Little Owl’s Bedtime / Put Your Botty on the Potty!

Here are two fun books for your toddler bookshelves:

Little Owl’s Bedtime
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

It’s lovely to see Little Owl starring in another episode. It’s ‘late o’clock’ and bedtime. Mummy Owl has shared with him a bedtime story and now it’s shut eye time. However, like many little ones, this young owl starts delaying tactics. First he requests another story and his mummy agrees on condition that it will be the last.

Story duly read and ‘sweet dreams’ wished, Little Owl is still finding reasons why he cannot go to sleep.

Patient Mummy Owl explains the reasons why dark is necessary,

even going to the trouble of providing a very tiny night lamp.

Nothing doing: the lumpy pillow persists and then cuddly, ‘Hedge’ has gone missing. Happily though she’s found pretty soon and now surely sleep will come. Not it seems quite yet though: how long before Mummy Owl’s patience is tested to its limit, one wonders.

Still the complaints come: too hot, hungry and now Little Owl needs a wee.

Then he’s excited about what tomorrow has in store. If he doesn’t drop off soon, it will be tomorrow anyway; but his Mummy ‘s promise looks as though it might finally do the trick …
Sweet dreams Little Owl, sweet dreams Hedge, sweet dreams Baby Owl and happy bath-time Mummy owl – you’ve certainly earned it.

What a gorgeous way to end the day if you have a little one; make sure you lay down the ground rules first though, just in case s/he tries the Little Owl tactics.

Debi’s warm text and Alison’s equally warm illustrations work in perfect harmony: who wouldn’t want to snuggle down after sharing this one?

Put Your Botty on the Potty!
Sam Lloyd
Pavilion Books

Courtesy of Little Moo, here’s a fun look at potty training, monster style.

When we meet Moo, she’s nappy clad and far from happy so to be, partly one suspects because there’s new baby sister in the Monster family wearing, guess what – a nappy. Time for Moo to grow up, shed the nappy and bare the botty.

Needless to say, Mummy instructs Moo to call a halt on the monster messes that ensue. It appears though that Mummy has a clever plan, for next morning a gift-wrapped surprise arrives at the door.

Moo’s bot is a perfect fit for a sit and that’s exactly what he does … for a protracted period until eventually … (success!)

There’s more to learn though as Mummy monster talks of botty wiping, then demonstrates hand washing and drying. The monsters then head into town for some ‘grown-up’ pants purchasing; and finally smartypants Moo is ready for a celebration.

With its bold, zany art, jaunty rhyming text and flaps to explore, little ones and their adults can enjoy some fun times with the former doing some important learning.

Little Owl’s First Day / This is the Way We Go to School

Little Owl’s First Day
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Leaving a parent to begin school or nursery for the very first time, particularly when a younger sibling is still at home, can be a bit bothersome for little ones and so it is for Little Owl.

We first met the delightful character when a new sibling arrived and now he’s facing his first day at school.

When he wakes up on the big day, he isn’t feeling full of excitement as his Mummy Owl anticipates; instead the little fellow doesn’t even want to get out of bed. “I want a small day. I want to stay at home with you and Baby Owl,” he tells her.

After a lot of cajoling, they’re all ready to sally forth but then Little Owl is reluctant to pick up his new owlbag. Eventually, with Little Owl calling the tune, he sets off pushing his baby in the pram while Mummy carries his bag.

At the school door Miss Oopik is ready with a welcoming greeting; and reassuring farewell’s over, Little Owl is gently encouraged to try his wing at painting.

His picture is Mummy and Baby Owl moonbound in a rocket, and they seem to occupy his every thought for a considerable part of the morning until snack time is announced. And then it looks as though Little Owl might just have found a friend as he and Tiny Owl share the contents of their owlbags with one another.

The rest of the session seems to pass in a flash before Miss Oopik calls them all together for a story.

Soon, who should be waiting outside but Mummy and Baby Owl; but Little Owl is much too sleepy to tell them all about how he spent his time.

Debi Gliori’s gently humorous tale is a real situation soother that will embrace a first timer like a warm comfort blanket, especially since it’s woven together with Alison Brown’s scenes of adorable strigine characters small and not so small.

This is the Way We Go to School
illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang
Nosy Crow

Ideal for little ones about to start, or already at nursery or playschool, is this board book version of a favourite song, complete with sliders. With these your child can help the little tigers in the early morning to get out of bed; eat their breakfast, brush their teeth

and walk to school, where they smilingly wave a farewell to their parents before rushing inside to join their friends.
In addition to the sliders that facilitate getting up, teeth brushing and waving, there’s a wheel to turn that brings into view a host of other animals all hurrying schoolwards.

Both the tigers’ home, and the journey to school spreads have plenty of interesting details for little humans to spot and discuss.

Inside the front cover, is a QR code to scan onto a phone or tablet and download that provides a sing along version of the song.

All the Way Home

All the Way Home
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Little One, if you promise you’ll go to sleep, I’ll tell you a story. It’s so secret even your mama hasn’t heard it …
The tale this daddy penguin tells this is one: a kind of autobiographical snippet in a way. The Daddy Penguin is supposed to be looking after the egg while Mama Penguin is far away looking for fish but he wanders away from the Dad Huddle and together with the egg, is whisked up and away to the Arctic.
The creatures there are pretty scary-looking …

and decidedly unhelpful when it comes to giving directions back to the penguins’ home. Thank goodness then for one ‘hairy, sheltering thing’ that’s kind enough to carry penguin and egg to the northernmost place in the world,
Now as young children know, a very special person (here called the Special Air Navigation Transport Authority)  lives there, one who is more than willing to share the delicious feast he’s been rustling up with his visitors, the number of which suddenly increases during their stopover.

This same person is also willing to add a Daddy Penguin and his newly hatched chick to the load of parcels he has to deliver; and drop them off just in time for Mama Penguin’s return.

Gently told, full of tenderness and with enchanting illustrations: the perfect recipe for wintry seasonal sharing.

Friends Return: Oskar and Mo / Alfie in the Woods / Elmer and the Tune

Oskar and Mo
Britta Teckentrup
Prestel
In his first book Oskar the raven loved a whole lot of things; now he’s back with more love. This time it’s directed at his best friend Mo and we discover what the two of them love to do together. After all, unless you’re a solitary individual most things are better if you have a friend to share them with.
They share a favourite place where they go to share secrets. A shared love of stories means that Mo loves Oscar to read to her – good on you Oskar;

they love playing together, whether it’s block building or hide and seek but like all friends they do have the occasional tiff. But it never lasts long because they’re there for each other whatever the weather, night or day, happy or sad, be they close by or far away.
Full of heart, this is a winningly simple portrayal of friendship and a great starting point for discussion with pre-schoolers.

Alfie in the Woods
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Little rabbit, Alfie returns for his third story and he’s out walking in the woods with his dad. It’s autumn and the young rabbit is collecting seasonal treasures.
He spies his friends and together they play hide-and-seek among the trees.
The mischievous little creature then starts using the available autumnal litter to transform himself into various other forest creatures: he becomes an owl gliding from tree to tree; a busy, buzzy bee, a hedgehog,

a dozy bear and even a tree.
All this imaginary play is pretty tiring though, so it’s a sleeping Alfie who is carried safely home by his dad after his crazy adventure.
Alfie has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and his latest story, with Debi Gliori’s captivating illustrations, is bound to be another winner.

Elmer and the Tune
David McKee
Andersen Press
How annoying it is when you get a tune stuck in your mind and the words just keep on going around and around no matter what you do. That’s almost what happens to Elmer when he’s out walking with his friend, Rose one day. First the tune gets stuck in her head and then Elmer too catches it and can’t stop humming the wretched thing.
So infectious is it that pretty soon all the jungle animals are humming that self same tune of Rose’s over and over. What are they to do?
Time to call upon Elmer. Can he come up with a solution to their problem?

Seemingly he can and it works for all his friends; but what about Elmer?
This is David McKee’s 24th Elmer story and his escapades continue to win him new fans as well as pleasing established ones; the latter, like elephants, never forget.

Night Shift

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Night Shift
Debi Gliori
Hot Key Books
This eloquent exploration of depression is so achingly beautiful and all the more poignant as it’s grown out of the author’s experience. Yes, there have been picture books dealing with this sensitive subject before but nothing quite so awesomely affecting as this one of Debi’s.

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Everything about it, the striking cover, the spare first person narrative monologue, the arrangement of words on the page, those grainy black and white illustrations of the girl narrator and the ever-present, sometimes all pervasive, overwhelming, oh so dark dragon used as a metaphor for the illness are just perfect.

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Embracing the whole gamut of emotions from despair –‘Words left me. There was no language for this feeling.’ to, -ultimately – hope: ‘And something shifted.

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It’s uniquely personal, but equally, speaks to all – whether or nor they’ve ever found themselves in thrall to this terrible illness.
Most of us know somebody, be they family member or friend, who has suffered from depression; indeed several of my teacher friends have had bouts. Moreover, depression among children is on the rise, partly, but not entirely due to increased curriculum pressures. Despite this, with the decline of funding, there are fewer and fewer human resources available to help. So, as well as being a book for individual readers, this is a must have for use in schools, either with individuals or shared and discussed with a class or group. It deserves the widest possible audience: all power to Debi for being so brave in creating it. Her words on the final page are so moving and revealing.

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Are You Sure, Mother Bear / Goodnight World

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Are You Sure, Mother Bear?
Amy Hest and Lauren Tobia,
Walker Books
It’s the very first night of winter; snow has fallen all around and it’s time for Little Miss bear and her mother to start their long winter sleep. The young bear however, is not ready for sleep just yet; she’d far rather watch the snowflakes falling. The two snuggle up together, munch on toast and stare through the window and gaze at the snowy world beyond.

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Little Miss begins thinking of everything she’ll miss once she succumbs to sleep: the stars, the moon and the hills just right for rolling down. They’ll all be right there come spring, Mother Bear reassures her little one; but then she gives in. Out the two go for one last moonlit roll …

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before finally, no matter what, it’s time for bed and sleep at last because that’s what bears do in winter, seemingly even semi-domesticated ones.

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Full of feel-good warmth and reassurance, this is a lovely book to share with sleepy littles, who will enjoy both the snuggly indoor scenes and the beautiful outside woody, snowy landscapes.

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Goodnight World
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
With a gentle, lilting narrative and soft, soothing scenes of a world already to slip into sleep, this is a beautiful just-before-bed story for young children. As we bid ‘Goodnight’ to sun, moon and stars, ships upon oceans, rockets, cars and planes, the birds, bees and fishes,

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the flowers and grasses, the animals in the zoo and in the park – pretty much everything in fact, a little child curls into a parent’s arms and shares a favourite book before finally falling fast asleep.

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Gorgeous, dream-like images drift gently across every spread providing plenty of visual delight before gently lulling the listener to the land of slumbers too. Equally though, it’s great for joining in so I’d suggest a second reading and a third to allow for that, maybe on consecutive nights.

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Little Owl’s Egg

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Little Owl’s Egg
Debi Gliori and Alison Brown
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby Owl’s response to Mummy Owl’s announcement that the egg she’s just laid will become a new baby owl is anything but positive. “I’m your baby owl. You don’t need a new one,” he insists.
As they take a walk together wise Mummy Owl plays a ‘suppose that’ game with Little Owl, suggesting the egg might hatch into a worm,

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a penguin, a crocodile even; or could it perhaps be made of chocolate.

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Little Owl ponders all these possibilities rejecting each: he, although definitely not his  mother – is more in favour of a dragon egg.

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In fact though, it seems he’s becoming rather fond of the egg; something special must be inside he decides, something like a baby “Princess Wormy Choco-Penguin Crocophant Dragowl.” – something that will need a very strange diet.
On the other hand it might after all be better, if what emerged from that egg of theirs should turn out to be a brand new Little Owl, because that would make the present one something even more special – a new Big Owl and that could never change, no matter what.
Tenderly told, this gently humorous story goes to the heart of what many young children fear when a new sibling is on the horizon: that their mother’s love will be transferred away from them to the new arrival. Mummy Owl and Little Owl as portrayed by Alison Brown are totally endearing characters and she captures the inherent humour of Debi Gliori’s narrative beautifully in every scene.
This is just the thing to have on hand when a new sibling is imminent but it’s too much fun to restrict just to such an occasion. I’d share it with a nursery group or class no matter what.

Friends Forever

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Side by Side
Rachel Bright and Debi Gliori
Orchard Books
Deep in the heart of Wintermouse Wood,
Down in the grass where the autumn trees stood,
Lived all kinds of creatures
So begins a search by one of the wood’s tiniest residents, huge-hearted Little Mouseling, who wants a special friend to stay by her side. All manner of animals offer friendship but, unlike Toad, the mouseling can’t swim, she’s too frightened to climb like Big Brown Squirrel and she certainly cannot fly like Batty Fangs. Seemingly there’s no perfect match for our little seeker: sad and quite alone she has run out of scurries and skips, and tears begin to fall.

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But then up from a little hole pops a head belonging to ‘A tinyful, weenimous, little black vole.’ Equally shy and quiet, he cannot ignore Mouseling’s tears; indeed he offers a wonderful antidote to sadness. Let’s dance and sing ourselves happy, he suggests and thus they start to discover all manner of things a twosome can do, a twosome that is destined to last a life time. ‘A friend by your side makes life twice as good.’

 

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I know not whether Rachel Bright and Debi Gliori are good friends but they’ve certainly demonstrated a superb author/artist partnership in this book.
Rachel Bright’s captivating rhyming text just trips off the tongue and is a pleasure to read aloud even without any visuals. Add to that Debi Gliori’s enchanting, warmly comic illustrations and the result is a gratifying book to share with individuals, groups and classes. I love the way Debi uses shadow

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and light to draw our focus of attention to characters

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and events in the story.

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Where Bear?
Sophy Penn
Puffin Books pbk
I missed this one earlier but am so pleased to get the chance to review Sophy Henn’s debut picture book now.
It features a bear and a boy who have been friends living together in boy’s house since the bear was a cub and the boy, well a lot smaller than he is now.

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Eventually Bear outgrows the house and the boy, determined to find his ursine friend a new abode, sets out with him on a mission to find the just right home.
But where bear?” asks the boy. However, finding a new place for his best pal to be “bearish and big” proves more than a little challenging: bear turns down every single possibility boy offers

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Then where bear? “ is the oft-repeated question until finally the boy suggests a location that is acceptable. Both are happy especially as they are able to keep in touch and remain the best of friends.

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A truly heartwarming tale that explores such important ideas as moving away from a best friend, learning to let go and seeing things from another’s point of view.
Sophy Henn’s characterisation is wonderful and her visual portrayal simply gorgeous. Indeed everything about this book is noteworthy – the choice of colours, the use of space on the page; simplicity is the key and it works brilliantly.

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Bath time and Bedtime

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Alfie in the Bath
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
The irrepressible Alfie is back: he’s in the tub this time and what better place to let that fertile imagination of his run riot. At first he’s washing his toys but before long, he’s become a tentacle-waving monster ‘Glub, glub, glub!’, a claw-snapping crab, a tumultuous gale HOO-WOO and then oh no! ‘bubble-bubble hiss’ he’s on the ocean floor.

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Is this the end for Alfie? But no – up he bobs again, a water-spouting whale ‘KERSPLOOOOOSHHH!’ and we can see who’s firmly in charge of the mop-up operations…

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Simply told with delicious join-in-with sounds , beautifully portrayed in soft focus – there’s a great fold-out spread,

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and a delight to share with the very young (though probably not just before a bath).

 

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Who Puts the Animals to Bed?
Mij Kelly and Holly Clifton-Brown
Hodder Children’s Books
Can you imagine blowing a crocodile a kiss goodnight? No? Then you obviously haven’t set eyes on the adorable one sporting bedroom slippers and jumper in this charming book

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that starts like this:
At the end of the day,
at the start of the night,
when the earth is half dark,
when the sky is half light,
who puts the
animals to bed?
We are then invited to consider among other things, who helps the cat down from the shed,

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finds the bear, soothes the sea-lion pup and sings a lullaby to the lion.

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All these and other possibilities are proffered, not only to us but also to the small child shown in the final spread surrounded by her entire toy menagerie.

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The combination of dreamy, soft-focus illustrations and lilting, rhyming text makes for a gently soporific bedtime read; however this one’s just too good to be kept only for the pre-slumber hour – it’s the perfect snuggle time book for all times of the day, for individuals or group sharing.

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A B C 1 2 3

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Robert Crowther’s Pop-Up Dinosaur Alphabet
Walker Books
I’ve tried on many occasions to compile a dinosaur alphabet book with young children but we’ve always got stuck with a few letters and ended up inventing. No so, Robert Crowther. He has created a lift-the flap/pull the tag book with a dinosaur for each and every letter, even x. This is represented by Xiantingia – a chicken-sized, bird-like dinosaur discovered in China in 2011. How tiny this looks in comparison with say, Janenschia (also new to me).

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This massive, tiny-brained dinosaur was as long as two buses and its enormously long neck enabled it to graze at the top of trees. Even this one though is small compared with the longest ever land animal, our old friend Diplodocus, the adult of which was as long as one and a half tennis courts. Information such as this (as well as in most instances, what it ate) is provided under the letter flap along with the helpful pronunciation of the creature’s name.
Children will delight in particular, to learn that the final dinosaur, Zuniceratops, was discovered by an eight-year-old boy.
On the back inside cover is a silhouette of each dinosaur so readers can compare their relative sizes and make a comparison with the central human figure.

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There are also some dinosaur-related terms and information on the three dinosaur eras showing whether each one lived in the Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous period.
Great paper engineering, exciting and fascinating facts and an ever-popular topic with children – it can’t fail to delight.

For slightly younger dino-addicts is:

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Ten Terrible Dinosaurs
Paul Stickland
Picture Corgi pbk
This is a welcome reissue of a counting down, rhyming dinosaur romp and a companion volume to Dinosaur Roar. The vividly coloured creatures get up to all manner of lively, child-like activities such as dancing, stuffing themselves, playing tricks and more, as one by one they exit or are eliminated from the line-up (Not too sure about one sent off for being ‘too spiky’ what’s wrong with being different?) until just one dozing dinosaur remains. But then …

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Great fun, with counting opportunities aplenty and perhaps even better, a chance to let rip with that grand finale.

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The Tobermory Cat 1 2 3
Debi Gliori
Birlinn pbk
That well known, endearing ginger cat, Tobermory Cat , resident of the Isle of Mull, returns in a second story, a narrative counting book this time. Our feline friend wakes up hungry and having been given his breakfast – 1 bowl of cat food and 2 saucers of milk, sets off in search of more to fill up his tummy. So what does he find? Plenty by all accounts. 3 crab claws on the pier, then it’s time for a nap.

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Lunch is next – actually 5 lunches and still that cat wants more. Off he goes once more and by the time night falls, that cat with a seemingly insatiable appetite has consumer has feasted on 7 salmon snacks, 8 birds (in his dreams this time), 9 midges – well almost

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and for dinner, 10 delicious fish courtesy of the local restaurant all of which makes him very thirsty. Time for a drink – puddle water is nearby but this is no ordinary puddle – a whole galaxy is reflected therein. Full at last, Tobermory settles down for the night.
Debi Gliori provides gorgeous illustrations of the items that go into Tobermory Cat’s tum and other things to count, which don’t, as well as some beautiful seascapes and a fold-out puddle reflecting Tobermory Cat and the night sky with its galaxy of stars. There is a gentle humour running through the story and I particularly like the way other mathematical ideas as well as simple counting are included.

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Bob & Flo, Penguin & Pumpkin, Alfie & other Little Stars

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Bob and Flo The Missing Bucket
Rebecca Ashdown
Oxford University Press
Sporting a new bow and carrying a bucket containing her packed lunch, Flo goes to nursery for the very first time. There she meets Bob. Flo is interested in painting: Bob is interested in Flo’s bucket.

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Indeed he finds all manner of uses for said bucket both practical and imaginative …

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Lunchtime comes and goes; Flo heads off to the slide where she discovers her bucket at the bottom and then, Bob. Now it’s time for Flo to make use of her bucket – for a while anyway.

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With so much of the mystery of Flo’s missing bucket being told through the charmingly simple illustrations, it’s very much a case of showing not telling. A perfect lesson of the power of pictures and indeed picture books, and their vital importance in the journey to true literacy.

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Penguin and Pumpkin
Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Unlikely as it might sound, young Penguin, curious about autumn, sets out with Bootsy on a trip to a distant farm to discover what the season has to offer, leaving behind a sad younger brother Pumpkin who is just too little. Having arrived at the farm, Penguin sees pumpkins everywhere and unsurprisingly they remind him of his little brother. So the adventurers decide to harvest their own autumn surprises to take back for Pumpkin. He meanwhile, has found his own autumnal adventure but it’s not the real thing – that’s still to come, thanks to Grandpa, Bootsy, Penguin and …

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With its spare text and plethora of endearing penguin characters with their distinctive accessories, this is an appealing seasonal tale for tots.

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Alfie in the Garden
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
We join little Alfie rabbit on his flights of fancy as he helps his mother bunny in the garden. He explores the jungly vegetation where he becomes a ‘bouncing, pouncing lion’, then an elephant,

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makes a rainstorm and a swishy swashy summer breeze before his leafy wings carry him back to his nest and into Mama-Bun’s arms for a cosy, snuggly nap.
A gentle tale for the very young, the majority of whom just like Alfie, enjoy imaginative play. The muted watercolour pictures with their soft black outlines are a delight. The larger than life landscapes immediately attract tinies who become engrossed in a cosy world of make-believe conjured up by Alfie’s (and their) everyday playthings.

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My Little Star
Mark Sperring and Nicola O’Byrne
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
A lovely bedtime treat, not so much a story more a gentle lullaby rhyme with gorgeous pictorial accompaniments of adult animals and their offspring. Every double spread is a portrayal of tenderness; it’s difficult to choose an outright favourite – each one provides an ‘aaah!’ moment – but I think it has to be either the nuzzling giraffes or the snuggling elephants.

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Just the thing for sharing with the very young: it draws you in and makes you feel safe, warm and loved.
When the day is done and sleep draws near,
When the moon’s aglow and stars appear.

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October Miscellany

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Aunt Amelia
Rebecca Cobb
Macmillan Children’s Books
Showing not telling is the name of the game in this charming and witty book. The two small children in the story are in a bad mood; Aunt Amelia is coming to look after them overnight. Mum and Dad leave her a list of instructions but fortunately for her charges, she interprets these instructions with a considerable degree of latitude.
It’s not surprising then that the youngsters are eager that their parents issue another invitation to come and stay very soon and moreover, they suggest she be left another of those ‘helpful’ lists of instructions.
What makes this story such a delight is what we are shown, rather than told what takes place while the parents are away. Rebecca Cobb’s watercolour, pencil and ink illustrations are executed with a child-like freshness and panache that is appealing to both adults and young children.
Buy from Amazon

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Pigeon Pie
Debbie Singleton and Kristina Litten
Oxford University Press
It’s market day so life down on Farmer Budd’s farm is especially hectic. There are the cows to milk, the eggs to collect, cherries to be picked so Mrs Budd can bake cherry pies, and the remaining cherries to be protected from marauding birds. Then there are all the animals to be fed, the scarecrow needs a replacement hat and the milk and eggs have to be loaded into the trailer. Busy, busy busy; but oh dear! Farmer Budd has forgotten to close the gate to the cornfield. He’s forgotten too, that there is a goat in the next field. Before long the scarecrow is reduced to a pair of crossed sticks – the ideal perching place for five peckish pigeons with their sights set firmly on the corn. It’s fortunate for him then that a tiny chick has a clever plan in mind, a plan that involves telling the other farm animals about a special dish that Mrs Budd is preparing to serve that day; and it definitely is not cherry pie.
There is plenty to make you smile in this gently humorous story. Children love the way the pigeons are duped and delight in joining in with the repeated refrain, ‘Pigeon pie! Oh my! ‘ That – and of course – the burping opportunities.
Kristina Litten’s richly patterned, comical pictures abound with amusing details, in particular the antics of the bit part animal characters, the rat trio and the snail that are never mentioned but greatly add to the fun. Then there are those wacky pigeons with their red-rimmed eyes and ballooning bellies; the sight of them shooting up into the air when they spy what they think is the dreaded dish being prepared is a hoot.

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I really like the way the end papers are part of the story portraying the changing time from early morning when Farmer Budd fixes the FREE RANGE EGGS for sale notice to his fence at the front, to early evening when the sign indicates ‘sold out’ as the sun sinks below the horizon.
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Spider Sandwiches
Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk.
Do NOT accept Max’s invitation to tea or any other meal for that matter, unless like that green hairy monster, you have a penchant for all things disgusting. The things he dines on are sure to make your stomach heave; things like toenail scrambled eggs, grasshopper legs smoothie, cold, crunchy, cockroach curry or horror of horrors, squiggly spider sandwiches. Odd then that he turns his nose up at a relatively ordinary vegetarian soup with small, green spherical objects floating in it.
This rhyming litany of loathsome fare is one that will have your young audiences UGGGHHING, EWWWWW and YUCKING almost continuously as you read. And, they will love to feast their eyes on Sue Hendra’s suitably garish illustrations, which depict a series of satiating scenes. The supermarket for example, has shelves packed with an alluringly awful array of produce.
If you plan to read this aloud around Hallowe’en (or any time for that matter) I’d suggest making sure you can get your tongue around all those nasties first.
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Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
Alison Murray
Nosy Crow
This is one of those pink, glittery covered books that are instantly attractive to many little girls. All too often though, such books fail to live up to their external sparkle. This one, and yes it does feature a little princess, proved to be an exception, and, that string bling does actually serve a purpose. What lifts Alison Murray’s book above most of its kind is her charming, retro illustrations with their fresh palette, gentle humour, and judicious use of pattern. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the balletic butler and the portrait of the princess on her prancing pony.

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Essentially the story, told in rhyme, revolves around Princess Penelope and the mischievous kitten that snatches one end of a ball of wool from the queen’s knitting basket and dashes off through the palace entangling almost everything in sight.
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Sugarlump and the Unicorn
Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Wishing and magic are the ingredients for former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s latest collaboration with What the Ladybird Heard artist Lydia Monks. The magic comes from a blue-eyed unicorn and the wishing is done by rocking horse, Sugarlump. He is happy rocking to and fro when the children are at home to ride him but when they go to school he has nothing to do. That’s when the wishing begins. He wants to be out in the big wide world. So, thanks to that unicorn and her flashing eyes he is able to try out all manner of horsey roles – a farm horse, a race horse and a circus horse; but then Sugarlump wants to go back home to the children. Time has passed though and the children have outgrown their once favourite toy. He makes another wish but fortunately, the unicorn is on hand again and she comes up with a much better one and Sugarlump finally finds somewhere in the world that is just perfect.
As one would expect from Julia Donaldson, the rhyming text reads aloud beautifully but this adult reader and some children among my audiences were rather brought up short by Sugarlump’s last request, “I wish I had never been born!” It proved a good talking point afterwards though.
Lydia Monks’ bold, bright, mixed media illustrations have a joie-de vie and sparkle even without the added glitter on every page.
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The Princess’ Blankets
Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde
Templar Publishing
The princess in this story can never get warm. The king promises that anyone able to stop his daughter feeling so cold, can have the reward of their choosing ‘even unto half his kingdom’. Intent on winning the princess as his prize, a cruel-eyed stranger covers her in turn with four blankets: the ocean’s blanket, the forest’s blanket, the mountain’s blanket and the earth’s blanket. All to no avail: despite his efforts, the beautiful princess remains as chilled as ever. Then a newcomer arrives, a musician with a flute and a good heart: just the heart to warm that of the princess as he fills her body with the beauty of his music, and his love.

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Lyrically told, this neo fairy tale has a pertinent message for our times: a message about mankind’s carelessness, greed and continuing destruction of our world. It is beautifully interpreted through Catherine Hyde’s powerfully atmospheric paintings, which orchestrate the story showing the changes brought about by the elemental blankets and finally, the power of love.
Not so much a picture book, more an illustrated story, with its longish text, this book is likely to have a wide appeal from primary age children to adults and one to return to over and over.
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Dragon Loves Penguin
Debi Gliori
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Baby penguin, Bib, lives in the land of ice and snow with his mummy and daddy. One bedtime as a delaying tactic he asks, ‘ “… can I have a story? The one about dragons.” ‘ So begins a tale of a dragon that wants an egg and an abandoned egg that needs a mummy. Perfect – or so it seems. Certainly the dragon loves her Little One and the Little One loves her. But, Little One’s appearance isn’t quite like that of the other recently hatched creatures; no flying, fire breathing or rock chewing. She doesn’t grow big and strong with a long neck and hard scaly covering. Rather she is slow, careful, small, fluffy and courageous – rather like a penguin. The others are showered with flashy gifts but Little One receives the best of all possible gifts; love and time.
Then one day all the big dragons have to leave their little ones and that’s when Little One is taunted by the small dragons and made to feel an outcast. So, feeling hurt, she takes himself off to be alone. However, things can happen for a reason… Little One suddenly feels her soft feathery body getting very, very hot; the volcano is alive. “FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!” he yells to the others and so they do, leaving Little One behind hotly pursued by the flames of the volcano. Fortunately for her though, she takes a tumble all the way to the bottom of the flaming mountain and what should she find waiting for her at the bottom? – an egg. And, thanks to her mummy, Little One knows just what to do…
Loving and being loved, being yourself and being different are all themes of this tender tale that moves between present and past, seamlessly uniting the two through the medium of story. For, Bib is the egg at the end of the bedtime story and Little One, his Mummy penguin.

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Debi Gliori’s charcoal and watercolour illustrations are glorious and beautifully convey the loving feelings that are a vital element of this book: the penguins and main dragon character are truly endearing.
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Herman’s Letters
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
When your very best friend in the entire world moves far away, what do you do? Promise to write to one another and remain best friends forever.
That’s just what best pals Herman, a large brown bear, and Henry, a reddish raccoon resolve to do. Henry keeps his side of the bargain, writing often as promised and giving details of his new friends and the exciting things he’s been doing. But, his letters don’t make his old pal happy; instead he’s overcome with jealousy and begins to doubt the friendship. Poor old Herman.

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Eventually hibernation time draws close and he still hasn’t written.. Another Henry letter arrives; one that is much more reassuring and this one spurs Herman into a flurry of activity. He finally writes a letter and dashes off to post it right away. Oh no! The post office has closed for the winter. There is only one thing left for Herman to do – deliver that all-important letter by hand. Off he goes into the snow. But can he make that long, long journey before sleep overtakes him? Can he make it at all in fact?
With its realistic looking lift the flap letters and endearing characters, this book is a delight. Despite the inherent sadness of parting and feelings of loss, there is a gentle humour running throughout the whole thing. The sequence depicting Herman’s journey to deliver his letter into his friend’s hands is wonderful.

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The message (along with Herman’s snoring) comes across loud and clear: true friendship knows no bounds.
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Teachers wanting to stimulate children’s writing, I urge you to get hold of a copy of this and share it with the class group. Then turn an area of your classroom or nursery into Herman’s home with a letterbox another space into Henry’s. Add writing materials to each and start the enterprise going by writing a Henry letter of your own for the children to find.

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