I Don’t Want To Be Small

I Don’t Want To Be Small
Laura Ellen Anderson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The little boy narrator of this rhyming tale rues his lack of stature; “It’s not fair,” he says. Frequently overlooked, he’s the smallest among his friends and big bro’s castoffs are way too large.

In a fit of pique the lad tosses his Teddy Bear skywards only to get it stuck in a tree out of reach.
Nothing he tries succeeds in getting Ted down;

superfast consumption of green veggies merely serve to give him wind and attempting to become flower-like is let’s say, a damp squib.

His “I JUST WANT MY BEAR” shout causes a tall girl to come and offer her assistance; but not even she can reach Teddy.

Light bulb moment: teamwork might just do it suggests our narrator, and … hurrah! Success; but much more important, is what  ensues.

Laura’s spirited illustrations abound with humour and pathos, and her seemingly simple, funny story with its powerful messages about self-acceptance and the importance of co-operation, will resonate with all those who feel inferior for whatever reason.

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express / Ariana and Whisper / Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Fabio, flamingo detective and resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee, returns to solve his second case and it involves a stolen necklace.

Fabio and his trusty associate Gilbert giraffe are about to depart on the Ostrich Express for a much-needed holiday at Coconut Palm Resort when something, or rather someone, catches Fabio’s eye.

Once on the train, a desert fox who introduces herself as Zazie – appears in the dining car sporting a fur stole and enormous ruby pendant – the legendary, -very valuable so she tells Fabio and Gilbert – Lalooze Ruby.

As the train speeds across the desert, unexpected happenings take place, the first being that Gilbert is knocked unconscious when he hits his head against the window as the train is suddenly brought to a full-stop. Leaving his friend in the care of Zazie, Fabio leaves the train and discovers a baby elephant lying beneath the stars tied to the tracks. Fabio unties him and learns that a gang of bandits – hyenas and a leopard – had tied him down.

That though is only the beginning. Soon a scream pierces the dark followed by hyena’s laugh and as Fabio climbs back aboard the train he spots a leopard silhouette and learns that the ruby has vanished from around Zazie’s neck – pulled off by a thief so she says.

Never fear, Fabio is hot on the case; he merely needs to enlist the aid of the train crew to help power his refurbished handcar,

let loose the tied-together table cloths , … cavort across a few train carriages, execute a deft flick of Gilbert’s cane and … and … that would be telling way too much of this exciting, fast-paced, perfect for just flying solo readers tale.

And with Emily Fox’s dayglo bright, pink and orange powered illustrations and occasional text backgrounds, plus Fabio-patterned chapter breaks, what more can any young reader want?

Ariana and Whisper
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Unicorn Academy is ‘where magic happens’ and now in story number 8, arachnid-fearing  Ariana is finding it hard to make friends. She does however love her special unicorn Whisper and enjoys spending time in the stables bonding with him and helping him discover his magic power.

Things improve somewhat when she starts to bond with untidy Matilda and then Ms Nettles announces that the day’s lessons are to be replaced by a field trip to the edges of the woods to find out which animals are leaving and why. An adventure is set to begin: something is very wrong in the woods and Ariana can feel it.

Not long after, Whisper discovers his special power: perhaps with its help, together with the courage of Ariana, her unicorn and the other students, the mystery of what has been happening with the animals can be solved.

Fans of the sparkling series will lap this up with its short, bite-size chapters and Lucy Truman’s enchanting black and white drawings.

Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

Princess Bea is an animal lover but her father King George tells her time and again that Ruby Palace is ‘no place for a pet’. However, the nine-year-old princess isn’t one to be deterred by royal rules when it comes to taking care of animals needing help.

While she’s at the kite festival with her teacher Mr Wells, Bea climbs up a tree to free her kite and there comes upon a ginger kitten; and of course, she just has to rescue it.

Determined to keep it safe until they can find its owner she manages to sneak it in to the palace but discovers that Tiger as she calls it, is rather excitable. Moreover when her father discovers the creature, he’s far from pleased and gives Bea just 24 hours to get rid of it.

At night the kitten decides to go exploring and Bea needs to summon up all her courage to hunt around the palace in the pitch dark, especially when she hears a noise that doesn’t sound like Tiger …

Young animal lovers just flying solo as readers will enjoy this addition to the series illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller.

Everybunny Dream! / Hop Little Bunnies / This is Owl / Sleep, My Bunny

Everybunny Dream!
Ellie Sandall
Hodder Children’s Books

Ellie Sandall’s latest Everybunny tale is essentially a bedtime story.

Through a gentle rhyming narrative and a sequence of captivating scenes, some frolicsome, others more peaceful, we share in the bedtime ritual of the little bunnies as they respond to their mother’s instructions,

until they’re tucked up cosily under the covers.

Who should appear suddenly though but another creature with a long orange bushy tail, also clad in night attire.

Before long there’s a host of baby fox cubs sitting with the little bunnies – who have now all hopped out of bed – avidly listening to a good night tale

and then it really is time to snuggle down altogether for some shut-eye and perhaps some pleasant dreams.

A lovely way to send your little ones off into the land of nod at the end of a busy day.

Hop Little Bunnies
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Based on nursery favourite Sleeping Bunnies, Martha Mumford has written a jaunty text that includes not only the bunnies of the original song but also fluffy lambs, tiny chicks, kittens and ducklings

all of which sleep until noon and wake up and make lots of noise.

They then go on to play for the rest of the day before a bedtime song sends them all off to sleep once more.

With plenty of flaps to investigate and sounds to make, Laura Hughes charming rural illustrations add to the springtime bounce of Martha’s words.

This cheery charmer is likely to become a much requested book for young listeners be that at home or in an early years setting.

After an initial sharing I’d suggest an action packed story session with sleeping, hopping, leaping and swimming, not forgetting baa-ing, cheeping, mewing and quacking.

Another book that invites interaction is:

This is Owl
Libby Walden and Jacqui Lee
Caterpillar Books
The sun is shining, Owl is fast asleep and doesn’t want to wake up but the book has to start so the reader’s help is needed to rouse our feathered friend.

Tummy tickling is only partially successful so the sun needs to be extinguished and replaced by a moon.

Hurrah Owl now has both eyes open but Beetle further along the branch is causing a distraction.

A considerable amount of page flapping is required to help Owl reach Beetle but then they both disappear. Oops! Where can Owl be?

With the help of several more birds Owl is eventually located and it seems one has become two for alongside is Other Owl.

Strangely the pair of them are doing a little uncharacteristic nest building so a bit of twig collecting from reader’s won’t come amiss.

Sometime later, once that threatening raincloud has gone, Owl has something in the nest to show off to readers.

By the time the sun starts to come up once again, two owls have become three and it’s time to bid them all farewell.

Feathery fun with a tad of scientific learning included, Libby Walden’s gently humorous, guiding words, in tandem with Jacqui Lee’s eye-catching, funny illustrations will certainly make for an active animal shared book experience.

Sleep, My Bunny
Rosemary Wells
Walker Books

Here’s a lovely way to wind down with your little one(s) at the end of the day.

Rosemary Wells’ gently flowing text reads like a lullaby as it talks of the sounds of evening: the simultaneous song of owls and crickets; the night wind that has ‘taken the moon for a ride’, the first soft summer rain.

Alongside we see, in Van Gogh-like impressionist style, a sunlit tree outside and then as the sun goes down, a series of gradually darkening skies shown through the window, foregrounded by scenes of a little bunny going through his night-time routine with his mother and father.

On each spread the textual border mirrors the sky seen outside.

There’s obvious love and tenderness in this bunny family so adorably depicted in this lovely bedtime book.

Pirate Pug

Pirate Pug
Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Their latest adventure sees Pug and Lady Miranda holidaying in Pebbly Bay.

They’re just preparing to indulge themselves in a hotel breakfast of some rather yummy jam tarts when in through the window flies a parrot. Showing a distinct lack of interest in the tasty fare on the tray, the bird takes off with a teaspoon.

Thus begins a seaside sojourn, which might be a bit of a challenge, for Pug is scared of water.

Things don’t go too well and before long, the dog is flat out in the vet’s operating theatre on account of an unlucky accident.
Lady Miranda’s comment on his being given an eye-patch to wear sparks one of her good ideas and soon Pug is also sporting a pirate’s hat.

Meanwhile in the town square crowds are gathering for a rehearsal of the Pebbly Bay Parade.
It’s in celebration so the mayor tells Lady Miranda and Pug, of the day the town was freed from pirate rule.

As she’s showing them her special gold chain of office, down swoops that pesky parrot Rio who seizes the chain and flies off with it.

Is Pug brave enough to sail the high seas and join the others on a boat trip across to Finders Keepers Island to rescue the treasured item?

Arch-enemy Finnian and his gang are already on the ocean in their own craft so it looks like trouble is in store.

With the usual brand of charm, humour, fun and frolics, Pug’s fourth book is ideal for new solo readers and a fun read aloud. Make sure you give your audience time to see Eglantine Ceulemans’ engaging illustrations if you share it.

The Afterwards

The Afterwards
A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Let me say at the outset, this is a remarkable book; intensely moving and quite unlike anything else, even the author’s previous stories, The Imaginary and The Song From Somewhere Else.

The story starts with best friends Ember and Ness who are pretty much inseparable but then comes an announcement in school assembly. There’s been an accident in the park and one of the pupils has died; it’s Ness.

For Ember, the world is unimaginable without her bestest buddy. Then, through another grieving person, she becomes aware of a strange grey afterworld and there she finds Ness again. Can she bring her back? That is Ember’s plan but should she fail, it seems she too will have to remain in that eerie place, leaving behind her Dad and Penny, his partner.

The push and pull between the two worlds presents Ember with a dilemma that is unbearable, especially when she discovers that Ness is not the only one of those she loves in the netherworld.

I’ll say no more about the story itself except that I urge you to read it.

A.F. Harrold’s writing is totally gripping, dark, profound, occasionally scary, and suffused with grief; but it’s also full of love and tenderness, and there’s hope too. There’s also a cat that keeps putting in an appearance. Does that sound a little familiar?

Emily Gravett’s powerfully atmospheric illustrations provide the perfect complement to the text, making one’s reading experience of The Afterwards feel like a seamless whole.

Treasure of the Golden Skull

Treasure of the Golden Skull
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Mildew and Sponge learn of the possibility of their school’s closure, despite being less than enthusiastic about almost all aspects of Maudlin Towers, a thoroughly gloomy establishment, the two boys do regard it as home and resolve that something must be done. The money supposedly stowed safely away by Reverend Brimstone to cover much-needed repairs to the place has been stolen (along with the chair he stashed it in) and now the school coffers are empty and the governors totally unwilling to help – anything but in fact.

The two boys conclude they’ll be sent to separate places of education if the school is shut down and that’s unthinkable; a rescue mission must be put into action forthwith.

It’s a mission that begins with a surprising revelation concerning a pirate connection and continues with a hunt for buried treasure, the onset of green parrot sightings by Sponge and a new boy going under the name of err, Newboy who manages to bend the will of others to his own.

Add to this the fact that Sponge’s predilection for biscuits shows no sign of abating, as his pal points out in the staff graveyard, “Your head is full of biscuits. Buck up, Sponge. How are you ever going to detectivate? Finlay Feathering wouldn’t let a bit of biscuitlessness bother him”.

Oh and there’s also an entire new set of very strange replacement staff.

Throw in a floating eyeball and a werewolf (both feature in the plethora of delicious line drawings herein) to satisfy spooky-loving readers and the result is a sequel to Curse of the Werewolf Boy that is every bit as silly and entertaining.

And the treasure? Let’s say ‘busted’ about covers it.

Seems there’s to be a third biscuit-fuelled adventure somewhere on the horizon … eagerly anticipated by countless Maudlin Towers fans I have no doubt.

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom / Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom
Colin Mulhern
Maverick Arts Publishing

Buttercup Sunshine is the ‘friendliest, most angelic little girl you could ever imagine.’ So thinks Granny Fondant. Why, then, when the woman looks out of her window one fine morning, does she see the child running down Honeysuckle Lane towards her little house wielding a chainsaw? And even more strange, why is she asking Granny for petrol ,of all things?

Buttercup has alarming information to impart: zombies are on the loose and they’re heading towards Buttercup and Granny intent on eating their brains.
Even more alarming is the news that the chainsaw belongs to lumberjack, Mr Blackberry, one of the undead advancing upon them at that very moment.

Time to close the curtain, put the kettle on, make a cuppa, flourish a tray of shortbreads and sit down to hear what Buttercup has to say. Apparently the whole affair had begun with a star.

Seemingly the young lady, aka Agent Sunshine, was investigating a crime one night. The crime being the theft – so she thinks – of a thimble and thus, aided and abetted by the torch, a micro walkie-talkie and fellow detective Barry, who just happens to be a computer-hacking toad , the hunt is on for the mystery thief.

Back to that star. It, we learn was a meteorite that had landed slap bang, in a cemetery right in the centre of the Wicked Woods of Woe. Being Agent Sunshine, she just had to sally forth into those woods and that’s where everything kicked off.

Buttercup encounters Mr Blackberry who suggests that the meteorite might be made of diamonds.
It turns out though, that said meteorite appears to have magical properties capable of rendering dead bodies into a state of undeadness – an undeadness that means being ‘Huuugrry …’.

The question is, will the shortbreads run out before Buttercup has finished telling Granny her tale and if not, how, if at all, does this crazy situation resolve itself?
I’ll merely say that with Buttercup adopting warrior pose, standing firmly beside Granny armed with a pair of her longest knitting needles,

a plan gets underway. A plan entailing a great deal of hammering and banging not to mention needle-clicking, oh, and a vacuum cleaner.

The story is bursting with zany humour to which the author has added a liberal sprinkling of laugh-inducing line drawings; it’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy their giggles mixed with occasional gruesome chills and that I suspect is a lot of young readers.

The same can be said of:

Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Neal Layton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This, the third in the series starring Malcolm and his awful uncle, has each of them with a plot; hence the crazy title and needless to say Uncle Gobb’s plot isn’t a good one, in fact it’s downright dastardly.

Uncle Gobb is intent on setting up a school right behind the one Malcolm attends; the difference being, this educational establishment, or should I say non-educational, alternative is Dread Shed School of Facts. Now what that has to do with being educational, the author and I both agree upon and I’ll leave you to work it out.

However there’s no need to work out that this is a crackingly bonkers read, equally zanily illustrated by Rosen’s plot partner, Neal Layton whose daft artwork adds further gigglesome moments to this wonderful tale of plot and counter plot.

As to who is the victor of the battle for young brains, I’ll let you work that one out too.
Better still head off down to your nearest bookshop, obtain your own copy and laugh your way through it.