Mary Had a Little Lamb & This Little Piggy / Little White Fish, Little White Fish has a Party, Little White Fish is So Happy

Mary Had a Little Lamb
This Little Piggy

Jarvis
Walker Books

Jarvis has taken as his starting point for these board books the opening lines from two nursery rhymes and from them created one with colour connections, the other with a counting twist.

So yes, Mary did have a white-fleeced little lamb that decided to follow her. But then so too did an orange tiger, a pink dancing hippo, a cool red monkey, a tiny purple mouse, a snapping green crocodile and a yellow giraffe.
Where though are they all going in Pied Piper fashion, making a merry din before boarding a bus takes them all to their destination

and a treat…

One little piggy went to market, so the rhyme says and Jarvis does too. Rather than staying home however, two more make a mess of parking their car; three get themselves in a terrible tangle when learning to knit; four get struck by the fitness craze. Block your ears when five make music.

Six scoff all the spuds, seven try their trotters as dancers, eight become super pigs but nine –phoah! pongy piggies all.
At least when ten get together they can all agree, somewhere muddy is the best place to be.

With Jarvis’ funky animals cavorting across the pages, lively little ones are going to love these neo nursery rhymes as they absorb the colour connections and join in counting the piggies. Above all though, they’re terrific fun.

Little White Fish
Little White Fish has a Party
Little White Fish is So Happy

Guido van Genechten
Catch a Star

These board books featuring Little White Fish can be read just for fun, but each has an inherent educational element.

In the first, the little fish (not strictly speaking white for he has a rainbow stripe along his back), has lost his mummy and is feeling sad. In his search he encounters other differently coloured sea creatures – a red crab, an orange starfish a yellow snail, a green turtle, a large blue whale, a purple octopus. Clearly none of these fits the bill but what about a large fish that also sports a rainbow across her back …

In the second book, the little fish celebrates his second birthday with a party to which he invites his friends that all arrive in pairs that show opposites; for example a small sea urchin and a big one,

a long sea snake and a short one, a sad dolphin and a happy one. (We discover why one is sad on the final spread that shows all twelve guests).

The third book introduces positional vocabulary (prepositions):  when his Mummy comes to get him, Little White Fish bids farewell to his playmates – snail in the shell, frog on the rock, crab behind the rock etc. then swims away in front of his mum assuring the others he’ll be back to play the next day.

With their simple narratives and vibrant sea creatures that stand out against the predominantly black backgrounds, all three are a delight to share with very young children either at home or in a nursery setting.

Can You See a Little Bear?

Can You See a Little Bear?
James Mayhew and Jackie Morris
Otter-Barry Books

Stunningly beautiful illustrations by Jackie Morris accompany James Mayhew’s sequence of rhyming statements relating to a variety of animals and a question ‘Can you see a little bear …?’ as we accompany the young polar bear on a fantasy journey.

It takes us through a medieval landscape during which he encounters hot air balloons, entertainers of various kinds, a camel train and a host of exotic creatures including an elephant, musical mice, parrots, peacocks, a walrus, zebras and a whale, beautiful moths, foxes, dolphins and geese.

Little bear engages in activities such as balancing on a ball, and head standing; he tries on items of the performers’ attire

and even participates in a performance.

Then, towards the end of the book into the array comes a big bear carrying a light to guide the little one homewards

for a bath, some tea and then, as he’s drifting into slumbers, bed.

The patterned text and questioning nature of the rhyme serves to draw the listener’s focus into the spectacular scenes, gently guiding attention towards the little bear’s named activity among the wealth of gorgeous detail on each spread. For example ‘Parrots can be green / and parrots can be red, / Can you see a little bear standing on his head?’

Full of mystery and magic and along the way introducing colours, opposites and contrasts: this book was first published over a decade ago. If you missed it then I urge you to get hold of a copy now: it’s sheer, out of this world bedtime enchantment for both child and adult sharer.

Surprising Birds / Big Dog, Little Dog

Surprising Birds
Big Dog, Little Dog

Elodie Jarret (élo)
Walker Studio

Here’s a pair of super chic, lift-the-flap concept books created by designer and illustrator Elodie Jarret to share with the very young: they’re in a different league altogether from the usual toddler concept books.

Surprising Birds features a whole host of wonderfully shaped avians that the artist has, with deft touches of colour and distinctive black and white patterns managed to make into enchanting feathered characters.

Part and parcel of each one is a flap – a wing, a tail, a head, a beak –

which when lifted reveals a flash of bright colour and the colour name (eleven in all).

Each bird is set against a pastel coloured background making it stand out starkly, and every one has an element of delight be it the chick sheltering under its mother’s wing or the hide-and-seek owl on the final spread.

With striking images, sturdy flaps and cover, and a perfect size for small hands, this is a super little book to have fun with and perhaps learn some colour names along the way.

Equally enchanting and playful is the assortment of canine characters in Big Dog, Little Dog that features ‘opposites’ (and also introduces some positional vocabulary) including  above/below, long/short, awake/asleep and spots/no spots. Here again flaps and fold-outs are used to effect and every animal has a real personality.

They Say Blue

They Say Blue
Jillian Tamaki
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In her debut picture book, Jillian Tamaki explores colours, the seasons and aspects of the natural world through the eyes of a child narrator.

As the book opens the girl sits under a blue sky acknowledging that, as she’s been told, the sea from a distance looks blue, but goes on to observe as she plunges in, ‘But when I hold the water in my hands, it’s as clear as glass.

She also ponders upon things she hasn’t seen. ‘Is a blue whale blue?’ she asks, though she accepts that an egg yolk is orange without having to crack the shell, and that her blood is red.

Her contemplations take her away from the sea itself to a field: this she likens to a ‘golden ocean’ upon which she imagines sailing in a boat she herself has built.

Blown by the wind, storm clouds gather and reality again sets in: it’s cold and rain starts to fall; but within the grey is something new and beautiful – a small purple flower.

The whole thing then takes something of a surreal turn as the girl sheds her thick layers and morphs into a tree …

in which form she continues with a series of seasonal observations before falling fast asleep.

The book concludes with an affectionate parting of her hair by the child’s mother as, with the curtains open, together they view the soaring black crows ‘Tiny inkblots on a sea of sky’ that is very far from blue,

and wonder what the birds might be thinking.

Visually beautiful (Tamaki renders largely impressionistic acrylic and photoshop paintings), thought provoking and perfectly in tune with the way young children think, wonder, imagine and respond, this is a book likely to inspire further musings, discussion and creativity on the part of its audience.

Rainbow & Opposites / Little Mouse’s Big Secret

Rainbow
Opposites

Jane Cabrera
Templar Publishing
Pleasing design and adorable illustrations are the hallmark of Jane Cabrera’s books for the very young. Her two latest offerings have both those qualities.
Rainbow has die-cut arched pages that build up to form a rainbow.
It’s a fun board book to enjoy together and each colour spread, with its named items …

could make a great starting point for adult and child to participate in some shared storying.
Opposites uses flaps and while young children acquire concepts such as slow/fast and wet/dry from real life experiences, books such as these can facilitate this development in an interactive, playful way, helping to reinforce the vocabulary.

Here you can play a game with your child or children by asking them to guess what is hidden behind each interesting shaped flap before being allowed to open it. This game also introduces the idea of predicting as an important reading strategy.

Little Mouse’s Big Secret
Éric Battut
Sterling
Little Mouse finds a yummy red apple on the ground and decides to keep it a secret. He buries it. Shhhh! Don’t tell. Friends pass by and each wants to know what Mouse is hiding. “It’s my secret, and I’ll never tell,” is Mouse’s reply to Bird, Turtle, Hedgehog,

Rabbit and Frog.
Nature takes its course and eventually, Mouse’s secret’s out – well and truly. Mouse takes a big decision; he shares and all his friends reap the rewards.

The spare, repetitive text and cute yet subtle illustrations make this best for sharing one-to-one or with a very small group of pre-school children. Equally, it’s ideal for beginning readers who are likely to be sufficiently savvy to realise what mouse doesn’t: that right behind his back, a tree is growing …

I’ve signed the charter  

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / My Dad is a Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
Puffin Books
With a CD read by Eric Carle, this is a 50th anniversary edition of a truly golden picture book. Yes, as it says on the blurb, it can ‘teach children about colours’ but it does so much more. It’s an iconic ‘learning to read’ book and one I included in a Signal publication I wrote early in my teaching career when I talked about the importance of using visual context cues. This is now something that most teachers who use phonics as the basis of the way they teach beginning readers insist children should not do. How ridiculous! Any book worth offering to learner readers and I stress ‘worth’ has pictures and words working hand in hand, as does this simple, singsong question and answer book wherein you have to read ahead ie turn the page,

in order to get the visual context cue offered by the bright tissue-paper collage picture of each animal being questioned.
A classic; and one all children should encounter in the early stages of becoming a reader.

Also good for beginning readers is:

My Dad is a Bear
Nicola Connelly and Annie White
New Frontier Publishing
What is ‘tall and round like a bear; soft and furry like a bear’; can climb trees and gather in a bear-like manner?

And what has big paws and enjoys a spot of back scratching, not to mention possessing an enormous growl, having a penchant for fishing and a very bear-like way of sleeping?

Why a bear of course. And what is it about young Charlie’s dad that brings the most pleasure of all? What do you think? …
Using ursine characteristics to point up the numerous ways in which a dad is special, debut picture book author, Nicola Connelly paints a pen portrait of a much-loved character.
What an engaging book this is with its lovable characters, two bears plus bit part players, blue bird and rabbit. All are so adorably portrayed in Annie White’s uncluttered paintings that beautifully orchestrate the simple storyline making every page turn a fresh delight. Beautifully simple and full of warmth, it’s just right for sharing with a pre-schooler or with an early years group.

I’ve signed the charter  

Grumpy Frog

Grumpy Frog
Ed Vere
Puffin Books
Grumpy Frog wasn’t the only character to be leaping around when I opened his book parcel: I started leaping round the kitchen waving the book in delight especially as its arrival coincided with Earth Day and there on the first double spread is a more upbeat version of the amphibian proclaiming thus:

He then proceeds to blow it though by damming every other colour, he can think of: “Uh oh!” to pinch his words, “Grumpy Frog alert!“.
Better organise a hopping contest with some pals ASAP, but make sure he crosses the line first or else …

Don’t think of suggesting a swim – that involves blue; or a bounce, which, so Grumpy Frog decrees, is yellow.
It looks as though isolation is the best thing; after all, aloneness he absolutely adores. It gives him time to contemplate colour, diet, annual events and err … loneliness.

Not such a good idea after all then, this setting oneself apart.
Enter stage left another kind of jumper but as you might expect, a pink rabbit gets a huge thumbs down from our frog who manages to make the poor unsuspecting creature cry for its trouble. What about this large snuggle toothed croc. then? He’s definitely making friendly overtures towards GF and SNAP! Oh no! surely Grumpy Frog hasn’t met his demise; has he?
Actually no: a spot of self-reflection appears to have saved his skin so …

Furthermore it looks as though some apologies are on the cards too; though that is not quite the end of this corker of a book: this is …

and, to discover what happens in the interim, I urge you to hot foot it, or rather hop foot it immediately to your nearest bookshop and bag yourself a copy.
It’s an utter triumph for Ed Vere and maybe even for Grumpy Frog, just so long as he gets there first. This reviewer found herself snortling at every turn of the page: it’s the perfect antidote to grumpiness (and election blues).

I’ve signed the charter