Alfie / Wakey, Wakey Elephant

Alfie
Thyra Heder
Abrams
‘There are two sides to every story’ is an oft-used statement and so it is in this picture book. First we hear from six year old narrator Nia who receives a new pet, turtle Alfie on her birthday. She’s thrilled with the creature, introducing him to friends, making him presents, telling him stories and dancing and writing songs for him, all without anything by way of a response from Alfie. As time passes, Nia’s enthusiasm has waned considerably.
Come her seventh birthday; Alfie is conspicuous by his absence. Where has he gone?

Here the story turns and we hear from Alfie. He has after all appreciated her love and attention and wants to show Mia, by finding a present that will make her equally happy on their joint birthday.
Alfie’s quest for the perfect gift takes him outside for the first time in his life where he receives help first from dog, Toby, then from a snail and finally, after a long nap, from a fish.

It’s in the pond that Alfie eventually finds just the right thing and by the end of the book, there are two very happy celebrators of a birthday, albeit not the one Alfie thinks they’re celebrating.
Expressive watercolour scenes, punctuated by a single impactful, minimal black and white spread, combined with a spare, straightforward text, document this lovely story of appreciation and friendship.

Wakey, Wakey, Elephant!
Linda Ravin Lodding and Michael Robertson
Sterling

What do you do when your elephant friend simply refuses to wake from his slumbers no matter what you do? That’s the problem facing young Edgar.
He’s tried the usual shouting and tickling neither of which caused so much as an eyelid twitch. A flock of roosters fails to rouse him, ditto a band marching right through his bedroom and a cha-cha chicken dance on the bed is similarly ineffective as are popping balloons and a particularly itchy party hat. (Young listeners will by now have guessed the reason Edgar is so eager to wake his pachyderm pal.) Even all these things done simultaneously  does not cause so much as a stirring from the slumberer.

Could a few softly spoken words in Elephant’s ear perhaps do the trick?

With its themes of friendship and perseverance, and its satisfying finale, this lively romp coupled with Robertson’s illustrations of exuberant activities taking place around the blissfully slumbering elephant, will illicit giggles from young listeners.

A Trio of Search-and-Find Books

Where’s Bernard?
Katja Spitzer
Prestel
Bernard the bat is preparing for his night-time birthday celebrations but he wants help to find everything he needs for the party he’s throwing for his friends. His search involves nine items …

and takes him hunting in all manner of fascinating places: a greenhouse, an underground cavern, an ice-rink, a garden,

the woods, beneath the ocean and even in outer space, each one being populated by weird and wonderful creatures.
With its ‘glow-in-the-dark’ cover and quirky, vibrantly coloured, magical scenes that are not too busy for the youngest seekers, this is a good place to start on the whole ‘search and find’ genre.

A Thousand Billion Things (and some sheep)
Loic Clement and Anne Montel
Words & Pictures
A small girl takes us through a variety of everyday happenings – having breakfast, taking a bath, getting dressed, exploring the garden, going to market, helping dad prepare the dinner and more, asking us to locate items hidden in spreads brimming over with food, clothes, vegetables, …

fish and more. Each of these events offers plenty of choices and entices readers to linger over the delicately drawn flora, toys, clothes, delicious pastries etc –which almost prove too much for the young protagonist while also locating such items as 4 hedgehogs, a frog mask, a spotty green sweater, or a pyramid of cream cakes.
Then comes bedtime, which, so the young narrator tells us on the first page, is the one time she dislikes: instead of a multitude of choices, bedtime offers nothing but sheep, endless sheep and ‘it’s a complete nightmare!’
Accompanying Clement’s quirky textual narrative, Montel’s slightly whimsical images provide a visual feast; and it’s as well, in case one gets too carried away over the details, that a visual key with the answers is provided at the back of the book.
Absorbing, fun and rewarding.

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books
Children can join with two friends as they engage in a game of hide-and-seek from opposite ends of this book.

Two large pairs of eyes peer through the die-cut holes in the front and back covers, forewarning that child participants are going to need to keep their eyes peeled to spot the protagonists in their play.
Arhoj teases with his own game of give and take: if you look at the endpapers you’ll also be forewarned that the playmates sport differently shaped hats – that should make the whole thing easier surely. But then to make the spotting considerably more difficult, he makes the two slightly foxy characters change colour; not only once but on every spread, as they move through the book and their world of hustle and bustle.
It’s a world populated by all kinds of strange and cute creatures going about their daily lives and its these, as much as the main protagonists, that provide a lot of the intrigue. I found myself distracted in every setting, just exploring all the quirky goings-on, before even starting to discover the whereabouts of the foxy friends. Every location be it shop, office, park, hospital

or elsewhere, has potential for stories aplenty.
With minimal text Arhoj has created an engrossing story-cum game picture book that will enthral and gently challenge young readers.

Where’s the Baboon?

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Where’s the Baboon?
Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
Andersen Press
Is it a book or is it a game? Actually the mouse on the cover hits it on the nail ‘It’s a Super Bookgame!’ he asserts and it might be time to get out those plastic letters for a visit to the crazy animal school herein, as we respond to this invitation … ‘Let’s search for hidden words!

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Question one is ‘Who is the headmaster?’, the answer being … got it? Next comes ‘Who brought the apple?’ That’s it: the red letters highlight the answers, each one being an animal of some kind, the tricky creature itself appearing in part …

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or wholly somewhere on the scene, while the mischievous mouse trio makes an appearance on every spread.

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These little creatures seem about to launch a glue missile at two unsuspecting readers in one of the scenes.
The final birthday surprise bursts – literally – onto the scene proclaiming as he makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms …

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Exploding with fun – and not just from the penultimate spread – this is absolutely perfect for sharing and for having a good giggle over the crazy shenanigans of the pupils, before trying to invent some animal capers of your own; or even re-making those featured with coloured letter shapes. Totally engaging in every respect. Teachers, don’t miss this one: it’s packed with potential such as ‘Think of an appropriate sentence, write it and then create a scene around it.’ Of course the spelling will need checking though.

Happy Birthday Old Bear 30th Birthday blog tour

Red Reading Hub is delighted to be part of the blog tour celebrating Old Bear’s 30th birthday

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Happy Birthday Old Bear
Jane Hissey
Scribblers
I find it hard to believe that we’re celebrating Old Bear’s 30th birthday. He’s been one of my all time favourite characters since my early days as an infant teacher; and I have – I think – still got all his books, treasures every one.
I particularly treasure my original copy of Old Bear, still with its press release and review slip …

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I cannot possibly imagine how many classes, individuals and groups of young children I’ve shared this and the other stories with. So, I’m way beyond thrilled to be part of the celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of that first publication and Jane’s new Old Bear story which opens with all the toys, helped by a new friend, Elsie elephant busily preparing for Old Bear’s party.
Poor Little Bear, he just can’t keep up with Elsie who, rather than tie a bow around her umbrella gift seems to be tying bows to anything and everything …

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No party would be complete without balloons and the toys have those in abundance, even an anteater, so Little Bear thinks; but we know better …

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Meanwhile in the kitchen, Bramwell Brown has been hard at work baking and now the fruit of his labours is ready for decorating – or rather it was, but Elsie precipitates a slight mishap which results in a fair bit of cake being squashed. Undaunted, Elsie soon has the whole near-disaster turned into a creative ‘half-a-cake’ opportunity when in marches Sailor whose concern is for the celebratory music …

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and of course, Little Bear is eager to be part of the band.
Out in the garden is some bubble mixture: Elsie and Little Bear start to get a bit carried away with blowing ‘big, wibbly-wobbly bubbles’ and it’s as well that the ever-resourceful Elsie fetches the perfect cake protector just in time for the VIP’s appearance.

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We all know what happens when gusts of wind take hold of open brollies and all of a sudden Elsie is whisked skywards clinging on for dear life. Thank goodness then for another one of the friends, Hoot. She hears all the noise and is straightway off to the rescue, returning soon after with Elsie and the umbrella safe and sound.
Then finally, it really IS time to celebrate: ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY OLD BEAR’: here’s a cake we made just for you. …

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and may we all be here with you for many more birthdays.
I wanted an Elsie to come to our Old Bear celebration and here she is:

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Elsie whom I made in India from scrap materials bringing her own special umbrella gift for Old Bear

This latest Jane Hissey book is STU-PEN-DOUS: sheer delight from cover to cover. Every spread is a sensory treat: it’s so tactile; you can almost feel the fur and felt of the toys and that storybook cake really sends your olfactory organs and taste buds into over-drive. Old Bear and his creator truly are as magical as ever.
Inspired by Elsie, some of your fans have made celebratory Happy Birthday umbrellas specially for the occasion too:

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I have two copies of Happy Birthday Old Bear to give away thanks to Scribblers. To be in with a chance to win, simply retweet my celebratory tweet #OldBear30 by 22nd September. (UK only) And just in case you’ve missed the previous celebrations or want to know what’s still to come …

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Hiding Heidi

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Hiding Heidi
Fiona Woodcock
Simon and Schuster
Young Heidi has a special talent: she’s able to blend in with her surroundings – effortlessly and very successfully …

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She’s a natural camouflager which is particularly useful when it comes to a game of hide-and-seek with her friends.
At her birthday party you can guess what Heidi wants to play – and off she goes to hide …

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A search ensues but Heidi’s just TOO good – all her pals find is some delicious ice-creams.
The party continues and finally Heidi’s friends discover where she is – right at the end though. and they duly depart leaving their host to do a spot of pondering.
Next day when the gang meet up, there are some different activities on the agenda and each one of the friends is able to shine at one game …

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or another …

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Fiona Woodcock’s picture book debut surely allows her artistic talents to shine: this is a real corker. Those beautifully textured, subtly coloured pages and the wonderful characters thereon, make for captivating scenes at every turn of the page. I can’t wait to see what follows. Meanwhile, this one’s perfect for one-to-one sharing and reading with a class or group.
I can envisage children being inspired to experiment with the art of camouflage using some of Fiona’s picture making techniques such as printing, and using stencils, blow pens, paints and more.

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Finding a Way

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Don’t Wake Up Tiger!
Britta Teckentrup
Nosy Crow
Author/audience complicity is crucial to making this delightful story work: right from the opening ‘Shhh! Tiger is asleep and we mustn’t wake her up.’ youngsters are drawn into the plot: a plot that entails getting Frog, Fox, Tortoise, Mouse and Stork plus a bunch of balloons past Tiger without waking her.

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The balloons play a vital role: Frog uses one to float him right over, but we have to play our part with a bit of nose stroking to make sure Tiger stays asleep. Fox certainly needs our help too or he’ll land right on the sleeper …

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Phew! That’s two past and Tortoise goes next: gentle tummy stroking is required for his safe passage across a nearly waking Tiger; and Mouse’s crossing needs the assistance of a lullaby and a spot of rocking – not the boat – but the book or more accurately, Tiger. She’s safely over but her balloon is adrift. Last comes long-legged Stork but OH! NO! Mouse’s drifting balloon is dangerously close to her beak … Breath-holding anticipation by audience before …

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One very startled, wide-awake Tiger. What’s next? Surprise! For Tiger perhaps though maybe not listeners; think balloons, think sing along for a very special day …
Great fun to share – for both children and adult readers aloud.

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A Puppy’s Tale
Alan Windram and Chloë Holwill-Hunter
Little Door Books
Georgie is a small puppy with a lively interest in things around her. So much so that one day while out walking she strays from the path in pursuit of a bouncing frog. Her attempts at jumping like the frog are unsuccessful and suddenly, the frog jumps off home.

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The same thing happens when she encounters a hopping rabbit and a scuttling red squirrel; she cannot hop like the rabbit, or run fast like the squirrel. None of the animals stay to play with Georgie. Tired and lost, she sits and cries, watched from above by a kindly blackbird. After hearing of Georgie’s failed attempts to emulate the other animals, the blackbird offers to help her find the way back to her own home …

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With its patterned text and action words to join in with, this gentle tale of friendship is a good one to offer those just starting to read for themselves, as well as to share with early years groups who will enjoy the opportunity to jump, hop and scuttle like the animals Georgie meets and Chloë Holwill-Hunter amusingly portrays.

 

A Princess Tale and A Fairy One

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You Can’t Scare a Princess
Gillian Rogerson and Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic
Don’t be beguiled by the candyfloss pink shiny cover on this one: young Princess Spaghetti, despite her mass of blond curls and her fussy, frilly pink attire, is far from the shy retiring damsel in distress, kind of princess. Oh no: this young miss is one gutsy girl who shows no fear when her father, King Cupcake, gets himself captured by the meanest, baddest pirates in the whole wide world, led by none other than Captain Waffle.

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Now Captain Waffle might boast about being the terror of the high seas, but he may well have more than met his match in our young princess. She certainly leads the whole pirate crew a merry dance as she has them tunnelling deep down underground before they discover their search has been in vain; whereupon they are reduced to wailing wrecks …

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Bright and bold, she might be; but our young heroine is also fun loving and forgiving and generous, all of which attributes she calls into play in the final scenes as she serves up some playful offerings

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to the pirate crew – a motely bunch whose hard exteriors aren’t quite all they’re cracked up to be.
On the subject of those pirates, Sarah McIntyre’s portrayals of same are a treat: take that super cool lady pirate; isn’t she just brilliant …

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And the moles in her digging scene are delightfully dotty …

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You might want to follow the antics of the palace cat and the pirates’ parrot too: the endpapers are specially devoted to that pair.
Exuberant and decidedly silly, spring instantly to mind when it comes to this one: It’s likely to appeal to all youngsters who have a sense of fun and adventure, particularly those who like a tale where things aren’t quite as one might expect.

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Fairy Felicity’s Moonlight Adventure
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
Fairy Felicity discovers a letter left at her door one summer’s night, a letter instructing her to ‘Follow the silvery snail. You’ll find a surprise at the end of the trail!’ And follow it she does as it weaves and zigzags across the foliage, around a spider’s web, between the moonlit paving stones …

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through a greenhouse, past the beehives in the orchard …

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across the lilypads until, at the end of the garden, she and the various minibeasts Felicity has encountered on the way, arrive at a door in the wall. It’s a door with a gap through which the snail instructs her to enter and then, there before her, is the promised surprise.

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Young children – mostly girls I suspect – will delight in tracing the sparkly tactile trail as it meanders over the pages of this gentle rhyming story and having done so will want to retrace their steps to explore the details in Alison Murray’s nocturnal world.

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Baxter’s Book/Strictly No Crocs

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Baxter’s Book
Hrefna Bragadottir
Nosy Crow
Meet bibliophile Baxter. So strong is his love for books – especially scary wolf-infested ones and those inhabited by brave lions, cuddly bears or cute rabbits – that he yearns to be in a book himself. Then one day he spies a large notice outside a house and seemingly there’s no time to lose …

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Lots of other characters have the same idea and they’ve all played parts in books before but Baxter seems undeterred. After all, he can sing, dance, do acrobatics and act – what more could they want?

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Well, seemingly not an unusual creature like Baxter after all. His audition is a let down and poor Baxter gets the brush off.
Time for a spot of coaching from some of those other characters … but nothing feels quite right. Baxter has a pressing question …

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After all he’ll never be scary like Wolf, brave like Lion, cuddly like Bear or even, cute like Rabbit. Maybe it’s time to bow out gracefully and head off home … or is it?
An exciting picture book debut from Hrefna Bragadottir; I love her offbeat style and look forward to seeing what’s next.

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Strictly No Crocs
Heather Pindar and Susan Batori
Maverick Arts Publishing
It’s party time for Zebra and the invitation is posted but there’s one proviso.

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Crunchie, Chomper and Snapper are determined to gain entry however. You might guess what their favourite food is going to be; and Snapper has a plan at the ready.
The plan proves pretty successful initially and none of the others suspects that spotty-clad high bouncer, nor the winner of the pass the parcel teddy

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or that cake scoffer.

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In fact the threesome even go so far as to lead the vocals for the conga and that fireworks finale is really dazzling.
All too soon however, the crocs are wending their way back home, extolling the virtues of “an amazing party!” Hold on guys – wasn’t there something you forgot: it certainly wasn’t that scrummy-looking cake.
A tasty treat for young listeners although definitely not for crocs. Susan Batori’s zany illustrations are real laugh inducers and the story’s likely to keep your audience on the edge of their seats as they wait to see whether those snappers will be unmasked.

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