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’.

Little Bear’s Big House / There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Little Bear’s Big House
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

Tired of his uneventful life in the forest Little Bear leaves his Mama, Papa and Teeny Tiny bear to embark on a big adventure, “far from the forest” so he says.

His exploratory intent means that he turns down invitations from his forest dwelling friends, to keep moving
till eventually, as night falls he comes upon a huge, amazing-looking house in a clearing.
The door is ready to be opened so Little Bear, acting like a little boy, decides to enter.

Once inside the real adventure begins …

“Being on my own is so much fun!’’ comes the cry until there is an enormous BANG! Little Bear dives beneath the bedcovers and his imagination runs riot.

What ensues is something of a surprise but suffice it to say that when Little Bear finally reaches home after an adventure that proves a little too much for the young ursine character, he learns that he isn’t the only one with an exciting story to tell about a big house.

Hilarious scenes of Little Bear and his antics as he seeks a modicum of independence, offer plenty for little humans to pore over.

There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
Wade Bradford and Kevin Hawkes
Walker Books

Mr Snore, an extremely tired musician checks into the very grand-looking Sharemore Hotel hoping for a good night’s sleep. No sooner has his head hit the pillow however than he discovers that his bed is already occupied. He demands a new room and there are plenty of options starting on the second floor but he has no intention of sharing his slumber time with a pig so he calls the front desk again.

And so it goes on until despite the knowing porter’s unfinished warning, Mr Snore ends up at floor number thirteen. The bed is definitely gigantic and might at last prove satisfactory.

Now however, it isn’t Mr Snore who makes a call downstairs to the front desk …

With its crazy finale, nicely contrasting main characters and Kevin Hawkes’ zany illustrations, this romp of Wade Bradford’s truly is a bedtime tale with a difference.

Door

Door
JiHyeon Lee
Chronicle Books

I loved JiHyeon Lee’s debut Pool and this story too is wordless or virtually so.

It begins with a boy finding a key and following a flying insect through miserable-looking humans to a door.
Having turned the key and ventured forth he finds himself in a new world populated by strange-looking creatures, the first being one carrying a large musical instrument case. Alarmed, the lad runs off …

only to encounter another creature, who also speaks to him.

Overcoming his initial alarm, the boy allows her to take his hand and lead him to join a group of picnickers.

After partaking of some food, the boy swings,

climbs trees and generally has a fabulous time, as more doors appear through which many more creatures enter.

One of them is a bride and then we discover where everyone has been heading: a very special celebration.

Differences in language and kind matter not: all are welcome at this joyful occasion so wonderfully depicted in Lee’s intricately detailed, enchantingly whimsical scenes. The speech bubbles show many different languages being spoken but the understanding comes not through the words, rather it’s the inclusive, all-embracing attitude of the creatures that speaks of open-heartedness and warmth.

Observant readers will notice that as the story progresses, the boy’s appearance changes from a frightened grey to rosy, full colour.

Halloween is Coming: The Right One / Monster School / Bizzy Bear Spooky House

The Right One
Violeta Noy
Templar Books

New Spanish author/illustrator Violeta Roy presents in bold graphics, a cute story about daring to be different ghost-style: it’s perfect for Halloween, especially for those who don’t like to be scared.

Roderic is the smallest ghost in a very large, ancient family. They all look pretty much alike on account of wearing sheets although Roderic’s is the tiniest.

This diminutive ghost is the last of a long line and he feels more than a little insignificant. None of his family seems to notice his presence. Roderic decides to do something about this. His name is fixed, ditto his family but he can change his appearance. Both a hat, and a scarf prove problematic.

Next morning, deciding a more radical approach is required, our little ghost experiments until finally he’s ready to sport his new gear.

However the reception he receives isn’t quite what he’d hoped, so off he goes to strut his stuff among the city folks. Once again though, nobody notices him at all: poor little thing is now feeling even more invisible than ever.

Back home again he’s given a fresh white sheet but it makes him anything but happy. His frustration causes things to start flying around, one of which just happens to land upon the little ghost and yippee! It feels absolutely right.

What’s more, it looks absolutely right and now nobody is going to stop him from wearing it.
And maybe, just maybe, his new appearance might have some influence on other members of Roderic’s family.

For older readers:

Monster School
Kate Coombs and Lee Gatlin
Chronicle Books

A school it may be, but despite its fairly typical activities – homework for example, there’s a class pet and a regular weekly menu on offer at the cafeteria – Monster School’s pupils are anything but your usual boys and girls; the staff are pretty weird too.

Let’s meet some of them. There’s Stevie the Loser, who manages to lose pretty much anything and everything from backpack, book and homework, to his eyeball, kneecap and arm; what a zombie! He may not be able to find said homework but keen-eyed readers will surely spot it still attached to that missing arm of his.
There’s also ‘a ‘multicultural’ miss – whose family tree comprises giants, witches, trolls and other ghoulies.

Computer Wizard has tech skills aplenty: app creator, program writer extraordinaire, with a mouse that dines on virtual crackers and cheese and a ram that consumes virtual grass; seemingly this guy can do anything so long as it’s not a word problem.
I should also mention she of the amazing hair; it’s entirely reptilian with an abundance of adders, vipers and other venomous twisters and twiners.

Katie Coombs imaginative verses employ a variety of forms that will send tingles down the spines of primary age readers while Lee Gatlin’s creepy illustrations home in on the grim and gruesome with plenty of details of the shivery kind.

For the youngest:

Bizzy Bear Spooky House
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

In his latest adventure, Bizzy Bear dons his starry costume and accompanied by his pal, ventures into a spooky house. Therein are plenty of things to make him shiver as he enters the spiders’ web festooned hall, climbs the creaky stairs and discovers a surprise party at the very top of the house.
Benji Davies’ scenes have plenty to amuse and explore and with a slider or tab to manipulate on every spread, this is mock scary Halloween fun for toddlers.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer
Il Sung Na
Chronicle Books

Pig, an admirer of birds has a dream; he too wants to fly.

He’s a determined creature and having watched them fly south he sets to work to discover the secrets of flight. With the help of his friends – assorted feathered ones, a horse, a rabbit and a pink pachyderm – he amasses information, develops plans, fails …

modifies, perseveres and finally, he is triumphant. Ambition achieved: he can fly like a bird.

Still not satisfied, the sky’s the limit, decides Pig as he sits staring up at a large round object amid the stars.
His achievements inspire others the world over

and yet … ‘in my beginning is my end’ to borrow some words from T.S.Eliot; and so it is with this story that ends as it began, “Once, there was a pig who admired birds.’

This is a beautiful tale made all the more so by the fact that the book was inspired by Il Sung Na’s own life journey towards becoming a creator of picture books. He clearly has a sense of humour as is shown in his somewhat whimsical ink and pencil, digitally composited illustrations. I love the scene of Pig sitting beneath the tree with an apple falling before his eyes a la Newton; and that of the friends also gathered under that same tree with an apple precariously balanced on a branch ready to drop.

Dream big, work hard, seek advice, never give up and eventually with determination and imagination, success will come. So it was for Pig, so it will be one hopes, for young children who share in his story. It’s simple yet profound.

The Crocodile and the Dentist / Molly Mischief: When I Grow Up

The Crocodile and the Dentist
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

Crocodile has a cavity and is suffering from toothache, and must, albeit reluctantly, pay a visit to the dentist.
Equally, the dentist is more than a tad apprehensive about treating the croc.
Both try to be brave and each prepares for the worst.
Two “Ouch” moments occur – one apiece; tears are shed (crocodile tears perhaps) but both persist with the task in hand reigning in their anger

until finally, the tooth is fixed.

Unsurprisingly neither crocodile nor dentist is looking forward to the next visit.

In the meantime Crocodile knows he must follow the dentist’s instructions and brush his teeth regularly.
As portrayed in Gomi’s bold expressive style, both characters display their emotions facially and in their body language with the croc. being particularly appealing despite those jaggy teeth and enormous jaws.

A fun book for re-enforcing good oral hygiene and the desirability of regular visits to the dentist, as well as an enjoyable demonstration of bravery and empathy.

Molly Mischief: When I Grow Up
Adam Hargreaves
Pavilion Children’s Books

Fed up with being bossed around by her parents, Molly Mischief contemplates what being a grown up with a job has to offer.
There are all sorts of possibilities such as an astronaut – although this has its distinct disadvantages too.
She tries her hand as a fire-fighter and loves it, although her mum and dad definitely do not.
Mum is equally aghast when her daughter attempts to become a baker of the world’s best cakes –err?

Exploring could bring excitement and plenty of action –perhaps too much though!
So what else is there? Maybe a scientist or even, a pop star? But on second thoughts …

Other roles she imagines seem in turn, too dangerous, challenging, yucky, downright scary, noisy, or stinky. Molly does excel at making others laugh though, so what about a clown. Oops! Dad is not amused.

Libraries are definitely out of the question: Molly’s far too noisy.

Light bulb moment: none of these grown-up roles leave any room for the activities she loves as a child – playing with her pals, constructing, painting, teasing even. Maybe Molly should put off becoming an adult for a little while and just get on enjoying being mischievous herself.

Adam Hargreaves’ Molly is a delight: I love the way it’s no holds barred when she comes to considering what she might do as an adult. Her imagination knows no bounds, so misadventures are larger than life and full on as she throws herself wholeheartedly into everything she does.

Super Frozen Forest / Maze Quest

Super Frozen Magic Forest
Matty Long
Oxford Children’s Books

Brrrrrr! The inhabitants of Super Happy Magic Forest are back in a third adventure that begins when the evil Ice Queen who is intent on spreading bitter winter chills across the entire world starts with Super Happy Magic Forest, over which now hangs a huge snow cloud.

As a blizzard rips through the forest, five brave heroes, Blossom, Twinkle, Herbert, Trevor and Hoofus sally forth with the hope of defeating the enemy and breaking the spell.

Readers accompany the quintet on their quest as they journey northwards (pausing for rest and refreshment at the Elf and Dwarf Tavern). Their endeavours to blend in with the local residents are not entirely convincing and a chase begins.

Sadly the adventurers are captured and taken before the Ice Queen in whose palace they receive a chilly welcome.

And worse, for the egregious ruler lets loose her magic, encasing four of their number inside blocks of ice.

That leaves Herbert to take on the Queen by himself: is he a match for the evil woman?

Can he break the spell that grips his homeland in wintry weather, restore the sunshine and free his companions?

This is absolutely brilliant fun, brimming over with splendidly wacky characters both good (don’t miss Gnomedalf) and bad. Every spread – like that icy cloud – will hold readers in its clutches as they explore Matty’s superbly imagined scenes that are guaranteed to make readers splutter with delight over the splendid silliness of it all.

Maze Quest
Travis Nichols
Chronicle Books

A story with puzzles to solve, not just any story, but an exciting one that’s lots of fun, places the reader in the role of main character and asks him/her to put their photo in the frame on the front endpapers.

From then on it’s a quest to find the Sword of Lacidar, stolen hundreds of years ago from the Chamber of Priceless and Ridiculously Fantastic Treasures. The first task is to navigate the maze of messy bedroom into the secret Quest Office wherein sits Anirak, warrior/manager of the whole operation.

The missing sword is now in five pieces scattered through the realm, the first being just outside the Quest Office; the others lie in Drymouth Desert, within Shinsplint Mountain, across the Sea of Sickness and atop the Mazing Temple.

There are all kinds of mazes to negotiate, some fairly easy, others more challenging as you travel through a boneyard, a field of flowers, a beehive, a tropical rainforest, a junkyard and on other exciting paths. You even have to pass through the innards of a large dead beast. YUCK!

On the way there are some weird and wonderful encounters with such characters as monks, a wizened old man and the Ghoul King.

Hours of immersive enjoyment and challenges a plenty.

Hungry Bunny

Hungry Bunny
Claudia Rueda
Chronicle Books

We first met Bunny on the ski slopes and now the cute little rabbit returns with a very rumbly tummy. However, there’s a snag: the yummy-looking rosy apples hanging ready to sate that hunger are out of reach.
This is where readers can help, first by shaking the book to try and dislodge said fruit; then blowing on the page to unwrap Bunny’s leafy wraparound.

Oops! Yes that works but the sudden breeze causes our friend’s scarf to blow up into the tree just above grabbing height.

Ah-ha! Bunny has a plan. If we carefully position the ribbon inserted in the page, it becomes a climbing rope: clever thinking Bunny.

Now you can sit on the branch and throw juicy apples into the strategically placed cart. Then yes, we’ll surely grab the scarf once more and hold it tight while you slide down.

If readers were thinking that’s all the assistance Bunny requires, well it’s not.
There’s some book-tilting required to get the cart rolling down the hill; a bit of playful rocking it back and forth.

Yippee! That launches cart and Bunny skywards for a spot of aerobatics –

great fun, but out come all the apples.

No matter; life’s full of thrills and spills and that ribbon comes in useful again – this time as a means of crossing a gorge.

Is Mum bunny ever going to get those apples to make a deliciously tasty pie? What do you think?

There’s a delicious autumnal feel to this slice of life Bunny-style: outlined in charcoal, there are the rosy apples of course, the cart has a pinkish hue and certain imperatives are printed in matching red, and both the background, Bunny’s jacket and other items are rendered in yellowish tones.

To add to the appetising nature of the telling, our rabbit friend has dropped some choice idiomatic phrases into the narration, ‘I upset the apple cart’ being one.

Very effective as an interactive tale, and enormous fun to share.

Mike the Spike / Barkus Dog Dreams


Mike the Spike

Stella Tarakson and Benjamin Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Small for his age, Mike has red hair; it’s his pride and joy, particularly because it makes him look taller when he’s gelled it into spikes. The trouble starts when his class is busy engaged in hat making for the great hat parade to be held in a couple of days. Everyone’s hat is well under way except Mike’s; he’s having trouble deciding what to make on account of his itchy head, which has been bothering him all day. Dandruff maybe, he wonders. But then as the lad gives his head yet another scratch, something becomes wedged under his fingernail. Oh no! Mike has head lice.

Determined to keep the matter a secret both from people at school and his mum, the boy takes matters in his own hands; but his lice-ridding attempts fail miserably.

Seizing the opportunity to go to the chemist when Mum needs some more contact lens cleaner, Mike asks the chemist for what he thinks he needs.

Eventually though he has the right shampoo for the task, a task he decides must be done in the school toilets. No easy task since the stuff needs to be left on for twenty minutes.

Will he ever rid himself of this pesky problem and can he manage to make himself a stylish hat in time for the parade?

The gigglesome moments as the lad tries to sort out one scratchful incident after another are likely to induce splutters of mirth from newly independent readers whether or not they’ve suffered from having those uninvited guests in their own hair. Watch out when you read this review (or better still, the book,) that you don’t suddenly get that urge to scratch.

A sprinkling of coloured louse-some, laugh-some illustrations from Benjamin Johnson have wriggled their way into the tale.

Barkus Dog Dreams
Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

Five further episodes, one per chapter, in the life of the mischievous Barkus, his little girl owner Nicky, feline Baby, and their family.

Once again Nicky acts as narrator relating a visit to see Robin the vet on account of a problem with Barkus’ ear (it’s infected);

a birthday party for the town in which they all live when Barkus finds temporary fame as a singer as he comes to the aid of a soprano struggling to reach the high notes;

and a search and rescue for some missing farm animals. Barkus makes friends with the next door neighbour’s dog, Millie and an exchange of toys takes place. The final chapter has Millie and owner Miss Daley staying with Nicky’s family while a storm rages and there’s a power cut.

It’s all highly entertaining, generously illustrated with Marc Boutavant’s bright, funny pictures and there’s just the right amount of action and detail to keep those just starting to fly solo as readers interested and involved.

Nature & Around the World / Look, a Butterfly! / Little Boat

Nature
Around the World

Nosy Crow

These are the two latest additions to the wonderful board book series produced in collaboration with The British Museum, each presenting and celebrating cultures the world over, and inspired by the enormous British Museum collection.
Nature celebrates both the flora and fauna of the world and the elements, from a shell to the sun; the squirrel to the sunflower and the butterfly to blossom.

It’s absolutely gorgeous and certain to engender curiosity about the natural world.
In Around the World fourteen cultures are represented through items from near and far: Egypt, France, Britain, America, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, Mexico, Greece, China, Kenya and India each have a spread or page devoted to items including clothing,

musical instruments, buildings, jewellery, and much more.

Both are, like the rest of the series absolutely superb for developing language as well as being a brilliant way to introduce history and culture to your little ones, especially if you can combine it with a museum visit too.
If you can’t, worry not: each has an index as well as QR codes linking to additional information about each object featured.

Enormously worthwhile to add to bookshelves at home, or in an early years setting.

Look, a Butterfly!
Yasunari Murakami
Gecko Press

This lovely little board book is by award-winning Japanese artist/designer/author, Yasunari Murakami who is also an environmentalist and lover of wild-life. It begins with an irresistible invitation to notice, and then follow the journey of a butterfly as it explores what a flower garden has to offer.

We see the flower buds pop open and burst into a host of colours;

watch the little creature pause for a drink of nectar and revived, flit and flutter again before coming to rest upon a playful kitten.

This of course precipitates a game of flap and tease before the butterfly finally flies away.

Beautifully simple and attractively illustrated, it gives you an injection of joie-de-vivre and is perfectly honed  to be just right for sharing with tinies. Catch hold of this one before the butterflies disappear for the season.

Little Boat
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books

Life lessons Little Boat style will delight fans of Taro Gomi’s previous Little Truck especially.

Here we follow Little Boat as he determinedly manoeuvres his way through bigger boats including a snarling one, braves the rough seas and stormy weather

until after his testing adventures, he finally meets his parent boat once more in calm waters.

Short and sweet: splendid entertainment for little ones and a great demonstration of remaining positive no matter what.

What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference?
Emma Strack and Guillaume Plantevin
Chronicle Books

Have you ever been curious about the difference between a grasshopper and a cricket?

Or perhaps pondered on what makes a clementine different from a mandarin – I’ve never been able to get that straight; ditto a peach and a nectarine.

Feeling rotten? Maybe you’ve caught a virus – or is it in fact, something caused by bacteria?

And when do shorts become Bermuda shorts and vice-versa? I can remember at grammar school being told my games shorts, actually more like a divided skirt, should be 3 inches from the ground when kneeling, so surely those were technically bermudas. Who knows.

Seemingly in this case, as with all the 40 pairs in this fascinating book, the devil or rather the difference comes down to the detail.

The stylishly illustrated potpourri refines the distinctions between pairs of animals, items of food and drink, geographical subjects, fashion items, things to do with the human body and finally, city things.

Each double spread offers an introductory paragraph and there are fascinating facts, amusing trifles and other snippets of information all invitingly presented, making this a book that you think you might dip into for a few minutes but then find you’ve spent an hour digging around, poring over the graphic style art work as well as the text.

Ta-Da!

Ta-Da!
Kathy Ellen Davis and Kaylani Juanita
Chronicle Books

Once upon a time a little girl was playing happily with her animal friends in a homemade castle until DUN DUN DUH! there appears at her door, a wizard accompanied by his ‘dragon’.

So begins an action and reaction concatenation with boy wizard attempting to subvert the girl’s peaceable play with his roistering, wrecking actions. She counters these with her wand ‘Ta-Dah!’ and magic spells.

This to and fro of ‘Dun Dun Duhs and Ta-Dahs continues apace until the dragon, having imbibed rather too much water, needs an urgent visit to the bathroom, and the boy exits stage right …

leaving girl and dragon to live happily ever after.

Well, perhaps not quite ever after, for after an uneventful interval, the two decide to pay the boy a visit to see how things are going. And going they certainly are: the boy has become a magician and is about to perform before a decidedly small audience.

Small that is, until girl and dragon pitch in providing more watchers and a co-performer.
Show over, it’s time for a snack providing more happily ever afters … whoops! Not EVER, after all: there’s still time for one final, sub-aquatic adventure together.

DUN DUN DUH! … Ta-Da!’

Conflict and resolution done with panache in this debut for both author, Davis and illustrator, Juanita. It’s a wonderful portrayal of children’s imaginative play with its give and take and boundless possibilities.