Let’s Get Ready for School

Let’s Get Ready for School
Jane Porter and Carolina Rabei
Walker Books

Meet Marley, Maya, Theo, Akiko, Ella and Zakir. These young children are about to experience one of the most important days of their lives: they’re starting school. Yes it may well feel exciting but that feeling is perhaps tinged with nervousness too.

The little ones share with readers, not only their feelings but their actions as they make themselves as ready as possible, trying to do such things as putting on their own coats and shoes and opening their lunch containers.
Then come two questions: ‘why do I have to go to school? and how will I get there?, both of which are answered with a spread for each.

Safely at school, there are lots of new faces.

We see them meeting their teacher and getting to know what happens in the classroom; how best to become a member of a largish group – working in a team, taking turns, how carpet times operate and more.

One of the most important lessons is a social one: accepting and understanding difference among your classmates and always being kind no matter what.

Then there are routines that help the day go smoothly: snack time, lunch time and playtime.

Not every single day will be the same however – sometimes there are special occasions to look forward to, but before you know it, the entire first day will have whizzed by and it’s home-time. Your grown ups will be waiting, having wondered about how you’ve got on and you may well be bubbling over to tell them all about it, or perhaps you aren’t ready to share your experiences just yet: it’s up to you.

With Jane Porter’s reassuring narrative (including a ‘worry page’), the plethora of speech bubbles and Carolina Rabei’s realistic illustrations of classroom life (why no story time, I wonder), this book will certainly be one to share in those days leading up to that big step, especially as due to the pandemic, youngsters may not have had those taster sessions normally offered before a child starts school.

Who Makes a Forest?

Who Makes a Forest?
Sally Nicholls and Carolina Rabei
Andersen Press

I received this lovely book the day after I’d spent a gorgeous (slightly damp) morning walking in a forest not far from my Gloucestershire home. I commented to my partner what an uplifting experience it was, (and always is) in stark contrast to all the pandemic doom and gloom in the media. Had I been out with youngsters I might well have asked them if they’d ever wondered how such a forest came into being: now I have an ideal starting point.

On the first page is posed the title question, followed by a number of possibilities, as two children, a male adult and a dog walk in a forest landscape.

How can something so vast and full of closely-growing trees and often, dense undergrowth have come into being? Could it have been created magically – by a giant perhaps? Or, as a large company enterprise? Or perhaps by other groups of humans?

It’s almost impossible to believe that something so huge was once very small but it’s true, as Sally’s effective story tells and Carolina Rabei’s beautiful illustrations show, demonstrating to children the entire process starting from bare, stony ground that becomes soil through the action and interaction of lichens, algae, moss,

and tiny insects causing a gradual fertilisation of the ground and eventual formation of soil.

Then come the first flowers, ferns and grasses,

the seeds and spores of which spread, becoming more flowers that attract bees and insects that feed on them.

Growth and change continue through the years, the centuries until there’s a huge ecosystem that we call a forest.

As the story concludes we come full circle to the ‘who made’ question and then read, “No. / It was the seeds / and the bees and the / roots of the trees. / It was a thousand / thousand tiny things. // And together they changed the face of the earth.’ A fitting finale to an inspiring story.

Not quite the end of the book though for the final five pages provide interesting facts about forests in various parts of the world and a last word about making a difference that relates to deforestation.

Whether for home bookshelves or school classroom collections, I strongly recommend this book.

It’s Rhyme Time with Big Green Crocodile and Seagull Seagull

Two exciting books that celebrate rhyme and encourage a love of same:

Big Green Crocodile
Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

This collection of original play-rhymes for the very young comes complete with how to ‘act out’ instructions for adult readers aloud. Wearing my foundation stage teacher and advisory teacher for language hats, I know that it’s never too early to start sharing rhymes with little ones, first and foremost for the sheer pleasure they afford, but also for enjoyment of the inherent 3Rs (rhythm, rhyme and repetition) and here’s a book with sixteen new ones to enjoy.

Several of the rhymes feature aspects of the natural world – Five Buzzy Bees, a tree to tap, a Tickle Beetle, fishes, a Big Green Crocodile, while others are about things little ones adore hearing about (or will once you’ve read them a rhyme on the topic) such as monsters, a Wibble-Wobble Clown,

a Moon Rocket a dinosaur (Brontosaurus Ride), and sharing baking and sharing yummy ‘ICE-CREAM, COOKIES / AND CHOCOLATE CAKE!’ when The Queen Comes to Tea.

Whether your children are babies, soon to start reading at school, or somewhere in between, this is for you.

Caroline Rabei’s wonderful illustrations showing enthusiastic young child participants in all the action make this an even more delightful sharing experience for both children and adults.

So, jump up, shout for joy and move that body.

Seagull Seagull
James K. Baxter, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Gecko Press

Opening this book on the page opposite the contents, I read ‘Grasshopper green, / Grasshopper grey, / Why do you sit and fiddle all day? // Grasshopper grey, / Grasshopper Green. / Tell me of the wonderful things that you’ve seen.’
I know that poem I thought to myself and then realised why.
This is a new edition of New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter’s classic poetry – a selection of 20 poems from his book The Tree House, written for his class when he was a primary school teacher. The Tree House first published I think in the 1970s, is a book I had in my collection of poetry books at one time and his poems have been frequently anthologised by people such as myself.

Equally, I can recall reading Jack Frost to some of my classes way back in the 1980/90s. That’s the one that begins, ‘Look out, look out, / Jack Frost’s about! / He’ll nip your ears / And bite your snout!’ How well I remember those lines and my infants shouting it when the frost set in.

The more I read, the more excited I became: it was a real trip down memory lane to come upon Andy Dandy again, as well as meeting again The Old Owl as it sits on the branch of a gum tree telling listeners and readers, ‘There’s nobody here / But the moon and me:’ …
‘I’m as old as old, / And wise as wise, / And I see in the dark / With my great round eyes. // “So hurry and scurry,’ / The old owl said – / Pack up your toys / And get ready for bed.’
What wonderful images these words conjure up: and they surely have for Kieran Rynhart whose lovely illustrations grace the pages of this book.

I have no idea what happened to my copy of The Tree House but I shall most definitely enjoy sharing Seagull Seagull with children at every opportunity.

Little Lost Fox

Little Lost Fox
Carolina Rabei
Egmont

Despite the lack of other children in the vicinity of her country home, Kate is never lonely. Her friends and playmates are her toys; there’s story-loving Miss Bunny, Mr Ted, with a penchant for picnics and her favourite Ruby the Fox.

Imagine Kate’s distress when she notices Ruby has gone missing.

She searches everywhere and then spies a trail of pawprints that she follows until she discovers a real fox cub.

Kate implores the cub to return Ruby but the little creature only howls.

The little girl understands that the cub is lonely and decides that a cuddle from a parent will make everything feel all right.

Off they go together on a find Ruby’s mummy adventure that takes them first to a hollow tree wherein they see not a fox but a squirrel mummy. By the waterside there’s a mummy water vole but no mummy fox

and on the hillside a rabbit mummy appears.

Eventually Kate discovers more pawprints of the same shape as the cub’s, leading into a wood, a wood full of strange sounds. Suddenly a pair of green eyes stare out of the bushes and the cub heads straight for …

Now the hour is getting late and with the foxes reunited, Kate must head for home. It’s a long way; how will she find her way back safely? Perhaps with a bit of assistance from her new-found friends. Friends that will keep returning to spend more time with her …

This warm story of caring, determination and friendship is a delight. Carolina Rabei’s richly hued, detailed illustrations show so well the main characters’ changing feelings as well as the beautiful rural landscape setting.

Binky’s Time to Fly!

Binky’s Time to Fly!
Sharmila Collins and Carolina Rabei
Otter-Barry Books

Binky has always wanted to be a beautiful butterfly but when his big day finally comes, he discovers to his dismay that instead of powerful wings, despite their shape, his are fragile, holey things, so wispy they won’t lift him up. Dreams in tatters, he creeps away to hide.

Some time later, two other butterflies that had emerged at the same time discover him and offer to help.

Seeking the assistance of the silkworms, the spiders and the bees, the team work away until at last Binky’s wings are transformed.

They look amazing but will they allow him to take off ?

Acknowledging his inherent difference but thankful and full of hope, Binky watches as his friends flutter above and then responding to their call, “It’s time to fly!’ he carefully unfurls his wings and at last …

Incorporating themes of inclusion and empathy, this movingly told and illustrated story demonstrates the power of co-operation and determination.

As Sharmila, the author says in a final note, this is a book about hope and freedom. Her eldest daughter, the inspiration for the story, has the fragile skin condition epidermis bullosa and to aid the finding of a cure, Sharmila founded the charity Cure EB to which her royalties will be donated.

Rich in pattern and texture Carolina Rabei’s expressive mixed media illustrations are reflective of the softly spoken, uplifting narrative.

Poetry Parade

Silver
Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
‘ …
It’s lovely to see Carolina Rabei’s enchanting visual interpretation of a de la Mare poem that was a childhood favourite of mine. I still have all the words in my head and often used to visualise a moon wandering silently in those ‘silver shoon’.

The illustrator imbues the whole thing with dreamy magic as she portrays the moon as feline, tiptoeing among the silver fruited tree branches, and then across the ground pursued by two small children and a host of faery folk, past the log-like sleeping dog …

and watched by all manner of nocturnal creatures that all gather in a clearing …

before some of them take a small boat and glide across the water while ‘moveless fish in the water gleam’ and the two children fall fast asleep. AAAHHH! Gorgeous.

Little Lemur Laughing
Joshua Seigal
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I’m always excited to discover new poets and was delighted to receive a collection from rising star, Joshua Seigal. Playful is the name of the game where these poems are concerned: they cover all manner of topics from food (for instance Johnny and The MANGO wherein a boy retires to a warm tub to consume his favourite tea) to Fireworks; Seagulls to Stickers and Conkers to Colours and Chat. Alliteration abounds – indeed there is a page at the back of the book in which Seigal talks about his use of this in the title poem; there’s a generous sprinkling of concrete poems –

and some, such as Turvy & Topsy are completely bonkers, but went down well with my listeners.
In fact there isn’t a single one that isn’t lots of fun to read aloud to younger primary children. I’d certainly recommend adding this to a KS1 or early years teacher’s collection and buy it for any youngster whom you want to turn on to poetry.

The Fire Horse
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam & Daniil Kharms
The New York Review Children’s Collection
This contains three longish poems, one from each of the authors, all being translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and each having a different illustrator. The title poem has wonderful art by Lydia Popova; Mandelastam’s Two Trams artist, Boris Ender, used a limited (almost exclusively, black, grey and red) colour palette for his superbly stylish portrayal of the two tramcars. The final work, Play portrays verbally and visually three boys absorbed in their imaginary play worlds, the illustrations being done by Vladimir Konashevich.
For me, the book’s illustrations make it worthwhile, showing as they do, Soviet book illustrations from almost a century ago.
For book collectors/art connoisseurs rather than general readers, I’d suggest.

I’ve signed the charter 

Summer Evening/Unbelievable Summer Truth

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Summer Evening
Walter de la Mare illustrated by Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber
What a glorious evocation of the countryside in summer is this book. Just eight lines penned by one of our best loved poets, have now been made into a glowing portrayal of a group of people delighting in their rural life as the sun slowly sinks over the hills.
We share the red, orange and golden sunset with the Farmer, a woman and two children, a cat and a dog,

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Old Rover in his moss-greened house/ Mumbles a bone, /and barks at a mouse.’
We then see the children following a cat-and-mouse chase as it unfolds inside and out …

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until finally, peace and harmony are restored, the animals all fed and the sun has given way to the moon.
You can almost hear that scintillating shimmering sun and feel that incandescent haze of high summer

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coming off the pages through Caroline Rabei’s scenes in this beautiful synthesis of poetry and pictures.
A ‘must have’ for the family bookshelf and for all early years settings and primary schools.

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The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
The summer hols. are over (that really must be a bad dream; they’ve not even started yet: but back to the story). “What did you do this summer?” the teacher – as they always do – asks the young narrator of this crazy tale. Instantly we’re on the beach where the lad, accompanied by his dachshund, finds a treasure map only to have it snatched immediately by a passing magpie. Thus begins a chase which takes boy and dog (and readers) onto a pirate ship …

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and thence into a fast moving adventure involving a giant squid, a submarine …

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a film set with a very helpful actress who assists in the retrieval of the map.

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With the treasure hunt back in full swing so to speak, there follows a trip in a hot air balloon, a foray into the desert, a timely rescue by the boy’s uncle (in his flying machine) who drops his nephew onto a desert island where the pesky magpie (yes, the same one) seizes the map once again.

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Operation map retrieval is thus resumed taking our hero to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and a snowy land populated by yeti.
Yes, in case you are wondering, the boy does finally discover treasure which, after all that, is something of a let down, although it’s not actually THE treasure but hey! the underwater scenes are still pretty wonderful. (Observant readers won’t miss what the boy does.) And that’s not quite the end of this bonkers book; there’s something of a twist in its tale; something that took place a few months earlier … bringing us back full circle to where we began, and I suspect readers back to the start of the book searching for clues of a visual nature, in Benjamin Chaud’s gigglesome, detailed pen-and-ink illustrations.
Another winner from the Cali/Chaud partnership.

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The Ride-by-Nights / Tickle Monster

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The Ride-by-Nights
Walter de la Mare and Carolina Rabei
Faber & Faber Children’s Books
‘Up on their brooms the Witches stream,/ Crooked and black in the crescent’s gleam:/ One foot high, and one foot low, / Bearded, cloaked and cowled, they go.’

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Thus begins this poem I remember learning by heart as a child and later it became an oft’ requested favourite from my copy of the author’s collection, Peacock Pie with some of the first infant classes I taught many years ago.
Now Carolina Rabei has worked her own illustrative magic on it, re-interpreting the verses and it’s great to have this picture book version of the timeless poem to share with new audiences of listeners and readers especially around Hallowe’en.
‘With a whoop and a flutter/ they swing and sway, / And surge pell-mell/ down the Milky Way.’ 

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How splendidly Rabei weaves a modern tale of a family ‘s encounter with those ‘Ride-by-Nights’ as they head out on their trick or treat evening of playfulness and are drawn into some tricks, thrills and near spills …

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courtesy of those ancient enchantresses.
The limited colour palette is well chosen for creating maximum atmosphere and I particularly like the way some spreads cleverly draws the reader’s eyes towards the starry skies while at the same time allowing them to watch the action unfolding below.

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From the just slightly sparkling cover to the star map endpapers,

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thrills are to be found at every turn of the page and I hope this spellbinding book will serve to send listeners to seek out other poems by Walter de la Mare, starting perhaps with the illustrator’s pictorial rendering of Snow.

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Tickle Monster
Édouard Manceau
Abrams Appleseed
Take a simple idea – tickle the monster part by part …

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thus deconstructing him and use his parts to create a more friendly scene – and you’ve got a real winner.

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Certainly that is so, if you are the artist who used bold bright, simple shapes to design the character in this amusing story.
I shared it with a group of four to six year olds who absolutely loved the whole idea; three immediately re-read it themselves, two taking on reading the text and one doing the tickling. They then worked together to create their own version of the Tickle Monster from recycled card and colored paper They too played around, re-arranging the disparate parts to create a new picture (not saved as they decided the monster should come knocking again). Here he is in monster form.

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With its patterned, repetitive text this book is perfect for beginning readers as well as for sharing with a group or class.
I’ve often read Ed Emberley’s somewhat similar Go Away Big Green Monster with young children and I can see myself doing the same with this one.

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Friend or Foe?

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One little alien built himself a spacecraft and sat inside to read the story.

My Alien and Me
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Tom McLaughlin
Oxford University Press
When is a human not a human? When he’s a small boy who crash-lands his rocket on another planet and meets the inhabitants, thus becoming the alien centre of attraction in this amusing story. The narrator is a small creature whose dad is an expert on UFOs and his mother eager to offer hospitality to a shipwrecked earthling visitor. This earthling finds his new-found friend’s school something of a trial, especially when it comes to such things as eating lunch with toes not fingers, or black-hole bungee jumping.

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Life is not peachy for either party concerned especially when …

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When night comes the small narrator starts feeling somewhat sad in his tummy and wants to talk. It’s time to make amends: but where has that little alien gone?
All finally ends happily leaving space for a return visit…

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And, it all goes to show that we need to accept people for what they are, and celebrate our differences and our unique individuality. Equally importantly we need to find out as much as possible about those whose world views differ from our own: that way comes understanding and the likelihood of harmony.
The important themes embedded in this amusing story are delivered in a straightforward, gently humorous manner by the author who turns the But Martin idea upside down, in effect. Tom McLaughlin ‘s visuals are wonderfully upbeat and his delightfully quirky scenes speak volumes about the feelings of the two main characters.
This one will definitely go down well in early years settings and younger primary classrooms as well as with individuals around the age of that little alien.

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Crunch!
Carolina Rabei
Child’s Play pbk
Crunch (aptly named because he just loves to eat) is a guinea pig and a rather appealing character at that. His life is pretty good: judging by his somewhat rotund appearance he’s more than amply fed and he has a comfy bed but something seems to be missing though he knows not what.
Then one day he finds himself sharing his breakfast with an uninvited guest,

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a mouse named Cheddar. All the little mouse wants is a small share of the tasty meal but Crunch is having none of it – or rather all of it. “No way! My food is MY food!” he tells Cheddar in no uncertain terms even when offered a hug in exchange. I suspect his feast didn’t taste quite so good after that encounter …

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especially as we learn that Crunch’s conscience is starting to trouble him. He’s managed to keep his food but in so doing has lost a friend. Time to move outside your comfort zone Crunch;

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you might just find something much more valuable than a mere meal.

 

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Beautifully visualised in subtle colours, lovely characterization and a delightful story that offers plenty of food for thought. I love Carolina Rabei’s attention to detail and the gentle humour of her illustrations large and small.

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