Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue
Robert Tregoning and Stef Murphy
Bloomsbury Publishing

Imagine your reality is a dystopian one wherein those in power have decreed that everything must be the colour blue. Imagine too that you are a child who loves yellow growing up in such a place. That’s how it is for the boy protagonist in this powerful story and as a result he has become indoctrinated with the idea that to be a yellow-lover is bad, so much so that he dare not even tell his Dad about his secret.

One day when participating in a collection of all things not blue to await collection by the refuge disposal crew, the boy discovers a tiny yellow rubber duck. This he stashes in his school bag. Back home he hides the duck away in the cupboard with all his other yellow things and then sits down to dinner with his Dad. How he longs to tell Dad of his find. That night the boy retrieves his duck carefully and then in an act of brave defiance he liberates all his treasures …

When he hears footsteps approaching, the boy fears the worst, but his Dad’s reaction is both surprising and reassuring. Perhaps being a lover of yellow is acceptable. Thus begins a chain reaction and before too long, change is afoot until everyone feels safe to be true to themselves in a glorious rainbow coloured world.

Would that this were so throughout our own world so that everybody can be fearlessly proud of who they are.

Robert Tregoning’s powerful, sensitive rhyming story grew out of his own experience of growing up gay in the 1990s under Section 28 law, which didn’t disappear from the UK statute books until early this century. Stef Murphy’s equally powerful illustrations capture both the fear and the liberating feeling of joy, not only of the boy but also of the book’s diverse cast of characters.

Love yourself no matter who or what you love is a crucial message that children need as soon as possible. Sharing a special picture book such as this one is a great place to start.

If I Were The World

If I Were The World
Mark Sperring and Natelle Quek
Bloomsbury Publishing

By making it sound personal this book really gets across the crucial messages about our precious environment and climate change. Written in rhyme and using ‘If I were the world’ repeatedly to introduce topics including plastic pollution, the toxicity of fossil fuel gases, the loss of animal species for various reasons, over-fishing of the oceans and catastrophe-causing climate change Mark Sperring presents the harmful things we are doing to our planet.

Then comes a rallying cry, “It’s time to take ACTION! We must do ALL WE CAN!” and the focus shifts to what can be done by each and every one of us to heal the damage. Things like recycling our waste, stopping deforestation, the greening of cities by planting seeds really can make a difference. Either we do so or the harm will definitely be irrevocable.

Natelle Quek uses three children to champion the environmental cause showing them first witnessing the harms mentioned in the words and then participating in the actions called for. Her illustrations are powerful and arresting, causing the reader to stop and look carefully at the wealth of detail included in each one

and in so doing extending the already impactful text. A smashing book both to share in primary classrooms and with individuals at home.

Be Wild, Little One

Be Wild, Little One
Olivia Hope and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘Wake up early, don’t be shy, / this bright world can make you FLY. / Be wild, little one.’ So urges the author in her opening lines of this exhilarating, rhythmic text that encourages children to believe they should go out into the world, explore it imaginatively and believe that anything is possible; in other words, to make the world their playground. Be it climbing trees, swimming in the deep blue ocean, chasing storms, (yes those will eventually go) or running with wolves through snowy mountains,

Daniel Egnéus captures and enlarges the experience with his glorious, memorable scenes of a child embracing the wonders of the natural world and experiencing every opportunity as an adventure. Not only do the words sing but so too, do the illustrations. And what better way to end than with this final spread where readers feel that they really are standing alongside the child under the starry sky ready to relish every moment of that adventure.

Truly a joyous, magical book bursting with encouragement and energy; be yourself in this wonderful world and embrace life imaginatively and fully. What better message could you give a child? A must have for class collections and family bookshelves.

The Heart of a Giant

The Heart of a Giant
Hollie Hughes and Anna Wilson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet young Tom. His mother ‘has gone away’ we read. Not so the hills up which Tom likes to climb every day and beneath which so it’s said, sleeps a giant.

When out walking one day Tom lies down to rest and pressing his ear to the ground, he listens for a heartbeat. Suddenly he feels the earth start to tremble and shake, which sends him rolling downwards. The giant has woken, but having found his feet again, does Tom run away as his instincts first tell him? No, for he realises that the great being is a child too. The giant introduces himself as Abram, Abe as Tom is to call him and thus a new friendship is forged. Abe goes on to tell Tom that more than a century ago his Mammy Giant left him and now he’s grown tired of waiting. Perhaps she’s in need of help, they decide, and so begins their long, arduous trek in search of her. 

Eventually they lose hope, Abe especially, and his outpouring of pain, frustration and fury causes the ground to open. Can Tom, an ordinary human child save the situation and perhaps even bring some cheer to Abe? He’s certainly going to have to draw on his new-found inner strength and resourcefulness.

With themes of friendship, love, loss and bravery, this beautifully written and illustrated book is one that lingers in the mind, especially the thought that as Tom’s mother said to him before she died, “each of them would always be within the other’s heart.’

Hollie’s lyrical, rhyming, self-affirming text has its perfect complement in Anna Wilson’s illustrations with that gorgeous colour palette and which capture so well the emotional roller coaster of a journey both friends undertake.

The Red Sledge / We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride

The Red Sledge
Mick Jackson and Victoria Ball
Walker Books

Mabel Taylor is thrilled with her shiny new red sledge. She dresses herself warmly and opens her front door only to find – no snow. Back indoors she sits in her sledge and starts to imagine …
She visualises herself as a bobsleigh champion and next morning, quite excited, she races to open the curtains. But what does she see; no snow at all. Back in her sledge she gets and this time she imagines herself as a polar explorer dragging her laden sledge and trudging through the deep snow. ‘Tomorrow it might just snow, she thinks. 

The following morning, a little bit excited she opens the door and peeps out only to find – you’ve guessed it – not a single snowflake has fallen. Again she sits in that sledge and takes on the Father Christmas persona, with her sledge being drawn by four reindeer. Next morning convinced there won’t be any snow she almost fails to notice what is happening through her window: heavy snow is falling – whoopee!
Warmly wrapped up, she crosses the field, climbs the steep hill and pausing to take in the view, gets into that sledge, breathes deeply and Wheeeeeeeeee! She’s off at last.

Although it’s not mentioned, in the words, young children will likely deduce from the excited look on the child’s face in the first illustration, that Mabel’s sledge is a Christmas present. I love the way she copes with the disappointments of no snow, turning them into opportunities for imagined indoor adventures.

We’re Going on a Sleigh Ride
Martha Mumford and Cherie Zamazing
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Having chased elves, hunted for eggs and treasure in previous books, it’s now Christmas Eve, time for Martha Mumford’s bunnies to wrap up warm, load the presents and take off on a round the world sleigh ride with Santa and his reindeer. Much of the rhyming text comprises the refrain “We’re going on a sleigh ride./ HO! HO! HO!” along with some onomatopoeia (‘Honk! Honk!’ ‘Ding-a-ling-aling!’) and more. Readers and listeners meanwhile can have fun hunting alternate spreads for the hidden gifts and watching their tally mount and they reveal them.

The narrative zips along merrily and Cherie Zamazing’s jolly watercolour illustrations show the varied locations visited with all kinds of animals enjoying the spectacle of the sleigh whooshing by. I suspect little ones will relish the sight of Santa with his feet waving from a chimney top, down which, aided by one of the four reindeer, he’s attempting to enter a house.

With lots of flaps to explore, this is a perfect Christmas Eve read together and equally, the simple text makes it ideal for those in the early stages of reading for themselves.


Simon Philip and Nathan Reed
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

As a hay fever sufferer I frequently find myself reaching for a tissue or if absolutely necessary, using my hand to catch my sneezes. However, Sid, the protagonist in this hilarious book does neither. This hitherto ordinary boy’s first sneeze causes an elephant to fly from his nose and even more crazy, the huge creature’s in a canoe. Yes really. Moreover said canoe can also accommodate Sid so on he hops, grabs the spare paddle and away they go. 

The trouble is that almost immediately he lets forth another ACHOO! thus precipitating the canoe over a waterfall towards a ravine. From there things just keep getting weirder and weirder as Sid comes upon a pirate ship. 

He assists the pirates in their treasure hunt and while so doing, with yet another sneeze he ejects a circus performer, followed shortly after as he participates in the performance, by a panda and her cubs. This story can’t possibly get any sillier you might be thinking but you’re wrong. 

And dare I say it, sneezes can be very catching …

With its brilliant finale, this is a super read aloud of the totally daft kind. maybe not totally daft actually, for the message about remembering to cover your nose when you feel a sneeze coming on is an important one, especially in these covid times. Listeners will love Simon’s rollicking rhyming narrative and relish Nathan’s increasingly high octane scenes, every one of which exudes (A)tissues full of humour. A rip-roaring read indeed.

The Great Hamster Getaway

The Great Hamster Getaway
Lou Carter and Magda Brol
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Bored by his life confined in a cage all the time seeing nobody and going nowhere, hamster Raffleton Grey decides to break free. He dreams of life in the great outdoors, splashing in the sea and feasting on people’s leftovers. “Tomorrow’s the day” he tells himself as he stargazes one night, a plan forming in his mind.

Next day having free fallen a fair way he lands beside a fellow hamster, all be it a rather scruffy specimen.

But freedom is much better shared with a like-minded friend so Raffleton and Puckerford spend time together running, splashing, snoozing beside the harbour, gobbling goodies and generally having a fantastic fun time. However as night falls things look rather different; pairs of eyes belonging to cats, foxes, gulls and worst of all, rats, follow their every movement however fast they try to run.

Come morning the two friends are exhausted and ponder upon their future; then Raffleton speaks up and another plan is conceived and carried out. After all, a comfy cage with company seems like the ideal solution and so it proves to be, at least when we leave the two.

Lou’s rhyming narrative bounces along beautifully when read aloud and is complemented by Magda Brol’s imaginative illustrations of Raffleton’s daring escape plan and what follows when he meets Puckerford. Her lively scenes really do capture the delights of being beside the seaside. Hamster holiday or human one, this tale is a perfect start to the summer break.

Milo’s Monster

Milo’s Monster
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the sixth of Tom’s wonderful Big Bright Feelings series the green-eyed jealousy monster appears.
Milo loves to spend time with his best friend and neighbour, Jay. But then a new family moves into a house opposite the boys and Milo watches a girl dashing about in her garden. That same afternoon when Milo calls for Jay he learns that he is across the road with Suzi.

Inevitably Milo feels left out and that manifests as a funny squirmy feeling in his tummy. The same thing happens the following day: suppose Jay doesn’t want to be his best friend any longer. That awful feeling gets stronger and stronger until right before Milo’s eyes is A GREEN-EYED MONSTER.

Thereafter said monster invades all Milo’s thoughts; the thing just won’t leave him be and Milo decides he will ignore Jay and Suzi. Instead he sulks and skulks away from everyone except the monster

until one day Suzi stops him. From what she says, Milo knows that it’s time to get rid of that horrible lying monster once and for all. A battle of wills between attacker and attacked ensues and at last, realising the truth, Milo apologies and is free to have fun, not just with one friend but two.

This compelling story offers a great way to show young children that jealousy can make you feel really miserable. It’s a wonderful book to start a circle-time discussion and perhaps look at ways to help deal with feelings of jealousy that everyone has from time to time.

Hot Dog

Hot Dog
Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Totally and adorably silly is the latest offering from the creators of Jingle Smells. It’s the tale of a hot dog sausage that yearns for just one thing – to be a real-life dog that can frolic on the beach, play with sticks and generally do doggy things. Standing on a shelf close at hand just as the little hot dog is making that wish, is none other than the Mustard Fairy. With a few squirts of mustard she grants his wish and off dashes one transformed pooch to enjoy himself.

There’s a problem however: with their superior sense of smell, the other dogs on the sandy shore, sniff-sniff something they seem to like just a bit too much. YIKES! Off dashes poor Hot Dog towards Flo’s ice-cream stand, begging for help.

Now being a kindly woman, Flo immediately responds positively to Hot Dog’s plaintive plea by launching a counter-attack with her wares, causing the marauding and increasingly hungry hounds to turn tail and flee.

That leaves – hidden ‘neath a parasol – our little Hot Dog, albeit with some adornment near his rear. And Flo? Well, she has something super-special to offer her new friend.

Infused with summery sunny feelings, Mark Sperring’s rhyming romp together with Sophie Corrigan’s splendid seasonal scenes showing Hot Dog, hilarious high spirits and much of the action at close quarters, make this book one to share and relish over and over, this season and beyond.

The Wondrous Prune / Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss

The Wondrous Prune
Ellie Clements
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a terrific, heartwarming story of family love, finding your inner strength and remaining positive against the odds.

Eleven year old Prune, a talented artist, her mum and older brother Jesse, have recently moved into the house Prune’s mum inherited from her parents. It’s on the other side of town and so the siblings are facing the challenge of new schools and a new location. Jesse though, is still hanging out with his friend Bryce, a very bad influence on him- a friendship her mother was hoping would be severed by the move.
Prune really misses her best friend Corinne and at her new school are a group of bullies – the Vile-let girls. The sadness and anxiety Prune feels on account of these things act as catalyst for the fantasy element of the story: every time she’s beset by one of these feelings vivid colours swirl inexplicably before her eyes. Moreover if she focuses on her feelings as she draws, her images come to life. Seemingly this girl has an unlikely superpower and sometimes it lands her in trouble; in school for instance and it certainly alarms her mum when she finds out, demanding that her daughter keep it under wraps.

Meanwhile saving Prune from complete misery is the kindness shown by classmate, Doug, a previous victim of the Vile-lets’ bullying. Then there’s that legend of the Delmere Magic. It’s not long however, before Prune discovers that her brother is getting into deeper trouble on account of Bryce and she realises that she just can’t keep her power hidden. Perhaps if she can learnt to harness it, she might be able to save her brother from an increasingly toxic relationship, deal with those bullying her and restore harmony at home.

Ellie Clements’ wonderful blend of fantasy and realism has at its heart the healing power of creativity and will keep readers turning the pages as they root for the Wondrous Prune. I suspect they will also be intrigued by the boy on the bus Prune notices near the end of the book.

Orla and the Magpie’s Kiss
C.J. Haslam
Walker Books

Here’s another eco-themed adventure following on from Orla and the Serpent’s Curse.
Orla Perry, her Jack Russell dog Dave and her two brothers Tom and Richard are holidaying in Norfolk, staying with their eccentric Great Uncle Valentine. “We’re going to die of boredom,” is Tom’s prediction when they arrive at his place of residence but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Orla has recently discovered her witchy powers but it’s been agreed, no magical witchy stuff from her: this will be a normal holiday; nonetheless, Orla has taken her gwelen along.

Although not on the lookout for trouble, Orla soon learns that the beautiful ancient Anna’s Wood is about to be bulldozed for shale gas by a company called GasFrac.

Despite warnings from her uncle not to venture anywhere near, early next morning she just has to investigate; and she certainly doesn’t like what she finds. Impossible as it might be, the natural magic of the wood has disappeared: seemingly something sinister is afoot. Moreover, Orla rescues a magpie from a trap receiving a nasty gash on her face in the process.

Back at Uncle Valentine’s, she’s told that a magpie’s ‘kiss’ will show what fate has in store and then she dreams of GasFrac’s destruction of the wood’s animals. However all the local people seem convinced that the energy company’s promises of a new shopping centre and country park, either that or sheer indifference. It seems everyone has sold their souls to GasFrac, including the postmistress and local witch. But why the change of heart on the part of the erstwhile protesters? As she starts investigating, Orla soon finds distrust and even dislike for herself and Uncle Valentine. Digging deeper, she begins to suspect there’s dark magic involved here. Then she meets the person behind GasFrac and discovers the truth about his evil intentions …

With magic and mayhem, witches, wizards, ravens and a key role played by Dave, not to mention a ‘not buried’ dead cat, and liberal sprinklings of wry humour, this increasingly fast-paced book will grip readers , right to the final page.

You Can’t let an Elephant drive a Racing Car

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for this hilarious book

You Can’t let an Elephant drive a Racing Car
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In their latest crazy collaboration wherein animals’ antics result in madness and mayhem as they try their paws, snouts, tails, trunks, beaks and other parts of their anatomy at activities normally the province of humans, team Cleveland-Peck and Tazzyman present an unlikely assortment of creatures competing in sporting contests. Starting with the titular elephant sabotaging his chances before the race even begins, among others there’s a junior alligator trying her luck as a figure skater, a kangaroo unable to keep control of the bat in a cricket game, an unaware walrus in a bicycle race – an international one moreover, a wombat that gets the wibble-wobbles in a weight-lifting event

and an entire team of agile monkeys attempting to steal the show at the gym display.

In case you’re wondering if any of these entries end in a medal or a cup, let’s merely say participation is what matters and trying one’s best, and there’s nothing better at the end of the day than a communal frothy immersion to ease those fatigued muscles.

I‘m sure Patricia and David’s well-intentioned contenders will have readers falling off their seats in giggles at the absurdities presented herein and likely trying to imagine some further sporting scenarios for their own animal olympics.
I now hand over to author Patricia to tell you about how she works:


I am lucky enough to live in the country surrounded by fields and woodlands and it is no exaggeration to say that on most days I wake up to the sound of birdsong. I usually spend an hour or so having breakfast and pottering around the kitchen before heading to my writing room. I always feel happy entering it. I think my greatest good fortune is that I am doing something I love and something I wanted to do from about the age of ten.

No two days are the same, but it is good to have a bit of a routine. I usually have emails to  answer first, this week they include one from South Africa and one from Australia. After dealing with the most urgent of them, I settle down to write. Sometimes I write articles about things which interest me: these include odd quirky people, textiles, plants and travel. I wrote one going on a dawn picnic with my children to watch the sun rise – something everyone should do once in their lives.

Often though, I am working on a children’s book. For the texts of the Elephant series, because the books are comparatively short, every single word counts. I have sometimes spent a day or more over one word. But if words are the bricks I use, rhyme, rhythm and assonance are the foundations on which I build stories. I often wander around the house crazily chanting rhymes to myself. I love doing it, but it is not as easy as you’d think.

Sometimes I go travelling far away. My writing has secured me many wonderful trips; most recently to the Arctic where I saw the Northern Lights and went dog sledding but also as far as China, Japan and Mexico. Wherever I go I find things of interest which eventually filter through my imagination into my stories.

When I am at home, I try to go for two walks. Sometimes I go along the lane, into the woods and down to a stream. I look to see which flowers are in bloom, listen for buzzards mewing like kittens overhead and keep my eyes open for the deer which live around here. Other days I stroll our own place where I can see our bees, sheep and poultry. These can inspire a story. I remember throwing some spaghetti out and the sight of the ducks with it twiddled round their beaks gave me the idea for a picture book, The Queen’s Spaghetti. Wherever I am there are stories not far away.

Sometimes I write in the afternoon, sometimes I go out and about – but I always spend the last couple of hours of the day looking over what I have written earlier. As a writer you are never completely off duty. I have a notebook and pen next to my bed because sometimes a great rhyme or a great idea will come to me after I’ve put out the light. As I don’t always put on my glasses it can be a challenge to decipher them by the light of day! I have learned the hard way that I never remember these gems if I don’t scribble them down. There are plenty of ideas out there, it’s just a question of catching them as they fly past.

Please check out the other stops on the tour too

Do You Love Exploring?

Do You Love Exploring?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of this series Matt Robertson’s wildlife adventure takes readers to visit a variety of habitats all over the world.

First stop is the grasslands of Africa where on the savannah roam some grass grazing creatures including zebras, giraffes, black rhinos and elephants. However these have to keep alert as lions lurk, often with the female waiting to spring on unsuspecting prey which will act as food for herself and her family. By means of an illustrated strip we’re also introduced to grassland dwellers from other parts of the globe too. There are some less iconic creatures too including dung beetle; these almost unbelievably are said to be the strongest animals on Earth.

I was amazed to see how many animals, large and small make their home high up in mountainous regions and I’d not even heard of Blue sheep that reside in the Himalayas and other places (a weird name since the creatures are neither blue nor indeed sheep).

Other habitats, each allocated a double spread, include rainforests – one wherein gibbons communicate by singing, wonderful woodlands, islands including the Galapagos, the North and South Poles, searingly hot deserts – watch out for one of the world’s deadliest scorpions – aptly called the Deathstalker,

and a beautiful coral reef deep beneath the ocean.

The final spread presents some endangered animals and the ‘… which … can you spot?’ should send readers back to search for the nine featured thereon.

All of this should convince readers that it’s enormously exciting to meet so many creatures, albeit by means of Matt’s humorous, vibrant illustrations into which a considerable amount of factual information is set.

The Royal Leap-Frog

The Royal Leap-Frog
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Written in perfect rhyme is Peter Bently’s very funny version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Leaping Match fable. It tells, and shows through Claire Powell’s splendid, vibrantly coloured illustrations, what happens when a flea and a grasshopper (both convinced they’re the best) compete before the king whom they want to decide which one of them can jump the higher. Along with them to the palace goes a little green frog.
Utter chaos ensues as first flea

and then grasshopper leaps – captured with panache in Claire’s detailed scenes for which she uses a variety of layouts.

Both insects then depart the royal dining room leaving the king flat out on his sofa. However his respite is brief for up steps the frog claiming an ability to out-leap both previous contestants. What will be the outcome of his attempt?

A laugh-out-loud book that’s great to share in the classroom or at home with individuals, whether or not they’re familiar with the original fairy tale.

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue / The Smidgens Crash-Land

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Piccadilly Press

This is the first of a new series about a community of tiny sprite-like beings residing in the depths of Whispering Wood in Hidden Middle, out of sight of the Ruffins (humans) who live on the edge of the woods. Living off the land, seeking out and collecting their food and useful objects discarded by Ruffins, these tiny folk are called Keepers. Early every morning the Keepers head off into Ruffin territory to repair and protect the environment from the actions of the Ruffins.
The main protagonists of this story are Cora and Jax, would-be Keepers in training who are excited about their very first venture in the Big Outside where they’ve been asked to reseed land bulldozed by the Ruffins, and if possible to collect various natural items. They must complete this work by dawn or risk being sent back to school.
The two friends think they’ve plenty of time to do the bidding of Scarlet Busybee, but once in the Outside they’re soon distracted, first by a mother fox and her cubs and then a shiny metal slide and only just make it back in time. They’re given another chance and the following day set out, full of good intentions, with two specific jobs to do.
Again the two are distracted in part by something that’s happened as a consequence of their previous day’s actions. Seemingly it’s going to take more than a mere sprinkling of Cora’s woodland magic to put things right 

but perhaps some timely unexpected assistance by fellow Keepers could yet help save the situation.
Julie Sykes cleverly weaves the actions and consequences thread into her enchanting story while Katy Riddell’s sprinkling of black and white illustrations imbue the telling with a misty magical feel.
New solo readers, especially lovers of nature sprinkled with woodland magic, will delight in this book and eagerly anticipate the further titles in the series mentioned after the ‘create your own wildflower meadow’ instructions that follow the adventure.

There’s more magic with tiny beings in:

The Smidgens Crash-Land
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Since her previous adventure Gafferty Sprout has been very good but this hot-headed young Smidgen seems to have a nose for trouble. In this second adventure it isn’t long before trouble is what she finds as she and new best friend Will take to the air but only briefly; a mishap with their glider plunges them down right by Noah who is out shopping at the ‘Big Folk’ market with his mum.
Even bigger trouble soon turns up in the form of another Smidgen, one Crumpeck, who claims to have discovered the location of the third Smidgen clan’s home, a place called Burrow. ‘… even more Smidgens to get to know – and more friends’ thinks Gafferty. But is it really that straightforward, for Crumpeck steals Gafferty’s precious magical knife and starts heading for the Burrow. What else can she do but follow him, harmless Smidgenologist or not?
However when Gafferty eventually finds a way into the Burrow she discovers that these Smidgens are not the friendly folks she’d anticipated.

Meanwhile the evil Claudia Slymark is on the prowl, still searching for a piece of that magical mirror.
In the end (though happily not the end of the series), Gafferty must rely on Smidgen rule 4 to extricate herself from a very very tricky situation. Can she do it?
Superbly illustrated once more by Seb Burnett, this is another of David O’Connell’s wonderfully exuberant mixes of humour, adventure and magic. It’s sure to leave readers and listeners eagerly anticipating Gafferty’s next adventure: perhaps therein the three Smidgen clans will be reunited – you never know …

Zoopertown: X-Ray Rabbit

Zoopertown: X-Ray Rabbit
Jem Packer and Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the first of a new series featuring a group of animals, the Zooperheroes residents of Zoopertown. We meet the five Zoopers as they sit at the table about to consume a delicious breakfast when suddenly toast, cornflakes, waffles and pancakes all disappear simultaneously. But that merely heralds a much bigger catastrophe for as the residents of the town gather in the park for the mayor’s birthday picnic it’s discovered that all the goodies have gone, even Go-Go Gorilla’s scrumptious banana birthday cake.

To assist with his crisis Go-Go doesn’t call out Zoom-Zoom Zebra, Zip-Zap Giraffe, Snap-Crack Croc, Crash-Bang Koala; he knows that the only Zooperhero for this task is X-Ray Rabbit with her X-Ray power. Off she zooms towards the park on her vehicle – a Zooper Scooter – of course, but en route she notices, thanks to her sharp-sightedness, a trail of banana skins that lead her right out of town, through the forest to … the Atrocious Tower of Terror.

Therein resides the dastardly food-snatching baboon: he’s about to consume a birthday cake and it certainly isn’t his. Furious, not only about not being invited to the party, but by the intrusion of X-Ray Rabbit, he zaps her, trapping her in his stinky lair. Is she doomed or can she escape the clutches of Kaboom Baboon and even save the celebrations?

Perhaps, with some timely assistance from her fellow Zooperheroes.

I suspect little human would-be superheroes will relish this action-packed tale, welcome the arrival of its super-cast each with a special personal super-power and be eager for further adventures. Jem Packer’s use of wordplay throughout the narrative adds to the fun and Emily Fox’s dramatic scenes
especially those of the endearing quintet engaging in the high-octane operation are full of comic-style panache.

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms / Escape Room

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms
Jamar J. Perry
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Drawing on West African and Igbo culture and mythology the author has created a powerful, multi-layered fantasy quest.

Twelve year old Cameron is of Igbo descent and having lost his parents two years earlier, is living with his grandmother in Atlanta. From time to time he has strange experiences but puts them down to his prolific imagination. Cameron is forbidden to enter the attic wherein is kept The Book of Chidani, a family heirloom which he’s been told not to touch.

At the start of the summer holidays, he and his two best friends Aliyah and Zion are having a sleepover. Drawn by the book, Cameron’s last connection to his parents, they sneak into the attic to read it and in so doing, open the portal to the kingdom of Chidani.

There he learns that he’s now the Chidani people’s Descendant and is tasked with saving the country from a power grab by the Queen’s sister Amina. That means he, with the help of his friends has to retrieve three stolen magical artefacts while at the same time face monsters, gods, and their personal fears. They have just three moons in which to do it: will they find all three in that time?

A gripping adventure of loss and love, courage and perseverance.

Escape Room
Christopher Edge
Nosy Crow

Christopher Edge’s story sucks you in right away. Full of twists and turns, it’s a fast-paced adventure, a mystery and a game all in one and will have special appeal to fans of computer games.

The narrator is twelve year old Ami, who is given a ticket to an escape room as a birthday gift from her dad. On arrival she’s expecting to participate in a game but having checked in, met her fellow players – Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min – Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer.

However, when he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game. It’s essential that this disparate group learn to work together, drawing on individual’s strengths in order to solve all the problems they confront in the various chambers they enter. There’s a chess computer to beat, a vast dusty library, a Mayan tomb, a shopping mall that’s deserted save for extinct animals, as well as the commando module of a spaceship bound for Mars. Is there no end to the dangers?

Time is running out: Ami just needs to find the Answer …

There’s a brilliant final twist to this hugely thought-provoking, topical tale and it’s one that lingers long after you’ve put the book down. Just superb.

Penelope Snoop Ace Detective

Penelope Snoop Ace Detective
Pamela Butchart and Christine Roussey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

With several solved cases already under her belt, young Penelope Snoop, so we read, is the best ‘Finder-Outer-in-the-Whole-Wide-World’. Now with the disappearance of her favourite toy, Sidney the Smelly Sock Snake, she’s faced with her most important case so far.
Such is her determination to crack what she decides is a case of theft, that she, together with her canine sidekick, Carlos, are prepared to search high and low for clues, even travelling to the moon and back in a super space blaster.

Although the moon proved to be absolutely empty, her space flight allows her to view planet Earth from above by means of her hugely powerful telescope. And that’s how she realises that her suspect, the mud monster, has been much closer to home all the time.

Back on familiar territory once more, she and Carlos follow a trail that might just lead to the unmasking of Sidney’s stealer …

In Penelope Snoop, Pamela Butchart has created a brilliant character and one who, thanks in no small part to Christine Roussey’s illustrations, you’ll find totally irresistible. If this hilarious story is anything to go by, young audiences, along with his adult reviewer, will be crying out to see her return to work on more mysteries.

Daddy’s Rainbow

Daddy’s Rainbow
Lucy Rowland and Becky Cameron
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Grief and loss are incredibly difficult topics to handle with children of any age and it’s both rare and wonderful to see a picture book that approaches the death of a parent with such sensitivity and delicacy.

Erin’s daddy sees colour in everything. No matter the weather, even on the rainiest of days, the two of them would don wellies and waterproof clothes and out they’d go splashing in puddles and having a wonderful time together. “We can’t see rainbows without the rain,” Daddy would say. Whatever the situation, day or even night, he always found something colourful to enjoy with the rest of the family.

Then Erin realises things are changing: her Daddy becomes increasingly poorly and the world becomes greyer until one day … Quiet. Here Becky’s illustrations are suffused with emotion and overwhelmingly, with love.

In the following days and weeks the other family members miss Daddy enormously but they join together in sharing memories of the colour and joy he brought to all their lives. Erin remembers the scrapbook and little by little they manage to smile again.

Then one rainy day, Mummy, Erin and her small sibling venture out

and on the way home when the rain has almost stopped, they see in the sky, something wonderful and we share an incredibly poignant moment …

Both words and pictures are pitch perfect and work in perfect harmony throughout. This is a book that offers families an ideal starting point for talking about the death of a loved one and equally important, about the person who has died. All primary schools should add a copy to their collections.

Thank You for the Little Things

Thank You for the Little Things
Caryl Hart and Emily Hamilton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘Whenever I am feeling sad / or life feels hard or wrong or bad, / I focus for a little while … // on little things / that make me smile.’ So says the small girl narrator as she runs through the park at the start of this book.
She goes on to thank some small things she encounters on that particular day. There’s a ladybird, daisies – ‘each flower like a TINY sun / with petal rays around each one’; the playful dog that accompanies her.

Stopping for a while in the playground, she thanks the swings for the feelings they engender; the mud with its wonderful squishy squelching feel, and a strong stick. Then back home she makes pictures of some of the things she’s enjoyed, reminding herself to look forward to further possibilities of the little things.

Homely things – spicy noodles, dribble ice-cream, bath time bubbles and more are mentioned, and it’s great to see she appreciates the book she shares with her parent. Come bedtime, it’s time to thank the stars and last of all, her snuggly teddybear.

Caryl’s gentle rhyming text, together with Emily Hamilton’s gorgeous illustrations of the small girl and the things she says thank you to, offer a way into mindfulness with little ones as well as showing the importance of looking out for things to appreciate even when days might feel a bit grey and dismal .
As we emerge from Covid gloom it’s particularly important not to forget these ‘Little Things’.

News Hounds: The Dinosaur Discovery / The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem

News Hounds: The Dinosaur Discovery
Laura James, illustrated by Charlie Alder
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

From the author of the fabulous Pug and Fabio series comes new star, Bob. Bob belongs to Colin, the stationmaster at Puddle Station, and in addition to ensuring the trains run to time, he acts as a reporter for the Daily Bark, the town’s one and only newspaper for dogs. Now there’s a new dog in town; her name is Diamond and Bob thinks he’d like to become her friend, so one morning he heads off to the park where he’s been told she’s taken for a daily walk by her owner Mr Marcus who runs the Curiosity Shop. In order to open the friendship he decides to give her a present and having come upon a pile of bones – the biggest he’s ever seen – under the bandstand floor, thinks a large bone the ideal gift. However it takes so long to dig it out, that he misses his chance.

Temporarily diverted from his Diamond friendship forging, Bob dashes back to the newspaper office to report ‘the most amazing story Puddle has ever known.’ It could just be the scoop of the century. However, it’s not only News Hounds who are interested in the bone.
Diamond – yes she does eventually get her present – is amazed at its size and thanks to a book in her owner’s establishment is able to tell Bob when he finally meets her, what she’s discovered therein.
The trouble is Mr Marcus is more than a tad interested in the skeleton find too. The race is on … It’s definitely time to enlist the help of the entire canine population of Puddle.

Another highly engaging story from Laura and with Charlie Alder’s frequent coloured illustrations that help ramp up the drama, this book will appeal to new solo readers and work as a read aloud.

The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem
Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Readers will really need to have read some of the previous titles in the series (this is the eighth) to fully appreciate this one. It’s set on a chilly winter’s day and sees the Princess in Black, the Goat Avenger and the Princess in Blankets with a giant problem – literally. While they’re engaged in building snow monsters, with a shout of “Squashy!” a massive foot flattens their latest creation. Said foot belongs to a giant and it continues to shout and flatten everything in its path. The race is on to prevent the total destruction of the village. It’s a task beyond just three but with the help of some superhero friends, it might just be possible.

There’s a lovely twist to this story, wherein teamwork is important but to reveal what would spoil things so I’ll leave you to guess what it might be. Sure to be a hit with established fans of the princess with an alter ego. With a bright illustration by LeUyen Pham at every page turn, it’s ideal for newly independent readers.

This Tree Is Just For Me! / The Longest Storm

This Tree Is Just For Me!
Lucy Rowland and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s impossible for Jack to find a quiet place in which to settle down with his brand new book in the garden so he decides to search for a tree of his very own. Having discovered the perfect one and made the titular declaration, up the boy climbs and begins to read. Before long though the branches start to shake heralding the arrival of tiger wanting a chat. Jack politely explains and sends the big cat on its way.
However said tiger is only the first of a series of visitors to the tree: an alligator, a snake, a couple of monkeys, a sloth and others follow in quick succession until one wonders how Jack’s chosen tree can possibly stand all that weight.

Enough is enough decides the boy now shouting the title sentence and discombobulating the visitors, all of which hastily descend. Peace at last.
Jack finishes his book

but then a realisation dawns …

I love this story that celebrates the joy of reading, be it solo or with others. Far-fetched as it is, Lucy’s rhyming text is a terrific read aloud that really works and Laura’s scenes of that idyllic reading location and its visitors – human and otherwise – are hugely expressive and highly amusing.

The Longest Storm
Dan Yaccarino

‘A storm came to our town. It was unlike any storm we’d ever seen. No one knew how long it would last. We would have to stay inside maybe for a long while.’ So begins this story wherein three children, a Dad and a dog find themselves stuck inside with not enough to do and too much time to fill. Inevitably things start to deteriorate: frustration , boredom and anger become the norm and eventually Dad loses his temper completely.

Everyone goes their own way until one night comes a huge flash of lightning that shakes the house. This causes them to come back together. Apologies ensue and come the morning something has changed. The storm still rages outside but little by little things within improve and eventually the storm abates, the sun appears

and the task of rebuilding begins.

They’ve all undergone an emotional upheaval like no other and one suspects that Yaccarino’s story is a metaphor of the pandemic lockdowns we’ve all endured in the past couple of years. It will definitely resonate with families and offers a useful starting point to open discussions either at home or in the classroom as we start to emerge from our restricted lifestyles once more.

The Worst Class in the World Dares You! / Aven Green Sleuthing Machine / Aven Green Baking Machine

The Worst Class in the World Dares You!
Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Nits and Dares are the topics of the two riotous episodes contained in this third volume of the exploits of Class 4B taught by the long-suffering Mr Nidgett; yes that’s the one headteacher of St. Regina’s Primary, Mrs Bottomley-Blunt, has decided are “LITERALLY the worst class in the world.” I’ve no idea how she managed to land the job as she thinks learning should absolutely NOT be fun.
However as always, Manjit and Stanley (our narrator) have imaginative fool-proof plans at the ready and as is ever the case, they never intend to cause the mayhem that seems to ensue; it’s just that their foolproof plans do not always work quite as anticipated.
So, when there’s a possibility that an epidemic of Nits could cancel Maths Test Tuesday, the class plot to make certain this does actually happen: they definitely don’t want to have to forgo watching War of the Wizards on TV to revise. Perhaps they might even have to be off school on the day in question. Little do they know what chaos their plans will unleash. After all, those containers full of mini-beasts of various kinds are perfectly safe with Class 4B- surely; err …

The second story sees the arrival of new girl, Bridget Pickersgill and she’s a person who likes dares – of the mad variety; the reward for doing one of her dares is to become an Overlord of the Universe. Anybody fancy eating that ‘Very Dead Fly’ that’s been lying beside the ‘Abandoned Plimsoll’ for over a week? Or indeed accepting any of the other dares the girl dreams up on subsequent days …

Great fun for solo reading as well as a class read-aloud.

Aven Green Sleuthing Machine
Dusti Rowling, illustrated by Gina Perry

Despite being differently abled, eight year old Aven Green (born without arms) is still an ace sleuth (a private investigator is what her mum and dad have dubbed their daughter.) Her take on the matter is that all those extra arm cells went instead to her brain.
When someone starts stealing food – her teacher’s lunch and items from the school cafeteria – she’s on the case. But food is just the first thing to go missing. Next it’s her great grandmother’s dog, more food disappears – are these things connected perhaps?
Then a sad-looking new girl joins Aven’s class. Why is she sad? Yet another mystery. That seems rather a lot for one girl however super-powered her brain. Perhaps some help from family members and some of her classmates might be needed to discover what is going on.

With plentiful illustrations by Gina Perry , this is just right for new solo readers especially those who like strong, self-willed protagonists. Moreover, those that do will be delighted to discover that before this story ends, Aven decides to set aside her P.I. business and instead concentrate on baking. Hence she becomes known as:

Aven Green Baking Machine

As this tale opens Aven has already honed her baking skills at home – she uses her feet to crack eggs and measure out ingredients and now, along with her three friends, she wants to enter the baking competition at the upcoming county fair. The first task is to decide which of their recipes to use and the way to do that is to try out each one and decide upon the yummiest.
That’s when the problems begin and after Aven has found fault with each of her friend’s choices, it’s decided that they don’t want to work with her. This offers an opportunity for the sometimes over-opinionated girl to see the error of her ways, learn to forgive and become more open-minded.
There’s a great opportunity for readers who like to cook too: at the end of the narrative, the author provides the six recipes mentioned in the story.

Rabbit’s Pancake Picnic / Little Owl’s New Friend

Rabbit’s Pancake Picnic
Tegen Evans and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Rabbit is a determined, independent character and insists she’s going to make pancakes for her picnic all by herself. That’s the plan but then she discovers her recipe book is missing from the basket she’s packed. Botheration! She’ll have to wing it she decides as she starts adding ingredients to her mixing bowl.

In go first, strawberries (10) then syrup (9 spoonsful), followed in decreasing numbers by apples , lemons, bananas, cheese chunks, tomatoes, blobs of cream, spoonsful of sugar and finally a single pinch of salt. All the while she firmly resists her friends’s suggestions, but the end result is a ghastly-looking mess. Poor Rabbit; she dashes off to the woods to hide herself away.

But then along comes Bear and he has something that might just save the day …

A sweet, but unlike Rabbit’s mixture – far from sickly tale of teamwork, listening to the advice of one’s friends and the delights of working together. There’s so much for young listeners to enjoy including the adorable characters, the repeat refrains to join in with, the counting opportunities and then there’s the bonus of Rabbit’s Perfect Pancake recipe at the end. MMM!

Little Owl’s New Friend
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In this new Little Owl story, the chief protagonist is far from happy when his mum interrupts his play with his toy hedgehog, Hedge, announcing that “Small Squirrel has come to play.” A flat refusal comes from Little Owl: no way is a new friend joining in their Hungry Lion game.

Now Mum needs to use some clever tactics,. Can cinnamon buns (now I’d certainly weaken at the mention of those), change her offspring’s mind?

Small Squirrel seems to like them. If not perhaps a bear hunt, picnic-marauding Snaffleworms, or even a ‘Hush-Hush’ might save the day?

There’s SO much to talk about here. Both author Debi and illustrator Alison beautifully capture the feelings of youngsters who are apprehensive about making new friends. Young children will delight in Mummy Owl’s clever ploys while also empathising with both Little Owl and Small Squirrel.
Add to early years collections and home bookshelves if you have little humans of the preschool kind.

Monster! Hungry! Phone!

Monster! Hungry! Phone!
Sean Taylor and Fred Benaglia
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

To say that Monster is hungry is something of an understatement, he’s starving. The fridge is empty. He reaches for his mobile – TAP TAP TIP TAP TAP … BLING-BRING BLING-BRING … It won’t be long before his hunger is sated – so he thinks.

However things don’t quite go to plan. Thanks to a series of wrong numbers he calls up a jaguar, a panda,

a salamander, a sleepy sloth and an alien none of which are purveyors of pizza.

Finally – hurray! A delivery of mouth-watering cheesy pizza is on its way. Monster is drooling as he opens the front door. However even then, poor Monster is in for yet another surprise. Now what? He’s ravenous …

Stupendously silly and anarchically brilliant both verbally and visually this is a terrific treat for both listeners and readers aloud. The former will relish chiming in with the tapping and tipping, blinging and bringing, and yelling out MONSTER! HUNGRY! as the drama unfolds in Fred Benglia’s sequence of hilarious spreads and Sean’s relatively few words,carefully selected for maximum impact. Adults will appreciate the chance to deliver a monstrous performance.

A delicious offering through and through and one that’s likely to become a much requested favourite in classrooms.

When the War Came Home

When the War Came Home
Lesley Parr
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Lesley Parr has written another wonderful story, again set in Wales. It’s an enthralling look at the impact of the first world war on a mother and her daughter, Natty who acts as narrator.

The girl is absolutely furious when her outspoken mother announces over supper that she’s lost her job and that the two of them will have to leave home to live with relations. Four days later, they’ve packed their bags and are moving in with her aunt, uncle and family on their smallholding in another Welsh valley.

Nothing is the same, school in particular, but Natty has to confront the terrible after effects of the war both on her cousin Huw (who faked his age in order to fight) and on Johnny who is at the local hospital for ex-soldiers. Huw suffers from terrors at the sound of loud bangs and grief at the loss of his best friend, while Johnny doesn’t even remember who he is.

Natty determines to help both these young men and there’s also a mystery for her (and readers) to unravel. Added to that she finds another cause to champion and decides that some causes are most definitely worth fighting for: perhaps she’s not quite so different from her mother after all.

This is a gripping tale for older readers, told with great sensitivity and superb characterisation that gives some insights into both the longer term impacts of war and of poverty, both of which are just as relevant today as they were back then.

Jingle Smells

Jingle Smells
Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Mark Sperring’s rhyming story introduces readers to Jingle the stinky little skunk.

It’s Christmas Eve and the stripey-tailed creature is on his way into town to see the shiny lights. En route however, in true skunk style, he emits a particularly pungent aroma and as he passes it, the tree in the old town square is so overcome by the whiffy odour that the thing topples right over, sending baubles and lights flying every which way. Poor skunk is devastated that he’s spoiled Christmas for everyone and is just about to turn back home when he hears a cry for help.

Now Jingle has a chance to do something for the good of all the town’s residents, for up on the roof he discovers that robbers are at work and Santa is in big trouble.

What better way to get rid of the villains than for the little skunk to emit a a mega-stinky blast. It certainly has the desired effect 

and Jingle realises that perhaps after all, he has saved Christmas. But the night is long and Santa still has all those presents to deliver – with a little bit of help for one time only, from one small stinky skunk.

Jingle is such an endearing character and Sophie Corrigan brings this out in her fun festive illustrations that are a perfect accompaniment to Mark Sperrings’s deliciously different tale, which is a delight to read aloud.


Alexandra Page, illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The author sets her splendid debut story in 1952 smoggy London where, in the run-up to Christmas, we meet young Penny Black. Penny is staying with her postmaster Uncle Frank above his post office because her airmail pilot mother is stuck in France due to the smog, and may not make it back in time for Christmas.

Writing to her mum one night, Penny is feeling especially lonely when she discovers a tiny creature stuck in a rat trap. However she quickly learns that this is no rat; ” I is a Sorter Second Class” the furry thing announces, going on to introduce himself as Wishyouwas and explaining that his role, along with his friends, is to collect lost mail and get it to the rightful recipients. Thus begins a wonderful adventure, for Wishyouwas takes Penny to the subterranean world of the Sorters and Deliverers whose very existence is threatened on account of Stanley Scrawl, the thoroughly unpleasant Royal Mail rat catcher.

Dear Penny, as Wishyouwas calls her, is determined to protect her new friend and the Sorters and Deliverers;

but will she be able to keep them safe and thus save Christmas, with that sinister Scrawl and his greyhound Ripper (both brilliantly described) on the prowl?

With its warmth, friendship and potential perils, who wouldn’t be enthralled by this magical seasonal adventure, made all the more so by Penny Neville-Lee’s super illustrations? I couldn’t put it down.

The Viking Who Liked Icing

The Viking Who Liked Icing
Lu Fraser and Mark McKinley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a story set long, long ago and far, far away.

When it comes to the traditional Viking skills or indeed anything else that requires some kind of sporting finesse, Nut, in contrast to his big sister Leaf, falls well short of the mark. Indeed whenever he picks up his bow and arrow, everyone else takes cover. He’s not entirely without talents however: he’s passionate about baking cakes and does so with lashings of creativity, dreaming about so doing at night too.

There’s one day in the Viking calendar that young Nut dreads more than any other: Viking Sports Day has him shaking in his boots. Nonetheless off he goes, cake in hand to the venue, a reluctant participant if ever there was one.

Things go pretty disastrously

and then comes the Great Horn-Throwing Race …

Is there any way Nut might redeem himself?

With its combination of Lu Fraser’s dramatic rhyming narrative and Mark McKinley’s hilarious scenes of Nut’s sporting ineptitude as well as his mouth-watering confections, and the other characters’ reactions to both, this is a fun demonstration of the fact that everybody has a talent that will win through if nurtured. That way lies happiness.

This will surely be a hit with young listeners at school or at home.

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Tom Percival’s latest addition to the Big Bright Feelings series is yet again spot on: herein he uses his empathetic understanding of young children’s emotions to present Tilda.

We first meet this little girl as a bright happy child but then suddenly something happens to turn her world upside down, leaving her feeling utterly downcast. Now things that had once seemed easy, feel the absolute opposite: she doesn’t want to meet her friends; indeed everything feels a struggle.

What does she decide to do? Absolutely nothing at all.

One day she notices a tiny ladybird stuck on its back. Immediate recognition but there’s a difference: the ladybird is doing its upmost to put itself right whereas thus far Tilda has suffered complete inertia. Then suddenly the little creature flips itself over and flies away leaving Tilda alone with her thoughts.

Time for a change of perspective she decides, and calling forth that ‘can-do’ attitude, little by little she starts to persevere with things and the more she tries, the more she can do. But can she summon up the courage to join her friends in their play?

You bet!

An enormously uplifting story of patience, perseverance, resilience and self-belief that youngsters (and their adults – be they parents, teachers or carers) will relate to.

Tom’s change of palette from bright colours to predominantly grey shows the stark changes in Tilda’s emotional journey; and with everything that youngsters have been through during these last 18 months, this book could not be more apposite.

A must have for family bookshelves and classroom collections.

The Way to Impossible Island

The Way to Impossible Island
Sophie Kirtley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a sequel to The Wild Way Home and features some of the same characters, in particular Dara who is now twelve years old and has been waiting for what feels like forever for the BIG heart operation he hopes will change his life. 

In the meantime he has to put up with the challenges and frustrations of living life in the slow lane, feeling ill frequently and not being able to do things he so wants to, those things his parents say are ‘not a good idea’. In particular rowing out to Lathrin Island in search of the legendary Golden Hare. 

When he learns that the op. promised for this summer has been postponed, good idea or not, Dara decides that it’s his life and that he’ll row out to the island. So off he sneaks.

What follows is a wondrous, totally enthralling, life-affirming tale of adventure and the fight for survival wherein two worlds collide for, hiding in the boat shed Dara meets a girl clad in animal skins. Can this Mothgirl really be from the Stone Age. She has a wolf, ByMySide, and like Dara (she’s of a similar age) faces challenges – an ailing father, a missing brother and expectations to become a person she most definitely doesn’t want to be.

Despite coming from different eras, the two understand one another and form a strong bond enabling them to confront tremendous dangers together.

Truly a tale of exceeding your own expectations, finding yourself and owning who you are. What and who is normal (‘nor-mill’ as Mothgirl calls it) are two of the questions Sophie Kirtley weaves into her narrative

Immensely powerful, indeed unputdownable: I just HAD to read the entire book in a sitting. It was so good to see that by the end both Dara and Mothgirl are ready to face the future and able to love themselves as they are.
I just can’t recommend this enough – utterly brilliant.

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story

There Is No Big Bad Wolf in this Story
Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Hot footing it on the heels of Lou and Deborah’s There Is No Dragon in This Story comes another take on classic fairytales, this time with Wolf as star of the show.

The problem is that he’s running late and feeling mightily stressed about it as he rushes through the forest to Grandma’s house to get there before Little Red Riding Hood. En route Wolf manages to upset the The Little Pigs making them ‘seriously grumpy’ but what with Grandma’s grumbles too, the poor creature decides enough is definitely enough. No more being taken for granted and definitely no more huffing and puffing from our vulpine friend.

Instead the other characters will have to go it alone but this Big Bad Wolfing is way harder than it looks. A realisation dawns and then along comes a winged fire-breather: maybe he could save the stories? Errrm … No1

So, can Little Red Riding Hood et al twist Wolf’s front paw and persuade him to help after all?

Young listeners and adult sharers will delight in this book. With hilariously conveyed messages about the importance of team work and not taking others for granted, it’s a tongue-in-cheek, hugely engaging tale that features their favourite characters like they’ve never before seen them. I really love the variety of page layouts Deborah uses: they hot up the story brilliantly.

Attack of the Giant Baby!

Attack of the Giant Baby!
David Lucas and Bruce Ingman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Oh my goodness! A giant baby is at large in the kingdom and it’s in destructive mode. So says the royal messenger to the King and Queen at breakfast one morning. While her parents and the courtiers panic, the young Princess maintains, “He’s just a baby,” though her words go unheeded.

As the baby trashes trains, topples mountains, tramples forests, flattens buildings and people flee for their lives, the King calls in his advisors. The Princess tries again; still nobody listens and eventually the Airforce is sent for, but even then the baby is unstoppable.

“Let loose the Monster-sized Bear!’ orders the King and lo and behold …

However the cuddles are short-lived and again doom and gloom descend. Even in the face of the scariest thing his highness can call upon, the Giant Baby doesn’t flinch. Nor is it interested in the king’s riches.

Now it’s left to the Princess to face the ginormous babe. Can her gentle manner save the day?

David Lucas’s dramatic narrative and Bruce Ingman’s clever illustrations with their mix of almost childlike painting and black ink sketches, make a slightly silly, enormously enjoyable story demonstrating the importance of listening to children.

With its somewhat ambiguous ending, could there perhaps be a sequel in the offing?

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids
Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Sharon Davey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

There are rather a lot of ‘Do Nots’ in this the second tale set in Wondermere as readers will quickly discover if they peruse the contents page. There’s also a plethora of dragons (complete with poo), grumpy unicorns and as you might expect, mermaids.

Most particularly there’s young Princess Grace – ace rule breaker – which immediately endeared her to me. She’s already proved herself plucky and determined as a knight, Troll-o-Tournament champ. and undoubtedly the equal of any boy, earning herself the title Sir Grace.

Now Wondermere is to host a very important visitor, the Mermaid Queen of the Outer Ocean. For Grace and her sister that means frilly dresses being on your best behaviour and it goes without saying, No Rule Breaking (or even bending).

But before the arrival of Queen Jeen, while taking a quick swim in the moat, Grace discovers a purple dragon egg and she can’t resist ‘rescuing’ it. Before long she and her sister find themselves dragon sitting baby Dennis.

Something that proves no easy task especially when there’s the distinct possibility that the very lively little one might disturb the royal guests … MEEP!

Bursting with fun and laugh-out-loud moments, and smashing illustrations by Sharon Davey, this is a totally charming romp, strongly recommended for those with a soft spot for rule subverters (this reviewer included) and lovers of a bit of magical mischief and mayhem.

Baby’s First Train Robbery

Baby’s First Train Robbery
Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It seems there’s no stopping Baby Frank who’s back for a third, let’s say reckless escapade.

With the family home now a zoo, life is pretty exhausting for Frank and his parents, so much so that Mum and Dad decide a holiday away is needed. Frank is less than enthusiastic to leave the zoo in Grandma’s care:; can she cope with tiger-sitting for instance? Nevertheless off they drive to the seaside, parents and infant.

Once on the beach with Mum busy building sandcastles and Dad snoozing in the sun, Frank makes a break for it having first left them a note. At the station stands a train and the babe is soon aboard, all alone. Nothing happens so Frank decides to investigate by crawling into the driver’s cab but he accidentally bumps his bum against a lever setting the train in motion.

Back on the beach meanwhile his parents make a discovery but by then there’s nothing they can do to halt the train as it puffs merrily along towards a very steep drop. Due to his lack of stature, there’s nothing Frank can do either; but what about Grandma?

Back at the zoo, she’s having a terrific time until she she turns on the TV, hears the news and sees where Frank and the train are heading …

Will young Frank ever see his precious animals again?

Told through Jim Whalley’s faultless rhyming text and Stephen Collins’ retro style illustrations that fuel the wonderful daftness of the story, this is once again a hilarious read aloud from team Whalley and Collins.

You Can’t take an Elephant on Holiday

You Can’t Take an Elephant on Holiday
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the fourth in the deliciously daft rhyming ‘You Can’t …an Elephant … ’ series and now the topic under consideration is the holiday-sabotaging potential of the titular pachyderm and a host of other unlikely animals.

Some of the other potentially disastrous combinations are a cheetah at the wheel of a camper van, meerkats doing a round of mini-golf, eating candy floss in the vicinity of a circling albatross, a bison on a pedalo

and venturing into a paddling pool with a lot of piraña fish swimming in wait.

David Tazzyman’s hilarious renditions of those silly scenarios and others of Patricia’s possibilities, along with an achievable crowd-pleasing finale, offer a timely vacation contemplation, virtual or actual, in these ‘green light’, or otherwise, times we’re faced with.

Youngsters will surely enjoy this book as much as the previous ones by this creative partnership and likely be inspired to think up some potentially hazardous situations of their own.

Here’s Elena who says ‘Don’t try a giraffe or a penguin – you won’t be able to pack them away and the security guard won’t let them stay.’

Leo chose the potential consequences of a crocodile as a holiday companion …

Samuel considered the possibility of both a lion and a monkey:

Emmanuelle is definitely against taking a pig: the outcome would likely be no luggage on arrival and then no water in the swimming pool …

I wonder what your listeners will come up with.

The King’s Birthday Suit

The King’s Birthday Suit
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a priceless telling of Hans Andersen’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes revamped for the 21st century.
Peter’s gleeful rhyming narrative is faultless and absolutely brilliant to read aloud (if you can overcome your giggles), and Claire’s detailed illustrations are a veritable feast for the eyes.

So without further ado, let me introduce King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third with his special attire for every activity you can imagine and likely more that you can’t. I hate to think what his laundry bill cost. 

With his birthday fast approaching said king simply MUST have a new outfit to impress the visitors he’ll receive but none of the creations of the fashion designers win his approval. So when two apparently well-intentioned fabric merchants – McTavish and Mitch – show up promising to fashion THE perfect cloth, the king can’t resist their offer.
Now this pair look the real deal but what is that clickety-clackety loom actually producing? 

Time for the King’s ministers to take a look and report back. Their descriptions “That cloth, sir – oh my!’ … We just can’t describe it!” have the King rushing to see for himself. A fitting ensues, followed by the final try-on the following day. 

Then come the evening when all the guests have gathered it’s time for the great reveal …

and everything that ensues thereafter. Which all goes to show youngsters the importance of having the confidence to speak out and say what they believe is the truth.

Gloriously and gleefully silly, this is an unmissable book for family and primary classroom collections.

Stop That Dinosaur! / Mamasaurus

Stop That Dinosaur!
Alex English and Ben Cort
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘I was in my Granny’s kitchen eating extra-special cake / when the walls began to tremble / and the room began to SHAKE. / The window panes all rattled / and there was a MIGHTY ROAR!’

Granny responds to the knocking at her door, opens it up and lets out a mighty scream as a brontosaurus grabs her by her sweater and runs away on its very fast feet.

Hot on the trail comes the little girl narrator on her scooter, whizzing along the road to the playground, throughout the high street and out into the countryside showing no signs of slowing whatsoever. Through fields of corn, uphill and down go pursuer and pursued until the girl finally loses sight of the beast in the depths of the dark wood.

Is that the end of Granny? Will the girl ever see her again?

Alex’s brilliantly paced rhyming text really builds up the tension and sense of anticipation as the story races along; combined with Ben Cort’s splendidly dramatic illustrations with their plethora of amusing details (love those scattering rabbits), this is terrific read aloud book and I suspect it will fast become a rip roaring favourite with foundation stage listeners (not to mention their grans).

In board book format for younger dino, enthusiasts is

Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books

Babysaurus loves to ride atop his Mamasaurus’s back from where he can nibble at the juicy leaves. One day though, he slips right down to the very tip of her tail and ‘Wheeeeeee!’ Having extricated himself from the leaves, he cannot see his mama at all – where can she be?

Off he goes wandering through the wild landscape, searching and each time he encounters another creature he asks, (just like the baby bird in P.D. Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother? “Have you seen my mama?”

Little humans will love joining in the repeat question and enjoy the stand-out images, set against black, used throughout the sweet story.

The Smidgens

The Smidgens
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The Smidgens is a 21st century take on The Borrowers, albeit much funnier. Smidgens are about the same size as Mary Norton’s little characters and build their homes in a similar way to Pod, Arrietty and co. using bits and pieces discarded by humans. In other ways they are pretty much like humans – just diminutive versions that take food and other things they require from the Big Folk.

The Smidgens have four rules they live by: 1) – Stay hidden and observe, 2) – Don’t do anything flipping stupid, 3) – be ready to run, and run fast, 4) – If in doubt, make it up!

Their home is the House and the Sprout family think they are all that’s left of a community of Smidgens that once lived in the maze of tunnels beneath the human town.

Goblin, Gafferty, Mum, Dad and baby Sprout

One day Gafferty and younger brother Gobkin are on the way home from a mission having obtained a delicious chip for dinner when Gafferty is chased, falls through a tunnel to a forgotten area of the Tangle and finds a book of maps of hidden tribes of her people.

Determined to find others like her, Gafferty embarks on a quest to discover lost tribes; however she isn’t the only one looking.

One Claudia Slymark and her spooky sidekicks are also after Smidgens; Claudia being under the impression that they know the whereabouts of a magical mirror and she’ll stop at nothing to get hold of it. The chase is on …

There is SO much to love about this terrific adventure story. David snares the reader’s attention from the outset and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout; along with the tension, there’s humour and charm, wonderful characterisation, and such clever disguises. Add to all that Seb Burnett’s deliciously quirky illustrations and what you have is a totally captivating book for primary readers, either as a class read aloud or for solo reading.

Bring on the second story.

A Way with Wild Things

A Way with Wild Things
Larissa Theule and Sara Palacios
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Poppy Ann Fields is perfectly happy and at ease in the natural world but when it comes to engaging with humans at social gatherings, she’d much rather blend in with the surroundings and not be noticed.

Then at Grandma Phyllis’s hundredth birthday party something happens that changes things: a dragonfly lands on the birthday cake and its wings shimmer in the sunlight. Absolutely delighted, Poppy claps her hands causing her Uncle Dan to spot her and he draws attention to her presence in a booming voice. The last thing the girl wants is to become the centre of attention but all of a sudden she has to decide: should she take flight or stay and fight her fear?

Nobody is more delighted than Grandma Phyllis by her decision to share her knowledge with the guests; indeed it’s she who enables Poppy to realise that rather than a wallflower, most assuredly she’s a wildflower.

Gently and empathetically told, Larissa Theule’s uplifting poetic narrative celebrates Poppy’s quiet gentleness and her keen observational skills showing them as valuable assets, rather than drawbacks. A wonderful encouragement to all those youngsters like Poppy to have the confidence to share their knowledge and shine too. Sara Palacios’ beautifully textured, brightly coloured illustrations draw the eye to each and every detail so that we too, like Poppy, stop and enjoy the delights of nature shown in her scenes.

Do You Love Dinosaurs?

Do You Love Dinosaurs?
Matt Robertson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ask a group of children the title question and almost certainly the vast majority will answer in the affirmative, so this book, brimming over with awesome, roarsome dinos is set to be a winner.

Accompanied by some young palaeontologists, Matt Robertson takes readers way way back in time to meet these incredible creatures large and small. First though come ten ‘must obey’ dinosaur rules to help ensure that youngsters get the maximum from their experience.

It’s then time to introduce in turn, the theropods – meat eating, terrifying two-legged beasts; then the sauropods (gigantic vegetarian, gentle creatures) among which were the diplodocuses.

Prepare to hide, for Tyrannosaurus rex comes next – AAARRRHH! those gaping jaws. Much less alarming are the herbivores including several new to me, as are some of the omnivores with which they share a double spread.

Horns and spikes were great protectors and the armoured dinosaurs also show their skills and how they used their incredible armour; and last we meet the deadly bird-like raptors.

The final spreads look at dinosaur fossils, development from egg to adult, there’s a dino sports event, a look at some other prehistoric creatures and last of all, annotated portraits of extra special dinos in a hall of fame.

The author takes a light-hearted approach and his illustrations are huge fun, while there’s a considerable amount of information packed into each spread.

Meet the Oceans

Meet the Oceans
Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Like Caryl and Bethan’s previous collaboration Meet the Planets, this one is both full of fun and informative. Speaking in rhyme, Caryl’s young narrator invites youngsters to participate in an underwater adventure to visit the seas and oceans of the world.

The first destination is the decidedly chilly Arctic Ocean that like the other marine locations tells us directly about itself, mentioning such things as giant jellyfish, narwhals, beluga whales and walruses, as well as polar bears that pad on the ice floes.

Next to introduce itself is the Atlantic – a huge ocean so we hear, full of undersea caves, subaquatic mountains and teeming with salmon and silver swordfish, while less easy to spot, swimming among the sea grass are occasional wild manatees.

If warm waters are more to your taste, then you might decide to have a longer float around the tropical islands of the Caribbean Sea. Beneath its surface you’ll encounter all kinds of wonderfully patterned fish, as well as myriads of starfish. We can’t spend too long counting them though, for six watery worlds remain to be seen.

There’s the Pacific with its plastic pollution problem, the South China Sea with its plethora of ships and seabirds, the wonderful coral sea around the Great Barrier Reef, the Indian Ocean alive with gloriously coloured creatures waiting should you have time to step ashore …

before heading down to the Southern Ocean of the Antarctic. BRRR! Watch out for biting gales if you plan stopping at one of the research stations.

Much more frequently visited is the final watery wonder, the Mediterranean Sea: a great place for a spot of snorkelling as I recall.

With pops of day-glo colour Bethan’s distinctive visual style successfully personifies each of the watery worlds that Caryl has given voice to on this splooooshing, whooshing foray aboard a submarine.

Great for pre-bathtime sharing with youngsters as well as for foundation stage storytime sessions.

The Song for Everyone

The Song for Everyone
Lucy Morris
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This story starts high up in a tiny window one morning when a sweet sound issues forth. A boy on his way to school stops to enjoy the music and in so doing his loneliness is forgotten. He though, isn’t the only one affected by the beauty of the tune: an old lady is enlivened and filled with joy,

and gradually as the music continues to float on its way, all the townsfolk receives something that has been missing from their lives. Most important though, is that they start to feel a sense of connectedness as they ‘share food, stories and kindness.’ It takes just one small thing to change an entire perspective.

Then one day unexpectedly, the music stops: total silence fills the town.

Dispirited, the townsfolk come together to discuss the absence of the magical music and the lonely schoolboy takes it upon himself to climb up to the window and investigate.

Two days pass and then joy of joys, a sweet sound drifts out through the window and once again the townsfolk are transported by the beauty of music flowing through the streets and through their lives : truly a song for everyone. And the identity of the singer? It’s revealed on the penultimate spread, but story spoiler I won’t be.

A gentle tribute to the power of music, of community and of loving kindness, all of which are more important than ever in our lives at the moment. Without actually using musical notation, Lucy Morris has created a wonderful representation of music as it flows across the pages and over the story’s characters on its transformative way through the town There’s lyricism too in the words Lucy has used in this lovely debut picture book.

The Night the Reindeer Saved Christmas / Santa Jaws

The Night the Reindeer Saved Christmas
Raj Kaur Khaira and Kasia Nowowiejska
Studio Press

On the eve of Christmas Eve at the North Pole, Mr Claus is feeling chuffed: everything is ready, so he decides a short period of relaxation is in order.
Suddenly though there comes a message calling him to an emergency meeting: the rockets on the Christmas sleigh have exploded. At the prospect of Christmas being cancelled by their leader, the elfin team are at a loss.

Not so though Mrs Claus. She suggests calling on the creatures whose homes are nearby to assist in the delivery of the gifts. It’s not long before all the animals are assembled and ready to demonstrate their suitability. The polar bears are certainly strong, the narwhals speedy, the kittiwakes willing but inept

and the arctic foxes just disappear. Sleepy bears, a lack of waterproof wrapping and vanishing foxes are enough to send poor Mr Claus crazy. Off he goes for a meditative wander and as he’s contemplating his plight, he spots two creatures flying past.
Then Mr C. gets the surprise of his life. There before his eyes are Comet and Blitzen and he follows them back to their herd and there discovers some creatures that just might save Christmas after all.

Let’s hear it for the women and of course, the female reindeer.
I loved this clever story (complete with a few final creature facts) and it’s especially good to see Kasia Nowowiejska’s portrayal of such a diverse cast of characters in her zany illustrations.

Santa Jaws
Mark Sperring and Sophie Corrigan
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

A snappily fun seasonal story is this one of Mark Sperring’s set beneath the sea as Christmas Eve approaches.
Meet Shelly who’s been shopping at the Deep Sea Christmas Store where she’s bought a special bobble hat.
Back home she makes a snazzy sign which she affixes to her front door.

It doesn’t fool the local undersea population; they beat a hasty retreat but Sid squid is a newbie to the location and is beguiled by the sign as he contemplates stars, candy cane and snowman building. His lucky day has surely come. Up to that front door he goes and what he encounters when it’s opened is certainly alluring

but then comes a BIG sharp-toothed surprise.
All is not what it first seems though, but faced with a dilemma, what will Sid do next?

Sophie Corrigan’s sub aquatic scenes of corals decorated with Christmas decorations as well as the sight of the hapless Sid and the sharky Shelly are sure to make your little ones giggle in delight.

Tinsel / Santa Gets A Second Job

Sibéal Pounder
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Being given her first ever Christmas present – a red bauble – by a strange old woman as she walks the streets of London in 1895, is only the first unexpected thing that happens to Christmas-hating Blanche Claus. Moving on she comes upon a seemingly abandoned horse Rudy, that she strangely finds herself aback – riding – almost. For no sooner is she up than she’s cascading down onto the snowy pavement and almost immediately is hauled up by a girl of roughly her own age. 

This helpful female introduces herself as Rinki. She’s dressed in what Blanche terms a ‘spectacular’ outfit comprising largely, Christmassy bits and pieces she’s picked up on the London streets, and proceeds to invite Blanche to a mince-pie picnic.

Like Blanche, Rinki is an orphan but unlike her, she’s upbeat and optimistic about life and its possibilities. Fashioning two golden rings from thread she pulls from the red bauble, Blanche gives one to her new friend and then winds one around her own middle finger too, promising to return the following day. (and every day thereafter) And that’s how for the very first time in her life, she feels something of the magic of Christmas. Next day though, there’s no sign of Rinki.

Fast forward five years. Blanche disguised as a boy, has a job as a carter at the docks where she’s known as Flimp. She’s about to make a delivery and to make a wonderful discovery concerning her erstwhile friend, Rinki.

What ensues is a magical twisting turning story with terrific characters including an elf (or several) called Carol, a visit to the North Pole, a mix of warm friendship and chilly weather, a celebration of feminism, making a difference and much more.

Surely a seasonal classic to be; mince pies anybody? Read with hot chocolate and a snuggly blanket.

Santa Gets A Second Job
Michele D’Ignazio, illustrated by Sergio Olivotti, trans. Denise Muir
Macmillan Children’s Books

Poor Santa. Things have become more than a tad troubled for the seasonal worker extraordinaire, who has eleven months annual holiday Now however, the International Postal Service is broke and even Santa hasn’t received his pay for the last three years. Moreover, he’s in rebellious mood over their latest announcement. Then out of the blue comes a letter: Santa has been sacked! How on earth will the children receive their Christmas presents, he wonders.

Equally pressing, Santa needs to find a new job, so first of all a mini-makeover is required.

However, finding work is far from easy: it’s no go at the restaurant, ditto as children’s entertainer (ageism), so when the call centre offer him a job he can’t wait to get stuck in; but when he discovers it involves cold calling, Santa quickly walks out, deciding to have one last try. 

Then what should he spy but a public notice: the council requires binmen. Success at last! A community role and even better, he meets up with an old pal, Winnie, who’s also having to take a second job.

Now little does Santa know but he has a neighbour, Bea who only recently found out who he was, and she certainly has no idea he’s now her refuse disposal officer.

Meanwhile funnily enough, Santa sees several similarities between his old job and his new one; he also makes some interesting discoveries about what can be done with the things people put in the rubbish bins. A wonderfully enterprising idea strikes him and before long, he and Winnie take to the skies once more. At the International Postal Service though things are NOT going well …

There’s also the question of some lost letters from way back sent by someone very eager to meet Santa. Can he find the writer and grant their wish in time for Christmas Day?

Absolutely certain to induce giggles, this is a smashing seasonal read (aloud or alone); it’s full of heart, festive magic and contains a large sprinkling of wry humour, and superbly droll illustrations by Sergio Olivotti at every page turn.

Snow Ghost / Snow Woman

Here are two super snowy picture books – the first new, the second, a reissue:

Snow Ghost
Tony Mitton and Diana Mayo
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In a lyrical tale of hoping and searching, Snow Ghost flies through the snow-filled sky seeking a place that she can call home.
She swoops first towards a town all a-twinkle with its lights in shops and houses; but it doesn’t feel right, so it’s on through the darkness and into the woods. There though she meets shadowy darkness and that too feels unwelcoming.

Windblown to a hilltop it’s impossible to rest with those hostile murmurs telling her to go, the Snow Ghost drifts towards a small moorland farm.

There in the fields are a boy and a girl playing snowballs and seeming full of joy. Now here’s a place which might just afford the welcome that can end the Snow Ghost’s long search …

– a place she can finally call home.

Tony Mitton’s rhyming narrative flows with the grace and beauty of his subject, gliding perfectly off the tongue as you read it aloud. Diana Mayo’s equally lyrical illustrations that almost float over the pages are mesmerising; the colour palette pervades every spread with an ethereal quality, and oh wow! those endpapers are exquisite.

A memorable magical wintry book from cover to cover that’s destined to become a seasonal treasure.

Snow Woman
David McKee
Andersen Press

David’s wry look at the question of gender, Snow Woman, has recently been reissued. It tells of Rupert who informs his dad that he’s building a snowman, only to have his terminology corrected to ‘snow person” by dad. And of Rupert’s sister Kate who before embarking on her snow construction, tells her mum, it’s to be a snow woman. Mum accepts this.

The completed snow people stand side by side duly dressed and are photographed along with their creators, by Mum.

The following morning the snow twosome have vanished, along with their clothes. Kate makes a thoughtful observation about a possible reason and the two decide a to build instead, a snow bear – not a man or a lady -merely a bear, Rupert suggests.

Playful and pertinent still, McKee’s deadpan humour shines out of his illustrations all the way through to that seeming throwaway final line of Rupert’s. Make sure you study all the household décor and other ephemera lying around indoors, particularly the art adorning the walls; it’s hilarious.
This book will surely appeal to both children and adults.

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice
A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Mini Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I was already chortling before I’d even finished reading the poet’s note to readers, let alone any of his advice in poetic form.

This book of awesome delight is the combined effort of two terrific talents, illustrator Mini Grey and A.F. Harrold, the writer and it’s patently obvious that they both relished working on its creation. Indeed, I’ve never seen the poet in better form than here.

The result is a collection of unmissable artistry – verbal and visual – advising on all manner of topics both ordinary and extraordinary from breakfast – both its perils and its lack of boredom inducing properties, to Blackbirds and Bananas, Bins even! As well as ‘… Wobble, wobble, wobble, / gobble, gobble, gulp. … ‘ For, Jelly Is Never Wrong’ (not even the cabbage flavoured variety or the marmite kind) I should hasten to say there’s an entire section of ‘Advice mainly relating to food …”.

When next I see her I’m going to share Useful with 7 year old Emmanuelle after her rather pathetic sausage-eating efforts when last she stayed with us. Having persuaded her dad she “really, really wanted” the sausage dish on offer at the restaurant, she refused to eat any of its main constituent. (they were organic and maybe that was the issue). Had I done so prior to the event I’m sure she would have tried this suggestion: ‘You can balance them on your lip / and pretend to have a moustache / in order to amuse your companions. ‘ I don’t’ think she’s ever been lost at sea, thus needing to ‘attract aeroplanes’ or sharks. But you never know …

Even this zany poet doesn’t advise eating that Bin he writes of; that’s to be found among the 4th and final section containing miscellaneous bits and bobs such as Crosses and Knot Knots – see how cleverly Mini has placed her knotty collection around those. Just one example of her wonderful integrating manipulation (often complete with her own witty asides).

I’ve just read Inside the Anthill to my partner as he’s given to lying flat out in fields to investigate these bumps and lumps, though even his ‘scientific zeal’ hasn’t led him to quite such lengths as trying a cake crumb imitation – at six foot I doubt he’d fool even a single ant.

Not all the poems are totally absurd though: there is a fair sprinkling of the quiet poignant and thoughtful too.

Take the unforgettable, Earthsong: that ends with ‘Some of it is poisoned/ and some of it is dying. / Some of it is silent / and some of it is crying. // Some of it is going / and some of it is gone. / Some of it… ‘

No matter where you open this corker of a book, there’ll be something to love and I can’t resist concluding with the revelatory and entirely apt final verse from Inside: ‘Where am I? / I’m inside, / I’m between the covers. / I’m in so deep. / I’m through the paper door. / I’m breathing the air of other worlds. / I’m exploring. / I’m reading // and I can’t hear you any more.’
Now that is what it’s all about …
Get this – it’s a must for home collections, classrooms, libraries – and I’m sure you’ll never look at anything in quite the same way again.

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew
Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Dream team Gaiman and Riddell have again joined forces, this time creating a stonkingly brilliant piratical rhyming tale.

Stupendously silly and enormously entertaining, this story is narrated by the boy who with his sister, is left in the care of Long John McRon, ship’s cook, possibly THE most unlikely babysitter you can imagine.

He’s not the only one who comes a-knocking though; for hardly have the parents left than the entire wildly crazy crew comes charging in.

Having investigated the contents of the family fridge, the pirates decide supper is to be the “Pirate Stew! Pirate Stew! / Pirate Stew for me and you! … Eat it and you won’t be blue. / You can be a pirate too!” Furthermore, it’s to be served “ underneath a pirate’s moon!”

Unnoticed by the pirates too busy feasting on their own concoction, the children decide to eschew said stew with its weird and wonderful ingredients. Nevertheless, it’s not long before they find themselves sailing off into the night

and sating their appetites on doughnuts instead.

That’s not quite the end of this yummy yarn however …

Totally delicious, spectacular storytelling and incredibly detailed illustrations that make the entire cast leap right off the pages, this is perfect fare for those who relish the unexpected, the magical or the piratical – it provides all three in bowlfuls.

Pirate stew anyone?

Fox: A Circle of Life Story

Fox: A Circle of Life Story
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This beautiful book sent me straight back to my copy of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, to the opening line of East Coker, ‘In my beginning is my end.’

As the story opens in early spring in a still frozen forest life is astir: we follow fox as she sets out to find food for her three cubs.

We meet them a few weeks later – bigger, bolder and playful close to the safety of their den. They too decide it’s time to try being hunters as they follow their parent on the hunt.

Suddenly danger appears in the form of a car; the three cubs dash safely across the road but not so their mother. She is hit, tossed into the grass and dies.

The cubs return home leaving a decomposing body that little by little, over almost a year, returns to the earth, to the plants and to the air.

Her remains provide food and shelter for other creatures and a place for new life to be nourished and flourish. For death is not merely an end, it’s a beginning too.

The powerful, beautifully written non-fiction narrative of Isabel Thomas and the stunningly gorgeous illustrations of Daniel Egnéus combine to make a book that answers one of the ‘big’ scientific questions children ask, ‘ What happens when we die?’ and provides a perfect starting point for talking about the cycle of life and death or, as the subtitle says ‘A circle of life story.’
(There’s also a final spread that has separate paragraphs explaining ‘The building blocks of life’, “What is death?’, What is decomposition’, ‘The cycle of life’ and ‘Death is not just an end’.

There’s no need to wait for the death of a beloved pet or human before sharing this book with youngsters though: I’d suggest reading it with a class or in a family at any time, particularly at a time when the seasons change.

The World Made a Rainbow

The World Made a Rainbow
Michelle Robinson and Emily Hamilton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What a gorgeous book this is, and it’s pitch perfect for children at the present time of continuing uncertainty when very little seems normal, and for youngsters a lot of what’s happening isn’t fully understood (and that’s only the children!)

Michelle and Emily’s story begins when everyone must stay at home and inevitably friends and relations are being missed – but only until ‘everything mends’ as the child narrator’s mum says unable to be more specific regarding time.

Meanwhile normal life is on hold but there are things that families can do and this one, like so many others during this 6 months of pandemic, have to carry on somehow, some way. And one way is to make a rainbow – that symbol of hope that so many of us have been displaying.

But mum has to work, so it’s down to dad to look after a little brother (‘who’s going berserk’) with the result that our narrator has to be extra creative.

As she works on her rainbow (aided by dad when he’s free ) the little girl finds each new colour stirs a memory or acts as a reminder of something

or somebody.

Eventually her creation is a truly special piece of art and one that she’s happy to put on display in her window so that everyone can enjoy it. And yes, things aren’t perfect but in the meantime there’s much she (and we) can be thankful for.

The story is so movingly and beautifully written and illustrated.

Thank you, Michelle and Emily and of course Bloomsbury Children’s Books for this touching, heartfelt book.

Yes, it’s one for now, but not just for now: it will surely act as a reminder to reflect on in the future, of that time in 2020 when, with ever more new challenges, we all pulled together as communities, showing what the mum in the book said, “All rainstorms must end, and this rainstorm will, too.”  As the little girl says in conclusion, “And we’ll still have each other when this rainstorm ends.’

(A percentage of the proceeds of sales will be donated to The Save the Children Fund.)

Flights of Fancy: How to Drive a Roman Chariot / The Girl and the Dinosaur

How to Drive a Roman Chariot
Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves
Simon & Schuster Children’s

This tenth Albie adventure that celebrates young children and their imagination, begins as he’s out with his mum feeding some horses when the rain starts.

Taking shelter in a barn, Albie comes upon a girl named Julia with her problematic knitting. The next thing he knows is that he is whisked back in time to Ancient Rome and he and Julia are chasing after a runaway chariot.

Having managed to leap aboard as the horses gallop straight for the crowded market, a fearless Julia grabs hold of the reins and steers the chariot clear.

That however isn’t the only thing she wants to do: young Julia is determined to prove to everyone who says they can’t, that girls CAN drive chariots. Can they win races too, I wonder?

Whoever said ancient history is boring?

The Girl and the Dinosaur
Hollie Hughes and Sarah Massini
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Just imagine if you had a dinosaur: that is what happens to the little girl Marianne we see digging on the beach of a seaside town on the first spread of this book. Watched by the fisherfolk concerned about her lack of friends, Marianne methodically digs up and assembles (Mary Anning style) a complete skeleton that she names Bony.

Back in bed that night she wishes life into her ‘stony bones’ and in a sky aglow with dreams, awakens a deeply slumbering dinosaur and takes off on its back into a beautiful world of wonder and magic.

The two go first to the sea and then after a dip, visit an enchanted forest alive with fairies and unicorns.

They climb to the top of a mountain, then taking a ‘mighty leap of faith’ soar up and away towards a magical island among the clouds to a very special party for children and their dream world creatures.

However eventually slumbers call, the party must end; and reveries over, it’s time to return to those empty beds.

Thereafter the story comes full circle and we’re back on the beach, only now Marianne is not alone and the fisherfolk are no longer concerned, for the single girl has been joined by lots of other children each one digging for their very own dinosaur.

Hold fast to dreams as you share Hollie Hughes’ lyrical rhyming story and Sarah Massini’s wonderfully whimsical, atmospheric illustrations of the real and dream worlds.

A great snuggle up at bedtime tale that will linger long in the mind and perhaps fuel the dreams of your little ones as, lulled by the soporific nature of the narrative, they too head off to slumberland.