Picking Pickle

Picking Pickle
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Pavilion Children’s Books

Here’s a story from the dream team, Faber and Vulliamy, creators of the Mango & Bambang series who now take us to a dogs’ home and, courtesy of longest term resident canine narrator, help us find just the right dog. But which one will it be? There are just so many potential companions to choose from it’s a veritable canine conundrum.

Who better though to introduce fellow residents; our narrator knows the ins and outs of them all so let’s meet some.

There’s incredible handsome, silky-haired, prize winning Geraldo; what about him? Or he of the voracious appetite, Harvey?
Perhaps we might prefer Dumpling, a clever pooch, chewer of news, views and crosswords at super fast speed as well as being multi-lingual.

Maybe Matilda – she of the perfect teeth – and an excellent guard dog; or super-cute Boo-Boo, bouncy as a ball.

Then again, there’s Poochy Petunia Wuffles-Winstanley, undoubtedly the poshest pet of the lot, although on occasion her manners leave something to be desired.

Oh what a dilemma, a real pickle indeed. Perhaps it’s easily sorted; I know which I’d choose. The one that bears a close resemblance to the canine, Chester, my best friend is currently caring for, the one  that I sometimes accompany on walks in Bushy Park:

I wonder; might it be our faithful narrator himself …
Full of fun and heart, Polly’s laugh-out loud text combined with Clara’s cracking, brilliantly observed, canine portraits make for a deliciously silly pooch-filled romp that ends just perfectly.
Make sure you check out the end papers, they’re a delight too.

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir

Mango & Bambang Superstar Tapir
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
I have to admit that I’m a great fan of the Mango & Bambang series, this being the fourth book; and they seem to go on getting better and better.
What is the snowiest meal you can think of: whatever it is I’ll bet it’s not half as delicious as that consumed by the little girl and her best friend and tapir, Bambang in the first of these four linked, although separate, stories. It happens because, Mango is trying to provide the best possible experience of snow for her pal without there actually being any likelihood of the chilly precipitation in their neck of the woods, especially as it’s summer. Instead she decides to ‘bring snow to the tapir’; and they end up breakfasting on lemon sorbet, cream soda, crushed ice topped with whipped cream plus meringue chunks and marshmallows – white ones naturally. That of course is only part of their snowy Saturday outing, which does get more than a little hairy at times …

The whole episode is sheer delight though, especially the finale that you’ll have to discover for yourself by getting your hands on a copy of this enchanting book.
In the other three stories, they spend a night at the fair and poor Bambang ends up with Bambang sustaining a rather nasty injury, inflicted by one of the duo’s arch enemies when Bambang puts his own safety second in order to protect Mango.
Being quick to recover though, its only a few days before the two are ready for their next two adventures, the final one of which sees them reunited with Bambang’s somewhat sassy, diminutive young cousin Gunter at the international premiere of his new film.

I absolutely love Bambang’s assessment of the canapés offered as ‘just normal food, made too small.
Charm simply oozes from these wonderfully uplifting, fun-filled tales; but what over-arches everything is the bond of affection between the two main protagonists, one of which has an unfailing capacity for innocent havoc wreaking.
As always, Clara’s delectable, retro-style illustrations – this time with touches of orange – add visual charm to Polly’s stories; the combination once again creating the perfect book for newly independent readers, or for sharing with those not yet ready to fly solo.
If you’ve yet to be delighted by this team, get a copy of this book right away; I suspect you’ll then want to read their previous stories too.

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Mostly Mary & All Mary


Mostly Mary / All Mary
Gwynedd Rae and Clara Vulliamy
Egmont Publishing
Oh joy; two books I loved as a child, borrowing them frequently from the library, now reissued; and re-imagined by the wonderful Clara Vulliamy: I can think of no better person to bring fresh zest to these timeless beauties than Clara with her gently humorous touch.


For those who have yet to make the acquaintance of Mary, ( or Mary Plain, which she discovers is her full name early in the book), she’s an orphan bear cub, resident of Nursery Pit, Berne Zoo, who, in the first story is attempting to find her place in the pecking order of her extended family. She finds school lessons a bothersome experience and is much happier sallying forth with her friend, Sir Robin who provides some shrinking powder so that Mary can adjust her size and take a moonlit ride on his back and have a wonderful, rather crazy adventure.


Then there are the St Bruin’s Day celebrations when best behaviour is the order of the day, and Mary is in trouble, over a suitable gift before she’s even set out for the festivities.
Having re-read the ten episodes in the first volume they’ve lost none of their appeal: a spirited bundle of mischief, at once ursine-like and child-like, Mary is still a charmer.
Equally funny and fresh-seeming is Mary’s second set of adventures. It begins with Mary receiving an invitation to pay a visit to ‘the Lady in the Fancy Coat’ and having to consult – or more accurately ‘ask a private ask’ of her friend and designated chauffeur, Owl Man, on the meaning of luggage before they set off to the residence of Fancy-Coat-Lady.


What happens thereafter I won’t reveal; but rest assured it’s more than worth getting hold of a copy of the book and discovering for yourself. There’ll certainly be plenty of laughs provided by the trouble-prone young bear.
I do hope other titles from the series are to follow.

Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble / Pugly Solves a Crime


Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
The tiny tapir referred to in the title of this, the third delicious Mango And Bambang collaboration between Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy doesn’t crash onto the scene until the third story and when he does, my goodness he certainly makes his presence felt.
Before that though, Bambang and Mango visit the seaside to spend a special carefree, fun-filled day together before Mango’s new school term starts. At least that’s the plan, but it turns out to be a day packed with unexpected incidents culminating in the rescue of a toddler swept out to sea and an exciting parachute flight.
In the second story Bambang is feeling off-colour, his snout is blocked and he takes to his bed. Doctor Blossom the tapir specialist is at a loss to know how to make him better …


so it’s left to Mango, ably assisted by their pal George, to find a cure.
Even after his recovery, Bambang hasn’t regained his full bounce and so he and Mango do quiet things at home. But then a large parcel is delivered addressed to Bambang and any chance of peace and quiet immediately go out the window, for what should be inside but his small cousin Gunter – a cousin he didn’t even know existed. Small he might be, but he’s a force to be reckoned with and pretty soon, it becomes evident that two tapirs in one apartment is one too many. The trouble is Gunter has announced his intention to stay put and Mango appears to be enjoying his company rather too much. So much so that Bambang starts to think that perhaps he should be the one to go …
The final story sees Mango participating in the City Chess Tournament and one of the other competitors is the boy who’s been champ for the past three years. Seemingly though – at least to Bambang – something strange is afoot.


By the end of the book, Bambang has come to a very important understanding about family – it’s not about who you look like or where you started; true family are those you belong with – those who make you feel most completely yourself, no matter what.
Full of warmth and humour, these stories are perfect for those readers just starting to go solo.
Another favourite character returns in a brand new adventure:


Pugly Solves a Crime
Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow
When Pugly learns that Big Sal the guinea pig has been ‘GUINEA PIG-NAPPED he dons his detective hat and turns PUG-DETECTIVE. But who’s responsible for this dastardly crime? Perhaps it’s Glitterball the Poodle who has come to live next door – Pugly doesn’t trust poodles. Or could it be someone else? Time to enlist the help of super smart cat, Clem. Off go the two of them in search of clues …
With plenty of wonderful illustrations from Gemma Correll …


this crazy tale is sure to bring plenty of smiles to the faces of young readers; in fact, there’s not a spread that didn’t make me giggle to myself.

Dixie O’Day On His Bike!


Dixie O”Day On His Bike
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
An ‘affable’ chat over coffee with a passing cyclist, Dean, met while Percy is busy polishing Dixie’s car,


and an increase in the size of Dixie’s waistline, result in the latter deciding he needs more exercise and he tells Percy of his intention to take up cycling. Not only that, he wants to buy a tandem. However on account of their differing leg lengths, Dixie needs to call upon the services of another pal of his, Don Barrakan who agrees to design a specially adapted model  just for Dixie and Percy …


When the machine is finally delivered, Percy is soon engulfed by Dixie’s enthusiasm and before long the two of them are heading off down the road, but very soon …


Never mind, Percy, Dixie’s there to pick you up and encourage you to practise, practise, practise … and soon the pals are planning a cycling trip. Routes are considered, maps pored over (with a bit of input from Dean), destinations discussed and an expedition is finally decided upon. The plan is that Dean will take the lead on his bike and the other two will follow, which when put into operation, isn’t quite such a clever idea … as the two bikes hurtle downhill at an alarming speed towards a haystack resulting in …


Extrication accomplished, the three part company and whom should they meet as they reach home but nosy neighbour Lou Ella. Inevitable comments are passed and smartly brushed aside with Dixie’s “Just a small mishap.”
Is that mishap the end of Dixie and Percy’s flirtation with cycling? Of course not – this is Dixie O’Day we’re talking about but if you want to discover how things develop and I’m certain you do, then grab yourself a copy of this latest delicious Dixie offering from the inimitable mother and daughter team Shirley and Clara.
Shirley’s faultless storytelling and Clara’s delectable illustrations together offer total delight for those ‘just independent’ readers and of course, it’s a cracker for reading aloud, one to one, or with a group.
I’ll just add that there are thrills aplenty and the odd spill (or ”error of judgement”) as Percy puts it,


not to mention a long-distance race, the Didsworth Cycle Rally and the unmasking of a cheat. Oops! I‘m in danger of telling all in my enthusiasm for this wonderful book … Don’t get left behind; get hold of it rightaway. As well as the story, there’s the usual mix of maps, a quiz, a chat with the book’s creators …


and more, to enjoy too.

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Take Off with Mango & Bambang and Claude

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Mango & Bambang: Tapir All at Sea
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Calamitous at cake making and disastrous at dancing – ballet and free dance certainly,

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it seems Bambang is never going to find the right hobby to occupy him while Mango concentrates on her chess moves. But who is this and what can he possibly want?

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Seemingly there’s a lack of male partners in Sênor Churro’s Flamenco class and Bambang’s stomping, thumping trotters are just the thing when it comes to that particular Spanish dance. All that in the first story but there are three more in this cracking sequel to Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig.
There follows a crazy tale of misadventures that include Bambang crash landing onto a romantic picnic and accidentally becoming entangled in a marriage proposal

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resulting in an accusation of causing ‘Havoc and being a Public Nuisance’ and his removal to the local dog pound. All ends magnificently though with Mango being granted this:

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and Bambang making a new friend of the canine kind.
An old enemy making a reappearance in the third tale which sees Bambang beguiled into becoming the chief exhibit in her new venture …

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with astounding consequences; and in the final adventure, as a result of his actions in the museum, Bambang is now headline news and something of a celebrity dancer of the flamenco. The trouble is he lets fame got to his head and finds himself setting sail on board a luxury liner leaving Mango and all things familiar far behind. Will they ever be reunited?

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I won’t be a story spoiler but suffice it to say, Bambang’s new doggy friend Rocket reappears and Bambang is no mean swimmer.
If you know any youngsters just taking off as confident solo readers, then this is the book: funny – indeed wonderfully eccentric with a superb narrative full of delicious dialogue – ‘Mango stopped long enough to say, “He has the beautiful feet of a tapir, NOT a mammoth, and they’re not stampeding. It’s your silly dance that’s all wrong!”, then she ran after Bambang.’; a perfect balance between text and pictures with Clara’s distinctive retro style illustrations bringing delight at every turn of the page. She’s brilliant at capturing ‘the moment’ and every single picture, large or small, oozes charm and vitality.

Another corker of a book for that taking off stage is

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Claude Going for Gold
Alex T.Smith
Hodder Children’s Books
Our beret-wearing pooch is back for yet another adventure along with best friend Sir Bobbysock of course. On this particular day Claude has woken up full of joie de vivre and having created havoc with the breakfast cereal, heads off with his pal to the great outdoors. Before long though they conclude that there’s a decided lack of adventure around; then all of a sudden Claude trips over his own shoelaces and cascades into a marching band that is accompanying these characters

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on their way to participate in the STONKING BIG SPORTS DAY at the local stadium. Finally, something to get excited about and all the more so when Claude himself is given a pair of sports knickers …

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and invited to participate. His shot put skills however leave more than a little to be desired, his sprinting ends in disaster, he misses the swimming competition altogether and his efforts at gymnastics are catastrophic. But then the trophy is seized by a pair of dastardly crooks and there’s only one person – or rather animal – that can possibly save the day …

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Purple Passions

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Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I missed this as a Hallowe’en read due to re-organisation at RH but no matter, it’s an all year round read anyway. Here in the fourth Dixie and Percy adventure, the pals plan a camping trip, “somewhere where there are no other people and we can be alone with nature!” Dixie suggests and despite slight reservations from Percy off they set, with nosy neighbor Lou Ella’s warnings of rain being forecast on the radio ringing in their ears.
They end up in a decidedly dark, scary seeming place having missed this …

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before pitching the tent. (I have to say their efforts at same remind me all too much of my own teenage attempts at same at a location I remember not, but somewhere near Bath.)

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But the watchful cows know better – much better.

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Indeed, after a series of mishaps, or rather disasters – gales, torrents and empty petrol tanks – the friends end up seeking refuge herein …

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All manner of spine-tingling horrors manifest themselves in the darkness; the sights and sounds are pretty alarming but needless to say and Shirley does ‘thoughts of that old dark house and the terrors of the night seemed to fade rapidly.’ as Dixie and Percy head home already planning for a barbecue the following weekend.
Shirley is on top form with her humour herein: those bovine characters Mabel and Margery are a hoot as they pass judgement (and more) on Dixie and Percy’s camp site; and as ever Clara’s two-tone illustrations are wonderful, every single one of them.

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As usual in the series, the book ends not with the story’s conclusion but with maps, a meet the creators chat, some fun activites and a first chaper taster of the next Dixie story Dixie O’Day On His Bike! Like a good many newly independent readers I know, I just can’t wait.
And I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered the delights of the first of another series in the making wherein Clara ‘s wonderful illustrations are an integral part. Again it’s a perfect taking off book:

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Mango & Bambang The Not-a-Pig
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
Bambang is an Asian tapir (from the jungles of Malaysia) befriended by Mango Allsorts when he is lost and frightened in the big city where she lives. Young Mango is certainly a very busy young miss with her karate, pancake making, chess and attempts at clarinet playing.
The first story tells of the meeting of the two with that wonderful traffic-stopping announcement of Mango’s.

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The second sees the friends visiting the swimming pool (Bambang doesn’t quite fit into the bath

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and he misses his muddy jungly pool) and Bambang discovering the delights of toffees.
The third tells how the tapir becomes a connoisseur of hats – yes hats! –

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and an encounter with the dreadful Dr Cynthia Prickle-Posset, newly returned from an overseas visit and none too pleased to discover a tapir disturbing her peace.
In the final episode, Bambang and Mango join forces to create some highly unusual music.

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Everything about this book is enchanting: the characters – meet the whole cast:

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the sweetly funny stories they inhabit, the delicious purple-tinged illustrations, the inviting striped cover, the purple edged pages – hmm, joy.

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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away!


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Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away
Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hip! Hip Hooray! Dixie’s up and away. Well not quite yet but he will be soon in this, his third adventure.
Dixie and Percy have a new friend, Ariel, a parrot belonging to their neighbour and arch enemy, Lou Ella. When the three friends set off to Didsworth Air Show, she’s quickly in her car and hot on their trail to recover her bird. Ariel however, has no wish to be caught so when he spies her, he makes a dive for the basket of a hot air balloon, hastily followed by Percy and Dixie.

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A gust of wind saves them from her clutches and, loosened from its tethers, the balloon takes flight – up, up and up it soars leaving a furious Lou Ella far below. None of the three aeronauts has any ballooning experience so it’s a case of learning by doing and UP seems their best option.
Time passes, lunch begins to feature in their thoughts but suddenly, down comes the rain, followed by thunder and lightning. The friends are soon soaked through and as the wind buffets them dangerously, they cling on searching for somewhere to land till they spot what appears to be an island.

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Down they go but it’s not quite the tropical variety Ariel had in mind. Rather, it’s a roundabout at the centre of a busy junction.
Clearly the animals have never been to forest school: their efforts at shelter building are a dismal failure and even worse, there’s Lou Ella come to claim her pet. He though, tells her in no uncertain terms what he thinks of her and flies off into the nearest tree; but that’s not the end of the story.
I won’t spoil that but suffice it to say, there’s another frantic balloon flight, an encounter with a flock of parakeets

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(have they flown over from Bushey Park?) after which Ariel decides to spread his wings, and a stop-off at a favourite venue for Dixie and Percy.

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I know a good few young readers who have been eagerly awaiting this book and they won’t be disappointed. In addition to another exciting story from Shirley, gloriously funny, retro-style illustrations by Clara, grace every spread; there are pages of interesting activities and a short taster of the next adventure of Dixie and Percy. Who can ask for more?


Here’s 7 year old James who was absolutely thrilled to get his hands on a copy.


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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery

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Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
Hurrah! Dixie O’Day is back in a second adventure with his best pal, Percy.
When the pair head off on holiday to the posh Hotel Splendide in Brightsea, little do they know that they are driving right into more high adventure.
This time it’s an adventure involving a narrow escape en route thanks to a masked pair in a car, a dramatic sea rescue of Mr Canteloe, owner of a large house with secret passages, a hidden cave, a famous pop star Peaches Miaow, such a divinely cool character it’s easy to see why Percy adores her; a jewel robbery (this includes Peaches’ precious diamond necklace.)

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Oh woe! big drama in the hotel lobby. Then there’s a subterranean encounter – Percy, Dixie and Mr C. and the robbers, a breathless chase (involving same), a torn off sleeve (one of the crooks’s), the  discovery of the stolen hoard by Mr C. Dixie and Percy (who unearths Peaches’ necklace), and an eventual arrest and identification of the criminals.
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Percy in particular is more than a little thrilled as the friends finally set off to drive home.

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Once again there are the added extras: an introductory interview with Dixie and Percy and photo portraits of the other characters, a map (Dixie’s) and after the story, Shirley and Clara talk about their favourite holidays, there’s a maze and invitation for readers to be creative, a quiz and a taster of – oh joy – the next adventure, Dixie O’Day Up, Up and Away – I can’t wait.
Like it’s predecessor, this a perfect chapter story both for sharing with children and also for those at that tricky inbetween stage just before confident reading that is so hard to cater for. With Clara’s richly patterned, wonderfully expressive illustrations and a truly entertaining story that sparkles with Shirley’s charm and subtle humour what more can a reader at that crucial stage ask for – other than more, of course.
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Holidays Far and Near


Wanda and the Alien Go Camping
Sue Hendra
Red Fox pbk
Wanda and her alien pal embark on their fourth adventure – camping. Their camp site however, is not the original earthly one planned; that’s far too wet and rainy. Instead the alien takes Wanda in his space rocket to his planet and it’s there they set out to find a suitable place to pitch their tent. Even that however, doesn’t match up to expectations, certainly not Wanda’s anyhow. She finds fault with all the possible spots they visit –


too noisy, too quiet, too wild. Oh dear, can it be that the alien’s planet is entirely unsuitable too. But what about those clouds up above; could they possibly fit the bill?
Seemingly so.


Cloud camping is just perfect; they can invite their other friends and the rain will not interfere at all.
One cannot help admiring the alien’s perseverance and Wanda’s endeavours not to hurt her best friend’s feelings. Indeed the sight of Wanda and her alien friend always brings a smile to my face, as in my experience, it does to many a preschooler. Here, I am sure the multitudes of aliens in alien city with their Day-Glo striped apparel and varying number of eyes, and the cloud camping possibilities will particularly appeal.
Sue Heap’s delightful images are just the thing to stimulate some modeling activities with coloured soft dough, ‘Fimo’ or similar; don’t forget the googly eyes though.
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I Heart Holidays
Clara Vulliamy
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
This is a happy book all about MARTHA – that’s me! Come and see my BRILLIANT new suitcase!


Who can resist these opening lines of the third story featuring Martha and her bunny brothers. Young Martha is busy packing all manner of items into her case in preparation for her seaside holiday and finally the entire family is ready.


Off they go in Bluebell, their camper van and after a long tedious journey it’s on with those swimming togs and a mad dash for the sea. Brrr! Not for long though; Pip objects strongly so Martha devises another activity and then it’s time for a picnic lunch – with the obligatory sandy sandwiches. Time to go in the sea now? More objections from Pip so …
After lunch there’s burying Dad in the sand,


ice-creams, the starry sunglasses rescue operation and a sandcastle building competition with the inevitable trashing and then finally … our young narrator has had enough. She heads seawards – alone. Not for long though for pretty soon (despite the downpour) those pesky bunny brothers have joined her for a glorious romp and guess what:

I love the retro VW camper van, the shell face (so typical of young children),


the portrayal of Dad being covered in sand, the exuberance of Martha and her brothers when the sun finally shines … pretty much everything that Clara Vulliamy has included in this seaside romp.
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Catch That Plane!
Sally Sutton and Sylvie Currin Korankova
Walker Books
We join a family in holiday frenzy as they rush to the airport, chase to check-in, dash to departures,


scoot through security, trot down the travelator, jog down the aerobridge and finally, board their plane.


Then it’s a peep through the window, buckle up that seat belt, engines roaring, racing down the runway and they’re off up … up… away! The holiday has well and truly started.
There are echoes of Walking in the Jungle, albeit at a faster pace, in this first person account by a boy setting off on his holiday with his Mum, Dad and younger sister. It’s probably more narrative information that a real story but there’s plenty to interest here with the sights and sounds of the airport and the playful, jaunty rhyme, plentiful alliteration and more. And, just in case it isn’t obvious from the context, there is a final ‘Facts’ spread explaining the terms used in the text.
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Incredible Journeys



Nina engrossed in the story

Pigsticks and Harold and The Incredible Journey
Alex Milway
Walker Books pbk
Pigsticks, last of a noble line of explorers is certain he too is an explorer and what’s more he’s decided that The Ends of the Earth is his destination. However, he cannot travel alone: an assistant is required so out goes an advertisement. By happy accident, he comes upon Harold hamster,


a kindly but not altogether willing travelling companion until that is, a promise of Battenburg cake seals the deal. Off the two go on their eventful trek, a trek that includes encounters with a snake, crocodiles


and many other hazards.


The relationship between the contrasting characters  is highly humorous: Pigsticks totally confident and Harold the complete opposite, constantly asking questions of his fearless friend but it is he whose final question ultimately makes the whole enterprise happen.


This highly entertaining story – saga almost – is just the kind of thing to keep readers turning the pages to see what is coming next. The illustrations too are splendid: ranging from some taking almost an entire double spread to others that are vignettes;most show so much more than we are told in the words.
It’s a wonderful mix of subtle humour and near slapstick; pretty near perfect for that in-between stage of reading. More please.
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Another book that is ideal for the same stage is just out in paperback:


James loved this story when it first came out in hardback

Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
Red Fox pbk
You can find a full review of this wonderful book about a very eventful car race for duo Dixie and Percy, also ideal for that in-between stage of reading under Car Capers.
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Car Capers


Dixie O’Day in the Fast Lane
Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy
The Bodley Head
I loved everything about this book – its shape and feel, the cover, the mother/daughter, daughter/mother dedication page,


the introductory interview with the dapper hero Dixie wherein we also meet his best pal Percy, the annotated cast list of other characters


and the map;


all that before the story even starts. There are further delights at the end too, including a taster of the next Dixie adventure and an invitation to young readers to get their creative juices to work designing a marvellous motor. (Teachers – there’s a great opportunity here – children’s designs can be sent to Dixie via his own website: www.dixieoday.com
Dixie O’Day’s classic car is his pride and joy. He takes great care of it and likes nothing better than to take it for a spin in the countryside with Percy seated alongside him.
Dixie’s neighbour is also a car lover but Lou Ella knows nothing about cars and merely wants to impress; in fact she buys a flashy new model every year and is mighty pleased to learn that Dixie’s pride and joy has recently been proving far from reliable.

One day a race is announced.
Both Dixie and Lou Ella set their sights on winning but who will be the first across the line, the ruthless Lou Ella or the ever-helpful, fair-minded Dixie and his co-driver Percy? Suffice it to say, things don’t go smoothly for either party.


This is top class entertainment, perfectly packaged, for those just at the independent stage of reading in particular, but actually for anybody who likes a sparkling story told with unfailing charm and gentle wit and illustrated with equal measures of both. It’s presented in seven chapters but in my experience, it’s a case of ”I want the whole story in one go.” So, shared reading could well be the order of the day.


James reading the story to his brother, Daniel

Clara’s gloriously retro, red, grey, black and white patterned illustrations are perfectly integrated with the text and the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts, which is saying a lot: both are superb.
A classic series in the making, for sure.
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May Miscellany

Don’t Spill the Milk!
Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr
Andersen Press
From a tiny village in Africa one rainy season, young Penda sets out to take her daddy a bowl of milk as he tends the sheep in the grasslands some distance from their home. With her mother’s words ‘Try not to spill any on the way’ ringing in her ears as she walks, bowl on her head across the dunes, through the cavorting beasties of the mask dance, crossing the River Niger aboard a fishing boat, then travelling on among the giraffes on the plains and finally up the high mountain all the while balancing the bowl perfectly without spilling a drop. Then as she approaches her dad sitting under the mango tree, disaster strikes as a fat mango drops from above, SPLOSH! spilling the milk everywhere. But all is not lost as her father explains: in that bowl there remains something even more important, Penda’s love, not to mention some juicy mango.
A riot of colour and pattern abound in this heartwarming story of determination and family love: a splendid follow-up to The Goggle-Eyed Goats.
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J&D Owl 2

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf
Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press
Little Owl is a creature with definite tastes: he is fond of maths, ice-cream, scooter riding and especially surprises, well usually. However, the new orange scarf lovingly knitted by his mother is one surprise he does not like at all. Despite his most determined efforts, Little Owl just cannot get rid of that long, itchy accessory until that is, his class visits the zoo from where he returns sans scarf at last. After a fruitless call to the zoo, Mummy Owl determines a new scarf is called for and this time, the joint endeavor is much more to the little owlet’s liking and just the thing to wear on return trips to the zoo.
Delightfully minimalist in style (unlike that orange scarf), this cute story has warmth to match the new soft jade green wrap-around Mummy Owl lovingly knits for her little one.
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The Book of Dreams
Shirin Adl
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
By nocturnal journeying readers are invited to enter into a whole variety of dream worlds narrated in short explanatory sentences and gloriously illustrated in Shirin Adl’s magical collage illustrations. We are transported to a jungle landscape, a perplexing riverside location, confront a dinosaur, find the ability to breathe underwater, to fly and even to gather clouds from atop a mountain. We can swing from star to star, time travel and hold dream-related conversations with animals large and small. Such exciting possibilities come in dreams of many forms if only you can remember them.
This unusual picture book offers a multitude of possibilities for discussion, art work, movement, music making and of course, for dreaming, either at home or school.
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Bubble & Squeak
James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy
Orchard Books
With her amazing Pyramid of Peril act, Bubble the elephant is the star of Mr Magnifico’s travelling circus. People come from far and wide to see the amazing feat wherein Bubble’s balancing atop the pyramid is assisted only by her bouquet of flowers. The trouble is, being constantly on the move, Bubble never manages to make a real friend; in short, she is lonely. One night however, a tiny mouse seeking a place to shelter comes upon the circus tent and once inside, is mesmerized by Bubble’s performance. Full of admiration, he watches her night after night but hasn’t the courage to tell her; instead he stows away when the circus moves on and is eventually discovered. There follows a search, which ends when he is chased out of the big top. Fortunately he hasn’t got far when he discovers that Bubble is in terrible danger. So, being a brave little fellow he returns to save his heroine and become not only a hero but also a friend and named co-star in the famous show.
This new partnership of two already established creative talents has resulted in a charming book. Much of the charm comes from Clara Vulliamy’s retro-style illustrations in striking colours which are at once funny and tender, capturing the gentle humour and warmth of Mayhew’s tale of an unlikely friendship beautifully.
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The Hundred Decker Bus
Mike Smith
Macmillan pbk
Bored with his dull routine wherein the same people board the bus at the same place at the same time, day in day out, the bus driver decides to do something different. Rather than following his normal route he takes an alternative road, a small one he’d not noticed before. So begins an amazing adventure over days, weeks and months with the double decker bus growing ever taller as it travels over land and sea, taking on an ever-increasing number of passengers until, CLUNK! CLUNK disaster strikes and then there is only one way to go…
With an enormous fold-out page (one snag here: the perforations do tear rather easily), bright pictures packed full of interesting and amusing details, not to mention counting opportunities galore, Mike Smith’s debut offering is sure to win votes with young audiences. Long live co-operation, a sense of fun and imagination.
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The Wheels on the Bus
Jan Ormerod and Lindsey Gardiner
Oxford University Press
We start with the opening lines of the favourite song and then it’s the action off the bus rather than on it that is the focus of attention, for the bus (sporting its zebra stripes) is heading for a wildlife park. Therein we and the passengers can see (and join in the action of) springing gazelles, singing, ringing birds in the trees,  howling, yowling wolf cubs, tumbling, bouncing, baboons, splashing pouncing otters, mud-loving hippos  wallowing and rolling, dashing leaping cheetahs, trot trotting llamas, slow moving sloths beaming in the trees and last of all as the sun goes down, leaping lemurs … as the wheels of the bus just keep on turning all day long.  Despite the sleepy looking passengers on the final spread, the whole emphasis is on movement and sound; both of which young audiences will delight in joining in with.
A lovely variation on the early years favourite for nurseries and playgroups in particular, it’s great for both language and physical development.
Why not try adding a basket of musical instruments alongside and letting children choose which ones to use to represent each animal and its antics.
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