Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books

Little Chicken is back and she’s full of what she’s just learned at school. “My teacher told us every story has an elephant of surprise” she says excitedly. Papa puts her right, responding, “She was talking about an element of surprise,” and goes on to explain.
Papa shares stories with her to prove his point but Chicken remains unconvinced and eager to find those surprising elephants.

Needless to say she manages to do so; first in The Ugly Duckling, then Rapunzel and finally, The Little Mermaid.
Each time Papa opens the storybook, Stein changes his illustrative style. Instead of the bright warm tones of their abode, his story scenes are rendered in sepia pen and ink

into which at the appropriate time, he drops a friendly-looking little blue elephant.

In a final story – one penned by Papa and deftly illustrated by Chicken – despite Papa’s best efforts to prevent it, that elephant of surprise puts in an appearance there too. Seems there’s no getting away from the little pachyderm.

This sequel to Interrupting Chicken had me spluttering with delight from the outset and the fun cleverly built up throughout the story. Who wouldn’t be in fits of giggles over that baby blue elephant, first with feathered swan-like wings, then wearing very long plaits and finally, a grass skirt and coconut bra. (I had to put my coffee aside for fear of sending it flying as hysterics overtook me at that sight.)
Another absolutely cracking metafictive tale to delight both adult story readers and young listeners alike. It also has great classroom potential.

Ice Boy / Stack the Cats

Ice Boy
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
Meet Ice Boy, the hero of Stein’s latest book. Rather than being restrained by his freezer existence and frequent “Never go outside” parental warnings, the young ice-cube leaves the safe enclosed environment and ventures down to the ocean’s edge and thence discovers a whole new world of exciting adventures is to be had.
His first incarnation is ‘Water Boy …

and thereafter Vapour Boy; after which, having tap-danced upon a thunderstorm and freezing …

a tiny pellet of summer hail.
In solid form once again, he hurtles off a roof-top and ‘BLOOP’ –is reunited with his parents who just happen to be chilling someone’s drink.

Suddenly it looks as though extermination is to be the outcome for all three cubes but fortunately, the thirsty human’s first taste is of the little lad who, after all his adventures has become a taste-bud disaster; and Ice Boy and parents are summarily tossed from the tumbler onto the grass.
Then, with an infusion of worldly knowledge, Ice Boy leads the trio off on a new water-cycle adventure …
This clever tale of risk-taking, transformation and re-incarnation is such a fun way to introduce a sclence lesson on the water-cycle. Stein’s mixed media, largely blue and grey illustrations are littered throughout with witty speech bubbles (‘Oh, Ice Boy! You’re a sight for sore ice.‘ Or, ‘Am I dense or did I just become a liquid again?‘and peppered with POPs, PUFFs, BLOOPs and other appropriate noises off.

Stack the Cats
Susie Ghahremani
Abrams Appleseed
Much more than a mere counting activity, this playful picture book offers opportunities for youngsters to expand their mathematical thinking to embrace simple division and multiplication; and a spot of height comparison. We start with ‘One cat sleeps.’ // Two cats play. // Three cats?/ STACK!’ Followed by …

After which the pattern alters thus:

Clearly the six have found this process a little wearying so ‘Seven cats nap.’
Then, the revived felines plus another try their paws at a spot to towering , which rapidly turns to a tumble. It’s as well cat nine is there to even things out and for the first and only time, numerals make their appearance …

What happens thereafter is that Ghahremi decides that ten cats are ‘just too many’, dispersing the gathering to hide, sleep, climb and generally have a playful time (a subtraction discussion opportunity) and finishing with an open-ended, ‘How will you stack the cats?’
The eye-catching cats are given the opportunity to show their playful personalities while youngsters are offered a plethora of mathematical possibilities. A purrfect prelude to some mathematical activities: fun and educative and also, great for beginning readers.

I’ve signed the charter  

Hear it from the Animals

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Bruno and Titch
Sheena Dempsey
Walker Books
Titch waits anxiously in Mrs Pinkerley’s pet shop for a “Big Person” to come along and buy him; it’s been so long – almost a year in guinea pig time already. Now imagine his joy when in comes one small boy and out go one guinea pig and one small boy together. Life at Bruno’s home takes some getting used to however –their tastes are so very different.

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And all those games are positively hair-raising for a small furry rodent but then there are other things that compensate.
Just when the friendship seems to be flourishing though, Bruno starts behaving very strangely; surely it can’t be a getting rid of pet plan he’s hatching worries our small narrator. As a pair of hands reach out, panic seizes Titch but …

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WOW! Bruno’s creation is truly amazing, only serving to prove what a good friend he is; and definitely worth that wait.
So too was the wait for Sheena Dempsey’s latest offering. Her ink and watercolour illustrations are full of fun and feeling and could well prompt young listeners to set to work to create their own pet paradises.
Also with an animal narrator is:

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I’m My Own Dog
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself’’ asserts the self-assured canine storyteller at the outset and goes on to demonstrate just how he answers to nobody and is totally happy with his lot. Life is just dandy until along comes a particularly annoying itch in an unreachable (for our narrator that is) place on his back. So bad does it become that for all his talk, the bulldog is forced to allow a human hand to come to his aid.

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Then one thing … leads to another … until despite the disadvantage of having to do the cleaning up, a firm friendship is forged.

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Amusing,watercolour and pen and ink pictures created with a mix of thick and thin strokes almost calligraphic style, cleverly add both definition and personality to the two main characters in particular.
Great fun even if, like me, you are not a dog-lover.

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Mad About Mega Beasts!
Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz
Orchard Books
A dozen very large creatures introduce themselves in this latest offering from the duo who brought us Rumble in the Jungle, Commotion in the Ocean and Mad About Minibeasts. There are creatures of land and sea, hot places and cold, carnivores and vegetarians; a few are extinct, most very much alive. They might be feathered, furred, scaly or smooth, scary or more friendly, but the one thing they have in common is their sheer size. Thus we meet, among others, Argentinosaurus (currently claimed to be the largest dinosaur), the Siberian Tiger, Python and even a St. Bernard all rendered in glorious technicolour in Wojtowycz’s gleeful illustrations;

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he manages to make even that python look anything but scary. Superb use of the space on the page every time, and with its mix of colourful characters and jaunty rhymes I’m sure this will become as popular as its predecessors in primary classrooms everywhere. Individual readers will delight in spotting those other – tiny – creatures that seem to have managed to find their way into every scene.

Find and buy from your local bookshop:

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Love is in the Air

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Foxy in Love
Emma Dodd
Harper Collins Children’s Books pbk
Emily is making a Valentine’s card but is unsure about what to draw. Along comes Foxy to her aid. “What do you love best of all?” he asks her. With some timely flicks of his magic bushy tail, misinterpretations not withstanding, he goes on to help her create an almost perfect card. But, there still seems to be something missing; just what can that vital ingredient be?

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Time for further thinking. Foxy has something very important to explain to Emily: Valentine’s Day isn’t about WHAT one loves but WHOM. So who is the object of Emily’s affections? Foxy, of course! And moreover, the feeling is mutual.
Emma Dodd has created a pair of adorable characters in Emily and Foxy. This, the second story about the duo should mean that they make a whole lot of new friends among readers meeting them for the first time as well as pleasing those who have already made their acquaintance.
Perfect for sharing with loved ones around Valentine’s Day, or any other time for that matter.
Buy from Amazon

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Bear in Love
Daniel Pinkwater and Will Hillenbrand
Walker Books pbk
Bear is puzzled. One morning when he wakes up he discovers a tasty carrot has been left at the entrance to his cave.

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The following day there are two, the next day, three and then on the fourth day, a whole bunch. “Someone must like me,” thinks the bear to himself singing happily. He decides to reciprocate the kindness of his mystery friend and leaves an offering at the mouth of his cave in return, determining to see who comes. Having gorged himself however, the bear falls fast asleep and wakes to discover a new offering. This exchange of edible treats goes on for several nights until finally the bear discovers the identity of his secret friend. Although it’s something of a surprise for the bear, young children will probably have guessed the identity of mystery friend long before bear discovers it.
Pinkwater has penned a sweet, gentle story about a large bear, endearingly portrayed through Hillenbrand’s lovely mixed media illustrations rendered predominantly in soft shades of greens, browns, greys and blues. In fact both characters are totally huggable.
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Dinosaur Kisses
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
Newly hatched, Dinah dinosaur is full of the joys of just being alive in a world with so much to see and do. Eager to be part of everything she tries stomping and then chomping. But having seen kissing, that’s next on her agenda; the trouble is, finding a suitable subject for her kisses. That’s altogether more tricky as she soon learns … WHOMP! CHOMP! STOMP! Best intentions notwithstanding, several mishaps and some thinking time later, Dinah finally discovers her perfect kissing partner. Hmm, maybe.

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Wonderfully expressive crayon and watercolour pictures, smatterings of onomatopoeia, the surprise ending, and the anarchic dino siblings are just some of the ingredients of this hilarious romp.
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Paul Meets Bernadette
Rosy Lamb
Walker Books
Goldfish, Paul, spends all his time swimming round and round in his bowl, until one day, Bernadette drops in. She introduces him to the world outside and encourages him to look beyond the glass and think about what he sees. The yellow object on the plate (banana) “is a boat!” she tells him and the blue teapot “is an elephant.” … “But you must not disturb her when she is feeding her babies.

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This gently humorous (goldfish style romance) book demonstrates how life changes when that special one comes along to expand your vision, altering the way you see things
Rosy Lamb illustrates her goldfish romance with thick brushstrokes and daubs, dropping the goldfish bowl, bubble-like, to take centre stage on the spread, or seemingly floating among the other everyday items.
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The Driftwood Ball
Thomas Docherty
Templar Publishing pbk
George is a badger; Celia is an otter. They live with their respective families , Celia in the sea, George in the forest beside it. The two families have poor opinions of one another, all except George and Celia that is. Surprisingly though both badgers and otters have something in common; they love to dance albeit with distinctive styles. Not so George and Celia, theirs are a fusion of badger and otter steps. When the annual Driftwood ball draws close, all the animals set their sights on the trophy awarded to best dancer, practising their moves hard. Tired of the constant shimmying and jigging, Celia and George find themselves face to face on the seashore and it’s a case of love at first sight. At the ball next day with the dance in full swing, there are suddenly just two dancers moving, dancing paw in paw what’s more;

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and theirs is a transformative dance in more ways than one.
The joys of dancing are eloquently expressed in Thomas Docherty’s finely drawn ink and watercolour illustrations. These are infused with a gentle humour and the variety of expressions he manages to create on the animals’ faces is remarkable.
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The Perfect Hug
Joanna Walsh and Judi Abbot
Simon and Schuster (board book edition)
There are hugs for wrigglers and hugs for gigglers. Hugs that are tickly, and hugs that are prickly … ‘ In fact there are so many different hugs little panda hasn’t managed to find one that is just right for him so he sets out to look. Having searched over land and under sea,

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out in space even, back he comes to find the perfect hug waiting right where he started.
I’d like to think, indeed I’m trusting, that the perfection is not because the embrace is given by one of his own kind but because he is returning another’s hug. You could initiate a discussion about this with young children.
Circle time is a great time for sharing and passing round a hug and this rhyming book with its cute pastel pictures could be a suitable starting point for nursery settings.
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Hedgehugs
Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson
Maverick Arts Publishing pbk.
Best friends Hattie and Horace hedgehog have a thorny problem, or should we say, a hugging problem. No matter what they try they just cannot manage to give each other a hug.

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Then one sunny day they come upon a washing basket filled with odd-looking items including a soft thing with a tunnel- like entrance. With a bit of wriggling and jiggling, Horace manages to poke his arms through and after further nibbling out pops his face. Hattie is inspired and makes herself a similar shaped, prickle-covering garment. After that it’s a case of no holds barred and moreover, we now all know the reason for those odd socks that never seem to have a pair no matter how hard we search.
This is the first picture book collaboration from author/artist partnership Wilson and Tapper and a promising one it is. Patterns abound in the bright, fresh illustrations and the hedgehogs, with their problem solving ideas, are an endearing pair. I wonder whether the characters might be further developed into a mini series for the very youngest.
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Don’t forget International Book Giving Day:

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