Sofia Valdez, Future Prez

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Blue River Creek Citizens’ Park is underway.

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

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!

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

This is the first of a new chapter book series from the Beaty/Roberts partnership that gave us engineer Rosie Revere, scientist Ada Twist and Iggy Peck, architect.

Now these three have become a team calling themselves The Questioneers and they have plenty of calls on their time and brains. That’s thanks to Rose’s much-loved Aunt Rose and her spirited friends, the Raucous Riveters who built B-29 aeroplanes during World War 2. These women are unstoppable but one of their number, June, has broken both her wrists in a motor scooter accident. Unless somebody – ie Rosie – can find a way to help her, she won’t be able to participate in the forthcoming art competition.

Into action leaps our young engineer aided and abetted by Ada and Iggy, using all kinds of paraphernalia, and after a few false starts, the Paintapalooza is finally ready – just in time for the Art-a-Go-Go.

This affectionate, lively tale is full of things to make newly independent readers smile – not least being the raucous bunch of indomitable Riveters, as well as important lessons about the role of the imagination in problem solving and the importance of resilience in learning.

Clever design gives the book a STEAM feel and Roberts’ zany illustrations are terrific fun.

The Cook and the King

The Cook and the King
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books

In this tale the king, being of a hungry disposition is desperately seeking not a handsome rich prince to wed his daughter but, a cook.

Having eliminated almost all of those who apply – supposedly the finest in the land, but serving up runny eggs, tough meat and worse, he’s left with just one pretty desperate looking fellow going by the name of Wobbly Bob. Yes, he’s dressed in cook’s gear but his name is far from promising and he’s a self-confessed wimp. Masterchef material he most definitely is not. But could he be?

The guy lacks the courage to tackle any of the tasks needed to ensure his highness gets his favourite fish and chips meal.

No prizes for guessing who does more than the lion’s share of the work.

Finally though, the two sit down to dine together, but does the meal pass muster, or must the king keep on looking for a cook?

Splendidly funny: Julia Donaldson serves up yet another winner. With its inbuilt 3Rs – rhythm, rhyme and repetition, this is a splendid read aloud, join-in story.

There’s plenty of food for thought: why are those courtiers pinning up the ‘Wanted Royal Cook’ poster? And what has happened to make the king resort to unappetising pizza deliveries? Both of these questions spring to mind in the first few pages, both scenarios being shown in David Roberts’ fine equally winning, hilarious illustrations of same.

(The story is, so we discover on the credits page, based on one the author’s son made up for his daughter– the story telling prowess is seemingly, in the genes.)

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists

Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Ada Swift is back with a STEM activity book that’s packed with exciting projects related to both the physical and the biological sciences.

With Ada’s help, it takes readers through the entire scientific process and using the headings ‘Scientists are Curious’, ‘Scientists Think’, ‘Scientists Keep Thinking’, ‘Scientists are Observant’ and ‘Scientists use details to describe things’, ‘Scientists Learn from Others’, ‘Scientists look at things in new ways’, ‘Scientists are Patient’ and ‘Scientists are Persistent’ introduces the essential characteristics of a scientist.

All the time the text encourages children to add their own ideas, as in this tree observation page.

Or in the ‘Decomposers’ spread whereon readers are asked to write their own responses to ‘Why don’t colourful leaves pile up, year after year, until the trees are buried beneath them” Why do they turn brown?’
This is followed by practical activities and observations.

I could go on at length talking about the various activities, which are many and varied (over 40 in all) but will just mention a few: there are word searches, an energy game, tracking the phases of the moon, designing a vehicle that uses wind or solar energy or another form of renewable energy and watching seeds grow and recording related observations.

Very much hands-on, this is an ideal book to inspire youngsters from around 6 to become scientists like Ada Twist, indeed Ada’s very own story is told at the outset.

Thoroughly recommended even if you haven’t yet encountered Ada or her friends, Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

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The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes

The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes
Ying Chang Compestine and David Roberts
Abrams & Chronicle

Many people are familiar with the Hans Andersen classic fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and here it’s given a clever Chinese twist that sheds a different light on the whole matter of that vain emperor and his tricky tailors.
Set in Imperial China it tells how in fact this particular emperor, one Ming Da, is not vain at all; indeed he is a boy trickster who comes to the throne at the tender age of nine and there are no tricky tailors at all. Instead, as the young emperor discovers, it is his ministers who are the dishonest ones, stealing the country’s food, gold and other resources and leaving Ming Da with scant resources to feed his people and run his kingdom.

What can the boy emperor do to outsmart his perfidious ministers and thus avoid rebellion against him on their part? He ponders hard.
Then as Chinese New Year draws close, Ming Da decides to engage the help of his loyal tailors to dress him in rice sacks rather than the splendid finery expected for a new year celebration.
Honest people will see their true splendour, while the dishonest will see only burlap sacks,” a young tailor asserts as the emperor shows the ministers his new ‘magical’ outfit, setting in action his plan to recover some of the kingdom’s riches.

In an author’s note at the end of her story, Compestine explains how she has drawn on her personal experience as a child growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution and her efforts to outsmart the officials in order to obtain ‘forbidden literature’.
David Roberts (who has illustrated several other fairy tales as well as Ada Twist Scientist, Rosie Revere Engineer and Iggy Peck Architect) uses watercolour, pen, and ink for his wonderfully detailed, witty artwork.
An enchanting story to share over Chinese New Year or at any time, this will have a wide age appeal.

There is even a final page giving step by step instructions for making a Chinese New Year parade robe; a great starting point for a class celebratory parade.

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story
Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts
Walker Books

I think I’ve just found my favourite ever picture book take on a new sibling. This one had me spluttering at every turn of the page; both words and pictures are utterly priceless.
Let’s meet the Happy Family: there’s a mum, a dad and a little princess: ‘the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long flowing wondrous hair’ is how the young miss describes herself. (“That’s her tights,” one of my listeners was quick to point out.) Oh! and there’s a gerbil too.
All is peace and harmony in the kingdom aka The Land until one fateful day, a new ruler is born: His Royal Highness, King Baby. Let right royal disaster commence for, from that day forth for a whole year thereafter, the increasingly chubby babe rules The Land, not to mention the household. A certain young Princess’s nose is well and truly out of joint, but come infant’s first birthday, things get even worse.
Relations gather from far and wide to celebrate, fawning and fussing over the infant, and totally ignoring big sis. Seemingly the prince has cast a spell over The Whole Land.
Time for some drastic action: our innocent Princess knows just what to do – a disguise and a cunning plan are called for.

Before she’s barely even begun however, the sight of birthday cake and the sound of singing …

spark off horrendous screams, drooling dribbles and a tremendous tantrum from young King Billy.

Can anyone console the poor little chap?
Surprisingly, yes. But to find out exactly who and how, you’ll need to read the story for yourself …
Let’s just say that peace and harmony are finally restored and from a most unexpected quarter.
David Roberts must surely be king when it comes to pen and watercolour illustrations. Herein his distinctive illustrative style is retro 1970s (mum with frizzy permed hair and dad wearing bell-bottoms) ; but running in tandem with that are crayoned images showing the Princess’s version of events taken from Princess Marigold’s Drawing Book– a brilliant comic counterpoint if ever there was one. All this, alongside Sally Lloyd-Jones’ terrific fairytale pastiche and the result? A new dream team is launched.

Here’s one little princess totally loving the story.

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects

Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Have you ever thought about creating a house entirely out of rubber balls, or building a bridge using only 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti and 20 miniature marshmallows?

These are just two of the challenges to be found in this treasure trove of STEM activities. I’ve done the latter with many classes and it’s always enormous fun and a superb co-operative learning activity.

Altogether there are more than 40 projects and activities that help develop observation, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; and almost all are open-ended.

I especially liked ‘Thinking About Others’ wherein the reader is asked to walk through their home and list the improvements/modifications that would help a person in a wheelchair get in, around inside, cook, bath, relax, sleep and play.

It then asks for modifications for a blind person .
An excellent companion to Iggy Peck Architect; but even if you haven’t read the original story, this is well worth getting hold of; but I urge you to make the acquaintance not only of Iggy, but also of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist.

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Little Red

Little Red
David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion
The Roberts siblings have well and truly fractured the Little Red Riding Hood tale with their version that puts a male (aka Thomas) as the chief protagonist and yes he does sport a red coat and go visiting his Grandma. She isn’t poorly though: he pays her a visit with a basket of tasty treats and a week’s supply of her favourite tipple, ginger beer.. I should mention here that Little Red’s parents are the owners of an inn with ginger beer its speciality.
As he sets out on his weekly visit he receives the customary warning about staying on the path for fear of encountering the hungry wolf that lurks in the forest.
Completely oblivious to the lip-licking lupine lurking in the shadows, Little Red stops, removes his coat and sets about picking some rosy apples to add to Grandma’s basket of goodies, happening to utter his intentions out loud: two mistakes that give the wolf an advantage and off he bounds to Granny’s house.
Clad in the red coat, he gains entrance and in an instant gulps Granny down, bloomers, belle of the ball dress and all;

then, suitably attired waits for the arrival of his “dessert”.
The usual exchange follows about the size of eyes and ears, but when teeth are mentioned, it’s time for Little Red to do some quick thinking: and the wolf some quick drinking …

I say no more …
Setting this bubblesome tale in what looks like late 18th century America, but could equally be France at around the same time, gives David Roberts scope to include such period detail as heavily made-up faces, enormous wigs and beauty spots in his ink and watercolour illustrations.
Certainly not a first Little Red Riding Hood; rather it’s a deliciously quirky one to add to a collection or study of the favourite fairy tale.

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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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Sleeping Beauty

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Sleeping Beauty: A mid-century fairy tale
David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books
The super-talented brother and sister team, David Roberts (illustrator) and Lynn Roberts-Maloney have created another in their classy series of classic fairy tales, setting it in the 1950s initially, and then one thousand years in the future.
Now I’m hugely enthusiastic about re-workings/reinventions of fairy tales and traditional tales and had high expectations of this one – expectations that were more than met.
We first see Annabel in the 1950s as a science fiction loving young girl with a fascination about the future, living with her two aunts Flora and Rosalind, completely oblivious to the curse that had been placed upon her during her first birthday celebrations by a jealous and malicious witch, Morwenna.

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The curse – that she will be pricked by a needle and die before her sixteenth birthday – is kept at bay by her aunts with the death sentence commuted to a thousand year sleep.
We then return to the time leading up to the all-important birthday when a mysterious visitor leaves a present for Annabel on the doorstep: a present that results in a pricked finger as foretold by Morwenna,

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who indeed has delivered the gift, whereupon the young girl falls into a deep sleep.
Both Rosalind and Flora take transformative action; the former becoming an ever-growing rose bush …

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which forms a protective shield around the house; the latter (having written down her ward’s story and calling it Sleeping Beauty) becomes an ever-shining light that guards Annabel while she sleeps.
Fast forward one thousand years to another young girl, Zoe, with an interest in all things past and in particular the history of the giant rose tree. Researching in the library (hooray they still exist!) she comes upon a copy of Sleeping Beauty …

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and discovers its publication date – exactly 1000 years ago to the very day.
Can she finally break that dark spell and release the Sleeping Beauty?
Elegant design and superbly detailed illustrations grace every page of this wonderful book and the story itself is a brilliantly clever fusion of old and new.
A splendid gift to give on a birthday, at Christmas or indeed any time of the year: it’s a book to return to again and again.

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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Operation Bunny / Tally & Squill in a Sticky Situation

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Operation Bunny
Sally Gardner illustrated by David Roberts
Orion Children’s Books
Meet young Emily Vole, nine years old and, having been left abandoned in a hatbox believed to be ‘an explosive device’ at Stansted Airport, adopted by the Dashwoods, who subsequently had their own triplets. Emily is then relegated to the status of a servant and made to sleep on an ironing board in the laundry room. Fortunately for Emily however, kindly neighbour Miss String (a sort of fairy godmother figure) and her huge talking cat, Fidget, step in:

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(I was greatly amused to discover that Fidget liked nothing better than’ ironing while listening to cricket on the radio.’) and within a year, Emily has learned to read, write, do maths and speak both German and French, not to mention Old English. Not only that but her new friends introduce her to a whole new exciting life in a world of magic and danger, a world she’d never even dreamed about. But it’s Emily herself who inadvertently does something that results in her becoming the new Keeper of the Keys.
Subsequently Emily inherits a shop and, aided and abetted by Fidget and a pair of detectives, Buster – a grumpy individual, and James Cardwell – much more equable and sensible, turns detective herself and is determined to solve the mystery of Operation Bunny.
Sally Gardener’s writing style is delightfully quirky and contemporary: Mr Dashwood is a hedge fund manager and his wife has strawberry-blonde hair extensions and ‘trusted in her credit cards: silver, gold and platinum.’
This will make independent readers (not to mention adults) laugh out loud in places and David Roberts’ deliciously spiky illustrations are a real treat adding to the deliciousness of the whole experience. (That Harpella of his is enough to send shivers down your spine.)

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And, with Emily and her friends now running a detective agency, those who enjoy the slightly dark-edged humour in this can look forward to further cases of the magical kind.
The story would also make a great read aloud to share with those not yet confident to read it solo.

A servant girl is also the heroine of another new series, the first of which is:

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Tally & Squill In a Sticky Situation
Abie Longstaff illustrated by James Brown
Little Brown
This story features orphan and kitchen maid Tallulah (aka Tally) and her pet squirrel, Squill. Tally’s home is Mollett Manor, an old mansion; but she’s only to be found below stairs, so to speak in the scullery where she sleeps in a sink. However, Tally’s a very bright young thing and when she discovers first a plethora of spiders, some mysterious ancient carved cubes, an ancient tapestry and then a secret, magical library beneath the manor – a library wherein the books come to life, she’s in her element.
When Mollett Manor is burgled it offers a challenge to Tally who determines to catch the thieves; but can she do it? Well, she has Squill and those magic books …

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plus Lord Mollett’s endorsement, “You’re the most sensible person we have around here.” And what of those flashes of seeming recognition she keeps having: where do they fit in to all this?
Using plenty of short sentences, Abie Longstaff weaves a good tale; and this one’s likely to draw newly independent readers into its web and hold them spellbound throughout. There are touches of humour and James Brown’s illustrations plus the various lists, pages of rules,

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notes and other written items add to the fun of this magical book.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting

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A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting
Michelle Robinson and David Roberts
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
2016 looks set to be the Year of the Bear so far as picture books go anyway (I’m counting in the Gough/Field offering here). And now here we have an achingly rib-tickling treat from Robinson and Roberts who just want to make sure we’re all fully informed before going on a bear hunt, so to speak. I have to say here at the outset, that bear country itself looks pretty hostile and that’s even without a single bear sighting …

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Oh I tell a lie – our intrepid ursine explorer has something looking distinctly bear-shaped attached to his luggage.
Right then, on with the show: there’s the black bear (aka Ursus Americanus) and the brown bear (Ursus Horibilis), both of which can be highly dangerous and not at all averse to gobbling you up. Sometimes however, their coats might just show a touch of otherness. so it’s important to keep your wits about you at all times. Now, which kind could this little – oops! I mean large- beauty be?

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Did I hear you say, “back away” just then; well that advice doesn’t seem to have been altogether reliable in the circumstances …

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And nor does the pepper spray, so what about the bubble gum??

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Oh well, at least that bought a bit of time but now desperate measures are called for…

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Hmm seems this might just be going to work …

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Errr! Or should that be, Grrr!?
I’m totally bearsotted with this one and it certainly takes field notes to a whole different level.

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The Prince and the Porker

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The Prince and the Porker
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
Pignatius was passing the palace one day
when he saw ten fresh buns left to cool on a tray.’
So begins another tasty Bently/Roberts collaboration of the highest order.
As you can guess, the young Pignatius cannot resist sampling said buns and where one goes, the rest must surely – or where the young pig is concerned, -must definitely, follow. But even then he ‘s not replete so into the palace he goes, where he soon finds himself having to bolt from cook.
Up the stairs he charges and into a fine bedroom where he happens upon a “dressing-up chest.” and in no time has transformed himself into a dashing young thing. Which is just as well and pretty much saves his bacon so to speak, for in burst the palace staff wielding all manner of weapons, only to stop dead in their tracks and pay due respects when they discover the presence in the room…

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And what does the cheeky chap do then? He takes advantage of their misidentification and orders himself a slap-up tea.

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That demolished, it’s time to carry out his princely duties, which he does with mischievous gusto. But all good things must come to an end – or must they? It certainly looks that way when Pignatius finds himself face to face with the real prince and de-wigged into the bargain.

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So is it to be sausages, gammon and bacon in the royal household?

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Well, perhaps having an alter ego might just prove advantageous to a young prince …
Bently’s hilarious romp is an absolute gift to the reader aloud, and an out and out winner with young audiences. David Roberts’ visuals are finely detailed and at times, utterly priceless. Take for instance his rendering of the palace staff paying their respects to ‘His Highness’ or the blowing up of the pumpkin…

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A Flying Bath and a Busy Tractor

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The Flying Bath
Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
Macmillan Children’s Books
When everyone’s away, the toys will play. The particular toys in question are the bath toys at number 17 where one morning, we see the residents depart, watched by the red plastic duck on the windowsill. Then begins an international rescue operation organized by said duck and his pals, frog and turtle.

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First stop is the Australian outback to save a dehydrated kangaroo. But that’s not the only call on the services of the bath – good job they filled up before take off – so it’s,
Wings out, and off we fly.
The flying bath is in the sky!

Next stop – to help the worried bee whose flowers are decidedly droopy; a carefully aimed shower is just the thing there. Next they fly to help a very mucky pig clean up;

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then it’s off to extinguish a fire in Baboon’s tree

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and finally to rescue a frantic fish from a drought-threatened pond. As night falls the intrepid toys must return home for the children’s bathtime, with a special surprise -an extra member of the gang.

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Apart from the occasional word, the entire rhyming text is either in speech bubbles or the repeated chorus, which makes it great for audience participation.
And, as well as a punchy tale, there is a gentle science lesson on the importance of water to life embedded herein.
David Roberts’ illustrations are full of fun: those ‘telephones’ are particularly inspired.

Another rhyming narrative that imparts a gentle lesson is:

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Following the Tractor
Susan Steggall
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
We share a farmer’s year through the activities of a bright red tractor and there is plenty to keep it busy   through the seasons. There’s the winter ploughing, sowing the crop,

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muck spreading, rescue work

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and when summer comes, the harvest tasks such as pulling the grain trailer, the baler and

 

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then the straw trailer back to the farm.
The cleverly composed, brightly coloured collage scenes have much to interest: there are of course, the vehicles but look too at the dog walkers and the various other furred and feathered animals, large and small.

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High Fliers

DSCN2107 Nuts in Space
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Will they or will they not find their way home with their precious cargo? That is the nub of this hilarious story starring Commander Moose and his half dozen crew members. Having completed their mission to find The Lost Nuts of Legend and boarded their super stealth covert cruiser, they discover that the Star Nav of their craft, Forest Fleet’s Finest Starship no less, has malfunctioned. Oh woe! DSCN2108

Moreover, their food supplies are exhausted and their maps have been mysteriously consumed. Hmm! What can they do? Certainly not start on those nuts guys: they are reputed to bestow unimaginable boons: invincibility and bedtimes that are never passed, for instance. Stopping by at the Death Banana to ask for directions? Certainly not a good move, either guys.

DSCN2109 So do those fearless, very hungry, crew members ever find their way back home again? And what about those all-important Nuts of Lost Legend; what is their fate? If you want to know, and I’m pretty sure you do, then get hold of a copy of this action-packed saga. It’s absolutely chock-full of treats – both visual and verbal (not to mention nuts). Well, maybe not NUTS! DSCN2110It’s guaranteed to keep youngsters absorbed for hours, days, maybe even weeks!
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When Angus Met Alvin
Sue Pickford
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Alien Angus is different; there’s nothing he likes better than to rest quietly in his peaceful garden. One day however his peace is disturbed when a spaceship crashes, creating havoc in the centre of his lawn.

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Out jumps Alvin, another alien whose mission it is to demonstrate his ‘special space skills’.
Angus is unimpressed by Alvin’s fancy flying and there rapidly develops a competitive element to their trickery. Time for Angus to consult Professor Poppemoff’s tome for a suitable idea.

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To say that Alvin’s already inflated idea of his skills is further inflated by Angus’s challenge and that it consequently causes his downfall – indeed his total deflation – is no exaggeration.
The resulting pin-sized Alvin is far from amused and quickly makes an ‘I promise to behave myself’ deal with Angus. Thereupon he receives a deft dusting of special, size restorative

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and sets to work to prove himself, which he duly does. Peace is finally restored in Angus’s garden.
A delightfully daft tale of friendship and lateral thinking, laugh-makingly delivered through a combination of completely crazy ideas compiled into a comic text, and playful pictures.

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These are littered throughout with off-beat details and appropriately idiotic images.
I envisage this one sparking off all manner of alien artistry and other imaginative ideas from enthusiastic listeners of the earthling species. It certainly got a huge thumbs up from both large groups of five and six year olds that I shared it with.
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 Pairs of children could be Angus and Alvin and then using the wonderful endpapers as a starting point, can compile and then depict, their own sets of ‘Special Things’ on small coloured pieces of paper. These can then be pasted up on opposite sides of a large sheet of card or paper, one half for Alvin’s, the other for Angus’s.

What about having an alien tea party, Alvin and Angus style, with young earthlings compiling the menu and concocting the food and drink. Then sharing it of course!

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Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
I found myself struggling not to break into fits of laughter as I read this one out loud; indeed my ribs were aching trying to keep my giggles in. This absolutely uproarious saga tells and shows what happens when Lambert and Eunice and Marly and Mabs and Old Uncle Ramsbottom, Bart, Ben and Babs (phew!) accidentally take to the air in a biplane.

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Squashed into the cockpit they set forth on a round the world trip to see the sights. They drop in at, among other destinations, France for a can-can, Tibet where little Ben’s encounter with a Yeti is too close for comfort, DSCN2058

and India where a maharajah’s invitation to his Delhi palace for “Mutton curry” sends them scuttling hastily planewards. But then … east? west? Home’s best, the others firmly tell Ramsbottom , so, home they go. The returning plane is spotted by its silver-topped cane bearing owner who rushes eagerly to apprehend the thieves, only to find his empty flying machine at rest atop the hill, but no sign of any thieves, just a field full of white, woolly sheep.

DSCN2059 Wonderful!
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Find and buy from your local bookshop: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch

If you are interested in teenage fiction, nominations are called for the Queen of Teen award 2014. For further information got to: http://www.queenofteen.co.uk