The Go-Away Bird

The Go-Away Bird
Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

The Go-Away-bird is a real African species (so named after its call that sounds as though it’s warning others when it sees danger).

Julia Donaldson makes her bird a loner that drives away potential friends, although apparently go-away birds can sometimes be found in groups of as many as thirty. So let’s meet the story one right away.

‘The Go-Away bird sat up in her nest, / With her fine grey wings and her fine grey crest.’

Thus begins this story wherein one after another the Chit-Chat bird, the Peck- Peck bird, the Flip-Flap bird approach her tree wanting to talk, share a meal or fly with her and each is insulted and given the same “Go away! Go away! Go away!” rejection.

Then along comes the very large and dangerous Get-You bird with just one thing in mind – a tasty meal. Oh no!

Luckily for the Go-away bird along comes a Come-back bird willing to stick his beak out and summon his friends.

Now it looks as though it’s time for the naysayer to understand the need for, and appreciate, friendship after all.

This is a stellar author/artist partnership. Julia’s witty, bouncy rhyming text is pure pleasure to read aloud and highly join-in-able; and Catherine’s art is simply awesome – richly coloured and textured, superbly expressive: every spread is a joy to linger over – after you’ve read the story aloud once first.

A golden tale about the importance of friendship, co-operation and teamwork that is just perfect for sharing and discussing.

One Happy Tiger/ Colours: A Walk in the Countryside / My Little Cities: London

One Happy Tiger
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press
What a delight to have Augustus back and between the sturdy covers of a wonderful board book. Everything about this is splendid from the look and feel of that cover through to Augustus’s sublime smile as he watches the movements of his ten friends on the final spread.
In between, he starts off sitting alone and then we see a sequence of encounters with 2 bugs (beetles I think); 3 birds with bright plumage; 4 ‘floating butterflies’;

5 dragonflies hover above his head. Augustus then bounds off leaving 6 large footprints and moves through a rain shower dancing with 7 ‘plump raindrops’ …

relaxes to watch 8 bees; splashes into the pool to tease 9 fish before clambering out to dry off in the sun and greet his friends all together.
This is a board book, (based Catherine Rayner’s Augustus and His Smile), that looks, apart from its sturdy card pages like a real picture book; and its shape is truly satisfying too. Adults will get as much pleasure as the toddlers they share this one with.

Colours: A walk in the countryside
Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
Published in collaboration with the National Trust, this is another delightful countryside walk wherein readers accompany two toddlers on a joyful nature ramble; this time, it’s colour-related. We join the children as they exuberantly run down a slope surrounded by green – look closely and you’ll see a cricket and a butterfly on the plants. They stop to observe a ladybird on a grass stem in a poppyfield; then notice an orange-tip butterfly by a stone wall; a group of ants attracts the attention of the boy while the girl views a black bird through her binoculars. Their walk continues apace till picnic time, when they have a snack before moving on, all the while keeping their eyes open for interesting sightings such as …

A veritable paintbox of twelve colours and an entire rainbow are part and parcel of their rural ramblings. Awe and wonder for tinies: if this doesn’t inspire an adult to take their young infant out into the countryside on an observation walk, which may or may not mirror that of the children in this lovely little book, I’d be very surprised.

My Little Cities London
Jennifer Adams and Greg Pizzoli
Chronicle Books
Board the bus and take a tour of London. Ten of its famous landmarks are featured in this board book although none is named until the final spread whereon there is a ‘cast in order of appearance’ style briefing about each one depicted. The whole thing is beautifully presented, the text being in rhyming couplets; and the font changes on each spread.

Concepts such as new/old, many/few, soft/hard (rain) are introduced in relation to The Tower of London, the Shard, Trafalgar Square (many pigeons), the Natural History Museum (few dinosaur skeletons), and the two final spreads show wonderful illuminations – the London Eye

and Big Ben – against the night sky.
Altogether a class act, with so much to see and so much to talk about: that’s London. Author, Adams, and illustrator, Pizzoli, have, for toddlers, done it proud.

I’ve signed the charter  

One Lion, One Tiger – Two Terrific Tales

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A Hungry Lion
Lucy Ruth Cummins
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Wow! Subtitled ‘a dwindling assortment of animals’ this one’s a humdinger: droll, dark – very dark, and a real twister of a tale.
‘Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.’ Here they all are looking happy enough …

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(I’d count them if I were you.)
Turn over a couple of times and things seem to have changed somewhat : that line up doesn’t look at all like it did … Hmm!

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After a third ‘Once upon a time’ it’s dwindled to a turtle, a pig (the regular- sized one) and the floppy-eared rabbit. One more page turn leaves just A HUNGRY LION and er, that turtle. Oh, oops! It’s just the lion now and he’s about to exit stage right. But on goes our valiant narrator as we’re plunged into darkness followed pretty quickly by …

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Don’t speak too soon though – didn’t I just see that lion with one paw on the light-pull again: then omg …

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That however, is not quite the end or rather, there is an alternative way to finish this meta-tale of mischief and surprises…
Wonderfully and sharply witty, Cummins’ subtle, slow burning, dead-pan narrative voice(s) cry out to be read over and over and … and her mixed media illustrations are equally, to be savoured. In combination, they’re pretty near perfect.
This reviewer’s certainly hungry for more, as are all those – young and not so young – I’ve shared this tasty treat with.

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Augustus and His Smile
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press
There seems to have been something of a richness of tiger picture books this year but nobody captures the tigerishness of tigers better than Catherine Rayner: nothing is more quintessentially TIGER than her paintings of Augustus. The landscapes – grasslands, mountains,

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oceans and deserts
– through which Augustus moves in search of his lost smile are beautifully suggested rather than detailed, leaving space for children’s imaginations to work, and so it is with her carefully chosen words. Words such as ‘He pranced and paraded through the largest desert, making shadow shapes in the sun.’

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The message in this lovely book is one that everyone needs reminding of from time to time: wherever you are, open your eyes to nature’s beauty and you will surely find something to bring on a smile.
I can hardly believe it’s a decade since this beauty first appeared: it’s certainly lost none of its appeal.

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Solomon and Mortimer

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Solomon and Mortimer
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books
Solomon crocodile is back and he’s as mischievous as ever, especially now he’s teamed up with pal Mortimer and the two of them are feeling bored and in need of some fun.
Tree climbing proves pretty disastrous …

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Lizard chasing upsets the lizards and as for flying – best forgotten straightaway. So on go the little crocs. still searching for that illusive fun. Then Solomon comes up with a hippo-teasing plan. But can the mischief makers carry it through or will the interfering pelicans, the nosy butterflies or the grumpy toad …

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give the game away and sabotage their seemingly perfect plot?

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Let’s just say, it’s a smashingly splashing finale and every one of the animals ends up with a huge grin …
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Spot on for early years story time sessions. Mischievous lead characters (those toothy grins are just delicious), wonderfully detailed watery scenes, a build-up of suspense as the big push opportunity draws closer and a satisfying conclusion – albeit not the intended one.
All in all, a read aloud treat that will be asked for over and over.

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Canine Catastrophes

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This book just ate my dog!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press
Many of us avid readers devour books but here the situation is altogether different; it’s the book that does the devouring. All begins normally as Bella is walking her large spotty dog across the first page, but when he reaches the gutter, he starts to disappear headfirst

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and by the next page has vanished altogether, his lead protruding from the crack. Along comes Ben offering to help but he too meets the same fate, as does the rescue service van, followed by a police car and a fire engine! Time for Bella to take over but at the turn of a page and a very large BURP she too falls victim to the dreaded gutter.
All is not lost however; seemingly Bella has somehow managed to slip a note out to us book-devouring readers issuing instructions on how to help her escape. Wiggle, shake and shake and shake and shake and wiggle once again …

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normality restored –more or less.

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Don’t forget to read Bella’s final instructions or …. Oh well, we are bound to go back and start all over anyway.
Very clever, very funny and very, very satisfying.

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Smelly Louie
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books
Fresh from the bathtub, Louie has lost his unique doggy smell; instead, there’s a distinct aroma of roses and apple blossom about him. One unhappy Louie: off he goes in search of his own elusive odour. Fox, the snails, even some friendly flies all come up with helpfully pongy possibilities and then an improved, but not yet perfect Louise remembers the stagnant pond. There he wallows until his ‘Special Smell’ is restored. Back home trots a satisfied Louie with a big smile on his face; but what is that powerful aroma coming from upstairs and that noise?

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Please not –
Once again, Catherine Rayner’s characterization is superb. The text, with its scattering of alliteration, is a delight to read aloud and the circularity of her shaggy dog story so satisfying, for readers and listeners that is, although not perhaps for its determined canine protagonist. Her illustrations here exhibit a delightful blend of scribbled exuberance in Louie’s glorious messiness and the detailed, fine control evident in the small creatures such as snails and bees and the flora around them.

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One can almost smell that characteristic doggy whiff emanating from Louie on the penultimate spread and he’s definitely won my affection despite my not being a dog lover in general.

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Count with Abigail and Pete

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Abigail
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press pbk
Glorious images and colours of Rayner’s silkscreen illustrations evoke the African savannah setting of this story wherein giraffe, Abigail has to go to great lengths to pursue her favourite hobby – counting. The trouble is her numerical targets just won’t stay still:

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Ladybird scuttles away, the leaves on the tree get gobbled up, Zebra is in constant motion and Cheetah’s splotches are a definite no – he’s way too fast.

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Then kindly Ladybird suggests a field of flowers and all her pals pitch in to help with the count. Their counting skills however, are less developed than Abigails’ so a lesson ensues; but it proves a very long one. So long in fact that night is falling by the time their skills are sufficiently honed but Abigail is not one to give up easily, especially when the night sky is full of twinkling stars –

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and they are most definitely not going anywhere in a hurry.
The lovely shapes, patterns and contours of the animals’ bodies make them become real characters in their own right: in particular Abigail’s stature and grace are magnificently portrayed and one cannot help but admire her persistence.

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Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
Eric Litwin and James Dean
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This book is my first encounter with Pete, the laid back, sleek blue character who always remains upbeat no matter what. Even when as here, the four groovy buttons he loves, pop off his favourite shirt

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and roll away one by one. As he says – or rather sings – “Buttons come and buttons go.” Despite the loss of the last button he doesn’t get upset. Why not? Because our feline friend realises that he still has his very own belly button and that too is worthy of a song.

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Such a positive message for children, wrapped up in a quirky colourful caper of a story. And, there’s that mathematical element too: this engages the very young in counting, counting down from four to zero, and the idea of subtraction.If you want to sing along with Pete you can find his song and more at www.harpercollins.co.uk/Petethecat

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