatic events as they root for the children and their real friends.

Can they find the Box or will it be Crowky? Will Rose and Arthur get back to Grandad’s before their parents arrive to collect them?

Like this reviewer, young readers will find it well nigh impossible to put down this superbly written book, before they’ve discovered the answers. What a testament to the power of the imagination in children it is. Superb too are Ben Mantle’s illustrations – sometimes scary, sometimes gently humorous; and the front cover is truly powerful.

Fear not, a thrilling finale to the Roar series is promised – coming soon.

A Most Improper Magick
Stephanie Burgis, illustrated by Hannah Peck
Piccadilly Press

This reissue of the first of the ‘Improper Adventures’ of twelve-year-old narrator, Kat Stephenson is set in Regency England. It’s a blend of Jane Austin and Georgette Heyer, together with magic and adventure.

Rather than doing what proper young ladies should, Kat eschews embroidery, chops off her hair and decides to go to London. But then Kat is not an ordinary young lady: although her father is a respected clergyman, her late mother was a witch whose magical powers, her youngest daughter seems to have inherited.

Then she discovers her mother’s magic books and mirror, which is not your everyday kind of item; this golden object has powers of its own. Now for sure Kat is determined to learn how to use her magical talents for the good of her own family, no matter what her Stepmama says.

How will she deal with the decidedly sinister Sir Neville, her elder sister’s intended fiancé, as well as her other sister Angeline with her own style of witchiness, not to mention a highwayman?

Can the indomitable Kat succeed in saving her entire family from ruin and win her sisters the true loves they so much desire?

Bursting with charm, mystery and humour, this tale of high drama will appeal most strongly to confident female readers around the age of its chief character.

Mr Brown’s Bad Day / Bunnies on the Bus

Mr Brown’s Bad Day
Lou Peacock and Alison Friend
Nosy Crow

Mr Brown is a Very Important Businessman with a Very  Important Briefcase that he takes to his Very Important Office where he spends his time signing Very Important Letters and attending Very Important Meetings.

Every lunchtime clutching his Very Important Briefcase he leaves his office to eat his lunch in the park.

One Tuesday however, a baby elephant snatches the briefcase while Mr B is busy thinking important thoughts.

There follows a frantic chase on foot and by tricycle as said briefcase is passed relay style onto the back of an ice-cream trolley and then in the possession of a group of children, onto the fairground’s big wheel, and the bus back through the town to school.

Mr Brown finally catches up with it when the bus stops to disgorge the passengers.

Eventually with darkness falling it’s a very weary tiger that heads home clutching his briefcase. Once there he checks to make sure the contents are safe before heading up to bed for a well-earned rest and some more ‘Very Important Business’ …

But what was inside that briefcase? Now that would be telling and I’m no story spoiler.

Great fun with a wonderful final surprise revelation. Alison Friend’s illustrations are a treat too with plenty of detail and action to engage your little ones as they listen to Lou Peacock’s tongue-in-cheek tale.

Bunnies on the Bus
Philip Ardagh and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

TOOT! TOOT HONK! HONK! Madness and mayhem abound as the bunnies take to the bus one summer’s day in Sunny Town, so the rest of us drivers and pedestrians had better steer well clear as the bunny driver has clearly gone rogue, careering past the bus stops narrowly avoiding the other animals going about their daily business.

The bunnies meanwhile are having a ball aboard FLUFF 1, cavorting down the aisle; there’s even one up on the roof.
Where is this vehicle bound for you may well be wondering as it suddenly leaves the road completely.

No matter, for at the next stop, those bunny passengers instantly set their sights on another mode of transport as they make their exit and err … where one journey ends another begins so to speak …

Anarchic fun for your bouncy little ones created by the terrific Ardagh/ Mantle team whose combination of energetic rhyme (Philip) and cracking illustrations jam-packed with gigglesome details (Ben) is perfect cheering up material.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

Down in the jungle, Anteater, Tortoise and Monkey are in playful mood when they’re spied by Little Crocodile. He’s eager for them to join him in a game of Kiss the Crocodile. The rules are pretty straightforward – the clue’s in the name – but the proviso is that the little croc. pretends to sleep and must not be woken up.

Are they brave enough?

Seemingly so, and first to make a move is Anteater.

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

Only Monkey remains and having summoned up all her courage, off she goes – uh oh! She’s in for a big snapping surprise.

The game is over, but will Little Crocodile abide by the rules or is it the end for Monkey?

It’s not only those jungle animals that are in playful mood, so too is Sean Taylor. His present tense telling has just the right amount of mischief, suspense, some delicious onomatopoeia and that frequently repeated imperative title – a perfect storytime recipe for entertaining your little ones.

Equally irresistible are Ben Mantle’s comical, wonderfully expressive scenes of the action – giggles guaranteed on every spread.

Tom’s Magnificent Machines

Tom’s Magnificent Machines
Linda Sarah and Ben Mantle
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

This is a totally awesome picture book that celebrates the very special relationship between young Tom and his father. It also celebrates their inventiveness and resilience in the face of difficulties.

We first meet the two as they zip around their lakeside home with dad pulling his son in a small, simple vehicle they’ve fashioned from bits and pieces.

Gradually however their inventiveness escalates and their home becomes chock full of weird and wonderful whizzy, whirry, hovering machines: life is peachy.

Then unexpectedly, Dad loses his job and with it, so Tom thinks, his smile and his propensity for inventiveness.
Gloom descends and the old machines lie forgotten. Then comes even worse news: they can’t afford to keep their home. Tom is devastated. Taking his trolley-bike he sets off to do some thinking.

Suddenly he has an enormous, hope-filled idea. Back home Dad appears relatively uninterested but finally Tom gets his message across and Dad smiles for the first time in many days.

A great deal of creating, testing, fixing and more ensue until beyond anything anyone could have imagined, they’re ready to open ‘The Museum of Vehicles Made From Things Not Usually Used For Making Vehicles.’
Visitors pour in, and wonder and laughter fill their establishment. Life is once again peachy as Dad says they can stay in their home.

Life does sometimes have a way of throwing disasters in the way of some unlucky people, and so it is for Tom and his Dad.
One night a whirlwind destroys their dream house, scattering its contents and leaving just rubble.

Despite his ‘badly-hidden sad’ Dad however mentions rebuilding;

Tom has other ideas. Off he goes once again on his bike; and returns with a brilliant new suggestion. It’s pure genius and one that will work no matter what the elements throw their way.

Linda Sarah has such an amazing way with words; her story is sheer delight to read aloud: coupled with Ben Mantle’s stupendous scenes of the highs and lows of life as shared by Tom and his dad, the result is a terrific book to share, and share and …

Two Wacky Tales

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Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip
Lou Treleaven and Julia Patton
Maverick Arts Publishing
When Professor McQuark invents a wonderful new gadget, so weird and wacky is it, that she names it Oojamaflip. Then off she dashes to her workshop – aka the shed – and sets to work bringing that design in her head to finished product.

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What is the next thing to do once the Oojamflip is finished? Take it to be displayed at the Science Fair of course, and so with headlights polished, the next stop is the town hall. There is just one snag however and it concerns the relative size of the building’s doors and that of the Oojamaflip;

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so the prof. is forced to leave her machine outside.
Inside there are all manner of wacky inventions: a square balloon maker, a zip up door, an infinitely re-sizeable alien suit and a self-playing flute to name a few and they’re all vying for the judges’ attention to win that first prize. And here comes an announcement …

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Or maybe not – all the visitors are suddenly dashing outside leaving the judges startled and puzzled and there’s only one thing they can do; head outside too and discover what all the fuss is about …

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Seems they’re all pretty impressed with this extra mural exhibit but there’s one thing still puzzling them: “what does this Ooja-thing actually do?” The clue is in the title – I’ll say no more.
Great to see a female in the role of scientist cum inventor: the aptly named Professor McQuark should be an inspiration to all young inventors. Debut author Lou Treleaven’s sparky rhyming story is wackily illustrated by Julia Patton, whose scenes are full of zany details to pore over, and possibly provide some ideas to child inventors.

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Giant Jelly Jaws and the Pirates
Helen Baugh and Ben Mantle
Harper Collins Children’s Books
Unlike his fellow crew members, new cabin boy Jake is not brave or strong; indeed he has no head for heights, cries at the slightest hint of a scratch and at night, his hammock-mate is a teddy bear. It looks as though Captain Fish-Breath Fred has made an almighty mistake in engaging young Jake. But can the lad manage to prove his worth in the face of a rival pirate crew whose members are intent on getting their hands on the treasure map whereon X marks the spot. Seemingly not, for here’s a rather stinky situation where we see his fellow shipmates about to walk the plank…

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and the cabin boy himself cowering behind some kegs of pop.
Hold on me hearties! What is Jake up to now? Surely it’s no time to be guzzling pop, or is it? …

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If you want to know how this ripping rhyming yarn concludes, you’ll have to get your own copy of the riotous romp and read the rest yourself. It’s certainly true to say ship’s figurehead Giant Jelly Jaws has found his match when it comes to monstrous eruptions; and awash with detail, Ben Mantle’s riotous scenes are suitably salty and swashbuckling.

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Presents, Presents and More Presents

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The Best Christmas Present Ever!
Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bear is back with another present enterprise: Christmas present creating this time, and he has to be quick because, as Squirrel informs him excitedly, “FOUR SLEEPS TILL CHRISTMAS!” But Bear has forgotten to get a present for his best pal. – some friend! He ponders, he puzzles … he knits … he sleeps. His knitting prowess leaves something to be desired though …

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With three sleeps left it’s back to the drawing board; Owl fortunately has a suggestion and soon Bear is busy again but …

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Maybe Fox can help. His suggestion, indirectly, provides Bear with inspiration and the result is terrific – or almost.

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One sleep to go Bear and that pile of ruined gifts is growing.
DING! Light-bulb moment … off goes our ursine friend again. Now I won’t be a story spoiler so let me end by saying both Bear and Squirrel are delighted with their Christmas presents: ‘the BEST Christmas presents ever.’
Great story, great illustrations and great end-papers too. But if I show you those, you’ll guess how the tale ends so, instead, get hold of a copy of this super seasonal story and share it widely or give one to a youngster who may well decide it’s exactly what the title says.

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Tickly Christmas Wibbly Pig!
Mick Inkpen
Hodder Children’s Books
Tickly Pig is the owner of some special garments – an outsized scarf, odd mittens, a babygro and matching accessories even; all these courtesy of Big Aunt Larlie. She’s sent them to him as Christmas presents for the past four years and when it’s especially cold and snowy, Wibbly is expected to sport his tickly woolly items of clothing – not the babygro of course; thankfully, he’s far outgrown that. So when Christmas is just ten days off and he’s busily helping with the putting up of decorations, and his Big Aunt Larlie has already been very busy with her knitting needles and a great many balls of wool, you can imagine how eagerly he’s anticipating this year’s gift.
On Christmas Eve when the doorbell rings and there stands his Aunt, he is slightly puzzled as to why she’s wearing HIS present – or is she?

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Bursting with warmth – despite the chilly weather – and gentle humour this is quite simply an adorable, timely re-issue.

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Amelie and Nanette: Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes
Sophie Tilley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
This sugary sweet story wherein we share the run-up to Christmas with best friends Amelie and Nanette exudes Christmas nostalgia. The girls are bursting with excitement as they anticipate the day itself , but first is their school Christmas party to look forward to and prepare for.

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With its energetic characters, sometimes snowy setting …

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and a brief interlude of sadness …

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this story radiates seasonal warmth, brims over with friendship;and with those delectable, slightly whimsical watercolour scenes, is sure to enchant.

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I’m sure many will agree with the author’s final words: ‘ … sharing Christmas with your best friend is the best present EVER!’ especially if you sit down and make those paper chains provided inside the back cover of the book together.

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The Bear Report & Land Shark

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The Bear Report
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Homework – bor-ing!
That’s certainly the feeling of most children when faced with something as seemingly dull as Sophie is in this beautiful book. Hardly surprising then that her response is thus …

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That’s it, she thinks as sits down to watch TV. But then …

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The bear – Olafur by name – invites young Sophie to visit his Arctic home. And ignoring her indifferent “Um, no thinks. I’ve seen the pictures.” response, he whisks her away to a glorious world of ice-floes, snowy landscapes inhabited by whales, seals, Arctic foxes and snow rabbits; a place where she can fish with a stick, scramble across moss-covered rocks, birdwatch lying on her back – BRRR!

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and even slide down glaciers.
Inevitably such adventures make for sleepiness so the two snuggle up for some shut-eye but then suddenly find themselves struggling through the sea as the ice-floe melts. Then it’s Sophie’s turn to take charge as she dives beneath the waves calling – summoning – and help comes in the form of a Humpback Whale …

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And as darkness begins to fall, Olafur has one last surprise for Sophie …

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who now has a whole lot more to add to her homework assignment –thanks to that mind stretching adventure.
Inspired by Thyra Heder’s own Arctic visit, this truly impressive book really does, in comparatively few well-chosen words and stunning watercolour scenes in icy blue, grey and green shades shades, paint a breathtaking world while at the same time one hopes, sparking the imagination and engendering a fascination for wild places with their amazing flora and fauna. A delight through and through.
Perhaps homework can be worthwhile after all …

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Land Shark
Beth Ferry and Ben Mantle
Chronicle Books
Shark-obsessive, Bobby is determined to get his parents to buy him a pet shark for his birthday. What is he to do then, when the big day comes and he’s given a puppy? Certainly not fall immediately in love with her no matter how charming she might appear to be. This shark lover’s not for turning …

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Maybe then, the best solution is to sit by and observe as the pup begins to leave a trail of devastation throughout the house, chewing shoes, chair legs and stuffed toys and that’s before she starts on the neighbours’ property.

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Hold it there: didn’t Bobby’s original raison d’etre for that shark demand something like this: ‘frightful, bite-ful, delightful’? Couldn’t that equally well be applied to the most recent resident in Bobby’s household? But no: ‘Shark lovers can NOT be converted to dog lovers.” Not just yet but … then comes a bite to beat all bites and guess whose gnashers are responsible?

 

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That little canine beauty has chomped her way right into Bobby’s heart. QED
This slightly off-beat story, told with wit and charm, and great fun to read aloud is perfectly complemented by Ben Mantle’s deliciously dynamic visuals. Chock full of detail and delivered with aplomb, every character is beautifully realised, best of all being Bobby with his funky fin hairstyle: and what a range of perspectives Mantle uses.
There’s a wonderful ‘tail end’ too: one that leaves audiences free to unleash their own imaginations along with Bobby, as well as perhaps signaling follow-up possibilities. This reviewer says ‘More please!’

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A Tickled Tiger, A Best Birthday Present, A Hide-and-Scare Bear

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Never Tickle a Tiger
Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Like lots of children, Izzy finds it extremely difficult to keep still; she just cannot help shuffling, jiggling, squirming, twitching, wriggling or fiddling. It matters not where she is – home or school, at parties even, Izzy is constantly a-fidget.
When her class goes to visit the zoo, Izzy gets the fidgets as soon as they’re through the gates. Before long she’s stroked the snakes, excited the elephants, bothered the bears and much more.

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“… never tickle a tiger!” warns Miss Pottterhurst. But after lunch, Izzy, feather in hand is immediately heading for the tiger enclosure. Confronted with a large striped tail, the opportunity is just impossible to resist. Out goes that feather and …

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Raa-aa-ah! “ roars the tiger triggering a concatenation of action and reaction

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culminating in an enormous … SLPAAAASH! as hippo is cascaded into the penguins’ pool.

 

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Then it’s down to Izzy to quell the brouhaha she’s instigated. But has she been cured of her predilection for poking and prodding?
This fun-filled tale managed to keep even the Izzy’s among my audience riveted as they followed the action in Marc Boutavant’s exuberant, energetic, playful pictures, relishing each and every occurrence of ‘Izzy- itis’ as one among them commented. I suspect that hedgehog enjoyed the fun too.

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The Best Birthday Present Ever
Ben Mantle
Macmillan Children’s Books
Squirrel’s determination to give his best friend Bear, the very best birthday gift results in a great deal of thought on his part. That Squirrel is something of a creative thinker comes through loud and clear when we see what he finally decides upon. Satisfied with his choice of gift, Squirrel wraps it carefully disguising it well and soon it’s party day – Big Bear’s Birthday Bonanza no less.
When it comes to present-opening time –after the dancing, games and cake eating – it’s clear that Bear has some pretty impressive gifts

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and finally it comes to Squirrel’s offering. By this time, Squirrel is starting to feel just a little nervous and initially Bear himself appears nonplussed when he unwraps his package.

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It’s in response to the comments of some of the other animals however, that Bear then demonstrates that he, like his best friend, Squirrel, is indeed a creative thinker. And the following week, he goes on to demonstrate just how, until their very favourite stick game (poking things) results in –

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Squirrel rues the passing of said stick but Bear quickly realizes that two sticks can be better than one.

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Can you read it again,” was the instant response after I shared this one with some 4s to 6s. What further accolade could an author want? Before doing so however, we spent a considerable time relishing the delicious details in Ben Mantle’s amusing illustrations.

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The party scene is a visual treat in more than one sense.

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The Hide-and-Scare Bear
Ivan Bates
Brubaker, Ford & Friends (Templar Publishing) pbk
The large ursine character in this rhyming story is badly behaved and rude: worst of all though is his frequent playing of his “Hide and Scare” game. This involves hiding behind a tree and then leaping out and roaring at unsuspecting passers by.

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Eventually the woodland animals decide something must be done and call for a brave volunteer to stand up to Bear. Rabbit steps forward offering to help, not with anger however, but with kindness.
So, as the next ‘ROAR!’ sends the other creatures scattering, Rabbit stands firm to face the bear and waits patiently for her opportunity to deliver her lesson in kindness. Then it’s Bear’s turn to provide some hugs and soon it’s not only Rabbit on the receiving end of those Big Bear squeezes.

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The text lollops along rhythmically making it a pleasure to read aloud and the woodland watercolour illustrations are delightfully expressive.
Here’s the response of one of my five year old listeners …

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Reindeer Romps with Ruby, Rudey and St. Nick.

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The Naughtiest Reindeer
Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin
Disaster has struck at the North Pole:
Rudolf the reindeer was lying in bed with a runny red nose and an ache in his head.
‘I’m sorry,’ he groaned. ‘I just can’t pull a sled. You’ll have to ask my sister Ruby instead.’
The only trouble is Ruby is anything but a popular choice with the other reindeers: “Not Ruby! Please!” is the unanimous verdict. But like it or not, high-spirited Ruby is what they get.

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Things go pretty well to start with but then boredom kicks in and Ruby starts getting ideas: ideas that result in mayhem at house after house and a very stressed Santa, so stressed in fact that on his return, he discovers he’s missed out one of the house.. Time for Mrs Claus to spring into action, but where is Ruby?

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Oh no! She too has been forgotten. When she finally gets to the house rectify Santa’s error, it seems that Santa had paid them a visit after all.
This hilarious rhyming tale has the rhythm of the Clement Clark Moore classic Twas The Night Before Christmas and veritably gallops along. It’s great fun to read aloud, superb entertainment for young audiences who relish Ruby’s tripping, tangling antics, particularly her drinking from the toilet at 26A and with a surprisingly satisfying ending I can see this becoming one of those favourites that’s brought out every Christmas at home or school. The magic starts right on the front cover with that sparkly, tactile tree and I just love those off beat ‘corky’ reindeer characters Nicki Greenberg has created.
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If you want an illustrated version of the classic poem try:

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The Night Before Christmas
Clement Clark Moore and Richard Johnson
Picture Corgi pbk
Richard Johnson’s illustrations are a-glow with festive magic. His interior scenes give a feeling of seasonal warmth that sharply contrasts with the beautiful snowy landscapes of St Nicholas’ journey and I particularly like the beribboned borders that frame some of the verses.
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Rudey’s Windy Christmas
Helen Baugh and Ben Mantle
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk.
Most humans know the consequences of over indulging in Brussels sprouts: not so Mrs Claus. Santa?

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One can’t be sure; but definitely not his reindeer and in particular Rudey who sets off on the Christmas rounds with a tummy full of the little green objects. Guess who fed him those. The result? Suffice it so say, the air is polluted with Rudey’s windy emanations much to the amusement of the other reindeer. Indeed they laugh so much at the plethora of toots that they quite run out of steam. The sleigh comes to a halt in the USA. And there’s only one way to get it air bound again –

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over to Rudey and his turbo-charged rear.
Delivered via a jaunty rhyming text and comical illustrations. Those reindeer certainly have a twinkle in their eyes and on their return to the North Pole, they are greeted by Santa’s elves who have something to say about the quality of the air there too. Mufflers please…
I imagine giggles galore hereafter.
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