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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