My Tree and Me

My Tree and Me
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

This latest title in team Witek and Roussey’s In My Heart series presents the seasons through the eyes of the little girl narrator as she introduces her tall, more than 100 year old friend with ‘birds in his hair’ that she calls My Tree.

It’s with this understanding, non-judgemental tree that she shares the ups and downs of her life as well as using him as a partner for singing and dancing.

We learn of how the different seasons affect how she feels and what she does in relation to her friend; ‘With My Tree, I feel like I can fly’ she says of spring …

In summer said tree is a place under which to picnic, becoming a big house for all her animal friends as well as a static participant in a game of hide-and-seek.

Bare-branched and all a-tremble in winter, My Tree is kept warm by the child’s scarf and her fast jumping upon his ‘frozen feet’ – (strangely out of seasonal sequence this).

Said tree also has magical transformational powers, bestowing some on our narrator as she mixes a potion of earthworms, mouldy chestnuts and decaying leaves.

Come autumn My Tree’s branches with their colour changing leaves, provide umbrella-like protection from the sun’s rays.

No matter the season, My Tree, we’re told, smells good: in summer it’s with fruit and honey; moss and mushrooms signify autumn, peppermint is winter’s smell and fresh lime is his springtime one.

For My Tree, it’s easy to stay rooted to the spot but when the little girl tries a yoga tree pose, she finds balancing without wobbling something of a challenge …

both of the friends though, exhibit seasonal growth.

Like previous titles in the series, this has thick die cut pages; and Christine Roussey’s characteristic adorable ink-drawn narrator as well as inky aspects of My Tree, the rest of which is portrayed in colours appropriate to the season.

Celebrating the wonders of the natural world, this is another winning combination of words and pictures from the series’ collaborators.

When the Crocodiles Came to Town / My Funny Bunny

When the Crocodiles Came to Town
Magda Brol
Orchard Books

One day to everyone’s surprise two crocodiles turn up at Dullsville town and judging by their luggage, it seems they’re there to stay.

The problem, so our young narrator explains, is that they look different and behave differently and when it comes to the town’s rules, they show a complete lack of understanding which infuriates the inhabitants, and the mayor more than most, especially when they cavort on the precious golden donkey.

As for their ice-cream stall, that proves too messy and way too much fun for the killjoy Dullsvillites. In no uncertain terms, the crocs are given their marching orders.

That night however, as they pack up their belongings, two other outsiders, Glen and Freda Grabbit creep into the sleeping town helping themselves to items from all the houses.

Their eyes though are on the main prize – that precious golden donkey – and as a result they hurtle straight into the leavers.

A chase ensues but unbeknown to the robbers, the crocs have their own special weapon and it’s a highly effective one when it comes to apprehending the thieves.

Could it be that at as a result of the narrator’s plea to the Dullsville mayor, two leavers are about to become remainers after all?

Debut picture book author/illustrator, Magda Brol has created a very funny story with a very serious message about rejecting prejudice, and accepting and celebrating difference. Her zany illustrative style is action-packed and each spread has a wealth of details to chortle over.

My Funny Bunny
Christine Roussey
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In her latest ‘pet’ book, Christine Roussey features a rabbit and a small boy.

It’s the boy’s sixth birthday and he receives a large gift box from his favourite uncle. Eagerly anticipating the dwarf rabbit of his dreams the lad opens it to discover, yes a bunny, but this one resembles a large potato with yucky, clumpy fur and wire-like whiskers. Hmm!

Thoroughly disappointed, the boy lets off steam in his room before telling his new acquisition that he was unwanted and unlovable; and then going on to carry out a series of destructive acts before collapsing in a sobbing, snivelling heap.

The bunny however, isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. He leaps from the box and makes soothing advances to his owner.

Before long, with damage repaired …

and temper tantrums assuaged, the two have become firm friends, celebrating a funny bunny birthday together and forging a lifelong attachment.

An adorable furry character and an emotional little boy narrator show young readers the importance of getting to know someone or something rather than making a snap judgement.

Roussey’s characteristically quirky illustrations and her outspoken narrative work beautifully in tandem making for a lovely story to share.

Caring and Sharing: A Prayer for the Animals / My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing

A Prayer for the Animals
Daniel Kirk
Abrams

Writing in a meditative manner, Daniel Kirk wishes peace to all the animal inhabitants of our planet: to those of the earth, the sea and the sky.

He asks readers to understand that like we humans, those creatures too have needs. They need to be safe, to rest,

to have sufficient food and companionship.
‘May our hearts be open to caring for the animals of this world,’ he says.
Would that it were that simple.

It’s a start though and the book does have a powerful feel both through the lush looking, pencil drawn, digitally coloured illustrations that will attract young children, (his skies are stunning) and the carefully honed words.

If it encourages readers to do their bit against the destruction of precious habitats, to stand against the predatory actions of humans for their own selfish purposes then this book, with its final author’s note about World Animal Day on 4th October, will have succeeded beyond being merely a bedtime blessing.

My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The small girl narrator shares a special holiday celebration with readers, telling of the importance, not only of receiving shiny gift-wrapped packages, but more important, of saying thank you; of sharing our things, our friendship, our time, our talents (including making items such as friendship bracelets or cakes for others);

our knowledge (Lili has learned about bees and pollination in school), our kind words our love, our imagination.

With all manner of differently shaped flaps (some with several folds) to explore (one at every turn of the page), Christine Roussey’s crayon illustrations are enticing and full of child appeal.

The sturdy pages should ensure that this gift of a book – the latest in the ‘Growing Hearts’ series – will last from one holiday to the next. No matter the holiday, this is a story that demonstrates the value of both giving and receiving.

I Want My Dad! / With My Daddy / I Love You Dino-Daddy

I Want My Dad!
Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Tony Ross’s latest slice of humour, Little Princess style, has the heroine considering her dad the King, making comparisons with other dads and finding him wanting in many respects. He’s much shorter that they are, is useless at baking, gets wheezy in the presence of any animal large or small, is totally inept in the water

and unlike the Gardener who takes his offspring on forest walks, gets lost in his own castle.

I wish my dad was as much fun as other dads!” she cries to the Maid. … He’s useless.

Her response is to teach the young complainer. First it’s pony riding, then baking, followed by swimming and walking in the woods, none of which are a resounding success. Our Little Princess is left feeling cold, decidedly damp, with hurting teeth and head, and exceedingly hungry.

In short, she feels absolutely useless.

As she heads for home who should happen along but his royal highness out walking and when he hears about her failures, just like all dads, he knows just what to say to put everything right.

With My Daddy
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

In this sturdily built book, a little girl talks about how she feels when she’s with her dad.
He arouses the whole gamut of emotions: a hug makes her feel like ‘a little bird in a warm, comfy nest, … safe.’

He can also make her feel unafraid, ‘brave’ in fact, ‘daring’, ‘confident’ because he inspires self-belief,

being ‘adventurous’ particularly when it comes to swimming, ‘playful’ on the most ordinary of days, ‘calm’, and ‘excited’ especially when he plays at being a monster. Sometimes though he invokes anger but it’s a storm that quickly passes thanks to Dad’s gentle calming hands on the narrator’s back.
Interestingly we never see the complete dad, or even indeed his face. Rather it’s only huge hands, or feet and legs on the final page, that are ever visible. In this way, Christine Roussey emphasises the huge amount of love he bestows upon the small narrator and the scope of his influencing power upon her feelings and emotions.

I Love You Dino-Daddy
Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

According to his offspring, Dino-Dad is a pretty cool guy with all manner of useful attributes. He’s full of fun on trips to the park, , ace at building with blocks, great at playing monsters, pretend wrestling, giving pony rides and doing magic tricks (especially where cake is concerned) ; he’s even great to play with – albeit unknowingly – while taking a nap.

As described in Mark Sperring’s jolly rhyming text and portrayed, with his dapper blue shoes and striped scarf, in Sam Lloyd’s exuberant illustrations, this Dad is a doted-on dino. who is sure to charm your little ones; and this is a lovely fun-filled, love-filled book for dino-littles to give to a dad on his special day be that Father’s Day, a birthday or for that matter, any other day they want to bring a Daddy smile.

My Lazy Cat

My Lazy Cat
Christine Roussey
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Boomer is a chubby cat, found ‘spread out like a pancake’ on the doorstep of the young narrator’s home. With his tiger-like purrs and wonderful hugs, he quickly becomes the girl’s best friend. There’s only one thing wrong: Boomer is a complete lazybones liking nothing better than drowsing and snoozing, in complete contrast to the narrator. She’s constantly on the go with her busy schedule of judo, swimming, yoga, painting, pottery, knitting, soccer, and cycling. On her way out however, a snoozing Boomer causes her to trip and go flying.

One the verge of tears, she catches sight of the cat and laughter takes over.
Boomer then leads the way out into the garden. Flat out on the grass, child and cat watch the ladybirds and listen to the wind blowing through the pine tree, then stroll to the pond where they watch fish and listen to the sounds of the water and the frogs.

Lunch is a feast of berries, tomatoes, and fruit from the trees, after which they lie back contentedly gazing at the clouds.

The girl’s response to her parents’ “What did you do today?” is “Nothing” and a huge smile, which speaks volumes about her frenetic existence and the over-scheduled lives led by so many children nowadays.
Well done Boomer (and Christine Roussey) for showing the importance of allowing children time for slowing down, relaxing, enjoying the natural world, and just being.
There’s a child-like simplicity in Roussey’s scratchy-style illustrations that make the story feel even more immediate.

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter  

In My Heart

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In My Heart
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed
I received this book on the day we heard the terrible news about the second terrorist attack on Paris. So today (and yesterday) are days on which, as the small girl narrator says, “my heart feels heavy as an elephant. There’s a dark cloud over my head, and tears fall like rain. This is when my heart is sad.

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Indeed it could be said that one feels that way whenever there’s a news item about those seeking sanctuary from the crisis in Syria, and in other parts of the world.
However, right from its rainbow die-cut layered heart shown on the cover (its depth decreases as the pages are turned), this is  largely a book of hope and joy, wonder and positivity; as the child narrator tells readers, “My heart is like a house, with all these feelings living inside.”

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Every turn of the page reveals a new feeling or emotion be it bravery or fear, happiness or sadness, anger or calm; it might be a heart that feels hurt – broken and in need of healing with extra kisses, or one that is hopeful and “grows tall, like a plant reaching toward the sky.”

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How beautifully the author selects similes that help young audiences better appreciate each feeling: “Sometimes my heart feels like a big yellow star, shiny and bright.” – that’s happy; or when calm, “I bob along gently like a balloon on a string. My heart feels lazy and slow and quiet as snowfall.” This is mirrored by the choice of colour the artist employs for the symbol on the recto of each double spread.
As the heart-size diminishes with each turn of the page, we have a heart full of giggles (silly), a small treasure to hide away – a shy heart …

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and eventually, a garden full of hearts and a final question “How does your heart feel?” to ponder.
Elegantly and appealingly designed, gorgeously and sensitively illustrated and so full of heart, this is a must have book for all early years settings and families with young (and not so young) children.
As I said, I came to this with a heavy heart: I left it with one full once again, of hope … it’s the only way to be.

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Being a Hero/Being Brave

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Monty the Hero
Steve Smallman
QED Publishing
Inspired by his favourite bedtime story, Monty Mole makes a big decision: he’s going to be a (super) hero. He cannot wait so off he goes tunneling up and up until he reaches the magical setting of his storybook where he immediately encounters Herbert Hedgehog. Donning a conker shell for protection against monsters, Monty invites Herbert to become a hero too.
All too soon though, the two have their first MONSTER encounter but thanks to Monty’s mushroom morphing and Herbert’s prickly bottom, the ‘monster’ is soon beating a hasty retreat.

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But, pride comes before a fall it’s said and certainly that’s the case here for as they banter over Monty’s heroic – or not – qualities, Herbert finds himself in a bit of a fix.

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A spot of hasty tunneling from Monty soon does the trick and then two heroes set off in search of a wish fulfilling magic wand. Having found same, they just need to give it a shake but …
That’s not quite the end though: all ends happily for both heroes and Monty’s mum hears the magical story (with just one omission) as they walk off home together.

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A gentle, amusing story with some atmospheric nocturnal scenes to enjoy around bedtime or to share at any time in an early years setting. I love the fact that Monty’s adventure was sparked by that bedtime tale his mum read to him.

More lessons about being a hero to be learned in:

 

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Be Careful Barney!
Lucy Barnard
QED Publishing
Herein Barney’s attempts at being a superhero land him in big trouble when he ignores his teacher’s ‘stay away from the river’ instructions when the class goes on a school trip.

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Brave As Can Be
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed
A now not so little, self-assured girl shares her erstwhile fears and how she managed to overcome each one, be it her fear of the dark, a neighbour’s barking dog, a scary dream, a thunderstorm, creepy crawlies even, or her angry teacher (not so frightening when imagined with feathers) …

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On Hallowe’en however, with a cackly laugh and pointy hat, it’s her turn to be scary.

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Being scared can be fun though, especially when it’s listening to one of Dad’s spooky stories.

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Cleverly conceived and executed with all kinds of cutaway shapes strategically placed, this is a real charmer as is the narrator herself.
Deliciously humorous and unsentimental, this sturdily constructed book , subtitled a ”A Book of Courage’ is bound to delight and may well help children find their own fear-facing coping strategies.
It’s brilliant for sharing with children in an early years setting and a great starting point for talking about personal fears and how they might deal with them. With its board pages the book is built to stand up to the numerous readings I suspect it will have.

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