You Can’t take an Elephant on Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what your listeners will come up with.

The King’s Birthday Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop That Dinosaur! / Mamasaurus

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

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

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

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

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

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

In board book format for younger dino, enthusiasts is

Mamasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books

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

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

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

The Smidgens

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

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

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

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

Goblin, Gafferty, Mum, Dad and baby Sprout

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

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

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

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

Bring on the second story.

A Way with Wild Things

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Love Dinosaurs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Oceans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song for Everyone

The Song for Everyone
Lucy Morris
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night the Reindeer Saved Christmas / Santa Jaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tinsel / Santa Gets A Second Job

Tinsel
Sibéal Pounder
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Ghost / Snow Woman

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

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

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

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

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

– a place she can finally call home.

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

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

Snow Woman
David McKee
Andersen Press

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

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

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

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

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pirate Stew

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

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

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

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

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

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

and sating their appetites on doughnuts instead.

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

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

Pirate stew anyone?

Fox: A Circle of Life Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Made a Rainbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

or somebody.

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

The story is so movingly and beautifully written and illustrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoever said ancient history is boring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snooze / The Whales on the Bus

Here are two fun picture books that will ensure very noisy storytime sessions

Snooze
Eilidh Muldoon
Little Door Books

Courtesy of Eilidh Muldoon’s wide-eyed (mostly) owl, what is offered here is a splendidly soporific explanation of how to ensure the best sleep ever. Mmm!

It all begins well enough with our strigine narrator locating a comfortable, peaceful place for slumbering … errr?

– a place wherein you can snuggle and appreciate the surrounding silence – so long as other avians aren’t anywhere around, that is.

Darkness is highly desirable and some soft background music often works wonders

– so long as that’s all you can hear; so maybe it’s wise to check out the location in case of caterwauling felines and yapping pooches. And if your neighbours are not aware of your desire to sleep, a polite request to keep the volume down would be appropriate.

That should mean, that at last it really is slumber time; aaaah!. And once you’ve had that wonderful sleep why not do as our narrator suggests and let one of your pals try using the book too. Sweet dreams …

The clever combination of tongue-in-cheek text and wryly amusing, beautifully executed illustrations make for a splendid debut picture book from Eilidh Muldoon. Whether or not it works as a bedtime story, I’ll leave you to discover.

The Whales on the Bus
Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Expect a great deal of enthusiastic noise and lots of action when you share this with little ones. It’s an open invitation to choo, choo, zoom, zoom. dive, loop-the-loop, quack, quack, beep, roar,

yo, ho ho, slip and slide, float and even perhaps whisper nighty night along with the bus riding whales, crane train passengers, skiing bees, jeep driving sheep, submarine diving seals, gliding piloting tiger, truckload of ducks, skating snakes

and the other adventurers in Katrina Charman’s joyful animal extravangaza.

Using the tune of the nursery favourite ‘The wheels on the bus’ and showing each in turn of Nick’s zany scenes of the (largely) cacophony-creating creatures you can have an absolute whale of a time with a class of pre-schoolers when you read this.

Slightly older children could have terrific fun creating their own verses to add to those composed by Katrina and then illustrating them. Bring it on, say I.

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