Albert Upside Down

Albert Upside Down
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke
Graffeg

The latest episode in the life of my favourite tortoise Albert is full of action; not however that of the protagonist – he finds himself belly up after an unfortunate rock climbing episode undertaken in an attempt to reach a tasty treat. During his efforts to right himself the creature gives a big sigh that attracts the attention of a passing worm. Said worm stops to enquire about its cause and is soon joined not only by a second worm but also several ants. Both parties claim to be best at moving large objects and Albert suggests they work together to flip him over.

Before long it seems that the entire minibeast population has come together in the cause of operation Albert. They give it their all as they push and shove, lift and pull but the tortoise remains stuck, legs skywards. Maybe a food luring tactic might do it, but no, though it does serve to attract further attention in the form of a butterfly that offers to assist only to be given the push by a snooty snail on account of being too delicate.

Further shoving, pushing and lifting ensue to no avail so the workers pause for some silent thinking. That silence is broken by the voice of a young worm with a clever suggestion. Under the direction of the chief worm some concentrated team work begins and there’s some movement as Albert rolls slightly but not enough. More weight is required states another worm when suddenly what should return and land gently upon that snooty snail but the butterfly. Now she might just be the one to make all the difference …

And so she does but with Albert now back on his four feet, why are all those who came to his rescue making a hasty dash to put some distance between saved and savers. Hmmm! Seemingly it’s because Albert is his normal self once more and we know what that means …

Ian Brown’s story of struggles and strife, rivalry and ultimately, creative teamwork becomes a truly comic episode thanks in no small part to Eoin Clarke’s hilarious, detailed illustrations. In the style of Tolstoy’s Great Big Enormous Turnip tale that has become a classic, we see how just a tiny bit of additional assistance can make a huge difference.

This is sure to be a winner with young listeners either in the classroom or at home. Don’t miss the final facts page about the real Albert (inspirer of the tale) and his cousins.

Good Morning, Neighbour

Good Morning, Neighbour
Davide Cali and Maria Dek
Princeton Architectural Press

It all begins when Mouse decides to make an omelette, the problem being he lacks an egg. Mouse asks his neighbour Blackbird.

Blackbird doesn’t have one but offers flour and the suggestion they make a cake. They both call on Dormouse but instead of an egg, Dormouse provides butter for the cake and suggests they find Mole who has sugar – still no egg however.

Could Hedgehog oblige perhaps. The animals roll up at his home and ask.

No luck; and so it continues as the group adds fruit, cinnamon (for flavour) and raisins to their list of ingredients but as yet not that elusive egg.

Thank goodness then for Bat.

The culinary activities begin with all the animals doing their bit.

Now who can offer the use of an oven? Owl obliges and the cake is duly ready to eat.

“How many slices should I cut?” asks Owl. All who contributed an ingredient must surely get a piece but what about Mouse. Surely he won’t be left out; or will he?

Young listeners and readers will delightedly join in with the growing list of animals as well as the “Good morning, neighbour,” refrain.

Davide Cali’s tale of collaborative endeavour is illustrated in rather charming folk-art style watercolour illustrations that embody the feeling of camaraderie that exists among the forest animals and in the end the ingredients of warmth, friendship and teamwork that contribute towards its making are as important as the edible ones that go into the cake.

A tasty tale and a great lesson in co-operation and sharing that provides plenty of food for thought.

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror
Dan Metcalf, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Maverick Arts Publishing

This, the second in a series of four, will be welcomed by those who relished The Rise of the Raptors but equally, new readers will quickly be sucked in to this new adventure of Adam Caine, sister Chloe and friends. They’re still on that quest to obtain all four Dilotron crystals and thus disarm the lab. producing the biological weapon that will wipe out all dinosaur life on their planet; the lab. with the computer that Adam had accidentally activated. Thus far the adventurers have two of those crucial catastrophe-preventing crystals and the hunt is on – urgently.

Their possible location is Pteratopolis, city of pterosaurs, unknown territory for Adam and his gang.There’s a slight snag though, these particular dinos. are flying creatures and Pteratopolis is a fortress with enormously high, wooden walls. Climbing skills are crucial if the friends are to enter. Or, alternatively what about Dag’s suggestion that he makes use of his heli-kit, albeit with some modifications to the metal blades. In other words, the proposal is that Dag turns himself into a living saw mill; it might just work.

adventure,

It does; now all they have to do is locate the next crystal. What could be easier?

A spot of tree-scaling is needed and inevitably, adventurous Adam is on his way up before his companions can utter, “… break his neck”. But then having reached his destination, he finds himself, courtesy of imprinting, the adopted mother of a newly hatched pterosaur. Oh dear! Consequences again Adam …

Co-existence, co-operation, kindness, diplomacy and daring are all part and parcel of this absorbing, fast-moving,  turning twisting tale; so too are Aaron Blecha’s super comic style illustrations that are scattered throughout the story.

As for securing the object of their quest? You’ll need to secure yourself a copy of the book to find out what happens when Adam and Chloe enter the labyrinth …

DIY Circus Lab for kids

DIY Circus Lab for kids
Jackie Leigh Davis
Quarry Books

Did you know that this year is the 250th anniversary of circus in the UK; I certainly didn’t although I live in an area of Gloucestershire that regularly hosts the wonderful Giffords Circus.

This book is written by mime artist, educator, teacher and founding member of the American Youth Circus Organisation, Jackie Leigh Davis, who provides an absolute wealth of circus skills for children; and she makes it clear in her preface that circus sees all colours, all kinds of bodies: it’s inclusive, it’s for everyone. I like that.

Readers are given an overview of the various circus skills: Acrobatics, acrobalance and pyramids, Aerial arts, (for safety reasons, this are not covered in the book), Balance arts, Clowning, Gyroscopic juggling and Toss juggling.

This is followed by a ‘What’s in this book?’ spread that begins with the words, ‘This book empowers you to take your first steps in circus.’ I like that too. Herein are included some wise words on safety, a crucial element, and it also includes a ‘Proceed at your own risk’ disclaimer.

Next come the individual units wherein as well as instructions for learning the skills, Poi for instance,

readers are invited to make their own circus props such as hoops, juggling sticks and balls, poi, stilts and clown hats and nose; T-shirts even.

The instructions are always easy to follow and there are photos to help.

While the particular skill under discussion might at a beginners level, the author also includes fascinating historical references,

the positive impact of each skill learned and, where appropriate links to on-line tutorials.

The section entitled Partner Acrobatics and Human pyramids took me to Udaipur, Rajasthan where on Janmasthami, I regularly see some terrifying-looking human pyramids at a cross roads near a famous temple. I was recently interested to read that this year, a high court in Mumbai has banned those under 18 years old participating in this ‘Dahi Handi’ festival as well as banning pyramids above 20 feet high.

Back to the book, the pyramids taught herein are of an altogether safer type and include vital words on warming up and, crucially, safety, as well as the concise instructions for several pyramid styles. (There’s a whole language of pyramids: I didn’t know that!)

Putting on a show is addressed too and in the final pages are information on additional resources, recommendations for further study and more.

Intended to engender and foster a child’s enthusiasm for circus arts, but in addition think how important skills of balance and co-ordination are for adults as we grow older.

I can even envisage some of the activities being tried with an old folks group.

All in all, this is an excellent book, comprehensive and done superbly: it’s well worth investing in for families, schools and other groups that have an interest in exploring and fostering the circus arts and their potential.

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I was wowed by Christopher Corr’s Deep in the Woods and now he’s turned his amazing artistry to another folktale, the Chinese story of how the years were named.
It’s a fuller version than any I’ve seen and used in schools over the years and is in my view set to become the ‘go to’ book for celebrating Chinese New Year from now on. (16th February this year).
For those who don’t know the folktale it’s set in an ancient China when there was no way of knowing how much time had passed and consequently the Jade Emperor having no idea how old he was, decided it was about time he knew.
He called together all the animals of his kingdom and announced that on the next day a Great Race was to be held and the first twelve creatures to cross the river would each have a year named after them. Needless to say, all the animals were eager to win.
Two in particular were good friends and planned to become joint winners so long as the rat could wake his cat friend from sleep, that is.
Next day however, the rat did his utmost to rouse his slumbering pal but was forced to leave him to dream and head towards the river.
En route he met an ox and they team up – the rat as passenger and thankful singer on the ox’s back. The double-dealing rat though, jumped forwards at the last stroke to land first at the emperor’s feet and thus claim the first year, which henceforth became The Year of the Rat, with Ox giving his name to the second year.
Tiger …

and Rabbit claim the next two years and then in fifth place, comes a dazzling dragon with a tale to tell of how he assisted the rabbit on his journey.
Horse arrives to claim the next place and he too has a passenger – wily snake who sneakily claims sixth position instead.
In contrast, goat, monkey and rooster employ teamwork …

and the Emperor rewards them by assigning the next three years to Goat, Monkey and Rooster respectively.
Both dog and pig …

have  wasted time during the swim and thus are allocated the eleventh and twelfth years. Then it’s time to celebrate.
Suddenly though, a small cat makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms as he emerges from the water and proceeds to shout in fury at Rat for failing to wake him, causing the little creature to flee for his life, then and for ever on …
This finale adds a pourquoi element to the whole tale.
Everything, from the tactile cover is splendid. Steeped in folk art tradition, Corr’s beautifully patterned illustrations are truly captivating and offer a powerful stimulus for children’s own artistic creations.
His telling too is terrific, focusing on the animal characters themselves – some sneaky, some helpful and others co-operative.
Fab-ul-ous!

Grace & Katie

Grace & Katie
Susanne Merritt and Liz Anelli
EK Books

Twins Katie and Grace love to draw. They approach things in entirely different ways however – one with the eye of a prospective architect or cartographer, the other, an artist; and the results are altogether different.
Grace favours straight lines and angles, which Katie considers a tad dull; Katie in contrast is more creative producing colourful patterns and swirls: Gracie thinks her sister’s work could do with organising. Are they both right perhaps?

One day Gracie decides to draw a map of their home and rejects Katie’s offer of help, so Katie draws a map of her own.

Grace’s black and white map is ordered and detailed. Katie’s rendition of the park opposite their home is also detailed but it’s colourful and full of action. Neither girl is completely satisfied with what they’ve produced.

They look at each others and then, after some discussion, Katie adds some colourful touches to Grace’s map, while Grace’s added details provide more structure for Katie’s.

With a combination of creativity and accuracy, collaboration wins the day.

Susanne Merritt puts the points for respecting differences, the importance of being oneself, and co-operation across subtly and effectively. Liz Anelli reflects the themes in her detailed illustrations effectively showing the sisters’ contrasting styles in a suitable child-like manner.

The book’s potential for discussion is enormous, be it in the foundation stage, or, with much older listeners.

Everybody’s Welcome

Everybody’s Welcome
Patricia Hegarty and Greg Abbott
Caterpillar Books
In our increasingly troubled times, picture books such as this, with its strong inclusivity message, are more important than ever.
It came about as the result of a strong desire on the part of Tom Truong of Caterpillar Books in reaction to the shattering news that the UK had voted to leave the EU, to produce a book for parents like himself to share with young children that embodied ‘ideals of refuge, inclusivity and friendship’.
Currently living in Stroud, a town that since the Syrian crisis, has adopted the catchphrase ‘Everyone welcome in Stroud’ I felt immediately drawn to this poignant, political tale of empathy, acceptance and collaboration.
We start the story with mouse standing in a forest clearing, dreaming of building ‘a great big happy house’.

It’s not long before mouse is joined by a frog who has lost his pond and has nowhere to go. Together they start constructing and before long are joined by some runaway rabbits fleeing from an eagle; they are only too willing to help with the project. Next to come is a misunderstood brown bear; he has much to offer the enterprise and is welcomed with open arms.

Building continues apace with more and more animals coming to join in and a spirit of co-operation rules throughout.
What this allegorical rhyming story shows so clearly is that despite superficial differences, we all have much to offer one another. With open arms, open minds and open hearts we can embrace our fellow humans in a spirit of co-operation and unity.

Greg Abbott’s animal illustrations, with his use of cut down pages, really do bring out both the woefulness of the displaced animals, and the spirit of collaborative bonhomie as each one is welcomed, accepted and a new open community is formed.

A thoughtful Emmanuelle whose final comment on Everybody’s Welcome was  “We all need to be kind.”

I’ve signed the charter  

Towering Tree Puzzle / Lift-the-Flap and Colour:Jungle & Ocean

The Towering Tree Puzzle
illustrated by Teagan White
Chronicle Books
Essentially this is a sturdy box containing 17 large, easily manipulated, double-sided pieces depicting Spring/Summer scenes on one side and Autumn/Winter ones on the reverse. Each piece shows various woodland animals playing and working together; a whole tree community indeed and the puzzle when complete is over 130 centimetres long. Nothing special about that, you might be thinking but, the language potential is enormous, especially as there is no one right way of fitting the pieces together: this open-endedness also means that if more than one child plays with the pieces, there is a co-operative element too.

The artwork is splendid: each detailed piece, a delight.
Every branch of the tree generates a different story, or rather, many possibilities; ditto the completed tree. Some children like to story about the pieces as they put them into place, others prefer to complete the puzzle and then tell one or several stories which may or may not be connected. You could try a completely open-ended ‘take it in turns tell me about’ game with children sitting in a circle for starters, or perhaps choose a focus, say animals, plants or perhaps, events: the possibilities are many.
I’ve used this marvellous resource in several different settings and each time it’s been received with enormous enthusiasm and the users have shown great reluctance to part with it afterwards.

Lift-the-Flap and Colour Jungle
Lift-the-Flap and Colour Ocean

Alice Bowsher
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/ Natural History Museum
In this collaborative publishing enterprise, children can choose from one of two locations to start their colouring in experience. The first is the South American Amazon jungle wherein jaguars hunt, slow sloths dangle, alligators lie in wait for a tasty meal, stick insects and parrots share the lush foliage, and swinging monkeys abound.
In the Ocean they can encounter diving dolphins, and shoals of fish, visit a coral reef with its abundance of sea creatures, notice the seaweed fronds that provide a safe hiding place for fish; and dive right down to the deepest dark depths.
A brief, rhyming text accompanies each adventure gently informing and guiding the young user as s/he explores the location, lifts the flaps and adds colour to the black and white pages – five spreads per book. And the final page of each book has an information paragraph that focuses on the importance of protecting the specific environment.
These will I’m sure be seized on by young enthusiasts, particularly those with an interest in wild life and will one hopes, leave them wanting to discover more about the inhabitants of each location.

If I Were a Whale
Shelley Gill and Erik Brooks
Little Bigfoot
This contemplative, charmer of a board book successfully mixes rhyme and science facts. It imagines the possibilities of being a minke, a beluga playing with icebergs, a pilot whale and then these beauties …

If those don’t suit there’s a tusked narwhal, a blue whale, or a humpback perhaps? There are eleven possibilities in all, each one beautifully illustrated by Erik Brooks who manages to capture the essence of each one in those watery worlds of his.
Yes, it’s a small introduction to a huge topic but this is a pleasure to read aloud, is likely to be demanded over and over, and to inspire tinies to want to know more about these amazing mammals.

I’ve signed the charter  

Play and Pondering Possibilities

DSCN7582

Blocks
Irene Dickson
Nosy Crow
Most children, young and not so young, delight in block play. It’s brilliant for developing concentration, spatial understanding and creativity; and, sometimes, sharing and co-operation: however, at least at the outset of this story, not the last two.
First off we meet young Ruby busily balancing and building with her blocks – all of one colour notice.

%0A

Along comes Benji with his blocks intent on doing a bit of constructing and off he goes. Soon both are absorbed in their play …

DSCN7584

But then, Benji reaches out (hand across the gutter) for one of Ruby’s blocks, seizes same leaving a cross Ruby desirous of her block. “Mine!” each of them shouts and pretty soon, catastrophe …

%0A

Time to repair the damage and work together; that way lies a super co-creation …

DSCN7643

until Guy appears on the scene. Guy has green blocks. What do you think will happen now? Maybe these endpapers will give a clue …

DSCN7644

A wonderfully simple story on the sharing theme that will surely pack a powerful punch with early years audiences; it’s a must have book for pre-school settings and families with very young children and even has die-cut block shapes on the front cover. What’s more, with its easy to read, brief text, this debut picture book is ideal for those just beginning to read for themselves.

DSCN7615

Over the Ocean
Taro Gomi
Chronicle Books
This book was first published in Japan over 30 years ago but it still has plenty to say to children today, especially those of the contemplative kind. It features a girl who stands at the water’s edge gazing out across the ocean waves and wondering. ‘What is in the ocean over the ocean?’ she asks; ‘Are there farms over the ocean?’ or …

DSCN7616

Maybe there are kids living there’ and ‘Are they all friends?

DSCN7617

She never moves from her lookout spot but continues pondering on the possibilities of fairs, animals, the night-time, different climates and  other watchers …

DSCN7619

and then makes a wish. A wish that, so it seems in her mind’s eye at least, is about to come true … Her longing is heartfelt and readers will surely feel it too.

%0A

The whole thing is a marvellous, if quietly spoken celebration of the imagination and the wide, wonderful world. I particularly like the way that the author has given the girl a credible child’s voice: ”Maybe there are kids living there … I bet there are probably some bullies.” She certainly doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind there.
Those who look closely will notice that the details in the illustrations open up further questions – where are all those boats going, especially that ocean liner? Whither the air balloon? And many more in addition to those the girl herself raises.

Use your local bookshop   localbookshops_NameImage-2

WNDB_Button

Shiny Red Objects – Misidentifications

DSCN7203 (800x600)

Toad and I
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
I’ve loved all Louise Yates’ Dog Loves … books so couldn’t wait to read this one. It’s altogether different; Dog is nowhere in sight but we meet some congenial new characters.
Herein we meet young Kitty who, by dint of searching for her lost ball, comes upon the resident of a large tree – a Toad no less; not the kind that on receipt of a kiss becomes a handsome prince, but one that is eager to invite Kitty into his hole of residence aka his treehouse.

DSCN7204 (800x600)

And it’s one that has all mod cons as Toad is only too happy to point out …

DSCN7205 (800x600)

but while he’s so doing, the pair are interrupted by the arrival of Squirrel who announces an injured owl without. Having hastily donned suitable gear, they hurry out to repair the damage so to speak and in so doing, they discover its cause: “A meteorite,” said Owl. “It knocked me off my branch.

DSCN7206 (800x600)

Next stop is back inside – the observatory in case of further meteorite fall. In comes Shrew with another announcement, concerning his house this time. There follows further investigations of a somewhat crazy kind …

DSCN7207 (800x600)

until finally, Kitty takes matters into her own hands, unearths the root of all the trouble and guess what: it’s that small, once spherical object that she’d been playing with at the start; and it had set in motion a whole catastrophic concatenation of Owl displacing, house squashing and hedgehog hitting. Fortunately nobody really minded and even more fortunately Toad and Kitty are able to repair all the damage …

DSCN7208 (800x600)

in time for a game before teatime.
With a lovely final twist – or should that be bounce, we leave the friends to their farewells and promises of further meetings …
What a delicious cast of characters Louise Yates has conjured up here: I hope she brings them back for further adventures.

DSCN7209 (800x600)

The Mouse Who Reached the Sky
Petr Horâček
Walker Books
Co-operation is key in this gorgeous follow-up to The Mouse Who Ate the Moon. Herein Little Mouse spies a shiny red ‘marble’ hanging in a tree, wants it and tries unsuccessfully to reach it.

DSCN7210 (800x600)

Determined to get it however, she enlists the help of Mole who decides it’s a balloon but is equally unsuccessful in reaching the object so they ask Rabbit, who assures them it’s a ball. But can they come up with a plan that will enable them to reach the spherical object, bring it down and finally, identify the thing? Maybe – so long as they work as a team …

DSCN7211 (800x600)

They try their best but despite all their stretching they can’t quite get there … “Oh no!” – “Whoops!” … CRASH! But all is not lost – definitely not, for down it comes together with hundreds more and at last identification done, let the feast commence …

DSCN7213 (800x600)

With a cut-out page and a fold-out, the bright, richly textured, collaged mixed-media illustrations are enormously tactile, appealing to both children and adults. The former will delight in peering down Mole’s hole …

DSCN7212 (800x600)

and then out when the page is turned; and opening the vertical gatefold to reveal the teetering trio.
A beauty from start to thoroughly satisfying finish.

Use your local bookshop   localbookshops_NameImage-2

WNDB_Button

Better Together

DSCN6431 (800x600)

Good Knight, Bad Knight
Tom Knight
Templar Publishing
Summer is over and Bad Knight is about to return to school. Up until now the young knight has hated school  but things look set to change for two reasons. Bad Knight is building a special secret weapon and, his cousin is coming to stay …

DSCN6432 (800x600)

That was the plan; but when said cousin arrives, Bad Knight is in for a surprise; his cousin is GOOD! Indeed much more than good – he’s star pupil in every respect. Disaster! Especially as bad Knight’s status as worst knight in the school is made official and the two are to meet face to face in the end-of-term jousting contest.

DSCN6433 (800x600)

You’ll only need one guess as to the winner of the match, but perhaps what appears overhead as the victor is announced will give Bad Knight another chance to prove himself …

DSCN6434 (800x600)

and put that invention of his to good use.
And perhaps, the two young knights aren’t quite so different: two heads are often better than one after all…

DSCN6435 (800x600)

A crazy tale of folly, fighting, friendship and the odd stink bomb too. Tom Knight’s debut solo picture book will surely find friends among young would-be knights and catapult creators in particular.

DSCN6779 (800x600)

Cool Cat Versus Top Dog
Mike Yamada
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Cool Cat and Top Dog are sworn enemies, which is somewhat problematic as they live under the same roof. Top of their list of reasons to fight is Pet Quest, the annual round the town race and nobody has won the trophy other than our two adversaries CC and TD with Top Dog being the cup’s current holder.

DSCN6780 (800x600)

Now the race night is upon them and both parties are determined to win, no matter what. But there’s another contestant – Buck Thumper – who has set his sights on claiming the trophy this year.

DSCN6781 (800x600)

Cool Cat has a plan up her sleeve and pretty soon Top Dog has fallen for it but he’s quick to resort to some tricky doings of his own.

DSCN6782 (800x600)

The race continues with the rivals neck and neck until eventually both parties’ vehicles are totally out of control and Buck Thumper zooms into the lead.
Can that be the end for TD and CC; or is there perhaps a chance that some clever teamwork might just save the day?
This final shot gives a hint but you’ll have to get your paws on a copy of this breakneck riot of a book to discover all that happened along the way. PHEW!

Use your local bookshop     localbookshops_NameImage-2