Inside Cat

Inside Cat
Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books

Brilliantly playful is Brendan Wenzel’s Inside Cat wherein rather than the cat being an object viewed by other creatures as in They All Saw a Cat, this cat is the subject doing the looking.

Readers share with said cat its view of the outside world through all kinds and shapes of windows. No matter where the moggy wanders, or the condition of the window(s) there’s something of note be it small or large upon which to fix its gaze and wonder – downward, upward or side by side.

There is SO much to behold, to watch – fluffy rats, roaring flies …

Consequently inside, Cat is a veritable fount of knowledge with all this information amassed from various vantage points.

But … then comes a startling surprise. It’s certainly one for the protagonist but readers faced with that final spread will probably wonder what took our feline friend so long to widen its horizons …

The story is told through a seemingly simple, carefully considered rhythmic, rhyming text and a sequence of brilliantly constructed, equally carefully considered mixed media illustrations that demonstrate how our own experience and our emotions shape our view of the world and the personal narrative we construct.

Assuredly this is one of those books that readers will want to return to over and over, with the possibility of new discoveries emerging on each reading. Equally it’s a wonderful starting point for children’s own creativity or a community of enquiry discussion.

Wild Animal Board Books

A Cub Story
Kristen Tracy, illustrated by Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

The titular bear cub acts as narrator in this board book taking us through a year of its life showing readers its features, sharing its activities – sitting still in a favourite springtime spot by a waterfall being one; rolling downhill right into blackberry bushes is the favourite summer pastime and come autumn fishing is THE thing to do and that takes him through to the winter when it’s time to snuggle with family in their den for a long sleep. As each season starts, the cub compares his attributes with those of other creatures in the location: he eats a lot compared with a hedgehog

but little compared to a moose. In the meadow he’s much slower than the elk whereas by the pond, he moves super fast leaving the snails far behind.

With Kristen Tracy’s playful text that introduces positional vocabulary and lots of words relating to the natural world and Alison Farrell’s engaging mixed media scenes that have just the right amount of gently humorous details, this is a delightful book to share with the very young.

Wake Up
Pau Morgan
Little Tiger

This sweet addition to the little nature series features four animals that are or have been hibernating and are now emerging from sleep ready to eat and perhaps to play. We meet dormice, a bear and her cubs, a pair of lemurs

and finally, a tortoise and there’s a final ’Do you know any other animals that hibernate?’

I really like this series with its grainy card pages, peep-holes and Pau Morgan’s beautifully coloured, textured scenes of the creatures; like others in the series, it’s great for sharing and effortlessly educative.

Who Said Twit Twoo?
Yi-Hsuan Wu
Little Tiger

Toddlers are introduced to eleven different creatures as they turn the pages and look beneath the flaps to discover the answers to the Who said … followed by a sound – ‘Twit twoo!’ for instance, the question being asked by a sleepy squirrel who continues opposite ‘Was it Fox?’ with the correct answer, ‘No, it was Owl!’ being given beneath the flap.
The next three spreads are similarly presented with ‘Aaaooh!’, ‘Grrr!’, ‘Squeak!’ as the creature noises to identify

and the final spread has a shiny mirror opposite which some of the animals ask, ‘What do you say?’
Lots of fun learning potential herein.

Winnie And Wilbur:Winnie’s Best Friend / Barkus:The Most Fun

Favourite characters return in these two books:

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

After more than thirty years during which witch Winnie ’s original fans have likely introduced her to a new generation, we have a story that takes us right back to the time when she met her constant and faithful black moggy companion, Wilbur.

But even that’s getting a bit ahead of this story that starts with the newly qualified witch living in that black house with which we’re now so familiar, but she’s all alone until that is, she decides to invite her three sisters to come and stay to help. They certainly alleviate her loneliness but it’s not long before sisterly squabbles begin, soon followed by cat fights. Enough is enough for Winnie so off they go but then she’s lonely once again.

A wave of her wand results in a parrot but that’s a short-lived visitor and her next attempt brings forth a little dragon though obviously with it comes danger of the fiery kind.

Will Winnie ever find an ideal companion to share her home and her life? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one …

Delivered with their characteristic verve and humour, team Thomas and Paul have conjured forth another magical Winnie and Wilbur story that will delight readers young and not so young.

Barkus: The Most Fun
Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

The lively, lovable dog, Barkus, is back in a third sequence of four lively, entertaining episodes, along with his human family – the child narrator, her mum and dad plus little moggy, Baby.

In the first story, the family set off for a camping trip leaving Baby in the safe care of Miss Daley, or so they think. However, on arrival at the camp site it’s revealed that Barkus has been harbouring a secret – a tiny feline one – and to the surprise of the rest of the family, the stowaway appears to enjoy camping just as much as all the others.

The second episode – a springtime one – sees the entire family visiting grandfather Jess on his farm. Barkus seems drawn to the cows and they to him and is especially happy when a baby calf is born to Dora.

Autumn is a special time for Barkus on account of the fun he can have with the fallen leaves; he also steals the show at the annual parade.

The final adventure has a chilly, wintry feel as the family take a trip to their cabin for some skiing but a big storm keeps them snuggled up indoors enjoying some storytelling.

With its mix of humorous colour illustrations and engaging text this is just right for readers just starting to fly solo.

Have You Ever Seen A Flower?

Have You Ever Seen A Flower?
Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books

This a visual feast if ever there was one. It begins in an intricately constructed city in which the only thing of colour is a small girl with rainbow tresses dashing out through a door where a car awaits within which is a terrier.

As the car moves out of the city, the dreary greyness turns first white and then explodes into a riot of colour, till the car stops.

We next see the child, her joy palpable, surrounded by fields alive with fluorescent flowers. She stops, stoops and, breathing deeply, imbibes the beauty of a single bloom and in so doing has an existential experience of complete connectedness: it’s as though she and the flower become a unified life force.

All the while, the text invites readers to ponder such questions as ‘Have you ever seen a flower using nothing but your nose? Breathe deep … what do you see?’ … “Have you ever seen a flower so deep you had to shout HELLO and listen for an echo just to know how deep it goes?’

We share the child’s exhilaration as she clutches a plucked wildflower, before herself becoming transformed into a flower.

There’s much to contemplate and reflect upon in what is, for both child and reader, a wonder-filled transformational journey into consciousness itself.

An exciting debut for Shawn Harris as author/illustrator. With their changing perspective and focus, his colour pencil illustrations are mesmerising, the playful narrative rich in metaphor with occasional alliteration and assonance. Who can resist its urgent intensity?

Stop That Dinosaur! / Mamasaurus

Stop That Dinosaur!
Alex English and Ben Cort
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

‘I was in my Granny’s kitchen eating extra-special cake / when the walls began to tremble / and the room began to SHAKE. / The window panes all rattled / and there was a MIGHTY ROAR!’

Granny responds to the knocking at her door, opens it up and lets out a mighty scream as a brontosaurus grabs her by her sweater and runs away on its very fast feet.

Hot on the trail comes the little girl narrator on her scooter, whizzing along the road to the playground, throughout the high street and out into the countryside showing no signs of slowing whatsoever. Through fields of corn, uphill and down go pursuer and pursued until the girl finally loses sight of the beast in the depths of the dark wood.

Is that the end of Granny? Will the girl ever see her again?

Alex’s brilliantly paced rhyming text really builds up the tension and sense of anticipation as the story races along; combined with Ben Cort’s splendidly dramatic illustrations with their plethora of amusing details (love those scattering rabbits), this is terrific read aloud book and I suspect it will fast become a rip roaring favourite with foundation stage listeners (not to mention their grans).

In board book format for younger dino, enthusiasts is

Mamasaurus
Stephan Lomp
Chronicle Books

Babysaurus loves to ride atop his Mamasaurus’s back from where he can nibble at the juicy leaves. One day though, he slips right down to the very tip of her tail and ‘Wheeeeeee!’ Having extricated himself from the leaves, he cannot see his mama at all – where can she be?

Off he goes wandering through the wild landscape, searching and each time he encounters another creature he asks, (just like the baby bird in P.D. Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother? “Have you seen my mama?”

Little humans will love joining in the repeat question and enjoy the stand-out images, set against black, used throughout the sweet story.

Toddler Bookshelf

The Great Big Egg Hunt
Ekaterina Trukhan
Nosy Crow
It’s a special egg hunting day with Rabbit and her friends. Having collected her basket, Rabbit and readers start the search. First Chick joins in and they search the bathroom where they discover Duck but no eggs. The search continues in the kitchen then moves out into the garden where eventually, after a few false starts, the five friends have an egg each. Hurrah!
With its simple, predictable text, plenty of flaps to explore and cute illustrations, little ones will enjoy participating in this seasonal search-and-find game.

Not quite a board book but sturdily made is:

Pip and Posy: The Friendly Snail
Axel Scheffler and Camilla Reid
Nosy Crow
Best friends Pip and Posy are spending time together outdoors in the garden. Pip is enjoying a spot of peaceful gardening but Posy is in a noisy mood banging and bouncing around. Suddenly Pip discovers a friendly snail while Posy continues with her noisy play, even frightening the snail back inside its shell. Enough is enough: Pip tells Posy to go away and upset, she disappears somewhere leaving Pip to continue with his work. So engaged is he that he fails to notice another creature getting ever closer to the snail. Happily Posy has been watching and now has the ideal reason to make a lot of noise …
An engaging tale illustrated in Alex’s trademark style, demonstrating an important life lesson: differences should be valued if friendships are to flourish.

Sleep, Cat, Sleep
Antje Damm
Prestel
The cat in this little board book is not happy; he’s trying hard to sleep but the fact that somebody has opened the first page has roused him from his slumbers. He tries hiding and pleading, which seem to do the trick, but then the page is turned again and those delightful dreams disappear. However the sleepy creature perceives that the destroyer of his dreams is now also rather in need of some shut-eye – maybe it’s time to turn the tables …
Simple, playful, interactive fun for pre-bedtime sharing with sleepy little humans.

A Little Snail Book: Hide-and-Seek
Shasha Lv
Chronicle Books
Bear is playing hide-and-seek with his friends, Little Mouse, Little Turtle, Little Cat, Little Duck, Little Pig and Little Snail. Despite their best efforts he successfully finds all but Little Snail. The other animals are amused at the fact that the tiny creature is hiding in plain sight and little humans will have a good giggle at the fact that the smallest animal can outwit the seeker. It’s he that acts as narrator sharing his search in a simple first person narrative throughout the game.
Silly but lots of fun; Shasha Lv uses a limited colour palette effectively in her amusing scenes of the animals’ game.

Doctorsaurus / It’s So Quiet (A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book)

Doctorsaurus
Emi-Lou May and Leire Martín
Little Tiger

When Doctorsaurus is summoned to the aid of young Triceratops after a chasing accident, little does the Doc. know that it’s not just a broken horn she’ll need to treat when she arrives at the their picnic spot. Stegosaurus has a septic toe;

T-Rex is suffering from an allergic attack and is all stuffed up and as for Brontosaurus, a blocked belly is the problem there and Doctorsaurus has just the thing – a dose of prunes.

Having done the needful, Doctorsaurus receives an invitation to stay and partake of the picnic and while they’re all tucking in there comes an earth moving rumble from a certain direction. Those prunes have worked rather more effectively than anticipated.
Oh the relief!

Time for a boogie, with some special guests to join the party …

Dinosaurs never fail to amuse little ones and I have no doubt Emi-Lou May’s rollicking, prehistoric picnic flavoured with poo – another of youngsters’ favourite topics – will hit the mark in story time sessions.

Leire Martín’s dinosaur depictions are a comedic delight – suitably silly and hugely expressive.

It’s So Quiet (A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book)
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tony Fucile
Chronicle Books

Subtitled A Not-Quite-Going-To-Bed Book, this could equally be dubbed ‘A Not-Quiet-Going-To-Bed Book for as soon as sleepy mama mouse has turned off the light and instructed her little (very sleepless) one to settle down, listen and allow the ‘small sweet sound of nighttime’ to whisper her offspring to slumberland, than a veritable outdoor symphony ensues. It begins relatively softly with the ‘crrr-oak’ of the bullfrog singing, the crickets chirp chirping and the dog’s tail tip-tapping. But this is soon joined by a veritable gamut of increasingly loud sounds both natural and otherwise causing the little mouse to get up, open the window and investigate.

As it reaches its crescendo, the, by this time sleep-deprived little mouse, gets out of bed again, re-opens the window and yells.

Peace is finally restored or … is it?

Guided by the increasing size of the print, little humans will relish joining in enthusiastically with all the onomatopoeic sound effects, as an equally enthusiastic adult sharer reads the rhyming narrative and shows the energetic nocturnal scenes.

If You Come to Earth

If You Come to Earth
Sophie Blackall
Chronicle Books

Award-winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall’s inspiration for this book was her encounters with thousands of children she met while travelling the world in support of Save the Children and UNICEF – ‘a book that would bring us together’, she says in an author’s note at the end.

Her illustrations are truly breathtaking, as, by means of a child who is addressing a visitor from Outer Space, readers are taken on a journey through the solar system, down towards the surface of Earth viewing the various kinds of homes people live in, their families,

their bodies – each one different, their expressions as they think and feel, their clothing, weather both good and less so, transport, places of education and the work people do, how they spend their free time; we see some of the foods people eat. (Some of us have more food than others.’)

There’s an explanation of the importance of water, its sources and a stream of marine creatures swims majestically past. Then come Earth’s fauna: Those with feet and those with wings, leading us back to humans, their love of music making, their different ways of communicating (Some of us who are deaf talk with our hands and faces. Some of us who are blind read with our fingers’ caption a spread showing people signing and sign language, and braille with people reading it.)

With its incredible detail, each and every spread is truly a beautiful story in itself (or many) – there are natural things and those made by people, even invisible things. Sophie puts occasional humour into her narrative with such comments as ‘Some germs can make you sick. So … breathing in smoke or getting spat on by a slow loris’ (it’s venom really can cause great harm to humans).

Then come two spreads – one with fighting, the other facilitating, and the comment,’It’s better when we help each other.’( If only everybody stuck to that one)

The only sentence I took slight exception to is ‘Babies are not very good at anything.’ Babies are VERY good at learning – they do it pretty much all the time they’re awake as I observed when spending time with Faith, a six-month old relation the other day.

It’s good to see attention being given to storytelling, be it older people storying about the past, or children imagining.

The author concludes that there’s much we don’t know but ‘right this minute, we are here together on this beautiful planet.’ A fitting end to a gloriously illustrated, wonderful message. The visual detail is awesome and the importance of seeing each person as a unique, valued human being worthy of our respect and care, and of the vital necessity too caring for the Earth, shine through the entire book.

A must have for school and home.

Love, Hide-and-Seek and Night-time Board Book Style

Little Love Bug
Illustrated by Emily Dove
Chronicle Books

Author/illustrator and nature enthusiast, Emily Dove, uses a popular minbeast as the featured creature in her latest in the finger puppet series to share with babies. We see a parent and little bug spending a busy day together snuggling, meeting friends, taking a slow wander, enjoying a dance and having a goodnight hug. No matter the time of day you can find an opportunity to show your love.

Bright, cute and sturdily built for lots of reading together times.

Where’s Mrs T-Rex?
illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

There’s a decidedly dinosaurish theme to the latest in Nosy Crow’s ever-popular felt flaps series with that final mirror that tinies love.. In this one you can introduce babies and toddlers to the four dinosaurs that are playing hide-and-seek from various minibeasts, a pterodactyl and a turtle.

It’s never too early to expose them to such names as Stegosaurus (Mr) Diplodocus (Mrs), Triceratops (Mr) and T-Tex, herein set against vibrant, patterned backgrounds. What fun!

Shhh … Good Night
Nicky Benson and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

With Nicky Benson’s gentle, rhyming text and Thomas Elliott’s gorgeously hued illustrations, this lovely book with its die-cut pages, showing a mother bird and her baby, a baby squirrel with its parent, a big and small firefly and deer, little and large, settling down for a night’s sleep, this book is a lovely way to bid little humans goodnight; they’ll surely sleep well after this dreamy meditative experience.

And if you missed the paperback version of Britta Teckentrup’s beautifully illustrated Moon, reviewed already on this blog, Little Tiger have now published a die-cut paged board book edition showing animals around the world at night-time.

Saving the Planet – The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring / Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet

The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring
Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Little Tiger

The Yeti Collective is a worldwide organisation with each of its strands having responsibility for an element of conservation while simultaneously aiming to avoid human detection.

Shadowspring (underground water upon which all wildlife and the humans depend) is under the protection of the Greybeards (the British group) but now somebody or something is interfering with the water levels and things are looking bad for the inhabitants of Tadpole’s community.

Tadpole (she of unripe character), daughter of the sett’s leader, Shipshape (she in perfect order), is next in line to become the Greybeards’ leader, a role for which she feels anything but fit.

Despite the precedent for avoiding humans contact, like her grandfather before her, Tadpole meets a human; his name is Henry, a boy just adapting to boarding school life.

Now, on account of the danger the Greybeards are facing, Tadpole and Henry (aka Hen-ree) must work together: an extremely dangerous undertaking ensues.

It’s a delight to enter and share in this world with its highly pertinent environmental messages, that’s populated by wonderful characters such as the two main ones in this story.

I missed the first book in the series, but I intend getting hold of it forthwith; I’m sure it too will be a superb read.

Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug, the four NNASA agents, return having previously failed to find the perfect Goldilocks Planet, with a new mission, to find a planet fit for human habitation.

Having splash-landed on Water Planet, they discover it is awash with clams, a power-hungry, sub-aquatic force led by their president, P.T.Clam . Said creature is absolutely gushing with praise about his home planet and more than a little keen to swap his planet of residence for Earth. the polluted waters of which he claims to filter. Now why might he be so eager for that exchange?

It appears that he’s willing to do a special deal on the quiet with AlphaWolf (the mission’s leader) but another clam, Susan B. Clamthony tells a rather different story

and it’s one that the Astronuts really need to hear. It sounds as though not all the residents of Water Planet are as dastardly as their leader.

Packing the adventure with punny humour, hilarious interchanges and with a bounteous brio, Jon Scieszka, via his Earth narrator, cleverly knits together environmental information and facts about climate change. Combined with Steven Weinberg’s equally zany collage illustrations, every one of which is as immersive as the watery environment of the story’s setting, (love the spread on how they were created) this is a terrific second instalment.

More please! I hear youngsters, (especially fans of graphic novels) cry. (And this reviewer.)

There Must Be More Than That!

There Must Be More Than That!
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Chronicle Books

In our increasingly pessimistic times, it’s really good to have children offered an alternative perspective on the future, especially when it’s presented with the wonderfully droll humour of Shinsuke Yoshitake.

It opens on a rainy day with big brother saying to his younger sister, “Hey, Sis. … Our future is doomed … Terrible things are going to happen … That’s what a grown-up told my friend.”

Feeling somewhat deflated the little girl goes and passes on his message to her Grandma. She however is much more level-headed suggesting focussing on the good things and the many possible choices one can make: “Grown-ups act like they can predict the future … but they’re not always right,” she says, immediately triggering more positivity in her grand-daughter.

She in turn then goes on to envisage possibilities of all kinds – ‘A future where it’s okay to spend the day in pyjamas’ – little did she know! – and one where ‘robots take us everywhere’ … and ‘someone always catches the strawberry you drop’ … and ‘someone does your homework for you.’ (“Bring it on,” I hear youngsters cry).

Now the girl is really on a roll, imagining outgrown shoes put to use as planters; being able to ban carrots, and having ‘that bully’ abducted by aliens or even finding her own true love and consequently not being bothered about the bully boy.

If you’re thoughtful, you can always think of extending your horizons and not thinking in terms of polar opposites. Thus good/bad could become ‘not bad / hard to say/ questionable / interesting /could be okay / strange’ or ‘I don’t know’.

There are lots of alternatives for an aging Grandma too – who knows, she could wake up as a teddy bear or live for 300 years. And as for that boring boiled or fried egg that Mum offers as the other options to left-overs for dinner … there are plenty of better ways to make an egg …

You just have to make up your mind which …

Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You

Scared of the Dark? It’s Really Scared of You
Peter Vegas and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

The relatively common childhood fear of the dark is given a new and fun twist in this picture book wherein the dark is personified and presented as an entity that is actually afraid of … You!

It spends its daylight hours hiding away in your underwear drawer, only emerging into the outside after sundown.

Inevitably this makes its life far from perfect. Friendships are well nigh impossible, as is tree climbing and as for a decent haircut – forget it. No light equals extremely messy hair.

I’m pretty sure most young readers would be happy to share its favourite foods – black pudding, blackberries, liquorice (the black variety), dark chocolate and candle-less Black Forest gateau when its birthday comes around. (Think of the fun to be had from creating an entire menu for the dark.)

There are plenty of positive things about dark: its refusal to be inside until lights off and TV off time; it stays up the entire night but is unable to do anything and it seldom features in a child’s drawing.

But don’t think that dark is without its devotees: numbered among them are bats (they fly in it at night)

and the silent stars.

That in a nutshell is that: so youngsters who have night time frights are safe to greet the dark with a friendly “Hi!’ so long as the light’s off of course, or it will scuttle away to safety.

Definitely worth trying as a reassuring bedtime read if you have a little one averse to the dark; and even if you don’t Benjamin Chaud’s chuckle-inducing illustrations make this a book to share for the sheer fun of it.

Over and Under the Rainforest

Over and Under the Rainforest
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal
Chronicle Books

This beautiful book immerses readers deep in the South American rainforest in the company of an adult (Tito) and a child narrator as they trek the entire day, from early morning to evening.

They observe with all their senses enjoying the ‘symphony of sounds! Chatters and chirps and a howling roar’ of monkeys, insects and birds in the treetops.

As they continue hiking along the trail we share the sights and sounds of particular animals, ‘Up in the trees’ and ‘Down in the forest’. There are toucans that ‘croak and bicker over breakfast’; a row of bats ‘sleeps away the daylight’;

… ‘A poison dart frog makes his way up a trunk with a tadpole on his back and they find themselves ‘eye to eye with capuchin monkeys as they cross a hanging bridge.

With the afternoon comes the rain, time to snack on dried fruits alongside snacking monkeys. The rain falls more heavily causing a blue morpho butterfly to fold her wings and tuck herself away close to a sleeping mother sloth and her baby.

When evening comes, the rain lets up and the darkness falls all around, there are lots of silent hunting animals such as a parrot snake and an eyelash palm pit viper, and some new sounds too, as up in the trees howler monkeys “Rrrowf! … Rroooooaaaahhhhhh!” in response to Tito’s roar.

Night is the time for jaguars to be on the prowl so perhaps the sudden scary snap is a sign one’s on the move.

It’s also the time for the two trekkers to cross that last bridge and, with thoughts of Abuelita’s supper awaiting, to head for home to the sounds of a choir of insects and raindrops.

Kate Messner’s poetic text really does capture the atmosphere of the rainforest and the changes that happen over a day, while Christopher Silas Neal’s mixed media, matt illustrations, with their alternating views of ground level, the sky and the treetops showing the rich variety of the flora and fauna, imbue this particular ecosystem with a magic of its own.

If you want to discover more about the fauna, Kate has included notes on twenty creatures at the back of the book, along with some paragraphs about her own Costa Rican rainforest forays.

Sleuth & Solve History

Sleuth & Solve History
Victor Escandell and Ana Gallo
Chronicle Books

This new assemblage of detective fun enigmas from Victor Escandell (illustrator) and Ana Gallo (author) all have a historical theme.

The brain-bewildering mysteries begin way back in prehistoric Stone Age times with a meal-stealing episode and end with a contemporary conundrum relating to an astronaut who locked herself out of her computer.

Before the sleuthing starts, there are spreads setting out such things as how to go about finding solutions; ways to play (solo, as a family or in teams) and a table of contents in timeline form.

Then the real puzzling begins with an introductory scene setting paragraph, cartoon style visuals, captions and speech bubbles for each mini mystery; and across the top left-hand page of each one is a rating for difficulty, a categorisation of how to solve it (by using logic or imagination), and the number of points for finding the answer (no cheating by peeping under the flap at the outset).

Puzzlers can test their skills in the Mesolithic era; the Babylonian Empire; in Ancient Egypt; among the Ancient Greeks, the Celts (two double spreads needed for this one); with a Syracuse king who called on Archimedes to assist him;

they can try catching a jewel thief during the French revolution; emulate young Thomas Edison, or Sherlock Holmes even.

Just right for youngsters aspiring to become the next Poirot or Precious Ramoswe. Hone up those ‘little grey cells’ and off you go.

Terrific screen-free fun aplenty guaranteed.

Rocket Boy / You’re a Star, Lolo / Charlie & Mouse Even Better

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

Young Callum has a dislike of broccoli, a fertile imagination, and is passionate about space, Mars especially.

One Saturday he decides it’s time he learned a bit more about his favourite topic, above all, what it would be like to witness a Martian sunset.

Having stocked up on some vital supplies and donned his space boots and helmet he’s ready to board Epic. Then, final checks carried out, comes the countdown …

Out in space he is surprised to discover he has a stowaway, his cat Oscar, and the creature now has the power of speech. In fact Oscar proves to be a valuable crew member when things get tricky on account of a meteor storm and again once they’ve safely landed on Mars, where Callum does finally set eyes on that which he has come to view.

However, as he heads back to the landing module a very strange sight meets his eyes. “What on Mars is that…?” he asks.

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

Flying a flag for the power of the imagination, Katie Jennings’ story with Joe Lillington’s detailed full colour illustrations on every spread,

should go down well with young, just flying solo readers, particularly space enthusiasts like its main character.

You’re a Star, Lolo
NIki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third in the series about the adorable, Lolo who lives with her Mama and Granny Gogo contains four episodes for new solo readers to relish.

In the first, Lolo adds a secret ingredient to the soup she makes especially to warm up her Mama when she comes home on a chilly, rainy day.

Next we find Lolo kept awake by a scary sound convincing herself the ‘Ghorra-Ghorra! Hoooaaah! Bwoooooo!s’ she hears are those of a monster, till she and Mama discover what’s really creating such a terrible noise.

The third story starts in school when Lolo’s favourite teacher gives each pupil some seeds to plant. Lolo has tomato seeds from which she learns a lot. So too do the other members of her family; but when it comes to bringing in the results of their labours to show to their classmates, Lolo surprises everyone …

In the final episode Lolo is super-excited when she discovers that she and Gogo are to spend a week of the summer holiday in a seaside town near Cape Town.

The holiday is great but the journey home is more than a little eventful and Lolo wonders if she’ll make it back in time to start school again.

Like the previous books, with its combination of gentle humour and warm family relationships, and of course, Niki Daly’s own  black and white illustrations at every turn of the page, this one is sheer delight.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

If you’ve yet to meet the rather mischievous brothers, Charlie and Mouse, now’s your chance in their four latest seemingly ordinary activities.

First of all it’s Pancake Day and Mum receives some rather unlikely requests for pancakes from the boys – baby pancakes, a pancake turtle and even a pancake dragon.

It’s as well that Mum knows just how to curtail all this pancake bingeing before the table is totally full, not to mention two little tummies.

Shopping sees Charlie and Mouse off with Dad on a secret expedition to buy a birthday present for Mum. She’s fond of sparkly things; but what will the boys eventually choose – something more practical perhaps?

In Helping, Dad is busy baking a cake so the boys decide to make some decorations. You are going to love Mouse’s final remark on their endeavours.

Eventually it’s birthday time. Before the celebration actually happens though, Dad and the boys need to do some hasty de-smoking of the house. Then once she comes home it’s down to Mouse to do some clever Mum distracting – four minutes worth to be precise – before the presentation of that special Surprise offering.

In these four short chapters, Lauren Snyder demonstrates the astuteness of her observations of very young children, and of course how parents respond. Equally well-observed are Emily Hughes’ illustrations of the family.

With its gentle humour, both verbal and visual, this delightful book is just right for emergent readers.

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet! / Mabel: A Mermaid Fable

I Don’t Want To Be Quiet!
Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In the third of her ‘I Don’t Want … ‘ stories, Laura with the help of her young protagonist, explores what happens when instead of making the most noise you can in whatever situation you’re in,

you try something completely different, the possibilities of not making any sound at all and seeing what happens.

What the little girl who hates to be quiet discovers when she actually IS quiet is that there’s an enormous amount of fun to be had – inside your head,

out and about in the open air and in school too. And in fact it’s possible to hear all those hithertofore unheard gentle sounds

while still leaving times and places for making lots of noise.

A thought-provoking message delivered through an enormously enjoyable rhyming narrative and splendid brimming-over-with-energy illustrations; and it’s great for whole-hearted performance too.

Mabel: A Mermaid Fable
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books

Mabel is different: her dad has a moustache – a very large one; her mum and sisters have small ones that curl at the ends, even her baby brother has a tiny one; but Mabel is entirely moustacheless. She’s so embarrassed she tries ‘hiding her nose behind jaunty shells and by wearing seaweed falsies, but this only made her feel like a clown.’

Having been called a ‘nudibranch (sea slug to you and me)’ by a taunting passing pufferfish, she decides there’s only one thing to do – hide.

While in hiding however, she encounters a seven-legged octopus (perhaps better termed a septopus) going by the name of Lucky. This fellow appendage-lacker soon becomes a firm friend and the two teach each other all manner of useful things.

An off-beat, warm-hearted tale of overcoming your worries and being yourself that’s full of wisdom and superbly illustrated. The undersea setting is splendidly wacky with a wealth of priceless minutiae to savour.

Every Child a Song / Like the Moon Loves the Sky

Every Child a Song
Nicola Davies and Marc Martin
Wren & Rook

This book was written in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Sensitive and thought-provokingly Nicola Davies uses the idea of every child having a song to explore some of the things contained in the 54 rights that all children should have.

Easily understood, her beautiful words highlight the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to an education; the right to relax, play and participate in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities indoors and out, to be both an individual and part of a loving community.

Nicola’s is a song of love indeed and a vitally important one that reminds us all that there are still children whose access to these rights is limited by the chaos of hatred and war

yet still they are able to sing and to have their songs heard by people the entire world over.

Marc Martin’s illustrations don’t shy away from the darkness but the bright light of hope prevails as the final spreads show how by raising our collective voices we can make sure that ALL children, wherever they are, can sing their own song; a song that starts from the day they are born – a song of love, of joy and of freedom ‘–unique and tiny. Fragile. But never quite alone.’

Truly an inspiration to children everywhere.

Just now in the present difficult situation that are all share, think about what you can do at home with this book as your starting point.

Like the Moon Loves the Sky
Hena Khan and Saffa Khan
Chronicle Books

‘Inshallah you are all/ that is gentle and good // Inshallah you feel safe, / like all children should.’
These are the opening lines of Hena Khan’s lyrical text (each verse being based on a verse of the Quran) expressing new parents’ hopes for their tiny child to show gentleness, be safe, kind, reflective, to seek knowledge,

to stand strong, to embrace change and much more, prefacing each one with the “Inshallah” (in Arabic – if God wills it).
Debut illustrator Saffa Khan has created exquisite ink textured, digitally rendered scenes in rich, vibrant hues for every spread. I particularly like her carefully considered, inclusive one for ‘Inshallah you travel / to thrilling new places.’

Throughout, not only does she imbue the book with a sense of security, contentment and happiness, but also with hope and kindness, and feelings of awe and wonder,

perfectly complementing and extending the author’s over-arching tender, peaceful message of unconditional love.

This is a book that will resonate with people of all faiths and none, for as the author reminds us ‘Inshallah is used … to reflect the idea of a greater force or power beyond ourselves’.
Gorgeous!

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Very Dark
Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
Chronicle Books

Tiny T. Rex and his buddy Pointy are spending their very first night under the stars, and the adorable dinosaur narrator, all the while clutching tight his squishy bear Bob, regales us with their nocturnal experiences. When outside, we hear, ‘the dark is VERY dark’ and with no ‘nighty-lights to turn on’ there may very well be Grumbles and Nom-bies at large.

Mum assures her little one that even in the dark, there will always be a light shining somewhere. He though is far from convinced. He and Pointy however, have a secret being brave plan. This means building a hiding fort

to contain snacks and themselves but even then, feeling hidden isn’t what happens. So, brain-protecting helmets are necessary although a proper fit is a requisite

as are the lamps from indoors and the strings of coloured lights with which they deck the trees and their tent. At last everything is ready; now let those Crawly creeps and Nom-bies come …

That brightness however, lasts only briefly for a fuse blows and they’re plunged into total ‘very dark dark’ blackness.

Now what can they do: everyone is scared but can they summon up all their courage, open their eyes and look hard – very, very hard …

There’s plenty to see and delight in here in this reassuring tale, not least what those Grumbles and Nom-bies actually are.

What’s needed for dark-fearful little ones is a super story bedtime tale such as this one, then a big hug, followed by lights out and imaginations temporarily switched off. Most definitely, it’s another winner from the Stutzman and Fleck team.

Most of the Better Natural Things in the World

Most of the Better Natural Things in the World
Dave Eggers and Angel Chang
Chronicle Books

Stunningly illustrated, this book is really unusual.

The opening spread shows on a bleak STEPPE, an empty chair draped with coloured rope.

We then accompany a black and white tiger through a series of lush landscapes on a solitary journey that takes him with the chair now strapped to his back, through a gorge, a valley, across a plain, through a cloud forest,

past an atoll, an archipelago, an estuary, an oasis, a lagoon and an alpine lake. He climbs, strides, swings, swims, rows,

walks upright and on all fours; occasionally we see a white bird that may be travelling along too.

Pausing after the chaparral, the tiger puts down the chair and takes in the incredible vista. (shown in a double gatefold).
But where is the creature going and why the chair?

On he travels until finally after another pause to view the northern lights he arrives here:

This cleverly named ‘taiga’ destination reveals the purpose of all his travelling and there’s an empty place for one that has come so far.

We never lose interest in the tiger’s almost dreamlike journey thanks in no small part to the way each page turn reveals a different visual perspective.

The combination of Eggers’ minimal text  – a prose poem of sorts – and Angel Chang’s awesome art make for an exciting picture book that leaves much for readers to imagine and decide for themselves.

Board Book Miscellany

Goodnight, Rainbow Cats
Barbara Castro Urio
Chronicle Books

The setting is a big white house wherein sleeps Little Red Cat. How do we know this? Because on the recto we see a die-cut window coloured red, while opposite on the verso is a Little Green Cat about to cross the book’s gutter and enter the door of the house. And the text bids ‘Goodnight, Little Red Cat.’

When the page is turned it’s evident that the Little Green Cat is now inside and Little Yellow Cat (from the verso) will be next to enter.

All the while the narration is presented in a conversational style above the awaiting cat. For instance we read, ‘Up to a room in the big white house!/ Goodnight, Little Yellow Cat. / Look who is waiting outside. / It’s Little Brown Cat! / Where are you going, / Little Brown Cat?’ (Each new cat is introduced with its own colour font which will help little ones predict what colour window will appear next in the house.)

When all twelve cats are safely indoors and asleep in the big white house it’s time to bid ‘Goodnight, rainbow cats!’A fun bedtime wind down for little humans and one that’s sufficiently strongly built to stand up to the frequent readings youngsters will likely insist on.

A to Z Menagerie
Suzy Ultman
Chronicle Books

With wonderfully quirky illustrations some of which have lovely touches (the horse wears ‘high-tops’) Suzy Ultman has created a distinctive board book picture dictionary with a pullout tab highlighting each letter.

Every page features one letter that fills up with colour when its tab (placed halfway down the edge) is pulled; for instance the C becomes a caterpillar and O an owl.

The vocabulary is interesting and will likely introduce young users of the book to new words such as axolotyl, challah, iguana, pennant and zooplankton, as well as including some vocabulary you might expect.

The whole alphabet is introduced by a page inviting little ones to “look and touch’ and there’s a concluding A to Z asking users to choose a favourite discovery.
Idiosyncratic, gently educational and great fun.

Now for two Nosy Crow titles new in board book format both of which were smashing picture books previously featured on this blog:

Neon Leon
Jane Clarke & Britta Teckentrup

A book about a chameleon that’s great for audience participation and features colours, counting, camouflage and different environments.

There’s a Bear on My Chair
Ross Collins

This features a little mouse upon whose chair a huge bear has placed his bottom and it’s clearly going to be a difficult task to get him to shift it. So much so that the little rodent narrator decides that the only solution is to quit the scene and let his paws take him elsewhere.
Wonderfully droll illustrations and a superb monologue in a small package for small hands.

At the Beach, On the Farm, In the Forest, Under the Ocean
illustrated by Nancy Bevington
Catch a Star Books

Four Can You Find? board books designed to encourage the very youngest to learn new words are illustrated by Nancy Bevington. Her brightly coloured, amusing images of animals, plants and the occasional human are clearly labelled.

Of the eight double spreads in each book, the first seven are introduced by a sentence such as ‘Under the ocean there are …’, or ‘At the beach there is … ‘ and the final one asks ‘Can you find all the things under the … ? inviting users to turn back and look again at the previous pages.

Adults/infants can play other games such as finding all the things with wheels in the Farm book; there’s plenty of potential for extending the use of each book depending on the interest of the little one involved.

Early Years Picture Book Shelf

How About a Night Out?
Sam Williams and Matt Hunt
Boxer Books

We join a kitty cat embarking on a nocturnal excursion through the city where  adventures aplenty await. There are friends to meet for a ‘catercall’ upon the wall,

a roundabout to ride upon, birds to scare and much more. A ‘night to sing about’ claims our adventurer but all too soon the sun comes up and it’s time to head for home and some city kitty slumbers.

Delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets and Matt Hunt’s alluring art showing the cat’s journey against the inky dark sky, this will surely please early years listeners.

What Colour Is Night?
Grant Snider
Chronicle Books

If you’re thinking night is black, then have another think. You certainly will having read Grant Snider’s poetic nocturnal exploration. Herein he shows us the multitude of colours that a closer look will reveal. There’s blue for a start, ‘a big yellow moon beginning to rise’, the fireflies glowing gold in the park.

But that’s just the start: there are ‘Fat brown moths dancing in yellow streetlights’, a whole city lit with red neon signs, the green-eyed glow of prowling raccoons, silver stars spilling across the sky above the barely visible countryside.

The silent stillness of his scenes though, is not confined to the outdoors. Inside we see the grey face of a clock, the shapes afloat in the bowl holding a midnight snack are yellow blue and pink; while through the window we start to see the moon’s rings and outdoors once more are ‘all the night’s colours in one moonbow’.

I’m pretty sure that young readers and listeners will envy the sleeping child picked up and taken on a dream flight through pink and purple clouds over the city aglow with colours. Snider offers an ideal excuse for little ones to request a delay to their own slumbers in order to view those ‘colours unseen’.

What Can You See?
Jason Korsner and Hannah Rounding
I Like to Put Food in My Welly
Jason Korsner and Max Low
Graffeg

What Can You See? invites little ones to develop their observation skills as they focus on in turn a table laid for tea, a lounge, the garden, the sky, the jungle, a flower and a host of other focal points to locate the objects named in the relevant verse in Hannah Rounding’s delectable illustrations.
In I Like to Put Food in My Welly, playful topsy-turvies result from putting butter on the bread, pulling a rabbit from a hat, climbing an apple tree and other starting points, each scenario being presented in Max Low’s zany sequences (Did I see two of Max’s popular characters making a guest appearance?)

Engaging rhymes and art: just right for putting across the ‘language is fun’ message to pre-schoolers.

Together / Insect Superpowers

Red Reading Hub looks at two interesting, unusual and very different ways of presenting non-fiction:

Together
Isabel Otter and Clover Robin
Caterpillar Books

By means of gorgeous collage style, die cut illustrations and a series of haiku accompanied by factual paragraphs, illustrator Clover Robin and writer Isabel Otter present a nonfiction nature book that looks at animal partnerships in the wild.

Beginning thus: ‘ A vast migration. / Cranes take turns to lead their flock: / The feathered arrow.’ and explaining that when cranes migrate and the leader of the group becomes tired, another takes its turn to lead and so on.

The migrating cranes fly above in turn, a pack of wolves; a herd of chamois deer; and a pod of pilot whales. They then pass above a shark that has its skin kept parasite free by remora fish that get a free lift;

anemones kept clean by goby fish; a badger that works with a honey guide bird; a crocodile that has its teeth cleaned by plovers; a herd of loyal elephants; giraffes with oxpecker birds that help keep down their fleas,

and finally, zebras and ostriches that use their complementary sense organs to alert each other to danger.

At last the cranes reach their winter feeding grounds and their journey is over – for the time being.

A fascinating way of presenting non-fiction that offers youngsters an introduction to an intriguing aspect of animal life.

Insect Superpowers
Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Chronicle Books

Taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending popularity of superheroes, author Kate Messner and illustrator Jillian Nickell present in action-packed, graphic novel format, an alluring array of eighteen insects with extraordinary abilities.

Before plunging readers into the specifics of the various insects’ superpowers, Messner provides an introduction to insect orders and using the Monarch butterfly as her example, shows how biological classification works.

Dramatic illustrations immediately snare the reader’s attention as they confront the bugs one by one starting with in the first FAST & FIERCE chapter, ‘Supersonic Assassin Giant robber fly – more like a supervillian – that uses its venomous spit to paralyse its prey.

Also in this chapter are The Decapitator aka the Asian giant hornet with its painful sting and fierce jaws that often rip bees apart before stealing their larvae and feeding them to their own hornet larvae.

Other chapters feature insects that use mimicry (the ‘Great Imposters’); the ‘Big & Tough’ bugs some of which are among the strongest creatures on earth; then come the ‘Masters of Chemical Weaponry’. I definitely wouldn’t fancy being sprayed by the hot noxious mist that the African bombardier beetle can emit from its abdomen when something bothers it. Yikes!

Further chapters are devoted to ‘Engineers & Architects’ and ‘Amazing Ants’ (although some of the insects in the previous chapter are also ants).

For each insect included there are facts about habitat, size, diet, allies and enemies, and of course, its superpower.

If you have or know children who are into superheroes but have yet to discover the delights of insects, this book that’s all a-buzz with superpowered bugs might just fire up their enthusiasm.

Caspian Finds a Friend

Caspian Finds a Friend
Jacqueline Veissid and Merrilees Brown
Chronicle Books

In a lighthouse lives a boy named Caspian whose loneliness we feel right from the opening spread that reveals the stark beauty of his location.

How does someone find a friend whose every night is spent casting light into the darkness waiting for someone to arrive, but nobody does.

Then one day Caspian decides to write a message and use his flower jug to cast it into the ocean.

Weeks pass, then months as the boy waits and waits. Eventually he discovers something ‘a glistening nestled in the rocks.’ It’s his bottle and inside is a single word response.

He rushes to his little boat and under the night sky with its shimmering constellations he rows on the gentle sea until he falls asleep.

Waking next morning now in icy waters, Caspian finally meets that which he’s longed for …

and together they journey back to the lighthouse.

The combination of Jacqueline Veissid’s lyrical text and debut illustrator, Merrilees Brown’s beautiful art, which is a mixture of oil paints, relief print and charcoal digitally combined, creates an almost dreamlike gentle adventure story to delight and perhaps to encourage little ones to realise that within themselves they have the power to make changes happen.

The Hike / What John Marco Saw

The Hike
Alison Farrell
Chronicle Books

In this smashing book we share an outdoor adventure with three lively young human protagonists and dog Bean whose favourite thing is hiking.

With Wren seemingly, acting as narrator, we see them setting off together up Buck Mountain running ‘like maniacs’ through the forest until a patch of ripe berries slows them down and having gorged themselves, El teaches the others how to make leaf baskets.

Continuing on up a steep narrow trail, they get lost. But thanks to Hattie’s map- reading skills, they find the way back onto the trail.

Taking delight in the fauna and flora they pass – the tiny snail, the fleetingly-there deer, the birds, the fish, the wild flowers (each one labelled) – eventually the girls reach the summit.
There, under a beautiful yellowish-pink sky they celebrate by waving a flag (Wren), reading a poem (El) and releasing feathers into the wind (Hattie).

Celebration over, they head back home beneath a starry sky.
There’s SO much to love about this uplifting story: the children’s determination and perseverance, their camaraderie and above all, their joie-de-vivre and the pleasure each in her own way, takes in the natural world.

Within the pleasingly designed gouache, ink and pencil spreads the hikers share with readers, comments via speech bubbles, additional details courtesy of Wren’s sketchbook and after the story eight further pages of illustrated, more detailed notes from the sketchbook.

Immersive, exciting, and hopes this reviewer, a book that will motivate youngsters to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature whatever the weather.

What John Marco Saw
Annie Barrows and Nancy Lemon
Chronicle Books

In contrast to his family and neighbours who are preoccupied with their own private worlds, young John Marco notices the world around him.

But nobody’s interested in the big green grasshopper with black bulging eyes chewing grass,

the worms or the fossil in the rock, not even the big old orange cat with her stomach ‘almost dragging on the ground she was so fat’ that went ‘prr-rrup’ when he sat close by.

Surely though when he reports that there’s a tree falling down in the front yard – albeit slowly – somebody will pay attention. But despite Mum’s ‘Trees don’t just fall down” – yes, she does finally come and look – fall it does just like he’d said several times before.

Could this event herald the start of John Marco receiving what he and the things he reports on, deserve – the attention of everyone around. Maybe, just maybe …

An unusual, wryly observed demonstration that it’s wise to listen to what children have to say, and a reminder to us all to slow down and take note of the small things in life.

Kindness Grows / Get Up, Stand Up

Kindness Grows
Britta Teckentrup
Caterpillar Books

Within her signature style collage scenes, Britta Teckentrup cleverly uses the growing die-cut image to represent on the verso spreads an ever widening crack or rift caused by bad feelings towards others or unkindness of some sort, while on the recto the same shape grows to become something positive – a beautiful tree nurtured by acts of loving kindness towards others be they words spoken or actions such as sharing, forging a new friendship, working or playing together.

Little by little though, as the rhyming narrative says, from a small beginning – a simple seed of kindness like a smile or reaching out …

even a seemingly enormous rift can be repaired.
If only …

Get Up, Stand Up
Cedella Marley and John Jay Cabuay
Chronicle Books

The daughter of reggae artist and social activist Bob Marley has taken one of her father’s most popular songs and used it to create a powerful picture book message for young readers and listeners.

That message is clear and unequivocal – don’t let anyone bully you or other people – and we’re witness, thanks to Cabuay’s bold, bright scenes rendered in pencil and digitally, to a school day wherein when such bullying happens, the other children don’t just stand by and watch. Instead, they stand up and rally round be it in the playground,

at the bus stop, on the school bus, in the street or the park.

The final spreads show the youngsters hoisting a huge flag depicting Bob Marley and his anthem One Love above the stage whereon they then dance and sing for all they’re worth.

This is a book to have in primary classrooms to open up discussion on themes such as standing up for yourself and others in the face of injustice, no matter what that may be. Certainly in the UK right now, it’s a message that needs saying over and over. Of course it isn’t always easy to do but it’s never too early to start learning the appropriate ways to respond to discrimination, abuse, inequality, prejudice or any kind of wrong doing.

Reading Beauty

Reading Beauty
Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
Chronicle Books

If, like this reviewer, you enjoy fractured fairy tales of the feminist kind, then this latest one from the Interstellar Cinderella team, Deborah Underwood, who supplies the pacey rhyming narrative and Meg Hunt, the illustrator, will surely appeal.

Princess Lex, along with the majority of inhabitants of the planetoid, is a bibliophile. Lex’s room is bursting with books and she reads at every hour of the day and night. She’s even trained Prince her puppy to acquire reading material for her.

On her fifteenth birthday however, she wakes to discover all her books have disappeared.

Her parents explain that when she was born there was a birthday celebration but one fairy was convinced she’d not been invited. Furious: she’d uttered a curse to take effect on Lex’s fifteenth birthday;

the princess would get a paper cut causing her to fall into a death-like sleep.

A life without books? It doesn’t bear thinking about so Lex resolves to find the fairy and make her lift the curse.

With the assistance of Prince and a bot, she acquires and reads appropriate books to help her find the fairy’s lair, and another to be able to land. But that fairy isn’t finished yet: she’s determined to have one more try.

Happily though Lex outsmarts the fairy but the plot takes a surprise twist or two before reaching its satisfying ’happily ever after’ that will especially please book lovers. So too will Meg Hunt’s lively, futuristic, patterned, mixed media illustrations – love those end papers.

A good one to add to any primary class fairy tale collection.

Three Cheers for Kid McGear! / Crane Truck’s Opposites

Three Cheers for Kid McGear!
Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford
Chronicle Books

There’s a new addition to the ‘Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site’ crew; she’s small and a lot younger than the other five trucks, clean and shiny in fact and sporting ‘cool attachments’.

The rest of the trucks are concerned about her lack of size but she’s willing to learn and ready and eager to prove her worth as a team member.

First though, at their suggestion, she waits and watches as the big trucks work on clearing the ground. Suddenly however, she receives a call for help as Excavator and Bulldozer find themselves trapped at the bottom of a steep hill.

Now it’s the time for the fast moving little Kid McGear to act

and so she does, masterminding a solution and directing operations so that the rescue becomes a team effort facilitated in no small way by her quick-thinking and agility.

Toot! Toot! Hurrah! A female truck in the team and already she’s shown her worth, demonstrating that, in this rhyming rendition with its golden glowing AG Ford illustrations of the familiar construction yard inhabitants, size doesn’t matter that much.

Crane Truck’s Opposites
Sherri Duskey and Ethan Long
Chronicle Books

Crane Truck is hard at work at the construction site and with Excavator’s help he not only spends a busy day lifting and shifting, but in so doing introduces little humans to a host of opposites. In/out, fast/slow, above/below, near/far, lifts/lowers, heavy/light, dull/bright, big/small, tall/short, clean/dirty, day/night and finally open/closed are all woven into the short narrative that takes us through from sunrise to darkness.

Gently educational rhyming fun made all the more so by Ethan Long’s friendly vehicles from Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Grown-ups Never Do That / What’s Going On Here?

Grown-ups Never Do That
Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

‘Adults never misbehave.’ So says the opening line of well-known collaborators Cali and Chaud’s latest offering.
But there’s a team of young sleuths at work who might just disprove the veracity of that statement and we then accompany them through the book.

Of course, they’re absolute paragons of virtue these mature people. So much so that following Cali’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Adults are always good’ on the penultimate spread he concludes with the sound advice, ‘So you really should be just like them.’

However those youngsters who have been spying on the yelling, bad temperedness, cheating, sulking, messiness, lateness,

bad manners, time wasting and the other grown-up behaviours they’ve witnessed, may well think otherwise.

The brevity of Cali’s ironic narrative is countered by Chaud’s detailed comical visuals

making for a diverting book that will please readers young and not so young.

What’s Going On Here?
Olivier Tallec
Chronicle Books

This is a mix-and-match book wherein Tallec, in his typical skittish manner, invites readers to engage in storying with a weird and wonderful cast of characters – animal and a couple of human ones – all of which are sporting rather ridiculous headwear.
You can smile at the attire of each, as you read the related plot piece and ponder the question posed before flipping to and fro to try the plethora of possible permutations that the split pages offer.

I’ve used similarly designed books (three-way split pages) with under-confident readers of all ages needing a morale boost, and I’d do the same with this somewhat more sophisticated one.

Draw Here

Draw Here
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Full on fun as only Tullet can offer comes in the form of this brilliantly dotty activity book.

On the inside front cover is a flap of die-cut holes of various sizes folded over onto a set of patterns. This is followed by around 140 pages to adorn as per the author’s instructions; but let me make it clear, there’s plenty of scope for interpretation and creativity.

The two opening spreads are blank and thereafter users are presented with some pages littered with dots, some have relatively few or a single dot, while others have squiggly shapes, circles or a mix of dots and other shapes in Tullet’s signature primary colours.

The user is then invited to add more dots, adorn the dots in various ways,

colour carefully inside lines, add dots to loops, loop around dots, complete circles, connect dots related by colour, find a path across an entire spread without touching a single dot. Then what about creating some fruit, fish, cars, trees, flowers or people using dots as starting points.

Both fine motor skills and imaginations are stretched during the course of the pages and I can see a child getting carried away with this. All that’s needed is a few pens, pencils or crayons and a young mind ready for hours of creative pleasure.

Perfect for screen free entertainment, especially on rainy days or during holidays.

AstroNuts

AstroNuts
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

In this, the first book of what is to be a series, our narrator is planet Earth, yes that’s right Earth and it starts by taking readers back thirty one years to 1988 when, so we hear, in a secret lab. within Mount Rushmore two scientists working for NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) built four super-powered animal astronauts designed to become activated should humans ever come near to destroying their home planet. Their role would be to travel through outer space in search of a new ‘Goldilocks Planet’ (not too hot, not too cold, but just right for human habitation).

That catastrophic time now has come, so let’s meet the AstroNuts – fearless leader AlphaWolf, along with SmartHawk the super-organised planner, electromagnetic LaserShark – protector and food finder, and StinkBug -as they blast off in their secret craft.

Having travelled 39 light-years in less than 3½ hours they crash land their rocket on Plant Planet.

This place certainly does have a super-abundance of lush vegetation. But it turns out that these plants aren’t the mindless flora the AstroNuts first thought. And yes, there’s food aplenty; shelter building potential – well maybe,

but a balanced ecosystem? Seemingly not. But are those inhabitants actually friend or foe? Don’t miss the fold-out feature.

This is a clever mix of science and laugh-out loud bonkerness.

What better way to put across the climate change message and along the way impart a considerable amount of biological and chemical information, than with this heady concoction of Scieszka’s irresistible verbal playfulness and Weinberg’s clever digital collages constructed in part from images from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike
Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books

Rabbit lives in a field and dreams of leaving his safe haven one day, but this home-lover gets his adventures vicariously thanks to his friend Dog, an erstwhile motorcycle enthusiast who has spent much of his life riding his cycle all over the countryside.

One day though, Dog is gone and with it Rabbit’s daily adventure.

Dog has bequeathed his vehicle to his friend and it lies for many days abandoned in the field.

Then one night Rabbit decides to bring the bike inside and in the absence of a story, they listen to the sounds of the highway.

Summer comes bringing with it not only new blooms but also for rabbit, a newfound courage that allows him to admit to his fears and to suggest to the bike, “Just down the road.” But as we know, and Rabbit discovers, roads have a way of going on and on and …

It’s an independent, greatly enriched Rabbit that eventually returns to his field, with his head full of memories and stories, ready for new friends and with a feel for the pull of the open road.

Lyrically told by Kate Hoefler and gorgeously illustrated in pastels and watercolour by Sarah Jacoby, whose delicate scenes bring out Rabbit’s changing emotions while also capturing the power of the profound silences surrounding his loss, and the contrasting roar of the bike when he finally takes to the road.

An exhilarating tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone.

A Forest’s Seasons / Apple / Who’s Hiding on Safari? & Who’s Hiding in the Jungle?

A Forest’s Seasons
Ingela P. Arrhenius
Chronicle Books

This tiny, chunky board book comprises just six pages, each differently shaped, showing the seasonal changes in a forest. ‘Spring brings babies and blooms’ we read, whereas summer is alive with different greens; in autumn we see fungi and a predominance of orange and browns while in winter the landscape is blanketed in white.

A delight for small hands and a lovely introduction to the idea that nature is cyclic.

Apple
Nikki McClure
Abrams Appleseed

Essentially what is the life cycle of an apple but interspersed with human interaction is presented in just fourteen words, – a single one per spread – opposite one of McClure’s signature style black and white cut outs. The apple being the only red, in each composition makes it stand out.

In autumn an apple falls from the tree; it’s collected and put into a sack with others.

Back at home, a little girl watches her mother cutting the apples and seizing her chance takes one (SNEAK) and pops it into the school bag and off she goes to school. Intending to consume it later she begins playing and the apple lies forgotten.

Eventually it rots, is composted and finally in spring we see it’s sprouting into a new tree.

There’s a final explanatory page reminding readers that ‘apple seeds rarely grow into trees that make tasty apples.’ Nonetheless this book is an effective and simple lesson and one whose outstanding art offers much to enjoy and discuss with little ones.

Who’s Hiding on Safari?
Who’s Hiding in the Jungle?

Katharine McEwen
Nosy Crow

By means of her alluring colourful collage spreads, Katherine McEwen takes little ones to two locations to spend a day playing animal hide and seek either in Africa or the South American rainforest.

On Safari, from early morning the grasslands are an exciting place to watch wild animals be they nesting, napping, digging, playing, having a cooling afternoon swim in the river or basking in the warm sun. Come evening you can spot hungry giraffes grazing on the trees and perhaps spy a monkey or two nibbling; and when it’s dark it’s the turn of the bats and foxes to appear while their fellow creatures sleep.

There are also lots of lively animals around Hiding in the Jungle amidst the lush flora and in the overhead canopy.

Little ones can also search for others hiding along the steamy riverbank, beneath the surface of the river and, in the cool of the evening, look among the foliage for creeping, crawling creatures.

Night brings sleep for most, but lifting the flaps will reveal some surprises.

Both books contain simple factual snippets and every spread has several flaps to investigate, where there is information about the hidden animals.

Hungry Jim

Hungry Jim
Laurel Snyder and Chuck Groenink
Chronicle Books

This is a tribute to Maurice Sendak with a delectably dry deadpan delivery by both author and artist.

When Jim wakes up one Tuesday morning he feels at odds with himself – beastly in fact –and definitely doesn’t feel like breakfasting on the pancakes his mother is busy downstairs cooking.

Instead he devours her, but still feeling hungry he leaves home and consumes everyone who crosses his path. There’s no getting away from it – the more he rampages, the more he wants to eat. He wants to cry too though.

Finally he can run no further. As he stands contemplating his conflicting emotions he hears a growl that isn’t emanating from his stomach. There before him stands a larger, even more ferocious looking creature …

but Jim’s ferocity grows too …

Hunger sated at last, he heads home, burping and ‘braap’-ing along the way,

and there ‘It was a huge relief to find things mostly as he’d left them.’

Back in his own room another transformation takes place and finally the only hunger he’s left with is ‘For pancakes’.

After all that beastliness, it’s breakfast in this case, not supper that is waiting, but of course, it IS still hot.

This deliciously wicked tale demonstrating the power of the imagination will make you uneasy, it will make you gasp, and it will make you aware of the hidden wildness that lies within. What young listeners will make of it, I’m yet to discover. They will however definitely appreciate Groenink’s masterful pencil and Photoshop illustrations that are the perfect complement for Laurel Snyder’s pithy prose.

A Stone Sat Still

A Stone Sat Still
Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Kids

As with They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel explores perspective, this time playfully using a stone as the focal point.

A stone sat still/ with the water, grass, and dirt,/ and it was as it was/ where it was in the world.

A series of spreads, shows the stone as it is experienced by all manner of wild creatures: a snail crawls over it, a chipmunk stops on it to nibble a nut; for an owl it’s a bright place upon which to perch, while a gull cracking a clam shell finds it ‘loud’,

in contrast to the snake for which it was a quiet spot upon which to bask in the sun.

The stone’s texture to a slug is ‘rough’ whereas to a racoon’s paws it’s smooth.

The meditation on the inanimate object continues through the seasons when it takes on a variety of hues – green, red, purple and blue as witnessed by four different animals.

Its size can seem as a mere pebble to a large moose but to a bug, it’s an enormous hill; while in the dark, its sensory qualities are picked up as a feel to investigative racoons, whereas it’s a smell to a sniffing coyote on the hunt.

Readers too experience the stone’s sensory qualities, thanks to Wenzel’s text and his superb mixed-media illustrations, large and small.

As they move through the book, readers will, so long as they are observant, see that around the stone, the water is on the rise

as little by little it is engulfed, becoming a tiny island and then a wave, a memory, ‘and the stone was always.’ Submerged beneath the waves ‘with water, grass, and dirt a stone sits still in the world.’

Assuredly this is a book that invites us to celebrate the changing and the unchanging, and encourages us to look closely and ever closer, not only at the illustrations, but also at the natural world around.

It’s one to have on hand if you are thinking about wildlife, about perception and perspective, even perhaps about existence itself; it’s deep and gently powerful, and has much to offer across a wide age range.

The Boring Book

The Boring Book
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Chronicle Books

“I’m bored.” How many times do we hear children utter those words? They’re the first words said by the child protagonist in Yoshitake’s philosophical picture book.

His mum can do nothing to alleviate his state so the boy decides to explore the whole notion of boredom. What does it mean? What causes it? Inertia perhaps?

The lad continues his consideration of ennui by looking at different situations such as detachment and disappointment

as well as whether inanimate objects can be bored.
He visits possible locations that induce boredom in the extreme – an amusement park that fails to amuse for example.

But then comes a revelation – ‘it’s actually fun to think about “boring” things. This is followed by a deliberation on the strange state between boredom and having fun when things are done seemingly without any thought at all – things like teeth brushing or riding in the bus.

And who invented the word anyway?

It’s probably not a good idea to question grandparents about being bored; they’re likely to ramble on for ages about their experiences and anyhow, looks can be deceptive when it comes to boredom.

What about Dads though? This particular one seems more insightful about the topic and even sparks off some creative thinking …

but then he goes and spoils things again …

One thing is certain though, exploring and discussing boredom is anything but boring. Boredom is an option but one that can often lead to creativity where children are concerned – if they’re left to their own devices.

I Have an Idea!

I Have an Idea!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Is there perhaps a science of ideas? Or a special skill for finding them?

If so, genius finder of ideas Hervé Tullet could be the right person to demonstrate it and he certainly provides a great way to show young readers the elements, and how they might work.

The whole thing starts, so Tullet says with a single moment …

and he then goes through the entire process – looking and keeping on looking till you get beyond the nothing, the boredom or blind alley and suddenly there it is – something new.

‘It’s a little like finding a seed, …’ we learn …

Sometimes though, ideas are messy, bubbly and require time to work, so here’s what to do …

until there emerges that ‘good idea!’ And it contains ‘a seed of madness.’

Cultivation is crucial; but ideas are to be found all over the world, what’s needed is curiosity, looking, listening, touching, tasting, smelling, learning …

What though is the purpose of all this collecting of information and idea cultivation? Is it truly worthwhile? Tullet enlightens readers with possibilities “just for the fun of it’ perhaps or ‘to change the world’.

It is for sure, despite the challenges, a worthwhile endeavour no matter which you decide for rest assured if you look, you will, eventually find. Hurrah! Tullet shows this by scattering small red, blue and yellow ideas among the frenetic black lines of the world, there for those prepared to look closely, ready to grow into something bright and beautiful.

Play, have fun, seek and … find: then treasure your ideas. That’s the message one hopes youngsters will take from this book.
It’s also a message that teachers need to take notice of in their often unrealistic expectations of even quite young children in this results driven educational climate.

Brave Molly

Brave Molly
Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Chronicle Books

This virtually wordless picture book follows young Molly from her window seat where she sits reading and observing three young passers by, out from her house and down the street. But what is constantly lurking close by, sometimes waiting, sometimes following, sometimes stopping to watch?

It’s the monster that bears a strong resemblance to her own drawing tossed into the rubbish bin before she left home. Said monster, so we assume, is a representation of Molly’s own fear of interacting with others.

The three children leave behind a book on the seat they’d stopped on; Molly puts it in her backpack and sets off after them, with the monster not far behind.

Her shyness escalates and with it the number of monsters as she runs, crawls through a tunnel

and climbs trees until she feels almost completely overwhelmed. Somehow though, she summons up the courage to confront the terrors and seemingly they vanish, or almost.

One returns as she attempts to overcome her shyness and return the book: can she manage to get the better of it?

Could a simple word perhaps be all that’s required?

Make sure to check out the endpapers – this moving, empowering story starts and concludes thereon. It’s a great book to open up discussions with youngsters, about overcoming shyness or other fears.

Wordless books leave room for readers’ own interpretations – to ask and answer their own questions, and perhaps draw their own conclusions. Brooke Boynton-Hughes’ softly coloured pencil, ink and watercolour illustrations leave plenty of space for them to do just that, not least just how much inner courage Molly had to summon up to step outside and make that journey into the anxiety-inducing world beyond the safety of her home.

I’m a Baked Potato

I’m a Baked Potato
Elise Primavera and Juana Medina
Chronicle Books

As a stylish woman sits relaxing in her garden she admires her potato plants for she has a particular penchant for potatoes.

She also has a great liking for dogs and one day she goes out and gets a little brown terrier, likening it to her favourite baked potato food and constantly calling it “Baked Potato” as they spend their days inside together.

One day though, the two sally forth but not together.

As the dog searches for the woman, little by little he starts to wonder whether perhaps after all, he’s not a baked potato; but nor is he as the big dog tells him, a groundhog; nor is he a plump bunny like the fox says, igniting his oven and licking his lips in eager anticipation.

Happily for the ‘bunny’ an owl happens along and taking the little canine under its wing, explains that he’s a dog and points out that “dogs are very good at finding things, especially with their noses.” And the rest, shall we say is a sniffing journey and a joyful reunion.

Slightly crazy, but full of cosy charm and gentle humour is Elise Primavera’s telling; and with Juana Medina’s brightly coloured, detailed, swirling, whirling digital art, the book is a delightful read aloud either to a class or individuals with lots of possibilities for adult/child dramatising along the way.

Most Marshmallows

Most Marshmallows
Rowboat Watkins
Chronicle Books

Imagine an entire world populated by marshmallows; it’s what story-inventor extraordinaire, Rowboat Watkins does, one way or another.
As he informs us at the outset, ‘Most marshmallows don’t grow on trees … or come from storks — or even Mars.’

Instead most are mostly born of marshmallow parents and reside in various kinds of homes. They do the kind of things you and I would do like celebrating birthdays, watching television, going to school – well the young ones do, and presumably the marshmallow teachers.

Lessons are taught in being squishy – yes even these already soft confections have to perfect their squishiness, and in standing in rows – I’m not a big fan of that one, but some educational establishments think it’s super important;

and most definitely they should come to understand why they cannot breathe fire (that art is the preserve of dragons).

Now happily there are some divergent thinking marshmallows with secret knowledge and it’s something SO important I’ll share it with you humans so you can make sure your little ones know too: ‘Marshmallows – all of them – can do or be anything they dare to imagine.’

Now I’ve always said how crucial the development of the imagination is in education, or anywhere really and now THANK YOU Rowboat for your affirmation of this, with the help of those malleable little confections of yours.

Superbly creative, funny and positively inspiring, this is a truly tasty tale to share with young humans. Rowboat’s mixed media photo images are absolutely terrific; his scenes of what marshmallows do – be that most, the exceptions, or indeed all, are quite brilliant.

I was partial to marshmallows before reading this book, I’m even more so now.

Bikes For Sale

Bikes For Sale
Carter Higgins and Zachariah OHora
Chronicle Books

Meet Maurice, seller of lemon drinks from his mobile stall: ‘No matter where he rode, he always had customers.’

Also meet hedgehog Lotta; she owns a red bicycle that she uses to collect sticks, which she gives away for stilts, swords and limbo bars: ‘Everyone loves sticks … They’re the best thing to collect.’

Both pedal all over town but thus far the two have never met. Then however both need to move on and all of a sudden a stick – just a small one – becomes caught in Maurice’s wheel spokes and …

Almost simultaneously Lotta’s bike skids on some petal-like peel and she too takes a tumble. That’s two ruined bikes, but the two characters are unhurt so they endeavour to make do without them, losing business all the while.

In the meantime Sid, local bike restorerer makes a find – two actually –

and before long signs appear in the town advertising his wares; signs that both Maurice and Lotta read and decide to pay a visit to Sid’s establishment.
Hip hip hurrah! Two bikes have become one – a splendiferous tandem.

Then it’s a case of four legs are better than two as the wheels of the bike go round and round, a new friendship is forged and business begins to flourish once more.

With gentle anti-consumerism messages about making do and mending, re-using and recycling, Carter Higgins’ enchanting story is a celebration of friendship, collaboration and much more. I love the alliteration and quirky poetic nature of her verbal narrative.

Equally I love OHora’s characterisation and chosen acrylic colours for his delightfully detailed, sunny scenes of the ups and downs of life animal style. Make sure you take time to look at the maps on both front and back endpapers when you share this super book.

Kindness Rules! / Hide-and-Sleep

Kindness Rules!
Eunice Moyle and Sabrina Moyle
Abrams Appleseed

The Moyle sisters (aka Hello! Lucky), offer, courtesy of an elephant and friends, a lesson, or rather several lessons, in good manners. (Elephants are apparently ace when it comes to faultless etiquette.)

First though our magic manners advocate dons respectacles, positive pants and cape of kindness. Polite greetings, sharing, inclusivity, saying please, good listening and explaining one’s feelings, respecting the property of others, not invading another’s personal space; good table manners and knowing when to apologise are all presented as desirable and elephant ends with a summarising golden rule: ‘Treat others the way you want them to treat you!’,

Delivered mostly in rhyme, and through alluring, lively illustrations these lessons will prove invaluable when little ones start playgroup or nursery.

Hide-and-Sleep
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books

With her characteristic whimsy, Lizi Boyd has created another winner for little ones. Right from the start they’re urged to join in the play, look closely and carefully and try to discover the answer to the question, ‘Who is hiding?’ in the meadow and forest scenes.

Alternate pages of this tall book are split a little more than halfway down, which encourages readers to participate in the game and search for creatures among the flowers, trees, beside the pond and as day turns to night, on the moonlit hills, among the tree branches and up in the sky.

Every turn of the page reveals more creatures – blinking fish, a sneaking racoon, a resting turtle, a leaping frog, a dashing fox,

a sitting squirrel, a swooping owl and more. Deft fingers can create three alternative double spreads from two as they enjoy the captions that engage and move the game forward in response to the “Who is hiding?’ question it the bottom corner of each recto.

Just before the animals all, or rather almost all, bed down for some shut-eye, the answer to this persistent question is revealed.

Gentle, playful and thoroughly engaging: Lizi Boyd’s richly patterned, stylised images in jewel-like colours provide delight at every turn of the page; but as for the titular ‘sleep’, well, forget it until the final pages; this is full-on energetic frolicking.

Tomorrow Most Likely

Tomorrow Most Likely
Dave Eggers and Lane Smith
Chronicle Books

Dave Eggers has penned rhyming ponderings upon the possibilities of what tomorrow might have in store. None of us knows what the next day will bring but Eggers’ likelihoods are safe, reassuring, sometimes weird like this something that won’t rhyme

and sometimes totally delightful: ‘Tomorrow most likely / there will be a sky / And chances are it will be blue.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll smell the good smell / of an unseen flower you can’t quite name.’ … ‘Tomorrow most likely / you’ll pick up a stone / striped like a spiderweb or maybe a brain.’

In this bedtime story, his laid back languorous, rhythmic textual repetition provides both comfort and cheer –seemingly spoken by the mother from the title page bidding her child goodnight and in so doing looking forward.

Lane Smith holds up a two-way mirror to Egger’s contemplations with his mixed media images of a boy heading out through the door to wander around his urban environment encountering such oddities as a troubled big-eyed bug missing his friend named Stu; or that curved-beaked creature sporting a paper-hat, as well as envisaging eccentricities like eating the cloud-cone as he pauses in a flower-filled patch of green and then, clutching the cone, sings atop a rocky tower;

and closing with the boy now sleeping, dreaming of tomorrow, happy in the belief that because he’s in it, it will be ‘a great day.’

Touches of whimsy abound in this detailed urban landscape especially for those who know how to look for the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.

Catch Me / Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure

Catch Me
Anders Arhoj
Chronicle Books

In this double-ended seek-and-find book a long-necked cat, Big Meow and a spotted dog, Little Woof hunt for one another as they dash through eleven, mostly very busy scenes, changing their colour to blend in with each one.

Begin at the front to follow Big Meow’s journey through the pages and to try to catch Little Woof, work backwards. Either way there’s a pre-chase introductory spread introducing the characters.

The search-and-find pages have no words apart from a sign with Japanese symbols in this springtime café scene …

Each one of Arhoj’s incredibly busy, bright digital scenes will likely make the reader linger long after finding Meow and Woof as they enjoy the quirky details be that in the beauty salon, the alley with its shadowy creatures …

the park, the animal show, the cloud based carnival or any of the other zany locations. Each one is rendered in a different colour palette, which ups the challenge and interest levels another notch.

Enormous fun, the entire book is totally immersive; I hate to think how long I spent poring over it. Love those clever die-cut covers, each with its pair of alluring staring eyes; young readers will too.

Wilfred and Olbert’s Epic Prehistoric Adventure
Lomp
Little Tiger

Following their Totally Wild Chase famous explorers Wilfred Wiseman and Olbert Oddbottom are off on another action packed adventure.
While out shopping one afternoon the friends enter a time portal and in so doing find themselves cascading through thousands of years of history and unbelievably all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

Landing in a prehistoric ocean 360 millions years ago they confront among other creatures a Dunkleosteus, and readers are asked to search and see how many trilobites they can find.

From there they make a hasty exit and land up in a swampy forest of the Carboniferous period.

Further retreats into the time portal take them not home but in turn to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed and they have a narrow escape from a Stegosaurus.

Thereafter they enter the Cretaceous period and come upon even more dinosaurs, followed by the Neogene period, the Quaternary ice age where they meet a mammoth as well as encounter some human cave dwellers before leaping once more through the portal and right back home where it’s time for tea, followed they suppose by a well-deserved rest.

But then they look through the window where a big surprise awaits.

My head was certainly spinning after all that, so I’m certain the two friends needed a lot more than a cup of “Earlier Grey’ or ‘Oo-So-Long’ tea to calm them down.

Frenetic, crazy, action-packed and bursting with speech bubbles: search-and-find enthusiasts especially, will quickly be sucked through the portal along with Will and Ollie, taking a considerable time to emerge from this absorbing book. Fortunately the solutions to the puzzles are given inside the back cover along with a message from a nautilus that issues a further challenge to readers.

Ruby’s Sword

Ruby’s Sword
Jacqueline Veissid and Paola Zakimi
Chronicle Books

However hard she tries, spirited, young Ruby always seems to get left behind when out with her two older brothers. Pausing for breath on their walk, she discovers three long sword-like sticks in the grass; and feeling ‘invincible’ she offers two of the ‘dragon-fighting swords’ to her brothers.

They however only proceed to play with each other leaving her out once again. Disappointed she storms off.

Then, she comes upon an apple tree bearing ‘a royal feast’; she spears the fruit with her sword, which she also uses to help a colony of ants ‘Loyal subjects saved’, as well as to decorate the dirt with her creative efforts.

When a storm gathers scattering swallows, Ruby lifts her sword, whipping the wild winds, swishing at the rumbling, grumbling clouds, the raindrops and, when a huge gust of wind rips a sheet from a clothesline, she catches it on the tip of her sword and uses it to construct a tented dwelling.

Inevitably this attracts the interest of her siblings who are given the cold shoulder when they offer their help.

Now it’s their turn to feel snubbed and off they march but return soon after with handfuls of peace offerings.

Then all three work together to create a ‘magnificent castle’ – the perfect place to shelter loyal subjects – noble knights as well as animal friends.

Jacqueline Veissid’s charming story of sibling squabbles and reconciliation pays tribute to the power of the imagination in her softly spoken narrative, while in her digitally worked watercolour and pencil illustrations, Paola Zakimi clearly shows the siblings changing feelings and adds some lovely details of flora and fauna, along with touches of whimsy through the activities of her playful furry creatures.

A debut story for the author; I shall look out for more from her.

A Friend for Henry

A Friend for Henry
Jenn Bailey and Mika Song
Chronicle Books

Softly spoken though this story is, its impact is powerful. It tells of Henry’s search for a friend among his classmates. Henry has autism, something we’re never told although we’re shown it’s so through his behaviour and his thoughts.

To Henry, Vivianne is ‘a kaleidoscope, a tangle of colours; Samuel ‘a thunderstorm, booming and crashing.’ Later he’s unable to cope with Samuel’s flight of fancy when he grabs one of the tiles Henry has taken such care to arrange, (‘All the edges met and the corners fit perfectly’) describing it as ‘a magic … from a genie’s lamp: “It’s not! It’s from Rug World” the literal-minded Henry insists pointing out the identifying sticker. Now the little lad seems as though he’s getting close to a melt down.

Later on though, Katie joins him as he stands watching the class goldfish in her bowl. Henry considers her, they speak

and then the two go off to play together, first with the blocks …and then outside where Henry waits in eager anticipation for his new friend till she reaches the bottom of the Big Slide.

That Jenn Bailey writes with such sensitivity and understanding is due in no small way to the fact that, as we learn from the book’s cover, one of her son’s has autism. This narrative really does ring true as those of us who have taught differently abled children will appreciate; it feels as though she’s standing behind Henry’s head as she tells her story, while at the same time leaving space for readers’ own interpretations And I really like that there are no labels.

Mika Song’s ink and watercolours illustrations capture Henry and his classmates with grace and economy of line, imbuing each character with a real identity, different feelings and predilections.

An empathetic look at the emotions of finding a friend from a child’s viewpoint whether or not s/he has autism.

Board Book Extravaganza

Cat & Mouse
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel Publishing
There’s a surprise ending in store for listeners to this rhyming tale of a cat and mouse chase.

That though is getting ahead of the tale that begins with a warning to Little Mouse to hide inside the blue house. Through the door goes Little Mouse but the door is open wide so another furry creature enters too.
A chase ensues with Mouse running round and round eventually diving down a hole leaving the moggy pondering momentarily on his whereabouts and the little rodent in boastful mood.

Not for long however for the mouse soon exits the hole and the chase is on again.

A clever manoeuvre on Mouse’s part sees him outside under the moonlight without a hint of a cat. Not for long though for Mouse is being trailed around and about and back to the house that both creatures enter. But is all as it first appeared?

With its strategically placed die-cuts, minimalist illustrations and playful narrative this board book will amuse little ones who watch the lively events as they unfold towards the unexpected finale.

Hug Me Little Bear
Chronicle Books
Here’s a very cute little finger puppet book that, courtesy of a thoroughly endearing parent bear, little ones find out what arms can do. There’s a favourite song to dance together to; a gentle game of lift and catch; scrummy breakfast treats to cook up; a tummy tickle and best of all lots of ‘I love you’ hugs.

Full of sweetness and bound to bring on big smiles is this cuddlesome offering.

Little Plane
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
It’s take off time for Little Plane. He zooms skywards for an adventure one beautiful day. However his playful flight suddenly encounters some turbulence courtesy of the smoke pouring from the factory chimneys to which he gets a tad too close.
His landing attempts as he skims and tries to stop atop a tree and whizzes into a very muddy mountain aren’t a great success; and then it looks as though our intrepid friend is about to become engulfed within the huge open mouth of a building.

All ends happily though as Little Plane emerges safely, ready to fly off back home, looking even more shiny-bright than when he began his adventure. (A plane-wash perhaps?)

Little Plane is, like most little humans, learning by experience to cope with the ups and downs of life, and showing resilience in so doing.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Bulldozer’s Shapes
Sherri Duskey and Ethan Long
Chronicle Books

Get ready to shape up along with your little ones and their favourite construction vehicles, in particular big Bulldozer. Aided and abetted by Crane Truck he prepares the site for building. Along the way he shifts the rubble forming first a squiggle, then a ‘triangle’ (strictly speaking though it’s a cone), a circle, a diamond, a rectangle (kind of! But it’s more of a cuboid), a star, an oval and he finishes by squaring the plot off, nice and flat.

With Sherri Duskey’s rhyming couplets and Ethan Long’s digital art this little book will appeal to the many established fans of the series. I’d suggest reading it along with some small world construction toys and a set of both 2D and 3D shapes.

Pigs in a Blanket
Hans Wilhelm and Erica Salcedo
Chronicle Books

Before you  even open up the first page, you’ll be captivated by this charmer with the porcine trio fast asleep tucked cosily beneath the wrap-around blanket that stays in place courtesy of the strategically placed hidden magnet on the front cover.

We then follow the pigs as they wake up, playfully get dressed and style their hair before setting out for a run. The three also attend a ballet class, do a spot of baking, revel in some puddle jumping followed by a warm-up treat.

Goodness they do pack a lot into their day, as there’s still time for some theatrical fun before their bath, tooth-brushing and final clambering back into bed in their moonlit room.

Wilhem’s rhyming text coupled with Salcedo’s comical, energetic piggy scenes make for a fun-filled book that celebrates the simple delights of early childhood and is ideal for sharing with the very young, who are likely to recognise the piggies’ actions as akin to their own.

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug / Dinosaur Farm!

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug
Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
Chronicle Books

Daft and sweet sums up this story of one very small T. Rex and his enormous challenge.

Tiny, as he tells us at the outset has tiny arms and a strong desire to cheer up his stegosaurus friend Pointy by giving him a hug.

Determined to overcome his design fault and bestow a comforting embrace upon his best pal, Tiny consults various members of his family. His father suggests the solution might be a mathematical one: ‘Rexes are thinkers, not huggers.’ he proffers.
Auntie Junip – a yoga buff – suggests balance (along with a healthy drink of cucumber juice), offers the best means of problem solving.

Thank goodness then for his mum, for now Tiny is both battered and lost until she discovers him and gives some words of reassurance about his being creative, kind, brave and big-hearted.

It’s siblings, Trixie and Rawie that have the most useful suggestion: ‘To do the impossible you must plan and practice.’

However well intentioned this advice – and Tiny is ready to embrace it – the practice doesn’t go so well for the little guy.

And his final hug is a huge error although he does make an important discovery while airborne.

All ends well, though to reveal what happens will spoil the compassionate finale.

Young listeners will doubtless be rooting for Tiny throughout Stutzman’s wryly humorous tale and enjoy Fleck’s minimally detailed stylised digital art; mine certainly did, requesting an immediate re-reading.

Who can fail to admire Tiny with his determination not to let his physical limitations get in the way of his big-hearted instincts?

Dinosaur Farm!
Penny Dale
Nosy Crow

You might be surprised to learn of a gang of dinosaurs running a farm unless you happen to be familiar with Penny Dale’s dinosaur brigade. In which case you’ll already know that these prehistoric beasts can take on all manner of unlikely roles so farming is no challenge too far despite Dinosaur Farm being an extremely busy place.

There are fields to plough – up and down, up and down as well as sheep that need feeding.

A group of noisy dinosaurs are building a fence, bang, bang banging in the wooden posts while a rather pongy Allosaurus is muck-spreading.

We see two of the team making the hay into bales and others digging up the muddy carrots.

When the sun comes out, it’s time to get out the combine harvester and cut the corn. Then there’s the apple harvest to pick – red, juicy fruits aplenty – yum, yum.

Finally all the produce needs cleaning and packing: it keeps the entire group of ten working late into the night but what is all this hard work for?

Where could they be going next morning with their trailer loaded? There’s certainly excitement in the air …

Told as usual in rhythmic language, the story is punctuated by contextually apt exclamations your little ones will love to join in with, while Penny Dale’s elaborately detailed pencil and watercolour scenes will absorb them visually. They’ll likely be amused at such humorous touches as the ‘Haymaking dinosaurs …’ scene that shows one of the two propped up against a bale, seemingly snoozing.

Early Years Christmas Miscellany

Christmas
Lisa Jones and Edward Underwood
Nosy Crow

What a gorgeous introduction to the festive season for a little babe is the latest in Lisa and Edward’s Baby’s First Cloth Book series.

Baby Boo, suitably clad is taken outdoors into the snow where, to the song of a bird, Daddy and infant build a snowman. Back inside the fire gives a warm glow, the Christmas tree lights sparkle and soon Santa will come with a special gift for Baby Boo.

With its crinkly pages and buggy handle, this book in a box would make a lovely gift for a new parent this Christmas.

Decked Out for Christmas
Ethan Long
Abrams Appleseed

The mouse elves are all prepared; it’s time to start decorating. Out come the lights, the garland, the baubles, and the star.
But why sunglasses and hot chocolate and surely a map and air freshener aren’t needed to adorn a tree?

Eventually in a fun twist, Ethan Long reveals all. It’s a turbo-charged sleigh those elves have been busily decorating: now who might that belong to? …

Just right to share as you and your toddler set about decorating your tree.

Make & Play Christmas
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

Unlike other titles in this series where you can make an entire scene, the press-out pieces from this festive book slot together or are used separately to make twenty seasonal decorations – Santa, a reindeer, an angel, snowflakes and a star, bells and baubles, candy canes and a Christmas tree to hang on your tree.
There are also pages with instructions for making paper chains and wrapping paper, recipes for gingerbread biscuits and snowball truffles, the words of the ever popular Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and those little ones who like messier things can use their hands and feet to print a reindeer’s head: (if done on thick paper or card these might be turned into Christmas cards).

Helpfully the decorations can be dismantled and popped back into the book to keep them safe until next year.

Construction Site on Christmas Night
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ag Ford
Chronicle Books

Christmas is almost here but the construction vehicle team has one final job to complete: they’re building a very special house and they really must get it done.

Into action roars Bulldozer first and for his trouble he receives a special thank you gift.

So it is with Excavator, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck and Crane: each one gets a special ‘thank you’ surprise at the end of the day.

Then across the snow comes the fleet of fire-trucks, bells a-ringing. What awaits this merry ‘fire crew’ as they come to a halt for the night? …

Full of the seasonal spirit of friendship and kindness, the rhyming narrative with its repeat refrain “Merry Christmas! … Goodnight.” together with richly coloured spreads of the construction vehicles against a snowy townscape make for a truck-lovers delight.

Animal City

Animal City
Joan Negrescolor
Chronicle Books

I’m always on the lookout for books that celebrate story telling and reading, and this one does just that. The stories in this book however have a most unusual setting and an unlikely audience.

Without further ado let’s go to Nina’s favourite place, a secret jungle city where lost objects might be discovered, though now its only inhabitants are plants and animals, for nature has completely taken over.

Nina loves to observe the animals and they love to see her too bringing with her as she does, storybooks to share with them.

Different kinds of stories are favoured by her audience: the monkeys like space adventures; the flamingos’ taste is for myths and legends while the snake has a penchant for sea-related poetry.
All however agree that the very best story of all is one featuring themselves in their wild ‘animal city’ as Nina calls it in this metafictive turn.

Where has the storyteller come from? Why is she there? What has happened to cause the humans to leave their urban homes and where are they now?

These questions immediately come to mind as one reads the brief text, although a fascinated child audience will likely come up with a number of others, for each of Joan Negrescolor’s striking spreads offers much to explore and speculate upon.
His chosen striking colour palette and flatness of the illustrations serve to emphasise the strange, somewhat dystopian nature of the entire book.

Bedtimes Dramas: Night Play / How to be a Supercow!

Night Play
Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books

This is billed as a bedtime story in three acts and as the presenter states as the first act opens, it stars Arlo (a little boy) and Friends (his soft toys). That is the intention but as the boy tells us, he is already feeling sleepy and while the toys – a big cat, lemur, rabbit, fawn and two birds are engaged in planning Act 1, the boy falls asleep.

The excitement builds as props are gathered, costumes tried and hastily abandoned on account of their itchiness and weight; sound effects are debated, moves worked on and further sounds added …

till all the noise eventually reawakens the slumberer.

Then with full cast reassembled, the curtains are opened in a dramatic gatefold to reveal …

and the entire show concludes with a bow and (instead of the suggested Act 4) the actors’ sleepy denouement.

Beautifully satisfying, this truly is a theatrical performance with clever design that promotes close attention to detail as well as using a similarly striking pattern for the stage curtains and Arlo’s pyjamas. I particularly like too, the changing backdrops for each spread with additional bit part players and other details for aware viewers to spot and enjoy.

A lovely introduction to theatre for little ones and perhaps, an inspiration for some to have a go creating their own dramas.

How to be a Supercow!
Deborah Fajerman
Barron’s Educational

Here’s a little rhyming book that will resonate with a good many parents.

Three tired little calves attempt to sweet talk their mother cow into allowing them to delay bedtime with accounts of their secret must-do supercow activities.

There isn’t much these lively creatures can’t turn their hooves to. There are dragons to rescue from angry princesses;

there’s gold to liberate from pirates, not to mention call outs to attend to, troublesome machines to fix and much more. Quite simply with such drama, there isn’t time for sleep.

Mum knows just how to deal with her young offspring however. She acknowledges their super powers but beguiles them into donning their night attire,

brushing their teeth, washing and delaying all those vital heroic actions till morning. Oh! there’s also a promise of a special treat  too.

All this crazy action is wonderfully illustrated in spirited scenes of totally endearing bovine characters that will amuse both little humans and their long-suffering adult ‘putters to bed’.