The Bird Within Me

The Bird Within Me
Sara Lundberg
Book Island

In this movingly told, inspirational book, based on the paintings, letters and diaries of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, we learn what it would have been like to grow up with her mother always sick in bed with TB and slowly dying, and an enormously hard-working father who calls your desire to express yourself imaginatively through art and beauty ‘ridiculous’.

That was life for Berta whose uncle (with whom she sometimes stayed when her mum was especially sick) managed to combine being a farmer with creating wonderful pictures, and occasionally allowed his niece to paint too.

Berta’s father wanted his daughter to follow his ideas – fit in, be a housewife – but she yearned to break free to live her own life, follow her desired creative path.’To fit in, you have to keep your desires secret. Be silent. And not really show who you are.’

‘When I grow up I’m going to be an artist. Like Michelangelo. But I don’t say that aloud. Because it isn’t a real job. Not something you can be. Especially not of you are a girl.’

Just when it seems her mother is slightly better, she is taken very sick again and dies.

Then not long after, the doctor, an art lover who regularly examines the rest of the family, asks Berta what she plans to do after leaving school. She longs to tell him of her dream but doesn’t, keeping it bottled up inside.

Things get too much and after just a short while, something snaps inside Berta as she stands at the stove cooking pea soup on a wooden stove. She lets it burn

and that precipitates a change in her father and for Berta whose journey might well have gone in a completely dead-end direction.

So beautifully illustrated and affectingly told, this is a wonderful testament to the power of the imagination, Berta’s and that of all who have creative instincts.

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.

Imagine

Imagine
Alison Lester
Allen & Unwin

This is a special sparkly covered 30th anniversary edition of a book that is superb for developing youngsters’ imaginations as well as introducing them to a whole host of animals by transporting them to a variety of different settings. There’s the jungle, the depths of the ocean, a polar ice cap, a farm, a swampland full of dinosaurs, an African plain and finally, the Australian bush. This adds a search-and-find element to the experience.

Each location is prefaced by a scene of two suitably attired children engaging in creative play opposite which are seven lines of rhyming text inviting readers to ‘imagine if …’.

After this comes a panoramic double page spread simply teeming with animals, bordered by the names of the creatures depicted.

Helpfully in this new edition, there is a key to the animals found in each location on the last page and back endpapers; there were some, particularly from the Australian bush, that I couldn’t identify without it.

Alison Lester is spot on in the way she shows how young children create their own imaginary worlds as they play, plunging themselves right in and becoming part of the action. The final spread brings them back closer to reality as they’re shown engaging in domestic small world play.

I still have my original 1991 copy and am happy to find the book has lost none of its allure.

We Are Artists

We Are Artists
Kari Herbert
Thames & Hudson

For this splendid celebration of creativity, Kari Herbert has selected fifteen influential women artists from various cultures and different parts of the world who succeeded, often against considerable odds.

Each one is the subject of a chapter that includes a quote, a fantastic portrait (by Herbert), a short biography and one or two reproductions of their work.

I was thrilled to see Tove Jansson, especially her Moomins sketches. Kari Hebert’s ‘Back in 1950s Finland, for a woman to love another woman was illegal. But on the islands… they could live and love as they wanted.’ is an example of the sensitive manner in which this book is written.

Abstract Sea, Tove jansson 1963

As you might expect we meet Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo but there are also Corita Kent, Yayoi Kusama and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Among the few artists new to me, and despite my being a frequent visitor to India with two close friends who are artists, is Amrita Sher-Gil whose interpretations of the rich colours she saw in the everyday lives of India’s poor are enormously moving.

Group of Three Girls, 1935

‘In India the light spoke to her’, we read in contrast to the greyness of Europe where as daughter of a Hungarian opera singer mother and an aristocratic North Indian Sikh father, she spent her early years.

Another new discovery for me is Lyubov Popova, one of several avant-garde women artists in Russia in the early part of the 20th century. I love the quote that introduces her: ‘ Most important of all is the spirit of creative process.’

Engrossing and inspiring, this superb book is for youngsters with an interest in art and those who want to encourage creativity especially in young people.

Everyone Can Draw

Everyone Can Draw
Fifi Kuo
Boxer Books

Having been a foundation stage teacher for many years, I know that within each and every young child is an artist; this is what is celebrated in Fifi Kup’s upbeat book wherein she calls upon that innate creative spark, a spark that we adults need to nurture and do our utmost to make sure is never extinguished.

As she states and shows in her wonderful scenes of artists at work however, people exhibit different preferences when it comes to drawing. Some like drawing characters whereas others would rather draw scenes.

Then there are those who favour black and white drawing in contrast to those whose preference is for bright colours.

There are a variety of tools that can be used for drawing as the increasing number of enthusiastic artists demonstrate – scissors, parts of the body such as hands or feet; and some people favour needle and thread drawing.

If you don’t enjoy drawing alongside others, you can find your own special corner or even draw in your dreams.

The most important consideration of all though is saved until last

– or almost last.

Finally comes a question addressed to us all – ‘What will you draw?’

Fifi further explores different tools for drawing on the endpapers for which she uses childlike images akin to those a four or five  year old might create.

Crayons, pens, paints, scissors, pencils, inks ready. Everybody draw! First though immerse yourself in this joyful book.

Playing with Collage

Playing with Collage
Jeannie Baker
Walker Books

I still have a treasured copy of Jeannie Baker’s exemplary Where the Forest Meets the Sea as well as several more of her books, and so was excited to learn of this one.

Following introductory spreads on basic tools, some key tips and ‘playing with materials’, the author has divided her books into four main sections, Paper, Out in Nature,

On the Beach and In the Kitchen.

In each one she offers practical tips for assembling your chosen materials, advising readers to look closely, let the items themselves and their textures act as a guide be they scraps of torn or cut paper, leaves and lichens or shells and seaweed.

I like the way she guides rather than instructs and that her examples give the impression of being unfinished and totally unintimidating, albeit exciting and beautiful.

This is a perfect book to encourage playfulness with materials right from the early years (when children generally are that way inclined anyway) through to adulthood when that creativity may have got buried and need re-awakening.

The clear photographic illustrations, that leave plenty of space on the page, along with succinct captions, help make the entire topic approachable and fun. To add to the book’s playfulness, there’s a final collage quiz.

Highly recommended as a resource for home and school use.

I Have an Idea!

I Have an Idea!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Is there perhaps a science of ideas? Or a special skill for finding them?

If so, genius finder of ideas Hervé Tullet could be the right person to demonstrate it and he certainly provides a great way to show young readers the elements, and how they might work.

The whole thing starts, so Tullet says with a single moment …

and he then goes through the entire process – looking and keeping on looking till you get beyond the nothing, the boredom or blind alley and suddenly there it is – something new.

‘It’s a little like finding a seed, …’ we learn …

Sometimes though, ideas are messy, bubbly and require time to work, so here’s what to do …

until there emerges that ‘good idea!’ And it contains ‘a seed of madness.’

Cultivation is crucial; but ideas are to be found all over the world, what’s needed is curiosity, looking, listening, touching, tasting, smelling, learning …

What though is the purpose of all this collecting of information and idea cultivation? Is it truly worthwhile? Tullet enlightens readers with possibilities “just for the fun of it’ perhaps or ‘to change the world’.

It is for sure, despite the challenges, a worthwhile endeavour no matter which you decide for rest assured if you look, you will, eventually find. Hurrah! Tullet shows this by scattering small red, blue and yellow ideas among the frenetic black lines of the world, there for those prepared to look closely, ready to grow into something bright and beautiful.

Play, have fun, seek and … find: then treasure your ideas. That’s the message one hopes youngsters will take from this book.
It’s also a message that teachers need to take notice of in their often unrealistic expectations of even quite young children in this results driven educational climate.

Field Trip to the Moon

Field Trip to the Moon
John Hare and Jeanne Willis
Macmillan Children’s Books

A class goes on a field trip to the moon and almost all the visitors follow their teacher, one particularly curious member of the group lags behind. This student is carrying drawing materials and decides to sit down and make use of them, watched by the residents, one of which narrates the rhyming story.

The student ‘Earthling’ drops off to sleep and wakes up to discover that the spaceship on which the party came has departed. I don’t know what the irresponsible person in charge was thinking of, not doing a head count first. The now sad-looking Earthling starts drawing again as the lunar inhabitants cautiously approach.

The initial surprise of a face-to-face encounter rapidly gives way to a creative session with human and lunar dwellers brightening up each other,

sheets of paper and the moonscape with colourful designs.

 

Meanwhile back comes the spaceship prompting the lunarians to hide themselves away though they re-emerge to wave a fond farewell to the departing young earthling who has been rather unfairly chastised, I think, by the group leader.
An experience neither side will forget, for sure.

The child’s body language, and that of the host populace in Jeanne Willis’ lunar scenes speak as loud as Hare’s verbal narrative of this expedition. Were the illustrations created using 3d models one wonders; they’re highly effective and likely to inspire children’s own creative efforts – perhaps to create their own group lunar landscape. There’s much potential for classroom activities, as well as for individuals after a sharing of this unusual book.

If you missed it the first time around, coming in June from Macmillan, is a special 50th Anniversary Moon Landing paperback edition of a book previously reviewed on this blog:

The Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield and The Fan Brothers

Little Frida

Little Frida
Anthony Browne
Walker Books

Who better than the inimitable, brilliant Anthony Browne to create a picture book about another brilliant artist, Frida Kahlo? And what a wonderful and surreal (it is Anthony Browne after all) story he tells. It was inspired by her ‘magic friendship’ and her “The Two Fridas’ self-portrait that she painted in 1939.

From the start our young narrator Frida says, her physical difference made her an outsider, often lonely but not unhappy at being ‘separate’, which she quite liked.
The wish to fly filled both her night-time dreams and her daydreams but her birthday dream of a toy plane is dashed when instead her parents give her a pair of wings. Rather than show her disappointment, alone in her room the young girl lets her imagination take flight.

She runs and runs and when all her energy is spent she stops by a dairy. Finding no way in, she’s about to return home, another door opens,

cascading her down, down to the earth’s depths and there she meets a strange but seemingly familiar girl.

This girl then begins a magnificent dance of life and while she does so, Frida shares with her, her own secret worries

and a close friendship is forged.

All too soon the time comes for Frida to bid farewell to her friend from the dairy and return to her own reality a much happier child than before, and ready to begin her artistry with a paintbrush.

Iconic Frida truly was, so too in his own way is, Anthony Browne. Allowing the imagination to take flight and soar so you become free is what Frida did and what Anthony has done here in his magnificent magical scenes, every one of which is packed with images that will inspire in readers further flights of their own fancy.

I’d love to show every single illustration but to see the rest, you will need to get your own copy of this stunning, out-of-this-world picture book.

Matisse’s Magical Trail

Matisse’s Magical Trail
Tim Hopgood and Sam Boughton
Oxford University Press Children’s Books

Matisse the snail confines his creative endeavours to the night-time when there’s nobody about; but during the day the world feels scary and much of his time is given over to preventing himself from being squashed by walkers.

One night in the middle of the city Matisse discovers the ideal place for some drawing and sets to work …

Come morning one of his creations is discovered by a little boy, Leo who adds his own marks to the design on the stone and showing it to Matisse, he introduces himself. Leo’s friends are impressed and eager to learn who the artist is; Matisse though has now disappeared.

Off go the children, returning later with many more items for Matisse to work his creative magic upon, and by the next morning our artistic snail has created a trail; a trail that leads to their school wall.

When their teacher sees what the children are looking at, it sparks a wonderful idea in her. Before you can say, ‘art’ the children are hard at work transforming the wall with their own creative endeavours

and they don’t stop at just a single wall. The school becomes a truly wonderful sight attracting great attention from passers by.

That night Matisse however, realises that his work in this particular place is done; it’s time to move elsewhere; first though he has one final piece of art to create for Leo and his fellow pupils. Teachers and other adults will be able to guess what that is.

Look out for snail magic on walls wherever you go; you might not find Matisse but it’s likely you’ll discover some snail magic.

A super story, beautifully told by Tim and illustrated by an exciting newcomer to the picture book scene, Sam Boughton, this book has SO much to offer. It demonstrates to children the importance of looking carefully and noticing small things – things that can lead to big changes. It also shows the importance of creativity and self-expression and is a smashing starting point for art at home or in schools. For imaginative teachers this could prove inspirational.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw / Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!

Dinosaurs Don’t Draw
Elli Woodward and Steven Lenton
Macmillan Children’s Books

‘Of course they don’t’, children will be thinking in response to hearing the title of this book, but they’re in for a surprise thanks to Picassaur and his strange find. Said find is a white object and it’s not long before the young dinosaur has transformed his surroundings.

His mother is less than impressed: “We’re fighters and biters, as fierce as can be!” is what she tells her dino. infant.

Far from being put off, Picassaur continues with his creative endeavours, in glorious technicolour this time, but his father’s reaction is the same as his mother’s.

Despite his amazing third artistic effort, Picassaur’s cousins too respond negatively, telling him to forget his drawing and do battle instead.

Then all of a sudden they get the surprise of their lives …

Is that the end for all the little dinosaurs?

It certainly seems likely they’ll be the next meal for that T-rex; but something even scarier than himself meets his eye when he turns around …

Whoever thought pictures could be that powerful … Three cheers for peaceful solutions rather than conflict and another three for Picassaur who dared to be different.

Elli Woodward’s zippy rhyming text flows nicely inviting audience participation and in tandem with Steven Lenton’s spirited scenes of dinosaurs and the artistic outpourings of one of their number, makes for a fun story-time read aloud.

A rather different dino. character stars in:

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Zachariah OHora
Abrams Appleseed

We all know that tyrannosaurs are renowned for their destructive ways and so it is for young Tyrannosaurus rex here. This young terror is not intentionally bad but his lack of awareness and over-exuberance results in a pre-school setting of angry-faced characters whose creative activities are ruined,

and whose quiet endeavours are disturbed.

Eventually thoroughly infuriated by all this wrecking, his classmates have had enough. “Tyrannosaurus – go!” comes the cry.

This causes contrition on the part of the antihero but even then his attempts to make amends flounder due to his ungainliness, at which point his fellow dinos. muck in, overseeing and facilitating the reparation.

However, just when harmony seems about to be restored we see that the little Tyro.dino. isn’t the only one capable of precipitating a disaster …

Zachariah OHora’s stand-out bright scenes of the classroom will attract pre-school humans but also include the occasional visual joke such as the Styracosaurus writing ‘climate change’ over and over on the chalk board to amuse adult readers aloud.
With its fun rhythm and rhyme, this stomping romp invites noisy audience participation.

Rosa Draws

Rosa Draws
Jordan Wray
Words & Pictures

Rosa is happiest when using her drawing pencils and letting her imagination run wild and that’s what this story is all about.

Seemingly her favourite subjects are animals, fairly ordinary ones, but what happens to them is anything but ordinary.

For when Rosa adorns her fuzzy black cat with a ‘RIDONKULOUS’ hat, it triggers an increasingly crazy concatenation of events involving a hat-eating bear with GLAM-U-LICIOUS long hair (yes the whole thing is recounted in rhyme with only the occasional slight creak).

Said bear has its hair sat upon by a moose that takes tea with a la-dee-dah goose and so on until the ants – a zillion of them – board a train and plunge Rose into darkness, cutting off her train of thought and completely stifling her imagination.

Only temporarily though, for the tugging on a light switch cord puts her back ‘on track’ and her ideas flow freely once more until suddenly who should arrive on the scene but Rosa’s mum.

Apologies are immediately forthcoming but it turns out that young Rosa isn’t the only one with an artistic bent …

Packed with zany details – look out for the peacock sporting jazzy socks – Wray’s illustrations will amuse both children and adults and the former will enjoy the invented words and the surprise finale.

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much

Lola Dutch is a Little Bit Much
Kenneth & Sarah Jane Wright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Lola Dutch has big ideas; no, make that, grand ideas. They’re the kind of ideas that sometimes, just sometimes, her friends Bear, Croc, Pig and Crane think are ‘a bit much’. There’s one particular day that she’s set on making the very best ever.
Take breakfast for instance …

Or the trip to the library for ‘a little light reading’, an excursion which leads to the discovery of books about famous artists that send young Lola’s imagination into overdrive.

Before you can say ‘creativity’ the young miss has adorned not only the walls, but also the ceilings, with her very own works of art. And even then her creative juices are still flowing; Lola decides their sleeping arrangements need some alterations.
This last project though, isn’t quite as successful as her previous ones. Exhausted by the day’s frenetic activities, her friends quickly fall fast asleep; but somehow, sleep eludes young Lola.

That’s when nothing other than a big hug from Bear will do.
Lola is one of those characters you immediately warm to; she’s bursting with creative ideas, full of energy and her enthusiasm seems limitless. One imagines she could well be a bit of a nightmare to live with, but the kind of child you’d love to have in your class.
Sarah Jane Wright’s watercolour and gouache illustrations really do capture Lola’s spirit of joie de vie while her flirtation with ‘the great artists’ including the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, Klint and Monet reflected in her own creations will be of interest to both adult readers aloud and young listeners.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Weaver

The Weaver
Qian Shi
Andersen Press

The creator of this lovely debut picture book got her inspiration from a spider’s web she discovered with a piece of leaf caught in the middle.

Stanley spider is a weaver of webs; he’s a collector too. The things he collects – seeds, leaves, twigs and other ephemera are carefully woven into his webs.

Then disaster strikes in the form of a downpour that washes away both Stanley’s home and his precious collection, save for a single leaf.

Stanley attempts to secure this leaf but the wind whisks it away leaving Stanley with nothing.
Throughout the night he labours and come morning he’s fashioned something beautiful …

Yes, the web traces the memories, but with those treasures etched in his heart, it’s time for Stanley to move on …

Simply and beautifully told, but it’s the illustrations which embroider and add nuance to the text, furnishing the rich details of Stanley’s journey and his creativity.

A book that’s rich in potential in a nursery or classroom setting too where children might look first at real spider’s webs (a fine water spray will make the details of a web more visible) and then become web weavers like Stanley, adding their own special objects to their creations.

Martha & Me

Martha & Me
created by It’s Raining Elephants aka Nina Wehrie and Evelyne Laube
Thames & Hudson

There’s a touch of Harold and the Purple Crayon and Antony Browne’s pencil wielding Bear about this splendidly playful tale.

It all begins when creative young miss, Martha, paints a large lion picture. And no sooner is it completed than out from the frame steps the story’s narrator, none other than the lion himself.

Then, in rhyming fashion, he relates how the two of them embark on an imaginary amazing adventure over sea, onto an island, through a jungle and then straight into an extremely splashy water fight.

Their playfulness escalates just a tad too far when the narrator oversteps the mark with a jump and a snap of his jaws.

Martha however gives as good as she gets, retaliating with a massive ROAR.

This calms things down temporarily and the two mop up (or rather Martha does while her playmate stays still and quiet), make up and embark upon another adventure in the park.
This culminates in the two friends becoming airborne …

and Martha tumbling down, back into her room sans lion.

Play has come to a halt, but perhaps it isn’t quite the end …

Scratchy line drawing and striking painting with touches of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism create an imaginary and dynamic play-scape that will delight and absorb both listeners and readers aloud.

Perilous Play: Game of Stones / Rocket Shoes

Game of Stones
Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson
Maverick Arts Publishing

Young Pod of Stone Underpants fame is back and he’s in inventive mode once more.
Now he wants to make a ‘whizzy’ game to amuse his younger brother, Hinge.
His first creation is certainly that but there appears to be a design fault …

and the ‘Yow-Yow’ ends up being banned by their dad.
Back to the drawing board: more chiselling, sawing and hammering, and the result is ‘Crackit’.

That meets the same fate as Pod’s previous effort – a paternal ban.
His third attempt looks like a winner but the boys must find somewhere away from their parents to use it, and for this Pod calls on the assistance of their friends, both animal and human. What on earth could they be moving all those huge blocks of stone for?
A playful tale, some groan worthy puns, not least being the book’s title and suitably crazy scenes of Stone Age carry-ons make for another diverting drama from Pod’s creators.

Rocket Shoes
Sharon Skinner and Ward Jenkins
Sterling

When is it right to break the rules? Essentially it’s a philosophical question that might well be explored in a classroom community of enquiry session.
It’s the one young José must work out when his neighbour, who has been instrumental in getting his and the other children’s amazing rocket shoes banned, is in great danger.
The boy is sitting outside pondering on the aeronautical acrobatics he and his friends have enjoyed …

when a snow storm suddenly engulfs Mrs Greg who is outside searching for her missing cat.
Should he, or should he not get out his forbidden rocket shoes and whizz to her aid?

To reveal what happens would spoil the story, so I’ll just say, all ends highly satisfactorily for everyone in town …
Told through Sharon Skinner’s whizzy rhyme and Ward Jenkins zippy, cartoonish digital illustrations, this will appeal especially to those who like to break the rules from time to time.

I’ve signed the charter  

Stardust / In My Room

Stardust
Jeanne Willis and Briony May-Smith
Nosy Crow

For the little girl narrator of the story, it’s deeply upsetting being the sister of someone who always seems to be the star of the show where family members are concerned, other than Grandad, that is.
Then one night after losing the Fancy Dress Competition to her big sister,

Grandad finds our narrator outside gazing up at the starlit sky. Her wish to be a star prompts him to tell her a story: the story of how the universe came into being.

A story that explains the connectedness of everything and everyone: “Everything and everyone is made of stardust,” he tells her. “… Your sister isn’t the only star in the universe… you all shine in different ways.
And, inspired by his words, shine she does – in the most amazing way.

Such wise words; words that the little girl never forgets but equally, words that every child needs telling, sometimes over and over.
Briony May-Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations really do celebrate connectedness, diversity and individuality; they’re every bit as empowering as Jeanne Willis’ text.
Strongly recommended for families and early years settings to share and discuss.

In My Room
Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Abrams Appleseed

The fifth of the ‘Growing Hearts’ series of novelty books starring a little girl protagonist is essentially a celebration of creativity and imaginative play.
The thick pages are cut so that when the book is turned through 90 degrees, they form together a variegated pencil crayon with which the girl conjures up a series of playful scenarios.
All I need is paper, crayons, chalk … and my imagination!” she tells readers.
First she’s an explorer, then a dancing princess; she becomes a speed racer, a teacher, a writer,

a sailor, a swimmer, a bride, a vet and finally, a funky rock star; all without leaving her room other than in her head

and courtesy of her art materials. Not a sign of any technology anywhere – hurrah!
Yes, there are already plenty of picture books that celebrate the power of the imagination; what makes this one different is the format.
Long live creativity!

I’ve signed the charter  

Lines

Lines
Suzy Lee
Chronicle Books

This truly is a wordless wonder.
A skater whizzes across the white page etching swirls and whirls onto the surface of the ice in a glorious solo dance – a veritable symphony of graceful motion, dizzying sometimes even.

But then she takes one pirouette too many, loses her balance and crashes to the ground losing her hat in the process.
Turn over and you see a crumpled sheet of paper, a pencil and an eraser indicative perhaps of frustration on behalf both of the skater and the artist.
Turn over again and there’s the skater, alone and gazing at her hat on a wrinkly background. But then, enter left another skater and then another and … before long there are several others tumbling clumsily, but joyfully, around her.

Suddenly the whole of the ice is alive with skaters; one of them helps the girl to her feet and …

There’s joy in abundance as readers see the wintry wonderland that is the iced-over pond and the surrounding countryside.
Essentially the book can be viewed as an exploration of the notion that making mistakes is a vital part of the learning process be you a skater, an artist or any other kind of learner. This is something all children need to learn early on, and that some teachers would do well to remind themselves of from time to time.
Equally it’s a superb, thought-provoking picture book that transports us into unexpected places pushing at the boundaries of creativity.

My Museum / Crocodali

My Museum
Joanne Liu
Prestel
Here’s a thoroughly cool little wordless book by Joanne Liu, an illustrator/artist I’ve not come across before.
Max pays a visit to an art museum. It’s full of paintings and sculptures, each one an important work of art. Where better to go for a bit of art appreciation?
Max however, wonderfully divergent and imaginative child that he is, quickly discovers that there’s a whole lot more to see and enjoy than what the curators have put on display.
Art is everywhere, if you know how to look; and if you know how to look, you can also be a creative artist. That’s the message that shines through in each and every action of our young protagonist as he wanders among the grown-ups who are absorbed in the various exhibits, discovering art through the windows, on a burly man’s arm,

by changing his viewpoint, and by seeing the potential in other unlikely places …

He even explores ways of making his own …

A delight through and through.

Crocodali
Lucy Volpin
Templar Publishing
There’s a touch of Hervé Tullet in Lucy Volpin’s latest story. It stars Crocodali, who greets us, more than a little reluctantly, as we enter his studio.
The self-confessed ‘most talented artist in the whole wide world’ is about to start on a new painting but is having a little bother getting his canvas positioned. That’s when he decides to enlist the reader’s help.
Before you can say ‘masterpiece’ he has us tilting, tipping, shaking …

and rubbing and even blowing on the book,

as we become co-creators of his latest work of art. It’s bound to be stupendous; or is it?
Engaging, interactive, humorous and delightfully messy.

Say Zoop!

Say Zoop!
Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books

Before you’ve finished reading this latest offering from the inimitable Tullet you and your listeners will have said a whole lot more than ‘Zoop’ and had an absolutely brilliant time to boot. Herein the artist takes pointillism and imbues it with his puckish genius.
It begins with a simple blue dot and an invitation to say ‘OH!’ A bigger dot appears demanding an appropriately ‘HUGE OH!’ and so on … Whoppee! We’re starting to make music – soft soft loud soft soft loud and so on; but that’s not all – how about a crescendo or the reverse …
We can also do a spot of dot counting or try some beats in dots and … wait for it, dive in dot sounds, rising up and … down;

then swim dot style, shiver and even cry.
Enter red dot – say ‘AH!’ And off we go again – double the possibilities: a dot dialogue or better still a robot dot dialogue – amazing! Then a spot of tickle induced laughter, dot style of course; or maybe a song and even a walk.
Oh no! Now there’s a very noisy argument … Phew! They’ve made up.
Oh my goodness, now there’s a sunny looking yellow dot WAAHOO! And off we go again, trampolining, zooming car style or singing like birds …

A whole new language perhaps?

Superbly creative: this absolutely cries out for performance over and over – first vocal, then perhaps with paint and after that, what about both together: WAAHOOAHTCHONKOHPLUCKZIKZOOPWHISHHH!! What are you waiting for?
The possibilities are endless and no reading will be the same as any other.
Zooper-dooper fun!

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Daisy Doodles / Ella Who?

Daisy Doodles
Michelle Robinson, Irene Dickson & Tom Weller
Oxford University Press
Get ready to go doodle crazy with Daisy.
One rainy day the little girl is stuck indoors and almost before she can say ‘Pipsqueak’ her drawing has upped off the page and is helping the child adorn the entire house with doodles of all shapes and sizes.
The rain stops but that is not the end of the adventure; in fact it’s the beginning of a whole exciting experience,

as dragons and dragonflies, castles and carousels, mermaids and much more are conjured into being, which culminates in the claw-wielding, jaw-snapping Battle of Crayon Creek.
All good things have to end though and end they do when the tickly octopus chases everyone back home and mum appears on the scene …

although that is not quite the end of the story …
In this lovely celebration of children’s creativity and imagination, the book’s creators cleverly use the device of a mirror to transport the little girl and her companion into their fantasy world of make-believe and back again: a world created by a variety of doodle-appropriate media.
With all the exciting visuals, it would be easy to overlook Michelle’s manner of telling, which, with its sprinklings of alliteration, and interjections of dialogue, is also a delight and allows plenty of space for Irene Dickson’s illustrations to create their magic.

Ella Who?
Linda Ashman and Sara Sanchez
Sterling
There’s a touch or two of the Not Now Bernard’s about this story of a family moving day. The parents of the young narrator are far too busy to take notice of their daughter’s talk of the presence of an elephant in the living room of the home they’re moving in to.
While mum, dad …

and grandma are engaged in getting their new abode into some kind of order, the little girl, having ensured that her baby brother is soundly asleep, engages in some elephant-shared activities, first in her new bedroom and then, outside in the garden. And that is where our narrator notices a man coming to the front door: a man inquiring about a missing baby elephant going by the name of Fiona and having – so it says in the flier he leaves – a particular penchant for apples, . Surely it couldn’t be … could it?

Much of the humour of this book is in the interplay of words and pictures: It’s the little elephant that hands dad a tool as he struggles to fix the shower – a fact he’s completely oblivious to as he utters the story’s “Ella WHO?” catch phrase. As are the other family members, throughout the book: even on the penultimate spread, having told her mum she’s just been bidding the elephant farewell, she gets this same “Ella WHO?” response from her dad.
An extended joke that works well enough to engage young children who will be amused at the adults who don’t listen and delight in joining in with the repeat question.

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Little Wolf’s First Howling

Little Wolf’s First Howling
Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
Walker Books
Little Wolf accompanies Big Wolf to the top of the hill, both father and son eagerly anticipating the wolf pup’s first howling. The full moon appears above the hill top and Little Wolf can hardly hold on to that first howl of his but first he must let his father demonstrate “proper howling form.” Then comes the turn of the beginner: he starts conventionally but then adds a little bit extra of his own.
Not wanting to dent the cub’s confidence, Big Wolf performs another howl, then off goes the cub again with a superbly creative version of his own – love you little fella!

‘aaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo dignity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-wooooooooooo’

Unsurprisingly, he’s told gently but emphatically, it doesn’t pass muster. No matter how many times Big Wolf demonstrates what he’s waiting to hear from his little one, what comes from the cub is increasingly elaborate verbal creativity.
Then suddenly, Little Wolf’s joyful wild abandon starts to have a different effect on his parent: instead of admonishing his offspring’s outpouring, he joins him, becoming co-creator of an extremely unauthentic duet performed at uninhibited full volume right across the countryside.

After which the two head home “to “tell the others” – just in case they hadn’t heard it.
Kvasnosky and McGee together have produced a superb picture book celebration of the creativity of young children.
Little Wolf’s spirited renderings are a perfect example of the kind of uninhibited imaginative responses of those in the early years, so long as well-intentioned adults don’t step in, take over and try to show them the one ‘right’ way to do something. Long live all the little wolves everywhere (especially those of the divergent kind), and those adults who, like Big Wolf have the good sense to step back and look at things from behind the heads of the very young.
The digitally coloured, gouache resist scenes wonderfully evoke the inky night setting in which wolves might wander, the telling is a delight and the dialogue spot-on. A word of warning to readers aloud though: you may well find yourself completely hoarse after being called upon for immediate re-readings of this wonderful book – happy howling.

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Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers

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Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
From the same Beaty/Roberts team and using art from the original Rosie Revere, Engineer story, this splendid project book will surely motivate primary age children to involve themselves in all manner of exciting and creative science and engineering projects. There are opportunities to make a simple catapult (and analyse it); to design a ‘1000 Egg Picker-Upper’ to help Rosie and Uncle Fred in the zoo (there’s a related egg identification challenge too). I’m sure the marble run making will prove popular – lots of cylinders needed here; and there are projects to design a better bicycle

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Engineers make things better: design a bicycle for the future …

and make a solar oven. I love the improving Great, Great Aunt Rose’s walking stick challenge where her walking aid needs to be adapted as a tool carrier: superb stuff and perfect for developing those vital STEM problem-solving/creative skills,

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as are the reminders about the importance of failing and learning from it. There is even a word search and a story writing project, showing that the book’s creators clearly understand the importance of the development of the imagination.
Famous scientists are introduced too: for instance, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison – with his team of ‘Muckers’ (I’m pleased to see the whole question of teamwork discussed); and there’s Rube Goldberg (a famous cartoonist and engineer).
Empowering and inspiring at the same time. Brilliant stuff.

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The Painting-In Book / Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad

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The Painting-In Book
Anna Rumsby
Laurence King Publishing
All young children have the potential to be creative; they just need a supportive adult, some basic resources and opportunities to experiment.
Early years teachers will be familiar with the techniques herein (and have offered similar kinds of activities); parents may not be; and they I think, will welcome this large format, bumper book of thirty activities for budding young artists. All that’s needed to get going are: an apron, water-based paints, a mixing dish, paint brushes of various sizes, a sponge, an old toothbrush, some bubble wrap, cotton buds and a container for water. (I’d add to this, a plastic sheet or old newspapers). Activities – and they’re all exciting, fun and educative in the art sense, – range from colour mixing, hand-printing …

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printing with cotton buds, bubble wrap printing, toothbrush paint flicking (a favourite with nursery age children), painting with a sponge, and adding lines to wet paint with the end of an inverted paintbrush.

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The paper used is high quality and the sheets easily removable. Perfect for wet days and holidays when you can’t get outside – or if you can, then move outdoors and do a spot of painting there.

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Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad
Yasmeen Ismail
Laurence King Publishing
Whoppee! Donkey, Cat and Dog come together for the third in the fabulous Draw & Discover series by the super-talented artist, Yasmeen Ismail. Twenty five emotions/feelings from curious to cranky, (where Dog’s hunger is ‘making him cranky’ and the reader/co-creator is asked to put some food on his plate); annoyed to afraid, guilty to gloomy and startled to scared, are presented through delightfully silly situations such as this: what could it be that has scared Dog and Cat? …

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Every single scenario is truly funny; it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I can imagine many children would go for this embarrassing situation for Dog who has had a slight accident and now needs some dry pants …

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Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf
Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault
Book Island
Author, Kyo Maclear (The Listzs) and Isabelle Arsenhault, illustrator (Cloth Lullaby) have together invented an episode from the youth of Virginia Wolf, narrated by her sister Vanessa when the former was overcome by depression: ‘She made wolf sounds and did strange things … ‘ Unsurprisingly, her actions affected the entire household –

‘She was a very bossy wolf. The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.’
Vanessa is a very understanding and supportive sister and does her upmost to cheer up her sibling. Eventually she responds to Virginia’s wish to fly to a perfect place … with “ABSOLUTELY NO DOLDRUMS”, a place called Bloomsberry, by creating, as Virginia sleeps …

a glorious ‘Bloomsberry’ garden.
This has the effect of lifting the gloom that has engulfed her sister– for the time being at least.

Strong emotions are part and parcel of childhood but comparatively few children go on to develop the dark melancholic, depressive feelings that would frequently engulf Virginia in her adult life. Not everyone, however hard they try will be able to help a depressed family member, but this is no detraction from what is undoubtedly a beautiful picture book.
Arsenault’s eloquent illustrations capture superbly the whole gamut of emotions of Maclear’s text: the graceful beauty of the pictures Vanessa creates would surely bring solace to almost anyone. The use of a hand-lettered text that sometimes almost explodes off the page, further adds to the impact of what is an immensely powerful and intensely personal tale of love and hope.
This is a book to share and discuss with older children (from around ten, and into early secondary school). I hope teachers have the insightfulness and perhaps courage to do so: its potential is rich.

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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.

A Busy Day for Birds

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A Busy Day for Birds
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books
Can you imagine … just for one day … you’re a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!’ is the invitation issued by Lucy Cousins on the opening spread of her avian offering. Yes, is the answer.  If, like me, you practise yoga regularly, you might well think of being a peacock with a wonderful tail to display…

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or perhaps, a bird like the graceful beauty standing very tall on just one leg shown on the cover.
Every spread though is an invitation to children, not only to delight in her vibrant portraits of some feathered friends but also to create some of their own, using their bodies, with paints, crayons, collage materials, modelling clay, dough or anything else they can think of. And then, there are all the various bird sounds too.
They’ll most definitely relish spreading their wings and trying some swooping like these spotty fliers.

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But there are also invitations to sing, tweet, hum and cheep, to waddle penguin style, to ‘go, go, go!‘ and, to run like an ostrich – who could resist that one, or sitting in a nest and having a ‘cuddle with mum’?
Especially pleasing is the manner of the book’s circularity – starting off ‘being a busy bird day’ with the wake-up call of the cockerel and finishing it with a goodnight bidding from the owl.

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Billed as a follow-up to Hooray for Fish! I think Lucy Cousins has done our winged flappers, swoopers and peckers even prouder: an absolute gem for early years audiences.

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Ada’s Ideas

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Ada’s Ideas
Fiona Robinson
Abrams Books for Young Readers
It may come a surprise to young readers of this biographical picture book that Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke a mathematician, and lived in the 19th century. Her parents separated soon after Ada was born and she was never to see her father again. To stop her from becoming anything like her father, Ada’s mother made her follow a strictly structured timetable of lessons: anything imaginative was strongly discouraged.
Despite this however, the young Ada developed a powerful, imaginative streak, partly fuelled by seeing some of the steam-powered machines her mother took her to see in factories …

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She even thought of inventing a mechanical flying horse.
After a period of sickness, at age sixteen Ada found herself thrust into society and that’s how she met the inventor, Charles Babbage who was in the process of inventing the Difference Engine, a machine that would never make mathematical errors.

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A friendship developed and Ada maintained it despite being married shortly after, and thus Babbage told Ada about his new project, The Analytical Engine – the world’s first computer design. It was Ada herself who used her mathematical mind to create the program that would have made Charles’ machine work. She also foresaw the machine’s potential beyond maths believing it could be programed to create music, pictures and words. Although it never was made because of costs, eventually many years later, people came to realise how forward thinking Ada and Babbage were.
With its 3D effect, Fiona Robinson’s collage style artwork is amazing and the whole book is a great tribute to the life of a young woman who refused to be bound by society’s expectations and strictures. What I like most is the way in which it demonstrates so compellingly that no matter what, imagination is behind all scientific and technological discoveries: that, and of course the fact that being a women is not a bar to great scientific achievement.

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Imagination rules: dream high, aim high, believe in yourself; let your mind run free: that’s Ada’s legacy.
An inspirational read and a must for all primary schools.

Toto’s Apple

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Toto’s Apple
Mathieu Lavoie
Phaidon
Toto is a little worm (you might at first glance mistake him for a sock) and he’s set his heart – and his eyes – on a rosy red apple. The trouble is Toto’s on the ground and the apple? Dangling tantalisingly way too high out of his reach. What’s he to do?

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Along comes a bird and an idea too. Toto seizes a paintbrush – don’t ask me how or from where; it matters not. He gets to work …

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and then waits. Bingo! His trick works and Toto hitches a ride but now look where he is …

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Does he give up? Oh no he doesn’t. Out comes that paintbrush again and here we go once more, courtesy of a squirrel. Another miss and another dab of that brush and he’s ready for another try– wheee!

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Oh no! He’s right back where he started. Game over? Definitely not – even when a little girl, Didi, has her teeth sunk into his prized apple – and Toto? Seems he’s still in with a chance …
A tasty ending? Sure!
Uber silly but totally brilliant is this super-satisfying Lavoie treat. Love, love, love Toto’s creativity and persistence. His tale is certain to become a much requested storytime favourite wherever it’s shared – home, early years setting or classroom.
And with its spare narrative, it is – yes all 64 pages of it – a cracking book for those in the early stages of reading to sink their teeth into. So much more satisfying than most of the rubbish fodder learner readers are fed; but you’ve got to consume it in a single sitting and THAT, takes time.

Meet Ada Twist Scientist, Mira & Em

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Ada Twist, Scientist
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Readers may well be familiar with previous titles Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck from the creators of this inspiring rhyming read; Ada is the third in the series and like its predecessors, it’s a MUST to add to primary classroom bookshelves.
Ada remains silent, observing, investigating and thinking much until she turns three and then quite suddenly things change. ‘Why?’ she demands to know (of the grandfather clock: “Why does it tick and why does it tock?” “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?

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And once she’s started, there’s no stopping this curious young lass. Her other favourite words are ‘Why?’, ‘What?’ ‘How?’ and ‘When’. (the very ones that should fill the hearts of all early years teachers worth their salt with delight). Yes, this child’s curioslty and imagination have no bounds and thank goodness she has such encouraging parents to support her.

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Then, one spring day – the first in fact – a revolting smell reaches Ada’s nostrils, setting questions flying and her curiosity into over-drive. Could that stench be emanating from Dad’s cabbage stew perhaps? That’s hypothesis number one.

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No – then where? The cat maybe? Wrong again and now Ada’s parents have had enough seemingly and Ada’s banished, silenced. Silent she may be, but her mind’s still very active and pretty soon, so is her thinking pencil until
thank goodness, Ada’s parents have had a rethink and before long, are back in support.
Will she ever find the answer to that ‘stink’ question? I suspect she might, for despite all her failures and blind alleys, Ada is an unstoppable problem-solver and what’s more, she’s ready to enlist the help of others. If not, then she’ll find other equally fascinating questions to pursue.
Delivered through a rhyming text and brilliantly characterised in David Roberts’ stylish illustrations, this story is sure to please young audiences and readers aloud, especially those who want to encourage the spirit of curiosity and champion the cause of girls in science. Ada is a force to be reckoned with – long may she continue. Seek this out and share it wherever you can.
Also take a look at the tale of another young girl who becomes a scientist :

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Mira Forecasts the Future
Kell Andrews and Lissy Malin
Sterling Books
Mira’s mother is a fortune teller but try as she might, all that Mira sees when she gazes into the crystal ball is herself, “Telling the future is a gift,” her mother tells her. “You have it, or you don’t.” Mira most definitely didn’t; but one day she notices something – the wind whirring the blades of her pinwheel and fluttering the streamers of her windsock.

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That’s the start of her meteorological findings and before long she’s putting her scientific talent to good use in predicting the future; she’s a weather forecaster no less.
Creativity and the imagination are at the heart of all scientific discoveries: they all begin with someone asking ‘what if’ or ‘suppose that’ and now here’s a book claiming to inspire creative play:

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The Way to Outer Space
Jay Eunji Lee
Oxford University Press
Herein we meet Em who on this particular day is feeling bored until that is, she receives a mysterious parcel containing a book and a card. She’s on the point of tossing them aside when she notices some rocket-making instructions and pretty soon here she is …

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blasting off and hurtling through the solar system to a strange place – a place she’s told belongs to her; and it’s in serious trouble. A challenge is issued and, accepted …

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and off she goes creating …
Part story (told in comic strip style), part activities, this unusual book is likely to get young minds buzzing and fingers working on creating some of the ideas suggested herein – and one hopes moving on to projects of their own imagining.

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Shapes, Reshape! Shapes at Play

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Shapes Reshape!
Shapes at Play
Silvia Borando
Walker Books
If you’ve watched young children get creative when given lots of 2D shapes, then you’ll be aware of some of the possibilities and hours of fun messing around with shapes offers. Here Silvia Borando has taken that idea a stage further in two wonderfully imaginative new Minibombos.
In Shapes Reshape they do just that: the shapes being rectangles and squares (mostly the former) with just the odd few very small circles used as dots for eyes.
It begins with 60 rectangles arranged thus …

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which rearrange, no, ‘reshape’ themselves into ten BUZZY things …

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So brilliantly playful; but there’s a whole lot more to come – 99 shapes become 9 Jumpy, slurpers … so cool aren’t they?

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Introduce another colour and the possibilities increase: look at these sneaky slitherers

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fashioned from …

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I could easily go on showing each and every wonderful ‘reshaping’ but suffice it to say there are eight further rearrangements from serried rows to creatures large and small from sniggly snuffling hedgehogs and nip-your-nose crabs to ferocious hungry lions, snappy alligators and the final piece-de-resistance –

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which flees, having been frightened by something reshaped from these …

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Now what could that be, I wonder. Hint: count the number of small rectangles …
Shapes at Play begins with a ‘Let’s play!’ invitation from a red equilateral triangle, a yellow square and a blue circle. Then the participants and others like them do so, starting with the triangles, followed by the squares and then the circles, each of which is given a double spread to do their stuff. Then follows a bit of bouncing, bumping and toppling … but undaunted, that’s followed by hasty re-creation …

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after re-creation, (oh! and there’s a spot of multiplication along the way too) first of the architectural kind …

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and then, of the vehicular variety …

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and culminating in a terrific BLAST OFF, flight and a landing where our three friends are greeted by some new shapes …

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Once many, many years back as a fledgling teacher, I read a book by Glenda Bissex called GNYS at WRK. Here’s genius at play, courtesy of Silvia Borando.
This, or a slightly less sophisticated form of same, is what children in their early years at school would and perhaps should be doing, were they not being required all too often, to jump through various mathematical hoops to satisfy the tick-box mentality requirements of the curriculum that prevails.

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What Could It Be?

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What Could It Be?
Sally Fawcett
EK Books
I love books that invite children to be creative and this one certainly does just that and more. Subtitled Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes we do so courtesy of a boy (observant readers will discover his name further into the book) and his rhyming narrative which, on the opening spread says, ‘This is a CIRCLE./What else could it be?’ and goes on to demonstrate over the page …

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Thus, readers are immediately drawn into a playful exploration of basic 2D shapes and how they can be transformed into all manner of exciting objects.
Next comes the square followed by the triangle …

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(there’s artistic license here but the ‘can you find?’ questions all relate to 2D shapes). Next comes the rectangle and a bedroom scene wherein we see all seven of the shapes included in the game.

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Another basic shape known to most pre-schoolers, the hexagon calls for the donning of a superhero cape by our narrator as he climbs to rescue his football, while his younger sister plays in her sandpit (a hexagonal enclosure, of course) close by.
Ovals come next and I particularly like the way these are transformed into a teapot ready for afternoon tea…

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and the final encounter is with the octagon and we have a seaside scene. Having explored the basics so to speak, the narrator then suggests readers start creating by making their own templates and letting their ideas flow …
There’s even a suggestion to upload personal artwork onto the publisher’s website if further incentive is needed.
Now that your thinking is out of the square,/pull out a pencil and pull up a chair.’ And that’s where children’s thinking needs to go … away from things that can be tested, measured and compared: if only all teachers might find the courage to keep offering the spaces for this to happen. Just do it!

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The Food of Love

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Playing From the Heart
Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books
There’s a whole lot of heart in this, the latest Peter H. Reynolds story. Herein we meet young Raj who, as a small child, starts as a piano plunker, delighting in every sound …

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and without lessons develops into a creative player making up his own music. Impressed, his father hires a piano teacher who teaches him the skills and techniques …

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but despite his accomplishments, there’s no joy and eventually Raj stops playing altogether.

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Raj grows up, leaves home and goes to work in the city. His father grows older and notices the silence left by the absence of his son. Time passes and then Raj hears that his father is not well. He hurries home and his father has a special request: he asks his son to play him a song, not one he’d been taught but that one of his own making – the one that flows straight from his heart.

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Like his protagonist’s playing, Reynolds surely creates this from the heart. It’s a plea to nurture, rather than stifle children’s natural creativity: to let imagination and enjoyment thereof, not precision and preoccupation with the ‘perfect form’ to lead the way.
Everything about this book is a delight: the hand-lettered text which somehow serves to heighten the intensity of the telling, the mixed media (pen and ink, watercolour, gouache and tea) illustrations. Reynolds’ use of colour too speaks volumes: his palette is limited to browns, greys and blues with a touch of gold and purple except where Raj is in creative mode; then the notes flowing from the piano are brightly coloured ‘whispery and sweet’.
A beautiful and timeless tale, (for parents, almost a cautionary one) that will resonate long after the covers have been closed and the book set aside.

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Jack’s Worry
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Jack loves to play his trumpet and eagerly anticipates his ‘first-ever concert’ with his mum in the audience. On the big day however, the lad awakes with ‘a Worry’. And no matter what he does and where he goes, the Worry is right there with him.

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So overwhelming is the wretched Worry that Jack finds even playing his trumpet doesn’t shift the thing: seemingly it’s there to stay. Then comes the time to leave for the concert and that’s when the poor boy feels completely overwhelmed …

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Eventually he confronts the THING and explains to his mum: “I don’t want to play in the concert … I’m worried I’ll make a mistake and you won’t love me anymore!
Fortunately he has an understanding mum whose reassuring words Jack takes on board and later, even passes on to his classmates: “The concert isn’t about playing perfectly. It’s about having fun and sharing something you love with people who love you.”
By the time Jack gets to school, the Worry has shrunk to tiny proportions and he and his friends  all enjoy their performance tremendously.

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Brilliantly empowering: a cracking book to share with children faced with any potentially tricky situation; and in particular one to help youngsters understand and deal with their anxieties. It’s sympathetic without being sentimental and Zuppardi’s whimsical style illustrations really do capture the intensity of Jack’s emotions superbly well.

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A Bounty of Board Books

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Clive and his Art/Clive and his Babies
Jessica Spanyol
Child’s Play
Preschooler Clive, as portrayed by Jessica Spanyol, is a total delight. In the first book he shares his love of being creative, something that takes many forms including printing, drawing, constructing and collage making. He also loves looking at other people’s art and sharing his own, especially with his cat, Moshi.

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Clive has a particular penchant for googly eyes (don’t most youngsters of his age) and loves to adorn his works with all things glittery and sparkly (ditto).
In the second book we meet Clive with his two ‘babies’. These certainly do get the full range of experiences: play …

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feeding, potty training, baths (with the help of friend Asif) rides, stories – very important, hugs and plenty of TLC.

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I love the slightly oblique, almost child-like views of Clive that Jessica often gives us. Her straightforward present tense narrative is such that beginning readers can also enjoy Clive and his world when they share these enchanting books with their younger siblings.

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Littleland Around the World
Marion Billet
Nosy Crow
The animal friends from Littleland pack their bags and set off to explore the world. First stop is London and they finish up in New York City – in Central Park to be precise. There are five other European destinations, then they head to Egypt and the pyramids followed by a safari in Kenya (that’s Africa taken care of). Next port of call is India and the Taj Mahal in Agra – a very hot place indeed so we are told, not always so in my experience though. From there it’s to China for a dragon festival , Tokyo at night …

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Australia to visit the outback and sunny Brazil for a spot of beach fun and games.
Running below every spread is a “Can you see …?‘ strip with nine labeled items (the national flag, animals, foods and more) for lap-tourists to spot. Yes there is the odd bit of mild stereotyping: ‘In Italy, people often eat pizza for their lunch.’ but the illustrations are cute, there’s so much to discuss, and toddlers will love to play I-Spy on this whistle-stop global tour.

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My First Book of Opposites
Alain Grée
Button Books
Ten spreads playfully illustrate basic opposites such as big/small, short/tall, up/down, fast/slow
Most of the concepts are either mathematical or scientific – hot/cold, day/night with the exception of one relating to feelings – happy/sad. We know that children acquire concepts through life experiences but books such as this board book can help in the reinforcement of same, and provide a talking point for adult and child together.

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Bizzy Bear DIY Day
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow
Bizzy Bear is having a DIY day. He’s busy measuring, sawing, drilling; but what are he and his pals making?

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TADAAH! Somewhere they can all have fun together …
Toddlers can enjoy the surprise ending and hone their fine motor skills as they push and slide the tabs to assist Bizzy as he wields his tools.
Bizzy Bear already has many fans among the very youngest; this one could win him even more.

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Animal Babies in the River/Animal Babies on the Mountain
Julia Groves
Child’s Play
Adult animals and their offspring from two different habitats – the river and mountains – are presented in life-like, collage style illustrations. The half dozen river animals portrayed are swan/cygnets, crocodile/hatchlings …

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otter and her pups, frog/tadpoles, salmon/fry and duck/ducklings.
The mountain dwellers include the alpaca/cria, lynx/kittens, eagle/eaglets and wolf/cubs.

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Julia Groves really does capture the essence of each species in her portrayals; her graphic style certainly doesn’t dumb down her illustrations: she clearly believes that the very youngest children deserve quality artwork and this is what she provides here.

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Story Box

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Story Box
Anne Laval
Laurence King Publishing
Open up Story Box and you will find a set of twenty double-sided jigsaw pieces – a mix of beginnings, middles and endings – that can be arranged and rearranged to tell a whole host of different stories. In her engaging illustrations, Anne Laval has provided details that allow for users to take the story in a variety of directions depending on the way their imagination works at any particular time.
You might choose to start with a king standing with a princess in a castle turret: the king is waving but to whom? And what about the young princess; she’s gazing in another direction – what are her thoughts?
Turn the piece over and there are three characters – a man, a woman (holding a hen) and a boy: are they parents and a son? Farm workers? The boy is smiling? Why might that be?
Take another piece – an inbetween one, maybe this … Ahh! Might it be an alternative version of Jack and the Beanstalk perhaps …

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or you might choose to send the boy off on his horse on a quest of some kind.

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There are all manner of fairytale characters he could encounter – a witch, dwarves (seven of them), a wolf clutching what one child thought was a shuttlecock but on closer investigation decided it’s a pepper pot (but could it be a sprinkler with something else inside?)

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Oh! and there’s this pink rabbit – large here …

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but not in other scenes: again he offers all manner of possibilities …
The witch’s house, the castle, the woods, a cave, an ice-ream van even, supply background for scenes to unfold as a story progresses.

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With such fairy tale motifs as a sword, a beanstalk, a basket of rosy apples users may want to stay close to the familiar or alternatively, let their imaginations run riot before finishing up with one of the half dozen endings available. Here are three of them …

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This is a great classroom resource that can be used across a wide age range from nursery up. Its potential depends only on the setting and of course to a certain extent, the creativity of the teacher and children using it. It is absolutely brilliant for developing speaking and listening skills, for building co-operative skills, for storytelling and writing, (maybe with an adult scribing) for drama, as starting points for art and craft in two or three dimensions – the possibilities are enormous.
If there are children learning English as an additional language in the group, an adult could tell a story pausing to ask the children to look for the appropriate card piece, gradually building a chain as the narrative progresses.
Alternatively a small group could be given several pieces each and sitting in a semi-circle, take turns to add a piece to the tale supplying the narrative to accompany it.
I could go on, but suffice it to say, the contents of this box cries out to be played with. ‘Narrative’ says Barbara Hardy, ‘is a primary act of mind’; here is a resource to get started with.

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Line, Shape, Form & Colour

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Do You See What I See?
Helen Borten
Flying Eye Books
Not so much a question, more an invitation to readers from Helen Borten, to look carefully at the world around them, to look at everything in terms of line, shape and form, and colour.
She also shows, through her poetic verbal imagery the way in which what and how we see influences how we feel: ‘Lines that bend in a zigzag way seem to crackle with excitement. They make me think of thunderstorms and jagged mountain peaks. I see huge jaws of a crocodile, wide open and bristling with jagged teeth, ready to snap shut.’

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There are also curves – swirls and twirls full of grace and beauty; and often adding texture …

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Lines are everywhere, in abundance – skinny or fat, timid or bold, wiggly or straight, hard or soft, shaggy or smooth, fast or slow – ‘Wherever I look I see lines making patterns of beauty. Can you see them too?’

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Moreover, lines can become shapes – circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and more; these too are all around us.

 

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Moving on to colours: are they hot like a fire, cold as a mountain stream, warm like the rays of the sun, or cool as a crispy lettuce leaf?

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What about this for wonderful visual/verbal evocation: ‘Colours can be pale and timid as a mouse – or dark and mysterious as the night.’

 

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Seeing and feeling are inextricably bound when it comes to art appreciation and understanding, and this book is an excellent starting point for discussion and then doing as the author urges, ‘… see the world as a great big painting, full of lines and shapes and colours to look at and enjoy.’
A modern classic in the 1960s, it’s great to see it back in print with Flying Eye: a real little treasure.

Line, shape and colour are also key elements of

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Apples and Robins
Lucie Félix
Chronicle Books
Here, every turn of the page changes one thing to another: circles to apples at summer’s end, out of reach apples that require a ladder for picking. For this rectangles are needed –short and long,
Triangles, ovals, parallelograms, squares both as blocks of colour or die-cuts are used to conjure up the robin,

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bird-house,

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the elements, and much more as we move through this cleverly conceived book from autumn through winter to the coming of spring to a garden in which stands the apple tree.
With something to surprise and delight readers on every new spread encountered,

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this is definitely one to revisit time and again, to listen to the author’s commentary as she takes us through the changing seasons and shows us how the scenes are constructed.

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Frida and Bear

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Frida and Bear
Anthony Browne and Hanne Bartholin
Walker Books
Frida loves drawing as does her pal, Bear but one day Bear, stuck for an idea asks Frida for a suggestion. Frida draws and passes her paper to Bear inviting him to turn it into something: Bear does so and thus begins a game of I start/you finish between the friends.

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The clever thing is, each of them is exercising his/her imagination, and becoming co-creator, every time they play a new round of the game.

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The two participants in this story, engage in an exchange game not dissimilar to one I used to play with a nursery class I taught, only there I provided a basket of paper/card offcuts and other possibly interesting bits and pieces for the children to help themselves to and sometimes even turn into a character of some kind which often (with the help of a digital camera and a computer) became a character for their own picture story books. I guess Bear and Frida or Browne and Hanne could do something akin to this with all the characters on the final spread of this inventive book.

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But that’s a whole other story and maybe one young readers might like to try – after they’ve played the exchange game like Bear and Frida, that is.
Indeed, the butterfly Frida makes

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is very similar to one a four year old in my group created and therein lies the beauty of this. Drawing skill is immaterial; it’s creativity and seeing possibilities that’s the essence here.
Super-dooper book – brimming over with creative possibilities for all ages.

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Creativity is THE Thing

Here are four books that are a true testament to the power of creativity and
the imagination:

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Ike’s Incredible Ink
Brianne Farley
Walker Books
Would-be author Ike is a blobby looking being with straggly (spindly) limbs who, having read all manner of incredible stories, wants to write one himself. He sits himself down, very briefly, and then the displacement activities begin: finding that favourite pen, calling up a friend, vacuuming (he must be desperate) but still things aren’t right. Ink is the missing something Ike decides, his very own ink. Thus begins a search for the special ingredients – shifty, shady, mysterious shadows, soft, floaty feathers from the Booga-bird, and a round, velvety ‘something’ from the dark side of the moon (that one involved constructing and flying a rocket). These – and what magical sounding items they are – Ike stuffs into his big bag and then it’s back to reality for some very messy mashing and mixing and then at last the vital ink is ready.

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So too is the author who, with problem solved, finally finds his ideas begin to flow: his process has become the story.
Anyone who has ever tried writing will immediately recognize Ike’s procrastinating tactics and that important period when ideas and possibilities need to gestate, float around in your head or just ‘be’ for a while. Educators take note!
Farley’s spare, quirky illustrations executed in ink – of course – and digital collage using a limited colour palette are ideal for this off-beat adventure.
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The Nowhere Box
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Sam’s younger brothers are a pesky nuisance, derailing his train set, demolishing his brick constructions and following him wherever he goes. Enough is enough, George decides and sets off in search of a place where they cannot follow: a place called Nowhere. And how does he get there? In the way that most young children can, if they have a very large cardboard box and various other assorted items of junk, plus scissors and pens – via his imagination. Before long George has ridden on a switchback,

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zoomed through space in a rocket and sailed the seven seas of Nowhere. But no matter how amazing, magnificent, and fantastic it might be, there’s a distinct lack of enemy pirates, dragons, anyone at all in fact. Perhaps not such an exciting place after all, thinks our would-be adventurer and maybe those little brothers might have some uses after all.
A great debut for Sam Zuppardi. Playful, and quirky; the mixed media illustrations beautifully capture the creativity of young children. I shall certainly be on the lookout for his next book.
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Journey
Aaron Becker
Walker Books
It’s virtually impossible to do justice to this amazing wordless book in a short review. Essentially, a little girl, lonely and ignored by her busy parents, takes up her red crayon and draws herself into a magical journey through a door she draws on her bedroom wall and out into a forest illuminated by strings of glowing lights and lanterns. With her crayon she draws a boat that takes her down river to a castle where further adventures begin;  adventures involving a flying balloon, a purple bird, a rescue and much more. It would spoil the wonderful tale if I continue but suffice it to say there’s a wonderful ending involving a surprise encounter.
There is a brief nod to Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and a wink to Anthony Browne’s Bear stories in that the crayon is used to draw the adventure but this Journey is much more complex and symbolic. Here the crayon unleashes the girl’s imagination as she makes a scooter, a door in the wall, a boat, a hot air balloon and a flying carpet. Once the adventure starts, the girl moves from a sepia toned world into one of colour and brightness: worlds wherein her feelings are palpable as she experiences loneliness, cruelty and danger and finally finds joy.
There is an element of steam punk too, which gives the book a wide age appeal.

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In fact there is so much for anyone and everyone here: adventure, danger, sadness, joy, beauty, wonder, and most important of all, creativity and the imagination. All these are so brilliantly encompassed within this amazing story. Truly it is the JOURNEY not the destination that is so important as Becker has so powerfully shown. Each double spread can be the starting point for a personal flight of fancy and where any one person’s journey will take them as s/he follows this story is, well, another story and another …
I think this has to be my FAVOURITE EVER wordless picture book.
It’s a must for anyone who believes in the importance of the power of the imagination.
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Mr Wuffles!
David Wiesner
Andersen Press
If ever there was a fussy moggy, it’s Mr Wuffles. This black and white cat rejects all the specially bought toys and then he comes upon a very interesting looking object. This is in fact a miniature spaceship containing not one but five little aliens resembling robed grasshoppers. But, after a rough play session courtesy of Mr W. their spacecraft is in need of repair so the aliens go off searching for suitable materials. The watchful Mr Wuffles spots their move and is all set to pounce when his attention is diverted by a flying ladybird. His prey make their escape under the radiator and there make a kind of alliance with the resident insects. Despite a language barrier, the two groups manage to communicate through pictorial representation

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and eventually, thanks to a co-operative effort, an escape is engineered. ‘Oh, Mr Wuffles!’
This near wordless masterpiece is completely absorbing. It needs careful attention to follow the action and to appreciate the wealth of detail Wiesner has so cleverly embedded within the comic strip sequences. Ingenious.
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