Hugo / Cat Ladies

Atinuke and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Atinuke uses an unusual narrator for her heartwarming story that’s set in and around a small, urban park, it’s Hugo the pigeon. Hugo is a park warden and every day, through all the changing seasons he patrols the park looking after various humans –

that’s his particular Spring task, while in summer he has to clean up the mess left by picnickers and his autumn days are occupied with child care (to give their mothers a rest).

On chilly wintry days Hugo sees it as his role to visit the apartments near the park to remind the residents that spring isn’t too far off.

At one window though the curtains never open but Hugo knows someone hides whenever he knocks.

Then one day the curtains part to reveal a small girl whom Hugo treats to his ‘Spring-is-coming’ dance moves.

Not long after the bird is late to arrive and the child leans right out to look for him. So enthusiastic is his ‘here I am’ dance that Hugo fails to notice another arrival.

Happily Hugo lives to finish his story but receives an injury that completely changes the lonely life of his young rescuer, for the better. No wonder Hugo loves his job.

Birgitta Sif’s illustrations are the perfect complement for this offbeat tale – gently humorous and alive with deliciously quirky details at every page turn; and her colour palette is always beautiful, no matter which season she portrays.

Cat Ladies
Susi Schaefer
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Here’s a delightfully tongue-in-cheek tale of Princess, a well and truly pampered moggy: she has not one but four ladies with whom she shares her time. That involves plenty of work but Princess doesn’t mind for she receives more than her share of treats for participating in ‘grooming days’ with Millie, running errands with Molly,

and a spot of bird watching with Merthel. Band practice time spent with Maridl is the noisiest activity but Princess has ‘everything under control’.

Then one day, horror of horrors, Princess discovers that her favourite napping spot has been usurped by a ‘stray’. Not only that though, this creature seems to have taken over other roles too.

When her efforts to retrain the ladies fail, Princess ups and leaves in a jealous sulk. However things don’t quite go smoothly when she searches for an alternative place to take her catnap and the moggy finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately the young interloper has an acute sense of hearing and picks up the ‘MEOWW!!!’ issuing from the feline and all ends happily with four ladies becoming five.

Susi Schaeffer’s bold, lively digital art is given a textured feel by the addition of hand-painted designs; the older human characters are delightfully eccentric and the story will appeal particularly to cat lovers young and not so young.

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse
Mara Bergman and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

There are two residents of the tall house atop the tall hill; one human, the other a mouse. The tall man and the small mouse lead parallel lives, the man doing tall (and often caring) things that need doing, the mouse doing small things that need doing after which she falls fast asleep in a cosy, comfy place.

One day the man has a fixing task concerning the town’s clock – it’s no longer going tick or tock; but try as he might, the tall man cannot get inside that tickless, tockless timepiece and so, silent it remains.

Back home he researches but his books yield nothing so eventually he falls fast asleep.

The mouse meanwhile is up and about creeping hither and thither till she goes off to sleep inside a tall boot.

Next morning when the man discovers not only the mouse in his boot but also a all his missing things, he’s delighted and enlists the little creature’s help.

After searching high and low inside the clock, the mouse finally discovers the source of the problem.

With assorted bits and pieces, she soon has those bells ringing out once more making the two residents of the house on the hill (as well as the townsfolk) extremely happy.

Thus a new camaraderie is forged and a new partnership as well.

Told in rhyme, Mara Bergman’s fable of fixing and friendship is a quirky delight, made all the more so by Birgitta Sif’s adorable illustrations. Full of her wonderful whimsy every one, large or small, is an absolute treat; such a gorgeous colour palette too.

Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing

Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing
Hiawyn Oram and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books

Snowboy likes to spend his time playing imaginative games with his animal companions. Greenbackboy is riddled with greed. He persuades Snowboy to join him in a ‘better game’ he calls KA-CHING. The game entails cutting down all the forest trees in return for KA-CHING, which seemingly, can be used to get anything they want. With one tree left standing however, the enormity of what they’ve done strikes Snowboy and with the aid of his Cloak of Many Uses, he manages to hide the last tree.
Not satisfied with his ill-gotten gains, Greenbackboy drags his reluctant fellow player off to the oceans, their next target for exploitation.
With all the fish netted Snowboy again has second thoughts and manages to release two of their catch overboard, unnoticed by his companion.

But strongboxes filled with KA-CHING and mountains of tinned fish give no protection from the ravages of a storm that brews up, sweeping the tinned fish into the empty ocean to go to waste.
Snowboy has had enough.

Leaving Greenbackboy with his treasure, he, his Ice Troupers and Polar Bear King trek back across the wasted land, finally reaching that last tree.
Could it just be that with tender loving care, the tree can become their saviour?

Hiawyn Oram’s unusual story has a powerful ecological message: a fable about greed and exploitation of natural resources, it’s a timely reminder of what is happening to our planet.
Birgitta Sif’s beautiful illustrations have a muted luminescence and bring a touch of quirkiness to what is essentially a dark tale.

Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day / Take Ted Instead

Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Swish is a mouse with super-efficient ears that she puts into action from those first waking moments of the cacophonous day described in Birgitta’s Sif’s sweet tale.
The CRUNCH CRUNCH sounds she hears coming from downstairs aren’t as she first thinks, a crocodile consuming the kitchen table; rather it’s Squeak, her younger sibling, enthusiastically munching breakfast cereal. And so it goes on with some gentle noises of preparations for school and some not so gentle …

The walk to school and lessons therein are equally full of eeeeks, munches, squeaks, toots, pump ums and bah bas – it’s small wonder Swish’s head is in a spin …

but those ears really come into their own in the melee of the playground at home time.
All this invitingly join-in-able onomatopoeia (great for developing sound/symbol relationships) and more, forms an integral part of Sif’s captivatingly whimsical scenes of sibling affection executed in predominantly soft pinks, rose, purple and teal hues.
A lovely celebration of the sibling bond and incidentally …

of the peace and quiet of libraries.

Take Ted Instead
Cassandra Webb and Amanda Francey
New Frontier Publishing
The 3Rs of reading – rhyme, rhythm and repetition – rule in this tale of a mother trying to coax her reluctant toddler up to bed. The little lad tries putting forward a host of alternatives: the dog, the baby his cat, his older brother, a toy robot, a neighbour and even his goldfish (each has a name rhyming with ‘sleepy head’) …

but Mum is having none of it. In fact she uses Ted and a spot of reverse psychology to get the resister where she wants him.
A fun read aloud for adult and child to share at bedtime. Equally, with the key ingredients for beginning reading integral to the story, and playful illustrations that work with the text, this is an ideal book for children just starting out as readers to try for themselves.

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Where My Feet Go & Lucky Ducky

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Where My Feet Go
Birgitta Sif
Andersen Press
Where do your feet go? Probably nowhere near such exciting places as those belonging to the young panda narrator of this delightfully offbeat book. Panda’s feet, once they’re duly clad in socks – one green, the other purple – and inserted into moon boots, take him to wonderful places – one way

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or another …

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And that’s just in the morning.
Next comes a spot of foot resting and dinosaur feeding …

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After which the tootsies take to the skies, do a vanishing act – temporarily …

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and tramp through the desert.
Come night time and there’s underwater exploration, a couple of space sorties, and probably, more magical destinations are in the offing too …
Fuelled by that rich imagination of his, Panda, like many young children, makes everything an adventure and who better to visually document those adventures than Birgitta Sif.
Every one of her scenes is a gem. I love the overall quirkiness of her illustrations. I love the somewhat subdued colour palette and the glorious mismatch between what is said and what is shown. I love the way Panda’s internal imaginings are, on several occasions, allowed to wander expansively across an entire double spread. If only all young children, like this young panda were allowed such space/time to give free rein to their imaginations, rather than being made to do pointless tasks to ‘further their learning’; if only … there I go like Panda imagining …

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Lucky Ducky
Doreen Mulryan
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ducky is one of those characters for whom nothing seems to go right …

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so, determined to change things for himself, he sets off to the park in search of a four-leaf clover. But his search is soon interrupted, first by Pup offering a game of Frisbee, then by Piggy who invites him for a swim. No sooner has he restarted his hunt however, than he spies Bunny suggesting a picnic. By the time the sun is starting to go down, Ducky still hasn’t found that lucky 4-leaf clover but he does now appreciate just how lucky he really is. He’s discovered something much more important: the true value of good friends to share experiences with, no matter what …

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Suitably spirited, comic style illustrations document Ducky’s transition from unlucky to lucky Ducky.

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Magical Moggie Moments

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How to Catch a Mouse
Philippa Leathers
Walker Books
Clemmie kitten maintains a mouse-free home – or so she thinks. One would expect no less from a brave, fearsome mouse-catcher especially one that is a brilliant stalker and chaser as well as being patient and alert. And she knows – thanks to her book – all about mouse catching and mice.

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Hold on though; we are now told that our heroic mouse catcher has never actually seen a mouse. Is that because they fear her so much or …  (“Look behind you,” demands one of my listeners)
No matter; our little ginger moggie knows just what to look for: a long pink tail, round ears, a whiskery, pointy nose …

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But nothing of that description comes within her view, does it?
By this stage in the book my young listeners were so involved in and delighted by what they could see, that they were almost climbing into the book themselves,
A wonderfully controlled, small comedy with a big impact. “Again!” was the immediate demand of another group I shared this with who equally enjoyed watching Clemmie and her mousing antics unfolding in the watercolour illustrations and loved it when she donned her disguise

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after the light-bulb moment that comes once she’s disrobed her prey.
With its short, memorable text one five year old was delighted to discover she could read this “super story” herself after hearing it read aloud.

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Where Does Kitty Go in the Rain?
Harriet Ziefert and Brigette Barrager
Blue Apple
This enchanting book is a mix of story and facts relating to rain.
Readers and listeners are invited via Harriet Ziefert’s rhyming couplets to join in the search for a little girl’s Kitty. In so doing they will find out what rain is, and how cats and other animals – ducks, squirrels, beetles,

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earthworms, butterflies …

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and birds – react to a shower of rain. There is also information about how ducks make themselves waterproof, squirrel’s own personal, always ready brolly, butterflies’ anti-rain roosts and more.
With those harmonious, mannered illustrations of Brigette Barrager to make you smile on every spread; and a trail to follow (with a happy ending) …

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this is just the thing to spark curiosity in the very young and get them further fascinated by the minutiae of life in the natural world.

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Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats
Alicia Potter and Birgitta Sif
Walker Books
Miss Hazeltine, a big-hearted young woman opens her home to ‘Shy and Fearful Cats’ and before long she has a whole host of new inmates; some are strays, others have been made homeless but all are welcome. Lessons commence for her beloved moggies – Bird Basics in the morning, Climbing Up and Climbing Down in the afternoon and on the evening curriculum is Scary Noises. Other lessons are tailored to making new friends, pouncing, not being scared of the ‘Broom’ and some yoga style arching and thinking;

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and Miss H. shows great understanding of reluctant joiners-in. She even goes so far as to tell them of her own fears and soon there develops a special understanding between her and Crumb, one of the least confident kitties.
Numbers continue to increase until one evening Miss Hazeltine is forced to go out for more milk. When she fails to return after dark having taken a tumble,

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it’s down to Crumb to head a rescue mission; a rescue mission that means leading the others out into the scary pitch-black darkness to find the one they’ve come to love.

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Despite being allergic to cats and near phobic if one comes near, I was utterly enchanted by this book with its wonderful cast of characters. Birgitta Sif’s slightly off-beat illustrations with their muted colours and the forest setting of the tale combine to give the whole thing the feeling of a fairy story; so too does the underdog – or rather cat- becoming the hero by overcoming great odds to rescue the one he loves. A quirky charm exudes from every spread: the sight of Miss H as yoga teacher is priceless and the forest scenes (with and without cats) have a real magical feel about them.

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They beautifully complement Alicia Potter’s carefully chosen words for her well-crafted text, underlying which are ideas about self-belief, overcoming your fears, kindness and compassion.

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Some children I shared this with were inspired to create their own inmates for Miss H’s Home.


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Dance with Frances, Play with Bing

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Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance
Birgitta Sif
Walker Books
Frances Dean just adores dancing: even when sitting in school she finds ways to dance with her feet or fingers. Best though she loves to dance outdoors, where she feels the wind and hears the singing of the birds, so long as nobody is watching that is. The thought of people’s eyes on her make her freeze up. Then one day the birds (fans of her dancing) lead her to a smaller girl with a wonderful voice

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and that night Frances Dean lies awake thinking of how the girl was able to share her beautiful song. Next morning when she wakes to bird song she is reminded of her own love of dancing. Off she goes into the great outdoors to practise while no one is around. Gradually as she spins and leaps she begins to lose her inhibitions and shows, first the birds, then other animals and finally, other people, her moves. Before long – oh joy – not only the singing girl, but also an old lady and many others have joined her in a celebration of dance.

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A book to bring music to your heart and movement to your body, I found it hard not to throw aside my laptop and leap around in sheer delight along with Frances Dean et al. at the sight of that final spread.
Wonderful, dreamy landscapes, quirky, sparky individuals – human and animal – and a powerful message to be yourself are some of the joys contained herein.
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Bing Make Music
Ted Dewan
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
Round the corner,
Not far away,
Bing’s been bongo-ing all day.

Get out your saucepans, spoons, tubes and keys, even your rice tub and bell, oh and Bing and Flop have a music box thing too. Then get ready to join in the glorious cacophony with the friends as that rice goes shaka shaka, keys go jingle jing, a tube goes woona woona, a bell goes dingle ding.
But oh-oh! Bing is getting just a trifle over excited with that spoon. We need to warn him, “Don’t go bongo, Bing.” Too late! BASH! – one broken music box.
A quick mend and then, it’s time for a song. Hurrah!
Who can resist Bing’s exuberance and Flop’s readiness to forgive his friend? Equally irresistible is this opportunity to join in and shake, rattle and bang along with the friends (once you’ve shared the story without additional noises perhaps).
Great for developing sound awareness too.
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