The Wonder Tree

The Wonder Tree
Teresa Heapy and Izzy Burton
Egmont

When I was a child we had a large oak tree with a resident owl in our garden; this lyrical story of Teresa’s with its wonderful illustrations by Izzy Burton, took me right back there to that tree, which I loved.

The particular oak tree in the story is home to Little Owl and his Mummy; and as it opens a leaf landing on his head disturbs Little Owl’s sleep. Despite his mother’s assurances, the little creature can’t get back to sleep. He’s concerned about the tree –surely it will be cold without its leaves, won’t it?

“Let me tell you a wonder,” comes the reply and Mummy Owl proceeds to explain first about leaf fall and seasonal change,

and then how the tree ‘drinks’.

However neither explanation sends Little Owl back to sleep and he requests a story. Happy to oblige, Mummy Owl’s story is of the tree and the stories that reside therein – held in its annular rings,

in ‘the clasp of its roots, and the kiss of its leaves’.

Then, as the moon high above sends out its silvery light, bidding a temporary farewell to the huge, ancient tree that is their home, parent and child spread their wings and sail off into the night sky.

Along with Little Owl, little humans will love learning about the natural world and its wonders, especially at bedtime. Equally, they’ll love being immersed in nature through debut illustrator’s woodland scenes showing the rich hues of autumn as they gradually fade to sepia, and the resident fauna and flora of the setting.

School for Dads

With Father’s Day in mind and because I missed this one when it was published:

School for Dads
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

Like a number of others, punctuality isn’t a strong point for Anna’s dad; indeed when he turns up late to collect her from school yet again, she strikes a bargain with him. “I’ll forgive you if you go to School for Dads,” she says.

Time for a spot of role reversal. Next morning it’s all the tardy dads who have to spend the day as pupils and their teachers aren’t going to make things easy for them. First of all some bad behaviour needs sorting out: “Don’t ignore us when we’re talking, and stop looking at your phone.”

That’s only the first of the list of misdemeanours, and they must definitely never answer “NO.”

The dads have to use the little chairs, and sitting on the floor proves pretty challenging too. On the plus side though, playtime is fun and the art session releases their inner creativity.

Come lunch time, the hall turns into a rowdy place where sweet treats are off the menu; and the afternoon’s PE lesson is let’s say interesting …

By home time, it isn’t only the pupils who have had a trying day; everyone – children and adults – have learnt a lot. On reflection, Anna decides that dads really deserve to be celebrated for all the great things …

This witty, reflective rhyming tale has a great read aloud rhythm and is just right to give dads a good giggle on Fathers Day especially. Assuredly they’ll enjoy too, Ada Grey’s lively illustrations that perfectly capture the humour of the Guillain’s telling.

Elephant In My Kitchen!

Elephant In My Kitchen!
Smriti Halls and Ella Okstad
Egmont

‘There’s an elephant in my kitchen’ informs the child narrator of Smriti’s rhyming story but that’s not all. There’s been a veritable invasion of the house by wild animals and they’re doing such annoying things as bouncing on the bed and playing badminton;

but much worse – one has taken the liberty of having a dump when our narrator is absolutely bursting for a wee.

As for the food stores, they’re getting depleted by the second as polar bears, penguins, a wolf and a chimpanzee make short work of all the goodies they can lay their paws and beaks on; not to mention the din created when a chorus of frogs decides to strike up and one of their number flattens the boy’s favourite cuddly. Time to discover what exactly is the cause of all this mayhem and marauding.

Oh dear me! Turns out it’s the result of thoughtless and selfish behaviour on the part of we humans, doing things with no thought for the consequences of our actions upon the wildlife that shares our planet.

An urgent plan is crucial. We need to change our ways and everyone has a part to play otherwise who knows what might happen …

With lots of detail to explore and giggle over, Ella Okstad’s zany illustrations are a great complement to Smriti’s zippy cautionary tale. Humour is an important vehicle when it comes to vital messages: it certainly works here.

One Banana, Two Bananas

One Banana, Two Bananas
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Sam Lloyd
Egmont

A yummy banana feast is in store for readers of this high octane rhyming, read aloud romp.
Without further ado let’s meet the banana crew with ‘One banana, two bananas, three bananas, four, snoozing in the garden’ (in hammocks) when their slumbers are disturbed by a ringing at the door.

There appear bananas five, six, seven and eight in party mood announcing that bedtime is postponed for a pyjama-clad shin-dig. And the eight are just in the act of inverting themselves when through the window they spy …

The llamas hailing from the Bahamas invite the fruity friends to join in their ‘llama race’. Now that’s an offer, eight PJ clad bananas just cannot resist and off they go. Oh no! They’ve been spotted by a monkey and you can guess what he has in mind as he gives chase.

Happily though something causes him to stumble-trip,

just as a couple of new bananas come speeding up – in the nick of time.

This hungry Monkey isn’t one to be deterred by a mere tumble though, certainly not when his tummy’s a-rumble.

Next thing we see is ‘Ten bananas in pyjamas’ dog-paddling – make that banana-paddling – to save their skins, pursued by the same number of pointy-toothed piranhas. Even if they manage to escape those, that Monkey is still close on their tails. But, can they manage to stay afloat long enough? That is the crucial question as we leave them bobbing up and down on the water …

Splendid silliness, both verbal (Adam & Charlotte) and visual (Sam), to tickle your taste buds and tempt you into performing this to your audience of book-hungry little ones. I wouldn’t mind betting, you’ll relish it as much as they will even if, like me, this reviewer, you don’t even like bananas.

Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns

Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns
Laura Ellen Anderson
Egmont

There’s a new baby on the way in Amelia’s household and inevitably her mother’s attention is focussed on that. Consequently Amelia and her best buddies Florence and Grimaldi take charge of the adorable caticorns.

It’s sure to be such wonderful fun caring for Gerrard, Butler and Mo, isn’t it? After all, Amelia’s Aunt Lavitoria has given her assurance that she’s only just collected them from the very best school, so they’re certain to be very well behaved. Moreover, experience in caticorn care will stand Amelia in good stead for being a FANGTASTIC big sister to her soon to be born sibling; and she’s eager to impress on that score.

However, looking after what prove to be three very excitable, mischievous caticorns, turns out to be rather more than Amelia has bargained for. Indeed after a mere five minutes babysitting, the little creatures have disappeared.

Having rounded them up once more, you might imagine they’d settle down, but oh dear me, no! They merely move on to chaos-creating in the kitchen.

Perhaps it’s time for Amelia to bring out some of the presents from the suitcase her aunt left for the caticorns, suggests Florence.

Or maybe not …

As with its predecessors, this story (that includes some great messages about Amelia’s potential role as responsible big sis), is wonderfully wicked fun and the illustrations are terrific.

Established fans will relish it and I’m certain any newcomers to the delights (and horrors) of the series will be hooked too.

Weird Little Robots / A Super Weird Mystery: Danger at Donut Diner

Weird Little Robots
Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Walker Books

Science lover, Penny Rose moves to a new neighbourhood and spends much of her time in the shed creating little robots – robots with character – using found bits and pieces. What she really wants as a newbie though, is a human friend.
When she meets bird watcher and birdhouse maker extraordinaire, Lark, who also lacks a friend, the two girls become kindred spirits.

At Lark’s suggestion they create an entire roboTown in the shed from discarded oddments and lava lamps. But their friendship is tested to its limits when Penny Rose (but not Lark) is invited to try out for the Secret Science Society. She breaks a promise made with Lark by showing some of the robots to the society members (who are popular pupils at school) in order to prove her worth. Can their friendship survive?

With its message that girls can do anything, this story of friendship, forgiveness and being true to yourself, is an absolute gem – compassionate and funny. There are sufficient twists and turns in the plot to ensure readers remain engrossed; and the language of Crimi’s telling is apposite: ‘Her cheeks burned hotter than a Bunsen burner’ for example. Both main characters are wonderfully divergent and their dialogue really reflects their personalities.

Corinna Luyken’s illustrations are great too – especially those robots.

A Super Weird Mystery: Danger at Donut Diner
Jim Smith
Egmont

This is the first of a new hilarious detective mystery series from the Lollies award-winning creator of the popular Barry Loser books. If you like your books SUPER WEIRD then this one is definitely for you.

Melvin has just moved from the city to Donut -a circular island with a hole in the middle – and he’s shall we say, underwhelmed.
However when he meets Rhubarb, creator of her own school newspaper and a total obsessive where mysteries are concerned, things become rather different.

To date Rhubarb hasn’t actually had anything mysterious to write about but Melvin notices that the children at school are acting very strangely indeed. This couldn’t by any chance be connected with the Donut Hole Monsters that everyone is so keen on collecting, or could it?

It’s not long before the two of them scent a mystery and are hot on its trail. The trouble is, this trail is going to plunge them slap bang into the centre of the donut hole.

If only the two can get back out safe and sound, then perhaps at last Rhubarb will have something to report on in her newspaper. That assumes that they solve the mystery before the entire population of the town is brainwashed. No easy task then …

Packed full of laugh-making moments and crazy pictures, Jim Smith has another winner here, methinks.

Narwhal’s Otter Friend

Narwhal’s Otter Friend
Ben Clanton
Egmont

This is the fourth graphic novel style Narwhal and Jelly book and it’s as brilliant as ever.

It begins with an encounter between best pals Narwhal and Jelly, and newbie Otter. Narwhal declares self-professed ocean explorer, Otty, “Otterly awesome!” Ever-sceptical Jelly on the other hand, is less enthusiastic and disinclined to believe some of his stories.

His enthusiasm wanes further when Narwhal invites Otty to accompany him on an adventure. “Really? Does this mean we’re friends?” Otty asks. “Pretty much!” comes the response.

Guess who is jealous and feels left out. So much so that he decides to seek out a new friend; not very successfully
and eventually he befriends a rock, he names Rocky.
They play ‘oodles of awesome games’ that Rocky excels in ‘Go Fish . . . Marco Polo . . . Staring Contests’ as Jelly informs Narwhal and Otter when the latter finally hunt them down.

You’ve probably surmised that it was never Narwhal and Otter’s intention to sideline Jelly and he’s over the moon – or rather, the rainbow – to be invited to join them on the ‘awesomest adventure ever’. ‘Seas the day’ guys!’

As always Ben Clanton’s illustrations are terrific – whimsical, witty, wonderfully expressive. His text has its measure of splendidly groanworthy puns and there’s the usual sprinkling of animal facts as well as another Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick offering, from Jelly and Rocky on this occasion.

Plunge in and relish the three tales and more in this friendship tester; it’s a laugh-out-loud winner once again.

Little Lost Fox

Little Lost Fox
Carolina Rabei
Egmont

Despite the lack of other children in the vicinity of her country home, Kate is never lonely. Her friends and playmates are her toys; there’s story-loving Miss Bunny, Mr Ted, with a penchant for picnics and her favourite Ruby the Fox.

Imagine Kate’s distress when she notices Ruby has gone missing.

She searches everywhere and then spies a trail of pawprints that she follows until she discovers a real fox cub.

Kate implores the cub to return Ruby but the little creature only howls.

The little girl understands that the cub is lonely and decides that a cuddle from a parent will make everything feel all right.

Off they go together on a find Ruby’s mummy adventure that takes them first to a hollow tree wherein they see not a fox but a squirrel mummy. By the waterside there’s a mummy water vole but no mummy fox

and on the hillside a rabbit mummy appears.

Eventually Kate discovers more pawprints of the same shape as the cub’s, leading into a wood, a wood full of strange sounds. Suddenly a pair of green eyes stare out of the bushes and the cub heads straight for …

Now the hour is getting late and with the foxes reunited, Kate must head for home. It’s a long way; how will she find her way back safely? Perhaps with a bit of assistance from her new-found friends. Friends that will keep returning to spend more time with her …

This warm story of caring, determination and friendship is a delight. Carolina Rabei’s richly hued, detailed illustrations show so well the main characters’ changing feelings as well as the beautiful rural landscape setting.

Rhinocorn Rules!

Rhinocorn Rules!
Matt Carr
Egmont

Matt Carr’s Ron is a rhinocerus after my own heart – a fun and art loving, rule subverter, full of ideas of the divergent kind.

Being grumpy, a loner and ready to charge should anything approach is not for him. Instead Ron is at heart a fun-loving, art and music enthusiast, brimming over with creativity and joy. Moreover he wants to share his joyful ideas with the other animals but none of the rule-abiding creatures is interested.

Life for Ron is pretty mundane until one sweltering afternoon at the waterhole he catches sight of his dull reflection in the water. Thinking that if only he could show himself as he really is then friendship would follow, an idea strikes him and Elmer the patchwork elephant style, Ron sets to work with his creativity …

Once he’s dried off he is transformed into a true life work of art and as you might expect, he now feels A-MA-ZING!

Time to get himself noticed and so he does: first he impresses the meerkats and before long lots of animals are eager to have fun and be friends with the transformed Ron. Happiness at last.

Happiness however is not what his fellow rhinos feel; oh dear no. Ron is a total embarrassment, so they tell him.

Fortunately though, the meerkats stand up for their new friend and point out something that hadn’t occurred to the rhinos. Realisation dawns and then there’s only one thing to do … and Ron does it in one deft move of his forelimbs.

I wonder what new rules he created in place of old ones. What three would you have chosen?

Through his droll illustrations and heartfelt words Matt has created a thoroughly inspiriting story. The message is loud and clear: be true to yourself, be proud of who you are; and if that means finding a way round, over or under the rules then so be it, and good on you.

Love the cleverly worded title and the final ‘Did you know?’ page.

River Stories

River Stories
Timothy Knapman, Ashling Lindsay and Irene Montano
Red Shed (Egmont)

Prepare to immerse yourself in Timothy Knapman’s tales of five rivers.

Our travels begin on the African continent with a trip along the Nile, at 6,695 km. the world’s longest river. Rising in the African jungle it comprises two tributaries, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, and flows through forests, mountains, lakes and deserts before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

However its exact source is disputed. Timothy tells readers that one explorer John Hanning Speke declared the true source to be Lake Ukerewe (now called Lake Victoria).  During the trip we learn of festivals, historic events associated with the river, view some wildlife and visit the pyramids, tombs and temples of Egypt.

The second journey is along the Mississippi that extends the entire length of the US all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This river is home to over 1000 animal species and flows through the site, I was fascinated to learn, of Cahokia, a lost 12th C city.

We’re in Europe for the third journey that takes us from a glacier in the Swiss Alps to the Netherlands where the Rhine’s delta is located.

There are mentions of music and musicians, magic, myths and legends, and sightings of fairytale forests as well as castles, windmills and bulb fields.

High on a Tibetan plateau is where the Yangtze journey starts. We read of dragons and dolphins, glimpse pandas and if the timing is right, see the amazing Dragon Boat Festival.

The Amazon with its incredible rainforest flora and fauna is the river of the fifth trip. There’s so much to discover and I was astonished to learn of Ed Stafford’s walk along its entire length, making him the first person to do so, a journey of 6,992 km that took him 860 days – WOW! Awesome!

There’s much of interest whether yours is history ancient or modern, geography, mythology or something else Timothy includes, and illustrators Aisling Lindsay and Irene Montano show in the engrossing, vibrant spreads that unfold to show the entire length of each river journey.

World stories to wallow in for sure.

Neither of the rivers I’m personally familiar with – the Thames and the Ganges – are included in Timothy’s book; now’s that another story – or many.

Waiting for Anya

Waiting for Anya
Michael Morpurgo
Egmont

This month Egmont publishes Michael Morpurgo’s superbly plotted, totally gripping story Waiting for Anya with a film tie-in cover.

It’s set in France, in the mountain village of Lescun during World War 11.

A twelve year old shepherd boy, Jo whose father is a prisoner of war, is alerted by Rouf, his dog, to the presence of a bear. Now wide-awake, Jo dashes to warn the other villagers and the creature is hunted down and killed.

In search of Rouf, Jo returns to where he saw the bear;he encounters a man whom he discovers is reclusive Widow Horcarda’s son-in-law, Benjamin and that he’s in hiding.

Watching him through the widow’s home window, Jo recalls that he’s seen the man the previous summer holding tightly to the hand of a little girl.

He then learns that Benjamin has become separated from his daughter, Anya and that he believes that eventually they will be reunited.

As a trust grows between the widow and her son-in-law, and Jo, it’s revealed that Benjamin is Jewish and while he waits for that hoped for re-union, he is involved in a dangerous mission – leading other Jewish children away from the Nazis over the mountains, across the border to safety in Spain.

Jo is determined to help and starts bringing supplies to Benjamin’s hideout.
But then war makes itself well and truly felt in Lescun with the arrival of Nazi soldiers in the village: their eyes and ears are everywhere, and it’s announced that anyone helping fugitives will be shot. A curfew is imposed.

Jo is surprised to learn that not all the German soldiers are totally evil when he develops an unlikely friendship with a German Corporal through their shared interest in bird-watching.

Then despite the dire warnings the villagers plan to help another group of twelve children hidden away in a cave.

Just one slight slip up and lives will be lost …

There certainly isn’t a happy ever after ending to this tale; it’s tense, not everything goes well and there is one poignant final surprise. What for me resonates especially though, is the way the author shows the French villagers living alongside the Germans, not all of whom are bad. In the final pages we’re told, Jo ‘had come at last to see him (the Corporal) as a man in the uniform of the enemy, a good and kindly man … but nonetheless an enemy too’ – a ‘confusion he did not wish to confront.’

Supercats v Maximus Fang / Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of ZOMBIES

It’s great to see these two popular fiction series going from strength to strength:

Supercats v Maximus Fang
Gwyneth Rees, illustrated by Becka Moor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the second of Gwyneth Rees’ Supercats series that will delight animal lovers, especially those who enjoy tales with a bit of a zesty bite. They’ll certainly get that with Tagg, a recent recruit to a team of crime-fighting supercats. (think feline MI6). Tagg’s personal superpower is camouflage, a tremendously useful skill for any secret agent.

In this story Tagg and another member of the team, Sugarfoot have their first mission. They need to infiltrate the dastardly Killer Cats crew that includes just back in town, Gory Gus, and thwart his plans to break his partner in crime Maximus Fang out of prison.

The prison break has to be stopped but are the newbie supercats up to the task?

Assuredly they’ll need to employ both their superpowers and all their feline wits or else they’ll end being fish-sliced in the paws of the Hit Cats. Moreover, Gory’s superpower is telekinesis and Maximus’s power is weather control. ‘Think tsunamis! Think tornadoes and hurricanes!’ Hmm!

Can Tagg and Sugarfoot succeed in their mission? Perhaps with the help of ‘the Weapon’ …

There’s plenty of tension, especially when having persuaded the Killer Cats to let them join their crew, Tagg and Sugarfoot discover what that entails …

Add plenty of fun to the mix, with additional lashings thanks to Becka Moor’s illustrations, and what you have is a highly satisfying moggy adventure.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of ZOMBIES
Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Egmont

Sam Wu is still trying to prove he’s not afraid of anything in this his fifth fear conquering challenge. He’s already succeeded in becoming unafraid where ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders are concerned – well almost!

So what about zombies? Surely such thoughts won’t send frissons of fear running through the lad will they? Err, maybe not, except … supposing his arch nemesis Ralph Zinkerman the Third, lets it be known that there are zombie werewolves living in his basement.

Is this really something Sam wants to tackle, especially when Ralph has just told tales on him in class? But, Sam has loyalties to Ralph’s sister Regina so maybe he should summon up all his courage, accept the invitation to visit the Zinkerman residence and (along with some friends) see what is going on in that basement of theirs, despite strict orders from Mr and Mrs Z that said basement with its locked door was ‘strictly off limits’.

Could this perhaps be Sam’s scariest fear-confrontation yet?

Splendidly funny through and through with a great finale, and terrific Nathan Reed illustrations scattered throughout that highlight the hilarious situations, this series just keeps on getting better.

Snow Foal

Snow Foal
Susanna Bailey
Egmont

It used to be said that Philippa Pearce was the queen of short sentences; now newcomer Susanna Bailey is a serious contender for that title. Her debut story Snow Foal is absolutely beautifully written, with lots of poignant moments and deeply affecting.

During a very cold winter, eleven year old Abbie is sent to stay with a foster-care family in a remote farm on Exmoor. She’s hurting badly inside, angry and mistrusts the people around her especially Sunni, another foster child of Ruth and Sam. What’s more she’s convinced that her stay at the farm is to be a very short one, despite what her social worker and others tell her.

Then one day Abbie rescues a little wild foal that has become separated from its mother too; now it seems that in him she has found a kindred spirit.

Their friendship grows and Abbie becomes increasingly determined to reunite the foal with his mother, putting herself into all kinds of danger so to do.

Ultimately though despite disappointments for Abbie, this story is one of love, healing, hope and friendship: a tale where although you’re eager to discover what happens, you’re forced to slow down and savour the writing of such passages as this: ‘But she couldn’t go now. She felt paper-thin; as transparent as a wind- blown leaf. Everyone would be able to see right inside her.’

This book would make a superb Christmas present; I suggest reading it snuggled under a cosy blanket.

Countdown To Christmas

Countdown To Christmas
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Pippa Curnick
Egmont

Team Guillain present a jolly rhyming tale of a bear that creates a Christmas game with a final surprise for all his animal friends.

Everyone is eager to participate in his enterprise but after a few turns yielding uninspiring prizes the forest creatures begin to lose their initial enthusiasm.

Mouse however is keen to carry on.

Then, on day 14 she falls ill and is confined to bed for several days, fearful that she’ll miss her turn in the game.

When the last day comes and she still hasn’t had that turn, she’s convinced that she’s been forgotten altogether.

Consequently it’s a very tearful little rodent that hears Bear call her name. He hands Mouse a large wrapped-up box instructing her to open it and accompany him to discover the promised surprise: what could it possibly be?

Pippa Curnick’s illustrations are simply terrific – brilliantly expressive and funny. There’s even a festive calendar attached to the back cover so readers can join the characters in the Christmas countdown.

Oh, Christmas Tree! / The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas / Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas

Oh, Christmas Tree!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Macmillan Children’s Books

There’s seasonal silliness in abundance in team Sue and Paul’s rhyming tale of a Christmas tree that doesn’t want to be. Said Tree is determined not to be dressed in baubles, tinsel and other festive fripperies so it decides to take a stand; or rather it decides to do anything but. Instead it’s dashing madly away from its decorative pursuers.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not Christmas the tree hates, rather it’s the idea of being instead of doing that’s really needling its branches.

“I truly love Christmas” asserts the tree and the idea of presents is appealing and that’s what gives Belle an idea. A new outfit might just suit the occasion especially if it equips the recipient to participate in winter sports. But perhaps there’s more to Belle’s clever gift than meets the eye …

The Twelve Unicorns of Christmas
Timothy Knapman and Ada Grey
Egmont

With the seemingly never waning enthusiasm a certain section of the population has with unicorns, I have a feeling there’s an inevitability about this book.

Narrated by a character who is pretty close to those I refer to, clad in her unicorn onesie a bright eyed miss starts the countdown informing readers that on the first day of Christmas she receives, courtesy of mum and dad, along with 1 sparkling tree, ‘a real-life unicorn’.

From then on, said unicorn is included in the festive giving both as giver and receiver of surprise presents. Unsurprisingly with a high-spirited unicorn on the scene there are a few mishaps as the days go by

and the creature begins to lose some if its sparkle. Come Christmas morning though a big surprise awaits him …

With her zesty illustrations that offer plenty of things to count, Ada Grey captures the inherent humour in Timothy’s telling ensuring a giggle at every page turn of this festive romp.

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Christmas
Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson
Orchard Books

It’s Christmas Eve and as usual Oscar the Unicorn is hungry, exceedingly so. He’s already started scoffing the stockings belonging to the royals, not to mention a large part of the Christmas tree and to Santa’s horror he’s had a go at the presents too. Then shock horror Santa discovers that the magic reindeer food has disappeared

and without food the creatures won’t be able to fly, which means Santa can’t complete his delivery round. I love Nikki’s exuberant scenes of Oscar’s chaos creating frolics and especially the sight of the far from happy reindeer on the final spread.

But we know where that food has gone; so perhaps little Princess Oola’s suggestion for a substitute sleigh puller might just save the special day.

Delightfully daft but Oscar’s fans will relish it for sure.

Seasonal Junior Fiction

The Naughtiest Unicorn at Christmas
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

It’s time to don those festive jumpers and get ready to join Mira and her friends along with their UBFFs (unicorn best friends forever) in the week before Christmas.

Mira hopes that she and her unicorn Dave will be given the lead roles in the school play The Legend of the Snow Unicorn.

In the meantime here’s a question asked by her friend Darcy: “What goes RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump?

It’s Dave rolling down a snowy hill entangled in the long rainbow scarf, teacher Miss Glitterhorn was endeavouring to wrap around him. And following this spectacle said unicorn merely snorts and produces an enormous frozen poo. Not a very promising start when the auditions for that all important play are to be held imminently.

Inevitably things get increasingly chaotic when Dave is involved and yes the play does eventually take place, but as to who are the star performers – the best way to find out about the drama that’s performed is to get your hands on a copy of this fourth episode of high jinks Mira and Dave style.

As usual David O’Connell livens things up even more with his smashing black and white illustrations.

Princess of Pets: The Snowy Reindeer
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

In her latest adventure Princess Bea is excited to be staying with her Great Aunt Sylvia but she really wishes that her snowy castle had some animals she might make friends with.
Then when out playing in the snow she discovers a little lost reindeer, despite her aunt’s residence being a humans only place, Bea knows she simply has to get the creature safely inside the castle.

Having done so though her challenges have only just begun, for party preparations are underway and she needs something to keep her new friend in, not to mention food. Then cousin Annie discovers Marshmallow, as the reindeer is now called, but Bea is determined to keep his presence a secret from the grown-ups – no easy task as the animal has a mischievous streak and a voracious appetite. When rule-abiding big sister Natasha too learns of the visitor things get even more tricky.

Can Bea ever manage to reunite Marshmallow with his family?

I know a good many fans of the series who will be lapping up this wintry episode in the life of animal helper extraordinaire, aka Princess Beatrice. Olivia Chin Mueller’s numerous illustrations add to the enjoyment of young solo readers.

Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures
Laura Ellen Anderson
Egmont

Amelia and her best friends are spending a couple of days at the chilly Yeti Mountain Pits where Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence is celebrating her 350th birthday. Florence is a terrific character and it’s good to see more of her in this story. As for Amelia though, she badly wants to attend two parties over the weekend and tries her best to find an opportunity to break the news to her that she can only spend one night at Clemence’s birthday bash.

With the party in full swing precious things start disappearing

and then, even worse, the pits themselves and thus the homes of the yetis start to collapse. Before long comes a declaration from the Unicorn Detectives: Yeti Mountain Pits are not safe and need to be evacuated.

With a mystery to solve, Amelia and her friends need to move fast but very carefully or risk being trapped forever underground.

Fast paced this story surely is, and cleverly woven into the zany plot is a key message about friendship: ‘Make new friends but keep the old’ as the song goes. This is something that Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence and Amelia have a heart-to-heart about during the party and is later discussed by Florence and Amelia.

Terrific fun and thought-provoking too: Amelia enthusiasts will relish this mix of warmth and ‘yuck’ provoking disgustingness. No matter if readers haven’t read the previous books in the series, they can still enjoy this one, but better still start from the beginning and work through all the adventures giggling at all Laura’s wonderful illustrations along the way.

My Naughty Little Sister and Father Christmas

My Naughty Little Sister and Father Christmas
Dorothy Edwards and Shirley Hughes
Egmont

Shirley Hughes seems to me to have given My Naughty Little Sister a more determined than ever look in these superb colour illustrations for what was always for my infant classes, a ‘must read’ seasonal episode from the original My Naughty Little Sister book. It was then called The Naughtiest Story of All and Shirley supplied black and white illustrations. Gone now are the smocked dresses with puff sleeves; instead for a new generation, the character wears a typical school uniform and appears slightly more grown up.

This single picture book edition offers a perfect opportunity to introduce her to young listeners.

Whilst loving almost everything about Christmas there is one thing that this younger sibling of the narrator does not like at all and that is Father Christmas; in fact she calls him ‘a horrid old man!’ and refuses to hang up her stocking for him.

Then she gets an opportunity to meet Father Christmas;

can she possibly overcome her dislike of the man when he pays a visit to her school?

In case readers don’t know what happens, I won’t divulge the rest of the story but rest assured it’s lost none of its power to delight. I will certainly be sharing it again this Christmas.

Early Years Christmas Books

Maisy’s Christmas Letters
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Maisy is throwing a Christmas party and she’s been busy writing invitations to all her friends. It’s not long before the replies start coming in, along with other surprise items for Maisy such as a calendar(Eddie), a recipe (Cyril), a tiny joke book (Charley) and a special letter.
Interactive fun for little ones and just right to share in the run-up to Christmas. I suspect Maisy will acquire a host of new human friends with this book.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise
Mark Carthew and Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing

Thanks to a surprise gift from her mother on the first of December, and her own thoughtfulness, Marigold Mouse is able to bring Christmas happiness to her best friend Marvin.
Mark Carthew’s lively rhyming narrative and Simon Prescott’s expressive illustrations together make for a warm-hearted seasonal story in the Marvin and Marigold series reminding us all that Christmas is for sharing with others.

Winnie the Pooh: The Long Winter Sleep
Jane Riordan, Eleanor Taylor and Mikki Butterley
Egmont

Who or what is making those Scritch! Scratch! Crunch! sounds as Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood bed down for their long winter sleep, shutting out the cold wind blowing through the Forest? One after another the animals venture out into the darkness in the hopes of discovering the source of the weird noises. What they find comes as a wonderful surprise that warms them both outside and inside.

Jane Riordan succeeds in capturing the essence of Milne’s characters in this charming tale while the illustrators give a slightly carton feel to the artwork.
Also in the same series but in a mini edition:

A Pudding for Christmas
The friends all gather to make a Christmas pudding, “A gigantic delicious pudding as big as Pooh,” announces Christopher Robin. Each in turn adds an ingredient to the mix and then one by one they stir the pudding and make a wish until Kanga realises that Roo is missing. Is he or is he not somewhere in the pudding? It’s probably a good idea to defer cooking it – just in case …
Another enchanting episode for tinies, this pocket sized book would make a good stocking filler.

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear
Jared Chapman
Abrams Appleseed

The eagerly anticipated season of holiday underwear has arrived and there’s seasonal excitement in veggie land. So says the green pea announcer at the start of the latest in Jared Chapman’s zany series.

Readers are then treated to a pants extravaganza that displays underwear of the cosy and scratchy kinds, that to wear inside and outside; to accommodate the Christmas meal there are stretchy pants as well as the inevitable tight pair. Some pants are similar while others are utterly unique. And because it’s Christmas even Santa is suitably ‘panted. Festive silliness for sure.

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon / On Angel Wings

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon
Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens
Egmont

I’d not until now come across this story, despite it originally being published five years ago and subsequently made into a musical play. It’s said to be inspired by the author’s visit to a village in Switzerland some years earlier and tells of a fearsome dragon that lives in her castle lair high in the mountains, and a little girl, Mimi who lives in the village below.

One snowy Christmas morning Mimi discovers a baby dragon in the woodshed.

As the entire village population, her father among them, had been chanting ‘Death to the Mountain Dragon!’ the previous day, she knows she must keep him a secret and get him back to his mother as soon as possible.

Waiting until everyone else is safely inside the church for the Christmas service, she bravely sets out alone up the mountain.
Once at the castle, Mimi almost decides to flee when she finds herself face to face with the terrifying Mountain Dragon; but before she can move, the baby launches himself towards his mother and the two are reunited.

With mother and baby dragon now back together, Mimi is no longer scared but she knows she must get back down to the village. She also knows that the disaster that happens thereafter has nothing to do with the Mountain Dragon as the villagers suppose.

All ends happily thanks in fact, to the dragon …

With the folk style feel to Michael Morpurgo’s Christmassy telling and Helen’s equally folksy illustrations, this is a timeless book that can be enjoyed and revisited year after year.

On Angel Wings
Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake
Egmont

Created by dream team erstwhile Children’s Laureates Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake, this is a beautiful reworking of the nativity story for older readers/listeners.

Imbued throughout with warmth and humour, Michael Morpurgo’s telling captivates from its opening lines, ‘The truth is that once we weren’t children anymore, we never did believe Grandpa’s story, not really—as much as we might have wanted to…. We still loved listening to it, though. Christmas nights would never have been the same without it.’ This sets the scene for Grandpa, then a young shepherd boy, to tell his tale of what happened on the night Christ was born.

A family of shepherds is visited by the angel Gabriel: “Oh dear … I can see you are going to need some convincing,“ he says in response to their questions but convince them he does (with the aid of a host of angels).

Off they set towards Bethlehem leaving the far from happy youngest among them to mind the sheep, despairing of the unfairness of his situation.

But then Gabriel appears before the boy

saying “So I’ve had this idea, to make it a little fairer. I could fly you there and back, lickety-split, and no one would ever know you’d been gone.” (I love that use of colloquial language.) And so he does with the result that the lad is the first visitor to the stable.

He leaves the infant his very own shepherd’s crook before Gabriel wings him back to the flock of sheep, though that isn’t quite the end …

Quentin Blake’s distinctive ink and watercolour illustrations deepen both the wit and poignancy of Morpurgo’s telling making this a book to cherish.

The Hairdo That Got Away / My Name is Bear

The Hairdo That Got Away
Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers
Andersen Press

A small child narrator tells us how he’s used to a monthly visit to the barbershop with Dad, till one day Dad isn’t there. We don’t know the reason for this separation – perhaps his cool new haircut precipitated a parental row. The consequence though, is that the child’s hair starts growing and growing.

The days become weeks and then months; the hair grows ‘ginormous’ until his teacher, Miss Clarke is unable to recognise her pupil and Mum can’t hear her own child.

There follows a class visit to the zoo when the child, who is without any spending money, is accused of ‘teasing the animals’.

It seems that it’s down to the headteacher to recognise the recalcitrant child is actually struggling with his now unmanageable tangle of emotions and provide some bibliotherapy rather than a telling off.

All ends happily with Dad’s return (now also with a huge mass of troublesome hair) and a new hairstyle for each member of the now re-united family.

Like this reviewer, others both children and adults may find performance poet and author, Joseph Coelho’s warm-hearted story slightly enigmatic. Assuredly youngsters will delight in the unruly head of hair the narrator grows during his emotional upheaval and the funky stars the barber cuts for him.

My Name is Bear
Nicola Killen
Egmont

The bear in this story has just moved home and is extraordinarily fond of his name, Bear. So much so that he soon starts introducing himself to his neighbours: “Hello! My name is Bear’ he says to Bird and Fish in turn but can’t stop himself from being rude about their respective names.

This doesn’t slip the notice of an observant earthworm that pops up every time Bear stops to talk.

The exchange with Elephant is downright insulting and Bear continues with his rudeness

until he comes face to face with another ursine character. Now there’s a problem: both claim to be called Bear.
However although Bear 1 loses it completely throwing a tantrum on the spot,

the other Bear is ready to compromise. Eventually, after giving it some consideration, Bear number one agrees that perhaps after all they can share the same name.

Thereafter it’s a case of apologies to all the neighbours who in turn start to think that perhaps the newcomer isn’t quite so bad after all.

That’s not the end of this tale though for not long after a third new neighbour, bear number three, arrives and introduces himself … To reveal the finale would make me a story-spoiler so I’ll merely say that the worm actually has the last word.

Nicola Killen’s amusing tale of acceptance and learning how to get along with others is just right for little humans learning to make their way in the wider world, perhaps having started at playgroup or nursery.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut Butter and Jelly
Ben Clanton
Egmont

I spluttered my way through this third book in Ben Clanton’s graphic novel style Narwhal and Jelly series, over my porridge breakfast – no peanut butter, jelly or even waffles in sight, I hasten to add.

Herein Jelly takes it upon himself to turn parental and persuade Narwhal to try something else instead of his relentless diet of waffles, the something else being in this instance, peanut butter. Out comes that “How do you know unless you try it?” so many youngsters will be familiar with as a result of their own parents’ coaxings to try unfamiliar foods, especially veggies.

Having ascertained there aren’t any allergen issues, a peanut butter cookie is proffered by Jelly

and accepted by Narwhal who devours the entire thing declaring it “fintastic’ and ‘yumptious’. No surprises there, but Narwhal aka Peanut Butter,

aka all manner of other names, then goes on to consume jar after jar after jar of the sticky stuff with super-silly results for both characters.

Delivered in dialogue form and garnished with groan-worthy puns, bonkers humour once again reigns in these three tales of oceanic friendship between the unlikely duo. Don’t miss the jokes and fantastic facts sandwiched between the stories.

No Longer Alone

No Longer Alone
Joseph Coelho and Robyn Wilson-Owen
Egmont

My heart really went out to the so-called shy, quiet little girl narrator of this beautiful story.
Actually however, those who’ve called her either of these are wrong; it’s just that due to events that have gone before she just doesn’t feel like talking or being noisy.

Nor does she feel like running around in the park with her siblings;

instead she wants to be alone, even though her loving, understanding Dad encourages her to try and find the “old you, the get-up-and-go you. The loud –and-active you, the happy you, the you, you used to be,”

Dad’s comments open the floodgates  for an outpouring of feelings as his little daughter opens up about the things that worry her, upset her and make her feel alone.

As the two sit together something shifts inside our narrator and things begin to feel a bit different.

Then slowly, slowly she finds that she can be that chatty self with others as well as when she’s alone; and she can play with her sisters again, sharing feelings and imaginings, alone no more.

Joseph’s beautiful heartfelt, poetic telling is full of poignancy and Robyn Wilson-Owen captures the inherent turmoil and tenderness in the tale with her beautifully textured illustrations of a family whose loss is palpable.

Party for Dads / Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: The Mermaid Mission

Party for Dads
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

For this follow-up to their School for Dads, the Guillians have created another joyful picture book and it’s just right for celebrating Father’s Day as well as a Dad’s birthday.

The particular dad in this rhyming tale has no time in the morning for birthdays, barely paying heed to his daughter’s “Come on – it’s time to play! … You should be having fun.”

Instead he dashes out leaving young Anna and the friends she summons to plan and bake for a special surprise evening celebration.

Later in the day, Dads of all kinds arrive and are instructed to cast aside their phones and don fancy gear ready for some fun party celebrations and games both inside …

and outdoors.

Enthusiasm for partying duly fired up, they then start bopping and before long their less than skilful moves are being scored in ‘Strictly’ style.

After that it’s time for Anna’s Dad to embrace the true party spirit, which he does by becoming a stand-in magic bunny when his daughter performs a spot of prestidigitation.

Over indulgence is inevitable after all the playful party-poppering papas tuck in to the feast on the table that culminates in the appearance of …

Then candles extinguished, it’s award presentation time: but will Anna’s dad be a prizewinner?

Fun and a certain amount of silliness prevail in this exuberant book, made all the more effervescent by Ada Grey’s funky illustrations

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: The Mermaid Mission
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Garry Parsons
Egmont

The second story starring Molly and the enchanted wardrobe she discovered at her Granny’s house sees the little girl’s attention being drawn to a mermaid costume.

Having stepped inside and counted to three, she’s off whizzing down into the depths of the ocean for a new adventure.

Her frolics with mermaids are soon interrupted by snarling sharks claiming ownership of a wreck and swooshing the girl and her new friends down to where more friendly creatures – a turtle and octopus are taking tea.

The mermaids relate what’s just happened and suddenly Molly has an idea. She challenges the sharks to a race, the prize being the shipwreck.

The sharks are confident they’ll be victorious but will they?

Lessons are learned, apologies given and accepted; and after a game of hide-and-seek, it’s time for Molly to bid her new friends farewell.

The Guillains’ magical rhyming tale is complemented by Garry Parsons’ bright, expressive, eye-popping scenes of the sub-aquatic frolics.

 

Flat Stanley / The Flat Stanley Collection

Flat Stanley
Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph
Egmont

I was over the moon to learn that Flat Stanley was to appear in picture book form, especially with Rob Biddulph as illustrator. I could think of no better person for the task and Rob has most certainly pulled it off with aplomb.

Just in case you’ve never come across Stanley Lambchop and his family before, let me introduce them: there’s young Stanley, his younger brother Arthur and their parents Mr and Mrs Lambchop who can be a tad fussy when it comes to matters of politeness and talking properly.

So when a huge pin board hurtles from the wall totally flattening Stanley, they’re more concerned about Arthur’s manner of delivering the news about his brother than the contents of same. Indeed they defer a doctor’s visit until after breakfast.

Happily it’s good news: Dr Dan is reassuring and so the now half inch thick boy can start to take advantage of his lack of girth, though there are snags too.

Next day news of another art theft reaches the ears of Stanley and his dad as they’re out for a stroll.

Stanley has a bright idea that just might help apprehend the thieves and that night it’s put into action: will he pull it off?

Yes Stanley does save the day – or rather the object of the thieves’ desire.

But perhaps being a hero of the extra-skinny kind isn’t all fun and flattery …

I can’t remember how many years ago I first shared the original Flat Stanley book with a class of children but it was certainly a long time back and it’s remained a favourite with me, and many more classes since. Now with this smashing picture book version of the first story, a younger audience can savour the delights of the flat but inflatable, Stanley in the new Rob Biddulph incarnation.

Rob has also illustrated a bumper collection of Stanley Stories:

The Flat Stanley Collection
Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph
Egmont

This chunky volume contains six Stanley books – the first, together with Stanley and the Magic Lamp, Invisible Stanley, Stanley’s Christmas Adventure, Stanley in Space and Stanley, Flat Again!

Guaranteed hours of delicious Stanleyness with plenty of “Hay is for horses, not people” thrown in for extra enjoyment.

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick / The Naughtiest Unicorn

Stick & Fetch Investigate: The Wrong End of the Stick
Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Walker Books

Top-notch undercover detective duo Sally Stick and her canine pal Fetch return in another set of gigglesome episodes.
In the first, Glass Half Full, we learn that the friends have had to shift their operation to a temporary HQ on account of their stay at artist Uncle Bob’s residence for the duration of Granny Stick’s hospital sojourn.

It’s not long before the detectives have a case: Uncle Bob has lost his glasses and there’s a tasty reward on offer for finding them. But there are glasses, and there are glasses. The particular ones in question have gold rims and although there are glasses aplenty in the house, none have gold rims – or do they.

This is a case of can’t see for looking; but can Sally and Fetch solve it ?

Hmmm! What’s that smell – could it be sausages? …

Bothersome beavers are at the heart of the next case, or so the detectives surmise when they come across a snapped-in-two lamppost on their way back from the library where they’d read about the tree chomping creatures. They find  clues in the form and aroma of baked beans; and see a sign indicating the location of a swimming pool. Sally puts two and one together and off they head to the pool.

Time to go undercover, but will they find a beaver on arrival and if so, can a damming crisis be averted?

Two further cases, equally zany are concerned first with, assisting the police when a spate of bag-snatching breaks out –

there’s a frog and a whiffy man involved here; and the second, a bit of bed-digging that might just happen to yield treasure, of a sort.

Delectably silly, enormously engaging and very importantly, celebrating the imagination, (or maybe just the wrong end of the stick), with its plenitude of comical illustrations by Eliissa Elwick, this smashing little book is perfect just flying solo reading.

The Naughtiest Unicorn
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

The particular Unicorn School in this story runs during the holidays and young Mira is overjoyed when she receives an invitation to join, especially as her sister is also a pupil and her mum had been too.

Having successfully entered the portal with another newcomer Raheem, Mira meets her teacher and classmates, then enters the hall to learn of the principles on which the school prides itself. She can hardly wait to be paired with her unicorn and at last it’s her turn.

However, the squat, pot-bellied creature, Dave, that is eventually coaxed through the door is somewhat lacking in sparkles, although he does have a twinkle in his eye.

Once in the classroom, Mira hears that there are only two days before they must go out on their first magical quest.

Can she possibly get ready when the recalcitrant creature objects even to being groomed? Do they actually have a totally magic bond?

Things don’t look promising especially as Dave’s penchants seem to be for doughnuts and falling asleep in lessons. Will Mira’s ambitions to go on that quest ever be fulfilled? Perhaps her friends Darcy and Raheem can help …

Just right for newly independent readers, this is a sparky tale that focuses as much on friendship as the glittery world of unicorns, showing that magic comes both from the former and the latter. Humour runs throughout Pip Bird’s telling and is brought out further in David O’Connell’s zany illustrations clearly drawn with a twinkle in his eye. Add to all that a quiz to help readers identify their unicorn type, and some jokes; and those who enjoy the book will be excited to learn that there’s a promise of more to come.

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea / Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Ben Clanton
Egmont

In Unicorn of the Sea. Ben Clanton introduces readers to Narwhal, a self-aggrandising creature.

In the first of three sub-aquatic adventures, while cruising in ‘new waters’ Narwhal encounters a jellyfish and despite doubting each other’s realness, the two interrogate one another, forge a friendship and eat waffles together.

The second tale sees the two involved in forming their very own ‘podtastic’ pod of awesomeness that includes other ocean buddies – shark, turtle, blowfish, octopus and of course – though he’s very nearly left out – Jelly, each of which receives a tusk tooth in honour of the occasion.

My favourite of the three stories is the book’s final one wherein Narwhal introduces Jelly to his ‘favourite book in the whole wide water and probably the rest of the universe too!’ It’s a book without any words or pictures and Clanton provides two blank pages for maximum effect here. Narwhal tells his pal that ‘it’s an imagination book … you’ve got to pretend.’ Brilliant! And so thinks Jelly too for having tried it out, he wants to borrow it right away.

With its splendid dialogue, this is irresistible, sub-aquatic bonkersness of the first order delivered in graphic novel style for young readers. There’s even a silly narwhal song so sing and clap along to.
This twosome is up there with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, and Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggy.

In Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, Narwhal swathes himself in superhero-ness assuming a secret identity and appointing a sidekick (Jelly Jolt) but despite this, he seems to lack the necessary superpowers, so he thinks. Nonetheless fuelled by waffles – the friends’ ‘super weakness’ – he sets about helping a star(fish) to become a cosmic being. This involves cannon blasting and wishing (I won’t say which, if either, works).

There’s also a comic – no prizes for guessing it’s a waffle-themed one, created by none other than Narwhal and Jelly themselves.

And then in the final tale here, Narwhal finally does discover his very own superpower; it’s a super-important one too, discovered by an act of altruism towards crab.

Once again the whole thing – super sea creature facts and all – is super-brilliant and full of heart. I just love how it effortlessly demonstrates the importance of friendship, of encouragement and that all of us – if we look hard enough –possess a world-improving superpower. With laughs aplenty and the most adorable illustrations, this book is an unmissable gem, not only for young readers, but adults too.

Captain Sparklebeard

Captain Sparklebeard
Timothy Knapman and Sam Lloyd
Egmont

When first we meet young Peg she’s something of a Cinderella character residing with her nasty Step-Great-Grand Auntie who bosses the girl around constantly. So hard at work all day is she that her only spare time is at night. That’s when she reads pirate tales and dreams of escape and adventure. Good on you girl!

One day while out walking with her relation’s cat she discovers a pirate ship has arrived in the harbour. On board is Captain Hairy-Ears shouting about having a treasure map and announcing that anyone who ‘dreams of escape and adventure’ can join his crew.

Seemingly though there are exceptions for when Peg asks him politely she’s turned down on account of her nice manners, her smallness of stature and lack of a beard. Moreover, when the lass informs him that she’s read lots of pirate stories, this is met with derision.

Peg however is not giving up that easily. Back home that night she fashions herself a pirate outfit from curtains and a bushy – albeit rather itchy – beard from the floor brush. Then spying her Step Aunt’s jewels she’d been ordered to polish earlier, she has an idea.

The following morning there’s a brand new pirate boat on the ocean.

When challenged as to her identity, Peg informs Captain Hairy-Ears she’s Captain Sparklebeard, the greatest pirate ever and moreover, she will get to the treasure before he does.

Having cast aspersions about her boat Captain Hairy-Ears sails off leaving the lass to peruse her Big Book of Sea Perils. This volume proves worth its weight in gold for it warns her of the dangers lying in wait between her and the treasure island, hazards of which the other pirates know nothing.

Consequently when they finally arrive on the beach they’re jittering wrecks with nothing going for them save the treasure map.

But Peg still has the upper hand for she’s the only literate one among the treasure seekers.

Furthermore she has something else to reveal that will surprise her rivals.

I’d hate to be a story spoiler, especially of one as much fun as this so I won’t reveal what happens thereafter. That’s for you to discover when you lay your hands on this treasure of a book.

With Timothy Knapman’s wonderfully playful telling that’s full of alliteration and other word combinations that demonstrate to children that language is fun, the indomitable female character and Sam Lloyd’s rumbustious scenes of madness and mayhem on the high seas, this book is a winner.

Brilliant Ideas from Wonderful Women / Little Miss Inventor / Amazing Women Sticker Scenes

Brilliant Ideas from Wonderful Women
Aitziber Lopez and Luciano Lozano
Wide Eyed Editions

Let’s give three rousing cheers for the brilliantly inventive women behind the first car heater, the game Monopoly, disposable nappies, the dishwasher, the domestic surveillance system, Kevlar, maritime flares, non reflective glass, WIFI, one-hand operated syringes,

the submarine telescope, diagnostic tests in medicine, the life raft, windscreen wipers and the E-book.

All these ground- breaking inventions came about thanks to the work of the pioneering, creative spirit of the women featured in this book. Each one has made a significant contribution to science or technology in either the 19th or 20th century and they are each given a spread in this celebratory book.

For several of those included, the invention featured is not their only one. For instance Chicago-born Margaret A. Wilcox is credited with inventing the first washing machine in addition to the car heater discussed here; Hedy Lamarr, in addition to WIFI – surprisingly inspired by piano keys we’re told – invented Bluetooth and GPS. And, Marion O’Brien Donovan went on to invent a number of other things – dental floss, a soap dish that drained and a hanger that could hold up to 30 garments – being some of them.
It will come as no surprise to learn that these women inventors all had to overcome enormous odds to get their work patented and marketed, not least African-American Marie Van Brittan Brown the brains behind the 1966 domestic surveillance system; indeed she (and her husband) weren’t successful in marketing their system although many others made fortunes inspired by the original patent.

Maria Beasley inventor of the life raft did not have her invention taken seriously until the disastrous Titanic sinking. Maria’s life rafts were on the liner but not in sufficient numbers to save everyone.

All this fascinating information and more is included in scientist Aitziber Lopez’s inspiring book.

I love the way, illustrator Luciano Lozano has cleverly incorporated both the inspiration for, and use of each invention, into his amusing spreads.

This is a book I’d certainly want to have in my KS1/early KS2 classroom as well as recommending it for families who want to celebrate with the children, the achievements of women, and that should be every family.

Little Miss Inventor
Adam Hargreaves
Egmont

Adam Hargreaves (son of Roger) has created a new Little Miss and who wouldn’t love a book with a young female inventor?

Little Miss Inventor has a brain brimming over with good ideas; ideas that she transforms into inventions in her garden shed. Her self-imagined, self-built mobile house is chock-full of her awesome inventions and she loves to create useful things for her friends as well as herself.

One day however, her brain power is tested to the limit: she needs to make Mr Rude a birthday present; but what can one give to a person who hurls insults at everyone he meets. Can she think of something appropriate and if so what could it be?

Feminist power with a STEM theme and a laugh out loud finale for your little ones.

Amazing Women Sticker Scenes
illustrated by Isabel Muñoz
Red Shed

This book contains ten illustrated backdrops  by Isabel Muñoz that include basic key information about ten women who have made in their own fields, significant contributions to society through their achievements in aviation, girls’ rights to education, science, literature, sport, women’s rights and architecture.

In addition there are six pages of stickers to add to the relevant scenes. This could be a good way to introduce the numerous sticker-mad youngsters to these wonderful women.

The Light in the Night / The World Book Day Monster

The Light in the Night
Marie Voight
Simon & Schuster

Young Betty absolutely loves the night time for it brings with it the most amazing stories, one of which features Cosmo.
Cosmo is a bear that is terrified of the dark and just when Betty is wishing that she could tell him that he has no need to fear it, POP! There he is.
Together they set off, hand in hand, on a journey of discovery. Led by a firefly they walk into the woods where they find a cave
Betty reassures her friend and they follow the firefly inside towards an inky lake whereon a rowing boat awaits to take them further.
The cave grows ever darker as they go deeper within until they come upon a sign.

Overcoming her own initial fear, Betty does as the sign says. An amazing sight meets their eyes and it’s anything but scary.
Once back outside, it’s Betty’s turn to feel anxious; she makes a confession …

With roles reversed, Cosmo now does the reassuring until the two reach Betty’s house safely once more.
Back indoors over hot chocolate (what else) the two talk of their journey until it’s time for Cosmo to leave.

Betty gives him her lantern and a special message.

In the morning she wonders if it had all been a dream: what do you think? You’ll need a copy of this magical book to find out.

Rising star, Marie Voight’s illustrations are adorable and her two characters totally endearing making this a thoroughly reassuring, warm-hearted bedtime story for you and your little ones as well as a lovely one to share in an early years setting.

The World Book Day Monster
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Ada Grey
Egmont

World Book Day is fast approaching, her school is celebrating but Anna has a dilemma. What should she dress up as?

Dad’s suggestion that they pay a visit to the bookshop proves fruitful and thanks to a helpful suggestion from the bookseller, Anna goes home fired with enthusiasm, carrying a book.

After multiple reads she enlists parental help to make her costume and next day she excitedly rushes off to school to show her friends.

Their response however isn’t particularly positive; they all ask, Anna, what are you?” over and over throughout the day.

Happily her head teacher’s reaction is very different; it was a favourite of hers when she was a child and she’s eager to share the book Anna is clutching with the class.

A magical story time ensues that is much appreciated by all her classmates, which leaves Anna thoroughly satisfied, and so she should be as she demonstrates the power of story to thrill and enchant.

Adam and Charlotte’s rhyming text coupled with Ada’s spirited scenes make for a fun book to share around World Book Day or at any time one wants to attest to the power of a story and the importance of the imagination.

Hugs and Kisses / Love from Pooh

Hugs and Kisses
Sam Hay and Emma Dodd
Egmont

The opening line of the Joni Mitchell’s classic song Both Sides Now popped into my head as I saw the cover of this book bearing the words ‘There are two sides to every story …’

Start from the front and there’s Big Blue Whale feeling, well blue on account of the fact that he’s the only creature in the ocean without someone to hug.
Several kind-hearted sea animals do their best to give him that longed-for hug but the whale’s size is an issue, as is his ticklishness

until he encounters an old shipwreck wherein lies a woeful Wiggly Octopus. Could she perhaps be the one …

Flip the book and we meet Wiggly Octopus in desperate need of a kiss better on account of a bumped head sustained while playing bubble ball. Her long, sucker-covered tentacles are a distinct disincentive to her fishy friends and the starfish she passes and one odd-looking creature merely swooshes right down into the depths away from her.

It looks as though it’s time to hide away in the old shipwreck and feel miserable, all alone and unkissed …

We all love a happy ending but this cleverly constructed book provides, depending on how you look at it, not that, but a happy middle; or alternatively, two happy endings that just happen to take place in the middle.

However, no matter which way you go, there’s a smashing pop-up encounter in the middle of Sam and Emma’s enchanting twist in its tail book.

Just right for Valentine’s Day or any time when someone needs a hug and a kiss.

Love from Pooh
A.A.Milne and E.H. Shepard
Egmont

Read one per day and you have an entire month’s worth of original quotations on the theme of love, from the one and only Pooh Bear. Unsurprisingly being as it’s his greatest love, honey features in a good few. Here’s one entitled ‘Frustrated Love’ to set those taste buds a-tingle: ‘He could see the honey / he could smell the honey, / but he couldn’t quite / reach the honey.

If you want to put a smile of delight on a special someone’s face this Valentine’s Day then this assemblage of delicious A.A. Milne snippets together with some illustrative gems from Ernest Shepard is just the thing (perhaps along with a pot of Pooh’s favourite sticky stuff).

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat / Santa’s High-Tech Christmas / Christmas Gremlins / A Very Corgi Christmas

Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat
Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles
Nosy Crow

Such is his fondness for taking a snooze that Santa’s fluffy feline Sammy will drop off pretty much anywhere and dream of accompanying his owner on the Christmas Eve delivery run.

What he doesn’t imagine though when he dashes off to Santa’s workshop, is the manner in which that dream finally comes true. The somnolent cat gets parcelled up and dropped in among the other packages on the back of the sleigh and then it’s a case of “Ho! Ho! Ho! “ and off they go.

However, Sammy isn’t the only extra rider on Santa’s sleigh that night. Two wicked robbers, Mischievous May and Bad Billy are ready and waiting to seize their big chance and help themselves to some of the parcels.

Can Sammy save the day? And what is the special present Santa leaves for his pet moggy under the Christmas tree?

Festive fun aided and abetted by a snoozy feline delivered in Lucy Rowland’s bouncing rhyme with the addition of a good sprinkling of elves and excitement in Paula Bowles’ pattern-rich illustrations.

Santa’s High-Tech Christmas
Mike Dumbleton and Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing

Santa has eschewed the old fashioned methods when it comes to transport and keeping account of Christmas parcels; instead he uses a motorised sleigh and stores all his lists on his smart new techno-pad. But disaster strikes as he’s whizzing over the rooftops by means of his rocket-pack; Santa’s techno-device plummets to the ground and he’s faced with a blank screen.

Enter Jasmin, a techno-savvy little girl who is more that happy to give sad old Santa a helping hand by showing him how to access all the information he needs.

Not only that but she comes to his aid in another way too: after all Christmas really is all about giving.

Mike Dumbleton’s jaunty rhyming narrative is given added zaniness by Angela Perrini’s illustrations.

Christmas Gremlins
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Chris Chatterton
Egmont

Oh my goodness, those gremlins are at large again in another of the Guillains’ rhyming romps and now they’re on the rampage creating havoc in the run up to Christmas. It seems they’re determined to get in on the act no matter whether it’s decorating the tree, baking mince pies and Christmas cake (or should that be gobbling same?), wrapping up all the presents (and everything else in sight), singing – more like screeching – carols at the door or popping out of Christmas cards. But that’s only indoors. Further prankish doings are likely outside too: nothing is safe from their mischief so let’s hope they’re well out of the way before Santa arrives.

With more than 50 flaps to lift, this madness and mayhem will keep little ones entertained as they play hunt the mischief makers on every one of Chris Chatterton’s jolly spreads.

A Very Corgi Christmas
Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer
Simon & Schuster

The royal corgis are among those not feeling the Christmas spirit, far from it, all except for young Bella that is. Dazzled by the lights and excited by the hustle and bustle outside she decides to go and join in the fun. Hitching a ride in the back of a mail van, she gets out at Piccadilly Circus where everything suddenly feels overwhelming – too bright, too hectic and FAR TOO LOUD!

As luck would have it along comes London savvy pup Pip offering to show her the sights. A great time is had by both but suddenly as they approach the palace, Pip goes missing. Will Posy ever see her newfound friend again? Perhaps with the assistance of a very special royal couple …

Delivered with an abundance of Christmas spirit, Sam and Loretta’s London tale is a charmer.

Grandpa Christmas

Grandpa Christmas
Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field
Egmont

When one of my very favourite authors and favourite illustrators come together in a seasonal collaboration, the result is, so I anticipated, something special. And this is truly something very special; it’s not just a Christmas book, but one for all times.

Herein, narrator mum Mia tells how every Christmas she shares with her family a letter from her Grandpa, (sent one year instead of a Christmas card or present) kept safe in her diary. The reading of this letter, inspired by visits to his home from a much younger Mia that brought him joy, has become part and parcel of their family day.

Grandpa’s letter tells of his deep concerns about our fragile planet and its wildlife. He talks of the rapid rate at which its precious resources are being depleted and makes a prayerful plea for a new world and time where ‘we grow and eat only what we need … and learn to share all we have, so that no-one anywhere goes hungry again’; a world without pollution

and global warming,

where wild animals live free, and war and waste are no more.

Morpurgo’s poignant words are a powerful antidote to the gross consumerism and waste that the Christmas season has become, and a stark reminder of the original message of goodwill and giving.

Jim Field’s illustrations echo the deep sadness inherent in the text but at the same time bring out both the hopefulness in Grandpa’s heartfelt litany

and the loving bond between Mia and her grandfather.

This treasure of a book is, I think, my favourite Christmas publication of the year.

The Boy on the Bench

The Boy on the Bench
Corrinne Averiss and Gabriel Alborozo
Egmont

Observe young children in a playground, be that at school or in a park: there are many who love to be at the centre of the action and others who lack the confidence and linger on the sidelines watching and wondering how they might join in. That author Corrinne Averiss has done so is evident in her story of Tom, who is one of the watchers.

As the story opens he sits with his dad on a bench in the busy playground.

When Dad suggests that with dinnertime approaching he should take the opportunity to use the equipment, “In a minute …” is Tom’s response as he looks for somewhere he might find a space he can fit into.

One of the children starts playing at being a fireman, soaking the others as they come down the slide.

Tom is amused and clearly would like to join in the fun but still lacks the courage to do so.

It’s only when a little girl’s teddy is stranded atop the climbing frame as a result of the rescue game suddenly switching focus

that Tom leaves the bench and little by little, starts climbing until …

At last Tom has found a friend and that makes all the difference.

So much so that when his dad tells him it’s time to go home, he’s so comfortable in the Tom-shaped space he’s finally found, that his “In a minute!’ reply signifies something totally different.

Gabriel Alborozo too must have been an avid playground watcher judging from his beautifully observed scenes detailing Tom’s transition from nervous watcher to confident participant in the playground activities.

A Scattering of Magic: The Magic Misfits: The Second Story / The Littlest Witch / Lavinia and the Magic Ring

The Magic Misfits: The Second Story
Neil Patrick Harris with Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton
Egmont

I hadn’t read the first The Magic Misfits book so in case you’re in the same situation, it tells how young street musician Carter having been taken in after the disappearance of his parents, by his Sly ‘uncle’ Mike, escapes and ends up becoming friends with other variously talented children who together form The Magic Misfits.

This second story continues right on from the first only the focus now turns to Leila Vernon who lives with her two fathers above Vernon’s Magic Shop.

One day out of the blue, a stranger from Dante’s past appears in the shop. The woman, Sandra Santos, aka Madame Esmerelda, was so she says, a friend of Carter’s father.
What though is she doing in Mineral Wells? Whatever it is, it might be that she knows why Leila was placed in an orphanage and by whom. Could it be that Sandra holds the key to these questions?

Scattered throughout this intriguing pacey tale are riddles and puzzles as well as some magic tricks to try and a liberal sprinkling of black and white illustrations by Lissy Marlin.

Carter, Leila and her friends are well worth getting to know, especially for readers who like their stories sprinkled with magic.

The Littlest Witch
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Mark Beech
Catnip

The author of this crazy book is considered to be one of Italy’s best childrens’ writers. It’s a tale of a young man, Alfonso Terribile and what happens when his Great Uncle Sempronio dies.

Alfonso is left a fortune but there is a condition: he has to marry a witch and do so within a year and a month or else his fortune will go elsewhere.

There’s a zany cast of characters including the Zep’s seventh daughter, the infant Sibylla who seems to be behaving in a rather strange fashion. Could she perhaps be the one? Maybe, but there are a lot of other possible contenders too, not least being the spirited Wanda …
Greed quickly consumes Alfonso but will he manage to fulfil his uncle’s criteria? That would be telling; let’s just say that he receives his just deserts.

Mark Beech’s line drawings scattered throughout the book add to the delightful quirkiness.

Lavinia and the Magic Ring
Bianca Pitzorno, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Catnip

Imagine what might happen if you were a little girl and received a ring with a very special power. That is what happens one chilly Christmas Eve, to seven-year-old Lavinia, a modern-day match girl residing in Milan.

Lying in the cold just before midnight dreaming of good things to eat, she’s suddenly awoken by a beautiful lady dressed unsuitably for the cold, asking for a light and professing to be a fairy. Lavinia is nonplussed but agrees and by way of thanks, the witch slips a ring onto her finger, a magic ring that turns things into poo – yes poo!

The girl’s reaction is to try and pull the thing off right away, but the ring is stuck fast.

Now it’s up to Lavinia to use her weird powers judiciously.

There are a lot of decidedly stinky situations in this story so definitely don’t give it to a squeamish child; the rest however will doubtless revel in the ponginess of Lavinia’s mess-making escapades hilariously illustrated by none other than the inimitable Quentin Blake.

Sweep

Sweep
Louise Greig and Júlia Sardà
Egmont

We all find ourselves in a grumpy mood from time to time but for Ed it’s massive.
Ed is in a BAD mood. It had begun as a very small trip induced one but rapidly escalates until it’s blown up into a huge raging storm engulfing everything in its wake.

All the while Ed keeps his head right down, eyes to the ground where so his mood seems to say, are interesting things.

If only he’d chosen to lift his gaze he’d have felt uplifted by the sight of beautiful things, but no. Determined to proceed in this manner, on he goes, Ed and his bad mood.

Finally it’s become so bad, the whole town is in its thrall: no birdsong, no flowers, just a huge blackness.

Now Ed is conflicted: his bad mood still wants him continue in this way but Ed begins to wish the whole thing had whirled and swirled its way into oblivion.

How much longer can he keep this up, especially as fatigue and hunger pangs begin to manifest themselves.
But has he gone just too far? Can he give up this overwhelming bad mood?
Something must change surely?

And sure enough something does. Up springs a new wind, small at first but growing and growing until the world looks different: much brighter, making Ed feel a little foolish. Was it all for naught?

Not quite, for he suddenly spies something before him on the ground,

something that might possibly be a spirit lifter … a bad mood extinguisher that enables him to see the beauty surrounding him. Not only that, he knows he has two ways to look at life; it’s up (or down) to him …

Author Louise Greig delivers another powerful story, rather more punchy than Between Tick and Tock and The Night Box. This one, with Júlia Sardà’s dramatic, sombre hued illustrations feels altogether different, but equally absorbing and finally, uplifting.

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star / Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert

Molly’s Magic Wardrobe: Search for the Fairy Star
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Garry Parsons
Egmont

I have to admit that with its pink sparkly cover I was tempted to put this book aside but decided that it was unfair not to bother reading it and I’m glad I did. The Guillain’s rhyming text reads aloud very well –that was no surprise though – telling of an adventure its young protagonist Molly has when she dons a fairy costume found in her granny’s wardrobe and then, in Lion, Witch and Wardrobe style, proceeds to step inside and through to a magical place – fairyland no less.

There she meets a distressed fairy, Flo, who has lost the star from her magic wand.

Molly offers to help and together they begin to search. Their quest takes them inside a castle, through an enchanted wood and into a garden and there are encounters with a giant, a wolf and a witch. These characters are anything but the normal fairytale stereotypes proving friendly (giant),

helpful (wolf) …

and far from wicked (witch) but none has seen the missing star.

The witch does have a wishing well in her garden though.

With the Guillains’ accomplished storytelling, Gary Parsons’ bold, bright scenes of the magical happenings and the added fun of wings and a wand inside the covers of the book for individual magic make-believe, the book’s creators look set to have the start of a winning new series here.

Sophie Johnson: Unicorn Expert
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

The narrator of this book clearly has a thing for unicorns and a wonderfully off-beat imagination. She introduces us to her charges, all seventeen of them and goes on to explain what hard work they are even to a unicorn expert such as herself.

The creatures need lessons in magic,

in hunting for food and in safety – especially where balloons are concerned.

Even when they shed their horns,

make mess all over the house …

or need protection, no matter what, young Sophie is always up to the job.

Ella Okstad’s quirky illustrative style is perfect for Morag Styles’ first person narrative. Her pictures show much more is going on than Sophie Johnson is aware of and that’s what delights listeners who relish being in the know– mine did at any rate.

Star in the Jar

Star in the Jar
Sam Hay and Sarah Massini
Egmont

Abortive attempts to discover the owner of the extra special treasure found by the narrator’s younger brother result in ‘finders keepers’. The little boy takes his new -found star with him everywhere.

But although the boy is happy, the star, despite its shininess, definitely is not.

That night there appears a message in the sky.

Try as they might though, brother and sister are unable to relocate the star in its rightful place far above them: but then big sis. has a bright idea – a very bright idea and a message is sent to the little star’s astral friends way, way up in the dark.

The lost star is rescued; the boy is sad but then comes a realisation that although he’s lost one treasure, it has been replaced by something even more special …

Full of warmth, this is a lovely story of siblings, friendship and doing what’s right that is perfect for sharing just before sleep but too enjoyable to be restricted to bedtime reading only.

With a plethora of enchanting detail, (including what looks rather like a small velveteen rabbit) Sarah Massini highlights the tenderness of the sister/brother relationship and the problem solving, of Sam Hay’s tale.

I’ve signed the charter  

A Snoring Giant, A Favourite Witch & Knights Galore

The Giant Who Snored
Mike Nicholson and Amy Lewis
Little Door Books
In the hills close by a town lives a gentle giant. He’s a great favourite of the townsfolk especially the children who look forward to his daily visit and the fun it offers …

Everything is tickety boo until the day the giant, suddenly overcome by tiredness, falls asleep during his visit. The loud snores he emits rock the whole town causing absolute chaos on land and sea and driving the residents absolutely crazy.
The hullabaloo must be stopped, announces the mayor offering a reward to anyone who can wake the slumberer. However, despite the best efforts of the blacksmith, the tailor and the chemist, the giant remains sound asleep. Is there anybody who can rouse the snorer? And if so, how?
Here’s a clue as to the who …

As for the how, suffice it to say, it’s pretty disgusting and likely to cause young listeners to emit delighted ‘eeuugh!’s in response; and everything ends satisfactorily for all concerned.
Apart from the very occasional slight creak, Mike Nicholson’s rhyming text slips nicely off the tongue -read it through to get the phrasing right before sharing it though. In combination with Amy Lewis’ digital scenes of the stentorian snores of the giant and their effects, you have the makings of a lively, enjoyable story time session.

Winnie and Wilbur The Naughty Knight
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford University Press
In their latest magical escapade Winnie transports Wilbur and herself back in time into a medieval castle where, for a change, her faithful moggie takes the starring role in the grand tournament, with Winnie as a lady-in-waiting.
Can the gallant knight, Sir Wilbur outshoot the famous Sir Roderick in the archery contest? And what happens when the two come face to face in the jousting?

Let’s just say that Winnie has her magic wand neatly stowed away about her person and thanks to a few deft flourishes of her arm, Sir Wilbur cuts Sir Roderick down to size in spectacular fashion, just in time to attend the magnificent banquet in the Great Hall. No need for magic there surely? …
Even after 30 years, Winnie and Wilbur’s magical charm never seems to wear off and it’s especially good to see Wilbur as the star of the show; love those split page layouts especially.
This one brims over with zany humour and is full of potential for primary classroom themes.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks: The Dinosaur’s Return
Kristina Stephenson
Egmont
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks is back to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his first adventure in what I think is story number nine.
When Charlie’s pet cat Envelope unknowingly hatches a dinosaur’s egg, the young knight together with his faithful friends, set out on a quest to return the ‘little something’ to Thunder Mountain.
A quest that sees them sucked into a swirling watery tunnel, diving into the vent of a volcano and more, before landing up on an island and in so doing, precipitating a dinosaur stampede.

All ends happily however with grateful dinosaurs and a spectacular display of fireworks.
Fast moving, fun, full of action and with dino.-sized flaps to explore, Sir Charlie and friends continue to delight.

Muffins for Mummies

Muffins for Mummies
Adam & Charlotte Guillain and Lee Wildish
Egmont
All the cakes have mysteriously disappeared from the museum café but never fear: George is on the case with Trixie, his dog; and the lad has stuffed his bag full of yummy-looking chocolate muffins.
Once at the museum, there’s a trail of cake-crumbs for the would-be thief catchers to follow through the shadowy interior and before long they find themselves face to face with a possible suspect, a very angry-looking one at that.
Fortunately for the detectives, said suspect gets stuck and can only watch as they make a hasty escape on a fortuitously placed exhibit …

Suspect number one – ruled out on account of his girth.
Could it instead be the fearsome, net-wielding Roman? He’s definitely not happy about being accused of cake thieving. The cake crumb trail however, leads past him on into the gloom from which lurches suspect number three.

He too is furious at the young detective’s accusation and the latter is forced to make a hasty exit right into the Ancient Egyptian room wherein there stands wide open, a large sarcophagus. A sarcophagus containing …

Oh dear me! It looks as though George is going to be the next one accused of being a cake thief …
Who could that stash have been collected by? THAT is the question …
The answer lies in the title of the Guillains’ fast-moving, action-packed rhyming tale of detective derring-do; the reason for so doing is one you can only discover by getting hold of a copy of same for yourself. George’s amazing museum adventures are deliciously and dramatically depicted in Lee Wildish’s gigglesome visuals.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Dressing-Up Dad / Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad

The Dressing-Up Dad
Maudie Smith and Paul Howard
Oxford University Press
I’m sure most children are embarrassed by their parents from time to time: I suspect the boy in this funny story with its being yourself no matter what theme, feels increasingly that way as he gets older.
Danny’s Dad, like his son just loves to dress-up: I don’t mean in his favourite gear say, his best jeans and T-shirt. Oh no! Danny’s Dad really gets into the swing of the young lad’s fantasy play, donning whatever costume he deems appropriate for the situation in hand. He might become a space rocket, a fearsome dragon;

a wizard at the library, or a snow bear; and at Danny’s themed birthday parties, you can guess who was the most dreadful dinosaur or the dastardliest of pirates …

As Danny’s next birthday approaches, Dad contemplates his attire: should he perhaps be a ladybird, a dragonfly; there are plenty of bugs to choose from. Danny however, has other ideas for his Dad this year. And yes, he does look pretty cool as an ‘ordinary everyday’ dad but can he resist the invitation of Danny’s pals who have decided they want to be chased by a giant caterpillar. I wonder …

There’s a dilemma at the heart of this story and it’s evident in the body language and facial expressions of Danny’s Dad at the party. He’s doing his level best to enjoy being the perfect ordinary father when inside he’s torn: what he really wants is to don a costume and be a bug too; but how can he please himself and at the same time please his son? Paul Howard portrays all this and much more so adeptly in his enchanting illustrations. The presence of Danny’s lively dog wanting in on all the action and managing to creep in to almost every scene adds to the visual enjoyment of Maudie Smith’s captivating story.

Little Monster’s Day Out with Dad
Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt
Egmont
Little Monster is excited at the prospect of a day trip to the fair with his dad, despite the fact that they’re going by car rather than train: that at least is the intention. No sooner on the road though than they’re held up in a traffic jam; when the car breaks down en route, after which the rescue truck gets a flat tyre, one begins to wonder whether they’ll ever reach their destination at all. Thank goodness then, for the bus: and there’s room for all aboard.

Finally they arrive at the fair ground and it seems as though Little Monster might be going to get his longed-for train ride after all …

With its funny, suitably garish Sharratt scenes with their plethora of flaps to lift, large print and sturdy pages, this will please most little monsters about the age of the chief protagonist herein.

I’ve signed the charter  

Three Pirate Tales

There appears to be a plethora of pirate picture books at present: these three arrived in a single postal delivery:

The Treasure of Pirate Frank
Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow
Taking the rhythmic pattern of the nursery rhyme The House that Jack Built, the authors have woven a lovely lilting tale of a young boy set on discovering the hiding place of Pirate Frank’s treasure.
He has a map so show him the way, a trusty ship in which to sail,
To the island with spices and gold and tall mountains all snowy and cold,
On which is a forest with monkeys bold, and a swamp with lilypads topped with frogs.

He must beware of the volcano, spitting out fire,
As he ascends the steps going higher and higher;
then crosses the bridge to the tall palm tree; there to behold – my goodness me!
Who’s this standing atop that chest?

It seems there’s only one thing to do. What would that be if the boy was you?
Jez Tuya’s imaginative perspectives and creature crammed spreads are worth revisiting once the treasure has been found and the tale completed.

Pirates in the Supermarket
Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton
Scholastic Children’s Books
First there were Dinosaurs in the Supermarket; now the place is beset with pirates hell-bent on creating mischief and mayhem among the groceries as unsuspecting shoppers go about the task of filling their trolleys with goodies. They leave plenty of clues but nobody save one small boy is aware of the piles of rubble appearing in the aisles,

the cannon-wielding gang on the rampage, or the piratical accoutrements appearing around the store. Fortunately for all concerned just when it seems things might be getting somewhat out of hand, the aforementioned boy springs into action and before you can say, ‘shiver me timbers’ he has things under control – well and truly so methinks …

Which all goes to show that you need to keep your eyes wide open whenever you embark on a supermarket shop; you never know who might be lurking …
Fun, fast and full of crazy characters, oh and the odd observant one too.; and they’re all colourfully portrayed in Sarah Warburton’s comedic supermarket scenes. What more can a swashbuckling child ask?

Pete’s Magic Pants: Pirate Peril
Paddy Kempshall and Chris Chatterton
Egmont
Another pair of Pete’s snazzy magic pants come out of the suitcase for a wearing – pirate’s stripy ones in this instance – and before you can say ‘Avast’, with a wiggle and a wobble, the lad is off on the high seas aboard the Flying Fowl with Cap’n Ted and his trusty, clucking crew. They’re on the trail of Long John Silverside the most feared buccaneer on the high seas; he who has seized the treasure rightfully belonging, so we’re told to Cap’n Ted and his pals.
Can they escape the jaws of the sharks and the clutches of the soggy-suckered octopus, find their way to where the treasure is stashed and then get past the loutish-looking Long John himself?

Perhaps – with the help of Pete’s brain and the odd touch of brawn thereafter.
Fans of Pete’s previous adventure will welcome this second tale, which is pacey, pant-revealing and full of high drama and I suspect it will capture some new pants followers too.

I’ve signed the charter  

Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt / Goldilocks and the Three Potties

Winnie-the-Pooh The Great Heffalump Hunt
Giles Andreae
Egmont
My initial thought on opening the parcel containing this book was ‘Oh no! Messing around with Pooh Bear!’ But then I read the rhyming story aloud all the way through and was utterly enchanted: it is Giles Andreae after all and he knows how to write a rhymer if anyone does.

The story simply trips off the tongue rather like that delicious honey that Pooh just cannot resist consuming; even when it’s his very last jar: and it’s supposed to be Heffalump-catching bait in the pit that Piglet has dug in the hope that it, rather than ‘Fresh Piglet(s)’ will become the creature’s next feast.
That jar of honey in our trap.” / groaned Pooh, “it was my last. Oh bother! Double bother! / And if no-one’s listening, / BLAST!

So saying, off goes Pooh, leaving Piglet all alone in bed, pondering on the “horrid, hairy Heffalump” and whether it will indeed, prefer the sweet sticky stuff or “juicy piglets in his tummy.” But then before you can say ‘Heffalump’ it’s time for Piglet to foray into the forest and see what, it anything is in that pit.

Delicious! It certainly left me, and my listeners, hungry for more …

Goldilocks and the Three Potties
Leigh Hodgkinson
Nosy Crow
Even fairy tale characters have to learn about using a potty; young Goldilocks is no exception. Fed up with soggy nappies, she decides it’s about time she began wearing “Big girl pants’ instead. – so long as she has the perfect pair _

Of course, though, wearing pants means remembering to use a potty when you need a wee: that too has to be just right. Then there’s the question of timing: there are occasions when it seems you really need to go but it turns out to be a false alarm; other times you might leave it a little too late …

Sure enough though, Goldilocks soon gets the hang of things making her mum and dad very proud parents indeed.
Just the book to share at home or in a nursery setting, with toddlers embarking on potty training; and equally those just past that stage who will delight in Goldilocks’s toileting activities from their own slightly superior, ‘been there’ standpoint.
There is plenty to amuse in Leigh Hodgkinson’s scenes be they indoors or out in the woods. The infant Goldilocks is an adorable character and that final spread will surely make readers aloud chuckle as much as their young audiences.

I’ve signed the charter 

 

Floss the Playground Boss

Floss the Playground Boss
Corrinne Averiss and Sam Usher
Egmont
Meet Floss, the playground boss; she claims this supremacy on account of residing right next to the playground, but also she remains unchallenged because nobody has the nerve to challenge her.

Thus, she rules the roost issuing orders to all and sundry until a new kid arrives on the block – on the other side of the playground actually. His name’s Peter and he knows nothing of Floss and her bossiness and so he does this …

Guess where it lands: right at Floss’s feet and she’s far from happy about it.

Pete is unmoved by her tirade: all he does after she’s finished her rant, is to laugh. Good on you Peter. Seems he knows just how to deal with tyrannical behaviour “PP2 has been cleared for take-off,” he responds, thus leaving the plane on her runway, so to speak.
What ensues is a simply wonderful little drama with an avid audience chipping in, as, after due consideration, a paper plane is whizzed skywards by a certain female; it loops and swoops, and Floss laughs and whoops; and in the time you can say ‘paper planes’, the sky is full of same …

and the whole tenor of the playground has changed for the better – once and for all. And Floss has dropped her ‘Boss’ handle with a resounding silence …
What a wonderful way of handling tyrannical behaviour and so brilliantly presented through Corrine’s cracking story and Sam’s superb visuals. The child dialogue is so well observed and I love the occasional forays into rhyme Floss employs. Sam’s illustrations too are beautifully observed and full of energy. A real winner of a book that should be read and discussed widely in early years settings and primary classes, as well as shared with individuals at home.

I’ve signed the charter 

Noggin the Nog

DSCN7775

Noggin the King, Noggin and the Whale,
Nogbad Comes Back, Noggin and the Dragon
Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin
Egmont Publishing
I’ve been a huge Noggin fan since I was a child and at one time was the proud owner of a much-cherished complete set of the original The Saga of Noggin the Nog books on which these new editions are based. Sadly, years ago my partner waxed lyrical about them to our plumber and without asking permission, loaned them to him, for his son. To this day I have never seen them again: all I have now are just these two duplicates …

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What we have here are I think, smaller versions of the Early Reader editions, also from the 1960s. In my experience, young children do love collecting little books and so I’m sure these mini Noggins will be a big hit. Noggin himself is goodness through and through. Here are the opening lines of Noggin the King: ‘Noggin was a good king./ He liked to look after his people./ He liked to give them warm socks to wear.

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 He liked to give them good food to eat./ He liked to make sure that they had good roofs on their houses.’ Oh Noggin, we need you now.
Noggin is married to Queen Nooka; he often consults her when he is puzzled over a question and herein it’s a particularly thorny one: “Tell me, Nooka, am I king of the birds as well as king of the people?” She doesn’t answer him directly but together, the two seek, and find, an answer …

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Beautiful.
In Noggin and the Whale, Noggin is celebrating his birthday. Unusually however, he’s not the only recipient of presents: the ever benevolent monarch gives all the children of the town gifts too: things with which to create music …

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However, on this particular birthday, the musical celebrations are interrupted when a whale summarily seizes the boat in which Noggin and the children are playing and lifts it aloft. But that’s only the beginning of this delicious tale. Noggin’s young son Little Knut plays a significant part in saving the day (and shifting the whale) as does Olaf the Lofty (who as he tells us himself, is “very clever”), and the town’s bell-maker helps too.
Nogbad Comes Back sees the return of Noggin’s wicked uncle – banished from the Land of Nog by Noggin, to spend time in his castle to learn to be good. The crucial question however is, has Nogbad really seen the error of his ways? “Now I am Nogbad the Good!” he asserts but Queen Nooka has her doubts. Will he behave if Noggin allows him to take part in the annual animal and vegetable show;

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or will he, once again, show his true colours?
In Noggin and the Dragon, we join Little Knut and his friends when they go on a dragon hunt.

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But are there, or aren’t there – Noggin definitely says there aren’t – any dragons left in Dragon Valley? If not, then what is this …

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For me, Noggin has lost none of his charm: indeed he’s even more adorable and wise than ever. And from a mature adult perspective, bringing so much more to the stories, I can really appreciate the genius of  Noggin’s creators, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin.
It’s wonderful that Egmont have brought back these tiny treasures. I’m over the moon.

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Pants and Pirates

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Hooray for Knickers
Jill Lewis and Deborah Allwright
Egmont
The very mention of knickers in a picture book is likely to get children giggling and so it is with this one, although other than the title, it was some way into the story before the k word came up at all. The whole thing is based on a kind of cumulative Chinese whispers mix up that occurs when the Royal Butler incorrectly passes on King Grouchy’s order for ‘floats, deck chairs and silky slippers.’ (Items needed to impress his soon-to-arrive guest, Prince Jolly whom he’s invited for a swim at the palace.) What he tells the Royal Footman instead is: “They need boats, black bears and silly flippers.”  The message eventually reaches the ears of the Royal Maid who interprets it thus: “He needs skipping ropes? A funfair? And everyone needs frilly knickers? Oh well, if that’s what the king’s best friend in the whole wide world wants …
It’s more than the royal servants’ lives are worth to ignore orders of King Grouchy, even if they are trying to keep out of his way, so what he says goes. Errm …
Both King and Prince are in for a surprise when they look down from the balcony at the sight that awaits …

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Fortunately both host and guest see the funny side, a friendship is forged and then it’s time to party.

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Comical scenes abound in this crazy caper.

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The Best Pirate
Sue Mongredien and Dan Taylor
Scholastic Children’s Books
Meet the pirate crew: there’s Pirate Dave – big and brave, clever Pirate Nell, Pirate Giles – ace swimmer and the diminutive Pirate Paul. Having set sail Dave, Nell and Giles are immediately busy

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but Paul (not considered a proper pirate by fellow crew members on account of his lack of stature) is deemed too tiny for a task. The same applies once they reach dry land and set off in search of treasure; Paul is left on the ship while the others explore. Will he ever get an opportunity to prove himself a worthy member of the pirate band? Maybe this is his golden opportunity: his shipmates certainly look like they need some help – and fast …

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Told in appropriately rollicking rhyme and humorously illustrated in bold tropical colours, this will appeal in particular to young landlubbers who enjoy tales of the action-packed kind. And there’s a fold-out cover flap with cut-out pirate hat and treasure.

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Bossy Jonathan Fossy
Julie Fulton and Elina Ellis
Maverick Arts Publishing
Meet Jonathan Fossy, a real bossy boots if ever there was one: he’d issue orders to his mum, his neighbours, the whole town in fact. Eventually PC Moran decides something has to be done and at dead of night a plan is hatched. Next morning as he heads off to play, Jonathan sees this …

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On reaching the beach he’s confronted by a gang of dastardly looking pirates one of whom grabs young Jonathan and having hustled him on board as a crew member, produces a rather long list of tasks the lad’s required to complete.

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Seems there’s nothing for it but to get stuck in. There’s washing, scrubbing, sail repairs, deck swabbing, polishing and much more and all the while the rest of the crew jeer at and scorn the lad, issuing threats if he appears to be slacking.
Eventually a somewhat exhausted Jonathan sees the error of his ways: “Being bossy’s not nice, I can see. /I’ve been a real pain, I won’t do it again.” he cries. And then it’s time for the rest of the crew to unmask and set sail back to Hamilton Shady with one altogether reformed character.
Jonathan Fossy is the latest addition to the series of Hamilton Shady inhabitants. The exploits of some of the other residents of the town of ‘over-the-top’ characters have been reissued with new titles and covers, so if you’ve not read their cautionary tales, there are giggles aplenty to be found therein too.

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Environmental Concerns

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The Tree
Neal Layton
Walker Books
There stands a tree – tall and proud – a conifer that’s home to fledglings in a nest, a squirrel family, an owl one and amidst its roots, a family of rabbits. Beside the tree stands a FOR SALE board.
Then come a man and woman, also intent on making a home. The work begins …

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and halts suddenly –

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Tears are shed. Then, it’s back to the drawing board …

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and after a whole lot of measuring, hefting, hammering and painting, the result is …

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Like the humans in this seemingly simple book, Neal Layton’s fable wields a lot of power. In just fifty words and a sequence of gently humorous illustrations, he delivers a vital message about the importance of humans and animals living together and sharing.
This one delivers on so many levels: In addition to sharing it with young (and not so young listeners), I suggest giving a copy to those developers who pay scant regard to the destruction of natural habitats when drawing up and executing their plans.
In addition, it’s a perfect learning to read book that blows mindlessly boring reading schemes right out of the water.

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Where’s the Starfish?
Barroux
Egmont
See the whale – an enormous one and the brightly coloured fish – a whole multitude of them; then there’s the Starfish, the Jellyfish and the Clownfish.

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Can you spot them? Keep turning the pages and you’ll notice something else starting to appear, something undesirable and alien to the ocean. The fish appear somewhat puzzled but turn over again; the rubbish pile has grown and Starfish, Jellyfish and Clownfish are slightly easier to spy.
On the next few spreads larger rubbish items appear – car parts, washing machines, a fridge, TVs, microwaves– all evidence of our thoughtless, throwaway society; but the fish numbers have declined significantly and it’s easier still to spot our three friends.

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Finally whale cannot take it any longer and taking matters into his own hands – or rather – snout – he takes revenge in an altogether satisfying manner.

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Work out for your self – or better, get the book and see for yourself – what happens hereafter …
This, like Where’s the Elephant? is a an enormously effective and affecting lesson on how we harm our precious natural environment: the conservation message is the same though the setting of the story is entirely different.

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Rain / What Will Danny Do Today?

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Rain
Sam Usher
Templar Publishing
The small boy narrator from Snow and his Grandad are back to regale us with another wondrous weathery delight. The youngster cannot wait to get outside and catch raindrops, splash in puddles and look at reflections; but Grandad has other ideas, or rather one idea – “…wait for the rain to stop.” So they wait and wait, and it rains and rains.

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Grandad busies himself with paperwork: the boy reads and imagines …
He imagines voyaging with sea monsters, floating cities with carnivals and musical boatmen …

 

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Then at last, and co-incidentally, Grandad finishes his writing and the rain stops. Time to sally forth, suitably attired, for that voyage …

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until down comes the rain once more, but no matter: there are raindrops to catch, entertainers to watch and an important letter to post.

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After that, it’s a return to dry land with its reward of hot chocolate, warm socks and cosy togetherness.
A splendid lesson in delayed gratification if ever there was one; and another beautiful portrayal of childhood’s exuberance and delight in the great outdoors come rain or shine. Sam Usher’s paintings brilliantly capture the watery world of a rainy day, the boy’s energy, and the loving relationship between child and grandparent: and the way he plays with space on the page is superb.

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More of Sam Usher’s marvellous scenes in:

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What Will Danny Do Today?
Pippa Goodheart and Sam Usher
Egmont
Following on from her You Choose series with Nick Sharratt, Pippa Goodheart joins forces with Sam Usher for another decision-making book only this time the decisions are made on behalf of young Danny.
From the moment he wakes up, Danny is faced with making choices: what kind of clothes to wear, what to have for breakfast,

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how to get to school …

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what lessons he’ll have and who will teach him. Then there are PE activities to decide upon …

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how he’ll spend his playtime and a whole range of art and craft possibilities with which to fill the afternoon: ‘What will Danny make?’ is the question.
Danny’s dad is there to meet him from school and he’s fairly easy to spot as, we are told, he wears a green jacket. Moreover, he’s willing to allow Danny an after school treat and here too it’s for us to decide whether that will be rowing, watching a film or skating. Finally, there’s the matter of bedtime reading and it appears that Danny has made his own choice this time.
This is a great book for getting talk going be it with one child, a small group, or – if you can stand it – a whole class, the majority of whom will doubtless be eager to offer their ideas on Danny’s day.

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Gorgeous detail from the endpapers

Every one of Sam Usher’s scenarios is crammed full of wonderful details and interesting characters, and is sure to generate a great deal of discussion.

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