Board Book Fun

Making Tracks: Snow
Cocorette
Child’s Play

Whether it’s young Alyssa on her snowboard, a polar bear searching for food, Jian on her sled, a hungry robin looking for worms or the driver of a snowmobile, their actions make tracks in the otherwise pristine snow.

With die-cuts and flaps on every spread this is a lovely tactile board book for little fingers to explore as they respond to the question ‘Who is making tracks?’ at every page turn and enjoy the simple, brightly coloured images.

Gregory Goose in the Jungle
Gregory Goose on the Moon

Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley
Catch a Star

Gregory Goose is on the loose in two different locations, one earthly, the other lunar – eventually!
Before that, guided in the search by a series of questions presented by means of rhyming couplets, little ones can join in the hunt.

In the first book they’ll encounter elephants, lions, a host of hungry birds, hippos, snakes and zebras before they catch up with Gregory, unless of course they manage to spot him hiding in plain sight on every spread.

The second adventure sees the little goose donning his space boots and zooming around the galaxy before his game of hide-and-seek finally takes him to that place whereon he plants his flag before sharing in the welcoming spread.

Bright, jolly art from Mandy Stanley accompanies Hilary Robinson’s interactive narratives.

I particularly like the detail in his kit boxes that set the scene at the start of each story.

Let’s Go! On a Rocket
Let’s Go! On a Ferry

Rosalyn Albert and Natalie Moore
Catch a Star

Through Rosalyn Albert’s engaging rhyming texts and Natalie Moore’s bright alluring illustrations, toddlers can join the child adventurers in these two board books, becoming space explorers who entertain the possibility of meeting aliens in the first story, and passengers on a ferry ride whose captain takes them far out and fast, before bringing them safely back to the wharf.

In this new series, as well as enjoying the excursions, tinies will likely acquire some new vocabulary along with way.

The Best Kind of Bear / Keith among the Pigeons

The Best Kind of Bear
Greg Gormley and David Barrow
Nosy Crow

We first meet Bear sitting in the library trying to find out what kind of bear he is.

When a little girl Nelly, comes in and asks him the very same question he sets out on a journey of self-discovery. “Maybe there’s a bear out there who can help me,” he says.

Travelling west he meets, deep in the forest a big brown grizzly bear who tells Bear he loves ‘nice long naps’. So too does our identity seeker but he definitely does not want to sleep for the next six months and with the ‘funny little stitches’ on his tummy that Grizzly Bear points out, he knows he can’t possibly be a grizzly.

Thereafter Bear visits a polar bear in the north, a spectacled bear in the south, and finally, a Sun Bear in the east.

Each encounter only confirms what Bear is not so he decides to go home.

In the library Nelly is waiting. It’s a very dispirited Bear who enters admitting that he’s no further forward. He knows what he isn’t, but not what he is: I’m just ordinary, he concludes.

Then Nelly draws his attention to his unique features – the ‘funny little stitches … washing label on his bottom,’ soft bounciness and smart bow tie; she invites him to be her bear and … then he knows that’s the ‘very best kind of bear to be.’

Greg Gormley’s wonderfully warm story is essentially a tale of identity and belonging and with David Barrow’s superbly expressive, smudgy ursine scenes that are an absolute delight from first to last, this is a book to read and re-read over and over, perhaps with small children cuddled up with their very own special bears.

Keith among the Pigeons
Katie Brosnan
Child’s Play

When is a cat not a cat? That is the question; and the answer? Perhaps, when he is Keith.

Like other cats, Keith has a predilection for pigeons, spending much of his time observing them. Not with the intention of catching the feathered creatures; rather he wants to be a pigeon himself. His feline acquaintances certainly don’t rate him highly as a member of the feline fraternity.

His avian efforts however meet with little success until he hits upon an idea …

Foolproof it might be, but water proof – er?? …
Perhaps after all, it’s best to stick to honing one’s feline skills.

Or is there perhaps another solution that allows Keith to feel happy in his own furry skin.

This reviewer is ailurophobic but despite this, couldn’t help but fall for Keith. His’ ‘hi-coos’ are a hoot; I love his poster creating,

note taking and his sheer determination to be more pigeon. And he certainly gets across the message that being ourselves is what really matters.

Storytime with Child’s Play Picture Books

Red Reading Hub welcomes the opportunity to catch up with some recent Child’s Play picture books

Astrid and the Sky Calf
Rosie Faragher

This is a truly magical story about a young doctor and a very unusual, special hospital. The doctor’s name is Doctor Astrid and she runs The Hospital for Magical Beasts. Thus far there’s not been a single untreatable patient or incurable illness at her hospital but that changes when a new patient suddenly arrives, a sky calf no less.

Doctor Astrid does her very best to diagnose the problem but none of her usual methods are any good at all. She’s bemused and frustrated, doubting her own skills, and her patient is far from happy. Surely there must be something she can do to restore the sky calf to her usual healthy self.

Happily there is, but it’s not sticky tape, potions or bandages: rather, the successful treatment involves showing empathy and friendship.

Full of heart, this is a sweet story beautifully illustrated by Rosie the author in a delightfully scribbly fashion. Adorable!

King Leonard’s Teddy
Phoebe Swan

Wealth and consumerism reign in King Lion’s world of use once and throw away; life is peachy so he thinks, merely sending his servant out to buy a replacement for anything that breaks or even gets dirty. Not once does he consider the idea of the environmental impact of his lifestyle.

But then his beloved teddy bear is broken one night. This is something irreplaceable so what can he do? The toyshop can only sell him a new one, the toy factory only manufactures brand new bears and all the repair shops have long since closed down.

Back home a further accident happens and this gives King Leonard an idea: perhaps he can fix the bear himself. It’s not an east task for sure but eventually determination wins through and what’s more the king has learned a host of new skills that he can use for the good of the whole community.

A delightful story that has a strong and very important environmental message that is never too soon for young children to hear. To that end King Lion and his trusty helper Max have compiled a final spread of ideas for reducing, reusing and recycling items to help the environment. Love the bold mixed media illustrations that really help increase the impact of the telling.

The Things
Petronela Dostalova

This is a somewhat surreal tale about  Thing. Thing has a best pal, Cactus, actually make that two best friends; the other is Moose the shadow puppet. Thing loves spending time with these two; he even talks to his prickly friend in bed.

Life ticks along well in its uneventful way until one day Thing discovers another Thing nearby. Thing 2 also has two friends Mitten and Mitten. But Thing starts to worry about the Other Thing: could it be dangerous?

Then Moose suddenly disappears and guess who suspect number one is. Nevertheless perhaps working with Thing 2 might help work out what has happened to the shadow puppet.

Young readers and listeners will definitely enjoy being in the know in this quirky tale of tolerance and friendship

The Lost Homework
Richard O’Neill and Kirsti Beautyman

This is the latest of the author’s stories set in a traveller community and features young Sonny.

Sonny loves school and usually gets his homework done on a Friday so he has the entire weekend to spend helping his family and fellow travellers with all manner of tasks.

On this particular weekend there’s to be a wedding – one of his cousin’s is getting married and there’s a huge amount of preparations even before the family leaves for the venue which is 180km away. Over the weekend Sonny uses a great many different skills that involve maths, music making, story telling, ICT and painting. Pretty well the only thing that doesn’t get done is Sonny’s homework.

Happily though despite Sonny’s fears, when he tells the class about his weekend, his teacher shows considerable insight and understanding.

A super story showing that school isn’t the only place where important learning happens; it’s illustrated by Kristi Beautyman whose artwork is truly captivating.

Milo and Monty
Roxana De Rond

Monty and Milo are two new canine additions to the McKenzie family but they’re very different dogs.

Monty is a sociable animal whereas Milo prefers being quiet and on his own. This behaviour worries the latter dog’s new family.

One Sunday afternoon some cousins pay a visit and Milo goes off to his favourite quiet place but when he gets there, it’s already occupied – by cousin Henry. It seems that Henry and Milo have much in common – both are tactile sensitive, have special toys that go everywhere with them and like a regular routine.

With new understanding, perhaps if the McKenzie family make some adjustments both Monty and Milo can be happy family members.

A sensitive, warm-hearted tale of differences and learning how to accommodate them with super equally warm-hearted illustrations by the author.

Child of St. Kilda

Child of St. Kilda
Beth Waters
Child’s Play

Here’s a part of British history about which I for one, had no idea before reading this book so a big thank you to Child’s Play for sending it for review.

In this fascinating tale of the last human inhabitants of the remote Outer Hebridean islands of St.Kilda, Beth Waters relates the story of those living on Hirta, the largest of the islands and in particular of Norman John Gillies, born there in 1925.

Dividing her narration into short sections – What People Did, School, St.Kilda Mail

and so on, she tells of the ups and downs of a subsistence community wherein everybody knew one another, crops often failed and there was no money; sheep were kept for the production of tweed, and wild birds or fish sometimes provided the food as supplies could only be delivered for half the year.

When John Gillies was not quite five his mother became ill, was taken to the mainland and there she died. This precipitated a petition from the remaining inhabitants of St. Kilda to the government asking to be moved to the British mainland and by 1930 the entire population was evacuated.

The islands are now a World Heritage Site.

Beth Walters’ monoprint illustrations of the sea, sky and cliffs, executed in green, blue and russet hues are superbly evocative of a long gone way of life; and she also includes some contemporary photographs and excerpts from her sketchbook.

Rosa Loves Cars / Looking Good! / Matchstick Monkey: Colours

Rosa Loves Cars
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play

This is one of a new board book series that celebrates the uniqueness of every child; it stars car loving Rosa. She likes nothing better than to do stunts and act out scenarios with her vehicles small and large.

Using her imagination along with some small world toys. she plays with them and her pals in a variety of places such as in the sandpit and on the car mat.
Finally Rosa and friend Samira use a large cardboard box to build a car themselves; it’s a great place for having a snack.
Rosa is a delight and it’s great to see books for the very youngest that promote gender equality.

Looking Good!
Ailie Busby
Child’s Play

We meet five adorable babies who have a characteristic- floppy ears, big eyes, pointy nose, sharp teeth and little toes and fingers – similar to in turn, Elephant, Bush baby,

Fox, Crocodile and Lizard.

Infants beginning to talk will soon enjoy being able to join in the repeat ‘So do I!’ hidden beneath the flap on each spread.
With their various expressions, the babes show off their particular feature that is similar to the animal flap beneath which they hide.

Fun, interactive and great for promoting early language.

Matchstick Monkey: Colours
Ladybird Books

Some people tend to show off and brag about their talents, confident in their ability to be the best no matter what. Others just quietly get on with the job and surprise everyone.
So it is with the simian inhabitants of Matchstick Jungle. Red monkey with his dazzling spins is convinced he’s the quickest and certain to win the race; the swaying blue monkeys think otherwise.

So do the zigzagging yellow and pink monkeys, while loop the looping green monkey thinks he’s the speediest and bouncing orange monkey announces that he’s fastest of all.
But what about quiet, unassuming grey Matchstick Monkey, could it be that he has something to show the others …

As well as enjoying the simple story, toddlers will have great fun using a finger and following the trails of each of the competitors in this Matchstick Monkey teether-toy inspired board book and develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination at the same time. They might also enlarge their understanding of some colour names along the way.

Nipper and the Lunchbox / Gently Bentley!

Nipper and the Lunchbox
Lucy Dillamore
Child’s Play

Nipper truly loves his owner, Richard who has to leave him at home all alone when he sets off to work every morning.

One day in his haste, Richard forgets his lunchbox; Nipper spies it on the kitchen worktop and sets forth to take it to him.

Handle in mouth, the dedicated dog journeys through the countryside

and after a somewhat perilous journey with all kinds of mishaps en route including getting completely lost in a market, manages to reach the town; albeit with some timely assistance and locate Richard’s Toyshop.

Once there he has to track down its owner and then finds himself the centre of attention as crowds of people stop to look at the wonderful new window display.

It’s a thoroughly satisfying finale as Richard makes him a partner at his shop and thus there are no more lonely days for Nipper. …

Lucy’s slightly muted, soft-focus illustrations are full of things to spot, particularly in the bustling market square scene where Nipper gets himself lost: there’s the plethora of pants that the creature then manages to get himself entangled with.

Nipper he might be named, but this small canine creature is determined, brave and resourceful. Based on a real life rescue dog, his story is a delight.

Gently Bentley!
Caragh Buxton
Child’s Play

Like most five year olds, young Bentley rhino is bursting with energy, easily excitable and thus, apt to get into trouble. “Gently Bentley!’ comes the oft repeated cry from his mum or dad as the little guy creates havoc in the living room; manages to slop his breakfast in all the wrong places;

he even causes a crack to appear across the ceiling, so exuberantly does he dash down the stairs before school.
It’s much the same at school; he trips and scatters his belongings everywhere, whizzes madly around the playground alarming his classmates. Again it’s a case of “Gently Bentley” this time from his teacher and pals.
Then on the way home he manages to terrorise the ducks.

Once indoors however, he spies Baby fast asleep in the cot. Now we see a totally different side of big brother, Bentley.

Many families and all early years teachers will recognise Caragh Buxton’s Bentley; he’s thoroughly endearing and let’s say, super-spirited. Perhaps though, he could do with a little bit of regular yoga breathing or mindfulness.

Errol’s Garden

Errol’s Garden
Gillian Hibbs
Child’s Play

Urban tower-block-dwelling Errol loves to grow things; he knows he’s good at the job as his family starts running out of space in their cramped home. The green-fingered lad dreams of having a real garden to cultivate and one day discovers the perfect spot: a flat roof on top of the very block he lives in.

With the help of his Dad and small sister, he researches

and then enlists the help of all his friends and neighbours and together they draw up a plan.

Everyone has something to contribute …

and they each take on a different aspect of project garden until together they create a smashing green space that’s full of plants both edible and beautiful to look at.

What joy to be able to harvest produce from right there atop their very own place of residence

and to have a place that’s constantly changing and surprising them.

As well as a celebration of cultivating a community garden, this smashing story celebrates diversity and co-operation.
Errol is both enterprising and inspiring: a lad to emulate no matter whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural environment.

I am at present living in a house in the country with a huge garden, so I know the enormous pleasure of being able to consume home-grown produce – plums, apples, strawberries, beans, tomatoes and chard – to name just some of its bounties, for several months of the year. You can’t beat that and it’s what bursts forth from Gillian Hibbs’ super spreads.

Thoroughly recommended for families and classrooms.

Polonius the Pit Pony

Polonius the Pit Pony
Richard O’Neill and Feronia Parker-Thomas
Child’s Play

Having taught many Traveller children in various London schools, I was thrilled to have this new addition to Child’s Play’s books that feature travellers and their way of life.

This one tells of an erstwhile pit pony that escapes his underground life and gets in with a group of horses belonging to a Travelling family. Initially there’s some reluctance on their part to accept a pit pony: Grandad in particular wants to send him back to his fellow pit ponies but eventually he is persuaded to keep the animal and his granddaughter, young Lucretia volunteers to help look after the newcomer.

Polonius is quick to adapt to Travelling life and the children love him. Now all that Polonius wants is to be thought of as a hero.

One day his chance comes when the entire family has a large order of wooden stools to deliver to the docks in Daddo’s brand new truck, in time to be shipped to the USA the very next afternoon.

Next morning though, when they are due to set off, the family is engulfed in a thick blanket of fog that’s come down overnight. Could there be another way to make that important delivery? Perhaps with Grandad’s cart, so long as they can find an animal willing to brave the thick fog and lead the way to the docks.
It looks as though Polonious’s chance to thank his new family and be a hero has come …

Romany storyteller, Richard O’Neill introduces readers to a wonderful, hardworking, loving Traveller family. With a sprinkling of traveller dialect he roots the family in its culture, an early 20thC industrial countryside, although some of the words are still used today. Readers and listeners will be able to work out the gist of the meaning of the occasional unfamiliar words from the context.
Feronia Parker Thomas’ scenes of a bygone rural life are painted with delicacy and really show the warmth of family feeling for one another and for their animals.

Beyond the Fence

Beyond the Fence
Maria Gulemetova
Child’s Play

Thomas and Piggy live together in a large country house. Thomas always takes the lead when it comes to decision making, no matter what ‘He just knew.’

When Thomas’s cousin visits, the boy is preoccupied with her and that’s when Piggy decides to venture outside the confines of the house.

On his walk he encounters Wild Pig.

Wild Pig asks Piggy some thought-provoking questions about his way of life and Piggy returns home.

Thereafter he makes frequent visits to the great outdoors in the hope of seeing his new friend but he never appears.

One evening however, there he is full of apologies and an explanation. He invites Piggy to accompany him into the forest. Piggy declines on account of it being out of bounds although he promises to meet with Wild Pig the following evening.

Thomas’s cousin goes home the next day and the boy is surprised and scornful when he discovers that Piggy has chosen his own way of playing …

Not for long though, for Thomas soon has the upper hand (or trotter) once again.

Will Piggy ever make that decisive break for true freedom? I wonder …

Watch young children playing. There are lots of Thomases but happily there are also plenty of Piggys and that’s what makes life so fascinating.

Maria Gulemetova’s picture book is softly spoken but embodies strong messages about being your own person, standing up for yourself, and what true friendship really means. Her watercolour illustrations (which put me in mind somewhat of the work of Ron Brooks) echo the sparseness of her text and that is what makes the impact of the whole so strong.
It’s a lovely one to share and discuss with people of all ages.

The Big Red Rock

The Big Red Rock
Jess Stockham
Child’s Play

The importance of play and collaboration are celebrated in a comical story about the large red rock of the title,
Bif, whose path is blocked by same, and assorted other monsters of various hues and talents.

‘Chomp, slurp’ goes Biff as he strolls merrily along consuming the contents of his breakfast bowl. So absorbed in his meal is he that he fails to see the large obstacle in his path until suddenly he can go no further. Shouting at the rock gets him nowhere so Bif tries a polite approach …

but to no avail.

Physical attempts at budging the object such as kicking and bashing it have no effect whatsoever and as Bif ponders his next move along comes Bop. He offers to enlist the help of the Big Red Rock Eater and off he goes to fetch her, wobbly tooth and all.

The lack of a firm bite means that mere nibbles are shifted. Bop though has other pals and each one has a go. Try as they might though, that Big Red Rock stays firm.

Time to play, announces Bif, giving up on rock-shifting attempts; and off they go to have fun until lo and behold, they find themselves on the other side of the rock. Bif has by now worked up an appetite once more.
I wonder where he left that breakfast bowl?

Jess Stockham’s assorted monsters are a willing, if inept crew and the sight of their ineffectual efforts is hilarious; I particularly chortled over that Green Rock Driller;

and the ‘Clanger-like’ Pink Rock Sucker. If you share this book with a class, they could have some fun inventing their own colourful Rock attacking monsters.

The Very Long Sleep

The Very Long Sleep
Polly Noakes
Child’s Play

Polly Noakes’ latest picture book is essentially a delightful extended joke.

Meet four animal friends Fox, Chipmunk, Marmot and Bear who decide to set up home together. They enthusiastically set about so doing but there is a snag: three of said animals hibernate come the arrival of winter’s frost, something they fail to tell Fox.

Inevitably he is disappointed that none of the others stays awake to share his specially prepared food; he himself is unable to sleep and feels extremely lonely.

Then one day the deliveries start. First it’s a parcel for Chipmunk; next comes a package for Marmot;

and that is followed some weeks later, by a large item for Bear.

Fox is the only one not to receive something through the pigeon post. He waits; his boredom increases: surely a little peep wouldn’t hurt, he thinks.
All of a sudden …

Now what could all that noise mean? …

Illustrated with warmth and humour, this is lovely and potentially rather noisy read aloud to share snuggled up together, especially after a woodland walk. I’d suggest mugs of hot chocolate to sip along with it.

All About Cats

All About Cats
Monika Filipina
Child’s Play

Oh my goodness! There was I under the misapprehension that domestic cats spend the vast majority of their days sleeping: how wrong could one be?
The feline narrator of this book confides in readers, offering an altogether different picture, with a whole host of activities being on the agenda once those humans are out of the way and the cats left entirely to their own devices.
And there’s a variety of adorable moggies to participate in this show and tell.
Naturally after a fair bit of physical exercise, the odd snooze is perfectly in order but there’s too much to do to let any curl-up time last long. Very high on the agenda is cooking when it’s a case of all paws on deck …

Snack over, a spot of knitting maybe? Or even better some reading time – a perfect curl-up opportunity methinks; or what about a swim in the bathtub?
Better still engage in something co-operative such as forming a band or being creative …

Seemingly there are no holds barred just so long as all participants are safely back innocently curled up in that chair by the time any humans return; then they’ll never know. I wonder … Observant readers and listeners certainly will if the mess is anything to go by.
Now I’m far from being a cat lover but these creative creatures are just SO appealing and full of mischief that I was totally under their spell by the time I reached this …

Superbly illustrated, funny and such a wonderful invitation to youngsters to get out their pastels or paints and get creating.

It’s Time for Bed

A Bear Hug at Bedtime
Jana Novotny Hunter and Kay Widdowson
Child’s Play
Imaginative play rules in this enchanting pre-bedtime romp: snuggle up and prepare for a bedtime hug or two.
A small child meets a variety of animals, large and small as bedtime approaches or does she? Look again and we see that in fact something entirely different is happening as she imagines various members of her family as animals: Gran morphs into a stripy tiger, Mum becomes a monkey,

her little brothers a lizard and a lobster. And Dad? He’s a huge hairy bear just waiting to leap out and engulf his daughter with a wonderfully warm, goodnight hug. Gorgeous!
Beautifully told, wonderfully illustrated and SO full of heart, it’s perfect for bedtime sharing.

Babies Can Sleep Anywhere
Lisa Wheeler and Carolina Búzio
Abrams Appleseed
There’s a distinct retro look and pleasing pattern to this languorous rhyming look at sleeping places. ‘Bats take a nap in a cave upside down. / Hay is a bed for a mare. // Wolves cuddle up in a den ‘neath the ground./ But babies can sleep anywhere.’
This three animals followed by one human infant pattern is used throughout the book until the final spread. This shows an array of sleeping human babes all looking totally blissful.

It’s good to see a mix of well-known and less familiar animals included, as well as the variety of human families on the final pages. Carolina Búzio’s bold colour palette is gorgeous.

I See the Moon
illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Nosy Crow
For this delightful bedtime sharing book, Rosalind Beardshaw has illustrated sixteen popular rhymes, lullabies and poems (mostly anonymous but with poems by J.M.Westrup, Thomas Hood and Robert Louis Stevenson).
Populating her moonlit world with adorable children, foxes, squirrels, mice and other small creatures set in scenes generously embellished with silver and gold,

Beardshaw makes each spread sparkles with colour, light and nocturnal enchantment.

Henry and Boo!

Henry and Boo!
Megan Brewis
Child’s Play
When Boo intrudes upon Henry’s peaceful tea break one day, the floppy-eared character is far from pleased; even less so when Boo resists Henry’s instructions to leave. The only response issuing from the little rabbit is “Boo!” Now that’s no way to win friends surely, but there you are; it’s what the pesky bun. insists on doing over and over. What’s a chap to do when Boo follows him everywhere …

and does everything he does – even headstands? Not a good idea for a little bunny, nor is intruding on the cake making, washing up (think I’d allow that one) and vacuuming – ditto, so long as Boo took a share of driving the machine …

Ignoring just has no effect: Boo pops up everywhere you can imagine, and everywhere you probably can’t and try as he might, all he gets is the cold shoulder.
Hello, what’s  peeping out from behind the tree, right by that sign?

Eventually Henry runs out of Boo-avoiding strategies; even hiding in a box doesn’t do the Boo-banishing trick: the ‘boos’ merely increase. Then as a last desperate measure Henry is about to despatch the intruder when events take a dramatic turn …
Perhaps Boo has some uses after all (that’s in addition to giving audiences irresistible Boo’ opportunities) Could what began as a total no-go situation, perhaps be the start of a wonderful new friendship? …
You’ll certainly have your audiences eagerly joining in with that irresistible oft repeated ‘Boo’ as they relish this super story with its enchantingly quirky characters, so deliciously illustrated and with important themes of understanding and friendship.

I’ve signed the charter 

I Don’t Want Curly Hair / My Tail’s Not Tired

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I Don’t Want Curly Hair
Laura Ellen Anderson
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
We all have bad hair days but the small curl girl narrator of this hair-raising story really has my sympathies. While I don’t have madly curly, well nigh uncontrollable hair like hers, mine does have a wave and try as I might, I can never get it to go straight in the right places. I certainly wouldn’t however, go to the lengths she does to get it super straight and smooth.No matter what though, that deliciously red mop does as it will.

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But then along comes somebody else; and things start to look altogether better: friendship and a spot of hair styling wins the day.

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The rhyme moves along apace rising to a glorious pinnacle in its final stages.
All that angst and anguish is wonderfully portrayed in appropriately fiery hues and all members of the supporting cast are a delight.

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My Tail’s Not Tired!
Jana Novotny Hunter and Paula Bowles
Child’s Play
Like most infants, Little Monster is reluctant to begin his bedtime routine. He’s far from tired: his knees still have plenty of bounce in them,

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his bottom has lots of wiggle-jiggles left, and even after a demonstration of same, his tail is still full of swing and his back ready for more roly polys. Any excuse is worth a try; but Big Monster knows all the tricks too: she counters each lively action with a gentle sleep-inducing one of her own.

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Will Little Monster ever run out of steam; and who is going to be the first to succumb to complete exhaustion?
Billed as a bedtime story, I suggest NOT reading it at bedtime, or at least, not until your own little monster is well and truly under the duvet, otherwise you could be in for a dose of action-packed delaying tactics – bouncing, dancing, acrobatics, roly-polying, roaring, jumping and jet plane-like zooming before that shut-eye stage finally sets in, just like the little charmer in this amusing, time-for-bed tale.
Perhaps it would be better to share it during the day when there’s plenty of time for being energetic, and, if you’re sharing it with an early years group, then it’s a splendid opportunity for some very active participation. Just ask the children to ‘SHOW ME!

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Quiet! / The Unexpected Visitor

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Quiet!
Kate Alizadeh
Child’s Play
We join a small girl on an exciting auditory exploration of her (seemingly single-parent) family home. ‘Ssssh! Listen, what’s that noise?’ is her invitation as we follow her from room to room. Staring in the kitchen there’s the bubble bubble of the pan rattling on the cooker, the hummmmmmmm of the fridge, the click of the toaster, the whizz whoosh of the mixer, the kettle rumbles and burbles, the microwave beeps and pings, the pedal bin clanks and Dad at the sink washing up, sloshes and clatters.
Mealtimes are equally noisy with four residents creating all manner of eating-related sounds …

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But there’s more to hear, so our guide repeats her invitation and leads us into the next room where I counted at least thirteen sounds in Kate Laizadeh’s living- room illustration, and that’s without baby brother’s giggles and rattles; even turning the pages of a book causes a swish and rustle

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There’s plenty to listen out for at bath-time and as bedtime preparations are under way, with hair drying and teeth brushing and finally comes one more ‘Ssssh! …’ as it’s time to get into bed ready for Dad’s bedtime story told in suitably hushed tones, and a goodnight lullaby. Those however, are not the last sounds we hear …

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One of the learning experiences most early years teachers do is to take their class or nursery group on a listening walk either indoors or out. (I’ve done it on many occasions). This onomatopoeic celebration of a book is a wonderful introduction or follow-up to such an activity.

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The Unexpected Visitor
J. Courtney-Tickle
Egmont Publishing
A little fisherman lives alone on a rocky island. Each day he takes his boat out, casts his fishing net and waits. His haul is usually plentiful and at night he has plenty to cook for supper. Far too much in fact, but the fisherman always hopes that others will visit, although they never do.
Then one morning he does receive a visitor, a big friendly whale. Although the visitor is far too huge to get inside the fisherman’s home, the two become friends …

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and even go on a fishing expedition together. That’s when the whale needs to teach his new friend a lesson, for the sea is decidedly empty of fish: not a single one is to be found. ”You took far more fish than you needed. That was greedy,” the whale tells him and the fisherman knows it’s so.
A promise is made and in return, the whale takes the fisherman and his boat to another island whereon he can start afresh, with a new home …

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a new fair fishing regime and a whole host of new friends, both human and marine-dwelling.

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With its important themes of sustainability, friendship and sharing, this thoughtful and thought-provoking picture book puts its message across in a manner that, like the whale, packs a powerful punch.
Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s stippled spray effect and the swirls add a touch of maritime depth and magic to the otherwise flat style of her illustrations.

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Home in the Rain & Home and Dry

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Home in the Rain
Bob Graham
Walker Books
How does pouring rain make you feel? I must admit it doesn’t fill me with feelings of joy, far from it, but when I read John Updike’s quote below the dedication in this wonderfully warm story, I felt I was being chided somewhat. Here it is and it’s key to the story I feel: ‘Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
A drive home from Grandma’s in pouring rain is the backdrop for Bob Graham’s warm-hearted story. In the little red car are Francie, her mum, and ‘her baby sister’ making her presence very much felt in Mum’s tum. The drive is long and the rain ceaseless; the car makes its way in the stream of traffic and as it does so we see the minutiae of life unfolding around: the baby rabbit diving for cover, the tiny mouse narrowly escaping becoming a kestrel’s next meal …

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the fishermen hunched in a line

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and the duck family just being, we even see a tiny snail and down below two men out of their cars arguing over a shunt.
The little car pulls off the road: Francie writes on the misted windows to help pass the time; she writes family names and then pauses; her little sister is yet to be named. They eat their picnic lunch and Francie snuggles. On they go and stop again to fill up with petrol: small events unfold: Francie sploshes in rainbow puddles,

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an old man feeds his dog, a small girl loses her sweets and suddenly Francie’s Mum has a name for the new sister. The journey continues, the world moves on; the sun appears.
Bob Graham provides plenty to pore over and to discuss in his tender depictions of everyday life. It’s a lovely book to share, especially in those families where a new baby is imminent.
Also with a rainy backdrop is:

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Home and Dry
Sarah L.Smith
Child’s Play
I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of living where the Paddling family does – on a small island underneath a large black cloud. A large black cloud from which for much of the year, heavy rain falls. This lifestyle seems to suit the Paddlings – Dad, Albert, a swimming teacher, Mum, Sally, who spends her time fishing, and their young son.

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Come summer though, the rain ceases, the water dries up and the family home is now atop a hill. Life changes for the Paddlings who no longer receive their regular ferry delivery of food and mail. Off in search of a place to picnic, they’re unaware that another Paddling – Mr B. Paddling has set out to visit his nephew.
Uncle B. as he’s known, duly arrives to find an empty house so he decides to go back to the station. Down comes the rain, up comes the water …
It takes a rescue to bring Mr Paddling A. and Mr Paddling B. together at last and a celebratory fish supper is served by Albert.
There are echoes of both Sarah Garland and Mairi Hedderwick in Sarah L.Smith’s illustrations in this unusual family story. Much is shown in the watery paintings that isn’t told: most notably that the Paddling family grows from three to four during the story, and that’s before Uncle B. arrives on the scene.

That’s NOT How You Do It!

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That’s NOT How You Do It!
Ariane Hofmann-Maniyar
Child’s Play
Think how boring our lives would be if everyone did things in exactly the same way, but that appears to be how one of the characters in this charming story would like it to be. Meet Lucy; she’s an expert at pretty much everything from eating with a knife and spoon to gymnastics; she’s a pretty dab hand at painting and origami stars too.

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In fact she seems to act as adviser on pretty much everything to all and sundry until, along comes Toshi. Now Toshi’s pretty confident in his eating and musical abilities; his moves are pretty cool too.

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His art is awesome and it looks like he has a talent for paper folding. The only trouble is – for Lucy at least – his ways of doing are very different from hers; and THAT is what bothers her.

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Eventually she can hold back no longer: “That’s NOT how you do it!” she yells at the newcomer as he completes this for her…

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Now, it’s a case not of teaching but of learning where miss Lucy is concerned; she, it seems, has at last learned a vital lesson about understanding and celebrating difference. We all have so much to learn from one another.

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That’s a lesson all children, and a good many adults too, need to take on board. It’s most definitely something teachers need to know as they start out, and to remember every time they present a new learning opportunity to a class or group. Such a hugely important message, so simply and charmingly delivered through the two delightful characters in this simple little story.

Yokki and the Parno Gry / Cool Mythology

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Yokki and the Parno Gry
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Marieke Nelissen
Child’s Play
Yokki’s family are Travellers who live under canvas and make their money by selling – it might be horses or things that they make when there’s no other work – things like carved wooden spoons or lovely paper flowers. At other times of the year, they might be found mending pots and pans, sharpening tools or picking fruit and vegetables.

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Their evenings are spent around the camp fire when stories are told; and young Yokki is a particularly good story teller whose tales are a re-mix of those he’s already heard and things he adds of his own.
One year however, with work hard to come by the family is really down on their luck and Yokki’s father is worried about how they’ll cope with the coming winter. Phuri Dai (Grandma) suggests a place where they can set up camp and when they’ve done so, Yokki decides a story is just the thing to raise their spirits.

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Look at the image in the centre …

It’s a mythical tale of a powerful white flying horse – a Parno Gry – that would take him to places where life would be everything they could wish.
Can that wonderful horse fly in and save Yoki’s family at their darkest time? That is the big question and one you will have to get yourself a copy of this wonderful book to answer.
Everything about this book is exciting: most importantly that the story is a real testament to the power of children’s imaginations and the valuing of same; Marieke Nelissen’s illustrations are delightfully dream-like in places, the different viewpoints and perspectives used …

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add visual interest at every turn of the page and further enhance the telling.

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Cool Mythology
Malcolm Croft
Pavilion Books
Prolific author Croft turns his attention to a subject popular with primary age readers, as well as a topic much studied in schools. In fact I became very interested in the whole area when studying at London University in the 80s and have continued to find the whole vast topic endlessly fascinating ever since. This book is, as it says “Filled with fantastic facts’ and encompasses the main world mythologies, Sumerian and Inca and Nubian, all of which and more are mentioned on a spread entitled Map of World Mythology.
Thereafter, logically, is a look at creation myths, the commonest forms of myths and these are broken down into five general classifications as shown here …

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Examples of these are then explored in four spreads with the Greek Gaia, various sun-related myths, some fascinating African ideas and the Rainbow Serpent from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

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‘Myths and legends are a vital part of … what it means to be human’ we’re told and the author then goes on to look at the seven basic plots used in myths. There’s also an exploration of places such as Atlantis, as well as the more recent Bermuda Triangle; and the afterlife with a look at ancient Egypt; animals, monsters and part human, part animal beings, also have a place herein.
Indeed it’s amazing just how much is packed into this little book on a topic that has much to say to us, and societies the world over today. If you know a child who wants a quick but absorbing introduction to a vast subject, this is a very good starting point. It’s fun, attractively laid out and very readable.

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Ossiri and the Bala Mengro

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Ossiri and the Bala Mengro
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Hannah Tolson
Child’s Play
Travellers have a rich folklore, that I know having taught many traveller children, as a primary teacher in an outer London borough school close to which was a traveller site. They are also fiercely proud and eager to learn and to prove themselves. These characteristics are demonstrated in this story told by a Romani storyteller and a picture book author. Its heroine is traveller girl, Ossiri who lived with her family who earned their living as ‘Tattin Folki’ (rag-and-bone people) and were wonderful recyclers. Ossiri loved to help her father and grandfather loading, looking after the horses and making things to be used in the recycling of items the grown ups collected.
The entire family were music lovers and Ossiri longs to play an instrument herself. Despite her father’s explanation as to why this can’t happen, the young girl holds fast to her dream and decides to make an instrument for herself. Thus the Tattin Django comes into being.

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The sounds Ossiri makes on it however, are anything but music according to her family and even the birds take flight. Undaunted, Ossiri resolves to keep practising and improve her skill before her next performance.
Then comes the time for the whole family to take to the road again, destination Lancashire. “ … leave your Tattin Django here, ” her father advises but grandfather suggests otherwise and so the instrument goes with them. And that’s when Ossiri first hears mention (from a farmer’s daughter) of a huge hairy ogre said to reside in a cave near to where they’ve set up camp: An ogre who loves to sleep and woe betide anyone who should wake him.
Ossiri does wake the dreaded Bala Mengro though, with her playing; but his reaction is not what she expects.

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Rather he demands she play again and what’s more, he sings and dances to the sounds she creates, handsomely rewarding her for so doing.
The tale doesn’t end there though, for the instrument is stolen: is that to be the end of Ossiri’s fame and fortune? Happily, not, for we’re told on the final spread that ‘she played from the heart …’ And so she does, until this day,

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in very shiny leather boots!’

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At Sea with Captain Cranky & Mayday Mouse

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Captain Cranky & Seadog Steve
Vivian French and Alison Bartlett
Little Door Books
Captain Crankie lives with his canine pal Seadog Steve beside the sea. They spend their days taking villagers and visitors to watch seals and dolphins in the Mary Rose, and their evenings together in their tidy home. However, the locals are a messy lot: they leave all kinds of rubbish lying around spoiling the look of the place and upsetting the captain. Enough’s enough, he decides and he and Steve drag and haul all the rubbish back to their house, load it into the Mary Rose and set off out to sea where they jettison the lot overboard, leaving it to sink down into the depths. Before long though, there is a whole lot more rubbish …which also ends up in the same place deep under the waves much to the consternation of mermaid Millie. She resolves to speak to Capain Crankie and next evening she’s there waiting atop a rock as the Mary Rose heads out with another cargo of rubbish. Before long Millie is leading the Captain and Seadog Steve on a deep sea dive to see the results of the Captain’s thoughtless dumping.

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What’s to be done? It seems Seadog Steve might have a good idea up his sleeve…

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The result of the villagers’ fishing expedition is certainly some unexpected hauls; but it’s not long before everything has been put to a new and exciting use and everyone is happy.

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An important environmental message is embedded in this charming story. It’s told in a straightforward manner that is easy to read and easy to absorb without being simplistic, by Vivian French; and through Alison Bartlett’s richly coloured, detailed illustrations.

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Mayday Mouse
Seb Braun
Child’s Play
I really love Captain Mouse’s spirit of determination and optimism in the face of adversity. She sets out in her walnut shell boat one sunny day with an important mission – to deliver her brother’s birthday present. Her friends bid her “Bon voyage” warning her to keep watch for “big waves and watery perils” and instructing her to shout “MAYDAY” should she need their help. Mouse however is convinced all will be well; but then the wind drops. Undaunted, she whistles a sea shanty three times and lo and behold, back comes the wind and off she goes again with the wind getting stronger and stronger …
Suddenly, down comes the rain, the boat starts filling with water and a storm blows up …

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tossing mouse and boat into the air and towards a crashing sound and ‘a dark and dangerous cave’.
Quick-thinking Captain Mouse steers past only to find herself about to crash into some large rocks and the next moment …

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What is it that Mouse is thinking? Surely not “This is the end of me!” as she hurtles onto a small sandy island where, cold and exhausted, she’s soon fast asleep.

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Is she going to be left stranded or will she eventually reach her brother and deliver that birthday surprise? It’s fortunate then, that she keeps her cool, remembers her resourceful friends’ instructions and …

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Here they come with everything needed for a quick repair to her boat and off they go.
There’s a lovely musical finale that delighted my audience and had them joining in with the birthday greetings .

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Despite the very damp interlude, this is a thoroughly heart-warming story with a plucky little heroine. Good on you Captain Mouse. Did you spot the polluting object in that final scene? It was certainly a hazard for our heroine.

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Let’s Hear it for Dads

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Baking With Dad
Aurora Cacciapuoti
Child’s Play
When a little girl (the narrator) and her dad, oh, and there’s a moggy assisting too, spend the day baking, magic happens. But this isn’t any old baking day – it’s a special day for someone.
Let’s go back to the start though: first task (having donned chef’s hats) is to select the ingredients …

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Then it’s time to get them into the mixing bowl, starting with the eggs …

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followed by the sugar and a bit of mixing and shaking. Next comes the flour – a rather large quantity

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and butter and milk, plus fruit to finish the whole thing off.

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Now let the baking magic commence.
But why are the cooks now bustling around with bunting, crayons and more? To find out, you’ll just have to get hold of this sparkling story to see for yourself.
Aurora Cacciapuoti’s illustrations, in combination with her brief text, have made for a gigglesome delight to share around Father’s Day. But it’s way too much fun to restrict to then: this one’s a winner any day and in addition to a read aloud, it’s ideal for those beginning to read for themselves.

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Amazing Daddy
Rachel Bright
Orchard Books
I’ve come across very few children who don’t think their particular dad is THE best and so it is with the little panda narrator of this wonderfully warm story. Of course, like most dads, Daddy Panda has to go to work but before that there’s usually time for a snuggle up together …

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and maybe even a shared breakfast.

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At weekends Daddy might be busy in his shed, working on important projects …

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but other days are spent just playing and even when little panda misbehaves, his dad remains cool and calm.
For all these reasons and many more – best of all being the shared bedtime stories – there’s no other dad that can come close to the amazing superhero daddy whose virtues this little panda extols.
A smashing celebration of the relationship between father and child: Rachel Bright’s illustrations are full of tenderness and sufficient gentle humour to please the adults who share this with young children.

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Your Baby’s First Word Will be Dada
Jimmy Fallon and Miguel Ordóñez
Hodder Children’s Books
Two dads, one a relation, the other a friend have said to me in the last couple of weeks that their offspring have started talking and guess what the first word said in both instances was: “Dada”. So too here – or rather that’s the intention of the various animal fathers – in this hoot of a book. However paternal coaching doesn’t yield the desired results as we are shown – most merely proffer the characteristic sound of their species …

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though there is the odd exception …

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Maybe a more regimented group effort will bring on the all-important D word.

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That’s better, proud fathers all round … Well, almost: there’s always one …
Comedian and actor, Fallon has combined forces with Spanish illustrator, Ordóñez and it’s the artist who really makes this extended joke work.

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I Love My Daddy
Jonathan Litton and Fhiona Galloway
Little Tiger Kids
Dads come in all shapes and sizes and, according to their offspring in this board book celebration of father figures be they Lion, Penguin, Cheetah, Hippo …

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Goat or Dog, deserve rewarding in one way or another.
Attractive illustrations with a die-cut star on each spread that is part and parcel of a special gift from child to dad, are a key feature here; and the combination of Litton’s rhyming text and Fhiona Galloway’s bright scenes make for a jolly book for very littles to share with their special Dad figures around father’s day or any time.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Clive and his Art/Clive and his Babies
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play
Preschooler Clive, as portrayed by Jessica Spanyol, is a total delight. In the first book he shares his love of being creative, something that takes many forms including printing, drawing, constructing and collage making. He also loves looking at other people’s art and sharing his own, especially with his cat, Moshi.

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Clive has a particular penchant for googly eyes (don’t most youngsters of his age) and loves to adorn his works with all things glittery and sparkly (ditto).
In the second book we meet Clive with his two ‘babies’. These certainly do get the full range of experiences: play …

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feeding, potty training, baths (with the help of friend Asif) rides, stories – very important, hugs and plenty of TLC.

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I love the slightly oblique, almost child-like views of Clive that Jessica often gives us. Her straightforward present tense narrative is such that beginning readers can also enjoy Clive and his world when they share these enchanting books with their younger siblings.

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Littleland Around the World
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
The animal friends from Littleland pack their bags and set off to explore the world. First stop is London and they finish up in New York City – in Central Park to be precise. There are five other European destinations, then they head to Egypt and the pyramids followed by a safari in Kenya (that’s Africa taken care of). Next port of call is India and the Taj Mahal in Agra – a very hot place indeed so we are told, not always so in my experience though. From there it’s to China for a dragon festival , Tokyo at night …

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Australia to visit the outback and sunny Brazil for a spot of beach fun and games.
Running below every spread is a “Can you see …?‘ strip with nine labeled items (the national flag, animals, foods and more) for lap-tourists to spot. Yes there is the odd bit of mild stereotyping: ‘In Italy, people often eat pizza for their lunch.’ but the illustrations are cute, there’s so much to discuss, and toddlers will love to play I-Spy on this whistle-stop global tour.

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My First Book of Opposites
Alain Grée
Button Books
Ten spreads playfully illustrate basic opposites such as big/small, short/tall, up/down, fast/slow
Most of the concepts are either mathematical or scientific – hot/cold, day/night with the exception of one relating to feelings – happy/sad. We know that children acquire concepts through life experiences but books such as this board book can help in the reinforcement of same, and provide a talking point for adult and child together.

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Bizzy Bear DIY Day
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Bizzy Bear is having a DIY day. He’s busy measuring, sawing, drilling; but what are he and his pals making?

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TADAAH! Somewhere they can all have fun together …
Toddlers can enjoy the surprise ending and hone their fine motor skills as they push and slide the tabs to assist Bizzy as he wields his tools.
Bizzy Bear already has many fans among the very youngest; this one could win him even more.

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Animal Babies in the River/Animal Babies on the Mountain
Julia Groves
Child’s Play
Adult animals and their offspring from two different habitats – the river and mountains – are presented in life-like, collage style illustrations. The half dozen river animals portrayed are swan/cygnets, crocodile/hatchlings …

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otter and her pups, frog/tadpoles, salmon/fry and duck/ducklings.
The mountain dwellers include the alpaca/cria, lynx/kittens, eagle/eaglets and wolf/cubs.

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Julia Groves really does capture the essence of each species in her portrayals; her graphic style certainly doesn’t dumb down her illustrations: she clearly believes that the very youngest children deserve quality artwork and this is what she provides here.

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Adventures at Bedtime

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Mr Moon Wakes Up
Jemima Sharpe
Child’s Play
I’m not sure what kind of creature Mr Moon is but that’s part of the beauty of this magical book – it leaves spaces for children to step into. What is certain though is that he has a tendency to nap at all the wrong times – for the child narrator at any rate …

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One night however, summoned seemingly by birdsong, he springs from the bed and climbs into the wallpaper on the stairs …

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Intrigued, the child follows and together they enter an altogether different, mysterious place. Here Mr Moon is wide-awake and the two play games …

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frolic in the maze, go adventuring, and boating …

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Then there’s a wonderful picnic tea party with Mr Moon’s friends …

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On this occasion though, it’s not Mr Moon that starts to feel sleepy and think about bed …
The gorgeous dreamlike quality of Jemima Sharpe’s illustrations draws children into a parallel reality that reminds me at once of Sendak (The Moon Jumpers) and Alice’s wonderland. The voice of the brief telling is unobtrusive allowing the reflective, almost meditative scenes to be pondered over at leisure.

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Kangaroo Kisses
Nandana Dev Sen and Pippa Curnick
Otter-Barry Books
Headstanding (not a good idea for one so young thinks the yoga teacher in me), flying, hippo cuddling …

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whale’s tail nuzzling, alligator racing, giraffe tickling and dancing with rhinos are all proffered as bedtime delaying tactics by the little girl to her patient mum in this gently rhyming picture book, the text being presented as exchanges between mother and daughter.
And even when she’s eventually got her pyjamas on, the very mention of a toothbrush sets her off again. There’s elephant’s tooth flossing and bear’s fur brushing to attend to, and more. Then the clock chimes and despite her yawns, the young miss must still give her pup a hug – oh and that kangaroo needs kissing …  Will she ever snuggle down for the night? … Yes, finally …

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Sweet dreams.
The blend of fantasy and reality works well here. It’s as well that this little girl didn’t have any more animal theme toys or other paraphernalia in her home …

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or she might be letting her imagination run wild even now …
Pippa Curnick beautifully captures that childhood joie de vivre spirit and the mother’s determination to remain calm and in control in her bold, bright scenes.

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The Three Ninja Pigs & Cat’s Colours

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The Three Ninja Pigs
David Bedford and Becka Moor
Simon & Schuster
Meet the Three Ninja Pigs, always twirling and crashing their way into trouble until Mrs Pig has had enough. ‘Off you go to Granny’s. AND NO MORE TROUBLE!’ she cries in exasperation

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and off trot the three through the woods to Granny’s cottage. But guess who’s got there ahead of them …

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Next stop Uncle Sam’s building yard to deliver his lunch but whom do the Ninja Pigs discover when they get there and he’s threatening total destruction.

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Less than impressed at the ensuing mess he duly dispatches the threesome to a high street destination with a plank for Cindy and the ‘AND NO MORE TROUBLE.’ instruction.
Needless to say a certain hairy character has beaten them to it once more …
but is he about to meet his cum-uppance? Certainly those Ninja Piggies have had enough of his repeated interference and are having a secret meeting …

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Totally crazy! This high energy fractured fairy tale romp has delighted all those 5s to 8s I’ve shared it with, several of whom had great fun with the numerous visual jokes in Becka Moor’s detailed scenes of mischief and mayhem.

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Cat’s Colours
Airlie Anderson
Child’s Play
Cats make me sneezy and wheezy so I am more than a little cat phobic; but the white moggie in this book quickly endeared herself to me as she wandered around, exploring her environment on a grey day. Grey the day may have been, but Cat’s decision to collect some colours – one for each new experience – soon has an uplifting effect. She pauses beneath a tree enjoying the look of the green leafy ceiling, breathes in the scent of some red roses …

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and reflects on the blue pond for instance and at each location she collects a colour. At the end of her walk she has added four more colours purple for a fluttery butterfly, orange for the light of the setting sun, black for the sparkling cosmos and finally, yellow for the moon under which she’ll stop to sleep.

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Before this though, white cat has a delightful surprise finale to share…
How often do we give young children opportunities to pause and truly ‘be in the moment’? Probably not often enough, so cat’s story can serve as a gentle reminder to adults that it (being, not doing) should be part and parcel of every day.

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The Bear’s Surprise/ And then …

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The Bear’s Surprise
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books
Spring has come to the forest and emerging from hibernation, Little Bear discovers Papa Bear missing. Intent on discovering the whereabouts of his parent off he goes down a ‘never-before-seen path’ as it twists and turns taking him through the cut-outs on every spread: down a dark hole into a cave wherein he spies an intriguing pipe …

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Then, emerging from the washing machine – for that was where the pipe led – he finds himself in a huge circus tent. There, on a very tiny bike, he spots Papa Bear performing a stunt before himself becoming part of the show …

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and eventually, courtesy of a cannon blast, landing atop a large nose belonging to none other than his very own Mama Bear.

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And she has a very special, very tiny surprise of her own to share with Little Bear and with delighted readers and listeners. Just the thing to complete a family balancing act

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before the whole family wends its way back home to the bear den and some well-earned sleep.
There is just so much to see in this book. Almost every spread is teeming with minute details of animals, circus performers and avid spectators. And just in case all this isn’t enough, Chaud drops in the odd character or two from Lewis Carroll along the way. This is definitely one to enjoy with a small group, or for sharing with an individual.

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And then …
Alborozo
Child’s Play
Determined to divert some of the attention away from her newly born baby brother, the young, birthday girl narrator of this marvellous story creates a portrait of the recent arrival, makes a special wish

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and then lets her imagination run riot … as she miniaturises her parents, deals with a squid emergency –

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with a little bit of help from a friendly doc once …

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or twice … ,

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allows herself another wish – it’s her birthday after all AND something of an emergency, before coming to a momentous decision concerning her baby sibling.

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Do I hear another story starting to emerge …
Enormous fun, this offbeat tale is a testament to the imagination  (storying in particular) and how it can help youngsters, indeed all of us, deal with those life experiences that challenge us from time to time.

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Childhood Pleasures: Alfie Outdoors and The Jar of Happiness

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Alfie Outdoors
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
The delectable Alfie is up with the lark and outside in the garden eager to start the day: it’s to be a gardening day with Dad but it’s one that involves a whole lot of digging and clearing, for the plan is to create a vegetable patch and plant some seeds. First though it’s back to the digging, which Alfie actually enjoys or rather, he enjoys investigating all the minibeasts he unearths from the soil.

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Come the weekend Alfie is allowed to choose his own seeds from the garden centre and he has a plan. He wants to grow carrots, not for himself but to feed to his friend Gertrude the goat at the goat sanctuary. The trouble is though, seeds don’t come up overnight, there’s a lot of waiting and watching involved. Just as Alfie is beginning to give up on his carrots, Dad notices some tiny seedings starting to sprout and with Alfie’s daily watering it’s not long before the first carrots are ready for pulling.

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Imagine Alfie’s disappointment then when he gets to the goat sanctuary to discover no Gertrude: she’s gone missing. Almost a day passes, a very sad one for Alfie and then yippee! Good news – Gertrude’s been found and is back where she belongs. All ends happily in true Alfie fashion next morning when he’s finally able to offer a juicy carrot to his favourite sanctuary resident.

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This is such a gorgeous book – another Hughes classic for sure. Shirley knows exactly the kinds of things that make young children content and never loses sight of them: Alfie’s preoccupations are those of every small child …

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and in her own inimitable way Shirley provides another tour de force every time she creates a new Alfie story.

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The Jar of Happiness
Ailsa Burrows
Child’s Play
Is happiness something you can put into a jar and keep bottled up? Young Meg seems to think so when she invents her very own kind, tasting of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, smelling of warm biscuits and the seaside and containing all the best colours. Meg however doesn’t keep this happiness to herself; she uses her jar to cheer up glum friends

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or poorly relations; she seems to know just how to use it to maximum effect.
But, one day, Meg’s jar is nowhere to be found; so has her happiness gone forever?

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Fortunately not, thanks to all those Meg has shared her happiness jar with. It’s now their turn to show her their own special ingredients for happiness and none of them comes from a jar.

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Ailsa Burrows’ softly coloured characters have an endearing squidgy, cushiony appearance that make one want to snuggle up with them. And with its warm-hearted feel, this is a lovely snuggle-up-together and share with a young child kind of book.

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Toddler Bookshelf

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Where’s Bear?
Emily Gravett
Macmillan Children’s Books
Bear and Hare are back in their third amusing adventure, or game actually. The adorable duo engage in a game of Hide and Seek with Bear hiding first. Unsurprisingly to readers his chosen hiding places – in front of a lamp, or a pile of books, and behind a fish tank (albeit a large one) – are a dismal failure and the roles are reversed. Bear is now the finder: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 … but where, oh where is Hare? Here perhaps?

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But now Hare cannot find Bear and oh dear, he’s getting in a bit of a tizzy

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until finally …

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Nobody can turn a small episode into high drama with quite the consummate skill of Emily Gravett.
I do hope the publishers decide to offer it other formats: it’s perfect for beginning readers but the board book edition may well put them off.

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How Many Legs?
Katja Spitzer
Flying Eye Books
Off beat illustrations of all manner of items from ice-creams to bugs and ‘mischievous monkeys’ to ‘stylish shoes’ to count, are presented in the small pages of this quirky little counting and number book. It’s divided into two distinct parts: the first introduces numerals and counting to 10 (the number being displayed on both sides of the spread);

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the second provides practice in getting one to one correspondence between the number names spoken and the items being counted without the visual number symbols.

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There’s plenty of potential for talking with the very young ones as well as the mathematical opportunities offered here in this mini volume, which is one of a new series from this artist and Flying Eye. I love the bold retro images and the feel of the whole thing.

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SNAP! SNAP!
Cocoretto
Child’s Play
There are five animals hiding beneath the flaps of this ‘Guess the Animal’ board book, each introduced by a noisy clue and the repeated question What’s that noise?’

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the answer being revealed by lifting the flap on the opposite page.

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Those from just a few months can enjoy the sounds and bold, bright images, slightly older toddlers will delight in the playful scenarios and the chance to be noisy along with the various animals large and small each spread provides; and those just beginning to match the spoken word to the print on the page might try doing just that. The experience will be hugely more enjoyable than that provided by the first books of a dreary reading scheme and in addition there’s the opportunity to begin to develop prediction skills.
In similar vein is

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CHOO! CHOO!
The format is the same but herein the animals are the drivers or operators of wonderfully noisy vehicles. There’s a train, a tractor, a digger, a motorbike and a fire engine. Playful, cacophonous fun aplenty.

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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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Thieves At Large

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Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Cat Burglar
Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lennon
Nosy Crow
Reformed robbers of repute, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam are now successful bakers with their own café, an establishment frequented by those who particularly enjoy a good gossip; and there are plenty. One day Sam shares the latest news headlines with their customers: one Kitty Le Claw – a fiendish feline if ever there was one – is in town.

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Such news warrants a top secret meeting, but this is no sooner under way when a desperate-looking job-seeker arrives at the door.

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Ruby, for that is her name (supposedly – though young audiences will already be suspicious) is quickly taken on and becomes a star baker of delicious confections, waitress and cleaner.
At the end of the day as a result of Ruby’s sweeping and tidying, the dogs discover a secret tunnel in the basement of their establishment and are almost tempted back into their old ways but instead find themselves turning detective. But can they manage to apprehend the criminal and turn her over to the law? Well, Kitty is a certainly a pretty slippery character but …

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This is a second crazy canine caper from Corderoy and Lenton; she provides a pacey text that’s enormous fun to read aloud especially if you enjoy high drama; and he supplies the delectable visuals. The details therein are almost as delicious as the fare served up in Shifty and Sam’s establishment and the sight of those infant canines looking longingly at the cakes is a joy in itself.
Yummy stuff say I.

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The Cherry Thief
Renata Galindo
Child’s Play pbk
Chef Armand is a celebrated pastry cook; the rosy red cherries he decorates his confections with are his trademark. He’s even named his patisserie La Cerise. But then one day he notices that the cherries have begun to disappear. Quelle horreur! Has he merely forgotten to add them perhaps? No, not so but what an embarrassment when customers complain …

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Time to discover the perpetrator of the outrage decides the chef. I could say track down but our perplexed chef has missed the clue. His dog however, like children, is more aware and has noticed the telltale tiny blue footprints.
Having drawn Chef Armand’s attention to same, the two lie in wait and eventually the thief makes an appearance. A chase ensues: the thief eventually escapes leaving behind in the trail of havoc, something amazing

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and ultimately fruitful for all concerned…

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A tasty diversion illustrated in a spare style that children may well try to emulate. My audiences loved the slapstick humour of the chase,

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delighted in the small details and characterisation, and were surprised by the rapid growth of the tree. “Well, it’s just magic,” one suggested.

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