Ballet Bunnies / We Are Family

Ballet Bunnies
Lucy Freegard
Pavilion Children’s Books

Young Betty bunny aspires to be a ballerina but she’s only ever performed for her baby sister Bluebell.

At home Betty dances at every opportunity, in every room, but when it comes to dance class it’s not the same, especially with the end of term show fast approaching. Unlike her fellow dance students Betty feels clumsy and she can’t remember the right steps.
She does however, put her own interpretation on those moves and fortunately her teacher sees the best in every one of his students, providing fun rehearsals and a part for them all.

Betty works on losing her nerves but what will happen come the big day when among the audience will be her biggest fan, Bluebell?

Lucy Freegard’s cute characters and ballet scenes executed in pen and watercolour are sure to appeal particularly to budding dancers of the human kind, while her story of doing one’s best, over-coming your fears and finding confidence should resonate with all.

We Are Family
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

A celebration of sibling love is exemplified by an array of endearing young animals small and not so small.
Be they lively lion cubs, diving ducklings, mischievous monkeys, milkshake slurping polar bears, fighting foxes, cake consuming kitties or frolicsome frogs,

brothers and sisters can be enormously irritating at times, but no matter what, even the trickiest of tasks become less bothersome with a sibling to assist.

Claire Freedman’s fluently flowing rhyming text combined with Judi Abbot’s captivating scenes of animal activities will enchant toddlers (with or without siblings) as well as their parents and carers.
We all love a little bit of mischief and there’s plenty of that herein.

How to Nab a Rabbit

How to Nab a Rabbit
Claire Freedman and Monika Filipina
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

All kinds of people write books but it’s less often that one reads one penned by the Big Bad Wolf and he appears rather confident in his prowess as author of How to Nab a Rabbit. Not that I have any particular interest in so doing, but I am exceedingly interested in picture books and the fellow appears to have hired a super illustrator to aid and abet him, hence I’m sticking with it.

Despite all the bragging, said author looks to be rather less adept at carrying out his recommended ploys than he’d like readers to think, certainly if the demonstration of The Stalking Strategy is anything to go by. Obviously as he says, the first thing is to locate their lair but when it comes to the second and sly part ‘just pretend you’re passing by’, our writer is well and truly out-smarted by his prey. To make matters worse, there’s a Bear in the vicinity with a penchant for wolf pud.

Next comes The Hole-in-the-Ground Hoax and once again, ineptitude on the writer’s part means he lands himself in it – literally!

And guess who’s there ready and willing to give him a paw out …

He has an audience of the undesirable kind when he executes this one: it’s called The Love Lure and at first glance it appears pretty successful.

Notion number four is even more of a disaster: the guy can’t even have himself delivered to the correct address and gets himself well and truly stuck at the wrong one too.

By now you’re probably thinking that our wolf-writer is a total disaster and you’re not far wrong: maybe his advice about cooking up a veggie alternative is the right way to go, so long as it doesn’t give this particularly bungling wolf any fresh ideas about authorship…

What a smasher of a book this is. Absolutely luscious faultless rhyming narrative from Claire Freedman stirred in with equally appetising illustrations from Monika Filipina will have listeners – not to mention adult readers – dribbling with delight and the former salivating for immediate further helpings. So says this reviewer, who just happens to be a vegetarian!

The Lost Penguin

The Lost Penguin (An Oliver & Patch Story)
Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Oliver made two new friends in Oliver and Patch, one canine and one human.
In this sequel, the three of them are pretty much inseparable during the day time although in the evenings Oliver and Patch return to Oliver’s flat and Ruby to her house.
Their favourite place to spend time together is the city zoo and it’s there that they see Peep.
Peep, so Sandy the zookeeper tells them is a newly arrived rescue penguin. The friends put his sad look down to the fact that he misses his old home.
The following day when they return to see Peep again, he’s nowhere in sight. Quickly they inform the zookeeper and a search begins.

Children will enjoy spotting the little penguin’s resting places in various locations that Ruby and Oliver fail to notice.
Eventually the friends discover the little creature’s whereabouts aboard a canal boat;

but on arrival back at the zoo, discover it’s closed for the night.
A squabble ensues over who is to look after Peep overnight, after which Ruby and Oliver realise that both Peep and Patch have gone missing.
Where can they be? There’s a long night’s wait ahead but will they find the two missing animals again next morning?

The ups and downs of friendship and the difficulties of settling into a new environment are explored in this reassuring tale.
Kate Hindley provides plenty of amusing details to linger over in every spread so this definitely isn’t a book to hurry through despite the urge to discover what has happened to the missing Peep.

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Halloween Briefing: Monsters Galore and a Witch or two

There’s a Monster in Your Book
Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott
Puffin Books
Here we have one of those interactive picture books that are in vogue at the moment and it comes from the co-writer of The Dinosaur That Pooped series.
The book is invaded by a rather cute-looking little monster that seems intent on wrecking the whole thing. ‘Let’s try to get him out,’ suggests the narrator which is clearly a good idea.
Readers are then asked to shake, tickle, blow, tilt left, then right, wiggle and spin the book, turning the page after each instruction. All the while the monster lurches this way and that around a plain background looking far from delighted at the treatment being meted out to him.
None of this succeeds in dislodging the creature but he’s definitely feeling dizzy so loud noises come next; then even louder ones.

This works but ‘Now he’s in your room!’ That’s even worse than being contained within the pages, at least from the reader’s viewpoint, so now the idea is to gently coax him back into the book. There he can stay while receiving some tender head stroking and a soft ‘goodnight’ until he falls fast asleep. Ahh!
With Greg Abbott’s cute, rather than scary monster, this is a fun book to share with pre-schoolers particularly just before their own shut-eye time; all that shaking and shouting will likely tire them out making them feel just like this.

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Ten Creepy Monsters
Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Here’s a gigglesome twist on the nursery countdown featuring a mummy, a witch, a ghost, a werewolf, a vampire and others who, having gathered ‘neath a gnarled pine’ begin to disappear until only one remains. But what sort of creepy monster is that? Be prepared for a surprise.
Trick or treaters, if mock scary ghastly ghouls are your Halloween thing then look no further than this gently humorous, little paperback offering.

Scary Hairy Party!
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Monster’s having a party; it’s at 3 o’clock and all her friends are invited. Fortunately they’ve just got time to nip into Raymond’s salon for a hairdo first.
Seemingly Raymond’s not on top form however, as one after another receives a style disaster.

What on earth is Monster going to say when she sets eyes on her pals with their new make-overs?
Light-hearted rhyming fun illustrated with crazy, brighter than bright scenes of barnet mayhem: just right for those youngsters who like their Halloween stories to be on the silly, rather than the spooky side.

The Pomegranate Witch
Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler
Chronicle Books
A deft rhyming text, imbued with spookiness and replete with rich language, tells a tale of how five children desperate for a pomegranate from the witch’s tree, and armed with all manner of unlikely implements, do battle with its owner to get their hands on a tasty treat from its branches. A veritable Pomegranate War is waged …

until finally, one of children succeeds in bagging the object of their desires and they each have a share of the spoils.
The following day, Halloween, a Kindly Lady (the witch’s sister) appears to offer cider and a celebratory surprise fruit to all the town’s children: ‘And not one child wondered who was who, or which was which. / The shy old Kindly Lady or the Pomegranate Witch.’
Surely they couldn’t be one and the same – or could they?
Not for the very youngest listeners but a fun read aloud for KS1 audiences. As your listeners savour Denise Doyen’s story, make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy Eiiza Wheeler’s delightfully quirky ink and watercolour illustrations.

For older solo readers:

Witch Snitch
Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Andersen
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The (Witch Wars) Sinkville witches are preparing for Witchoween and it’s the first Tiga will experience. This is especially exciting as Peggy has asked her and Fran to make a documentary about the town’s most famous witches. With Fluffanora acting as fashion adviser, what more could she ask?
This book with its numerous activities, facts and character information as part and parcel of the narrative, is sure to make you giggle. So too will Laura Ellen Andersen’s line drawings.

Minnie & Max are OK! / Florence Frizzball

Minnie & Max are OK!
Chris Calland, Nicky Hutchinson and Emmi Smid
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Minnie has had a bad day at school having been teased and shunned by two girls, and now she wishes she looked more like them.
When her grandma meets her at the end of the day, she notices than Minnie is upset and decides that a trip to the park might help. On the way both Minnie and her dog Max peer at their reflections in a shop window and soon both of them are full of doubts about their appearance.
As they sit together in the café, Minnie tells her gran how she feels and Gran’ responds calmly, lovingly and reassuringly. “I love you just the way you are!” she says, “I think it’s wonderful that we all look so different … Just look around us.” And Minnie does …

Max sees a great variety of dogs too and before long both child and dog are playing happily with friends.

With its gentle humour, and Emmi Smid’s captivating ilustrations, this is a good book to read with any young child struggling with self-esteem be it related to body image or any other perceived ‘difference’. Equally if shared with a class or group, it should make potential negative commenters stop and think about how much better our world is for its rich diversity.
There is a final spread aimed at adults wherein the authors, both education consultants, offer ideas for discussion on the themes of teasing, self-image and diversity.
All in all, a valuable tool in the fight for embracing and celebrating difference and diversity.

Florence Frizzball
Claire Freedman and Jane Massey
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Florence the small girl narrator of this story has hair issues; her curly frizz is thick and unruly. Her little brother’s sleek, flat hair is altogether more preferable, so she thinks. It doesn’t tickle or prickle …

or obscure anyone’s view on windy days, nor when watching television; and no one else in the family is similarly troubled other than the dog, Scuff.
Can a visit to the hairdressers be the answer perhaps?

It certainly results in a transformation; but is straight hair really so desirable …
With its cute characters, this sweet rhyming tale presents themes of individuality, self-image and self-acceptance in an accessible story for the very young.

Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver
Claire Freedman and Carrie May
Templar Publishing

Claire Freedman (of Aliens Love Underpants fame) has created a lilting lullaby telling how as night falls the flowing-haired weaver of dreams spreads her wings, fashions from nature and stows in her sack magical fantasies for soon to be slumbering young creatures.

For her first recipient, Little Bear …

it’s mountain flowers and snowflakes that will create a dream of playful mountain slope sliding with snow bears as companions.
Upon Little Tiger she bestows a dream of flying in space; Little Monkey’s dream is woven from: ‘Grains of sand on a distant shore/ Pink pearly shells from the ocean floor./ Long-lost treasure, a mermaid’s kiss, The shimmering scales from a rainbow fish.’ and will take him to swim with dolphins and dance to the tune of a mermaid’s song.

Her final dream is soft, white and full of love: this will be for the young child just on the edge of sleep; the child who has shared in the magical experiences of the baby jungle animals and is now, lulled by the sibilance of the rhyming text, ready for his or her own nocturnal adventure.
Debut artist Carrie May conjures up a lush nocturnal forest setting for the ethereal dreamweaver to scatter her dreams. The star-spangled dream scenes have for the most part, a somewhat softer palette of predominantly pinks, corals, turquoise, aquamarine, lemon yellow and white.
Just right for bedtime sharing or for other times when a spell of calm is required.

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This is the Kiss / I Love You, Baby

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This is the Kiss
Claire Harcup and Gabriel Alborozo
Walker Books
We join an adult bear and a little one at the end of a day filled with snowy fun and games, but now after a paw-waving signal from the adult, it’s time to wend their way paw-in-paw, back to the cave for a night’s sleep. First though, comes a gentle hand squeeze,

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a loving pat on the head, a benevolent smile, a spot of tickle play,

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a goodnight hug and finally that kiss.
Sweet dreams little one. Gabriel Alborozo takes Claire Harcup brief rhythmic text and adds utterly enchanting visuals (including gorgeous end papers) making the whole thing a thoroughly heart-warming, just before bed read, for adults to share with very young children..
I suspect it’s one that will be asked for over and over. And, such is the simplicity of the writing that those in the early stages of becoming a reader can try it for themselves – make sure you share it first though.

More loving moments between adult and offspring are celebrated in a book coming in March:

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I Love You, Baby
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon & Schuster
Various baby animals from penguin chicks to puppies and snakelets …

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to elephant calves are on the receiving end of parental love in this joyous litany wherein adoring adult animals show and tell their offspring how precious they are. Tenderness and gentle humour are key in this one. Although the eponymous I is portrayed as a different animal for each utterance,

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this is an affectionate book for a human parent to share with a very young child.

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Family and Friends

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My Grandparents Love Me
Claire Freedman and Judi Abbot
Simon and Schuster
That special relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is explored in this charmer of a book, narrated by a young zebra, be it the welcome embraces, gifts in the bedroom, a baking session with indulgent, ever-patient Gran …

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an outing to the funfair rounded off with large ice-creams and a picnic or a spot of rocket building in Grandpa’s shed,

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a stay with Gran and Grandpa is bound to be loads of fun.
Sometimes though, the young zebra has his grandparents to stay at his home where boating or swimming lessons might be the order of the day,

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followed by a noisy musical interlude before it’s time to snuggle up close for a story sharing session before bedtime.

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With bit parts played by additional friendly-looking jungle animals, Judi Abbot’s excursion scenes provide extra entertainment for young listeners while the zebras young and adult take the star parts throughout, be they indoors or out and about.
Claire Freedman’s warm story will appeal particularly to grandparents and the very young who not only share that special loving bond part and parcel of which is the joys of book times together.

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Together …
Emma Dodd
Nosy Crow
A mother sea otter and her young one spend a day together sharing the beauty of the rising sun, then watching and dreaming as the clouds drift by. They laugh and play in the water, learning new things from one another …

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and sometimes, just drifting side by side, holding paws and watching the sun start to sink as the day draws to its close. Togetherness days such as that are the ones both mother and child will remember.
Simply beautiful, full of tenderness and perfect to share with the very youngest, this latest of Emma Dodd’s Animal series has alternate spreads that sparkle with silver foil.

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Pip and Posy: The New Friend
Axel Scheffler
Nosy Crow
Best friends Pip and Posy are spending a day at the beach but their friendship seems threatened when Pip goes off to play with Zac …

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while Posy snoozes in the sun. So noisy is their laughter that it wakes up Posy who is none too happy and feels excluded.

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Off go Zac and Pip to buy ice creams with Polly following behind but then down swoops a seagull and snatches Zac’s ice cream. Who do you think offers the very last coin so he can buy another one?
Established friends of Pip and Posy will doubtless welcome the opportunity to catch up with their activities and delight in the final co-operative effort.
In addition to being a fun story to share with early years groups and individuals; the easy to read text makes it a good one for those just beginning to read for themselves to enjoy (once you’ve shared the story first). Axel Scheffler’s illustrations as always offer plenty of humorous details to delight and to talk about.

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Party Time with Teeny-Weeny Queenie & Nina

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Teeny-Weeny Queenie
Claire Freedman & Ali Pye
Scholastic Children’s Books
I was sent a very early proof of this and it was read to destruction in no time by the group of enthusiastic under 6s that I shared it with. The book’s narrator is would-be monarch, young Queenie who, in her opening speech announces herself as having a very BIG plan – to be Queen when she grows up. Her parents try their best to dispel this notion but young Queenie’s having none of it and we discover that she has already started her queenly practices.
There’s that treasure-filled Royal Handbag …

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a Lady-in-Waiting to be brought up to scratch …

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and a royal tea party to organise – with or without little sis.

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This involves a great deal of baking, not to mention the appointment of a Special Royal Footman and then finally the big p-day arrives. What ensues isn’t quite what her royal majesty intends but that said, young Queenie makes a vital regal decision that is entirely appropriate in the event and learns a very important royal lesson to boot.

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Both words and pictures are an absolute delight from cover to cover – and back again!

 

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An After Bedtime Story
Shoham Smith and Einat Tsarfati
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It’s bedtime for young Nina – well that’s the plan but no sooner have her parents tucked her up and crept away than she’s up and demanding hugs and kisses and worse. Refusing to take no for an answer, the young miss is bounding out of her room to join the adult party where she very quickly becomes the centre of attraction as she samples the tasty treats …

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tinkers with the tumblers …

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and even baths her doll in the bowl of punch.

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The noisy goings on wake her younger sibling and before long there’s not one but two tinies on the scene, ignoring their parents’ “Go to bed” instructions, directing the fun and games, and eventually, leaving their exhausted Mum and Dad collapsed on the sofa. At least they join in the clearing up though.

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Tsarfati’s droll illustrations, executed in a limited colour palette are absolutely full of humorous details showing so much more than is said in Smith’s rhyming couplets. Nina is one bundle of mischief and, the fact that at the start she’s shown in bed sporting necklace and tiara, rather give one the impression that she’s planned the whole thing all along.
It’s probably best not to share this one with youngsters just before bedtime: let them enjoy the fun earlier on in the day or it might just give them ideas of the Nina kind.

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It’s Bedtime

 

DSCN6535 (800x600)Unstoppable Max
Julia Patton
Oxford University Press
I suspect many parents of a lively youngster will recognise Max: his batteries never seem to run down. So when it comes to almost bedtime, Max is brimming over with energy and has a whole lot of things on his ‘to do’ list. …”So if you can tidy away your toys, get into your clean pyjamas, and feed Fluffy, I’ll be back in five minutes.” his mum says. A simple enough request except that Max doesn’t have toys; what he has is an army engaged in Operation Castle Attack and stopping is not what Max wants to do.

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Out comes his thinking hat to help our young hero make a choice… sensible – tidying up; or naughty – keeping Mummy out of his bedroom; or crazy – going on an expedition to the South Pole? Max decides and that’s number one task he can tick – more or less …

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However he stlll has the clean pyjamas to get himself into and Fluffy is yet to receive his evening feed. How does Major Unstoppable Max deal with those other two tasks? Suffice it to say he needs a little assistance from that thinking hat, some very careful planning and a rather nifty move or two.
When his mum comes back she’s pretty impressed with young Max but as for following her instructions to “pop to the bathroom and brush your teeth.” – well um …

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A crazy tale of mayhem, making up your mind and an irrepressible imagination, this one’s sure to delight the countless Max’s of the world and make adults smile knowingly.

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Beep Beep Beep Time For Sleep
Claire Freedman and Richard Smythe
Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It’s almost the end of the day and the road-building machines have been hard at work on the motorway: there’s the Backhoe loader, the digger, a tipper truck, a concrete mixer, a dump truck, a grader and a road roller all ready to wind down and take some well-earned rest. But first they need a bit of a clean up and then one by one the vehicles all line up in their yard under the silver moonlight for their nightly slumbers.

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Despite the onomatopoeic beeps, vrooms and pops, this rhyming text has a strangely soporific rhythm about it ,so once youngsters have had the opportunity to explore all the action in Richard Smythe’s busy scenes, (some have fold-out pages), they might well be ready to close their eyes and just listen one more time to the words and let the images drift into their sleepy heads and join the big machines in sweet dreams.

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Coming up next week:
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Friendship, Fun and Feelings

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Blue & Bertie
Kristyna Litten
Simon & Schuster
Bertie is a conventional creature spending his time along with the other giraffes crunchity- crunching the sweet leaves from the treetops, sip, slurping cooling water from the watering hole and then curling his long neck and snore, snore snoozing.

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That’s the way things were and that’s the way they liked them.
But then one day having overslept Bertie finds himself alone and unsure which way to go. Before long our long-necked friend is thoroughly lost and he’s not at all happy about it.

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Enter another creature looking very like himself except in one respect; and not only is this creature reassuring but he’s offering to show Bertie the way home.
A way that takes the two of them trit trotting beside some interesting spots and amazing sights

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and even among …

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Finally Bertie’s herd is in sight. Surely though he can’t be thinking of going back to his mundane existence and letting Blue, despite his difference, walk away all by himself, can he?
Thankfully not – after all everyone’s (or giraffe’s) daily life needs a bit of variety, not to mention a special friend to share it with.
Kristina Litten’s first solo picture book is enchanting: I particularly love the way she uses pattern and perspective in her illustrations. Blue and Bertie delightfully demonstrate what  all young children know: that being different is no barrier to friendship.

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Astro the Robot Dog
Claire Freedman and Russell Julian
Scholastic Children’s Books
Built from metal parts and programmed to obey at all times, robot dog Astro lives with alien boy, Zak on Planet Xog and their life is decidedly lacking in fun. Then one day a message flashes up on Zak’s computer screen …

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Off he goes to Planet Earth with a mission to visit Humankind and make a report. Shortly after landing he finds himself being ‘looked after’ by a small boy and daily life becomes filled with fun activities. As Astro makes his nightly reports back to Planet Xog he begins to wonder whether Zak too would enjoy these earthly activities: He’s now a robot dog with feelings. Feelings that, despite his new found friendship, make him miss his erstwhile friend very much. So when another summons comes – one calling him back home, it’s with mixed feelings that he thanks Boy and bids him farewell and off he goes.

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Thanks to Boy’s kindness however life back on Planet Xog is about to become a whole lot more fun and full of feelings, for Zak and Astro anyway.

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Told in jaunty rhyme, this is a heart-warming story of friendship, fun and a spot of football.

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Aliens Love Dinopants & Aerodynamics of Biscuits

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Aliens Love Dinopants
Clare Freedman and Ben Court
Simon and Schuster
Aliens, underpants and dinosaurs all in one story – what more can a pants loving reader ask for? Herein the spacecraft, piloted by the pantsophile aliens, is zapped by lightning as it whizzes through the skies forcing it to crash-land in the jungle.
But BLEEP BLEEPS are heard loud and clear from the pants-tracker and immediately the aliens are hot on the swampy trail. A trail that finally leads them to …

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shortly followed by …

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And it seems those dinosaurs are ready to fight to the death over their precious stash. But perhaps that isn’t going to be necessary: after all both are really on the same side – that of PANTS. So maybe a solution – a pantstastic one – can be found that works to the satisfaction of all concerned …

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And if so, all of us humans had better keep extra special watch over our washing lines when it’s chuddies drying time.
Can it really be the seventh of this ever-popular Underpants series? This one was eagerly seized upon by the five and six year olds I took it to, and several readings were demanded.

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Maria was certainly impressed by the story and left me this.

More power to the seemingly indomitable pants force and the creators thereof.

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Aerodynamics of Biscuits
Clare Helen Walsh and Sophia Touliatou
Maverick Arts Publishing
When hunger pangs strike, Oliver (normally a good, kind sort of a boy) creeps downstairs to raid the biscuit barrel only to find it completely empty. But what are those shadowy things scuttling across the floor, ‘Hauling and heaving, towing and tugging.’ out through the door and into the garden?

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The marauding mice however, are not consuming their spoils, oh no, they’re in the process of constructing or attempting to, aerodynamic biscuit rockets in which to fly to the moon and there partake of some – well you know what the moon is said to be made of.

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However their design skills leave a lot to be desired and it’s only when Oliver offers to help with the rocket building that things start to look more promising, and finally it’s blast off time.
Once at their cheesy destination, the mice can hardly wait to tuck in to the feast that awaits them when they discover that their leader, Captain Sneaky McSqueaky has gone missing: seems his appetite is for something other than cheese …
Are the mice to be marooned on the moon without a craft or can they find another way to return to earth? Perhaps, with Oliver’s help …

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This unlikely story is great fun. The nature of the telling is such that it draws listeners in from the start, keeping them involved and interested throughout and offering possibilities for active joining in with the rocket building and cheese gathering as the story unfolds.
Equally, Sophia Touliatou’s quirky illustrations are packed with amusing details, creating a visual feast of small rodents engaging in all manner of tasks, tiny tools, and tasty treats – sweet and savoury, not to mention a whole host of speech bubbles, noises, labels and more for the eyes to digest.

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Oliver and Isabel: New Homes, New Friends

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Oliver & Patch
Claire Freedman and Kate Hindley
Simon & Schuster pbk
I’m no dog lover, but nevertheless quickly found myself falling for Patch – he’s a total charmer. So too is young Oliver – new to city life and feeling out of sorts – who comes across the soggy animal while out exploring his new surroundings in the rain. Oliver (who misses his country pals) and Patch are soon firm friends.

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Despite Oliver’s best efforts, for he picks up on Patch’s wistfulness, nobody comes forward as the owner of the small white dog described in his FOUND posters.

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Then one drizzly morning, Oliver and Patch’s explorations take them into what for the boy at least, is unknown territory. Hot on the heels of Patch who has suddenly broken free of his lead, Oliver finds himself in a tiny park confronting a girl all clad in red and he knows at once …

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All is not lost however, for although Ruby is indeed Patch’s owner, she is more than happy to embark on a new friendship.

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Each and every turn of the page elicited “aaahs” and not only from my audience (the butcher’s shop scene didn’t do it for my vegetarian self though); Kate Hindley’s illustrations exude playfulness and convey so beautifully, the characters’ feelings as well as extending what we hear in Claire Freedman’s well-crafted, touching text.

 

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The Girl with the Parrot on her Head
Daisy Hirst
Walker Books
Young Isabel, the girl with a parrot on her head seems perfectly happy spending her time with friend Simon;

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but then Simon moves away leaving poor Isobel with hate in her heart. Even the parrot moves off to perch elsewhere, until that is Isabel ‘felt quiet inside, and decided to like being on her own.’ Back comes the parrot and Isabel’s need for friends is replaced by a system. In no time at all she has (with a little help from her feathered companion) sorted all her belongings into boxes. The parrot however has nocturnal worries about those boxes, in particular the wolves’ one. Isabel too, despite her bravado, has concerns about the relative size of one of the wolves and the system.
Imagine her sense of satisfaction then when she comes across the perfect wolf box while out on her scooter. There’s a snag though: the box is already occupied.

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It’s occupant, Chester, is more than willing to discuss other possibilities than the use he’d had in mind but quickly rules it out as a wolf-container. Instead, the two tell the large lupine about the ideal place for him, whereupon he’s off right away leaving Isabel and her new friend to their own creative devices. Oh! And the parrot becomes an honorary astronaut too.

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Daisy Hirst presents a child’s loneliness as a consequence of her friend moving away in a straightforward text and allows her illustrations to do much of the talking and to reveal much of the emotional content in a gently humorous manner while still leaving gaps for readers themselves to fill. Her seemingly simple child-like images of the young characters at play rendered in bold blocks of paint, alongside outlined, uncoloured images that stand out starkly from the white page and occasional pages where somewhat muted shades of blue predominates,

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make for visual interest at every turn of the page.
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Monsters and Underpants; Dinosaurs and Poo

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Monsters Love Underpants
Claire Freedman and Ben Cort
Simon & Schuster
We’ve had aliens, pirates and dinosaurs with a penchant for underpants; now it’s the turn of monsters, all manner of the beasties. We meet the howlers a-prowl in dingy dungeons and drooly swamp dwellers who fill their pants with gooey slime;

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YUCK – you can imagine what happens to those. Then there’s the spiky, spooky variety from outer space, not to mention the enormous sand dwelling monster whose bum just won’t fit comfortably into his pants. All these and more sport their snazzy underpants at the Saturday night disco and what a sight they look as they jiggle and jive …

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but they must be sure to leave on time. For as they say,
We can’t risk being spotted!
For no one will be scared of us,
In pants all striped and dotted.”
Make sure you don’t leave a pair of yours under the bed …
I can see this one going down a storm in early years settings. The sight of those, mock scary monsters with their day-glo undies is guaranteed to have young children giggling with delight at every turn of the page and the rhyming text is great fun to read aloud. Be prepared for cries of “read it again’ at the end.
I can see lots of potential for creative work here too.

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Savouring the story?

Dinosaur Poo!
Diane and Christyan Fox
Words & Pictures (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
Poo is one topic that unfailingly seems to delight young children; another is dinosaurs: put the two together in a zany no holds barred rhyming text and add wacky, vividly coloured illustrations of dinosaurs in all shapes and sizes, plus flaps to open and reveal all manner of pongy ploppings and it seems you cannot fail to please the under sixes. Certainly that’s the case when the Pterodactyl sets out to prove the superiority of his poo to an unimpressed Velociraptor and the two embark on the biggest and best poo quest.

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Seemingly they are not the only interested ones though; there’s a ladybird that keeps popping up at every dropping site. Fun endpapers too.

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Cuddles, Crime, Cavemen and a Question

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I Want a Cuddle
Malorie Blackman and Joanne Partis
Orchard Books pbk
First published over ten years ago, this story written by current the Children’s Laureate, about Little Rabbit and his search for a cuddle still holds its original charm.
Having injured his paw during a game of hide-and-seek, Little Rabbit is in desperate need of a cuddle. Hedgehog is sympathetic but too prickly, likewise Squirrel (too tickly), Badger – he’s too bristly, Toad is lumpy, and bumpy, not to mention squidgy.

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Poor Little Rabbit sets off home through the forest but who is that bushy-tailed creature sneaking up behind her?
And who else needs a cuddle now?

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Funny, tender and with just the right amount of suspense to keep young readers engaged throughout; this is a lovely story-time read aloud for nursery settings as well as individual listeners. Joanne Partis’ boldly coloured, illustrations rendered with thick strokes, daubs, spatters and mixed media manipulations are a delight.
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Top Top Secret
Claire Freedman and Russell Ayto
Simon and Schuster pbk
The bond between, reader, author and main protagonist – a young secret agent spy – are immediately established in this vastly amusing rhyming tale. Herein Sid accepts a mission to recover the Royal Ring bearing the king’s secret seal from the clutches of a dastardly dragon and return it to its place in the royal vaults. Off he goes creeping in the shadows till he comes upon a large drain lid; out comes his trusty magnet, up comes the cover, down slides Sid. Then propelled by his supersonic pulley he whizzes through the shaft, out onto a river (his raft a-ready there), under a bridge, oops -! Having narrowly escaped the waiting shark’s jaws,

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he comes upon a sign:
Once inside the dragon’s lair, he discovers the ring’s whereabouts and is on the point of seizing same when ROAR! The dragon wakes; smoke and flames burst forth; OH NO! Sid’s has lost his anti-dragon flare. Time to resort to something altogether more tricky and DEFINITELY, much more sticky, Sid.

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And does our Sid succeed in retrieving and returning the precious object to its rightful place? Erm well… those telescopic super-charged skis and that trusty magnet do come into their own and we leave our hero sound asleep in his comfy bed so … What do you think?
Rendered in skillfully scurrying rhyme and through suitably off-beat illustrations, this fast-moving, very amusing tale is such fun to share with young audiences large and small. If the former though, make sure individuals have opportunities to revel in the hilarious details of Russell Ayto’s deliciously idiosyncratic artwork.
Overall design, the variety of fonts used, Ayto’s choice of colour palette, the minutiae of detail within the scenes be they wide screen or small close-ups, all add to the impact of the book.
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Ug-A-Lug
Jill Lewis and Simon Rickerty
Simon and Schuster pbk
Previously for Simon Rickerty it was crayons; now, along with the characters he depicts, a quartet of troglodytes no less (those drawn by the little boy of the story), it is pencils that take centre stage. Actually just the one pencil, in fact. The particular one being that which rolls over the cavemen’s fire extinguishing it but bringing to life said picture. Thereupon the bemused cave dwellers attempt to make sense of this mysterious object; they try eating it, and climbing it before one of their number, Colin, hits upon tool wielding. After some serious carving and chopping an impressive result is achieved.

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‘ BURNA BURNA ROAST TOASTA!’ shouts the excited Flint but then out of nowhere seemingly, there leaps a hungry tiger, jaws a-gaping. Plan B I think guys.
After a pretty close call though, things take a turn – or rather they don’t – for the worse.

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You didn’t notice that tree then? Time for another one of Colin’s good ideas …
But …

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Have a sausage instead! UG-A-LUG! A happy ending? Certainly, so long as you are a carnivore that is.
Jill Lewis’s matter of fact manner of telling with its sprinkling of troglodyte talk, works wonderfully well as a counter to Ayto’s over the top artistry, with its brilliantly expressive caveman countenances as they go about their comical caperings.
In a word SUPERDUPERUG-A-LUG-A-LOVED-IT!
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The Wonderful Egg
Dahlov Ipcar
Flying Eye Books
Is it a mystery story or is it an information book? First published in 1958 and now in a new edition, this lovely book is actually both. It tells how long, long ago when all the earth was covered in jungles a wonderful egg sat solitary in a mossy nest beneath a giant fern tree.

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But whose egg is it?

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A dinosaur’s perhaps, or did it belong to one of the marine or flying reptiles that lived over a million years ago?

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Dahlov Ipcar transports us to that prehistoric world and takes us through a multitude of possibilities before revealing the answer.

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Her wonderful illustrations have been ‘remastered’ from the original edition. The limited palette of shades of green, brown, grey and pink and the bolder black blocks, shading and outlines creates scenes at once dramatic, subtle and timeless.
In addition to the narrative, readers are provided with a helpful pronunciation page and a double spread showing the relative sizes of the creatures featured.
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October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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