The Storm Whale in Winter

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The Storm Whale in Winter
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Some friendships are forever, no matter the distance between the two friends. Such is the case with young Noi who, in The Storm Whale, formed a strong bond with a young whale washed ashore on the beach near his home and later returned to the sea by the boy and his dad. Now with the coming of winter, Noi’s father sets out on one last trip in his fishing boat, but his failure to return by nightfall alarms his son as he waits and watches from his window.

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Seeing something far out at sea, Noi knows he has to leave the safety of his bedroom and braving the snowstorm raging outside, he goes, as fast as the icy shore will allow, towards the water’s edge. Frozen sea prevents him launching his boat and so Noi continues on foot and is soon lost, or so he thinks. Suddenly he spies in the flickering lamplight, a strange shape:

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it’s his dad’s boat, stuck in the ice but there’s nobody aboard. Nobody aboard, but Noi is not alone: all around the boat is the entire whale family including his friend, the storm whale.

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Another storm has brought the friends together once more. But that’s not the only re-union to take place that freezing night …

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However, it’s certainly one that father and son will talk about often.
Once again, Benji Davies has created a truly heart-warming tale, a tale that celebrates the power of love and friendship and the courage it can engender in the face of adversity. What superbly atmospheric scenes of swirling snow and icy seas grace the pages of this long-awaited wintry sequel.

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The Shrew That Flew/ The Dragon & the Nibblesome Knight

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The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Told through faultless rhyme – no easy matter despite Elli making it appear so – (with plenty of repetition, and sprinklings of onomatopoeia (FLASHes SPLASHes, FLAPs and CLAPs etc.) and awesome visuals – but one expects no less from Benji Davies – this is a stupendous offering. But, it’s the interaction of text and illustrations that makes the whole thing such a bobby dazzler of a book.
The tale revolves around Dram (love that name), an infant dragon, ejected from the Dragons of Dread family nest to search for ‘dribblesome, nibblesome, knobble-kneed knights.’

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In other words what he has to do is stand on his own feet, or rather fly with his own wings, and get his teeth and claws into a nibblesome knight. However that’s not quite what happens due to a prevailing wind – a looping, curling gale no less – that whisks young Dram ‘away to the End of the World’ depositing him unceremoniously into a lake beside which sits a diminutive knight. Said knight, James, takes the “duckie” under his wing …

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tending to his wounds and generally ministering to his injuries and sore parts,

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not to mention supplying nourishment for both Dram’s body and mind …

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The infant dragon however hasn’t forgotten his nibblesome knight procurement mission, so what will transpire when finally the dreadful realization dawns – that his new best friend is in fact, nothing less than a knight?

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Yes, there are faint echoes of Donaldson’s Zog here, but that is not to detract from its brilliance: if you want to do your bit to make children into life-long book lovers, there’s no doubt this is a MUST have book.

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Another Red Reading Hub favourite creative partnership is responsible for :

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The Shrew that Flew
Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo
Faber & Faber
This is the third wonderful ‘Harry & Lil Story’ and they just seem to get better and better. In this adventure, Candy Stripe Lil and Harry the Hog (along with the other creatures on Piggyback Hill) having received this invitation …

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are busy preparing for Badger’s do. It’s already 2pm; Harry has donned his spotty, dotty, pointy, flat titfa’ and Lil’s is still drying out on the washing line. Until that is, along comes a sudden gust of wind that whisks the object right up onto the roof.

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Disaster! There follows an amazing sequence of hat-retrieving attempts involving a brolly,

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a portable fan and all manner of other discarded ephemera retrieved from the shed.

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But can they manage to get the thing down and onto Lil’s head in time for the party? It’s certainly not a simple task, but however formidable it might be, Lil is the eternal optimist (Oh Lil we need you NOW!). “NEVER SAY NEVERis her maxim and with a bit of timely assistance from another of the party goers …

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it looks as though, they might, just might, be successful …

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Glorious, totally uplifting, a wonderful celebration of friendship and perseverance; Harry & Lil are eternally endearing. Eunyoung Seo’s delectable scenes, coupled with Julia Copus’ tongue-tingling rhyming text – here’s a sample
Lil gripped very tight; the umbrella bent
   and trembled,
         then tugged,
               then – whoosh! – up she went!
And floated off – past the sycamore stump …
are guaranteed to bring joy to listeners and readers aloud, at every turn of the page. Spectacular!

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Clive and his Art/Clive and his Babies
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play
Preschooler Clive, as portrayed by Jessica Spanyol, is a total delight. In the first book he shares his love of being creative, something that takes many forms including printing, drawing, constructing and collage making. He also loves looking at other people’s art and sharing his own, especially with his cat, Moshi.

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Clive has a particular penchant for googly eyes (don’t most youngsters of his age) and loves to adorn his works with all things glittery and sparkly (ditto).
In the second book we meet Clive with his two ‘babies’. These certainly do get the full range of experiences: play …

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feeding, potty training, baths (with the help of friend Asif) rides, stories – very important, hugs and plenty of TLC.

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I love the slightly oblique, almost child-like views of Clive that Jessica often gives us. Her straightforward present tense narrative is such that beginning readers can also enjoy Clive and his world when they share these enchanting books with their younger siblings.

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Littleland Around the World
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
The animal friends from Littleland pack their bags and set off to explore the world. First stop is London and they finish up in New York City – in Central Park to be precise. There are five other European destinations, then they head to Egypt and the pyramids followed by a safari in Kenya (that’s Africa taken care of). Next port of call is India and the Taj Mahal in Agra – a very hot place indeed so we are told, not always so in my experience though. From there it’s to China for a dragon festival , Tokyo at night …

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Australia to visit the outback and sunny Brazil for a spot of beach fun and games.
Running below every spread is a “Can you see …?‘ strip with nine labeled items (the national flag, animals, foods and more) for lap-tourists to spot. Yes there is the odd bit of mild stereotyping: ‘In Italy, people often eat pizza for their lunch.’ but the illustrations are cute, there’s so much to discuss, and toddlers will love to play I-Spy on this whistle-stop global tour.

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My First Book of Opposites
Alain Grée
Button Books
Ten spreads playfully illustrate basic opposites such as big/small, short/tall, up/down, fast/slow
Most of the concepts are either mathematical or scientific – hot/cold, day/night with the exception of one relating to feelings – happy/sad. We know that children acquire concepts through life experiences but books such as this board book can help in the reinforcement of same, and provide a talking point for adult and child together.

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Bizzy Bear DIY Day
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Bizzy Bear is having a DIY day. He’s busy measuring, sawing, drilling; but what are he and his pals making?

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TADAAH! Somewhere they can all have fun together …
Toddlers can enjoy the surprise ending and hone their fine motor skills as they push and slide the tabs to assist Bizzy as he wields his tools.
Bizzy Bear already has many fans among the very youngest; this one could win him even more.

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Animal Babies in the River/Animal Babies on the Mountain
Julia Groves
Child’s Play
Adult animals and their offspring from two different habitats – the river and mountains – are presented in life-like, collage style illustrations. The half dozen river animals portrayed are swan/cygnets, crocodile/hatchlings …

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otter and her pups, frog/tadpoles, salmon/fry and duck/ducklings.
The mountain dwellers include the alpaca/cria, lynx/kittens, eagle/eaglets and wolf/cubs.

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Julia Groves really does capture the essence of each species in her portrayals; her graphic style certainly doesn’t dumb down her illustrations: she clearly believes that the very youngest children deserve quality artwork and this is what she provides here.

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Terrific Twosomes

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I Love You Already
Jory John and Benji Davies
Harper Collins Children’s Books
The Goodnight Already duo(s) are back with another rip-roaring winner.
We start with Duck seemingly planning a morning stroll with his best pal and Bear extolling the virtues of lazy weekends at home …

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Before long though Bear’s peace is shattered by a knock at his door and this little buddy isn’t taking no for an answer.
Maybe that walk isn’t quite such a good idea after all though …

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and it seems Bear likes “quiet time by himself’ as much or maybe even more than he likes his chatty neighbour, and is determined to have some quality time to himself no matter what, or where.
Not very much however, for very soon he hears …

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And sees …

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Guess who is starting to feel a little bit of remorse now and then even more when he hears “You don’t even like me, do you, Bear? ” to which he responds, “Nonsense. You’re basically my family. I love you already, Duck.”
Maybe not the best thing you could have said, Bear because …

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That irrepressible, fun loving Duck is the perfect complement to his ursine neighbour who loves nothing better than a quiet day to himself with plenty of books and the odd cuppa.
Super stuff.

On the subject of perfect partnerships, bears, and a rabbit this time, an unmissable book for newly independent and emerging readers is:

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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits
Julian Gough & Jim Field
Hodder Children’s Books
I absolutely adored Jim Field’s wonderful Oi Frog! so I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! did I love it. I’ve always thought Frog and Toad were the unbeatable pairing when it comes to perfectly balanced contrasting characters but now along come the all-knowing Rabbit and laid-back Bear; and if this first book is anything to go by, they are about to give those amphibian guys a run for their money.
This side-splitting woodland romp is the setting for a tale of snowballs, snowman building,

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almost-avalanches, cracking ice, a breath-taking escape, a bit of stealing, poo eating – did I just say poo eating? (apparently, in this instance it’s called coprophagia) – not to mention the odd soggy carrot, oh! and there’s this other character I almost forgot to mention too.

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And of course, there’s friendship – who could ask for anything more? Well, other than – next instalment very soon please Mr G and Mr F.
Such a brilliantly seamless amalgam of words and pictures. Roll on The Pest in the Nest say I.

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Toddler Christmas Books

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Santa’s Reindeer
Tom Duxbury, Matilda Tristram and Nick Sharratt
Walker Books
Over-peppering of his pre-delivery supper soup by Santa causes extreme nasal irritation of Reindeer and …

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ATCHOOO!

But can they retrieve it in time to deliver the presents when Polar Bear wants it to button up his his onesie, Robin thinks it might be a tree decoration, Seal needs it to practice tricks for the Christmas show, sending it flying into Arctic Fox’s stocking

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and when he empties it out, the nose vanishes. Hold on though, what’s that in Penguin’s fruit salad?

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Could it possibly be …
A fun idea, hilariously captured in Nick Sharratt’s suitably silly seasonal scenes, complete with a squeaky nose. What better novelty for a Christmas Eve romp?

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Is It Christmas Yet?
Jane Chapman
Little Tiger Press
This is a lovely, squashy-covered board book version of Jane Chapman’s jolly tale.
Young Ted is beside himself with excitement charging round the house yelling.
Is it Christmas yet?” he repeatedly asks Big Bear who is getting to the end of his tether at the frequent question.

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However, the preparations continue at a pace – a slow one – as they work together wrapping presents, search for a suitable tree – easier said than done resulting in a very tearful Ted.

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But happily, team work fixes the problem and finally Big Bear carries his exhausted little one up to bed as it is at last very, very nearly CHRISTMAS!
With a decidedly upbeat text full of delicious words (HEAVED, HUFFED, PULLED, PUFFED and “TOO SPIKY…” “TOO THIN…“)

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and sounds (zzzzzzzzzzzzpft! SNAP!, NOOOOOOO!) to join in and perhaps act out), this is perfect for sharing with over-excited toddlers, (especially those who keep asking the same question as Ted) as Christmas draws ever closer. Adults will surely recognize the feelings portrayed by Big Bear in the deliciously humorous illustrations; and it’s good to see a single Dad coping so well with the high spirits of Ted.

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Bizzy Bear Christmas Helper
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
A seasonal board book offering featuring the popular Bizzy Bear who herein, has been enlisted to aid and abet Father Christmas, First he has to help in the workshop, then there’s the sleigh to be packed, after which it’s ‘up and away!’ delivering toys to all the sleeping animals.

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With the usual ingredients: brief rhyming text, jolly pictures and sliders to push and pull plus the added festive fun, this is just the thing to share with the very youngest during the run up to Christmas.

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Jingle Bells
James Lord Pierpont and Pauline Seiwert
Walker Books
This is a sturdily built rendition of the seasonal favourite song with teddies riding the sleigh pulled by a pony, with rabbits bounding along beside, badgers greeting them as they slow down; and a whole host of other woodland creatures joining them as they sing and sleigh slowly towards the candle-lit Christmas tree where they look skywards and see another sleigh pulled by reindeers …

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If that’s not enough to captivate the very young, then there’s a button to press and they can sing along with the music.

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This Little Piggy Went Singing
Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland
Allen & Unwin
In their follow-up to the delightful This Little Piggy Went Dancing, the highly regarded Australian picture book creators Wild and Niland come up with a Christmas sequel. Herein, the super-cute five little piggies are busy with their seasonal preparations. They sing and make music, shop, create …

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and post cards and party.
There are candy canes …

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and cakes (of the fishy variety), baubles and bedtime stories, not to mention plum pudding, and pineapple, gingerbread and more …
In ten verses Margaret Wild offers musical alternatives to the ‘wee-wee-wee’ with more upbeat ‘vroom vrooms’, ‘plink, plonk, plunks, ratta-tat-tats, jingle-jingle-jingles’ … and a final

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… all the way home.
Do join those porcine frolics so cleverly rotated so that a different piggy has none each time, in Deborah Niland’s lively, playful , action-packed pictures. And look out for that mouse friend who makes his presence well and truly felt in every spread.
Seasonal enchantment for the very young (and those who read or sing it aloud to them).

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Exploring Big Ideas: Grandad’s Island & Alive Again

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Grandad’s Island
Benji Davies
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books pbk
Sometimes along comes a book that moves me to tears; this is such a one. It really tugs at the heartstrings as it tells how young Syd accompanies his beloved Grandad on a final journey. With Grandad at the helm,

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the two of them set forth on a tall ship across the ocean and its rolling waves to a far distant island. Abandoning his stick, Grandad leads Syd into the thick jungle where they come upon an old shack.

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Having made everything ‘shipshape’, the two of them sally forth to explore and come upon a perfect resting spot.

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It’s there that Grandad breaks the news to Syd that he is going to remain on the island, assuring him that he won’t feel lonely.
So, after a loving farewell, Syd returns home alone. It’s a lonesome journey and a long one and when Syd returns to Grandad’s house, there’s nobody there. But then he hears a tapping at the window and there, sent by special mail is …

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Poignantly beautiful both visually and verbally: Benji Davies has done it again.

 

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Alive Again
Ahmadreza Ahmadi and Nahid Kazemi
Tiny Owl
The well-regarded Iranian poet Ahmadi is the author of this seemingly simple, thought-provoking tale.
One by one, things that a boy loves disappear from his life: are they gone forever, he wonders. Can blossom, rain and wheat come back?

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They can and will, but each in its own good time.
The author’s spare prose allows children to create their own interpretations and fill the gaps left in the telling. Ahmadi gives the impression of being close to young children and the kinds of ideas that preoccupy them from time to time. Themes of change, loss, death, rebirth and renewal, and the cycles of nature

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are all possible ideas to explore having shared the reassuring book with young listeners.
As with all the Tiny Owl titles, the production is excellent and the illustrations superb. The collage style illustrator Nahid Kazemi used here has a child-like quality about it and is likely to inspire children’s own creative endeavours.

 

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A box of interesting fabrics, some decent backing paper, fine-line pens and glue is all that’s required.
A wonderful book for primary teachers looking to further children’s spiritual and imaginative development.

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Giants, Gold-Spinning and a Growing Nose

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Dolci was a little bit alarmed at the giant’s child-eating threats

 

The Giant of Jum
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Inspired by the traditional tale told to him by his brother, about a boy called Jack, the Giant of Jum – a bad-tempered chap – sets out in search of some children for a tasty teatime snack. The children he discovers though, far from fearing the giant, enlist his help in reaching their ball.

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He obliges promising to be back to fulfill his own purposes, then goes on his way again. Before long another group of children beg for his assistance

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and once again our giant obliges and promises to return. His search is now for Jack … and sure enough – soon enough, there at his feet is a very small boy pleading for a ride. I’m sure you can guess the name of this little fellow and he’s thoroughly beguiled by the giant.
But … “Fee!” he said, and “Fi!” he said and “Little Jack snack, is that right?” and a whole lot worse. (This bit really had some children on the very edge of their seats.)

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But he hadn’t bargained for the children’s rapid intervention, and their bargaining powers …
It’s a happy ending for all – kindness begets kindness – and the giant discovers that some things actually taste better than children.

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Enormous fun; and what potential for inspiring creative work from young children. Elli Woollard’s rhyming text bounces along jauntily and is brilliant fun to read aloud: Benji Davies has created a wonderful character in the giant: I love that funky head attire and those peep-toed boots are just superb. With all manner of interesting perspectives (and some darker scenes)

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every page is packed with small details to relish and chuckle over. The illustrative style seems something of a new development for Benji Davies; this new partnership with Elli Woollard is one to be celebrated if their debut book is anything to go by. Maybe that Giant of Jum could even make a return …

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Jack and the Beanstalk
illustrated by Ed Bryan
Nosy Crow
This is I think, the fourth in the series of fairy tales created from Bryan’s award- winning Nosy Crow apps. It’s a lively rendition of a favourite story that includes a mouse, a frog

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and a baby dragon in the cast of characters. The latter enlists Jack’s help to release him from a dungeon cell and in return he tells Jack the whereabouts of the giant’s golden harp. This harp however, is a trickster and once Jack has it in his clutches, calls out, “Master Giant, wakey wakey! This boy Jack is trying to take me!” Nevertheless Jack does manage to escape from the castle hotly pursued by the giant, grab his trusty axe and bring the beanstalk crashing down. We never learn the fate of the giant but at least he never troubles Jack and his mother ever again.
The setting has something of a modern feel: Jack’s mum, despite her poverty, wears a stylish dress albeit with jazzy patches, and long boots;

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and Jack carries a rucksack. The story itself reads aloud well and as the goose on the back cover says, ‘is all about being kind and helpful’. May be not ‘all ’ but no one would argue with that as a worthwhile message.

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Rumpelstiltskin
Mara Alperin and Loretta Schauer
Little Tiger Press
This is a lively rendition of a favourite fairy tale with some fairly lavish verbal, and hence visual, embellishments such as the miller’s pre gold-spinning boast about his daughter: “Tulips start to bloom when my daughter sings,” and “When Isabel catches raindrops, they turn into butterflies.” for instance. Young Isabel is duly thrust into the highest tower by the king once he’s heard of her ability to spin straw into gold and ordered to do just that. There follows her encounter with the little man who offers help, makes a bargain and in her desperation, Isobel has promised him his “pick of treasure” once she’s rich. Having spun as promised (‘coins and crowns, and trinkets and trophies’), he vanishes leaving Isabel to reap the rewards from the king. (His visits are cut to one here) and the king introduces her to his kind son, Prince Herbert. Before long wedding bells ring forth and, in due course, the couple is blessed with a baby boy.

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The little man is completely forgotten until one stormy night that is. Then POOF! There he is cackling and demanding his dues. Nothing short of the baby will do unless Isabel can guess his name within three nights.

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However, it’s not Isabel who takes the initiative – not sure I approve of that – but her husband, Herbert. He tracks down the little man, discovers his name and informs his wife who then ‘guesses correctly’ on her final chance and with a howl and a growl, a stomp and a stamp, Rumpelstiltskin vanishes through the floor, never to be seen again in the kingdom, leaving baby Hugo to grow up safe and sound with his loving parents.
With smatterings of word play and bright, jolly, richly patterned illustrations, this version has a modern feel to it. It’s certainly one young audiences will be attracted to visually and they will enjoy the tension of the guessing game and its outcome in particular.
For me nothing can beat an oral telling I once heard Sara Corrin perform (based on the text in her Stories for Seven Year Olds collection) but this one is an enjoyable read aloud if that’s what you want.

Not a traditional tale but a classic one that seems to be ever popular is:

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The Patua Pinocchio
Carlo Collodi and Swarna Chitrakar
Tara Books
The artist, Swarna Chitrakar, a West Bengali scroll painter has given the tale a wholly new visual interpretation, totally unlike the westernized, often Disneyfied one where Pinocchio, the mischievous Italian marionette wears a yellow hat and a kind of romper suit. Here, in keeping with clothing styles from her own tradition, Pinocchio is clad in a dhoti/ loincloth, is adorned with jewellery (anklets and armlets and a neck adornment),

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and has a rich brown skin and beatific smile reminding one – and this is the author’s conception too – of the Hindu deity, Krishna whom she refers to in her afterword as ‘a lovable yet godly trickster figure … who looks composed and serene at all times.’
Geppetto in contrast has a mustard-coloured skin and wears a dhoti.
Visually striking, with its stylized Patua folk art images, this book will  particularly appeal to those fascinated by traditional art forms, and anyone interested in exploring the universality of stories.

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