Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe / Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day

Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe
Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mould
Oxford University Press

Holidays may seem like a distant dream at the present time but there’s no harm in looking forward and we all need something to keep us cheerful. This second Alfie Fleet story will certainly do just that and perhaps keep holiday dreams alive too.

If you’ve not encountered Alfie before, he has sandy coloured hair and awkward knees. In this adventure he and Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont are soon to open their enterprise the Unusual Travel Agency and are compiling the final few entries to the Guide to the Universe.

Pretty soon though, the two find themselves in trouble as they drop in on other planets that turn out to be anything but welcoming to the visitors.

In addition there’s that motley crew, members of the Unusual Cartography Club with their thoroughly nasty leader, Sir Willikin Nanbiter who is determined to sabotage the Unusual Travel Agency, to deal with.

A brief review cannot do justice to this utterly crazy, twisting-turning story with its wealth of Chris Mould’s brilliant illustrations portraying the fantastical cast of characters;

let’s just say that with its weird words and toilet humour and more, this is a total hoot from beginning to end. Just give it to children who have a particular penchant for unlikely quests and stand well back.

Now I’m off to try that ‘Stuttering Ferret’ pose at Guru Wobbli Rubbalegs Bindobendi yoga retreat way off on Planet Baldy and leave readers to discover for themselves whether Alfie finally succeeds in finding all those whom he seeks and bringing love and peace – well maybe just peace, to the universe.

Also full of fantastic characters but of a rather different kind is:

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

With her second adventure just published it’s time to get acquainted with Willow Moss. Young Willow comes from a family with magical powers. She too has a special power but hers is less impressive-seeming than other family members. Willow, has the power to find lost things.

Then the scariest, most powerful witch in the whole of Starfell appears on the scene and changes things, for none other than Moreg Vaine has chosen Willow to help in a crucial search,

Apparently last Tuesday has disappeared– nobody remembers a thing about it – and almost unbelievably Moreg needs the talents of a finder like her. How on earth can she possibly manage such a thing, especially as failure to track down and return Tuesday to the place it belongs, could have catastrophic consequences for the entire world?

Really, Willow has little choice but to get on board (rather broomstick) and accept the mission. If truth be told though she’s long harboured a desire for a bit of excitement, so it’s bag packed and off they go (accompanied – in Willow’s bag – by lie-detecting cat-like kobold Oswin, Willow’s only friend).

Magical writing of a magical tale – Dominique Valente’s debut has everything younger fantasy lovers could want: humour, fabulous characters including a dragon with an empty egg and trolls, plus there’s a portal cloak (Moreg’s), a splendid compass-like device that can act as guide when tricky moments present themselves and much, much more.. In particular, the wonderful Willow herself – resourceful and determined and lacking in self-belief. And yes, she does finally discover what happened to that lost Tuesday.

The potency of all this textual magic is further strengthened thanks to Sarah Warburton’s cracking illustrations.

This reviewer can’t wait to read more of Willow, and I’m certain that will be the response from youngsters too.

The Prince and the Pee

The Prince and the Pee
Greg Gormley and Chris Mould
Nosy Crow

Deeds of derring-do really cannot be done if you’re crossing your legs.
When you’ve got to go, you’ve just gotta go – right? Not so in this hilarious tale of holding on against the odds.
Prince Freddie is summoned from his holiday by his trusty steed, Sir Rushington. Crumbly Castle is under attack from a dragon and there’s no time to lose.
Off they go and before long, Freddie gets that tingly “I need to pee” feeling which is made decidedly worse by the rhythmic ‘Up and down’ motion of the horse’s gait. Distractions fail to distract from the constant urge and suddenly, down comes the rain

and inevitably its plinkety plink serves to exacerbate the need.
Several stops later, all abortive on account of an ogre, then a princess in a tower and finally a long queue at the loo …

they reach their destination with the prince now absolutely desperate.
There before him stands a very large, very fearsome dragon; but there’s no stopping the young prince who charges forward completely surprising the dragon, over the drawbridge, through the castle gates to find the privy.

His long-delayed micturition not only brings relief to the prince, but saves the day by extinguishing an unexpected conflagration.
Gormley’s deliciously suspenseful telling is guaranteed to have audiences in fits of laughter and Chris Mould’s illustrations are utterly brilliant. He captures to perfection the diminutive prince’s journey and his ever-increasing discomfiture.
There’s the sight and sound of water, the up and down motion in the saddle while riding Sir Rushington and the false hopes of some relief every time he thinks he’s found a likely spot to go; all ratchet up the pressure on the poor prince’s bladder.
Priceless!

I’ve signed the charter  

Family Friendly Books

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Freddy and the Pig
Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers
Red Squirrel Books
School is anything but Freddy’s favourite place; he’d far rather be at home playing games on his Xbox. So he devises a clever plan, one involving a porcine substitute. This allows young Fred to stay lounging at home, racking up his levels on Total Death War, all the while growing more and more rotund. Pig meantime grows to love school and is even sticking up his trotter in class;

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he’s helpful around the house too. Soon it is hard for Mum to distinguish boy from pig so massive is Freddy

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and so grunt-like his utterances. Eventually she sells her son to a local farm and sends the pig to university though that’s not quite the end of the story.
This amusing cautionary tale is one of the latest additions to the Red Squirrel dyslexia-friendly books, the hallmarks of which are good stories, well illustrated and presented in a clear type face set against a plain, uncluttered background so that all parents can share them with their children.
Buy from Amazon
In the same series is:

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Wolf Man
Michael Rosen and Chris Mould
Red Squirrel Books
Just what or who are all the terrified local residents running from? It’s Wolfman and he’s escaped from his cage and is rampaging through the town, tearing up paving stones and consuming lamp-posts.

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Even the army is too terrified to do anything: but where is Wolfman heading to? It’s certainly not the park, nor the swimming pool. Wait a minute, that’s the house of the Chief of Police our hairy horror is making for, where, behind firmly closed doors cowers the jittering policeman.
So exactly what has compelled Wolfman to come here leaving a trail of havoc in his wake?

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Suffice it to say it is connected to a weak bladder and an urgent need.
Typical Michael Rosen madness – slightly over the top and deliciously subversive; just the thing to make less than confident readers want to keep turning the pages, especially when his well chosen words are combined with Chris Mould’s wickedly wacky images.
Assuredly one to help families ‘Grow a Love of Reading’ which is what this series aims to do.
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Where better place to start growing that love than:

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Zeki Loves Baby Club
Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson
Alanna Books pbk
We join Zeki and his mum at home before they set off for their regular Wednesday Baby Club session at the local library. There they meet lots of other babies and parents, and the club leader who has brought all manner of exciting instruments, some props and her repertoire of suitable toddler songs and rhymes. This week, after greeting one another,

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they sing the happy song with actions, play peek-a-boo (with translucent scarves to peep through) and join in the ‘stretchy’ and ‘rolly’ songs. Then it’s time for some noisy  fun with cuddly animals,

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more action rhymes and a final cuddle-up story before bidding farewell and ‘see you next time’ to all those friends.
At the end of the narrative, are the words of all the songs and rhymes mentioned plus some useful presentation tips and other information for adults.
All in all, this charmingly illustrated, sturdy book is a lovely opportunity to enjoy a simple story with the very youngest and to have a wonderful sing-along session too.
A great choice to give to new parents.
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Buy from your local bookshop:

http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

 

Birthday Bonanza

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Boa’s Bad Birthday
Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Andersen Press
Boa is anticipating his best ever birthday. He’s invited his friends to join him and wonders what gifts they might bring. But Orang-utan’s outsize parcel and the presents from Monkey, Jaguar, Sloth and Ant Eater are all disappointments.

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Then his mother announces the arrival of Dung Beetle. Her present will be a pile of – – – – thinks Boa. He’s right of course but inside that stinky dung ball is a small seed and from that seed sprouts something very special that in due course, becomes the perfect place for a Boa to hang around in. The moral of this story is, ‘Never turn your nose up at a stinky present; you never know what delights it might hold in store.’
The sight of Ross’s Boa, sporting his conical party hat and showing a whole range of expressions from sobbing despair to snaky smiles is a real treat as are his depictions of the other animals bearing their self-centred offerings.
The understated humour of Jean Willis’ straight-talking text is the perfect counterpart to Ross’ illlustrations.
The Willis/Ross partnership just goes from strength to strength.
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Dylan engrossed in Captain Beastie’s birthday celebrations

Captain Beastie’s Pirate Party
Lucy Coats and Chris Mould
Nosy Crow pbk
Join the disgusting Captain Beastie as he counts down the five days left till his birthday while engaging in his unpleasant habits. When Saturday dawns the Captain wakes early and gets a big surprise: all his unsavoury clothes have vanished over night. An even bigger surprise is to follow though – a scrub in a large tub courtesy of his long-suffering crew.

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Then, after a detangle and a towel wrap, our squeaky clean Captain spies a large parcel wherein awaits a spanking new pirate suit and hat. Time for some celebratory singing, cake and other tasty tidbits. ‘Oops!’ What’s that you’ve spattered all over your new suit Captain?
Avast! me ‘arties; hasten aboard for a splendidly riotous romp with marvellously Mouldy illustrations dotted with suitably disgusting details of Beastie’s detritus and a host of other nasties. Miss the Captain’s party at your peril.
I suspect shouts of “again” will be the order of the day where this one is concerned.
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Find and buy from your local bookseller:http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

International Book Giving Day is on Friday 14th

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