Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You

Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You
Peter Vegas and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

The relatively common childhood fear of the dark is given a new and fun twist in this picture book wherein the dark is personified and presented as an entity that is actually afraid of … You!

It spends its daylight hours hiding away in your underwear drawer, only emerging into the outside after sundown.

Inevitably this makes its life far from perfect. Friendships are well nigh impossible, as is tree climbing and as for a decent haircut – forget it. No light equals extremely messy hair.

I’m pretty sure most young readers would be happy to share its favourite foods – black pudding, blackberries, liquorice (the black variety), dark chocolate and candle-less Black Forest gateau when its birthday comes around. (Think of the fun to be had from creating an entire menu for the dark.)

There are plenty of positive things about dark: its refusal to be inside until lights off and TV off time; it stays up the entire night but is unable to do anything and it seldom features in a child’s drawing.

But don’t think that dark is without its devotees: numbered among them are bats (they fly in it at night)

and the silent stars.

That in a nutshell is that: so youngsters who have night time frights are safe to greet the dark with a friendly “Hi!’ so long as the light’s off of course, or it will scuttle away to safety.

Definitely worth trying as a reassuring bedtime read if you have a little one averse to the dark; and even if you don’t Benjamin Chaud’s chuckle-inducing illustrations make this a book to share for the sheer fun of it.

Grown-ups Never Do That / What’s Going On Here?

Grown-ups Never Do That
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

‘Adults never misbehave.’ So says the opening line of well-known collaborators Cali and Chaud’s latest offering.
But there’s a team of young sleuths at work who might just disprove the veracity of that statement and we then accompany them through the book.

Of course, they’re absolute paragons of virtue these mature people. So much so that following Cali’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Adults are always good’ on the penultimate spread he concludes with the sound advice, ‘So you really should be just like them.’

However those youngsters who have been spying on the yelling, bad temperedness, cheating, sulking, messiness, lateness,

bad manners, time wasting and the other grown-up behaviours they’ve witnessed, may well think otherwise.

The brevity of Cali’s ironic narrative is countered by Chaud’s detailed comical visuals

making for a diverting book that will please readers young and not so young.

What’s Going On Here?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books

This is a mix-and-match book wherein Tallec, in his typical skittish manner, invites readers to engage in storying with a weird and wonderful cast of characters – animal and a couple of human ones – all of which are sporting rather ridiculous headwear.
You can smile at the attire of each, as you read the related plot piece and ponder the question posed before flipping to and fro to try the plethora of possible permutations that the split pages offer.

I’ve used similarly designed books (three-way split pages) with under-confident readers of all ages needing a morale boost, and I’d do the same with this somewhat more sophisticated one.

Little Bear’s Big House / There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Little Bear’s Big House
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Tired of his uneventful life in the forest Little Bear leaves his Mama, Papa and Teeny Tiny bear to embark on a big adventure, “far from the forest” so he says.

His exploratory intent means that he turns down invitations from his forest dwelling friends, to keep moving
till eventually, as night falls he comes upon a huge, amazing-looking house in a clearing.
The door is ready to be opened so Little Bear, acting like a little boy, decides to enter.

Once inside the real adventure begins …

“Being on my own is so much fun!’’ comes the cry until there is an enormous BANG! Little Bear dives beneath the bedcovers and his imagination runs riot.

What ensues is something of a surprise but suffice it to say that when Little Bear finally reaches home after an adventure that proves a little too much for the young ursine character, he learns that he isn’t the only one with an exciting story to tell about a big house.

Hilarious scenes of Little Bear and his antics as he seeks a modicum of independence, offer plenty for little humans to pore over.

There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
Wade Bradford and Kevin Hawkes
Walker Books

Mr Snore, an extremely tired musician checks into the very grand-looking Sharemore Hotel hoping for a good night’s sleep. No sooner has his head hit the pillow however than he discovers that his bed is already occupied. He demands a new room and there are plenty of options starting on the second floor but he has no intention of sharing his slumber time with a pig so he calls the front desk again.

And so it goes on until despite the knowing porter’s unfinished warning, Mr Snore ends up at floor number thirteen. The bed is definitely gigantic and might at last prove satisfactory.

Now however, it isn’t Mr Snore who makes a call downstairs to the front desk …

With its crazy finale, nicely contrasting main characters and Kevin Hawkes’ zany illustrations, this romp of Wade Bradford’s truly is a bedtime tale with a difference.

The Truth About My Unbelievable School…

The Truth About My Unbelievable School …
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Henry returns in a new story, and on this occasion he’s charged with taking a new classmate on a tour around school. If you’ve met Henry previously, you’ll already know that he’s more than a little inclined to exaggerate. Here though he’s up to something different: “… there really isn’t much to see …” he tells the girl as he shows her the class pet – a gigantic jellyfish. She appears singularly unimpressed, as she does at the sight of the music teacher,

the art class in progress and the maths lesson.

Not even the long tentacles escaping from a part closed door, the short cut to the playground …

or the flying mashed potatoes in the cafeteria cause her to bat an eyelid.
After a few more stops including a Smaug-like den and the principal’s office (reached by rowing boat),

the two arrive back at their classroom just as their teacher is bidding the class farewell. Perfect timing. And then we get a wonderful surprise ending.

(Observant readers may well have noticed the odd clue as to what’s coming already, as well as enjoying the various literary allusions scattered throughout in Chaud’s wryly funny illustrations.)

Keep an eye on Henry’s dog: the animal seems to have muscled its way into the action and is sure to make readers smile.

Delicious fun and another likely winner for Cali and Chaud.

Museums and Machines

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The terrific twosome of The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School fame have combined forces in another zany Henry adventure; and as always he is accompanied by his dachshund pal. This time the protagonist is put on the spot by a question about the class trip to a museum. The lad seems to have been rather tardy in his arrival at said museum and consequently undertaken his own explorations therein. Whether he, or the exhibits were more entertained, one can only imagine. He supposedly got up to all manner of unlikely activities: balloon sculpting for the Neanderthals,

and there was certainly plenty to feast his eyes on. A T.Rex for instance, sculptures, a great whale and a woolly mammoth, lots of paintings –

some abstract art requiring the odd finishing touch here and there, and the museum’s storage facilities needing a bit of reorganisation.
See how many art references you can spot …that dachshund portrait does appear to bear more than a passing resemblance to the famous Mona Lisa. And yes, Henry does eventually catch up with the rest of his class, albeit by some rather risky means.
Pretty off-the-wall stuff; but those who have enjoyed the previous flights of fancy delivered by Cali and Chaud will certainly find plenty to amuse herein.

Winnie and Wilbur Gadgets Galore
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
This bumper book of three, re-named, previously published titles featuring the much-loved duo, Winnie and Wilbur in Space, Winnie’s New Computer and Winnie and the Big Bad Robot will surely appeal to those of a mechanical bent.
The first sees the pair hurtling skywards in a rocket and discovering the ‘Purrfect” picnic spot, then having their picnic invaded by a horde of hungry space rabbits. The odd swish of her magic wand produces the ideal fare for the bouncing bunnies; but the voracious consumption of their favourite metallic meal leads to the visitors being without any means of getting back home. Can Winnie’s wand save the day once again?
You’d think after all that excitement in previous adventures involving machines, now renamed for this compilation, Winnie would have learned to stay clear; but her first foray, that involving a misunderstanding on Wilbur’s part, the scanning of her spell books into her computer and a mal-functioning mouse – Wilbur’s doing; and the second, an extremely unfortunate experience with the robot constructed by Winnie in her weekly creativity class at the local library, didn’t deter her at all. Hence her ‘big adventure’ in space.
The magic still holds good, no matter how the stories are packaged.

I’ve signed the charter 

Summer Evening/Unbelievable Summer Truth


Summer Evening
Walter de la Mare illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
What a glorious evocation of the countryside in summer is this book. Just eight lines penned by one of our best loved poets, have now been made into a glowing portrayal of a group of people delighting in their rural life as the sun slowly sinks over the hills.
We share the red, orange and golden sunset with the Farmer, a woman and two children, a cat and a dog,


Old Rover in his moss-greened house/ Mumbles a bone, /and barks at a mouse.’
We then see the children following a cat-and-mouse chase as it unfolds inside and out …


until finally, peace and harmony are restored, the animals all fed and the sun has given way to the moon.
You can almost hear that scintillating shimmering sun and feel that incandescent haze of high summer


coming off the pages through Caroline Rabei’s scenes in this beautiful synthesis of poetry and pictures.
A ‘must have’ for the family bookshelf and for all early years settings and primary schools.


The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The summer hols. are over (that really must be a bad dream; they’ve not even started yet: but back to the story). “What did you do this summer?” the teacher – as they always do – asks the young narrator of this crazy tale. Instantly we’re on the beach where the lad, accompanied by his dachshund, finds a treasure map only to have it snatched immediately by a passing magpie. Thus begins a chase which takes boy and dog (and readers) onto a pirate ship …


and thence into a fast moving adventure involving a giant squid, a submarine …


a film set with a very helpful actress who assists in the retrieval of the map.


With the treasure hunt back in full swing so to speak, there follows a trip in a hot air balloon, a foray into the desert, a timely rescue by the boy’s uncle (in his flying machine) who drops his nephew onto a desert island where the pesky magpie (yes, the same one) seizes the map once again.


Operation map retrieval is thus resumed taking our hero to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and a snowy land populated by yeti.
Yes, in case you are wondering, the boy does finally discover treasure which, after all that, is something of a let down, although it’s not actually THE treasure but hey! the underwater scenes are still pretty wonderful. (Observant readers won’t miss what the boy does.) And that’s not quite the end of this bonkers book; there’s something of a twist in its tale; something that took place a few months earlier … bringing us back full circle to where we began, and I suspect readers back to the start of the book searching for clues of a visual nature, in Benjamin Chaud’s gigglesome, detailed pen-and-ink illustrations.
Another winner from the Cali/Chaud partnership.

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The Bear’s Surprise/ And then …

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The Bear’s Surprise
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
Spring has come to the forest and emerging from hibernation, Little Bear discovers Papa Bear missing. Intent on discovering the whereabouts of his parent off he goes down a ‘never-before-seen path’ as it twists and turns taking him through the cut-outs on every spread: down a dark hole into a cave wherein he spies an intriguing pipe …

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Then, emerging from the washing machine – for that was where the pipe led – he finds himself in a huge circus tent. There, on a very tiny bike, he spots Papa Bear performing a stunt before himself becoming part of the show …

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and eventually, courtesy of a cannon blast, landing atop a large nose belonging to none other than his very own Mama Bear.

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And she has a very special, very tiny surprise of her own to share with Little Bear and with delighted readers and listeners. Just the thing to complete a family balancing act

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before the whole family wends its way back home to the bear den and some well-earned sleep.
There is just so much to see in this book. Almost every spread is teeming with minute details of animals, circus performers and avid spectators. And just in case all this isn’t enough, Chaud drops in the odd character or two from Lewis Carroll along the way. This is definitely one to enjoy with a small group, or for sharing with an individual.

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And then …
Child’s Play
Determined to divert some of the attention away from her newly born baby brother, the young, birthday girl narrator of this marvellous story creates a portrait of the recent arrival, makes a special wish

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and then lets her imagination run riot … as she miniaturises her parents, deals with a squid emergency –

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with a little bit of help from a friendly doc once …

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or twice … ,

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allows herself another wish – it’s her birthday after all AND something of an emergency, before coming to a momentous decision concerning her baby sibling.

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Do I hear another story starting to emerge …
Enormous fun, this offbeat tale is a testament to the imagination  (storying in particular) and how it can help youngsters, indeed all of us, deal with those life experiences that challenge us from time to time.

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Pets Lost, Pets Found

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My Pet Book
Bob Staake
Andersen Press pbk
Imagine having a book as a pet – not possible? Well then you need to get hold of
Staake’s wonderfully crazy tribute to books and young bibliophiles.
The young boy protagonist in this story wants a pet, but not one like a dog or cat; he doesn’t care for the former, the latter make him sneezy (me too).
A book would make the perfect pet!” his mother advises so off he goes to the Smartytown local bookshop where he discovers just the thing: a small ‘frisky red hardcover!’

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Oh joy! It never makes any demands on our hero – no eating, drinking, pooping (naturally) no fleas, no bathing, easy to take walking,

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doesn’t make a sound and best of all it’s full of wonderful tales to inhabit. The two are practically inseparable.
But then oh woe! The boy comes back from school one day to discover the book has gone – given to a charity shop by the well-meaning maid. Off dash maid and boy hoping to retrieve the book but, where is it? Certainly not where it should have been – on the bookshelves, or even with the coats, lamps or bears. Tears ensue but then the maid has a brainwave: the hiding place is discovered,

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the book retrieved (none the worse for its experience) and, boy and book reunited, back home they all go.
Bonkers? Yes assuredly, but Staake so cleverly demonstrates in his crazy rhyming caper with those mega-bright, digitally manipulated illustrations packed with daft details and ebullient extras, what Clyde Watson’s poem ‘A book is a place’ says ‘Just open a book and step in.’ With this one, you’ll be glad you did.

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Farewell Floppy
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
This story concerns abandonment or rather, a boy’s attempts at same.
The young boy narrator introduces his pet rabbit, Floppy and then proceeds to explain why he can no longer keep him as a best friend “I’m not a baby.” he tells us. “So I had to let him go.” Has he been reading Hansel and Gretel one wonders as we hear of his intentions “to take him far enough into the woods that he couldn’t find his way back all alone.”
Floppy however, is his usual procrastinatory self and progress is very slow. Eventually, deep in the forest, the boy finds a tree in a clearing and it’s there that a now somewhat reluctant parting takes place; but that’s only after some determined action on the boy’s part:

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He ties his rabbit to a tree with a length of unravelled sweater wool

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and beats a hasty retreat.
Before long though, struck by anxiety and remorse, back goes the narrator only to discover nothing but a length of wool tied around the tree. Tension mounts as he dashes through the forest sending crows flying as he follows a trail that leads him …

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… eventually to a small cabin.
Therein – joy of joys – he discovers his beloved pet ably cared for by a little girl. (The same girl he’d spied earlier during his losing Floppy attempts.)

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Reunited, somewhat shamed, and with some new knowledge, boy and bunny take the route back home – together.
Poignant and perverse, thought provoking and infused with a playful humour, this longish narrative might alarm some pet lovers but only if they misunderstand the tale as a whole.

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(The five to sevens I’ve shared it with certainly have enthused about it.) Chaud’s warmth and mischievousness permeate his gorgeous illustrations, perfectly illuminating the boy’s changing feelings; Floppy though appears totally unmoved by the entire adventure.

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On the Way to School & Follow that Car

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
If the boy in this hilarious story came into my class with such outlandish excuses for his lateness, and in such profusion, I’d want to celebrate his imagination and award him first prize for creativity. His whole sorry saga is pretty much out of this world, as we are presented with such scenarios as the first “some giant ants stole my breakfast ” through increasingly hilariously, surreal situations such as …

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via a whole gamut of fairy tale meanderings,

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mad cap misadventures and flights of fancy, before our young hero arrives at the school gate, But even then he is forced to travel (ably or not so ably assisted by his uncle’s time machine) back home to pick up his forgotten packpack, only to be confronted when he does make it to his classroom, by his disbelieving teacher who seemingly, is having none of it.

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As the illustrator’s name might imply, this book is hot stuff – sorry about the pun. Those scenes of his are real rib-ticklers and Davide Cali’s droll delivery of the boy’s journey equally so.
A small book indeed; but one that packs a powerful punch.

Slightly less crazy but also involving a journey and food (oh! maybe forget that last bit) is:

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Follow That Car
Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp
Nosy Crow
Hey, you … yes you!
Mouse needs your help and he needs it now!
He needs to catch Gorilla and he needs to be super-quick!
Are you ready? Then let’s go!
An immediate engagement tactic that and one I doubt many young children would be able to resist.
Off speeds chunky Gorilla in his small car with Mouse on his mo-bike in hot pursuit. But what is the purpose of the chase? Has Gorilla stolen something? is the first thought, but we don’t find out (unless like this reviewer you cheat and read the ending before engaging in the chase. Not something I allowed my group of mixed infants to do, however – not knowing is really part and parcel of the fun.)
So off we go along with Mouse as he manoueveres around that sheet of glass and through the busy streets… past the building site where Gorilla completes a dare-devil stunt… down the car park ramp… over the fly-over towards the railway station. Oh no! Gorilla’s got through but Mouse is stuck at the crossing gate.

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Good job we saw that tunnel, so it’s on towards the farm taking care to avoid any tractors and oh my goodness! now comes a busy market and Gorilla’s drawing further away… and surely those cannot be mountains up ahead? But yes, and a ski resort;

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the end must be nigh…not quite yet though. First there’s a lakeside traffic jam to negotiate. Thank goodness then that Gorilla has to stop to refuel and that’s where we (and Mouse) catch up with him and …

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Off speeds Mouse but – hang on a minute: now why is Gorilla chasing after him?
Well, why should I spoil it for you– you’ll have to get hold of a copy of this fun-filled, action-packed book and find out for yourself.

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