Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains

Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Like the first story, sparkling with excitement is the second totally spellbinding adventure in the Clock of Stars series.

Herein Imogen and Marie, whose home life has changed due to their mum’s new man Mark, return through the door in the tree to the magical land of Yaroslav, where they find much has changed too. Miro has become king and hates it, while Anneshka is Queen no longer and is equally unhappy about it. So when she hears a prophecy that she will rule the Greatest Kingdom, she seizes Marie, believing her to be the key to its fulfilment, and heads off over the mountains pursued by Imogen who feels it’s her fault her sister is in this situation, and Miro. (Chris Ridell’s superb illustrations of the characters at the beginning of the book will remind readers of who’s who.)

As the story unfolds, unimaginable dangers are faced by both sisters and Imogen is beset by worry creatures that niggle at her feelings sometimes undermining her ability to function properly. Readers too feel frissons of fear at various points throughout (the very idea of those krootymosh be they real or not, is nightmarish as is the sight of that Yedleek) but the telling is funny too, as little by little, both sisters learn to navigate both the ups and downs of life in their own world and in Yaroslav.

Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster as surprising events unfold and revelations are made both good and not so good, as inevitably both Imogen and Marie learn to look differently at things and in so doing undergo changes in themselves.

This particular adventure concludes satisfyingly but we know by what is said in the epilogue everything is not over quite yet. Bring on the third book say I.

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

I read this book in a single sitting and am now eagerly awaiting the second part of what is to be a trilogy.
Imogen (eleven) and her younger sister Marie are a quarrelsome pair with a tendency (particularly on Imogen’s part) for being rude to their mum, their gran and others too.

As the story opens the girls’ mum is about to go out with ‘friend’ Mark, somebody Imogen has taken an instant dislike to, especially when out of nowhere a beautiful silvery moth appears that Mark seems intent on destroying. All this just before Gran arrives to take the girls out to tea.

Imogen follows the moth but it disappears only to reappear while they’re out with Gran and of course, Imogen follows the creature which leads her into a deserted, overgrown garden. There she comes upon a door in a tree and she finds herself in a magical world only to discover that her sister has followed her too.

It’s a world where anything might happen, and there they encounter a boy who insists on calling them peasants and saying he’s Miro, prince of the castle. He does however offer them refuge in his castle and so begins both a friendship crucial to the tale and a terrific, exciting adventure quest wherein the children race against time, pitched against a deadly threat, aided and abetted not only by Miro, but a dancing bear, a hunter of the grumpy kind, the stars in the sky even.

All these characters are superbly brought to life by the author in her richly imagined world, a world made even more wonderful by Chris Riddell’s amazing, detailed illustrations.

Perfectly paced, sometimes chilling, sometimes funny, and including fairy tale elements such as a villainous stepmother a foolish king and stolen treasure, and a magical clock, this is truly a snuggle up under a blanket and relish story by an exciting new writer, that’s ideal for dark evenings and chilly days. Don’t be daunted by the length: the chapters are short and I guarantee you’ll keep telling yourself ‘just one more’ …

Bring on the sequel say I.

Poems to Save the World With

Poems to Save the World With
chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I fell head over heels with Chris Riddell’s Poems to Fall in Love With and now comes this third of his anthologies, published at a particularly challenging time for everyone, whoever and wherever they are. I received my copy on the day the announcement came of restrictions changing AGAIN, which has meant having to revise plans to visit relations with 3 young children. I felt I needed to dive straight into the book to look for some poetic solace, and headed first to the Lockdown section where unsurprisingly I found much that spoke to me immediately. First, Brian Bilson’s Serenity Prayer that begins ‘Send me a slow news day, / A quiet, subdued day, in which nothing much happens of note, / save for the passing of time ’.

Actually, every one is a gem, not least Chris’ own Lockdown that made me well up. In contrast, Roger McGough’s The Perfect Place that opens thus: ’The world is a perfect place to be born into. / Unless of course, you don’t like people / or trees, or stars, or baguettes.’ … and concludes ‘About the baguettes, / that was just me being silly.’ that end really made me chuckle.

New to me but already oft read are Nikita Gill’s Kindness that has four incredible illustrations by Chris and Neil Gaiman’s What You Need to be Warm written originally to support the 2019 UN Refugee Agency winter appeal with these final lines, ‘Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place, / to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say / we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest / season. // You have the right to be here.’

and also from the Everything is Going to be OK section, Rachel Rooney’s Battle Call that will surely spur readers into action.

Among the classical poems Wordsworth’s Travelling ‘This is the spot: how mildy does the sun / Shine in between the fading leaves! The air / In the habitual silence of this wood. / Is more than silent:’ illuminated my woodland walk with my partner the previous day. More than silent it surely was, as our peace was shattered by a very young boy (a modern day Max) out with, I think his dad and , both of whom were howling like wolves for several minutes – stress release I suspect – but very amusing to us in our previously silent wood.

In the same wood on that same walk there’s what I call a troll bridge (made of logs) so I loved finding A.F. Harrold’s wonderful Troll Song made even more so by Chris’ drawings of the troll narrator whose concluding thoughts include, ‘I read a lot of books. They contain other worlds. / For a time I can imagine I’m not living under a bridge.’ Books have certainly been key in keeping this reviewer sane during the challenges of the pandemic.

From the section The Elephant in the Room, is John Donne’s No Man Is an Island that seems even more ironic with this weekend’s announcement of the likelihood of a catastrophic BREXIT no-deal.

In one or more ways, every poem herein helps illuminate the huge challenges we all face, individually and collectively, if we are to make our world a better place for everyone; and what better way to conclude than with Nikita Gill’s uplifting, ‘This is me checking in / sending you the moon as a poem, praying and wishing for us all / a speedy recovery. // And if nothing else, / There will always be poetry/ We will always have poetry.’ from Love in the Time of Coronavirus.

Superbly presented, exquisitely, often intricately, illustrated and enormously uplifting, this is a must for sharing, for giving and for keeping.

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew
Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Dream team Gaiman and Riddell have again joined forces, this time creating a stonkingly brilliant piratical rhyming tale.

Stupendously silly and enormously entertaining, this story is narrated by the boy who with his sister, is left in the care of Long John McRon, ship’s cook, possibly THE most unlikely babysitter you can imagine.

He’s not the only one who comes a-knocking though; for hardly have the parents left than the entire wildly crazy crew comes charging in.

Having investigated the contents of the family fridge, the pirates decide supper is to be the “Pirate Stew! Pirate Stew! / Pirate Stew for me and you! … Eat it and you won’t be blue. / You can be a pirate too!” Furthermore, it’s to be served “ underneath a pirate’s moon!”

Unnoticed by the pirates too busy feasting on their own concoction, the children decide to eschew said stew with its weird and wonderful ingredients. Nevertheless, it’s not long before they find themselves sailing off into the night

and sating their appetites on doughnuts instead.

That’s not quite the end of this yummy yarn however …

Totally delicious, spectacular storytelling and incredibly detailed illustrations that make the entire cast leap right off the pages, this is perfect fare for those who relish the unexpected, the magical or the piratical – it provides all three in bowlfuls.

Pirate stew anyone?

Honey for You, Honey for Me

Honey for You, Honey for Me
collected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Walker Books

I danced around the kitchen and leapt in glee on opening the parcel containing this book from the team that gave us the anthology A Great Big Cuddle.

It’s an absolutely stonking first book of forty nursery rhymes and one of the very best gifts you could give a baby or toddler.

Michael has always been fascinated with nursery rhymes calling them ‘surprising little dramas, full of mysteries and unanswered questions.’ Like this reviewer he’s been an avid collector of books of nursery rhymes and in this new one of his, Michael has put not only popular favourites and playground chants, but also some rhymes that have lain forgotten perhaps for a generation or two.

From cavorting elephants en route from Wibbleton to Wobbleton, wibbly wobbly jelly and frizzle frazzle sausages,

as well as dancing ones summoned into life by a whistling boy, a mop-consuming dog and a ton weight of a giant who’s all a-tremble at the mere sight of a mouse – we know we’ve entered that magical land of topsy turvy where playful language is loved for the sheer delight it offers both to those who hear it and to those who utter it.

Chris Riddell’s illustrations are outstanding, making the characters utterly memorable in a new way, be they of those you might already have met such as the all in black clad Miss Mary Mack and Little Poll Parrot or some delightful revelations that for me were the hiccup remedy …

the hungry frog and for the sheer joy of sharing something delectably new and bouncy to boot, ‘Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, doe, / Give me a pancake and I’ll go. // Dibbity, dibbity, dibbity, ditter, / Please to give me a bit of fritter.’

For utter adorableness, Chris’s character illustration that completely stole my heart was The man in the moon.

Guaranteed to become a favourite in any household with young children, in nursery and early years settings and with anybody who wants to promote a love of language and art for their own sake (surely, that’s pretty much all of us), this is joyful magic from cover to cover.

Flights of Fancy

Flights of Fancy
Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Browne, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child
Walker Books

Now in paperback, here’s a truly special gem of an anthology subtitled ‘Let your imagination soar with top tips from ten Children’s Laureates’. It brings together the ten awesome authors and illustrators who have held the title (given in celebration of their outstanding achievements) and first awarded to Quentin Blake in 1999.

To open, Michael Morpurgo explains how the original idea of the role (each person holds it for two years), was first thought up by himself and Ted Hughes, the then Poet Laureate.

You might be especially interested in poetry, rhyme and wordplay, if so head first to the sections from Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. Michael in Poetry Belongs to Everyone talks about playing around with a word to create a poem. Julia Donaldson’s Plays to Read and to Write discusses one of her own plays that she based on the Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, offering a fun, lively 6-parter

If you’d rather be playful in the visual sense then Anthony Browne’s The Shape Game could be your starting point: having talked about how to play it, he showcases some examples from 3 other famous illustrators to whom he gave the same shape to play as the one of his own shown in the book. The potential with this one is endless. Probably that is the case with most of the chapters however.

In The Only Way to Travel, Quentin Blake writes with reference to  Dahl’s stories, about how when illustrating someone else’s texts it’s important to ‘put yourself inside their story’ and capture the atmosphere before diving in and drawing those fabulous illustrations of his.

More about how other fabulous illustrators approach their drawing and what provides their inspiration comes from Chris Riddell –

make sure you check out his brilliant cartoons of all ten Children’s Laureates in the final section – and Lauren Child.

How fantastic and moving is Michael Morpurgo’s Find Your Own Voice that tells children how to do so in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’.
I thoroughly enjoyed too, Malorie Blackman’s Taking a Word for a Walk using SEA as her example,

before she moves on to discussing from whose viewpoint a story is being told when one writes.

If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom; not only will it do just that, but it will also ignite or add fuel to a passion for reading, writing and illustrating. (BookTrust, which manages the Children’s Laureate gets 50p from every sale.)

The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic

The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this, Chris Riddell’s first story in a new fantasy series.

The story is set in the kingdom of Thrynne, a place of ancient magic, the source of which is the Forever Tree hidden in the Great Wood.

‘For as long as anyone can remember, children of Thynne have looked at billowing clouds in the sky and wished on a cloud horse, always hoping … But no one has seen a cloud horse.’ That though is about to change …

We meet in turn three ordinary children each from a different town within the kingdom, into whose hands come three magical objects made with wood: to baker Zam Zephyr a runcible spoon;

to cellist Phoebe Limetree a talking cello;

to Bathsheba Greengrass a worpal sword with a carved wooden handle.

And thus it is that these unsuspecting children are destined to be the Guardians of Magic.

But anyone thought to wield the magic of Thrynne is in terrible danger especially from those who have their own reasons to keep that magic at bay: there’s chief rat King Tiberius-Tiberius who terrorises Sam’s home town Troutwine; the ruler of Phoebe’s home, Nightingale is a power-mad Clockmaker with an army of mechanical tin-men; while in Bathsheba’s tree-house town of Beam is Euphemia Goldencurls, a professional Princess who desires to keep alive the lucrative business of giant slaying.

Also cleverly woven into the story are fairy tale characters including a gingerbread man, the Pied Piper and the three bears.

The last section of the book brings together the three children who use their wits against the dastardly characters threatening the magical Forever Tree and the cloud horses that nestle in its branches.

If that’s not enough magic for you, there are also Chris’s awesome, instantly recognisable, detailed illustrations liberally scattered throughout the story, as well as a full colour fold-out guide to the giants of the Great Wood, aerial townscapes and cross-sections of buildings.

The result is an utterly compelling, enchanting and immersive book that you’ll find almost impossible to put down. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Poems To Fall In Love with

Poems To Fall In Love With
chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

I’d already fallen in love with a good number of the poems Chris Riddell has included in this superb collection, but finding them here is still as much a joy as discovering the unfamiliar ones he’s chosen.

One of the latter in the first section Love and Friendship is Neil Gaiman’s Locks, inspired by the story of the Three Bears. It begins and ends, ‘We owe it to each other to tell stories.’ Powerful and very moving it was written by Gaiman for his then very young daughter.

Another new one to delight me was A.F.Harrold’s Postcards From The Hedgehog. The prickly writer is Simon and in his second card he writes this: ‘Dear Mum, / Lovely weather today. / I saw a really pretty girl. / Not sure how to approach her. / She makes me really shy / but just all warm inside. / I rolled up into a ball. / Wish you were here. / love Simon.‘

Two cards later we hear how Simon made his approach and what happened. It’s wonderfully droll and really made me laugh.

Another long time favourite of mine, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, is included in the section Let’s Stick Together; I think no collection of poems of love poetry is complete without this one that begins ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediment. Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove:’

This is followed by the less likely The Owl and the Pussy Cat that I’ve adored since my father first started reading to me from a collection of Lear’s nonsense verse even before I started school.

This is a wonderfully eclectic collection of old and new: you’ll find John Donne, Emily Bronte, Blake, Betjeman, Grace Nichols, Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, Sylvia Plath, Derek Walcott, even the compiler himself .

Jan Dean’s Tomorrow when you will not wake left me with a huge lump in my throat; Christina Rossetti’s Remember, also in the final section, always has the same effect.

I could continue talking of the delights herein but instead will conclude by mentioning another of my all time favourites, E.E. Cummings’ i carry your heart with me that’s part of Valentine

(Wendy Cope’s poem of that name opens this section).

There’s passion, joy and heartbreak: you’ll shed tears of joy and tears of sadness and you cannot but be wowed by Riddell’s awesome black and white illustrations that make you see anew every single poem, however familiar.

Offering something for all moods, it’s a treasure of a book: I’ve certainly fallen for it.

Once Upon a Wild Wood

Once Upon a Wild Wood
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

Former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell has woven a wonderful fairy tale extravaganza if ever there was one.

Its main protagonist is Little Green Rain Cape whom we meet as she sets off through the woods heading for Tall Tower wherein Rapunzel is throwing a birthday party.

En route, Green meets and rejects the assistance of several well known fairytale characters including a wolf, a ‘kindly’ old lady, a ‘friendly’ troll, the Beast sans Beauty who has gone missing; a talking harp whose aid she comes to and in so doing happens upon the Three Bears.

All this walking however is hard on the feet so it’s fortunate that another encounter is with Thumbelina who gives her some ointment to salve their soreness; and eventually along with a host of others including a prince,

pigs and dwarves, she reaches the venue where they all gain admittance.

A great night is had by everyone

particularly Beauty and the Beast who are reunited at last; and the following morning Green continues on her way through the Wild Wood.

Most assuredly this is a book for everyone, although with his dramatic irony and witty lines – ‘ ”Princesses!” he exclaimed. “Did someone say princesses? Exhausting! Either falling asleep for a hundred years, losing their shoes or going out every night dancing. …” ‘, – Riddell does assume some prior knowledge on the readers part. Perhaps it’s a case of the more you know the more you’ll get from it.

A Kid in My Class

A Kid in My Class
Rachel Rooney illustrated by Chris Riddell
Otter-Barry Books

This is an absolutely smashing collaboration between prize-winning poet Rachel Rooney and former Children’s Laureate, illustrator Chris Riddell.

As the author says at the outset, readers will likely see elements of themselves in not just one, but several of the characters portrayed in her superb poems and Chris’s awesome artwork.
It’s pretty certain too that school-age youngsters will be able to say, ‘that person’ in any of these works ‘is just like so and so’. I recognise all of the members of Rachel’s learning community; I suspect I’ve taught each and every one of them, many times over. There are those who’ll drive you crazy, make you laugh, cry, leap for joy; but no matter what you’ll love them all.

There’s First; this pupil is always first to arrive in the playground; first on the register; first to put her hand up to answer a question; first to have that new item that becomes a craze. This young miss can be more than a tad annoying.

As a teacher I’ve always had a soft spot for a Daydreamer; one who’s head and mind are somewhere far away from classroom reality perhaps during circle times or when the register is called.

I could have been the model for A Girl; the bookish child with ‘a farway look. // Head in the clouds. Nose in a book.’
… ‘Views the world in black and white. … Thinks. //… has pale, thin skin. // Bones of a bird. Heart on a string.’ Still am pretty much, even now; that’s me.

Then there’s The Artist, the inveterate doodler who cannot resist adding the personal touch to the photos in newspapers, who fashions a tattoo ‘ a black and blue rose’ around a bruise, or adds creatures to crawl up the brickwork.

I could go on raving about each and every person that is part and parcel of this class; imbued with one of childhood’s most crucial features, a boundless imagination, they can all engage in flights of fancy, imagining him or herself as fighter of a grizzly bear and astronaut in training (Don’t Walk, Run!);

or ‘speedier than googling Wikipedia’ potential Thesaurus, Wordsmith; even the class pet hamster has the ability to see itself as  muscle exerciser, French learner, Kandinsky recogniser.

Recently it’s been reported in the news, that poetry doesn’t really have a place in classrooms nowadays. What utter rubbish. It’s a book such as this that will most definitely demonstrate the absurdity of such a statement. Share a couple of these poems with a class or group and I’ll guarantee they’ll be clamouring to get their hands on a copy.
Totally brilliant!

Board Book Beauties: I am Little Fish! / Wiggly Wiggly

I am Little Fish!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

I cannot imagine any little tot resisting Little Fish’s invitation to join him and play,  on the first page of this wigglesome, rhyming, finger puppet delight.

In addition to a whole lot of tail wiggling -at varying speeds – there’s bubble blowing,

as well as showing off his shimmying, twirling and whirling moves.

Then Little Fish introduces his fishy pals who’ve come to join him in a dipping down diving game of peek-a-boo.

And finally, up swims Mum for a spot of kissing.  Just perfect!

Wiggly Wiggly
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books

Here’s a selection of the most join-in-able playful Rosen rhymes from the original A Great Big Cuddle, illustrated by Chris Riddell in super-energetic style.

It’s absolutely certain to get your little ones ‘Tippy-Tappy’ ing, ‘Boing! Boing’ing squash, squishing, ‘wiggly wiggly’ing, ‘buzz buzz buzz’-ing, ‘moo moo, moo’ing, ‘squawk squawk squawk’ing ‘splosh, splash, splosh’-ing, ( doesn’t Chris Riddell draw elephants awesomely,

not to mention finger walking, waving, talking, tiring, flattening, buttering, spreading and ‘bed’ding down.
There’s also plenty of munching and crunching as you lunch with a crocodile.

We meet sad-looking Mo being cuddled following a fall in a puddle and then it’s time for monkey business with half a dozen of the cheeky little animals.

After which, I have absolutely no doubt your toddler(s) will demand that you turn back and start all over again.

If this brilliant board book doesn’t give the vital ‘language is fun’ message to both children and adults, then ‘I never writ nor no (wo)man ever loved’ Apologies to the bard. No, not the author!

Testing Friendships – Fox & Chick: The Party and other stories / Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury

Fox & Chick: The Party
Sergio Ruzzier
Chronicle Books

Let me introduce Chick and Fox. Fox is an equable character who enjoys reading, cooking and painting; Chick, in contrast, is totally irrepressible – a bit of a pain to say the least. Surprisingly these two are friends. They star in three comic style episodes aimed at those just taking off as readers.

The first story (which gives the book its title) is I think the funniest. Chick calls on Fox, gains entry asking to use the bathroom and then proceeds to throw a party for his pals therein.

In the second story, Good Soup, Chick gives Fox a hard time about his vegetarian predilection wondering why he eschews frogs, small furry creatures, grasshoppers and er, little birds as ingredients for his soup.

Finally, Sit Still focuses on Chick’s total inability to do just that , leaping up every few minutes for a cushion, food and a drink while Fox endeavours to paint his portrait.

How long-suffering Fox puts up with Chick is anybody’s guess: – shades of Lobel’s Frog and Toad here – but their interactions are highly amusing, the text very readable and the illustrations rendered in pen, ink and watercolour are wonderfully expressive and enormously engaging.

Rabbit and Hedgehog Treasury
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Andersen Press

I’ve been a huge admirer of Stewart and Riddell’s Rabbit and Hedgehog since A Little Bit of Winter (one of the four tales included here) was published about twenty years ago. If you’ve not met these two enchanting characters then this book of four stories is a great opportunity to get to know these two and the challenging nature of their friendship: one is awake all day and the other all night.

In the first neither of the best friends knows the date of his own birthday let alone each other’s. To be on the safe side they decide to celebrate the very next day and each goes about finding a very special gift to give the other.

Rabbit’s Wish is the second story but when he wishes that hedgehog will stay awake so they can spend a whole day together, the outcome is not quite what was anticipated.

In the third episode a remembering game tests the friendship between the two protagonists but an accident serves to remind them of the strength of their bond.

The final A Little Bit of Winter sees the friends facing another challenge. As Hedgehog prepares to hibernate he carves a message on the bark of an oak tree asking the somewhat forgetful Rabbit to save him a little bit of winter so he can find out what the season he’ll sleep through is really like.

Despite the chilly nature of the season, it’s a truly heart-warming story and like the others, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.

The Emperor of Absurdia & Wendel

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The Emperor of Absurdia
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books
This is a smaller format edition of a wonderful dream of a story from the pen of Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. It’s told with a delicious humour and through his fantastical and amazingly detailed illustrations. The whole thing revolves around an endearing young character who has something of a wardrobe crisis and that’s despite facilitations from the Wardrobe Monster: the Emperor’s scarf has gone missing.
A hunt ensues, and the scarf retrieved – just in time for breakfast. Thereafter another hunt happens; but not before supper is served and the seeker is suitably replete –

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or almost – for his lunch has hatched and taken flight.
This chase is done courtesy of the Emperor’s wonderful vehicle, his tricycle chair …

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and culminates in the finding of not one but two dragons. And the mama dragon is anything but pleased to see him, chasing him back into the hugging arms of none other than the Wardrobe Monster.

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Time to sleep …
Crammed with wonderfully whimsical imagery and sometimes, minute details, every scene, large or small, is simply superb. The delicacy of Riddell’s drawing is out of this world: do take time to compare the landscapes of the front and end papers …

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Such wonderfully detailed endpapers – feast your eyes…

Quite early on in the story, the Emperor himself declares, “This is exciting!” What child (or adult) could fail to agree? For the latter, the whole thing is a joy to read aloud – wonderful word combinations abound – ‘crumply coat, jingle-jangle socks’, ‘a loud, pointy-sounding squawk’; and smatters of repetition are judiciously dropped in to the text.
If this one doesn’t set the imagination of youngsters flying, nothing will. Me, I’m off to revel in the realm of Absurdia for a while. It rather reminds me of an adventure from The Edge, one of my all time favourite fantasy worlds.

In the same format and also from the current children’s laureate is another wonderfully quirky creation:

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Wendel and the Robots
Herein inventor, Wendel’s latest robotic creation has gone out of control and doesn’t know when to stop: even the inventor mouse himself ends up being tossed down the rubbish chute and onto the scrapheap. The question is can Wendel and his team seize back control of his territory from the dreaded tidying fanatic, Wendelbot?

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Enormous fun; but I certainly wouldn’t take a leaf out of Wendel’s ‘never threw anything on the scrapheap’ book. (although there’s one person in my household who definitely has!)
Both of these are great for those slightly older readers who may have missed out on the publication of these delicious books in their original, larger picture book format.

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A Great Big Cuddle

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A Great Big Cuddle
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books
Thirty five super-silly new poems from the Rosen pen each one stupendously illustrated by Riddell simply sizzle with the joys of early childhood and a few of the pains too.
I love his playful take on beginning reading – Reading Lesson:
This is how you read:/Can you see?/ This says “you”/ This says “me”./ /
When you see “me”/ You say “me”/ When you see “you”/ Say “you” – do you see?//
Altogether now:/ Can you see?/ You, you, you/ Me, me, me.??
Well done all./ That’s it for today. You can all read./ You can go and play.
But in reality every single one of these delicious offerings is a better in-built reading lesson than any of the contrived phonics or word recognition sessions that children in their early years are all too often subjected to.
What Rosen is doing in this book is enhancing children’s metalinguistic awareness and what comes across here loud and clear is that language is fun and playing around with it even more so…

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As one would expect, rhyme, rhythm and repetition are key ingredients and there’s a fair amount of nonsense with occasional echoes of Lear and Milligan alongside some more serious poems such as Lost wherein a small being sits contemplating being left all alone. There are rhymes that make you want to sit still and savour the words and others such as TIPPY-TAPPY and BOING! BOING! that make you and certainly tinies want to get up and move: Boing! Boing!/ Bounce bounce/ I’m a ball/ Bounce bounce./ Jump jump/ Pounce pounce/ I’m a tiger/ Pounce pounce/ ROARRRRRR!

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Riddell’s visual interpretations in pencil and watercolour are often gloriously inventive …

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and at appropriate times, quietly reflective renderings of moments of tenderness …

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His menagerie of larger than life animals, imaginary creatures and monsters provide talking points aplenty and a visual treat to match Rosen’s verbal ones on every spread.
A two-laureate treat and a must have book for anyone who has dealings with the very young. Buy it for the words, buy it for the pictures, buy it because in tandem the whole experience is a joy.

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Tales of Bedtime

Counting Sheep
Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell
Frances Lincoln pbk.
Tom just cannot get to sleep so he follows his mum’s suggestion, “…try counting sheep.” But rather than having the desired effect, one of the sheep leads him off through the bedroom cupboard on an amazing adventure wherein he encounters all manner of animals not to mention pirates and ghosts to count –There are sharp toothed wolves, twenty three pythons, goats, penguins and more. After facing danger after danger, Tom is all counted out; time to tiptoe back to the bedroom and finally fall fast asleep.
The story bounces along in carefully paced rhyme that reads aloud like a dream. Chris Riddell’s detailed illustrations are wonderfully scary (I wouldn’t use this as a bedtime tale for those easily frightened) and reminiscent of his superb pictures in The Edge Chronicles.
This book, first published over twenty years ago, has so much to offer – counting opportunities aplenty (going as far as 100) with all the objects in silhouette form, glorious full colour scenes and lots of tension. It should appeal to a wide age range.
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The Ghost Library
David Melling
Hodder Children’s Books pbk.
Imagine a library with no books; just row upon row of empty shelves –a ghost library no less. That is where young Bo finds herself when, after settling down with her favourite bedtime book about a witch with smelly feet, she is dragged unceremoniously up into a tall tower that houses The Ghost Library. There she is confronted by a ghostly trio, tall skinny Magpie, rotund floater, Twit and beaked Puddle Mud. These three are not interested in Bo herself; rather, they have designs on her book. Before long, ‘Story Time’ is announced and the library shelves are filled with all manner of apparitions clamouring for a tale from Bo. She obliges by reading her witchy book, but responds to their demands for another story by inviting the listeners to return the favour. The ghosts need more than little help to get going but eventually the ideas start to flow and Bo has a new story to share with her other worldly pals – their very own Ghost Story. Then it’s back to her own bedroom as a fully-fledged member of The Friends of the Ghosts Library.
This is assuredly a book that advocates the enjoyment of books, story telling and story making- the unleashing of the imagination no less. There is plenty of opportunity for that here as both Bo’s witchy tale and that of the Story Book Collectors are presented as wordless pictorial sequences so, it’s not just three stories in one but any amount of them.
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Pip and Posy The Bedtime Frog
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Posy is excited about going to her friend Pip’a house  for a sleepover. But, at bedtime after a lot of fun and games, she realizes as she snuggles into bed, that she has forgotten to bring her favourite toy, Froggy. Disaster! Her pal offers his teddy but that’s not green, a toy dinosaur – too big and scary, a money box frog – the wrong frog – and then finally his very own favourite Piggy. This special offering saves the situation and before long, the friends are both fast asleep.
Reassuring, and comforting, with just the right amount of gentle humour for the very youngest, this latest tale about the two friends is just the thing for bedtime sharing.
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