Tad

Tad
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

As a huge Benji Davies enthusiast I was eagerly awaiting Tad and it’s another winner.

Let me introduce Tad; she’s the tiniest, almost a frog, tadpole in the entire pond who can only keep up with her tad siblings by wiggling her tail at double the speed they do.

These little creatures share a problem though, for there’s another resident of their pond; Big Blub is its name and it’s said this great big nasty ancient fish lives in the darkest, murkiest part of the pond and lies in wait to gobble up unsuspecting little wrigglers like her.

Tad resolves not to believe in such a beastie, confining her swimming to the shallow water and hiding behind the plants at sundown – just in case.

Gradually as tadpoles do, Tad and her siblings’ grow legs and lose their tails,

finding large leaves on which to spend the nights. But there seem to be fewer of them about

and then there are just two remaining – oops! One brother gone!

Make that just Tad with her determination to escape the mouth of Big Blub.

It’s no good pretending the predator doesn’t exist any longer; there’s just one way to save herself …

Could her leap into the unknown perhaps herald not only a startling reunion but also the start of a new and exciting, rather different way of life?

This is perfect springtime reading; dramatic illustrations to feast your eyes on and a perfectly paced telling with just sufficient suspense to send small frissons of fear running through your little ones, as they listen to Benji’s delicious tad-tale.

Tooth / Big Kid Bed, Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle, Mix & Match Farm Animals

Tooth
Big Kid Bed

Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

Baby, the star of several previous board books including Toot returns in two further amusing and appealing episodes.

Tooth begins with the star of the show exhibiting some distress about a strange feeling in the mouth. Before long we discover that Baby is getting a tooth, shiny, white, hard and sharp. Not just a single tooth though, there’s another and then two more follow.
Having shown those shiny gnashers, Baby demonstrates some things good and not so good that can be done with the teeth.

Very important too is taking care of teeth and we see how even one so small is conscientious about dental hygiene.

Brushing twice a day and flossing (with Daddy and Mummy’s help) are part of the little one’s daily routine.

Patricelli’s straightforward first person text combined with scenes of the adorable Baby is irresistible.

The same is true in Big Kid Bed. Here the toddler tells of bedtime preparations for a sleep on ‘my new big kid bed!’ How exciting; but the bed is so big and the toddler so small it’s as well that Mummy and Daddy are on hand to make things easier, piling up pillows around the bed in case of a fall and bringing in Baby’s stuffed animals to snuggle up with.

Comfortable as Baby might be, there’s the possibility of getting out of bed again to investigate what other members of the household are doing during the night, until finally, YAWN; sleepiness takes over and it’s time to return to the warmth and cosiness of that new bed for a good night’s sleep.

Who could ask for more from a bedtime book for the very youngest?

Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In this adventure Bizzy Bear finds out what life as a knight is like when (with a bit of help from small fingers that slide the helmet visor up and down) he dons a perfectly fitting suit of armour and visits a castle.
Once kitted out and inside, Bizzy tries his paw at brandishing a sword

and then on the next spread, at jousting before finally sitting down to participate in a delicious-looking banquet.

As with other titles in the series, the engaging simple rhyming text, brightly coloured illustrations with just the right amount of detail (look out for the dragon) and those interactive features – sliders and tabs that are easy to use, make this well-constructed book ideal for toddlers.,

Mix & Match Farm Animals
Rachael Saunders
Walker Books

With the same innovative design as previous titles in this mix & match series (a tiny board book within a small one) young children are invited to match the larger surrounding page with its ‘Who says …?’ question to the appropriate smaller inset animal spread showing the animal that makes the sound.

The animals featured in the smaller book are all adult while on the surrounding pages young animals are depicted, as well as other appropriate clues, for instance there’s a calf, a bull, a barn and a bucket of milk on the ‘cow’ spread.
On the final ‘sheep’ spread we meet a farmer and sheepdog in Rachel Saunders’ illustration.

A clever format, and a playful and enjoyable way to introduce or re-enforce farm animal sounds to the very youngest

Grandma Bird

Grandma Bird
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster

As an avid fan of Benji Davies’ world of Noi books, I was eagerly anticipating this new one and it certainly lives up to expectations.

Noi is off to spend the summer with his Grandma whose home is on a windswept rock across the water. He’s less than enthusiastic at the prospect of this solitary place and the idea of Grandma’s seaweed soup. Worse, he discovers they have to sleep head to toe in her small bed where Grandma snores loudly and the blankets itch; and during the day she’s so busy she has no time to play with her grandson.

The boy decides to explore the seashore alone. Suddenly he spies something shining in the distance and discovers a large hole-filled rock – the perfect place for some imaginary play.

The wind lashes outside, the sea beats against the rocks and suddenly out of the storm a little bird drops at Noi’s feet.

Knowing it needs help, Noi tries to make his way back across the rocks towards Grandma’s home and as he battles against the lashing storm he sees the bright red sail of a little boat.

Grandma has come to his rescue and once safely aboard her boat, boy and Gran gather up more bedraggled birds which they take back to dry out indoors.

Eventually the storm abates and the birds depart, all except one. Could it be that Grandma feels lonely sometimes in her solitary existence, Noi wonders.

Then for the remainder of the summer two humans, one young, one old and a feathered companion spend their days exploring the tiny island together.

Despite the remoteness and bleakness of the setting this is a story full of warmth and tenderness. Gran’s apparent absorption with her daily routine doesn’t prevent her from keeping a watchful eye on Noi from a distance and she’s quick to act when the storm blows up, while the notion that his Gran might be lonely occurs to the boy as the rescued birds depart.

Such is Benji Davies’ way with words that they alone paint wonderful images in the mind, while every one of his illustrations, large or small merits close attention. I love Grandma’s upturned boat of a cottage and its cosy interior complete with’ One Hundred and One Uses for Seaweed’ book, not to mention her skill at stone balancing and yoga; all of which can be relished during the course of this tender tale.

Halloween is Coming: The Right One / Monster School / Bizzy Bear Spooky House

The Right One
Violeta Noy
Templar Books

New Spanish author/illustrator Violeta Roy presents in bold graphics, a cute story about daring to be different ghost-style: it’s perfect for Halloween, especially for those who don’t like to be scared.

Roderic is the smallest ghost in a very large, ancient family. They all look pretty much alike on account of wearing sheets although Roderic’s is the tiniest.

This diminutive ghost is the last of a long line and he feels more than a little insignificant. None of his family seems to notice his presence. Roderic decides to do something about this. His name is fixed, ditto his family but he can change his appearance. Both a hat, and a scarf prove problematic.

Next morning, deciding a more radical approach is required, our little ghost experiments until finally he’s ready to sport his new gear.

However the reception he receives isn’t quite what he’d hoped, so off he goes to strut his stuff among the city folks. Once again though, nobody notices him at all: poor little thing is now feeling even more invisible than ever.

Back home again he’s given a fresh white sheet but it makes him anything but happy. His frustration causes things to start flying around, one of which just happens to land upon the little ghost and yippee! It feels absolutely right.

What’s more, it looks absolutely right and now nobody is going to stop him from wearing it.
And maybe, just maybe, his new appearance might have some influence on other members of Roderic’s family.

For older readers:

Monster School
Kate Coombs and Lee Gatlin
Chronicle Books

A school it may be, but despite its fairly typical activities – homework for example, there’s a class pet and a regular weekly menu on offer at the cafeteria – Monster School’s pupils are anything but your usual boys and girls; the staff are pretty weird too.

Let’s meet some of them. There’s Stevie the Loser, who manages to lose pretty much anything and everything from backpack, book and homework, to his eyeball, kneecap and arm; what a zombie! He may not be able to find said homework but keen-eyed readers will surely spot it still attached to that missing arm of his.
There’s also ‘a ‘multicultural’ miss – whose family tree comprises giants, witches, trolls and other ghoulies.

Computer Wizard has tech skills aplenty: app creator, program writer extraordinaire, with a mouse that dines on virtual crackers and cheese and a ram that consumes virtual grass; seemingly this guy can do anything so long as it’s not a word problem.
I should also mention she of the amazing hair; it’s entirely reptilian with an abundance of adders, vipers and other venomous twisters and twiners.

Katie Coombs imaginative verses employ a variety of forms that will send tingles down the spines of primary age readers while Lee Gatlin’s creepy illustrations home in on the grim and gruesome with plenty of details of the shivery kind.

For the youngest:

Bizzy Bear Spooky House
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In his latest adventure, Bizzy Bear dons his starry costume and accompanied by his pal, ventures into a spooky house. Therein are plenty of things to make him shiver as he enters the spiders’ web festooned hall, climbs the creaky stairs and discovers a surprise party at the very top of the house.
Benji Davies’ scenes have plenty to amuse and explore and with a slider or tab to manipulate on every spread, this is mock scary Halloween fun for toddlers.

The Grotlyn

The Grotlyn
Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books

What or who on earth is a Grotlyn?
Well,  it’s certainly the subject of the organ grinder’s song in this story set in a murky Victorian town; and it’s something that keeps young Rubi from sleep as she lies alone in her room one night – the song in her head, and the possibility there’s one around. Or was that scuttling sound merely a mouse?

Others too are not yet slumbering. There’s Sam, perched high among the rooftops, tucking into his supper: he’s disturbed by a rustling sound as something is taken.

Policeman Vickers too is wide awake and in the process of hanging out his washing when …

We have clues now as to the identity of the mysterious Grotlyn; but it’s way too fast for the policeman as it vanishes once more into the shadows with its haul – an odd assortment of bits and pieces. What on earth or in sky could all those things be for?
With its strange noises in the night, Benji Davies compelling rhyming narrative is full of suspense and imbued with a gentle humour and his illustrations are absolutely stupendous. No matter where Davies takes us, be it Sudden Hill, Grandpa’s Island or onto a beach with Noi, we’re always right there with his characters, totally immersed in the story, living each and every moment of the action too; and so it is here, one hundred per cent.

Board Book Shelf

Hidden Animals
Find the Wolf

Agnese Baruzzi
Templar Publishing
Here are two wonderfully playful board books from Italian artist, Agnese Baruzzi.
In the former, the peep-through die-cut pages beguile readers with a series of different coloured shapes which, when the page is turned become transformed into in turn, a bird, a fox, a bug, a cat,

a dog, a jellyfish and a lion.
Part of the fun, once children have worked out what is happening, is to guess the animal from the coloured background on the left-hand side before the page is turned. I was wrong on a couple of occasions.
Find the Wolf takes readers on a hunt for a ”WANTED’ wolf . As we walk through the woods we see for instance, two pointy ears or a set of grey paws. Or are they?
Here Baruzzi uses two die-cut circles on each right hand page and by asking such questions as ‘Are those his eyes?’

leads us to believe’ that behind them the missing lupine lurks. But on turning over we see something completely different.

The elusive creature (or traces of same) is actually lurking somewhere on every recto which further adds to the delicious hide and seek element.

Up and Down
Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
This lovely board book, published in partnership with the National Trust is Rosalind Beardshaw’s latest addition to her A Walk in the Countryside series.
Winter has well and truly arrived; so the two small friends don warm clothes and boots before setting off into the great snowy outdoors.
Then it’s Up hill and Down on their sledges, followed by on foot encounters with a variety of creatures both feathered and furry

as they spend a wonderful day together savouring the delights of their rural romp.
There’s plenty to enjoy and discuss with toddlers in addition to the inbuilt ‘opposites’ the minimal text offers.

Bizzy Bear Ambulance Rescue
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Toddlers will delight in making the ‘nee-naw’ ambulance sounds and manipulating the moving parts in the new Bizzy Bear board book.
Bizzy Bear assumes the role of paramedic in his latest episode and he’s responding to an emergency call out. A little cat has had a cycling accident and Bizzy rushes to the scene where he helps lift the patient into the ambulance

which then rushes the injured kitty to hospital where he’s treated for what looks like a broken leg. Short and sweet!

Also an Octopus

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Also an Octopus
Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies
Walker Books
This collaboration between debut author, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and award-winning illustrator, Benji Davies (The Storm Whale, The Storm Whale in Winter and Grandad’s Island) is essentially a witty metanarrative about how to write a story. It’s littered with wonderfully whimsical characters – obviously characters are one of the must haves for a successful storyteller: herein we have a main character in the form of a ukulele-playing octopus.
But lets go right back to the author’s opening line, ‘every story starts the same way … with nothing.‘ Now anybody who writes or indeed works on the writing process with children, knows the truth of that. Back to our octopus.; ‘… in order for it to be a story and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something.’ What about a ‘totally awesome shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel’? Now that does sound exciting. But of course such things cannot be easily got hold of, they have to be earned; or, put another way, built from drinks cans, string, glitter, glue, umbrellas and err, waffles.

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No easy task: enter another character in the form of a truly adorable bunny – certainly no rocket scientist, so maybe that rocket isn’t about to become airborne any time soon. Did I hear the word “DESPONDENT” – surely not.

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Time for a spot of music perhaps …
It might prove just the thing to start a resolution (note that ‘r’ word, would-be story writers) forming in the mind …

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Tokuda-Hall’s deadpan humour, wherein she demonstrates the ups and downs of the writing process with the interplay between her cast of characters and the narrator), is superbly orchestrated by Davies’ fantastic images that appear to simply pop onto the pages as if at the author’s behest. Illustrators know that simply isn’t true, which makes Benji Davies’ seemingly effortless digital visuals all the more brilliant. And I love the circularity of the whole thing.
A must have for anyone working on developing the process of writing with children. It will surely get their imaginative juices flowing.

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