What Will These Hands Make?

What Will These Hands Make?
Nikki McClure
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Having posed the title question on the first spread, a grandmother narrator explores various possibilities encouraging her audience to join her as she imagines and celebrates a plethora of crafts that are used in creating the various items that might be made.

So, ‘will these hands make: ‘a teacup for a child / a bowl round and shiny / a quilt to warm / a chair for listening?’

Venturing into the great outdoors, the ’Will these hands’ refrain is repeated and answered thus ‘a hat for a baby’s head / a wall to walk along / a gate to open / a garden for many?’

Nikki McClure’s signature cut-paper, beautiful inky scenes extend  the words as she continues to ask ‘WILL THESE HANDS MAKE: … ’ on a further eight spreads between which are double spreads – superbly detailed wordless scenes of a townscape, a busy street, people going to a birthday celebration

and a close up of same.

By the end we see a community wherein all feel safe and nurtured;

and the final spread provides two large ovals asking the reader to consider “What will your hands make” and to trace one hand in each circle.

In most illustrations, McClure uses a pop of colour – red, creamy yellow, blue or white – to highlight fabric, hair, a bicycle frame, a boat.

There is so much to love here: the ‘what if? nature of the entire book; the collaborative community created as we follow the unfolding story the author/illustrator fashions of a family preparing to go to the party; the wide age range the book speaks to; the notion that the best gifts are those made by hands, voices and hearts – our own or other people’s.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

I can’t think of a better time than now for this continuation of the Questioneers series to appear: young Sofia Valdez has a vision to make the world – in particular her own neighbourhood – a better place.

From a very young age Sophia has been a caring, helpful child and one morning on the way to school with her much loved Abuela (granddad) a squirrel chasing dog precipitates the downfall of a huge mountain of rubbish, causing an injury to her grandfather.

Thereafter, Sofia decides to become an environmental activist leader who campaigns for the mess mountain to be cleared and a community park constructed in its place. Her neighbours are on board with ideas but then Sofia has a crisis of confidence.

However, despite feeling daunted she heads to the City Hall next morning and after being directed from one office to another,

she eventually rallies the support of all the employees including the mayor.

Operation Blue River Creek Citizens’ Park is underway.

A slight departure from STEM subjects, this fourth, rhyming story adds a social science/citizenship strand to the series: stand up for what you believe is right is one message in this tale of empathy, finding your own voice, courage, leadership, community spirit and creativity. For adults wanting to encourage any of those in youngsters, this is must have book. Along the way readers will enjoy meeting some old friends from previous books before David Roberts’ wonderful, uplifting final spread.

Tiny and Teeny

Tiny and Teeny
Chris Judge
Walker Books

On the outskirts of the bustling buzzing Glengadget, in a shiny red apple lives Tiny with her pet Teeny.

Tiny spends the weekdays helping others

and by this particular Friday evening, she’s so tired that before she even gets indoors she falls fast asleep dreaming of flying through space.

As she slumbers disaster strikes her home, squishing it absolutely flat.

Despite being given a room in the Grand Hotel, Tiny misses her old home.

Now though it’s payback time: the following week all Tiny’s friends rally round and come Friday a truly wonderful surprise awaits …

which all goes to show that by working together a small community can make a big difference.

Simply bursting with love, is this itty-bitty story, with its enchanting spreads packed with quirky details and antennaed characters doesn’t bring a huge smile to your face then I’ll eat a whole watermelon (and they’re one of my most unfavourite fruits).

Umbrella

Umbrella
Elena Arevalo Melville
Scallywag Press

Imagine a world where everyone is kind and forgiving, and where anything is possible. How wonderful would that be. That is the world Elena Arevalo Melville creates in this uplifting story that begins one morning with Clara without anybody to play with in the park.

But then she comes upon an umbrella, albeit somewhat worn, but Clara picks it up and places it gently on a bench close by. To her surprise the umbrella thanks her and goes on to say, “Look inside me. Anything is possible!”

And so it is, for when she opens it up she finds herself face to face with a splendid playmate. Now for Clara at least, the park is quite simply perfect as it had been to near neighbour, old Mr Roberts when he was a boy.

But from his wheel chair he can only look up towards those tasty-looking apples in the tree and think, ‘if only’. Not for long though for Clara is there telling him ‘anything is possible’, with the umbrella urging him, “Look inside me.”

Before long, not only has Mr Roberts got an umbrella full of the yummy fruit, but he’s asking his helper to pick enough for everyone.

And so it goes on until the park is alive with magic and music courtesy of the butterfly band. Everyone joins the dance

except one rather unsavoury character watching from the side with his eyes firmly on that umbrella; a foxy gentleman with only one thing in mind – a very selfish thing.

Can that umbrella work its own special magic yet again and perhaps enable a state of perfection to pervade the entire park?

Debut author/illustrator Elena Arevalo Melville’s use of a minimal colour palette until the penultimate spread serves to make that illustration all the more perfect too. Her somewhat surreal tale of empathy, kindness and community is one to share and discuss at every opportunity.

Then I’d suggest asking listeners to make their own wishes. Perhaps they could write them down and drop them into a partially open umbrella safely secured in a strategic spot.

The Antlered Ship

The Antlered Ship
Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers
Lincoln Children’s Books

Fox Marco has an insatiable appetite for knowledge: ‘Why don’t trees ever talk? How deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea?’ he wonders while his fellow foxes merely ponder upon the nature of their next meal.

When a huge antlered ship docks at the harbour, Marco goes down to the waterside where he discovers from crew members that the ship has got lost (they admit to being poor sailors).

Intent on discovering more foxes to answer his questions, Marco, along with a flock of pigeons, joins the crew

and they embark on a voyage bound for an island upon which tall, sweet grass and short, sweet trees grow.

Their journey is hard: the sailors battle against stormy weather, their own fears and meagre rations. Days of drifting dampen their enthusiasm for adventure and it’s left to Marco to keep up the spirits of his fellow travellers.

Finally though, having fended off a pirate attack,

the ship reaches the island. Thereon his fellow crew members sate their appetites for sweet things but Marco’s hunt for foxes yields not a single one.

Instead though he does make some important discoveries and draws some conclusions about the nature of friendship and community, asking questions and seeking answers.

As with The Night Gardener and The Darkest Night, the Fan Brothers attention to detail in their pen and pencil illustrations is immaculate. Be they seascapes or portrayals of the happenings below deck, there’s a crepuscular quality about many of their richly textured scenes, while those on the island take on the brighter verdant hues of the animals’ surroundings.

Dashka Slater’s is a story to get lost in, and one to provoke questions of the philosophical kind among thoughtful readers and listeners. Who can but marvel at the artistic brilliance of Eric and Terry Fan and delight in the portrayal of such characters as the peg-legged, red bandana sporting pigeon?

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.

Errol’s Garden

Errol’s Garden
Gillian Hibbs
Child’s Play

Urban tower-block-dwelling Errol loves to grow things; he knows he’s good at the job as his family starts running out of space in their cramped home. The green-fingered lad dreams of having a real garden to cultivate and one day discovers the perfect spot: a flat roof on top of the very block he lives in.

With the help of his Dad and small sister, he researches

and then enlists the help of all his friends and neighbours and together they draw up a plan.

Everyone has something to contribute …

and they each take on a different aspect of project garden until together they create a smashing green space that’s full of plants both edible and beautiful to look at.

What joy to be able to harvest produce from right there atop their very own place of residence

and to have a place that’s constantly changing and surprising them.

As well as a celebration of cultivating a community garden, this smashing story celebrates diversity and co-operation.
Errol is both enterprising and inspiring: a lad to emulate no matter whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural environment.

I am at present living in a house in the country with a huge garden, so I know the enormous pleasure of being able to consume home-grown produce – plums, apples, strawberries, beans, tomatoes and chard – to name just some of its bounties, for several months of the year. You can’t beat that and it’s what bursts forth from Gillian Hibbs’ super spreads.

Thoroughly recommended for families and classrooms.

The Dog that Ate the World

The Dog that Ate the World
Sandra Dieckmann
Flying Eye Books

Down in the valley the various animals live alongside each other peaceably, birds with birds, bears fishing with bears and fox playing his fiddle to other foxes.

Then, one fateful day across the pastures comes an unwanted canine intruder, large and greedy. He helps himself to whatever he wants in the way of food and drink, growing ever larger.
In an attempt to assuage the hunger of the beastly dog, the fox with his fiddle approaches him and plays a song.

He’s rewarded for his efforts by being consumed by the dog, but despite this the fox continues playing his song from within.

It’s heard without by a trio of brave bunnies that resolve to rescue the fox,

but they too end up inside the dog.

Peace-makers attempt to talk, trick and tire the beast, all to no avail; the dog swallows the lot.
Trapped within, the animals light a fire, talk and work, until eventually as life continues to flourish, so too does hope.

Nonetheless the gluttonous and now prodigious, dog continues stuffing himself until finally, down too, goes the sun and the entire sky. The beast has eaten his entire world.

And what of the other animals? Let’s just say that brightness surrounds them. In their world, there’s no place for such an animal as that voracious dog and all is peace, harmony and togetherness.

The forest animals in Sandra Dieckmann’s second picture book demonstrate so well to us humans, the importance of friendship and community when disaster strikes. Her striking colour palette, mixed-media, richly detailed scenes of flora and fauna, and slightly mystical landscapes draw one in and hold you while you ponder both composition and meaning.

Surely an allegory of our times and one that is open to many interpretations. However one sees that all consuming metaphorical dog, be it as consumerism, capitalism, or evil itself, this book is sure to engender discussion no matter the age of the audience.

Information Briefing:Bees, Gardening & Cities

What on Earth? Bees
Andrea Quigley and Paulina Morgan
QED
The author and illustrator of the latest in the ‘What On Earth?’ series offer a cross-curricular approach to a fascinating and vitally important insect, the bee.
It’s packed with fascinating information, interesting things to investigate, art and craft activities, poems, stories – I had a good laugh over the folk tale from Thailand telling ‘When bees were friends with elephants’; there’s even a recipe for delicious honey flapjacks – mmm!
Most pertinent though, since our native bees are under threat, are the projects which aim to increase potential nesting spots: for bumble bees ‘Make a bumble bee ‘n’ bee’; and ‘Build a solitary bee home’ for bees such as the leafcutter and mason bees to nest in.
Although each spread is chock full of information, the presentation with copious bright, attractive and sometimes amusing, illustrations, speech bubbles and factual snippets on bold colour blocks is never overwhelming.

This stylish book is certainly worth adding to a family book collection or primary school topic box.

The Children’s Garden
Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan
Little Bigfoot
This appealing story inspired by a real community garden for children in Seattle is a debut book for both author and illustrator.
A sign on the gate welcomes readers in to ‘listen, see, smell, touch – even taste’
and to read this book really does feel like a multi-sensory experience.
We start with the deep, dark soil, ‘rich with rotted grass, apple peels and onion skins,’ into which the children dig and then scatter their seeds. They pat, water …

and weed and soon are rewarded by the appearance of tiny sprouting plants.
It’s not long before the whole space is filled with a profusion of ‘tomato clusters’, ‘sunflower stands’, ‘green bean tents’, ‘strawberry clusters’ and more.

Peppermint to smell and chew.

A rich reward for their labours but also a place to have fun and to relax.

Imaginative language and bold, bright illustrations and splendid seed packet endpapers make this portrait of a bountiful co-operative gardening project a delight.
I’d like to think it will inspire adults to help youngsters seek out similar local projects or failing that, contemplate starting such an enterprise for children in their own neighbourhood.

In Focus: Cities
Libby Walden et al.
360 Degrees
You can be a globetrotter without moving from your sofa in what is very much a bits and pieces look at ten of the world’s most iconic cities – their culture, their character and their civilisations – landmarks and artefacts of cultures ancient and modern (largely hidden beneath the gate fold flaps).
Starting with New York, and encompassing Tokyo,



Paris, Rome, Moscow, Istanbul, Sydney, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro and London, each of the destinations has a different illustrator, ensuring that the diversity of the cities is heightened.
The author manages to pack a great deal of information into each fold-out spread so that readers will find themselves becoming engrossed in such unlikely topics as tulips and Turkish delight (Istanbul), or catacombs and cancan dancing (Paris).
An appetite whetter and an engrossing one at that!

I’ve signed the charter  

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  

Adelaide’s Secret World

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Adelaide’s Secret World
Elise Hurst
Murdoch Books
Adelaide’s life has become a solitary one: her once busy world of wonders now shrunk to a behind the red-curtain, glass-jar-filled existence. From the window she observes the sunrise, the ships entering the port and the loners in the city below. In the evenings, she uses her art to re-create what she’s seen by day; but there always seems to be something lacking.

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Then one day, feeling restless Adelaide heads out, despite the gathering clouds into the hustling, bustling city. As the storm gathers apace, she notices by chance a fox dropping his book as he dashes through the crowds. Without a moment’s thought, Adelaide retrieves the book – a sketch book – and follows its owner back to his home; and through the window the sight that meets her eyes is one of recognition. ‘And she knew them all – the dancers, the lost ones, the midnight cat and herself, Adelaide.

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Then the door is opened and ‘though her heart called out she could make no sound.’ – Such a beautiful portrayal of coming face to face with your true soul mate.
Having handed over the book and dashed home, Adelaide’s world spins in turmoil

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and a change happens: the seemingly impossible becomes the possible. It’s not only her world that changes though: things in the city will never again be the same: there’s laughter and music … ‘And those who had once been lonely and silent … found their voices.’
To read this is to step onto a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s just SO breathtakingly moving and ultimately, uplifting. I particularly love the way that red curtain behind which Adelaide has retreated, and its unravelling, by and by becomes the means through which she and other lonely residents of the locality reach out and become linked to one another.

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Books such as this are so important at the present when there’s so much talk of building walls, with countries breaking away from one another, looking inwards rather than outwards: it’s a timely and potent reminder that open-heartedness and the courage to reach out, to speak out against xenophobia, racism and the like can, little by little, bring change for the better.
There’s a near sublime quality about Elise Hurst’s oil-paintings and the way in which these, interwoven with her equally poetic words, create a synergy that moved this particular reviewer to tears and at the same time, fuelled a determination to continue working as a bridge builder in the spirit of Adelaide. What a gamut of emotions her colour palette arouses too: the contrasting greys and deep greeny-blues and browns of the storm both external and within the main character; and the contrasting orange and especially, red that is ever present representing a spark of spirit, warmth and the power of the imagination.

The Night Gardener

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The Night Gardener
Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
William resides in Grimloch Orphanage and as he gazes from his window one morning he discovers that overnight an enormous owl has been fashioned from the foliage of the tree outside. Now if one turns back to the dedication page it’s evident that the same child has been at work, drawing a similar feathered creature in the dust, and that passing by, is a bowler hatted man carrying a ladder and a bag of tools. The title page shows that same man working with his shears on the tree in front of the orphanage building.
Awed by this seemingly magical happening, William spends the day staring at the piece of topiary, and at bedtime he goes to sleep ‘with a sense of excitement’.
The following morning another amazing sight meets William’s eyes and, the scene has taken on a rather more colourful appearance as other members of the community too, have come to wonder at the sight.

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Subsequent mornings bring further wonderful creations (the spreads, in tandem take on more colour)

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and as William ventures forth, excitedly following the crowds, he discovers that not only have some of the neighbours been doing a spot of grooming of their own tatty-looking abodes, but also the topiarist has created his best work yet and celebrations are in full swing.

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As night envelops the town, William returns home and en route, encounters a certain gentleman who is about to change his life for the better (well strictly speaking, he’s already done that and that of the other community members)

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but the gifts he receives, as the seasons change the look of the foliage, will have a lasting effect on everyone in the neighbourhood, not least of whom is William.
This is a superb demonstration – visual and verbal – of how a caring adult, art and a touch of magic can transform the life, not just of one small boy, but also, of a whole community. The text flows perfectly but its combination with the Fan Brothers illustrative artistry puts this into a realm far above most picture books.
FAB-U-LOUS!

Mr Tweed’s Busy Day

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Mr Tweed’s Busy Day
Jim Stoten
Flying Eye Books
Mr Tweed is a dapper dog on his daily walk to town. En route he meets and comes to the aid of, all manner of members of his local community searching for various lost creatures or items. Little Colin Rocodile has lost his new kite.

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Turning the page reveals a park spread full of almost surreal scenery and all manner of animal characters depicted in purple, orange, green and blue hues.
Thus a pattern is established: one double spread presenting the problem followed by another with the scene to search for the lost items, a search readers will enthusiastically undertake in Stoten’s various whimsical locations.
Mrs Fluffycuddle has lost her 2 kittens, Mr McMeow’s 3 pet mice have escaped in – of all places – the library …

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After which there are 4 goldfish, 5 arrows – those shot by Big Bear Bob somewhere in the woods, 6 pineapples (a prickly matter) but of course Mr T. is quite up to finding those too; after all, they’ve just got to be in that busy market.
Oh my goodness, now what can be the matter with tearful Little Penny Paws?

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Oh no! The wind has whisked away the bunch of flowers she’s bought for her mum and 7 flowers are floating somewhere on the river …

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Young Billy Webber’s socks are also a victim of the wind so 8 of them need spotting, as do the 9 balloons belonging to Pingle located somewhere among the rides at the fair.
Job done, Mr T starts heading home. Then who should come running up but Pete Weasel and seemingly now the helpful dog himself has one more search to undertake – at the street party the grateful folk he’s assisted are throwing for him as a ‘thank you’; and there are 10 surprise presents all for him, to be located.
There’s a kind of ‘Where’s Wally?’ feel to this with an added counting element. Mr Tweed is an enthusiastic helper and of course his tasks are – ultimately, thanks to the reader – rewarding. Readers in turn are rewarded by the fun of the search and find aspects, as well as the sheer wackiness of the whole book.
Hours of visual exploration and further hours of potential talk herein, especially if groups of children together participate in the search.

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Frog and Beaver

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Frog and Beaver
Simon James
Walker Books
Frog and his friends the duck family and the vole family live together sharing the river and life’s pretty peachy. Then one day what should come swimming down the river but a beaver, a beaver in search of a place to build his very first dam.

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Frog’s enthusiastic welcome sells the place to him and straightway Beaver sets his chompers to work.
Next morning though, much to the consternation of Vole and Duck, there’s a decided lack of water in their stretch of river.

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Frog sets off to have a word with Beaver but the creature’s too wrapped up in his endeavour to heed Frog’s anxious words and after several attempts to get him to see their point of view, Frog is forced to pass on the Beaver’s suggestion, “Why don’t you all move up here?” to his friends.
Less than happy, the water voles and ducks shift upstream and set about making new homes. Beaver meanwhile continues building enthusiastically, paying no heed to repeated warnings about the volume of water building up, and is finally ready to show off his completed construction. But then …

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Has Beaver finally learned his lesson about doing things in moderation and can Frog truly become friends with someone so different and so wrapped up in his own concerns?
Simon James’ gentle humour pervades the riverside scenes executed in his signature style pen and watercolours.

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The small close-ups of Frog enthusiastically leaping up and down on Beaver’s back to expel all the excess water he’d swallowed are a hoot.

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Du Iz Tak?

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Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Walker Books
Google translate often comes to the rescue when one is confronted with a piece of text in an unfamiliar language. I doubt it would be of help here though for the characters in this story speak ‘insect’. It’s delivered in dialogue – nonsense dialogue unless of course, you happen to be a damselfly or another insect.
Du iz tak?” one asks the other as a pair of damselflies gaze upon an unfurling shoot. “Ma nazoot.” comes the reply. Now, as this brief exchange is contextualised by the picture we can take a guess at its meaning ‘What is that?’ and ‘I don’t know.’ in the same way somebody learning English as an additional language might.
Time passes: The shoot continues to grow and to the left, the dangling caterpillar has become a pupa. More bugs discuss the ‘thing’ -a plant, but what kind? They need something:“Ru badda unk ribble.” We need a ladder – context again.
They call on Icky who lives, conveniently, close by …

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A ladder is produced, a cricket serenades the moon …

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and work on building a ‘furt’ starts. Then danger presents itself in the form of an ominous arachnid

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that soon starts enveloping their enterprise in a large web, until that is, along comes a large bird putting paid to that. Happily the gladdenboot remains intact and eventually, fully unfurled delights both the whole insect community and readers.

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That however is not quite the end of the story for the cycle of nature must take its course with further transformations – plant and animal – so the whole thing can start over … and over and …
By this time readers will most likely be fluent readers of ‘insectspeak’, but whether or not this is so matters not: the superbly whimsical story visuals carry you through with their own spectacular grammar.
I do wonder whether despite being from the US, Carson Ellis could be having a satirical dig at the nonsense words six year olds are asked to read in that ridiculous phonics test they’re faced with towards the end of Y1; the one that many who read for meaning come unstuck with; the one the government insists is assessing reading. It’s not. At best, it’s merely assessing one aspect – decoding. Rant over: this extraordinary book is a total delight.

At Sea with Captain Cranky & Mayday Mouse

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Captain Cranky & Seadog Steve
Vivian French and Alison Bartlett
Little Door Books
Captain Crankie lives with his canine pal Seadog Steve beside the sea. They spend their days taking villagers and visitors to watch seals and dolphins in the Mary Rose, and their evenings together in their tidy home. However, the locals are a messy lot: they leave all kinds of rubbish lying around spoiling the look of the place and upsetting the captain. Enough’s enough, he decides and he and Steve drag and haul all the rubbish back to their house, load it into the Mary Rose and set off out to sea where they jettison the lot overboard, leaving it to sink down into the depths. Before long though, there is a whole lot more rubbish …which also ends up in the same place deep under the waves much to the consternation of mermaid Millie. She resolves to speak to Capain Crankie and next evening she’s there waiting atop a rock as the Mary Rose heads out with another cargo of rubbish. Before long Millie is leading the Captain and Seadog Steve on a deep sea dive to see the results of the Captain’s thoughtless dumping.

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What’s to be done? It seems Seadog Steve might have a good idea up his sleeve…

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The result of the villagers’ fishing expedition is certainly some unexpected hauls; but it’s not long before everything has been put to a new and exciting use and everyone is happy.

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An important environmental message is embedded in this charming story. It’s told in a straightforward manner that is easy to read and easy to absorb without being simplistic, by Vivian French; and through Alison Bartlett’s richly coloured, detailed illustrations.

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Mayday Mouse
Seb Braun
Child’s Play
I really love Captain Mouse’s spirit of determination and optimism in the face of adversity. She sets out in her walnut shell boat one sunny day with an important mission – to deliver her brother’s birthday present. Her friends bid her “Bon voyage” warning her to keep watch for “big waves and watery perils” and instructing her to shout “MAYDAY” should she need their help. Mouse however is convinced all will be well; but then the wind drops. Undaunted, she whistles a sea shanty three times and lo and behold, back comes the wind and off she goes again with the wind getting stronger and stronger …
Suddenly, down comes the rain, the boat starts filling with water and a storm blows up …

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tossing mouse and boat into the air and towards a crashing sound and ‘a dark and dangerous cave’.
Quick-thinking Captain Mouse steers past only to find herself about to crash into some large rocks and the next moment …

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What is it that Mouse is thinking? Surely not “This is the end of me!” as she hurtles onto a small sandy island where, cold and exhausted, she’s soon fast asleep.

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Is she going to be left stranded or will she eventually reach her brother and deliver that birthday surprise? It’s fortunate then, that she keeps her cool, remembers her resourceful friends’ instructions and …

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Here they come with everything needed for a quick repair to her boat and off they go.
There’s a lovely musical finale that delighted my audience and had them joining in with the birthday greetings .

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Despite the very damp interlude, this is a thoroughly heart-warming story with a plucky little heroine. Good on you Captain Mouse. Did you spot the polluting object in that final scene? It was certainly a hazard for our heroine.

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Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat

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Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Katie Harnett
Flying Eye Books
For an ailurophobic reviewer (the creatures make me wheezy and sneezy) to admit to being in love with a moggy means he must be something special; and Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius (I’ll henceforward call him ASOVCT), resident of Blossom Street, is surely that. The thing is this animal has a place in well nigh every residence on the street: belonging to everybody and nobody, he strolls from home to home, seemingly assuming a different guise for each friend he calls upon. Indeed this feline character has acquired a different name at each house: hence he’s Archie at breakfast time with Mr Green at number three …

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Snufflekins and more at number thirteen, Madame Betty’s residence …

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Moreover, he participates in a whole gamut of activities in one single busy day.

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However, there is one house ASOVCT never visits, in fact no one ever visits number eleven, residence of the lonely Mrs Murray. Her life is far from busy; she passes her time knitting, watching TV and warming her feet by the fire.
Then, one day our moggy decides to pay Mrs Murray a visit …

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and from that day on, everything begins to change on Blossom Street …

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Perfectly pitched and paced in its telling, inhabited by a host of wonderful characters, not least our enormously endearing hero ASOVCT; and warmly illustrated with gentle humour and touches of pathos, this is a book that will certainly resonate with children and adults – young or not so young. In addition to being a wonderful story, the book speaks volumes in this age of smartphones and social media about the importance of face-to-face human interactions, a sense of community and belonging.
Let’s hear it for Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius, his creator Katie Harnett, and for Flying Eye Books for yet another glorious picture book.

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings
Na’ima B Robert and Shirin Adi
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Mahbrook, the title of this fascinating book means ‘congratulations’ (or I think, ‘you are blessed’) in Arabic, certainly a sentiment one would want to pass on to a couple who have just got married: ‘Muslims from around the world share the same religious rites, but they celebrate in different ways in the four corners of the world.’ We then visit various countries to get a glimpse of the particular celebration that might take place when Muslims living there get married.
First stop is Pakistan where there’s a pre wedding henna party in full swing:

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the bride’s hands and feet are being adorned with beautiful, intricate henna designs while family and friends enjoy some dancing. The following day, the groom rides in on a white horse, the bride, bedecked with gold, hides beneath her silks awaiting her husband to be. There’s a huge feast awaiting everyone once the baraat arrives and other formalities have taken place.
Morocco is the next wedding venue. There, weddings are community affairs when all the neighbours spend days cooking delicious food: couscous, roast lamb with olives and pickled lemons sufficient to feed the huge number of guests expected. The bride changes her dress seven times at the waleemah (feast for the community) into which she is carried by the crowds. There is much joy as the bride dances in a circle of song.

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Traditional Somali dance to drums music and song is part and parcel of a wedding in Somalia …

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In Britain the bride might wear a white hijab and have guests from many different faiths and backgrounds. Here’s one happy celebration:

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Those are just some of the ways Muslim weddings are celebrated but in addition to having the same rites there are formalities that will be common no matter where the celebration takes place: important family meetings and discussions, a marriage contract, conditions that must be respected, guidance is sought for a blessed union and the groom pledges the mahr be it gold, a home, a ring or whatever she wishes – a dowry for his bride to be, the ceremony, in front of witnesses, is performed by the imam.

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A new journey awaits the happy couple …
With its beautiful mendhi designs adorning the inside covers, glowing illustrations on every spread, and fascinating facts about aspects of wedding celebrations, this is a book to inform, to delight, to draw on for RE discussions and most of all, to further the celebration not only of the particular topic herein, but of the rich cultural diversity that is part of what makes our world such an exciting place.

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