Under the Same Sky / Little Puggle’s Song

Under the Same Sky
Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Two young children living on opposite sides of the world yearn for friendship.
The boy resides in a city, the girl in a rural area yet it’s he who uses metaphors of the natural world to express his longing – “We are like the sky and sea … always apart. Never touching.’

As he stares out through the window one night, there’s a pigeon sitting on the ledge and that gives him an idea.

Creativity takes over as, with its help the lad finds a way to bridge that seemingly impossible distance and light up the world of the little girl.

The gentle, softly spoken words of the boy demonstrate how with imagination and determination true friendship can endure against the odds and across the miles. Not only does he touch the heart of the one he reaches out to but also that of the reader. The inherent tenderness of the text is reflected in Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolours, which provide a perfect complement to Robert Vescio’s narrative.

Little Puggle’s Song
Vikki Conley and Hélène Magisson
New Frontier Publishing

Puggle the echidna longs to sing but no matter how he tries there’s only silence. Deep down he knows that echidnas can’t sing, nor even make a sound;

but is there perhaps a way he can become a part of the bush choir that has been asked to sing a welcome song for the emu chicks that are soon to hatch.

As the days pass Puggle can merely look on as the other animals under the leadership of Brown Feather, practise their rendition.

Then on the night before the special performance he hears the news – Brown Feather is sick. Can he possibly save the day?

Lyrically told, Vikki Conley’s heartfelt story of determination and fulfilling your dreams reads aloud well and with Hélène Magisson’s beautifully painted scenes of the fauna and flora of the Australian bush, this picture book will introduce Australian wildlife to youngsters outside the antipodes.

Lula and the Sea Monster

Lula and the Sea Monster
Alex Latimer
Oxford University Press

A new highway is due to be constructed and as a result, despite their protestations, Lula and her family are soon to be forced out of their family home, an old house on the beach.
One morning just before their move out date, Lula takes a walk along the beach armed with sandwiches and her bucket and spade. Suddenly she comes upon a tiny creature that looks as though it’s about to become a seagull’s tasty breakfast snack.

Lula however sees off the seagull, scoops up the little creature in her bucket and decides – on account of its size – to name it Bean.

She takes him to a suitable sized rock pool and frees him there, feeding him a sandwich, which the creature soon demolishes.
Promising to return next day, she goes home and in the morning makes extra sandwiches for her new friend, Bean.

Overnight however, Bean has grown considerably and now won’t fit in the rock pool. Lula takes him to a larger one, feeds him generous amounts of sandwiches and they spend some time playing together.

The following day she returns with a veritable Bean feast.

Bean meanwhile has grown enormously and using the food as bait, she lures him to a very large pool where he gobbles up everything.

By now Lula’s attachment to Bean is considerable, so much so that she cannot bear to visit him next morning. Come lunchtime though, she’s feeling braver and off she goes again but there’s no sign of Bean in the rock pool.

All too soon it’s moving day and as the bulldozers arrive, Lula stages one final protest. Can she possibly prevent the demolition squad from getting to work?

Perhaps not single handed, or even with the help of her human friends; but what about Bean? …

I could see little Luna becoming a member of the young guardians of the environment movement that has been so much in the news recently with their protests and marches. Good on her and on them. In Alex’s magical, heart-warming story, as in life, it’s down to children to make a difference and his portrayal of little Lula as a determined, don’t mess with me character is terrific.

With its seaside setting, this is a great book to share and discuss with youngsters especially during the summer time, but its message is an important one no matter the season.

The Missing Bookshop

The Missing Bookshop
Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman
Stripes Publishing
This smashing story from debut author, bookseller Katie Clapham took me back to my days working in a children’s bookshop on Saturdays and during school holidays, a job I loved and which always made me want to own a bookshop just like the one Katie has written about. It never happened though: I’ve stayed in education, albeit with a house full of as many books as some bookshops.

Mrs Minty is the owner of the one here, a place young Milly loved to visit especially for the weekly story time sessions when she’d sit transfixed on one of the cushions on the rainbow carpet listening to Mrs Minty read from a book, often in response to Milly’s ‘one with … in’. Times when Milly has saved sufficient pocket money to buy a book of her own were especially exciting.

On one such day Milly notices that both Mrs Minty and her shop have lost some of their sparkle, particularly whens she compares Mrs M. with the picture hanging on the wall behind the counter.

As she sits with her mum in a café after their bookshop visit, Milly expresses her concern, asking, “What do you do if something is old and creaky?”
Mum’s response about careful treatment and the possibility of replacing it with something new upsets the girl who considers Mrs Minty irreplaceable despite her “You’d make a wonderful bookseller,” words to Milly.

The next week, having watched the bookseller at work, Milly’s fears grow: the woman is a veritable encyclopaedia when it comes to knowledge about books – nobody could do better and after the session as she and her mum sit together they talk further about the bookshop’s future. So worried is Milly that she then runs back to tell Mrs Minty about her bookshop’s irreplaceability.

After the weekend the shop is closed when MIlly and her mum pay a visit. It remains so for the rest of the week until a sign appears in the window ‘CLOSED DUE TO UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES’ followed the next week ay the even more concerning ‘CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’. What on earth can have happened?

Another week passes and a van appears outside the bookshop full of items from inside; then a woman gets in and drives away before Milly has a chance to question her. Doom and gloom descend upon Mllly and deepen when a FOR SALE sign appears soon after.

It’s time to launch operation Save Minty’s Bookshop decides Milly and she gets busy right away.

A few days later her mum returns from a supermarket visit with exciting news …

As a lover of local independent bookshops, especially those specialising in children’s books, my heart went out to Milly and Mrs Minty in this smashing story that flies the flag for such establishments. I loved Milly’s resilience and determination as well of course, as the fact that she’s a bibliophile at such a young age.

Kirsti Beautyman’s expressive illustrations portray so well, young Milly’s changing emotions as the story progresses towards its thoroughly satisfying finale.

Another cracking addition to Stripes’ series of full-colour fiction for newly independent readers; it’s bound to be devoured by book and bookshop lovers especially.

The Climbers

The Climbers
Ali Standish, illustrated by Alette Straathof
Stripes Publishing

This new title in Stripes full-colour fiction books for new solo readers stars young Alma who lives with her overbearing uncle in a town bordering a forest, a forest in and beyond which young Alma longs to explore. “The forest is full of fearsome beasts. That’s why only hunters are allowed there,” her uncle insists when he discovers she’s climbed a tree. And as for the mountains beyond, they are populated by settlers as bad as the beasts.

Nevertheless Alma feels drawn to the world beyond her narrow hometown and that night she ventures out into the darkness determined to see the forest for herself.

As she walks deeper among the trees, the bird song seems to be welcoming her and suddenly, hearing a cry, she comes upon a frightened – looking bear cub. Unable to leave it alone but unable to take it home, she carries him gently to a disused shed on the edge of town; then she creeps back indoors and falls fast asleep.

Every night thereafter, Alma and the cub – she calls it Star Bear – slip out and explore the forest together.

The cub as bear cubs do, grows bigger and one day rumours of a bear sighting are spreading in the town’s market square. Fears escalate: a giant sharp-toothed beast brought by the mountain settlers, they decide. Anna keeps her knowledge to herself, while the mayor decides a wall round the town is to be erected to keep outsiders from entering and a search for the ‘beast’ begun.

She takes Star Bear back into the forest, fearing that what the townsfolk are doing will shortly prevent them from meeting.

More and more trees are felled to build the stockade and lack of food in the dwindling forest results in empty-bellied townsfolk. Should Alma now reveal the truth? She does and soon finds herself on Star Bear’s back as they flee for safety into the deepest depths of the forest. Before them are the mountains. There’s only one way to go …

On the mountainside the two come upon a boy riding a tiger; the boy’s not scary or furry and introduces himself as Tully. The friendship that forms between them changes everything.

Without being a story spoiler I’ll say little more except that it’s a case of onwards and upwards, as the two children, and others they meet, (together with their animals) finally see the light: love and courage conquer and connect us all.

As in this powerful, moving story, so it is in our increasingly troubled times: it’s children who show the way when it comes to optimism, open minds and open hearts.

Beautifully told by Ali and dramatically illustrated by Alette Straathof, be it read alone or read aloud, this is a must read..

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug / Dinosaur Farm!

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug
Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck
Chronicle Books

Daft and sweet sums up this story of one very small T. Rex and his enormous challenge.

Tiny, as he tells us at the outset has tiny arms and a strong desire to cheer up his stegosaurus friend Pointy by giving him a hug.

Determined to overcome his design fault and bestow a comforting embrace upon his best pal, Tiny consults various members of his family. His father suggests the solution might be a mathematical one: ‘Rexes are thinkers, not huggers.’ he proffers.
Auntie Junip – a yoga buff – suggests balance (along with a healthy drink of cucumber juice), offers the best means of problem solving.

Thank goodness then for his mum, for now Tiny is both battered and lost until she discovers him and gives some words of reassurance about his being creative, kind, brave and big-hearted.

It’s siblings, Trixie and Rawie that have the most useful suggestion: ‘To do the impossible you must plan and practice.’

However well intentioned this advice – and Tiny is ready to embrace it – the practice doesn’t go so well for the little guy.

And his final hug is a huge error although he does make an important discovery while airborne.

All ends well, though to reveal what happens will spoil the compassionate finale.

Young listeners will doubtless be rooting for Tiny throughout Stutzman’s wryly humorous tale and enjoy Fleck’s minimally detailed stylised digital art; mine certainly did, requesting an immediate re-reading.

Who can fail to admire Tiny with his determination not to let his physical limitations get in the way of his big-hearted instincts?

Dinosaur Farm!
Penny Dale
Nosy Crow

You might be surprised to learn of a gang of dinosaurs running a farm unless you happen to be familiar with Penny Dale’s dinosaur brigade. In which case you’ll already know that these prehistoric beasts can take on all manner of unlikely roles so farming is no challenge too far despite Dinosaur Farm being an extremely busy place.

There are fields to plough – up and down, up and down as well as sheep that need feeding.

A group of noisy dinosaurs are building a fence, bang, bang banging in the wooden posts while a rather pongy Allosaurus is muck-spreading.

We see two of the team making the hay into bales and others digging up the muddy carrots.

When the sun comes out, it’s time to get out the combine harvester and cut the corn. Then there’s the apple harvest to pick – red, juicy fruits aplenty – yum, yum.

Finally all the produce needs cleaning and packing: it keeps the entire group of ten working late into the night but what is all this hard work for?

Where could they be going next morning with their trailer loaded? There’s certainly excitement in the air …

Told as usual in rhythmic language, the story is punctuated by contextually apt exclamations your little ones will love to join in with, while Penny Dale’s elaborately detailed pencil and watercolour scenes will absorb them visually. They’ll likely be amused at such humorous touches as the ‘Haymaking dinosaurs …’ scene that shows one of the two propped up against a bale, seemingly snoozing.

Molly’s Moon Mission

Molly’s Moon Mission
Duncan Beedie
Templar Publishing

I have to admit to spluttering with giggles all through this story. From the outset, the idea of Molly the moth attempting to fly to the moon struck me as totally ridiculous but that’s what makes this such a fun book.

Young Molly has an indomitable spirit and despite residing in the back of an old wardrobe, her determination knows no bounds. Her mother’s discouraging words about the slightness of her wings notwithstanding, the little moth trains hard until she’s ready for the countdown to blast off.

After a couple of setbacks due to wrong destinations,

the tiny creature lands up at a lighthouse where at least she receives some words of encouragement for her venture.
Fuelled by same, she relaunches herself skywards until finally …

Success!

Moreover, there’s a role for Molly as assistant to the astronauts before they all set off earthwards with the little bug proudly sporting her newly awarded lunar mission patch.

When she finally reaches home once more, she’s greeted by her mum who on learning of her little one’s adventure, responds, “My Molly, the only moth ever to fly to the Moon!” Thus far maybe, but Molly has plans …

From his The Bear Who Stared debut I’ve loved all Duncan’s picture books but with this one he reaches new heights.

Speed Birds

Speed Birds
Alan Snow
Oxford University Press

Rather than being awed by his mother’s talk of potentially deadly falcons, a crow chick is entranced when he sees the speed at which a falcon zooms through the air.

Come autumn, the little crows learn that it’s time for them to fend for themselves in the big, wide world. Excited and with his mother’s words “… if you stay curious, use your mind, and believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve” the little bird sets off one morning with the other young crows.
Convinced that there are wonders to be discovered, the little crow urges the others onwards till eventually they stop to spend the night in a lone tree.

It’s here next morning that one little crow makes a most thrilling discovery that is to change his life and that of his fellow crows.

Below the tree is a junkyard full of abandoned vehicles and car parts as well as a shed full of tools, more car parts, trophies and most important, plans and a notebook containing drawings, diagrams and lists.

So begins the project to become the fastest bird in the world.

This is a book that makes nonsense of the notion some primary teachers adhere to that once children achieve reading fluency, they should no longer read picture books. Alan Snow’s illustrations are truly awesome – a combination of fine art and technical drawing with clearly annotated detailed inventories of the car’s and engine’s components and how  the internal combustion engine works as well as the formula for calculating the speed and more.

Mechanically minded adults, as well as older primary children and above, will be enthralled by both the story and the intricate technical details of the art. I wonder if Lewis Hamilton would go even faster with a feather festooned Mercedes?

Mini Rabbit Not Lost

Mini Rabbit Not Lost
John Bond
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Mini Rabbit has a particular penchant for cake and seemingly nothing will stop him from getting the vital ingredients he needs to make one. A lack of berries sees him rushing off in search of same with but one thought in his mind ‘Must have cake, cake … cake … cake’.

Turning down offers of help on the way …

the little creature heads down to the beach and off out to sea. What is the fellow thinking? Well we know the answer to that, don’t we.

His search becomes a quest of epic proportions as he traverses dangerous stretches of water, climbs to enormous heights and dangles himself over precipitous ledges.

Far from home Mini Rabbit eventually comes to this conclusion –

That’s when a delicious smell suddenly sends his nostrils into overdrive. He even makes a small discovery that, when he finally makes his way back home, he presents to his Mother. She too has something to present to Mini Rabbit.

It doesn’t quite receive the reception she’d been anticipating though.

This thoroughly delicious story is, unbelievably, John Bond’s debut picture book. He cleverly shows but never tells how on several occasions Mini Rabbit fails to notice berry locations, something observant youngsters will delight in pointing out. They will delight too in the final punch-line, but I won’t spoil it by revealing what that is. Instead I suggest you get hold of a copy of this tasty book and relish the whole thing yourself (along with one or many small listeners of course).

Nipper and the Lunchbox / Gently Bentley!

Nipper and the Lunchbox
Lucy Dillamore
Child’s Play

Nipper truly loves his owner, Richard who has to leave him at home all alone when he sets off to work every morning.

One day in his haste, Richard forgets his lunchbox; Nipper spies it on the kitchen worktop and sets forth to take it to him.

Handle in mouth, the dedicated dog journeys through the countryside

and after a somewhat perilous journey with all kinds of mishaps en route including getting completely lost in a market, manages to reach the town; albeit with some timely assistance and locate Richard’s Toyshop.

Once there he has to track down its owner and then finds himself the centre of attention as crowds of people stop to look at the wonderful new window display.

It’s a thoroughly satisfying finale as Richard makes him a partner at his shop and thus there are no more lonely days for Nipper. …

Lucy’s slightly muted, soft-focus illustrations are full of things to spot, particularly in the bustling market square scene where Nipper gets himself lost: there’s the plethora of pants that the creature then manages to get himself entangled with.

Nipper he might be named, but this small canine creature is determined, brave and resourceful. Based on a real life rescue dog, his story is a delight.

Gently Bentley!
Caragh Buxton
Child’s Play

Like most five year olds, young Bentley rhino is bursting with energy, easily excitable and thus, apt to get into trouble. “Gently Bentley!’ comes the oft repeated cry from his mum or dad as the little guy creates havoc in the living room; manages to slop his breakfast in all the wrong places;

he even causes a crack to appear across the ceiling, so exuberantly does he dash down the stairs before school.
It’s much the same at school; he trips and scatters his belongings everywhere, whizzes madly around the playground alarming his classmates. Again it’s a case of “Gently Bentley” this time from his teacher and pals.
Then on the way home he manages to terrorise the ducks.

Once indoors however, he spies Baby fast asleep in the cot. Now we see a totally different side of big brother, Bentley.

Many families and all early years teachers will recognise Caragh Buxton’s Bentley; he’s thoroughly endearing and let’s say, super-spirited. Perhaps though, he could do with a little bit of regular yoga breathing or mindfulness.

Errol’s Garden

Errol’s Garden
Gillian Hibbs
Child’s Play

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

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

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

Everyone has something to contribute …

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

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

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

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

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

Thoroughly recommended for families and classrooms.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer
Il Sung Na
Chronicle Books

Pig, an admirer of birds has a dream; he too wants to fly.

He’s a determined creature and having watched them fly south he sets to work to discover the secrets of flight. With the help of his friends – assorted feathered ones, a horse, a rabbit and a pink pachyderm – he amasses information, develops plans, fails …

modifies, perseveres and finally, he is triumphant. Ambition achieved: he can fly like a bird.

Still not satisfied, the sky’s the limit, decides Pig as he sits staring up at a large round object amid the stars.
His achievements inspire others the world over

and yet … ‘in my beginning is my end’ to borrow some words from T.S.Eliot; and so it is with this story that ends as it began, “Once, there was a pig who admired birds.’

This is a beautiful tale made all the more so by the fact that the book was inspired by Il Sung Na’s own life journey towards becoming a creator of picture books. He clearly has a sense of humour as is shown in his somewhat whimsical ink and pencil, digitally composited illustrations. I love the scene of Pig sitting beneath the tree with an apple falling before his eyes a la Newton; and that of the friends also gathered under that same tree with an apple precariously balanced on a branch ready to drop.

Dream big, work hard, seek advice, never give up and eventually with determination and imagination, success will come. So it was for Pig, so it will be one hopes, for young children who share in his story. It’s simple yet profound.

Big Digger Little Digger

Big Digger Little Digger
Timothy Knapman and Daron Parton
Walker Books

Little Digger is the hardest working machine on the building site.
One day he has a mammoth task: an especially big hole needs digging: is Little Digger up to it? He’ll definitely do his upmost, he thinks.

Suddenly along comes a new machine on the block: “Big Digger dig down DEEP,” he says roaring into action. Little Digger is out of a job but he still wants to find something useful to do.
Off he goes around the site, but he can’t dump, mix cement or move heavy things: seemingly he’s only good for getting in the way. Down in the dumps is how he feels.

By this time Big Digger has dug himself into the deepest hole anyone had ever seen.

There’s a snag though, it’s so deep he’s now stuck inside.

Little Digger hears his cry for help. Now it’s down to him to try and rescue the huge machine.
He certainly won’t be able to manage the job single-handed; but perhaps with teamwork the exceedingly heavy Big Digger can be extricated.

Destined, I suspect, to become a huge hit with construction vehicle-loving children, this tale has echoes of Watty Piper’s 1930’s The Little Engine That Could.

With themes of optimism, determination, teamwork and friendship, refrains (printed in bold) to join in with and just the right amount to tension in the telling, Timothy Knapman’s story makes a splendid read aloud.

Listeners will love Daron Parton’s construction vehicles particularly Little Digger and Big Digger as they trundle their way around the building site setting. Make sure your audience sees the end papers too.

Share with a nursery group, then leave the book, along with small world play construction vehicles on a play mat or rug and observe what happens.

Cinderfella

Cinderfella
Malachy Doyle and Matt Hunt
Walker Books

I do love a fractured fairy tale and Malachy Doyle has smashed the Cinderella story well and truly with this funky, bang up-to-date rendition.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Cinderfella himself but he has two thoroughly undesirable, enormously lazy, extremely bossy older brothers named Gareth and Gus.

You can just imagine their reaction when an invitation arrives announcing junior karate champion Kayleigh’s birthday bash. Cinders is most definitely not on the guest list, they inform him.
However, once the two have scooted off to strut their stuff at the dance, Ruff comes upon the invitation and all is revealed …

With his brothers out of the way, there’s nothing to prevent Cinderfella from raiding their wardrobe and sure enough, therein he finds the perfect gear to disguise and make himself look the height of cool. Ruff too discovers something that’s just the ticket. Now all they need to do is make sure they get home before Gus and Gareth. Gear and carriage sorted and it’s off they go.

At the party, Kayleigh is singularly unimpressed at the preponderance of Groovy Chicken dancers but then she catches sight of somebody whose moves are altogether different: he and his canine pal are doing the Funky Monkey and she wants to join them …
They dance the night away – well almost

– but then Cinderfella’s watch reminds him that it’s time to scoot and off he and Ruff dash, Cinders dropping his sunglasses in his wake.

No prizes for guessing who picks up those shades and then the search is on.

Will the ace disco boppers be reunited and live as far-out friends ever after.

Matt Hunt is the perfect illustrative partner for Malachy Doyle here: his hip guys and gals are a wonderfully inclusive cast of characters and those party scenes are certain to make you want to get up and swing your hips to and fro, swing those hips and go, go, go as you too join in with that Funky Monkey. You might even be tempted to try a few karate kicks too.
Utterly irresistible.

How To Fly Like An Elephant

How To Fly Like An Elephant
Kyoko Nemoto
Puffin/VA

What a preposterous idea – flying like an elephant! Everyone knows that elephants are way too heavy for flying and furthermore they lack the vital appendages for so doing. End of story!
Not quite. Certainly not for the elephants featured in Kyoto Nemoto’s new book. This trio – a big one and two smaller ones – are playful pachyderms, inclined to imaginative ideas; ideas that admittedly require considerable thought and a plan but never say never.

All that’s required are some ‘useful things’ – a propeller for example – and when the elephants can’t locate one, then readers can step in and help by opening the doors of the attic cupboard.

I didn’t know that elephants are skilled tool users but seemingly it’s so and they’re also excellent at working as a team.

Of course, as we’re constantly reminded, ‘elephants can’t fly’.
As I said, they are determined animals and willing to make enormous physical efforts to get themselves airborne even if they subsequently need a bit of human help to reshape the wings of their craft. (We literally have to fold over the corners of the page to make their machine aerodynamic.)

Even that though isn’t quite enough for the perfect plane so it’s back to the drawing board and some work on modifications such as larger wheels and seats.

Will that hard-working threesome ever get themselves well and truly to the point of proving that ‘Elephants CAN fly!’
What do you think? After all they’re not ones to give up easily;

they are great at team work, have the vital playful, determined attributes, are super thinkers and planners so …

With its themes of creativity, teamwork and determination, this is an absolute cracker of a book to inspire young listeners (and adults). From the start we’re willing those elephants to succeed and reader involvement is guaranteed throughout, fuelled by the flaps and folding, as well as Kyoko Nemoto’s enchanting illustrations of the elephants at work and play. These she creates first by making sketches in pencil to which ink-rollered texture is added, and then these are digitally worked.

An exciting debut picture book from one who, like her characters clearly has creativity and persistence aplenty.

Try and Say Abracadabra! / How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim

Try and Say Abracadabra!
Maria Loretta Giraldo and Nicoletta Bertelle
Ragged Bears

It’s spring; all the little birds are learning how to fly and having a great time so doing. All that is except Little Owl who, despite support from teacher Mrs Pigeon, is left standing on his branch terrified.
Tortoise comes along and encourages him suggesting he use the super magical word ‘Abracadabra’

but when Owl tries, the word comes out wrong and he crashes to the ground.
Two attempts under Mouse’s direction fail to achieve more than a little flutter and then along comes Hedgehog with his suggestion that owl shout the magic word as loud as he can and …

Success!
Now the grateful little creature is ready to pass on the secret of his success to a baby frog that’s afraid to jump …

The power of Giraldo’s never give up message is artfully portrayed in Bertelle’s mixed media, digitally worked illustrations of the endearing characters.

How Billy Hippo Learned to Swim
Vivian French and Hannah Foley
Little Door Books

All hippos LOVE swimming!” So says Billy Hippo’s dad in response to his son’s declaration that he doesn’t like swimming. The water’s too cold and too wet; Billy is convinced of that.
Other members of his family try their hardest to encourage him to join them in the water but Billy stands firm on the river bank.

However Billy’s family aren’t the only ones aiming to get him swimming. Two frogs have, all the while, been watching the whole situation unfolding and scheming up their own plan. With the strategic placing of a well-chosen item or two, they cause Billy – as Hannah Foley shows in this splendid slapstick sequence –

to hurtle into the water and after a deal of glugging, not to mention swirling and wallowing, Billy announces, “I love swimming.”

Simply told in a direct manner that leaves Hannah Foley plenty of room to fill in the details in her fun-filled illustrations, this is a good bet for little ones who have a reluctance to take the plunge.
You can down load a free audiobook and songs from the publisher’s website.

She Persisted Around the World

She Persisted Around the World
Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger
Penguin Random House

There’s been a plethora of books about amazing women and their achievements this year – unsurprising since we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1918 suffrage act; now here’s another, this time written by Chelsea Clinton.
The author has selected just thirteen women from various parts of the world who have changed history. ‘It’s not easy being a girl – anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places,’ she says but goes on to tell girls, ‘Don’t listen to those voices.’

Persistence is the key and that’s what all the women herein did; ‘She persisted’ being the catch phrase that comes up in each of the short biographical descriptions of each of her subjects.

Clinton has arranged her book in birth order of those included, the first woman being Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a largely self-taught Mexican author and philosopher who lived in the latter half of the 17th century and the youngest being Malala Yousafzai. She too persisted in the cause of education, and for girls everywhere to have the right to go to school.

Education was not the only cause her subjects fought for however: there were significant contributions in the fields of astronomy (Caroline Herschel), women’s suffrage – new Zealander, Kate Sheppard;

chemistry – double Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie; Viola Desmond, who refused to leave the ‘only white Canadians’ part of the cinema she was visiting; medicine is represented by Mary Verghese, a young Indian doctor who when injured in a car accident that made her unable to walk, began to focus on rehabilitation.

Unfamiliar to me are Aisha Rateb who worked in the field of law in Egypt and Wangari Maathai an environmentalist, political activist and university professor in Nairobi.

Familiar contemporary women in addition to Malala are author, J.K.Rowling, Brazilian soccer star, ‘Sissi’, Liberian peace activitist Leymah Gbowee and Chinese ballet dancer Yuan Yuan Tan.

There is a formula that Clinton uses for each of her subjects each one being allocated a double spread with a paragraph outlining the dream and the challenges faced, followed by the woman’s persistence and achievements.

Beautiful watercolour and ink portraits by Alexander Boiger, every one executed in a carefully chosen colour palette, grace each double spread, and there is also an inspirational quote from each woman.

The book ends with the author empowering her young audience thus: ‘So, speak up, rise up, dream big. These women did that and more. They persisted and so should you.’
Brief, yes, but also diverse, inspiring, and a good starting point to find out more about some of those included.

The Tiptoeing Tiger

The Tiptoeing Tiger
Philippa Leathers
Walker Books

‘Sleek, silent and totally terrifying’; a creature to avoid when it prowls through the forest; that pretty much sums up a tiger.

Not so Little Tiger though. He’s completely ignored, scares no one with his roars and is laughed at by his big brother. “I don’t think you can scare a single animal in the forest.” declares big bro. but Little Tiger is determined to prove him wrong.

Employing a tiptoeing technique off he goes to sneak up on unsuspecting forest inhabitants, the first being Boar. “I could hear you coming a mile away” says the indolent Boar in response to Little Tiger’s “Roar!!!

He receives similar disappointing comments from Elephant and the monkeys in a tree.

It’s a sad Little Tiger that acknowledges his own shortcomings but remaining determined he heads to the pond. Surely that frog is an altogether better prospect?  Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe …

But the only creature that is in the least bit frightened is the Little Tiger looking right back at him from the water.

Job done! Back he goes to report on his success to that big brother of his.

The whole narrative is beautifully understated and perfectly paced; and the pen and watercolour scenes with that gentle touch of whimsy, the tiptoeing sequences in particular, are absolute delight.

Little Tiger is likely to win almost anyone’s affection from the outset but any waverers will surely be won over by his bold final admission.

After The Fall

After The Fall
Dan Santat
Andersen Press

Most young children and adults are familiar with the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty and now author/illustrator Dan Santat has created a story telling what happened after that great fall of Humpty’s.

No he didn’t remain a splatted mess unable to be repaired.
Instead, in this self-narrated tale, the famous egg relates how he undergoes a long process of healing and recovery that begins once those king’s men have done their best with glue and bandages.

Physical recovery is one thing, but Humpty is suffering from acute vertigo, so much so that he now sleeps on the floor beside his bunk bed and his favourite breakfast cereals stored on the top shelf of the supermarket are out of reach.

Worst of all though is that Humpty is an avid ornithologist and absolutely loved that erstwhile seat of his atop the wall from where he used to watch his feathered friends.

Eventually however he settles for a ground-level view and it’s while looking upwards one day that he spies in the sky something that gives him an idea.

After considerable trials and tribulations,

Humpty eventually fashions the perfect flier of a paper plane; not quite the same as being up in the sky with the birds but ‘close enough’ he tells us. But then the plane lands up on top of a wall. ‘Accidents happen. They always do.’ says our narrator.

Absolutely terrified but full of determination, slowly but surely Humpty climbs the wall.

As someone who is terrified of heights, I really felt for him as he faced his fear, finally making it to the very top of that ladder. Once there he says triumphantly ‘I was no longer afraid.

That though is not quite how the story ends for then comes a final twist. Now the narrator has undergone an inner change that enables him to release himself once and for all; after all’s said and done, an egg doesn’t remain trapped in a shell for ever more: a right of passage must occur for something even better awaits …
This is so much more than just a ‘what comes next’ episode of a Mother Goose favourite.
Santal presents themes of fearfulness, anxiety, determination and ultimately, transcendence and transformation through the combination of his spare first person narrative and his powerful scenes, made so affecting through the changing perspectives and use of shadow.

Baby Bird

Baby Bird
Andrew Gibbs and Zosienka
First Editions
First Editions is a new ‘sub-imprint’ of Lincoln Children’s Books that is entirely devoted to debuts and this book is one of its first.

‘Birds are born to fly’, thinks Baby Bird but this little bird was born with one misshapen wing that fails to develop fully and so when the other hatchlings are ready to leave the nest Baby watches them take flight but, try as s/he might, Baby’s efforts to follow them end in disaster.

Determined to learn to swoop and soar like the others, the little creature keeps practising, refusing to give up until suddenly a monstrous face appears from the shadows and there is, not a monster but another bird calling itself Cooter.

Cooter offers to assist Baby by becoming a buddy and the two spend the afternoon endeavouring to get Baby airborne, all to no avail and although Cooter tells Baby that he’s having fun, the fledgling most definitely is not.

The friendship is further tested when Cooter tells Baby something exceedingly distressing that precipitates a fall, a rescue and a revelation.

What follows changes the entire mood; it’s something called Coot Scooting and from then on, Baby’s outlook on life and flying is altogether different.

Baby Bird embodies the spirit of determination against all the odds in this tale of friendship, self-acceptance and inclusivity.
Both author (who sadly did not live to see the book’s publication) and illustrator’s portrayal of the fledgling is uplifting and inspiring.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Big Red Rock

The Big Red Rock
Jess Stockham
Child’s Play

The importance of play and collaboration are celebrated in a comical story about the large red rock of the title,
Bif, whose path is blocked by same, and assorted other monsters of various hues and talents.

‘Chomp, slurp’ goes Biff as he strolls merrily along consuming the contents of his breakfast bowl. So absorbed in his meal is he that he fails to see the large obstacle in his path until suddenly he can go no further. Shouting at the rock gets him nowhere so Bif tries a polite approach …

but to no avail.

Physical attempts at budging the object such as kicking and bashing it have no effect whatsoever and as Bif ponders his next move along comes Bop. He offers to enlist the help of the Big Red Rock Eater and off he goes to fetch her, wobbly tooth and all.

The lack of a firm bite means that mere nibbles are shifted. Bop though has other pals and each one has a go. Try as they might though, that Big Red Rock stays firm.

Time to play, announces Bif, giving up on rock-shifting attempts; and off they go to have fun until lo and behold, they find themselves on the other side of the rock. Bif has by now worked up an appetite once more.
I wonder where he left that breakfast bowl?

Jess Stockham’s assorted monsters are a willing, if inept crew and the sight of their ineffectual efforts is hilarious; I particularly chortled over that Green Rock Driller;

and the ‘Clanger-like’ Pink Rock Sucker. If you share this book with a class, they could have some fun inventing their own colourful Rock attacking monsters.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Witchfairy

Witchfairy
Brigitte Minne and Carll Cneut
Book Island

Another beauty from Island Books and it’s a picture book wherein the author upturns more than one story norm as you’ll come to know if you get your hands on this innovative tale.

Rosemary is a young fairy, a deliciously divergent one who’d much prefer a pair of roller skates to the ‘stupid magic wand’ birthday present given to her by her mum.

In fact, tired of her clean, neat, sweet, and exceedingly dull life as a fairy, she’d far rather be a witch, Rosemary decides.

Her mother of course, is completely horrified, the other fairies try to dissuade her, but the girl is having none of it: she’s a child who knows her own mind and so she packs her bags and leaves.

Life in the witches’ wood suits Rosemary perfectly; she constructs herself a treehouse and a boat,

and eats nuts and berries. She even gets to try out roller skating thanks to the kindness of one of the other witches.
Seemingly she can teach the other witches a few tricks too.
But exciting as this new life of hers might be, Rosemary eventually realises that she’s made her mother sad by sticking with her decision to leave home.

Could there perhaps be a way she can bridge both worlds; perhaps being a ‘witchfairy’ is the solution …

Delectably dark and with an underlying message about holding fast to what you want to be or do – says someone who has done just that, it warms your heart.  Let determination carry you through, however tough the odds.
Here’s a superb, exquisitely illustrated picture book, which demonstrates just that.

I’ve signed the charter  

La La La

La La La
Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

A small girl stands alone and opens her mouth; “La” she sings followed by a few more “La, La La … La”. No response. She stomps across the page and outside.
There she begins chasing and singing to the falling maple leaves, but even her shouts are answered merely with silence.

She continues addressing her ‘Las’ to the pond and the reeds; still nothing comes back.
Dejectedly she returns home, sits and ponders. Later on she sallies forth into the purple, starry night. Once again she begins her singing, directing her vocals towards the moon.

Nothing.
Back she goes and returns with a ladder. So desperate is she for a mere response that she climbs right up to the top … Will the moon finally hear her song?
It does, but not for a longish time and then begins a wonderful moonlit duet.

Virtually wordless, this eloquent symphony of sound, light and colour offers an inspiring message of determination and hope. The whole thing unfolds like a silent movie with the little girl’s body language saying so much about her emotions.

This book is twice the length of a normal 32 page picture book, so in addition to recognising the virtuoso performance of Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim, it was a brave publisher who allowed them room for their duet to be heard in full.

Izzy Gizmo

Izzy Gizmo
Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie
Simon & Schuster

Izzy Gizmo is full of go and seldom without her large bag of tools, after all one never knows when there might be an opportunity for mending, tweaking or inventing. She makes some pretty marvellous machines but the trouble is there do seem to be a fair few glitches along the way and often at the most inopportune moments.
It’s then that Izzy’s temper gets the better of her and she wants to give up.
Grandpa however, has other ideas: “Now, trust me, young lady. Sometimes you need to try again and again if you want to succeed,” he tells her.
After one such paddy, Izzy storms outside and all of a sudden a crow crash lands right in her path breaking his wings beyond repair.

Now the feisty young miss has a new challenge. First she tries to rehabilitate the crow but all the creature wants is to be able to soar with his feathered friends again. Despondent, she’s near to giving up but again Grandpa steps in with some timely moral support and that bag of gadgety things of Izzy’s.
Then it’s operation ‘new wings’ as books are consulted, components collected …

and assembled ready for the launch; but it’s a case of the best laid plans …
Can Izzy, not to mention her injured friend finally rise to the occasion or is the creature destined to stay forever grounded ?
Let’s put it like this: ‘where there’s a will, there has to be a way’

no matter the consequences …
I doubt many will fail to fall for Izzy and her mechanical mind.
Pip Jones’ rhyming narrative is a cracker to read aloud and Sara Ogilvie’s imagination must be almost as fertile as young Izzy’s. Her intricately detailed scenes of mechanical mayhem are simply magnificent.
A real riot.

I’ve signed the charter  

Poppy and the Blooms

Poppy and the Blooms
Fiona Woodcock
Simon & Schuster

Meet Poppy, Dandy, Bluebell and Buttercup the four enchanting, skateboarding characters that star in Fiona Woodcock’s captivating new picture book. They roam free spreading joy and sunshine wherever they go. Now who wouldn’t welcome a visit from the Blooms?
One day, at Poppy’s behest they zoom off to the city where they discover that its one remaining park is to be closed.
Immediately galvanised into action to save the park off they go, dashing hither and thither, up and down at a frantic pace, leaving trails of colour behind them.

After a somewhat perilous journey they finally sight the park but it’s far below them.
Then it’s a case of grab any opportunity to reach where you need to be.
Down they sail ready to run with abandon, scattering colour and spreading their own special brand of sunshine.

By the time they return home, that sparky quartet has left behind them a park, nay an entire city, absolutely bursting with bright new, happiness-bringing blooms. An absolute transformation.

What a gloriously uplifting finale!
And there’s a gentle reminder from the book’s creator how ‘even something very small, can make a BIG difference.’
Blooming wonderful!

I’ve signed the charter  

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree / Ollie’s Treasure

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Maura Finn and Aura Parker
New Frontier Publishing
Get ready for a spot of taste bud tingling when you read this enchanting tale.
It’s told by a young boy narrator who ponders the mouth-watering possibilities of planting and nurturing a single jelly bean till it grows into a fine fruit-bearing tree. Not possible say some, but this lad knows better.

Such care does he lavish on his tiny bean that not only does he have a ‘slurping, dribbly goo’ inducing crop of plump juicy beans, but the tree is sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a tree house built in its branches; one with a twisty twirling slide for rapid descent.

All kinds of creatures, both feathered and furry, will naturally be attracted to the fruits of his labours, but the lad can deal with those and then crown himself jelly Bean King: a sovereign who can dance naked in the rain,

shampoo himself with bean juice and even find time to invite family members to come and visit.
Having the imagination to entertain possibilities, a strong determination to succeed and a caring nature are the requirements for making the bean dream come true: so it is with one small child.
Those are some of the dispositions we need to foster in all children. This mouth-watering debut picture book from Finn and Parker can help spark that imagination. Rhyming text and whimsical, patterned illustrations together weave a lovely read aloud.

Ollie’s Treasure
Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan
EKBooks
Young Ollie loves treasure hunts, something his grandma is well aware of, so she sends him a map. Thrilled to bits, Ollie embarks on discovering what the treasure might be. He follows each of the instructions ‘… Skip to the tree with the biggest green leaves … wriggle your toes and feel the grass under your feet … ‘ and so on.

When he reaches the end of the trail he’s more than a little disappointed to discover not the truck or the game he’d eagerly anticipated but a piece of card.

He tosses the card away but as it falls he sees the side he’d not bothered to read. It reminds him of his senses and ends by asking ‘How did you feel?’
Only then does Ollie stop to reflect on the sensory delights of the rose’s fragrance, the tickliness of the grass and more; and in so doing, realises that within himself is the capacity for happiness.
Wise gran: she’s enabled her grandson to begin to appreciate that there’s more to life than material rewards.
Essentially this is mindfulness for young children, the book’s author Lynn Jenkins, being a clinical psychologist. Illustrator Kirrili Lonergan characterises Ollie – a young mouse – as full of energy and thoroughly enjoying his engagement with the natural world. Yes, with its focus on attention, attitude and gratitude, it is a touch didactic but as part of a programme for young children’s mental health and well-being, it offers a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

Caterpillar Dreams

Caterpillar Dreams
Clive McFarland
Harper Collins Children’s Books
What a wonderfully positive message concludes Clive McFarland’s superbly uplifting tale of having the courage to believe in yourself and follow your dreams. That is just what Henri the Caterpillar does as he first dreams some big dreams, and then determines to follow his dream to see the world beyond his garden home. His minibeast friends do their best to discourage him: “Seriously, Henri, an adventure? Sounds exhausting.” is Slug’s comment but happily, Toad is on hand to offer encouragement: “Here’s the thing with dreams, Henri. If you don’t chase them, they always get away.” Wise words indeed. Thus it is that our stripy creature, aided and abetted by Bird, Mole and Fish starts out on his ‘amazing, incredible, impossible-seeming adventures.‘ Having crossed a wall, a road and a lake,

Henri discovers a giant hot-air balloon; but before he can climb to the top, he starts to become encased in a cocoon. Surely his dreams aren’t about to be thwarted before lift off? Young audiences familiar with Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, will know the seeming setback is only temporary. Far from being robbed of his dream, his metamorphosis allows Henri to take flight and travel anywhere he wants; and what he wants is to go to “The most amazing, incredible, impossibly possible place of all.” …

Inspiring, – don’t you love Henri’s politely determined help-seeking persistence as he appeals to Bird, Mole and Fish? What dauntlessness: what a journey; this scene reveals the scale of same, and allows audiences to enjoy the sight of those facilitators again.

Clive’s crisp, mixed media, digitally assembled collage pictures, with those wonderful characters and delectable details, make the whole thing a complete charmer of a book that quietly packs a powerful punch.

I’ve signed the charter 

Henry and the Yeti

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Henry and the Yeti
Russell Ayto
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine loving a yeti. A yeti? We don’t actually think they exist, do we? That’s not the case for the young Henry however: he’s an adoring fan of the creatures and is determined to undertake an expedition to find one. First though he needs permission from his headteacher, who, surprisingly, authorises his absence, asking only for some evidence on his return –should he find one, that is.
Thus, with bags duly packed with vital equipment, Henry sets off with his father’s “no staying up late” instruction ringing in his ears.
It’s a long way to his Himalayan destination, although finding the way over seas and rivers, through forests and up mountains is, let’s say exciting.
Finding yeti traces though, is challenging, and Henry begins to lose heart when what should appear but …

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It turns out that when it comes to size and friendliness, the yeti more than meets Henry’s expectations. Soon though, with evidence photos duly taken, and a quick game of hide and seek over,

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it’s time for Henry, trusty compass at the ready, to head home.
Now to produce that evidence; but where on earth is Henry’s camera?

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No camera, no evidence,” his father tells him: ditto his headteacher. Will the lad have to write the ten million lines for making things up that the latter orders; after all he really did see a yeti didn’t he? We know, his father knows but …
And, who gets the last laugh?
Henry’s self-belief is utterly awesome and entirely commendable; so too is this laugh out-loud creation from Russell Ayto. I’ve loved all his books, but this one surely tops the lot.

Hooray for Independent Thinkers: Little Monkey & Larry Lemming

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Little Monkey
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
Size, or rather lack of it, is a big issue for one particular little Monkey, so much so that one day, she comes to a decision – a BIG decision. She won’t be left out any longer; “I will climb to the top of the tallest tree,” she announces and off she goes through the jungle to prove herself.

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What she’s blissfully unaware of as she navigates the deep dangerous river and the tricky path is that although she notices lots of little things doing lots of amazing things …

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she’s not the only one undertaking this journey …
Eventually Monkey reaches her destination: that tallest tree in the jungle and up she goes, higher and higher, until finally she can see the world stretching out below her. By now you’ll have your audience wriggling on their bums crying out to the gallant little creature and even more so, as she stands atop that palm viewing all that’s before her.

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Without being a total story-spoiler I won’t reveal what happens thereafter, but suffice it to say a certain small Monkey feels very proud of herself, after all, ‘ … the smaller you are, the larger your adventures can be.’
It’s definitely a case of showing, not telling being the essence of this deliciously funny tale. Altés comic choreography means that every turn of the page brings something new to giggle over; and the synergy between words and illustrations is terrific.

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Leaping Lemmings!
John Briggs and Nicola Slater
Sterling Children’s Books
Can you tell these lemmings apart?’ Readers are drawn in from the start by Briggs’ opening question to this story. He continues, ‘No? That’s because all lemmings look alike, sound alike, and act alike.’ Not one hundred per cent accurate: meet the wonderfully divergent Larry. Larry is a thinker: he knows he doesn’t fit in with the lemmings crowd …

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and he certainly has no intention of following his fellow lemmings off the edge of a cliff.
Can he avert disaster though, when after abortive attempts to live with the seals, the puffins and the polar bears, he returns home to find the lemmings about to make that fateful leap? Fortunately yes, and as for becoming independent thinkers … job done!

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Wonderfully whimsical and with important themes of thinking for yourself and daring to be different, this book deserves to be shared widely; it certainly offers teachers a great opportunity for discussion, as well as food for thought, not only among the children.
Nicola Slater’s deliciously witty, minimalist artwork is a terrific complement to Briggs’ gently humorous text. As a divergent thinker myself, I whole-heartedly applaud the independently-minded Larry, and of course, his creators.

The Wish Tree

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The Wish Tree
Kyo Maclear and Chris Turnham
Chronicle Books
When I taught reception age children we’d sometimes have a wish tree as part of the classroom environment, perhaps for the International Day of Peace or as part of an RE theme. Of course it wasn’t a whole tree, just a branch that had broken off and been collected for the occasion. Now here’s a storybook character wanting to find a wish tree in the great outdoors. His brother and sister dismiss the idea but with his trusty ‘Boggan’ for company, Charles sets out into the snowy world on his quest to find one.

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Up hill and down they search, venturing into the woods where they stop to help various animals and make some new friends;

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but try as they might, they cannot find a wish tree. Evening is nigh and the searchers are weary; they can go no further. But then something truly wonderful and magical happens as Charles and Boggan’s kindnesses are rewarded.

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His newfound friends help him on his way and when he wakes up, he sees before him a snow-laden pine tree. Charles writes a wish, ties it to the tree and then he, Boggan and the animals partake of a seasonal feast together.

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As the moon glows in a star-filled sky, Charles and Boggan finally make their way home to bed and perhaps to dream.
The snowy scenes have a subtle pinkish glow that radiates the wonderful warmth of the story despite the chilly outdoor setting. Openheartedness and friendship win through in this subtle tale of determination and tenacity.
With its in-built repetition that offers listeners opportunities to join in with those ‘La-di-da-di-da-daaaa’s of Charles and Boggan’s ‘Whishhhhh’ songs, this is a lovely book to share as temperatures drop and the nights draw in. I love the magical elements and the way gaps are left for readers and listeners to fill for themselves.

Toto’s Apple

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

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

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

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

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

Handstand

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Handstand
Lisa Stickley
Pavilion Books
If you’ve spent any time in a primary school during the summer term you’ll know that one of the crazes that unfailingly comes around every year is handstands. During playtimes, seemingly half a school population is endeavouring to perfect the art of handstanding. Now we have a storybook character doing just that; she’s the narrator of this quirky picture book and her name is Edith. It’s at home or in the park, not school where she’s honing her inversion skills though; watched – or more accurately, interrupted – by various creatures – a worm, a bee, a bird in flight, a spider …

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none of which is happy about what she’s doing. Her “giant” hand was too close to the worm’s favourite ‘popping-up’ spot; her ear tricked the bee into thinking it was a flower; the bird, well he’s actually happier than the others as Edith provided useful ‘target practice’ for his flying poops. And the spider is shocked having ended up in her shorts when doing his ‘daily descent’.
Over the course of a week she goes from 1 second to 6 of ‘upsidedown-ness’ – the six being with a bit of support from Dad, who naturally has better things to do most of the time. By Sunday, Edith appears to have got this whole handstanding thing pretty much licked – in more ways than one …

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I love the humour inherent in this tale of persistence and determination: Edith is a real cool cookie. I love too her various patterned outfits and the way, Lisa Stickley has incorporated pattern into other elements of her funky artwork; and there’s a bit of counting too. A debut picture book delivered with panache.

Wings! / Bertie Wings It

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Wings
Paul Stewart and Jane Porter
Otter-Barry Books
Paul Stewart, co-creator of the wonderful Edge Chronicles series turns his hand to picture book writing and has teamed up with Jane Porter; the result is a picture book that celebrates friendship, determination and discovering your own talent.
It’s the Great Gathering of Birds and everyone is there having fun, until that is one of their number shouts, “Last one to the top of the tree’s a rotten egg!” With that the whole gathering takes to the air, all except Penguin. The poor fellow is left all alone and it’s not the first time. Time to teach himself to fly, thinks Penguin but try as he might his feet remain well and truly grounded, despite the help of some of his friends.

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Emu, Kiwi and Ostrich can’t see what all the fuss is about; they much prefer to walk but Penguin remains determined. Owl steps in and offers a spot of coaching but all penguin perfects is running, jumping and flapping. Seemingly nothing can get our penguin pal airborne – or can it? Wait a moment … what’s that string for?

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Oops. Is this the end of Penguin’s flight then?.

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Not quite: there IS one place where those wings of his can be put to good use …

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Jane Porter’s richly coloured mixed media collage pictures are full of humour and pathos: her love of birds shines through in every one.

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Bertie Wings It!
Leslie Corin and Brendan Kearney
Sterling
Bertie knows it’s time to fly the nest. He’s all prepared and the sun is shining: “Today is the day that I fly!” he announces stepping, wings a-tingle, to the edge of his nest. That’s when things start to go wrong.

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Seemingly every other bird around has opinions as to how it should be done. Bertie listens attentively to their input and some time later, he’s ready for the off; he now looks like this …

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and there he goes … Uh-oh!

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That’s not quite the end though: Bertie picks himself up and suddenly he feels freer. Now he KNOWS for sure exactly what to do and this time, he’s going to stay true to himself and follow his own instincts.
A fun look at what happens when you stop trusting yourself and start listening to everyone else’s opinions instead; and a good starting point for discussion.

Ossiri and the Bala Mengro

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Ossiri and the Bala Mengro
Richard O’Neill, Katharine Quarmby and Hannah Tolson
Child’s Play
Travellers have a rich folklore, that I know having taught many traveller children, as a primary teacher in an outer London borough school close to which was a traveller site. They are also fiercely proud and eager to learn and to prove themselves. These characteristics are demonstrated in this story told by a Romani storyteller and a picture book author. Its heroine is traveller girl, Ossiri who lived with her family who earned their living as ‘Tattin Folki’ (rag-and-bone people) and were wonderful recyclers. Ossiri loved to help her father and grandfather loading, looking after the horses and making things to be used in the recycling of items the grown ups collected.
The entire family were music lovers and Ossiri longs to play an instrument herself. Despite her father’s explanation as to why this can’t happen, the young girl holds fast to her dream and decides to make an instrument for herself. Thus the Tattin Django comes into being.

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The sounds Ossiri makes on it however, are anything but music according to her family and even the birds take flight. Undaunted, Ossiri resolves to keep practising and improve her skill before her next performance.
Then comes the time for the whole family to take to the road again, destination Lancashire. “ … leave your Tattin Django here, ” her father advises but grandfather suggests otherwise and so the instrument goes with them. And that’s when Ossiri first hears mention (from a farmer’s daughter) of a huge hairy ogre said to reside in a cave near to where they’ve set up camp: An ogre who loves to sleep and woe betide anyone who should wake him.
Ossiri does wake the dreaded Bala Mengro though, with her playing; but his reaction is not what she expects.

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Rather he demands she play again and what’s more, he sings and dances to the sounds she creates, handsomely rewarding her for so doing.
The tale doesn’t end there though, for the instrument is stolen: is that to be the end of Ossiri’s fame and fortune? Happily, not, for we’re told on the final spread that ‘she played from the heart …’ And so she does, until this day,

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in very shiny leather boots!’

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At Sea with Captain Cranky & Mayday Mouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fox and the Wild

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The Fox and the Wild
Clive McFarland
Templar Publishing
Fred’s an urban fox born and bred but even so he’s not at all keen on urban life with its smoke, noise and fast moving traffic. In contrast, his cousins are city lovers roaming the streets at night hunting for tasty tidbits. One particular night while so doing, Fred and his fellow marauders cause a disturbance around the bins and have to flee.

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Fred becomes separated from his cousins and that’s when, having seen a flock of birds, he decides to find out about the possibilities of life beyond the city. But how can he do so without being able to fly like the birds – in particular the one he has an encounter with? “I don’t need to fly, I’ll hunt!” he assures the bird but that proves rather more difficult than he’d envisaged …

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Trees with spreading branches and the wind blowing over the hills seem elusive; all he finds is hard ground …

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noisy monsters … and a dark tunnel. But our Fred is a determined character and he carries on looking, feeling, smelling and listening …

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There’s a wonderful finale which I won’t spoil but suffice it to say, what he finds makes everything worthwhile …
Such a lovely story with a powerful, inherent environmental message and such sublime illustrations (McFarland uses paints, crayons and cut paper, and then digitally renders): this is a super book to share and one that’s likely to inspire listeners to try creating their own urban and ‘wild’ scenes using some of Clive McFarland’s techniques.WNDB_Buttonlocalbookshops_NameImage-2

 

The Shrew That Flew/ The Dragon & the Nibblesome Knight

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The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight
Elli Woollard and Benji Davies
Macmillan Children’s Books
Told through faultless rhyme – no easy matter despite Elli making it appear so – (with plenty of repetition, and sprinklings of onomatopoeia (FLASHes SPLASHes, FLAPs and CLAPs etc.) and awesome visuals – but one expects no less from Benji Davies – this is a stupendous offering. But, it’s the interaction of text and illustrations that makes the whole thing such a bobby dazzler of a book.
The tale revolves around Dram (love that name), an infant dragon, ejected from the Dragons of Dread family nest to search for ‘dribblesome, nibblesome, knobble-kneed knights.’

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In other words what he has to do is stand on his own feet, or rather fly with his own wings, and get his teeth and claws into a nibblesome knight. However that’s not quite what happens due to a prevailing wind – a looping, curling gale no less – that whisks young Dram ‘away to the End of the World’ depositing him unceremoniously into a lake beside which sits a diminutive knight. Said knight, James, takes the “duckie” under his wing …

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tending to his wounds and generally ministering to his injuries and sore parts,

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not to mention supplying nourishment for both Dram’s body and mind …

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The infant dragon however hasn’t forgotten his nibblesome knight procurement mission, so what will transpire when finally the dreadful realization dawns – that his new best friend is in fact, nothing less than a knight?

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Yes, there are faint echoes of Donaldson’s Zog here, but that is not to detract from its brilliance: if you want to do your bit to make children into life-long book lovers, there’s no doubt this is a MUST have book.

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Another Red Reading Hub favourite creative partnership is responsible for :

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The Shrew that Flew
Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo
Faber & Faber
This is the third wonderful ‘Harry & Lil Story’ and they just seem to get better and better. In this adventure, Candy Stripe Lil and Harry the Hog (along with the other creatures on Piggyback Hill) having received this invitation …

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are busy preparing for Badger’s do. It’s already 2pm; Harry has donned his spotty, dotty, pointy, flat titfa’ and Lil’s is still drying out on the washing line. Until that is, along comes a sudden gust of wind that whisks the object right up onto the roof.

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Disaster! There follows an amazing sequence of hat-retrieving attempts involving a brolly,

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a portable fan and all manner of other discarded ephemera retrieved from the shed.

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But can they manage to get the thing down and onto Lil’s head in time for the party? It’s certainly not a simple task, but however formidable it might be, Lil is the eternal optimist (Oh Lil we need you NOW!). “NEVER SAY NEVERis her maxim and with a bit of timely assistance from another of the party goers …

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it looks as though, they might, just might, be successful …

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Glorious, totally uplifting, a wonderful celebration of friendship and perseverance; Harry & Lil are eternally endearing. Eunyoung Seo’s delectable scenes, coupled with Julia Copus’ tongue-tingling rhyming text – here’s a sample
Lil gripped very tight; the umbrella bent
   and trembled,
         then tugged,
               then – whoosh! – up she went!
And floated off – past the sycamore stump …
are guaranteed to bring joy to listeners and readers aloud, at every turn of the page. Spectacular!

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Not Enough for Queen Fluff / Little Mouse’s Big Breakfast

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Not Enough For Queen Fluff
Rachel Lyon and Catalina Echeverri
Maverick Arts Publishing
Queen Fluff has everything a person (or a fancy bunny) could want: a large, lavishly furnished burrow full of queenly comforts, quite the opposite of all her subjects. They live in near poverty out in the Kingdom beyond the palace boundaries. Riches, as most of us know, don’t equate to happiness though, and thus it is with Queen Fluff who spends a bored, lonely existence.
So her royal bunnyness sends out a communication to all the other bunnies …

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It’s hardly the way to win friends methinks, but how do the recipients respond?
They certainly start making some plans for their royal visitor. She meanwhile, sets off with bulging bags, eagerly anticipating a welcome befitting her regal status. What she gets however, is something of a surprise, or rather a shock, as she visits burrow after burrow in search of delight.

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And what of that ten-course feast she’s set her sights on? Well, those rabbits surely know how to serve up a surprise menu; but is it one that will cause their monarch to eat her words? It might just be …

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With a rhyming text from Rachel Lyon that simply rolls off the tongue, mixed with super-cute, funny illustrations from Catalina Echeverri …

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this book has gone down very well with my audiences. I had great fun with one group suggesting their own disgusting courses to serve up to Queen Fluff.

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Ellena snuggled up for the story

Little Mouse’s Big Breakfast
Christine Pym
Nosy Crow
Little Mouse has a big appetite or so it seems; but maybe not: let’s wait and see.
We first meet our intrepid little hero one chilly evening when he’s decidedly peckish and having nothing ready for a breakfast nibble the following morning.
Fortunately though, Little Mouse knows just where to go and off he sets, scampering along the footpath, scaling the drainpipe and hopping in through an open window where on the table he spies this …

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followed quickly by a rosy apple and then a whole lot of ‘big brown biscuits’ …

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But that’s not all. Pretty soon, despite the odd doubt about the deliciousness of one or two items, he has all this precariously balanced …

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Guess what though: he then spots the ABSOLUTE perfect item for a tasty breakfast – one ‘shiny, stripy sunflower seed’ and of course he just HAS to have it … Seems someone else is after that perfect breakfast too and we know what that is …

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I wonder who gets their perfect breakfast – that would be tale telling, wouldn’t it. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty tasty.
Christine Pym’s timing is spot on, and her tale deliciously illustrated with a mix of double spreads, single pages, panels and frames. This really went down a treat with my early years audience who delighted at the ending and were eager for an immediate re-reading.

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Wild Imaginings by Day & Night

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Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes
Tim Wynne-Jones and Brian Won
Walker Books
Who wouldn’t want a pair of funky tiger-striped trainers like those acquired by the young hero of this delightfully quirky book? That’s getting ahead of the story though. First, meet S.A.M. Secret Agent Man, a boy with a fertile imagination …

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Oops! That’s getting ahead too but that’s the way this Wynne-Jones’ story works. Let’s get back to the start with K. and the lad in question. K. – his carer? Mum? – or sidekick? is busy … when she decides her charge needs new footwear.
Off they go to the shop and eventually, despite his original thoughts on rocket shoes or vanishing ones, S.A.M. decides on ones with tiger stripes. (They have laces, but that’s part of the challenge when you’re a super hero.)

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In fact two pairs are purchased – one child sized, the other adult – K. gets the same kind; then off they go for a spot of lunch.

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The day continues with all kinds of danger and attempted dastardly deeds (someone tries stealing the Plans for World Domination, no less), spy meetings and the disappearance of K.

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But, nothing’s too difficult for S.A.M. now he’s sporting those tiger trainers and off he goes. Did I just see him tie those laces himself? – to undertake a rescue mission of the trickiest kind. ROAR!
As the story moves between the boy’s imagined, ‘undercover’ life, and his real one, Brian Won switches from shades of blue and black to a full-colour palette in his retro-style illustrations. Cleverly conceived and skilfully executed, this shift between the boy’s two worlds is effectively managed and I particularly like the restaurant scene wherein child and adult become co-conspirators and fellow roarers. Hurray for childhood’s imagination and for all those adults who manage to retain their playful inner-child.

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Is That an Elephant in My Fridge?
Caroline Crowe and Claudia Ranucci
Scholastic Children’s Books
I liked Fred from the outset: he’s a divergent thinker. When his mum suggests counting sheep to help the boy drop off to sleep, Fred instead, decides to count elephants: he visualises them too. Visualises them in all manner of exciting scenarios …

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until things begin to get out of control …

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Finally Fred has to take matters in hand …

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After all the exhausting action, unsurprisingly as soon as Fred’s head hits the pillow again, he’s fast asleep: no more counting elephants for him.
A book to induce delight for sure: it’s certainly true of those I’ve shared it with. I suggest you don’t use it as a bedtime story however; you never know what might ensue …

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Claudia Ranucci’s energetic illustrations – this is her UK picture book debut – highlight the humour of Caroline Crow’s telling splendidly.

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The Bumblebear

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The Bumblebear
Nadia Shireen
Jonathan Cape
The pupils at Bee School have more than a little surprise when a newcomer arrives on the scene. It’s none other than Norman, a honey-loving creature with a plan to satisfy his constant desire for the sticky stuff …

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Norman loves his lessons but there’s one particular bee, Amelia, who has her suspicions about him right from the start. After a bit of investigation, it looks like she’s on to him …

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but the other bees are unconvinced.
Determined to prove her point and unmask Norman once and for all, Amelia sets a trap, one that Norman finds irresistible and pretty soon he’s well and truly rumbled …

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Poor Norman is immediately expelled from Bee School, which rapidly becomes a much quieter, less fun place for the other pupils.
Come night-time, another animal arrives on the scene, one that terrifies the bees and sends them tumbling and bumbling out of the hive in a panic. This creature is not to be moved though, no matter how hard the bees try …

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but then, out of the forest comes a huge buzzing creature …
Guess who is a hero now?
Nadia Shireen has created some wonderful characters and now she’s added the adorable Bumblebear to their number. (the real bees are pretty darn cute too). With plenty of suspense and expressions such as “What the jiggins?” this yummily funny story is great to read aloud and has been very well received by all I’ve shared it with.

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Flora and the Peacocks

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Flora and the Peacocks
Molly Idle
Chronicle Books
Flora, so I believe, has already starred in two previous picture books though this is my first encounter with the diminutive dancing delight. Herein she encounters a pair of preening peacocks who proceed to use their gloriously coloured tails in tandem with her fan, mirroring her every move until one, the rather more curious of the pair, crosses the gutter and approaches the girl. Thereafter we have a paired dance on the verso and on the recto, something of a solo drama. Eventually however, we have this …

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After which Flora reaches out (here readers can lift the tails or lower them as the fancy takes them).

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What then follows is a tug of war over her fan,

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orchestrated by readers moving an arched page (we know threesomes can be problematic where friendship is concerned) until the delicate fan becomes two pieces and Flora flounces off-stage in despair

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leaving the birds to work out a solution – which they duly do – with an amazing fold-out finale that more than makes up for the disaster and places a smiling Flora centre stage in a dazzling display of iridescent beauty and bewitchment.
Beautifully choreographed by Molly Idle, this breath-taking, wordless pas de trois is a real virtuoso performance, both on stage and off, that will have readers transfixed and wanting encore after encore. And don’t you just love the way those wispy willow fronds form a kind of proscenium arch for the whole show.

Those who particularly enjoy wordless picture books may also like:

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Dog on a Train
Kate Prendergast
Old Barn Books
This wordless debut picture book begins with a boy dashing downstairs and dropping his hat in his haste to leave the house. His dog spots said hat and chases off down the road after the boy, all the way to the tube station.

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‘Dogs must be carried’ says the sign at the turnstile and as luck would have it, a girl comes along and takes Dog down the escalator onto the platform.

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Dog then boards an underground train, makes the journey, is jostled by crowds, almost loses the hat and finally catches up with the boy and gives him the hat.
Kate Prendergast’s detailed drawings are beautifully executed in soft pencil, with just the red and white stripes of the boy’s hat and red and white details on his trainers standing out, giving a splash of colour on every spread and drawing the eye to the main characters. The pacing of the story is cleverly managed by the use of whole page, double spread, split page and comic strip images.

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A warm story about friendship and determination: wonderful for developing visual literacy.

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Pets and Problems

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Lottie Potter Wants an Otter
Jeanne Willis and Leonie Lord
Harper Collins Children’s Books
An otter certainly isn’t the most likely of animals for a child to want but it’s the pet of choice for young Lottie Potter. So off she goes with a hop and a skip into town.

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Mr Trotter has a wide range of otters available – spotty, potty, snotty, swotty, tie in a knotty, or hot from Lanzarote. Seemingly there’s something for all tastes here.

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Somewhat overwhelmed, Lottie turns to the shop-keeper for expert advice. He duly selects, a purchase is made and off goes Lottie with her otter. However, said animal isn’t quite the perfect pet she’d anticipated; it’s an absolute rotter through and through, even having the audacity to bite her bot. …

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Who could possibly blame her for taking it right back to the shop and demanding a refund? Well, that may have been her plan but it’s one that’s well and truly thwarted causing Lottie to rid herself of the unwanted animal elsewhere,

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and go seeking an altogether more suitable creature for her next pet. Err …
The jaunty rhyming extravaganza is illustrated with zestful scenes of otters cavorting, climbing and carousing, and Lottie’s one in particular, causing chaos. Leonie Lord’s otters are guaranteed to make you and your audience giggle as much as Jeanne Willis’ otterly dotty words.

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Hiccups!
Holly Sterling
Frances Lincoln Children’s Book
Hiccups seem to come on all too easily, but getting rid of them, well that’s another matter. And that’s the problem facing young Ruby but the hiccups aren’t hers; it’s her dog Oscar that’s Hic! Hic! Hiccuping …
Ruby however is full of ideas and it’s as well she’s not one to give up easily. They try dancey-dancing,

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jumpity-jumping, slurpity-slurping …

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not to mention twirly-twirling and hoppity- hopping all to no avail. Not even munchy-munching or wielding a magic wand halt the hics. But Ruby has one more idea up her sleeve – one that involves a complete change of garb and this time … silence from Oscar. But maybe hiccups are catching after all err …
Great potential for audience participation herein – let’s hope the hiccups are simulated not real though or you might find yourself having to try out some of Ruby’s remedies. Ruby and Oscar are both thoroughly engaging characters – cute but also spirited, and their relationship is beautifully captured in Holly Sterlings’ scenes large and small.

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Kings of the Castle

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Victoria Turnbull
Templar Publishing
Victoria Turnbull set the bar astoundingly high with her debut picture book The Sea Tiger; but oh my goodness, she’s more than cleared it with this, her second book, which if possible, is even more enchantingly beautiful.
Once again, the sea features large in many of the scenes but this time, it’s seen from the shore. A night-time shore on which we meet George, a little monster with a whole lot of determination, when it comes to sandcastle building that is: he wants to build a sandcastle ‘that would turn any monster green eyed with envy …’ Boris, his friend is doggedly unhelpful …

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so much so that George is on the verge of abandoning his castle building when from the moonlit waves emerges this strange-looking creature …

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Introductions are something of a failure but thanks to Boris and a stick, the two begin to forge a friendship;

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and slowly and surely an amazing edifice is fashioned under the twinkling stars …

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It’s one- a veritable kingdom really – over which the friends reign supreme till dawn when the tide comes in, and as the sun rises, slowly subsides into the sea.
What now will be the fate of the friendship?
Brilliantly imagined and equally brilliantly executed, this night to day tale is truly heart-warming.

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The whole thing unfolds in a slow, gentle manner that is entirely in harmony with the gently rolling waves forming the backdrop; and one cannot help wishing that like the George/Nepo friendship, it could last forever. Victoria Turnbull’s paintings are rendered in a gorgeous colour palette that so perfectly captures the blues and greens of the moonlit sea, and gradually gives way to the glowing golden hues of the dawning day. Equally perfect is the way in which every turn of the page brings fresh delight, from expansive spreads to small comic strip style squares …

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and everything in between.  Awesome. Ahhhh!

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The Bear Report & Land Shark

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The Bear Report
Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Homework – bor-ing!
That’s certainly the feeling of most children when faced with something as seemingly dull as Sophie is in this beautiful book. Hardly surprising then that her response is thus …

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That’s it, she thinks as sits down to watch TV. But then …

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The bear – Olafur by name – invites young Sophie to visit his Arctic home. And ignoring her indifferent “Um, no thinks. I’ve seen the pictures.” response, he whisks her away to a glorious world of ice-floes, snowy landscapes inhabited by whales, seals, Arctic foxes and snow rabbits; a place where she can fish with a stick, scramble across moss-covered rocks, birdwatch lying on her back – BRRR!

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and even slide down glaciers.
Inevitably such adventures make for sleepiness so the two snuggle up for some shut-eye but then suddenly find themselves struggling through the sea as the ice-floe melts. Then it’s Sophie’s turn to take charge as she dives beneath the waves calling – summoning – and help comes in the form of a Humpback Whale …

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And as darkness begins to fall, Olafur has one last surprise for Sophie …

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who now has a whole lot more to add to her homework assignment –thanks to that mind stretching adventure.
Inspired by Thyra Heder’s own Arctic visit, this truly impressive book really does, in comparatively few well-chosen words and stunning watercolour scenes in icy blue, grey and green shades shades, paint a breathtaking world while at the same time one hopes, sparking the imagination and engendering a fascination for wild places with their amazing flora and fauna. A delight through and through.
Perhaps homework can be worthwhile after all …

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Land Shark
Beth Ferry and Ben Mantle
Chronicle Books
Shark-obsessive, Bobby is determined to get his parents to buy him a pet shark for his birthday. What is he to do then, when the big day comes and he’s given a puppy? Certainly not fall immediately in love with her no matter how charming she might appear to be. This shark lover’s not for turning …

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Maybe then, the best solution is to sit by and observe as the pup begins to leave a trail of devastation throughout the house, chewing shoes, chair legs and stuffed toys and that’s before she starts on the neighbours’ property.

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Hold it there: didn’t Bobby’s original raison d’etre for that shark demand something like this: ‘frightful, bite-ful, delightful’? Couldn’t that equally well be applied to the most recent resident in Bobby’s household? But no: ‘Shark lovers can NOT be converted to dog lovers.” Not just yet but … then comes a bite to beat all bites and guess whose gnashers are responsible?

 

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That little canine beauty has chomped her way right into Bobby’s heart. QED
This slightly off-beat story, told with wit and charm, and great fun to read aloud is perfectly complemented by Ben Mantle’s deliciously dynamic visuals. Chock full of detail and delivered with aplomb, every character is beautifully realised, best of all being Bobby with his funky fin hairstyle: and what a range of perspectives Mantle uses.
There’s a wonderful ‘tail end’ too: one that leaves audiences free to unleash their own imaginations along with Bobby, as well as perhaps signaling follow-up possibilities. This reviewer says ‘More please!’

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The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty

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Gracie is enchanted by the wonderful scenes

The Marvellous Squishy Itty Bitty
Beatrice Alemagna
Thames & Hudson
Five and a half year old Edith, commonly known as Eddie, longs to be good at something, like the rest of her talented family and when she hears her sister using the words “present… Mum… birthday… fluffy… squishy…itty… bitty…“ she is determined to get her Mum an amazing present too; but what?
Off she sets on her search, first stop Bruno’s bakery, crammed full of tasty treats. He doesn’t have a “Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty” on sale though he does offer a sticky bun. Into Eddie’s bag it goes and off she dashes to the florists.

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Wendy has no “furry squirty” objects and offers instead a lucky four-leaf clover. That too goes in the bag and it’s on to Mimi’s fashion shop, a promising establishment full of furry, feathery things. There however, she has to accept a pearl button and move on towards the antique shop owned by her friend, Emmett.

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His misinterpretation results in the addition of a Threepenny green – a very rare stamp – to her unlikely assortment of bits and bobs; and it’s a somewhat disheartened Eddie who wanders on to her last hope, the butcher’s shop but Theo sends her packing straightaway. (I have to say this veggie reviewer dashed past Theo’s establishment rather than join the long queue.)
So, it’s an even more dispirited little girl who seeks shelter from the snow beneath a roof; but it’s there that she discovers a very odd-looking creature that just happens to be all that she’s been seeking for that perfect and amazingly versatile present.

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… useful for so many things!

That’s not quite the end of the story though. Suffice it to say however, after some further trials and tribulations, our young heroine is able to present her Mum with the an absolutely splendid birthday gift and in so doing has discovered her own special gift too.
This quirky tale is full of wacky characters, the most delightful of all being of course, the fluorescent pink coated Eddie herself: her perseverance and resourcefulness and imagination are assuredly something to celebrate.
I love everything about the book: its richly detailed scenes of the various shops inside and out, that Eddie visits:

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the playful language of the first person narrative, and the matt ivory paper which makes for a seductive French ambiance. Delicious.

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The Little Gardener

 

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The Little Gardener
Emily Hughes
Flying Eye Books
A garden is a lovesome thing’; it certainly is so for the little gardener of the title, a diminutive boy whose garden is his world –his pride and joy that he shares with his pet worm.

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Therein he toils long hours and is rewarded by a single bloom ‘alive and wonderful.’

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Despite the gardener’s labours however, the rest of the garden does not flourish: all around things are dying and he is near to despair.
I wish I had a little help” is the message he sends out from his bed one night; a message that goes unheard; but all is not lost for that glorious lone zinnia acts as a beacon of light attracting the attention of a little girl.

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While he slumbers – for a whole month so tired is the little gardener – that girl and a boy work away at the garden and when he wakes, there before him is a wonderful, thriving, almost magical garden.

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This truly is a book to treasure. The story unfolds in a gentle, straightforward manner and her spare, unobtrusive way of telling allows for Emily’s lush, richly detailed illustrations to do most of the talking. Many of the spreads bring to mind William Morris designs and palette as they draw the reader in to a very special earthy world infused with vibrancy and populated by winning worms and wondrous flora.
In my beginning is my end’ came to mind as I read this a second time: there is a satisfying shaping of the whole thing from the opening ‘This was the garden. It didn’t look much, but it meant everything to its gardener.’ through to the final, ‘This is the garden now. And this is its gardener. He doesn’t look like much but he means everything to his garden.’ Such verbal artistry.
If anything deserves to achieve classic status it’s this one; and on top of everything else it’s ideal for those in the early stages of reading to try for themselves –

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Rosa shares the story with a snake.

once they’ve had the pleasure of an adult sharing it, of course.

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Some 6 to 9 year olds inspired by the story, created their own garden collages.

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May Miscellany

Don’t Spill the Milk!
Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr
Andersen Press
From a tiny village in Africa one rainy season, young Penda sets out to take her daddy a bowl of milk as he tends the sheep in the grasslands some distance from their home. With her mother’s words ‘Try not to spill any on the way’ ringing in her ears as she walks, bowl on her head across the dunes, through the cavorting beasties of the mask dance, crossing the River Niger aboard a fishing boat, then travelling on among the giraffes on the plains and finally up the high mountain all the while balancing the bowl perfectly without spilling a drop. Then as she approaches her dad sitting under the mango tree, disaster strikes as a fat mango drops from above, SPLOSH! spilling the milk everywhere. But all is not lost as her father explains: in that bowl there remains something even more important, Penda’s love, not to mention some juicy mango.
A riot of colour and pattern abound in this heartwarming story of determination and family love: a splendid follow-up to The Goggle-Eyed Goats.
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J&D Owl 2

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf
Tatyana Feeney
Oxford University Press
Little Owl is a creature with definite tastes: he is fond of maths, ice-cream, scooter riding and especially surprises, well usually. However, the new orange scarf lovingly knitted by his mother is one surprise he does not like at all. Despite his most determined efforts, Little Owl just cannot get rid of that long, itchy accessory until that is, his class visits the zoo from where he returns sans scarf at last. After a fruitless call to the zoo, Mummy Owl determines a new scarf is called for and this time, the joint endeavor is much more to the little owlet’s liking and just the thing to wear on return trips to the zoo.
Delightfully minimalist in style (unlike that orange scarf), this cute story has warmth to match the new soft jade green wrap-around Mummy Owl lovingly knits for her little one.
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The Book of Dreams
Shirin Adl
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
By nocturnal journeying readers are invited to enter into a whole variety of dream worlds narrated in short explanatory sentences and gloriously illustrated in Shirin Adl’s magical collage illustrations. We are transported to a jungle landscape, a perplexing riverside location, confront a dinosaur, find the ability to breathe underwater, to fly and even to gather clouds from atop a mountain. We can swing from star to star, time travel and hold dream-related conversations with animals large and small. Such exciting possibilities come in dreams of many forms if only you can remember them.
This unusual picture book offers a multitude of possibilities for discussion, art work, movement, music making and of course, for dreaming, either at home or school.
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Bubble & Squeak
James Mayhew and Clara Vulliamy
Orchard Books
With her amazing Pyramid of Peril act, Bubble the elephant is the star of Mr Magnifico’s travelling circus. People come from far and wide to see the amazing feat wherein Bubble’s balancing atop the pyramid is assisted only by her bouquet of flowers. The trouble is, being constantly on the move, Bubble never manages to make a real friend; in short, she is lonely. One night however, a tiny mouse seeking a place to shelter comes upon the circus tent and once inside, is mesmerized by Bubble’s performance. Full of admiration, he watches her night after night but hasn’t the courage to tell her; instead he stows away when the circus moves on and is eventually discovered. There follows a search, which ends when he is chased out of the big top. Fortunately he hasn’t got far when he discovers that Bubble is in terrible danger. So, being a brave little fellow he returns to save his heroine and become not only a hero but also a friend and named co-star in the famous show.
This new partnership of two already established creative talents has resulted in a charming book. Much of the charm comes from Clara Vulliamy’s retro-style illustrations in striking colours which are at once funny and tender, capturing the gentle humour and warmth of Mayhew’s tale of an unlikely friendship beautifully.
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The Hundred Decker Bus
Mike Smith
Macmillan pbk
Bored with his dull routine wherein the same people board the bus at the same place at the same time, day in day out, the bus driver decides to do something different. Rather than following his normal route he takes an alternative road, a small one he’d not noticed before. So begins an amazing adventure over days, weeks and months with the double decker bus growing ever taller as it travels over land and sea, taking on an ever-increasing number of passengers until, CLUNK! CLUNK disaster strikes and then there is only one way to go…
With an enormous fold-out page (one snag here: the perforations do tear rather easily), bright pictures packed full of interesting and amusing details, not to mention counting opportunities galore, Mike Smith’s debut offering is sure to win votes with young audiences. Long live co-operation, a sense of fun and imagination.
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The Wheels on the Bus
Jan Ormerod and Lindsey Gardiner
Oxford University Press
We start with the opening lines of the favourite song and then it’s the action off the bus rather than on it that is the focus of attention, for the bus (sporting its zebra stripes) is heading for a wildlife park. Therein we and the passengers can see (and join in the action of) springing gazelles, singing, ringing birds in the trees,  howling, yowling wolf cubs, tumbling, bouncing, baboons, splashing pouncing otters, mud-loving hippos  wallowing and rolling, dashing leaping cheetahs, trot trotting llamas, slow moving sloths beaming in the trees and last of all as the sun goes down, leaping lemurs … as the wheels of the bus just keep on turning all day long.  Despite the sleepy looking passengers on the final spread, the whole emphasis is on movement and sound; both of which young audiences will delight in joining in with.
A lovely variation on the early years favourite for nurseries and playgroups in particular, it’s great for both language and physical development.
Why not try adding a basket of musical instruments alongside and letting children choose which ones to use to represent each animal and its antics.
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