Five Bears

Five Bears
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

With every book I see by Catherine Rayner, I think to myself, this is her best, but now staring out at me from the cover of her new one are five absolutely wonderful bears and I know this is going to be my favourite ever.
It begins with just one Bear, a nice one by all accounts; but then he finds himself face to face with Other Bear, a shaggy one. Bear’s initial reaction is guarded, even a tad antagonistic so Other Bear calmly continues walking, followed now by Bear rather more slowly, each thinking different thoughts and looking in different directions, but both moving the same way towards a new bear.
Slightly suspicious, Grunty Bear asks what the other two want and seems rather embarrassed by their placatory response, so decides to tag along.

Soon before the three, looking right down at them stands the far from friendly Very Big Bear. “Go away” he says immediately. The other three ask “Why?” “Because I don’t know you,” comes the response.

Their calm, friendly “… good to meet you. Have a nice day” disarms Very Big Bear. Feeling a trifle lonely he follows the others. They now, we learn, are starting to think similar thoughts and to enjoy one another’s company. Of course they’re all looking in the same direction and consequently all spot a bear in a very large tree. A Stuck Bear but one that eschews their company and indeed their help, for its evident that Stuck Bear needs help.

So there we have four like-minded bears co-operatively and gently encouraging their fellow bear safely to the ground.

The now Unstuck Bear wants to know why the others helped and is calmly told, “Some things are hard on your own”

There follows a crucial life lesson for Unstuck Bear that is equally applicable to humans, for we too tend to be wary of those whom we perceive as different. Many of us know however that superficial differences are easily transcended and strong friendships can be built by kindness and empathy.
With her utterly delightful ink and watercolour illustrations, Catherine’s story is a brilliant one to demonstrate this to young children, though perhaps it’s not they who need the story so much as their parents and grandparents. Share, share, share wherever you get an opportunity.

My Pet Goldfish

My Pet Goldfish
Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

The young narrator of this gorgeous book is thrilled to receive when four years old, the gift of a goldfish. Naming it Richard, child and fish gaze at one another, one in its watery world the other without. Then Richard is put into a big tank along with lots of other fish so it has sufficient space to grow and after school our narrator talks to Richard about the day, convinced the fish recognises the speaker.

Little by little the child learns much about Richard, as do we readers. This information comes in part from the narrator’s observations, part from friend and fish expert Sandy, who lives next door and has a pond in his garden; and part from the factual information presented in a smaller font throughout the book. ‘Goldfish can remember things for up to five months’; seeing more colours than humans, they have very good eyesight that they use along with their sense of smell to find food; they breathe by means of gills; they lack eyelids

and the term for a group of goldfish is.a ‘troubling’ – I didn’t know that before.

Sandy shows the narrator his pond with its assortment of goldfishes

and offers the pond as a home for Richard, should he grow too large for his tank. Something that at age four-and-a-half Richard does, but there’s a long way to go for him to reach the age of the oldest ever goldfish – 43 years – wow! Sandy’s pond is then the perfect place for the narrator and Richard to continue their regular meetings.

Catherine Rayner’s narrative nonfiction account is based on her own real goldfish, Richard. Her delicately detailed, mixed-media illustrations are stunning, making every spread a place to linger and delight in the beautiful fishes, the often bubble-surrounded, aquatic plants in their watery world, and Sandy’s tranquil garden.
(There’s a final author’s note that includes some tips for fish care and an index.)

A splendid introduction to the joys of having a goldfish as a pet.

Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep

Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep
Catherine Rayner
Macmillan Children’s Books

Catherine Rayner has created an absolute stunner of a bedtime book in this story of Arlo the insomnia-suffering lion. He’s tried everything without success and now he’s feeling fed up and thoroughly exhausted.

But then he has an encounter with Owl

an expert at sleeping when it’s noisy and hot, and in her sing-song voice, she teaches Arlo how to wind down ready to fall fast asleep.

It works wonders and the lion feels rejuvenated after a long sleep. So much so that he bounds off to tell Owl, waking her up in so doing.

Arlo reciprocates with a sleep-inducing song for his feathered friend.

Both creatures are delighted. Their celebratory cheer in the evening however, doesn’t go unheard but perhaps the words ‘Have a good stretch from your nose to your toes. / Do a little wriggle, let your eyes gently close … As you fall into calmness, so comfy and deep / Your mind will rest and you’ll drift off to sleep’ sung as a duet will prove even more soporific where it’s needed.

Perfectly paced, the combination of a calming narrative with its in-built repetition of mindful meditative verses, and totally gorgeous, amazingly textured illustrations that take your breath away, this is sheer delight no matter how many times you read it.

I can think of no better book to share with little ones at bedtime; it’s brilliant through and through.

Hello Horse / How Far Can a Kangaroo Jump?

Hello Horse
Vivian French and Catherine Rayner
Walker Books

This is one of the Nature Storybooks series that provides a perfect amalgam of information in narrative form and superb illustration, in this instance with Vivian French as author and Catherine Rayner as illustrator.

Vivian’s text gives just the right amount of detail for a young child to absorb as she describes via her boy narrator what happens when he is introduced to her friend Catherine’s horse named Shannon.

The boy soon overcomes his initial apprehension about meeting the horse but under Catherine’s guidance his fears are soon allayed as he learns about how to approach, touch and feed a horse. He also learns about grooming and finally, how to ride Shannon.

Every one of Catherine’s watercolour illustrations is beautiful and she does bring to life beautifully the equine creature that we learn in an author’s note really does belong to the illustrator.

A gorgeous introduction to horses and riding.

How Far Can a Kangaroo Jump?
Alison Limentani
Boxer Books

Ever wondered how far a kangaroo can jump; or perhaps four rabbits, or even eight coyotes? If so this book is definitely for you.

It’s beautifully illustrated by the author who showcases eleven different animals in total, each demonstrating its leaping, diving, hopping, bouncing,

skipping, bounding, vaulting, hurdling or springing skill.

Don’t be misled into thinking the titular marsupial is the longest jumper of all though; there’s a creature that well and truly outsprings it; now what might that be?

The book concludes by answering Alison’s own question: ‘How many kangaroo jumps would it take to get all the way around the earth?’ and posing another for young humans to answer.

Trainers on? Ready, steady, jump …

On landing, readers can compare their efforts with those of the other animals from the book, each of which is shown mid spring on the explanatory back endpapers.

Joy / Harris Finds His Feet

Yasmeen Ismail and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

A little grey and black kitty is in effervescent mood as she goes ‘Bounce bounce, ding-a-ling, ring ring, let’s sing! And who can resist her invitation as the happy creature plays with her favourite toy

and then in her glee, narrowly avoiding a large canine in front of her, uh-oh, down she tumbles ‘trip, trip, slip, flop and …

Happily however, there’s a parent not far away ready with a little hug, a kiss, a squeeze and a quick check the little kitty is okay after a bit of a tumble.

What a wonderfully upbeat, rhythmic text to read aloud is this one from Yasmeen and unusually, she hasn’t done the illustrations. Jenni Desmond did those and they’re equally joyful and brilliantly expressive; the two together have created a smashing book to share with your little ones.

And for those interested in developing young children’s sound/symbol awareness, this picture book is in an entirely different league from those specifically designed for that purpose.

Harris Finds His Feet
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger

I adored this book when it first came out over ten years ago so was thrilled to get this board book edition to share with even younger little ones.

Meet Harris a small, very large footed hare. One day he asks his grandfather, “Why do I have such large feet, Grandad?”

Smiling, Grandad explains he and all other hares have big feet and goes on to demonstrate the benefits of same.

Together they spend time hopping, springing and mountain climbing with Harris copying his expert grandparent until he has mastered each skill.

They explore the world creating resting places as well as being active with Harris learning more every day …

until Grandad decides Harris is ready.

Then he explains gently that it’s time for Harris to discover more about the big wide world for himself and that is what the now stronger, bigger young hare does by using all the skills his Grandad has helped him to learn.

Every spread of this book is pure pleasure, as the little hare bounds gleefully across Kate Greenaway medal winning Catherine Rayner’s wonderful watercolour-washed spreads, pausing sometimes for discussions on his journey towards independence.

A must have addition to your board book collection.

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.


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,


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.’


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

eat my dog

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.

a dog
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


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:


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.


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 –


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.


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


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.


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


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