The Funny Life of Sharks

The Funny Life of Sharks
James Campbell and Rob Jones
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Full of gill-slittingly silly stuff unrelated to the particular elasmobranchs of the title as well as plenty of real sharkish information too, this bonkers book is one to dip in and out of – unless that is, you are a total shark addict and then you might go for total immersion.

Or perhaps you’d rather make your own way through using the different options signposted on almost all the spreads. Trying to do that left this reviewer’s brain starting to feel like not-properly-set jelly.

Another consideration is one of how to classify the book: is it non-fiction or fiction. It’s really hard to decide and anyway, does it really matter? It’s hilarious either way and cleverly interactive to boot.

Moreover it includes pretty much everything you would ever need to know about sharks and a whole lot more you definitely wouldn’t;

but you may well end up so befuddled that you’re unable to tell which is which.

Take for instance, that there are three main kinds of shark attack:  the hit and run variety (I can’t quite work out who or what might be doing any running however); the bump and bite type during which the decision is made about whether or not you become a shark’s dinner and thirdly, there’s the deadly sneak attack.

Apparently great white sharks catch seals using that method, approaching them at 50kmph.

Of course no self-respecting shark book would omit what is frequently child readers’ favourite topic – poo; so James Campbell has obligingly included a poo spread. Thereon you’ll discover that shark poo is ejected ‘like a liquid bottom burp.

Moreover shark poo is an important part of the ecosystem. Really truly.

To finish, let me just say, this whole inventive compilation – liberally littered with Rob Jones drawings – is cartilageniously crazy and particularly perfect for selachimorphaphiles as well as bibliophobes who need their reads in easily digestible bite-sized chunks.

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter

Beware! Ralfy Rabbit and the Secret Book Biter
Emily MacKenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Bibliophile, young Ralfy Rabbit loves nothing better than to find a peaceful place to snuggle up with a good book (or several).

However things have changed in Ralfy’s home: there’s a new addition to the family, baby brother Rodney, whose presence means that the household is anything but quiet, and the bigger baby Rodney gets, the more noise he makes.

The impossibility of finding a quiet spot at home drives Ralfy to one of his favourite places – the library. Bliss. Peace at last.

But when Ralfy settles down with his book he gets the surprise of his life. A very large hole has been chomped right through it.

Fortunately the librarian is sympathetic but suggests Ralfy should try to track down the book biter.

Back home Ralfy dons his detective gear and starts his investigation. It can’t have been any of the grown-ups for they’ve all been too busy. It surely can’t be Nibbles – he belongs elsewhere.

Ralfy moves to the bookcase where, OH NO! the book biter has been at work on another of his books. In fact not just one, but all Ralfy’s favourities – disaster!

Then he hears some strange sounds coming from the direction of another large volume …

Finally it seems Ralfy has caught the culprit. But what does he do about it? That would be telling …

As with her previous Ralfy story, Emily’s illustrations are fabulous– witty and full of amusing details. She’s clearly had some punning fun playing with book titles. Ralfy’s collection includes Stick Bun and on the library shelves are Rabbitson Crusoe, Jane Hare, Pippi Longears and The Burrowers, which will be appreciated by older book enthusiasts sharing the story.

With Ralfy’s visits to both the library and a bookshop, this is sure to become another favourite with adults who want to encourage book loving in little humans, as well as the target audience of young listeners.

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt
Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Martha and Laura’s four intrepid bunny hunters are ready for another expedition and now they’ve donned piratical gear ready to search for treasure. So it’s YO! HO! HO! all aboard and off they go to a desert island looking for gold coins.

As they sail they encounter some swooshing, swishing dolphins before landing on a sandy shore.

Then off they go again, carefully avoiding getting their toes nipped;

but they’ll need our help or they might miss some of what they seek, right beneath their feet.

The search continues, first at a rock pool, then beneath the coconut palms –

we know what might be hanging above their heads ready to strike – and across a rope bridge to another beach. There a somewhat scary encounter awaits.

So ‘Quick, quick, quick’, it’s time to head for their boat and sail back home.

Seemingly, once on dry land again, there’s one final thing to find: what could that be, I wonder.

With Martha’s rhythmic, rhyming, onomatopoeic, repeat pattern narrative, this is an ideal read-aloud to enjoy with pre-schoolers who will doubtlessly relish joining in as you share it, pausing on alternate spreads for individuals to lift the flaps and see what’s hidden beneath. Of course, they’ll need all their 10 fingers ready to keep a count of the coins too.

Equally with those 3Rs of reading – rhythm, rhyme and repetition – built into the text, this is an ideal book for children in the early stage of becoming readers to try for themselves.

Either way, bursting with summery sun and with plenty of flaps to lift, Laura Hughes’ lively scenes of the search provide plenty of gentle visual humour and opportunities to spot the wealth of flora and fauna on every spread.

The Worst Class in the World

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

It’s official : class 4B belonging to Mr Nidgett is LITERALLY the Worst Class in the world . It must be so because that’s what rule-fanatic Mrs Bottomley-Blunt, headmistress of St. Regina’s Primary has declared and she ought to know.

She has plenty of examples of their outrageous behaviour to quote such as when Marvey Barlow smuggled a penguin back on the bus after the class trip to Grimley Zoo; or the Show and Tell session when Manjit’s dog, Killer sated its hunger on gel pens, not to mention a pair of Mr Nidgett’s shoes (luckily not those on his feet at the time).

And there was that playground-tunnelling incident too.

One can hardly blame Mr Nidgett threatening on more than one occasion to leave teaching and become a lion tamer instead. Funnily enough it was a challenging Y4 class that brought me close to the edge too, but by the final term I ended up absolutely loving them despite everything and wouldn’t have swapped them for anything. A bit like pupil Stanley Bradshaw, who introduces us to 4B and acts as narrator of the two episodes The Biscuit King (with its FOOLPROOF PLAN) and the aforementioned Show and Tell in which those shoes and pens are not the only things that get eaten, but on that topic I’ll say no more.

Instead let me suggest you get hold of a copy of this splutter-inducing book with its crazy chaotic classroom atmosphere superbly portrayed through Joanna’s gigglesome narrative and Rikin Parekh’s illustrations that are equally entertaining. How long, one wonders did it take for Mrs B-B to compile her list of 50 rules.

That’s rule no. 9 duly broken

Not that long, I suspect, and I bet not a single one was on account of a transgression by a member of class 4A.

Finally, a FOOLPROOF PLAN, if you happen to be a primary teacher, buy several copies – one to keep for cheering you up when you feel down, or to share with your class, others as solo reads for youngsters around the age of Mr Nidgett’s pupils and thus likely to have similar preoccupations as Stanley, Manjit, Lacey Braithwaite, Bruce Bingley et al

and declare it OUTSTANDING.

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency

You Can’t Call an Elephant in an Emergency
Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

David Tazzyman brings his wit and scribbly artistic enthusiasm once again to Patricia Cleveland’s pretty preposterous suggestions for animal emergency responders and equally zany reasons why none is suitable for the task envisaged anyway.

Thus you should never ‘let a hairy highland cow / operate the snow plough …’

unless you want the gear box ground to pieces that is; and as for calling out the lemming crew to rescue a hiker stuck on a hill – best not to think about it, they’ll likely forget the drill and the whole operation will end in disaster.

Moreover an anteater hasn’t the courage to come to your aid should you be trapped in a dark cave; the cowardly creature will surely wet his pants and you can guess what he’d consume to console himself.

All these as well as the titular pachyderm, a chimpanzee, a sloth, a penguin, a llama, a panda, a chicken and a porcupine are to be avoided should you be in trouble.

What though is to be done with all these creatures if they can’t be employed in the emergency services? Now that would be telling …

Zany animal capers to giggle over with youngsters who will likely be able to make their own silly suggestions too.

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet! / Mabel: A Mermaid Fable

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet!
Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of her ‘I Don’t Want … ‘ stories, Laura with the help of her young protagonist, explores what happens when instead of making the most noise you can in whatever situation you’re in,

you try something completely different, the possibilities of not making any sound at all and seeing what happens.

What the little girl who hates to be quiet discovers when she actually IS quiet is that there’s an enormous amount of fun to be had – inside your head,

out and about in the open air and in school too. And in fact it’s possible to hear all those hithertofore unheard gentle sounds

while still leaving times and places for making lots of noise.

A thought-provoking message delivered through an enormously enjoyable rhyming narrative and splendid brimming-over-with-energy illustrations; and it’s great for whole-hearted performance too.

Mabel: A Mermaid Fable
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books

Mabel is different: her dad has a moustache – a very large one; her mum and sisters have small ones that curl at the ends, even her baby brother has a tiny one; but Mabel is entirely moustacheless. She’s so embarrassed she tries ‘hiding her nose behind jaunty shells and by wearing seaweed falsies, but this only made her feel like a clown.’

Having been called a ‘nudibranch (sea slug to you and me)’ by a taunting passing pufferfish, she decides there’s only one thing to do – hide.

While in hiding however, she encounters a seven-legged octopus (perhaps better termed a septopus) going by the name of Lucky. This fellow appendage-lacker soon becomes a firm friend and the two teach each other all manner of useful things.

An off-beat, warm-hearted tale of overcoming your worries and being yourself that’s full of wisdom and superbly illustrated. The undersea setting is splendidly wacky with a wealth of priceless minutiae to savour.

Meet the Planets

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

Caryl Hart gives voice to the individual planets as we join a little girl aboard a rocket and zoom off on a space adventure around the solar system.

Our first encounter is with The Sun, ‘the biggest thing up in the sky. /I’m friendly but don’t get too close now / or I’ll frizzle you up to a fry.’ it warns, going on in rhyming speak to inform about its role as daytime warmth provider and light supplier for growing plants before concluding “But be careful, I’m really a /
Great ball of fire – / the HOTTEST and FIERCEST / you’ve seen!”

As the journey progresses little ones will love to join in with the rhymes and  spy all the staring-eyed planets – zippily speeding Mercury, deceptively named Venus that boasts of FIERCE spitting volcanoes, our own friendly Earth with its silvery Moon, mighty windswept Mars with its rust-coloured dust.

Then come giant gaseous ball Jupiter – the planet king; sparkly, shimmering Saturn that can’t resist drawing attention her beauty;

the windy ice ball Uranus; ‘Ice Giant’ blue-looking Neptune

and finally, relatively small Pluto accompanied by Charon.

Youngsters will undoubtedly have a total blast as they whizz through the sky, relishing every planet they meet, and even manage to rendezvous with earth once more, just in time for bed. Bethan’s illustrations are, as ever, totally out-of-this-world strikingly brilliant and such a superb complement for Caryl’s cleverly constructed rhyming text.

Splendid stuff this, for bedtimes and all other times too.

Little Owl’s Bedtime / Put Your Botty on the Potty!

Here are two fun books for your toddler bookshelves:

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

It’s lovely to see Little Owl starring in another episode. It’s ‘late o’clock’ and bedtime. Mummy Owl has shared with him a bedtime story and now it’s shut eye time. However, like many little ones, this young owl starts delaying tactics. First he requests another story and his mummy agrees on condition that it will be the last.

Story duly read and ‘sweet dreams’ wished, Little Owl is still finding reasons why he cannot go to sleep.

Patient Mummy Owl explains the reasons why dark is necessary,

even going to the trouble of providing a very tiny night lamp.

Nothing doing: the lumpy pillow persists and then cuddly, ‘Hedge’ has gone missing. Happily though she’s found pretty soon and now surely sleep will come. Not it seems quite yet though: how long before Mummy Owl’s patience is tested to its limit, one wonders.

Still the complaints come: too hot, hungry and now Little Owl needs a wee.

Then he’s excited about what tomorrow has in store. If he doesn’t drop off soon, it will be tomorrow anyway; but his Mummy ‘s promise looks as though it might finally do the trick …
Sweet dreams Little Owl, sweet dreams Hedge, sweet dreams Baby Owl and happy bath-time Mummy owl – you’ve certainly earned it.

What a gorgeous way to end the day if you have a little one; make sure you lay down the ground rules first though, just in case s/he tries the Little Owl tactics.

Debi’s warm text and Alison’s equally warm illustrations work in perfect harmony: who wouldn’t want to snuggle down after sharing this one?

Put Your Botty on the Potty!
Sam Lloyd
Pavilion Books

Courtesy of Little Moo, here’s a fun look at potty training, monster style.

When we meet Moo, she’s nappy clad and far from happy so to be, partly one suspects because there’s new baby sister in the Monster family wearing, guess what – a nappy. Time for Moo to grow up, shed the nappy and bare the botty.

Needless to say, Mummy instructs Moo to call a halt on the monster messes that ensue. It appears though that Mummy has a clever plan, for next morning a gift-wrapped surprise arrives at the door.

Moo’s bot is a perfect fit for a sit and that’s exactly what he does … for a protracted period until eventually … (success!)

There’s more to learn though as Mummy monster talks of botty wiping, then demonstrates hand washing and drying. The monsters then head into town for some ‘grown-up’ pants purchasing; and finally smartypants Moo is ready for a celebration.

With its bold, zany art, jaunty rhyming text and flaps to explore, little ones and their adults can enjoy some fun times with the former doing some important learning.

We Catch the Bus

We Catch the Bus
Katie Abey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

If you have a little one with a penchant for all things vehicular, then they’ll surely love this book. What it lacks in story, it certainly more than makes up for in the bright, busy, vehicle-packed illustrations that are full of giggle-making details.

Every spread takes a different theme be it buses, planes, trucks, trains, diggers, cars, bikes,

boats, emergency vehicles, tractors or rockets; and children can make up their own stories inspired by what’s happening on any of the pages; there’s certainly plenty of action on each one.

‘We catch the Bus / Which bus would you catch?’ is the lead-in to the first spread whereon we find 10 different buses, all being driven by jolly-looking animal characters and there are plenty of other zany animal characters to spot too. One waiting at a bus stop asks “How many footballs can you count?” while the driver of the book bus inquires “What’s your favourite story?”

Every other spread has a similar relevant lead-in and an abundance of ways to involve youngsters. They could look for the fish on the airport spread or perhaps play spot the fairy tale characters/items; maybe they’ll discover that a certain big bad wolf keeps putting in an appearance.

This book surely guarantees hours of enjoyable immersion.

Supercats v Maximus Fang / Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of ZOMBIES

It’s great to see these two popular fiction series going from strength to strength:

Supercats v Maximus Fang
Gwyneth Rees, illustrated by Becka Moor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the second of Gwyneth Rees’ Supercats series that will delight animal lovers, especially those who enjoy tales with a bit of a zesty bite. They’ll certainly get that with Tagg, a recent recruit to a team of crime-fighting supercats. (think feline MI6). Tagg’s personal superpower is camouflage, a tremendously useful skill for any secret agent.

In this story Tagg and another member of the team, Sugarfoot have their first mission. They need to infiltrate the dastardly Killer Cats crew that includes just back in town, Gory Gus, and thwart his plans to break his partner in crime Maximus Fang out of prison.

The prison break has to be stopped but are the newbie supercats up to the task?

Assuredly they’ll need to employ both their superpowers and all their feline wits or else they’ll end being fish-sliced in the paws of the Hit Cats. Moreover, Gory’s superpower is telekinesis and Maximus’s power is weather control. ‘Think tsunamis! Think tornadoes and hurricanes!’ Hmm!

Can Tagg and Sugarfoot succeed in their mission? Perhaps with the help of ‘the Weapon’ …

There’s plenty of tension, especially when having persuaded the Killer Cats to let them join their crew, Tagg and Sugarfoot discover what that entails …

Add plenty of fun to the mix, with additional lashings thanks to Becka Moor’s illustrations, and what you have is a highly satisfying moggy adventure.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of ZOMBIES
Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Egmont

Sam Wu is still trying to prove he’s not afraid of anything in this his fifth fear conquering challenge. He’s already succeeded in becoming unafraid where ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders are concerned – well almost!

So what about zombies? Surely such thoughts won’t send frissons of fear running through the lad will they? Err, maybe not, except … supposing his arch nemesis Ralph Zinkerman the Third, lets it be known that there are zombie werewolves living in his basement.

Is this really something Sam wants to tackle, especially when Ralph has just told tales on him in class? But, Sam has loyalties to Ralph’s sister Regina so maybe he should summon up all his courage, accept the invitation to visit the Zinkerman residence and (along with some friends) see what is going on in that basement of theirs, despite strict orders from Mr and Mrs Z that said basement with its locked door was ‘strictly off limits’.

Could this perhaps be Sam’s scariest fear-confrontation yet?

Splendidly funny through and through with a great finale, and terrific Nathan Reed illustrations scattered throughout that highlight the hilarious situations, this series just keeps on getting better.

Red Red Red / Ravi’s Roar

Here are two picture books about young children and their anger

Red Red Red
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

It’s tantrum time for the toddler in Polly Dunbar’s new picture book. A tantrum that’s precipitated when the infant attempts to extricate a biscuit from the jar up on the high shelf, bringing both jar and child hurtling to the floor.

A sympathetic mum is quickly on the scene but her attempts to placate her little one only make things worse until she suggests a calming, counting strategy that gradually transforms the toddler,

allowing all that fury to dissipate.

Polly’s scenes of anger and its management – of biscuits,

bumps and breathing – are sheer delight. The cathartic counting sequence in particular is absolutely brilliant.

Just the thing to share post-tantrum with little ones – make sure  they’ve completely calmed down first of course.

Ravi’s Roar
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet Ravi; he’s the youngest and smallest member of his family. This is perfectly fine most of the time but there are days when everything goes wrong.
The day of the family picnic was one of those.

First of all he’s squished into a train seat between a grown-up and a farty dog; then the game of hide-and-seek is a dismal disaster.

Ravi’s lack of stature puts paid to his enjoyment of the adventure playground but then his Dad steps in with a suggestion intended to help diffuse the lad’s rising anger.
That too goes badly wrong causing Ravi to lose it completely.

He’s suddenly transformed into a furious roaring tiger, which does seem to result in some short-term advantages.

But then the tiger overdoes his wildness, so much so that nobody else wants anything to do with him.

All alone, sadness starts to take the place of Ravi’s fury: what was it that had caused his anger anyway? The reason eludes him but he knows that an apology is called for.

After that the rest of his tigerishness seeps out leaving a calm child once again. PHEW!

In case you’re wondering, that was the last time Ravi ever became a tiger although he does still emit the occasional moderated growl …

Once again Tom Percival demonstrates his empathetic understanding of young children and his skill at exploring a subject that is very much part and parcel of their emotional make-up.

Add this enormously engaging book to your family collection or classroom shelves.

Baby’s First Jailbreak

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

The Bank Heist baby Frank is back for another rollicking rhyming adventure, but he’s not the only baby that features in this follow up story. There’s also baby Bruce – more of him shortly.

In case you don’t already know, baby Frank has turned his home into a zoo so that his debts can be paid off for the bank raid he was involved in. This zoo was doing very well for itself but gradually the crowds have dropped off until one morning nobody at all was waiting to pay to enter Frank’s Zoo.

While out for a walk with his parents they come upon the reason for this loss of custom: baby Bruce, of rich parentage,

has opened a zoo too (on his parents private polo pitch) and is now coining it in by showing tutu clad tigers, dancing chimps, bicycling elephants, not to mention penguins wandering around giving out free ice creams. Hmmm! And to make matters worse, the place is festooned with flags bearing Bruce’s face.
Pretty soon, Frank’s Mum has seen enough and Dad is ready to give up in the face of unbeatable competition.

That evening however, Frank is visited by an escaped penguin who tells of the terrible treatment he and his fellow animals at Bruce’s establishment receive, and begs his help.

Needless to say, Frank is on the case immediately, planning a ‘daring prison break’ and by 2am he, together with a few animal friends, head to Bruce’s zoo.

Scaling the high wall isn’t too much of a challenge and neither is picking the lock on the door of the penguin enclosure.
Before long not only the penguins but also the tortoises, hyena and every other creature from the zoo has been liberated and is on the way to the safety of Frank’s home.

The infant zoo-breaker will have a bit of explaining to do next morning when his parents confront the lad about the sudden increase in animal numbers residing with them but before he can do so, there’s a knock at the door.

Baby Bruce and his mother have come calling and are making accusations.

Now what? Can Frank and the animals convince the visitors that they belong right where they are?

The answer is both yes and no, though what happens finally, you’ll have to discover by getting your flippers, trunks or other appropriate appendages on a copy of this corker of a read aloud. That way you can also relish Stephen Collins’ superbly droll illustrations each of which is packed with wonderful chuckleworthy details.

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.

Little Owl’s First Day / This is the Way We Go to School

Little Owl’s First Day
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Leaving a parent to begin school or nursery for the very first time, particularly when a younger sibling is still at home, can be a bit bothersome for little ones and so it is for Little Owl.

We first met the delightful character when a new sibling arrived and now he’s facing his first day at school.

When he wakes up on the big day, he isn’t feeling full of excitement as his Mummy Owl anticipates; instead the little fellow doesn’t even want to get out of bed. “I want a small day. I want to stay at home with you and Baby Owl,” he tells her.

After a lot of cajoling, they’re all ready to sally forth but then Little Owl is reluctant to pick up his new owlbag. Eventually, with Little Owl calling the tune, he sets off pushing his baby in the pram while Mummy carries his bag.

At the school door Miss Oopik is ready with a welcoming greeting; and reassuring farewell’s over, Little Owl is gently encouraged to try his wing at painting.

His picture is Mummy and Baby Owl moonbound in a rocket, and they seem to occupy his every thought for a considerable part of the morning until snack time is announced. And then it looks as though Little Owl might just have found a friend as he and Tiny Owl share the contents of their owlbags with one another.

The rest of the session seems to pass in a flash before Miss Oopik calls them all together for a story.

Soon, who should be waiting outside but Mummy and Baby Owl; but Little Owl is much too sleepy to tell them all about how he spent his time.

Debi Gliori’s gently humorous tale is a real situation soother that will embrace a first timer like a warm comfort blanket, especially since it’s woven together with Alison Brown’s scenes of adorable strigine characters small and not so small.

This is the Way We Go to School
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

Ideal for little ones about to start, or already at nursery or playschool, is this board book version of a favourite song, complete with sliders. With these your child can help the little tigers in the early morning to get out of bed; eat their breakfast, brush their teeth

and walk to school, where they smilingly wave a farewell to their parents before rushing inside to join their friends.
In addition to the sliders that facilitate getting up, teeth brushing and waving, there’s a wheel to turn that brings into view a host of other animals all hurrying schoolwards.

Both the tigers’ home, and the journey to school spreads have plenty of interesting details for little humans to spot and discuss.

Inside the front cover, is a QR code to scan onto a phone or tablet and download that provides a sing along version of the song.

The Dodo Made Me Do It

The Dodo made Me Do It
Jo Simmons, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Instead of the usual deadly dull summer holidays, 10-year-old Danny yearns for adventure. As usual though, he’s sent off to spend six whole weeks with Granny Flora who lives in the wilds of Scotland in a farmhouse, in a village called Kinoussie. To make matters worse nothing ever happens in this outlandish environ, it receives an awful lot of rain, has a population of ‘weirdies, oldies and older weirdies’. Promising it is not, particularly as his gran is porridge obsessed and the place is over-run with midges.

There’s only one person of around Danny’s age anywhere in the vicinity and that’s science-mad Susie. ‘You can make this work, Danny!’ his mum tells him as they part. ‘There is fun to be had up here. You just have to make it happen!’
And make it happen is what Danny does.

Over breakfast – yes porridge – Danny learns of a shipwreck just off the coast a very long time ago.
Quickly the lad hatches a plan of action A & E: Adventure & Excitement, he calls it, that involves visiting the precise location of the shipwreck, finding enough treasure to make him sufficient money to buy a train ticket home and once there to spend his booty on a holiday in a sunny spot somewhere distant.

Instead what he discovers is something even more unlikely than ancient treasure, it’s can you believe, a dodo!

Thereafter, said dodo gets Danny (along with Susie who becomes a kind of sidekick) into all manner of tricky situations just trying to keep the creature safe, fed and quiet.

In addition though, he finds himself confronting a criminal who’s come to Kinoussie seeking a place to hide away. Hmmm!

Why did he ever wish for excitement?

With a liberal sprinkling of comical drawings from Sheena Dempsey, this cracking Jo Simmons’ tale is to say the least, hilarious. Perfect holiday reading.

If you need more suggestions for your children’s summer reading, you could try Toppsta’s Summer Reading Guide

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger

You Can’t Let an Elephant Drive a Digger
Patricia Cleveland Peck and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

After their successful collaboration with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus, team Cleveland-Peck and Tazzyman return to entertain readers with another selection of silly scenarios involving an array of unlikely creatures all endeavouring to lend a hand, a tusk, paws or perhaps fins, flippers or some other part of their anatomy, all with gigglesome outcomes.

Patricia’s rhyming possibilities or should I say, impossibilities, will surely deter even the bravest of readers from say, letting a polar bear anywhere near their hair with a pair of scissors, engaging an octopus as a dressing assistant,

attempting tooth cleaning in the vicinity of a crocodile, particularly of the hungry kind, or allowing a wolf to read the bedtime story,

while David Tazzyman’s portrayals of the creatures carrying out their self-set tasks are a scribblesome treat of the disastrous – sometimes life-threatening – consequences of ignoring the author’s advice.

Maybe the rejected animals are right – if you can’t join ’em then beat ’em and party instead!

Spencer age 5, who thoroughly enjoyed the book, has come up with two playful ideas of his own.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby’s Worry
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

All children have worries from time to time and so it is with young Ruby.
She’s always felt upbeat doing the things she loves until the fateful day she discovers, uh oh! a Worry.

At first the worry is tiny, barely noticeable in fact, but the trouble is it begins to grow … and grow, day by day until it seems to be there all the time no matter what she does or where she goes.

Nobody else can see the thing and Ruby tries to stay positive but the Worry gets in the way of her doing her favourite things. Suppose it never goes away, she worries. Oops! Big mistake – the thing expands,

until it’s completely filling her every waking moment.

Then one day as Ruby is walking in the park she comes across a sad-looking boy and, something else is lurking beside him. A worry perhaps?

What happens thereafter is of enormous benefit to both the boy and Ruby herself.

Yes of course, she still does have the occasional worry but now Ruby has a coping strategy so that she’ll never feel so overwhelmed again.

Tom Percival is such an empathetic story maker. Once again he explores a subject that affects so many young children through an empowering, book that all can relate to.

I love the way he adjusts the colour balance of his illustrations so that as Ruby’s worry grows, the pictures take on an increasingly grayscale appearance, with full colour returning when the two children’s worries are banished in an exuberant rainbow of joy.

A perfect book for stimulating discussion about worry sharing.

Moth

Moth
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interestingly this is the second picture book introducing adaptation and natural selection to children I’ve seen in the past few weeks – could a new trend be starting. I was first taught about these scientific ideas with reference to the Peppered Moth, the particular example used in this story, when doing A-level zoology donkeys ages ago, and now they’re part of the KS2 science curriculum – quite a thought.

‘This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’ So says science writer, Isabel Thomas in the opening lines of her narrative, a narrative that seamlessly interweaves both science and social history.

In the nineteenth century almost all Peppered Moths had light grey patterned wings that blended with the tree trunks and branches it frequented.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution also came air pollution blackening buildings, monuments and trees alike.

In this new environment, the light-coloured moths became easy to spot and were gobbled up by birds.
Darker forms of the insect were less conspicuous and more likely to escape predation and to breed whilst the lighter form became extremely scarce.

With the advent of the Clean Air Acts in the mid-twentieth century air pollution from smoke and soot was greatly reduced, trees and buildings were no longer stained. Now the dark moths were more conspicuous and less likely to breed successfully, though both forms of the moth can still be found.

All this, Isabel Thomas recounts in her dramatic, sometimes lyrical text that ends with hope. A hope which, as we hear in the final explanatory pages, might lead to other living things being able to adapt to the changes, including climate change, that we humans inflict upon our planet.

Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations are as lyrical as the text, embodying at once arresting beauty and veritas, and instilling a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to see such an eloquent science-focused book that also embraces the arts side of the curriculum.

Baby’s First Bank Heist

Baby’s First Bank Heist
Jim Whalley and Stephen Collins
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Utterly crazy, but equally hilarious, is this tale of an errant infant with an overwhelming desire for a pet.

Let me introduce baby Frank, ardent animal lover who decides to take the law into his own tiny hands in order to procure the necessary wherewithal to make his dream come true.

The trouble is, this tiny lad isn’t content with just one animal and before long the whole house resembles a menagerie;

but still he wants more and there’s cash aplenty to fund his passion so there’s nothing to stop him. Until, one afternoon, Mum makes a discovery …

Eventually Frank’s deceitful doings are uncovered and it’s time to make amends. Without any of his loot left what can they do to raise the money to repay the bank? And, what can they do with all the animals?

There’s only one way to put everything right. I won’t say what ensues but merely add that it entails Frank spending some time behind bars.

Tongue-in-cheek text from debut author, Jim Whalley coupled with Stephen Collins’s retro-style illustrations make for a corker of a book.

Pet-related preposterousness to make both children and adults splutter with glee; I’m sure this will quickly establish itself as a story time favourite.

Migration

Migration
Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Mike Unwin documents the migratory journeys of twenty animals large and small, from the monarch butterfly to the great white shark

and the African elephant to the Southern pilchard, all of which travel incredible distances due to the seasonal changes to the environment in which they live. They move in pursuit of food, to escape bad weather or hostile environmental conditions, or in search of a suitable place to breed.
Each of the animals featured is allocated a double spread impressively illustrated by Jenni Desmond; and there’s a world map showing all the migrations at the back of the book.
Just imagine weighing less than a lump of sugar and having to fly 800km across the ocean like the ruby-throated hummingbird. Come spring, these iridescent birds leave their tropical winter home in Central America, fly across the Gulf of Mexico, north to North America, even as far north as Canada, where they breed, nesting somewhere in woods, a garden or park.

I was amazed to read the fascinating details about green marine sea turtles, which sometimes weigh as much as two humans and migrate across the Atlantic to breed on Ascension Island.

Unwin’s accounts are beautifully, at times poetically written, while Jenni Desmond’s illustrations make you want to linger long over each one enjoying the form, details and individual beauty of each animal portrayed.

We Wear Pants

We Wear Pants
Katie Abey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

No, this isn’t another story about pants, although that particular item of clothing is the subject of the first spread in this humorous offering. You’ll also see thereon a horse in pants watering plants , a giraffe wearing them – and not only on its rear end; and youngsters will delight in the invitation to search for ‘who is sitting on the toilet?’ Wouldn’t the octopus have pants with eight leg holes? one of my book sharers wanted to know.

Wellies come next and all manner of animals are sporting theirs, including a waterproof wombat and a funky frog that asks readers to ‘Count the rubber ducks’. Not so the cheeky monkey however; that particular creature pops up on every spread offering a sneak preview of which item of attire is coming next.

We Wear Hats invites children to choose a hat – a tricky operation but for me the crocodile won; and I think I’d go for the croc. as my favourite animal too, on account of the fact that he’s reading a book.

The weather is decidedly changeable on the coats spread so many different kinds are show-cased including blazers, anoraks, puffer jackets, macs and ponchos.

Snazzy shorts aplenty are shown off on the beach: “Shorts cover up your pants” announces the bird atop the palm tree, although those belonging to the tortoise close by appears to be serving an alternative purpose.

Glasses, scarves, socks, shoes, T-shirts – watch out for particularly groan-worthy puns here – and pyjamas are also featured and the book ends with a final free choice page asking “What will YOU wear today?” Now there’s a thought …
Entertaining, absorbing and most definitely giggle inducing (that’s adults as well as children); a great book for sharing and absolutely full of language development potential.

I Want My Dad! / With My Daddy / I Love You Dino-Daddy

I Want My Dad!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Tony Ross’s latest slice of humour, Little Princess style, has the heroine considering her dad the King, making comparisons with other dads and finding him wanting in many respects. He’s much shorter that they are, is useless at baking, gets wheezy in the presence of any animal large or small, is totally inept in the water

and unlike the Gardener who takes his offspring on forest walks, gets lost in his own castle.

I wish my dad was as much fun as other dads!” she cries to the Maid. … He’s useless.

Her response is to teach the young complainer. First it’s pony riding, then baking, followed by swimming and walking in the woods, none of which are a resounding success. Our Little Princess is left feeling cold, decidedly damp, with hurting teeth and head, and exceedingly hungry.

In short, she feels absolutely useless.

As she heads for home who should happen along but his royal highness out walking and when he hears about her failures, just like all dads, he knows just what to say to put everything right.

With My Daddy
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

In this sturdily built book, a little girl talks about how she feels when she’s with her dad.
He arouses the whole gamut of emotions: a hug makes her feel like ‘a little bird in a warm, comfy nest, … safe.’

He can also make her feel unafraid, ‘brave’ in fact, ‘daring’, ‘confident’ because he inspires self-belief,

being ‘adventurous’ particularly when it comes to swimming, ‘playful’ on the most ordinary of days, ‘calm’, and ‘excited’ especially when he plays at being a monster. Sometimes though he invokes anger but it’s a storm that quickly passes thanks to Dad’s gentle calming hands on the narrator’s back.
Interestingly we never see the complete dad, or even indeed his face. Rather it’s only huge hands, or feet and legs on the final page, that are ever visible. In this way, Christine Roussey emphasises the huge amount of love he bestows upon the small narrator and the scope of his influencing power upon her feelings and emotions.

I Love You Dino-Daddy
Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

According to his offspring, Dino-Dad is a pretty cool guy with all manner of useful attributes. He’s full of fun on trips to the park, , ace at building with blocks, great at playing monsters, pretend wrestling, giving pony rides and doing magic tricks (especially where cake is concerned) ; he’s even great to play with – albeit unknowingly – while taking a nap.

As described in Mark Sperring’s jolly rhyming text and portrayed, with his dapper blue shoes and striped scarf, in Sam Lloyd’s exuberant illustrations, this Dad is a doted-on dino. who is sure to charm your little ones; and this is a lovely fun-filled, love-filled book for dino-littles to give to a dad on his special day be that Father’s Day, a birthday or for that matter, any other day they want to bring a Daddy smile.

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work
Sarah Kilbride and Ada Grey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

If you ever thought being a princess was fun, or even easy, then this funny rhyming picture book will set you straight.
Imagine having to sit for ages on a throne, or smile benevolently and wave at your subjects when all you feel like doing is having a nap.

Think of having no time to play, of trying to keep all those body noises inside and definitely no nose-picking. Table manners have to be immaculate and fussy eating is not allowed.

Worse still are all the spinning wheels and dragons you might have to contend with and what about all those frogs just waiting for a kiss to be bestowed upon them.

You’d have to look neat and spotlessly clean at all times which makes pretty much anything fun strictly off limits.

Just being yourself- a real little girl – moody, energetic, noisy, messy yes of course, but also kind and generous is much better. That’s the opinion of one would-be princess’s mum and dad, and they want their daughter to know that they love her for who and what she is.

Read-aloud entertainment for would-be little princesses especially, but also for all who have imagined what taking on such a role might entail.
Ada Grey’s scenes of the trials and tribulations involved in so doing are full of amusing details – the frogs that invade almost every page are a real hoot – and the little royals, a delight.

I’ve signed the charter  

Along Came A Different

Along Came A Different
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What is a ‘Different’? Well that all depends on your perspective. If you’re a Red then it could be a Yellow and vice-versa.

Suppose however, quite unexpectedly, a Blue happens along into ‘your’ territory sporting a blue bow tie, twanging a blue guitar and slurping a blueberry shake, supremely happy in its blueness, then what? It might well mean trouble and dare I say, separatism. BIG TROUBLE indeed, and by the look of things, a complete loss of joie de vivre.

Maybe it’s time to come together and draw up some rules …

The resulting isolation of each group appears to be working – temporarily at least but then a whole host of ‘different’ differents appear on the scene – friendly ones; could that be the start of a change of heart?

It might, but wait for it: how about a ‘really different different’ with an all-embracing attitude to life and living, maybe that could really make a difference …

Time to tear up that rule book guys!

Tom McLaughlin has surely created a fable of our divisive times. How much better we’d all be to take notice of the message of this wonderful picture book that blows the horn for inclusivity, difference and friendship everywhere.

It should be read, pondered upon and discussed and then trumpeted by all who value positive relationships across the world.

Grandmas from Mars

Grandmas from Mars
Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When Fred and Nell’s mum and dad head off for a meeting leaving their offspring in the care of Grandma they issue strict instructions: ‘homework, a bath and in bed before eight.’ It’s a similar situation in most of the houses in Nell and Fred’s town: the grans have been left in temporary charge.

Little do those Grandmas know however that far off on the planet Mars, they’re under surveillance and there’s a plan being hatched for their capture.

Before you can say ‘Martian’, the grannies have been replaced by Martian carers resembling those they’ve kidnapped save for one thing, they look rather, well … green!

At first, despite having noticed their Gran’s sickly pallor, Fred and Nell relish the zany instructions she issues and the fun that ensues. But then they look at her a little more closely: something doesn’t appear quite as it should.
Nell shouts: the town’s children make a dash.

Chaos ensues with the Martian Grans rampaging all over the town wreaking havoc to left and right. Time for operation ‘treat them like real grans’ decide the children, but can they screw up all their courage, put Fred and Nell’s plan into action and save their kidnapped Grandmas?

Michelle Robinson’s zany rhyming narrative bounces along merrily and is given added craziness – not that it was lacking in same – by Fred Blunt’s scribblesome, exuberant scenes. Make sure to share this deliciously daft tale with your offspring before you next leave them in their Gran’s care.

I’ve signed the charter  

Goat’s Coat

Goat’s Coat
Tom Percival and Christine Pym
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Alfonzo is a goat with a brand new, dapper coat; wearing it makes him feel on top of the world. He also has a kind heart so when out strutting his stuff in his stylish garment and he comes upon a family of homeless frogs in need of help Alfonzo is faced with a dilemma.

Altruism wins: the frogs sail off in a new blue boat; Alfonzo walks on in a cuffless coat.

But then he discovers a trembly cat, her tail in a trap. A bandage is required to stem the blood …

Soon the cat’s tail is covered: the goat’s nether regions anything but.

Further encounters with a panic-stricken hen …

and shivering hedgehogs leave the benevolent Alfonso alone and entirely coatless. Snow falls as night approaches.

Will the goat freeze without his coat?

Tom Percival’s rhyming cuddle of a tale is the perfect antidote to the current political climate demonstrating so beautifully that happiness lies not in possessions or self-interest but in friendship and selflessness. Christine Pym’s illustrations for his heart-warming story capture the feelings of helper and helped perfectly, injecting appropriate touches of humour along the way.

Board Book Choice

Where is Little Fish?
Count with Little Fish

Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Lucy Cousins who created Hooray for Fish adds two new board books to her undersea titles and they’re absolutely perfect for babies and toddlers.
In the first, Little Fish is in playful mood as he enjoys a game of hide and seek with his undersea friends. The repeat question starting ‘Is Little Fish … ‘ is an open invitation for listeners to join in with the game.
Finding him is tricky as there are all manner of hiding places on the ocean floor – behind the coral, inside a shell or the treasure chest, perhaps even among the seaweed fronds.
Tinies can enjoy discovering his location and meeting some of his playmates by manipulating the flap on each spread.

Here’s one year old Raf. doing just that!

Count with Little Fish is a rhyming suggestion to join in as the tiny creature swims through the water meeting 2 fin-fin fish

3 counting fish, 4 flying fish, 5 fat fish, 6 thin ones, 7 scary sharp toothed ones, 8 shy ones, 9 that have turned themselves upside down and finally 10 fish swimming in a circle.
A fun-filled first counting book.

Who is Sleeping?
Who is the Biggest?

Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Lift the flap fun with classy, textured images of wonderfully personable creatures partially hidden, on spreads absolutely bursting with colour in Petr Horáček’s signature style: what more could a toddler want?
In Who’s Sleeping? they meet a dozing owl, a napping frog, a snoozing crocodile, a sleeping fish and a slumbering Polar bear and a final child in dreamland in this enchanting guessing game.
A variety of descriptive words are introduced as contrasting sized wild animals pose side by side in the half dozen spreads of Who is the Biggest? There’s ‘Brave Lion and Shy Meerkat, Short Penguin and Tall Ostrich, Slow Tortoise and Fast Hare, Heavy Whale and Light Jellyfish, Noisy Parrot and Quiet Mouse and these two beauties …

But the biggest of all lurks behind Big Monkey’s tail. Now what could that be?
Wonderfully shaped wild beasts and flaps to explore add up to hours of visual pleasure and some new vocabulary to learn along the way.

Storytime with Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Red Reading Hub’s favourite board book character stars in a new addition to Sophy Henn’s lift-the-flap series as he contemplates the possibilities of storytime.
Will it be full of magical wizards with their twinkly spells? Or a stomping dinosaur adventure perhaps. What about a fairytale; Ted loves this one …

but he also enjoys spooky tales; maybe he’ll choose one of those.
Now his animal audience is assembled, and they’re all sitting comfortably, what will their “Once upon a time… “ story be? What would you choose?
Ted and his entourage never fail to delight and so it is here. If you and your toddler have yet to encounter Ted, I urge you to do so right away; he’s utterly adorable.

I’ve signed the charter  

Distinctly Different Chapter Books – Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo & Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives Fabio the world’s greatest flamingo detective: slender, pink and extremely clever.

When Fabio and his associate Gilbert the giraffe stop at the Hotel Royale for a cool glass of pink lemonade,

he allows himself to be persuaded to head judge the hotel’s talent competition, a competition intended to boost its business.

Disaster strikes however when Julia, the jazz-singing hippo and most promising of the contestants, takes to the stage and as she does so, the lights go out and Julia goes missing.

The police are called but it’s time for Fabio to put that thinking cap of his back on, hone his questioning skills and set about solving the mystery and one or two more that crop up along the way.

Delicious comic humour that will delight young readers and listeners, day-glo greens and pinks to dazzle in Emily Fox’s delicious illustrations and a layout that’s just right for newly confident readers, this comedy cum mystery looks – just like Julia – set fair to captivate its audience.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief
Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin
Flying Eye Books

This bumper graphic novel style edition contains 21 episodes featuring Akissi, a little girl who lives in a town on the Ivory Coast. This spirited miss is supremely self- confident and frequently finds herself getting into trouble for misdemeanours often involving her brother Fofana or her friends.

Her far from exemplary behaviour finds her engaging in such activities as ‘borrowing’ a neighbour’s baby for a game of “mums”; adopting as a pet a mouse that causes all manner of problems; barging her way into the boys’ football games and generally getting into fights and scraps.

During the course of all these mischievous scenarios and more, readers learn not only about the main protagonist, but also about her family and her life – in one story she gets tapeworm; another describes her being responsible for her nan getting knocked out by a falling coconut; there’s also a ‘head-lice’ episode and toilet humour too.

And if your stomach is feeling up to it, there are a couple of bonus recipes courtesy of Akissi, as well as instructions for hair braiding African style.

A comic book hero who could surely give Dennis the Menace a run for his money – memorable and for many I suspect, irresistible.

I’ve signed the charter  

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep and Old MacDonald Had a Boat

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep
Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Now here’s a cool idea: new author Katrina Charman has based her upbeat rhyming romp on the rhythm of ‘Baa baa black sheep’, and I’m guessing the playful notion of the strategically placed black sheep passenger on one of the trucks was Nick’s.

So let’s get going on our journey through this vehicular extravaganza, but first we need to make sure that those fuel tanks are full …

Now let the journey begin and see how many different things with wheels, not to mention rotors and sails, we can spy on our travels through the pages.
All that honking, beeping, zooming, chugga chugga choo-ing, flicka flacking, rumbling and scraping, vrooming, screeching and more is pretty tiring, especially when it’s kept up throughout the whole day.
So, come nightfall it’s more than time to head home for some shut-eye …

A terrific, rhythmic read aloud that’s packed full of wonderful sounds to let rip with, in combination with Nick Sharratt’s characteristic cartoon bright illustrations, (love that bus ad.)  this is surely any pre-schooler’s idea of picture book wonderland.

Old MacDonald Had a Boat
Steve Goetz and Eda Kaban
Chronicle Books

First we met the MacDonalds and all their animals with their truck and now they’re back in a new story, truck and all. As the story starts the truck has just drawn up near the barn and it’s pulling an old boat.
Then it’s time for Old Macdonald to set to work. Out come his tools. First it’s a buzz saw with a ‘BUZZ BUZZ here and a BUZZ BUZZ there.’
That’s followed by some hammering

though perhaps the pigs have a better aim that the farmer himself when they BANG BANG in those nails.

Gradually things take shape, then out come the blowtorches, the sanders and finally the paint rollers.

As evening falls their craft is launched and it’s time for a spot of water ski-ing.

Once you’ve had a couple of sing-alongs of Goetz’s text with the book, you’ll likely want to go back and take time over Eda Kaban’s expansive, brightly coloured spreads; of the farmyard crew enjoying themselves together and working together as a team. They’re full of detail and humorous touches.

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much
Kenneth & Sarah Jane Wright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Lola Dutch has big ideas; no, make that, grand ideas. They’re the kind of ideas that sometimes, just sometimes, her friends Bear, Croc, Pig and Crane think are ‘a bit much’. There’s one particular day that she’s set on making the very best ever.
Take breakfast for instance …

Or the trip to the library for ‘a little light reading’, an excursion which leads to the discovery of books about famous artists that send young Lola’s imagination into overdrive.

Before you can say ‘creativity’ the young miss has adorned not only the walls, but also the ceilings, with her very own works of art. And even then her creative juices are still flowing; Lola decides their sleeping arrangements need some alterations.
This last project though, isn’t quite as successful as her previous ones. Exhausted by the day’s frenetic activities, her friends quickly fall fast asleep; but somehow, sleep eludes young Lola.

That’s when nothing other than a big hug from Bear will do.
Lola is one of those characters you immediately warm to; she’s bursting with creative ideas, full of energy and her enthusiasm seems limitless. One imagines she could well be a bit of a nightmare to live with, but the kind of child you’d love to have in your class.
Sarah Jane Wright’s watercolour and gouache illustrations really do capture Lola’s spirit of joie de vie while her flirtation with ‘the great artists’ including the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, Klint and Monet reflected in her own creations will be of interest to both adult readers aloud and young listeners.

I’ve signed the charter  

Eric Makes a Splash

Eric Makes a Splash
Emily Mackenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When it comes to trying new things, Eric is a real worrier. His best friend Flora on the other hand is virtually fearless and loves to help Eric to feel as brave as she does.
She helps him with his fear of getting his wellies dirty; with his worries about trying a new sandwich filling, and comes to his assistance on the tall climbing frame.

When Eric receives an invitation to a swimming party his mind is a whirl of worries: supposing his fur got wet or water went in his eyes; but even worse, what if he sank to the bottom of the pool?

Flora thinks the purchase of new swimming togs might allay his fears but even with his new attire, Eric worries.

Eventually though he’s suitably prepared and off they go to ‘Soggy Towel Swimming Pool’.

Soon all Eric’s friends are having a wonderful time splashing around but Eric is reluctant even to get his toes wet.

Thank goodness Flora is soon by his side offering some timely words of encouragement and finally one very proud panda is in the water…

That isn’t quite the end of the story though. A mishap on the diving board precipitates a disastrous chain of events:

Eric is left without any support other than that supplied by the water itself, and is about to make some very surprising discoveries …
As always, Emily Mackenzie’s illustrations are full of fun and feelings. Her two main characters are totally endearing and complement each other perfectly. We could all do with a Flora in our lives when we’re about to make a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History

Fantastically Great Women Who Made History
Kate Pankhurst
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Perhaps 2018 is going to be the year of women. So often children are presented with books about what men have achieved in the past; now it’s time to redress the balance and hear it for the women.

Kate Pankhurst celebrates fourteen, managing to provide a great deal of information about them in this slim volume.

We start with Harriet Tubman whose double spread features a plethora of ‘Wanted’ posters displayed around the ‘Underground Railroad’ tracks. This, like all the other spreads, is illustrated with a wealth of delightfully humorous details.

Next come warrior queen, Boudicca, followed by Flora Drummond the Manchester suffragette who joined and became a leading light in the Women’s Social and Political Union (SPU). Not only did she breach Downing Street security, but also led Scotland’s first march in the name of women’s rights.

There’s Qiu Jin, who during her short life, campaigned against the tradition of foot binding in China and wrote powerful poems and articles that continue to inspire today.

Also fighting injustice was Sayyida al-Hurra who came from a Muslim family living in 15th century Granada. They were forced by Spanish rulers to flee to Morocco where she married a sultan and after his death became allies with the fearsome pirate Barbarossa of Algiers. In her determination to get her own back on Spain, Sayyida’s rule as pirate queen lasted more than three decades.

Others included are Noor Inayat Khan, the first WW2 female radio operator in Nazi-occupied France whose codename. Madeleine, was taken from a character in the book of traditional Indian children’s stories she wrote; Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman ever to gain a degree in medicine; Pocahontas; Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Ada Lovelace who made a great contribution to computer science; Josephine Baker, the amazing dancer who fought against segregation,

and writers Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame.

Kate Pankhurst does all these women proud.

The book concludes with a “Bookshelf of Brilliance’ and a ‘Great Words’ glossary.
In a word, it’s inspirational; in another, uplifting; in a few more – every primary classroom should have a copy and every child should read this.

I’ve signed the charter 

I Love You, Stick Insect

I Love You, Stick Insect
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Following his tasty debut, I’m Going to Eat This Ant, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has now turned his attention to another insect – a stick insect. A particular stick insect that is besotted with another erm, stick insect: or is it?
Certainly butterfly thinks otherwise …

Our love-lorn minibeast however continues attempting to woo the insect of its dreams positing all manner of wonderful propositions as to how the two might spend their time together – at the seaside, ice-skating or in flight …

and all the while Butterfly is attempting to point out that it’s a case of mistaken identity.

But with possibilities of biking

not to mention funfair rides, a trip to the movies and more, the ardent woer lets his imagination run riot until, as he reaches for the object of his affections …

I’d hate to be a story spoiler so let’s just say this is a crackingly droll tale with a rather tasty final twist that is sure to tickle the fancy of those whose sense of humour is somewhat dry.
It’s all deliciously daft and therein lies the appeal.

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’ portrayal of this love story, as well as having child appeal, could well serve as a February 14th gift for that special valentine.

I’ve signed the charter 

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Canine Capers: A Dog with Nice Ears / My Secret Dog / Safari Pug

A Dog with Nice Ears
Lauren Child
Orchard Books

Another deliciously funny, wonderfully whimsical Charlie and Lola story from the current Children’s Laureate is sure to delight countless readers both young and not so young.
Herein Lola’s current obsession is dogs; she can talk of nothing else and would like one more than anything. “More than a squirrel or an actual fox.
In turn, she pretends to be one, pretends Charlie is one and pretends she has one.
There is a slight snag however: her Mum and Dad will agree to a rabbit – Dad will even take her to the pet shop to buy one – but they’ve stipulated, ‘ABSOLUTELY NO DOGS!’
Nevertheless, it will come as no surprise that Lola remains utterly convinced that she will leave the pet shop with the dog of her choice, and goes on detailing her specific requirements for same. Requirements that include “nice ears

a bushyish tail like a fox” and “It must absolutely do barking.

Lola-isms such as these are an absolute hoot for adult readers aloud.
I won’t spoil the ending but let’s just say that it concludes highly satisfactorily with the naming of Lola’s new pet.
With Lauren’s trademark mixed media, droll illustrations this is a canine caper par excellence.

My Secret Dog
Tom Alexander
Jessica Kinglsey Publishers

In a first person narrative account a little girl relates the trials and tribulations of having a pet dog and trying to keep it a secret from her mum who has decreed they don’t have room for a dog.
It begins when the cute-looking stray dog follows her home and she allows him in, initially just for something to eat.
Her mum is out and by the time she returns, the little girl has the dog safely hidden in the cupboard.
A sleepless night follows and then it’s time for school. Another challenge especially when the dog, after behaving well all morning, decides to demolish a scarf and pair of gloves, and then leaves a deposit in someone’s wellies.
Thereafter things decline rapidly until finally the narrator is forced to reveal her secret.
There follows a mother/child chat where keeping secrets is discussed and mum also explains why the dog cannot remain with them.

All does end happily though and there’s a wonderful final twist to the tale.
Simply told and illustrated, this engaging story will have readers smiling, perhaps even laughing, at the young narrator’s antics.
Discussions about keeping secrets and the consequences of one’s actions might well take place in a classroom setting after the book has been shared. Equally so at home where it can also be helpful for any parent whose child wants a dog in inappropriate circumstances.

Safari Pug
Laura James, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third adventure starring Pug, the dog is awoken one night by screams from Lady Miranda who goes on to inform him that there’s a lion in the bedroom.
A search follows and housekeeper, Wendy, assures them there is no lion and offers to stand guard overnight just in case.
Next morning Lady Miranda decides Pug must prove to Wendy that he’s not scared of lions and declares a visit to the local safari park to confront one, is necessary.
On arrival the ticket seller refuses to allow their sedan chair inside the lion enclosure, deeming it totally unsafe, and diverts them to the Animal Adventure land.
Thus begins a crazy adventure involving meerkats, penguins, monkeys and yes, there’s even a rare white lion cub named Florence and a decidedly dodgy character by the name of Arlene von Bling who seems to be showing more than a little interest in the lion cub.

Humorously written, and illustrated throughout by Églantine Ceulemans whose art work is equally funny, this is a super book for readers just starting out on chapter books.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.

Santa Selfie / I Went to See Santa

Santa Selfie
Peter Bently and Anna Chernyshova
Macmillan Children’s Books

Santa decides to take a holiday far away from all things Christmas and takes off for the sun on a tropical cruise.
However, his hopes of a peaceful trip are soon thwarted when a little girl picks up a tell tale bookmark that falls from Santa’s pool-side reading material.

Before you can say ‘sunbathing’ everyone aboard the ship knows of the special passenger and he’s beleaguered with people wanting to take Santa selfies. There’s even one of his yoga session.

Eventually he takes desperate action and leaves the ship, but still he’s pursued by camera-clicking crowds. It’s the same no matter whether it be in Paris, Sydney, Cairo, Brazil, outside the Taj Mahal, or at the Grand Canyon, the snappers are there.
Enough is enough thinks Santa and with a quick call, courtesy of a small boy’s mobile, he summons his helper Elfie and off they go back to the North Pole.
Surely there he’ll be safe from selfie seekers …
I hate selfies but I found myself warming to Peter Bently’s festive frolic delivered with rhyming verve and illustrated by new to me artist, Anna Chernyshova, whose Santa-centric scenes are sure to bring smiles.
Selfie enthusiasts can take advantage of the cut-out back cover flap.

 

I Went to See Santa
Paul Howard
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Prepare yourself for a seasonal take on the ‘I went to the shop and I bought …’ memory game. It’s started by a little girl (love her Christmas specs.) who is joined by a slightly littler boy as they take turns to add increasingly unlikely items to the list of items bestowed upon them by Santa in the run-up to the big day itself.
Packed with crazy scenes of sparkling treasure, skating penguins, soaring through space and more, this will surely fill a few minutes of festive story time and may well spark off a game of even wilder flights of fancy with a group of early years listeners.

Fox in the Night / Snow Penguin

Fox in the Night
Martin Jenkins and Richard Smythe
Walker Books

Billed as ‘A science storybook about light and dark’, this is a narrative non-fiction picture book with a sprinkling of additional facts.
We join Fox as she wakes, sees it’s still daylight outside and so goes back to sleep for a while. Later, at sundown, she leaves the safety of her den and, guided by the moon and street lights, sallies forth across the park towards the town in search of food.

A mouse eludes her so she keeps looking; perhaps something static will be easier prey.
A bumped nose and a near miss from a car later, she’s still searching. Then, turning down an alley, her nose leads her towards something more promising – a barbecue in progress – and it’s here that she’s finally rewarded with a tasty treat to take back to her den.

Beautifully illustrated, this is a good starting point for a topic on light and dark with early years children. I’d suggest reading the story first and then returning to discuss the additional, smaller print, possibly using it as pointers to get youngsters thinking for themselves about why for instance, Fox bumps her nose on the shop window.

Snow Penguin
Tony Mitton and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Far away in the icy Antarctic, a curious little penguin is restless: he wants to find out more about the chilly sea and the snow. Off he goes alone to explore, unaware that the ice on which he’s standing as he gazes seawards has become detached from the mainland.
On his trip afloat on his little ice floe he sees blue whales, orcas,

an elephant seal and a sea lion with her cub. Suddenly he feels alone and scared adrift on the darkening waters. How will he find his way back to where he most wants to be, back with his family and friends?

Mitton’s assured rhyming couplets in combination with Alison Brown’s engaging depictions of the frozen Arctic seascapes and landscapes make for a gentle cuddle-up adventure for the very young.

What Makes me a ME? / Words and Your Heart

What Makes me a ME?
Ben Faulks and David Tazzyman
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a diverting book about identity: “What makes me a ME?” Who am I and where do I fit into this world? – these are questions that everyone ponders.
For the boy narrator it’s a mind-stretching poser as he acknowledges that at different times he’s like a whole range of things: sometimes he’s slow like a snail but he’s not slimy and his eyes don’t stand out on stalks.

He doesn’t have a tail so he can’t be exactly like his puppy Monty, despite being full of energy.
Is he perhaps like a sports car; he’s certainly lightning fast, but that’s thanks to his legs rather than wheels.

No matter what he likens himself to, essentially he’s just himself – special and unique.
Faulks’ funny rhyming stanzas documenting the five year old narrator’s search for an answer to his philosophical question provide Tazzyman plenty of space to conjure up some wonderfully comical scenes, and the boy himself with snub nose, specs and bobble hat is cheekily enchanting.

Words and Your Heart
Kate Jane Neal
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Words are powerful things: they can make your heart soar; they can make your heart sink; they can make your heart sing; they can make your heart hurt.
Words can be a force for good; or they can be a force for causing pain.
All this and more is demonstrated through characters Pip and Cat in author/illustrator Kate Jane Neal’s debut picture book.
‘This book is about your heart.
The little bit inside of you that makes you, you!’

So begins this unassuming book that goes on to say ‘the words that enter your ears can affect your heart.’
Her simple, but compelling message is a wonderful demonstration of how we can all contribute to making the world a better place by being mindful of the words we use to, and about, other people.

Executed with minimal colour, the illustrations, together with the empathetic and compassionate text that is orchestrated by means of changes of font, put forward a message too important to ignore.

A book to share and talk about at home, in playgroups and nursery settings, and in schools.

I’ve signed the charter  

All the Way Home

All the Way Home
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Little One, if you promise you’ll go to sleep, I’ll tell you a story. It’s so secret even your mama hasn’t heard it …
The tale this daddy penguin tells this is one: a kind of autobiographical snippet in a way. The Daddy Penguin is supposed to be looking after the egg while Mama Penguin is far away looking for fish but he wanders away from the Dad Huddle and together with the egg, is whisked up and away to the Arctic.
The creatures there are pretty scary-looking …

and decidedly unhelpful when it comes to giving directions back to the penguins’ home. Thank goodness then for one ‘hairy, sheltering thing’ that’s kind enough to carry penguin and egg to the northernmost place in the world,
Now as young children know, a very special person (here called the Special Air Navigation Transport Authority)  lives there, one who is more than willing to share the delicious feast he’s been rustling up with his visitors, the number of which suddenly increases during their stopover.

This same person is also willing to add a Daddy Penguin and his newly hatched chick to the load of parcels he has to deliver; and drop them off just in time for Mama Penguin’s return.

Gently told, full of tenderness and with enchanting illustrations: the perfect recipe for wintry seasonal sharing.

Halloween Briefing: Monsters Galore and a Witch or two

There’s a Monster in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books
Here we have one of those interactive picture books that are in vogue at the moment and it comes from the co-writer of The Dinosaur That Pooped series.
The book is invaded by a rather cute-looking little monster that seems intent on wrecking the whole thing. ‘Let’s try to get him out,’ suggests the narrator which is clearly a good idea.
Readers are then asked to shake, tickle, blow, tilt left, then right, wiggle and spin the book, turning the page after each instruction. All the while the monster lurches this way and that around a plain background looking far from delighted at the treatment being meted out to him.
None of this succeeds in dislodging the creature but he’s definitely feeling dizzy so loud noises come next; then even louder ones.

This works but ‘Now he’s in your room!’ That’s even worse than being contained within the pages, at least from the reader’s viewpoint, so now the idea is to gently coax him back into the book. There he can stay while receiving some tender head stroking and a soft ‘goodnight’ until he falls fast asleep. Ahh!
With Greg Abbott’s cute, rather than scary monster, this is a fun book to share with pre-schoolers particularly just before their own shut-eye time; all that shaking and shouting will likely tire them out making them feel just like this.

SHHHH!

Ten Creepy Monsters
Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gigglesome twist on the nursery countdown featuring a mummy, a witch, a ghost, a werewolf, a vampire and others who, having gathered ‘neath a gnarled pine’ begin to disappear until only one remains. But what sort of creepy monster is that? Be prepared for a surprise.
Trick or treaters, if mock scary ghastly ghouls are your Halloween thing then look no further than this gently humorous, little paperback offering.

Scary Hairy Party!
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Monster’s having a party; it’s at 3 o’clock and all her friends are invited. Fortunately they’ve just got time to nip into Raymond’s salon for a hairdo first.
Seemingly Raymond’s not on top form however, as one after another receives a style disaster.

What on earth is Monster going to say when she sets eyes on her pals with their new make-overs?
Light-hearted rhyming fun illustrated with crazy, brighter than bright scenes of barnet mayhem: just right for those youngsters who like their Halloween stories to be on the silly, rather than the spooky side.

The Pomegranate Witch
Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books
A deft rhyming text, imbued with spookiness and replete with rich language, tells a tale of how five children desperate for a pomegranate from the witch’s tree, and armed with all manner of unlikely implements, do battle with its owner to get their hands on a tasty treat from its branches. A veritable Pomegranate War is waged …

until finally, one of children succeeds in bagging the object of their desires and they each have a share of the spoils.
The following day, Halloween, a Kindly Lady (the witch’s sister) appears to offer cider and a celebratory surprise fruit to all the town’s children: ‘And not one child wondered who was who, or which was which. / The shy old Kindly Lady or the Pomegranate Witch.’
Surely they couldn’t be one and the same – or could they?
Not for the very youngest listeners but a fun read aloud for KS1 audiences. As your listeners savour Denise Doyen’s story, make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy Eiiza Wheeler’s delightfully quirky ink and watercolour illustrations.

For older solo readers:

Witch Snitch
Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The (Witch Wars) Sinkville witches are preparing for Witchoween and it’s the first Tiga will experience. This is especially exciting as Peggy has asked her and Fran to make a documentary about the town’s most famous witches. With Fluffanora acting as fashion adviser, what more could she ask?
This book with its numerous activities, facts and character information as part and parcel of the narrative, is sure to make you giggle. So too will Laura Ellen Andersen’s line drawings.

A Briefing of Board Books

Time to Go With Ted
Sophy Henn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ted, the wonderfully imaginative toddler is back and he’s ready to go.
Whether it be to the park, the shops, the pool or the playground swings …

he’s always sure to have the appropriate gear with him.
And being such a friendly little boy, he’s bound to make friends wherever he goes; so come teatime he’s got plenty of guests to share with.
Lift-the-flap pages hide a host of animals as well as opportunities for some noisy roaring, shivering, sploshing and making monkey sounds.

Listen to the Dance Music
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
Just in time for ‘Strictly’ here’s an opportunity to brush up on your dance moves with the animal movers and shakers. You can waltz with the wolves, tango with the horses, practise some Charleston swivels with the bears, salsa with the flamingos, rock n’ roll along with the cats and hip-hop with the frogs. And, to get you and your little ones going, there’s a sound button at the back of the book, so as well as enjoying the dancers visually, you can listen to the various types of music. What are you waiting for: let’s dance.

I Thought I Saw a Lion!
Lydia Nichols
Templar Publishing
Using the sliders on every spread, toddlers can develop their manipulative skills while enjoying playing hide-and-seek with a mischievous lion that invades a variety of venues. Is he somewhere in the restaurant? Or perhaps he’s visiting the fancy dress shop or the bookshop maybe.

Surely he can’t be getting his mane trimmed at the hairdresser’s, so where is he?
Built-in repetition and bold, stylish illustrations enhance the game.

Colours/ Opposites
Britta Teckentrup
Templar Publishing
Two popular topics feature in stylish look and find presentations by Britta Teckentrup.
In addition to the colour element of the first, there are opportunities for counting and developing talk on each spread.

Opposites here entails essentially, finding the odd one out, be that outside, above, fast, short, heavy, white, closed or small. Some concepts such as tall/short or heavy/ light are relative and thus not so clear-cut, but the rhyming text ensures that answering the questions asked is not an issue. Here: for instance,

‘Some animals plod / with a slow heavy pace, / but who is so fast she’s / winning the race?’

Opposites/ Colours
Nosy Crow and The British Museum
The two new Early Learning at the Museum titles contain around thirty fascinating objects from the museum collections per book.
Apart from the basic concepts presented in the two books, each fascinating image offers opportunities for developing open-ended conversations with young children.
You can look into recent history and go back over 2000 years with intriguing artefacts from a variety of cultures in Opposites. Or in Colours go back even further to 2600BC or be bang up to date with a Grayson Perry vase from 2011.
These chunky books will be of interest to children long after they’ve acquired the basic concepts related to opposites and colours.
Adults can scan the QR code in each book to find out more about the featured objects and there is a full key at the back.

The Marine Team / The Forest Folk / The Sky Guys
Madeleine Rogers
Button Books
Here are three new additions to the Mibo board books series featuring five animals, apiece, two spreads being given to each one.
Once again in each book, superb graphics are accompanied by fact-filled rhymes and there is a final fact page that tells you a little bit about each animal presented, their habitats and what we can do to help protect them.
The Marine Team comprises the green turtle, the great white shark, which is actually only white on its lower part, the seal, the blue whale and seahorses.
Did you know that it’s the male that carries the eggs from which the babies are born?
In The Forest Folk we meet temperate forest dwellers, brown bears, grey wolves, red squirrels, otters and deer, both male and female.
The Sky Guys features five bird species – the majestic albatross, the elegant flamingo, the wise owl, the guzzling pelican and the tiny hummingbird.
The rhyming texts will help young children absorb the information as an adult reads it aloud; and each book offers plenty of talking points.

Two Dragon Tales

Dragons: Father and Son
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures
Young dragon Drake, a chunky little charmer, lives with his pot-bellied father, a traditionalist, who decrees that the time has come for his son to start behaving like a real dragon; and that means burning down a few houses in the village over the mountain. Poor Drake. He seldom emits a plume of smoke and setting fire to houses is something he does not want to do at all.
Next morning though he does as he’s ordered and finds himself a likely target. Just as he’s stoking himself up to commence his flame throwing, out rushes a little boy who offers a larger alternative, the village school.
Here however, as he’s about to disgorge his destructive breath, the teacher and pupils disarm him completely with their appreciation …

and Drake finds himself heading for a third target. Yet again though, he is diverted.

What is his father going to say when Drake returns home and reports on his activities?
Needless to say, he’s more a than a little displeased; so it’s just as well that young Drake has, in the course of his travels, ‘learned a lot from the humans about being smart.’
Thereafter, we leave both father and son satisfied in the knowledge that there is, after all, more than one way to be a respected dragon.

Lacroix debut picture book text, although longish, is mostly in dialogue and has a droll humour that, with its themes of divergence and tolerance, will give it a wide age range appeal.
Badel’s watercolour and ink illustrations show Drake’s appearance in the village striking fear and consternation among the adult population but only excitement and adulation in the children he encounters. Perusal of the pictures also reveals an intriguing bit part player in the form of Drake’s pet bird which accompanies him on his adventure, appearing in both the large coloured scenes and the line drawn vignettes that punctuate the text.

Sir Scaly Pants: The Dragon Thief
John Kelly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Sir Scaly Pants, the one and only Dragon Knight returns for his second adventure.
It all begins when a fire-breathing dragon kidnaps the King right from his saddle while he and the Queen are enjoying a paddle in the river. The Queen is distraught and of course, Sir Scaly Pants, furious at the behaviour of a fellow dragon, resolves to do his bounden duty and rescue his Highness from the kidnapper’s clutches.
He leaps on his trusty steed, Guinevere, and gallops off eventually discovering the King’s whereabouts in a dark tower.

A tower guarded by the fearsome king-napper demanding gold in return for releasing his captive.
It certainly seems as though Sir Scaly has bitten off more than he can chew when he charges right at the open jaws of his adversary.

However, thanks to Gwinny, not to mention his own fireproof shield, Sir Scaly finally releases the King, removes his helmet and gives the king-napper the surprise of his life. It turns out that he’s not so wicked as Sir Scaly first thought: let a new friendship commence …

Striking, melodramatic illustrations with eloquently humorous expressions on the characters’ faces and in their body language, should ensure that this rhyming tale is set fair to captivate young audiences and win Sir Scaly more fans than just Flame.

Friends Return: Oskar and Mo / Alfie in the Woods / Elmer and the Tune

Oskar and Mo
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel
In his first book Oskar the raven loved a whole lot of things; now he’s back with more love. This time it’s directed at his best friend Mo and we discover what the two of them love to do together. After all, unless you’re a solitary individual most things are better if you have a friend to share them with.
They share a favourite place where they go to share secrets. A shared love of stories means that Mo loves Oscar to read to her – good on you Oskar;

they love playing together, whether it’s block building or hide and seek but like all friends they do have the occasional tiff. But it never lasts long because they’re there for each other whatever the weather, night or day, happy or sad, be they close by or far away.
Full of heart, this is a winningly simple portrayal of friendship and a great starting point for discussion with pre-schoolers.

Alfie in the Woods
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Little rabbit, Alfie returns for his third story and he’s out walking in the woods with his dad. It’s autumn and the young rabbit is collecting seasonal treasures.
He spies his friends and together they play hide-and-seek among the trees.
The mischievous little creature then starts using the available autumnal litter to transform himself into various other forest creatures: he becomes an owl gliding from tree to tree; a busy, buzzy bee, a hedgehog,

a dozy bear and even a tree.
All this imaginary play is pretty tiring though, so it’s a sleeping Alfie who is carried safely home by his dad after his crazy adventure.
Alfie has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and his latest story, with Debi Gliori’s captivating illustrations, is bound to be another winner.

Elmer and the Tune
David McKee
Andersen Press
How annoying it is when you get a tune stuck in your mind and the words just keep on going around and around no matter what you do. That’s almost what happens to Elmer when he’s out walking with his friend, Rose one day. First the tune gets stuck in her head and then Elmer too catches it and can’t stop humming the wretched thing.
So infectious is it that pretty soon all the jungle animals are humming that self same tune of Rose’s over and over. What are they to do?
Time to call upon Elmer. Can he come up with a solution to their problem?

Seemingly he can and it works for all his friends; but what about Elmer?
This is David McKee’s 24th Elmer story and his escapades continue to win him new fans as well as pleasing established ones; the latter, like elephants, never forget.