Upside Down Friday / The Art of Words

Upside Down Friday
Lana Spasevski and Nicky Johnston
EK Books

Unlike his mum little Hugo monkey hates Fridays. That’s the day when his usual routine changes. Consequently he walks to school with a sad face, butterflies in his tummy and a rapidly beating heart as he anticipates spending his time doing sport. 

On this particular Friday though things turn out a whole lot better that expected thanks to Maddison who announces that she’s Hugo’s buddy for the day. She goes on to give him a bright red balloon 

and tell him that just like Hugo she didn’t like Upside Down Fridays and later she reassures him that ‘after a while, it will feel the right way up.” And those kind words make all the difference … 

A sweet story for the very young about the power of friendship.

The Art of Words
Robert Vescio and Joanna Bartel
EK Books

Author Robert Vescio and illustrator Joanna Bartel present an exploration of the playful possibilities of words and their power to generate a variety of emotions, feelings and ideas. 

We see two children (accompanied by a dog) reading, relaxing, climbing, gardening and much more as they snip, 

squash, expand and collect words, weaving them together (along with some punctuation), and creating stories to bring magic, joy and excitement.

The art is a delight and a wonderfully imagined presentation of the author’s engaging narrative.

Grace & Katie

Grace & Katie
Susanne Merritt and Liz Anelli
EK Books

Twins Katie and Grace love to draw. They approach things in entirely different ways however – one with the eye of a prospective architect or cartographer, the other, an artist; and the results are altogether different.
Grace favours straight lines and angles, which Katie considers a tad dull; Katie in contrast is more creative producing colourful patterns and swirls: Gracie thinks her sister’s work could do with organising. Are they both right perhaps?

One day Gracie decides to draw a map of their home and rejects Katie’s offer of help, so Katie draws a map of her own.

Grace’s black and white map is ordered and detailed. Katie’s rendition of the park opposite their home is also detailed but it’s colourful and full of action. Neither girl is completely satisfied with what they’ve produced.

They look at each others and then, after some discussion, Katie adds some colourful touches to Grace’s map, while Grace’s added details provide more structure for Katie’s.

With a combination of creativity and accuracy, collaboration wins the day.

Susanne Merritt puts the points for respecting differences, the importance of being oneself, and co-operation across subtly and effectively. Liz Anelli reflects the themes in her detailed illustrations effectively showing the sisters’ contrasting styles in a suitable child-like manner.

The book’s potential for discussion is enormous, be it in the foundation stage, or, with much older listeners.

I Love You / The Chalk Rainbow

I Love You
Xiao Mao and Tang Yun
New Frontier Publishing
The complete title of this warm-hearted picture book is Ti amo, Ich liebe dich, Wo ai ni, Te quiero, Je t’aime. It tells how a pupil in Ms Giraffe’s class learns her teacher’s favourite words. Ms Giraffe writes them on the whiteboard one morning and asks her pupils what they might mean.

Little Badger’s response is just what she was hoping for: “when you say it out loud, the most wonderful things can happen,” she tells her.
Like all enthusiastic learners, Little Badger practises her new vocabulary, addressing the school, plants,

the weather, a bird, her home and practically everything in it, even a new pair of pants, and most importantly, her Mum and Dad.
It’s a wonderful way of showing young children how much pleasure they can get from showing and sharing love, and by appreciating what they have. Little Badger is one cute character and she gets this straightaway, as well as the fact that to make new words your own you need to use them often. All this is shown in Tang Yun’s wonderfully whimsical scenes wherein perspective is employed to great effect.

The Chalk Rainbow
Deborah Kelly and Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
Teachers and other professionals who work with children who have ASD constantly have to think outside the box. So it is here with Zane’s elder sister.
Young Zane isn’t like other children. So says the girl narrator of this story: he has a made-up language, likes to line things up and really hates the colour black. You’ve probably guessed by now that Zane is on the autism spectrum.
His family find life can be challenging, especially because Ollie won’t walk across anything black: that means the pedestrian crossing and the family’s driveway. His parents, in particular Dad, are seemingly unaware of the cause of Ollie’s differences and the result is Ollie goes into melt down.

His sister however is more understanding and comes up with a wonderfully imaginative way of helping her younger brother. She starts by drawing a chalk rainbow on the front steps and with his help, extends it right down the drive. The chalk runs out but his sister comes up with a clever way to extend their creative bridge building …

wherever it’s needed and before long ‘there are rainbows everywhere.’

One hopes this story with its themes of accepting difference, trust and unconditional love, will help readers and listeners to try and see things from behind the head of a child with ASD.

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A Home for Gully / Through the Gate

A Home for Gully
Jo Clegg and Lalalimola
Oxford University Press
Gully is a long-suffering resident of the park; long-suffering because every morning his makeshift home is swept away by the keeper. This should no longer be tolerated, decides the scruffy dog that happens along one morning, introduces himself as Fetch and claims to be returning Gully’s stick. Fetch calls a meeting of his 412 resident fleas and thereupon they decide to assist the seagull in a search for a more satisfactory place of residence: one “that doesn’t get swept away, where my feet are warm and dry, and my tummy is full” is the bird’s desire.
They leave the relative peace and quiet of the park …

and head into the city where, after being shown the door of a smart hotel, they come upon the seemingly stuck-up Madison who offers her assistance as city guide. The three circumambulate the whole city before ending up at the library for some R and R. Make that R, R and R for therein they meet rat, Zachary.

On learning it’s a home rather than a book they’re seeking, Zachary leads them out and eventually, to a likely spot. Then with Gully safely installed, the other three head off into the darkness leaving their pal to his new warm, dry abode.
Next morning however, all is not quite hunky-dory with Gully. What good is a home if he doesn’t have others to share it with thinks our feathered friend …

There is a wonderful vintage look to Jo Clegg’s warm-hearted, funny story, thanks to Lalalimola’s delectably droll illustrations. These she packs with diverting visual (and verbal) asides that cause the reader to pause for a while and spend time exploring every spread. This is an artist I shall watch with interest, as I will the author.

Through the Gate
Sally Fawcett
EK
A little girl narrator, unhappy about a move to a new house, shares her step-by- step transformation from feelings of sadness and loss, to those of joy and satisfaction. The process is recounted as she travels with initially, downcast eyes, in a plodding manner to and from her new school; then after a week, the plod gives way to a mooch and the sighting of wild flowers growing through cracks in the pavement. Another week passes and she changes to an eyes-forward wander and hence, more awareness of the positives the environment offers …

The following week our narrator is ready to look all around her as she walks and thus, one becomes two walkers to school; and thereafter, things are altogether different.
Concurrent with the little girl’s changing feelings as new opportunities manifest, we see the new house gradually becoming a wonderful new home; but those aren’t the only changes: a lone bird on a bare tree builds a nest, finds a mate, eggs are laid, and life begins anew as three fledglings appear, just in time for blossom to burst forth on the tree.

Look closely at the spreads and you’ll notice a cat that plays a bit part in the whole transformation; delicate details of plants which, like the rest of the girl’s surroundings, change from shades of grey to full colour.
Sally Fawcett orchestrates this lovely story of change, hope and resilience superbly using a patterned text in tandem with subtly changing scenes of the girl’s actual and metaphorical journey.

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The Leaky Story / The Pirate Craft Book

The Leaky Story
Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop
EK Books
On a shelf sits a row of books; books waiting to be read, not left untouched gathering dust and feeling unloved. One particular book though has a mind of its own. So powerful is its longing to attract attention that it starts to swell,

and drip. The drips become a trickle, then a series of plops until it spills down into wonderfully sploshy puddles on J.J’s living room floor. And thus begins an amazing adventure populated by J.J., his sceptical parents,

sea creatures and a dastardly pirate crew. The battle, both verbal and physical, between the Blossoms and the pirates is wonderfully funny; and, when a kraken appears, woefully waterlogged and a tad uproarious.
Finally though, the whole crazy episode appears to have run its course: the creatures shrink and the water begins to recede.

As J.J.’s world becomes increasingly saturated with salty brine, Anil Tortop’s scenes offer all manner of highly colourful perspectives on Sillett’s surreal story.
What a wonderful way to engender an enthusiasm for books in young listeners, as well as to further the development of their imagination.

On the topic of pirates is:

The Pirate Craft Book
Laura Minter and Tia Williams
GMC Books
Subtitled ’15 things a pirate can’t do without’, this contains piratical projects aplenty for would-be sea dogs. There are clothes – the full gear including eye-patch and hat complete with monogram, buccaneer boots based on a pair of old wellies, a waistcoat, (best worn with stripy T-shirt) and a belt and cutlass to make.
All self-respecting pirates have a parrot on their shoulder, so there are step-by-step instructions to make a felt one, either stitching it together by hand or by machine. A chest in which to stash all the treasure is another requirement and the one herein is made using an old shoe-box; and to find the treasure, a map is most likely needed; so here we have instructions to make one from felt.
Once you’ve got all these things, a pirate party might be fun so there’s a page of ideas for that, and another giving a recipe for a yummy chocolate treasure chest cake. Basic templates for many of the items are provided on the final three pages. None of the projects is particularly difficult, though many would require supervision. Avast me’arties: what are you waiting for?

I’ve signed the charter  

Our Dog Benji / Little Oink

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Our Dog Benji
Pete Carter and James Henderson
EK Books
The small boy narrator of this little book has a large dog; a dog that, unlike the boy, is pretty much omnivorous, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, avocado, grass, daffodils, ice-cream – understandably – are all tasty treats for the animal.

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Mornings see him searching the kitchen floor for crumbs, at mealtimes he sits hopefully under the table and even goes off alone on food forays. Building sites (for the odd bite of a sandwich) …

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and parties for a sample of ‘posh food’ are also fruitful places for a visit.
Summer comes with samplings of crunchy bugs and unripe apples (with dramatic effects on his tum and er… bum). What about our narrator though? He seems to be acquiescing somewhat: did I hear a mention of eating fruit and veg.?
Not however the green crunchy leaf stalks of a certain vegetable beginning with c.
Henderson’s duo-tone artwork works well for this tale of a food faddy child and his dog. Adults concerned about fussy eaters especially, will smile at Carter’s tale and hope that perhaps like the small boy protagonist, their charges will try some new foods, perhaps even ‘green stuff’

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Little Oink
Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace
Chronicle Books
The hero of this board book, Little Oink, is a tiny treasure; a fun loving, nursery school savouring, family loving little guy. However, unlike most youngsters, he has a great dislike for mess-making of any kind; in fact he wants everything to be just so: after all his pals are allowed to have tidy rooms. “Why can’t I?” Little Oink asks his parents one day.

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Papa Pig’s ‘respectable grown up pigs are proper mess makers’ explanation and Mama Pig’s proviso for going out to play, “Mess up your room, put on some dirty clothes,” have him obeying – eventually. Then off he goes to have fun – playing … house!

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This makes a trilogy of ‘Little’ books from Rosenthal and again, her humour shines through and is delightfully illuminated through Jen Corace’s deliciously droll illustrations.

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Stone Underpants / The Great Sock Secret

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Stone Underpants
Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson
Maverick Arts Publishing
Stone underpants? Have you ever heard of anything more preposterous? Back in the Stone Age though, when young Pod lived there wasn’t an awful lot around to make bottom warmers from when your rear end felt decidedly chilly, so a pair of stone underpants is what he makes himself. Needless to say however, they’re not the best things for running around in, and as for swimming, well …

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Pod decides to try another material, but wood proves equally unsuitable …

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as do several others he tries. Is he destined to have a chilly rump for ever or is there something else he could try…

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The very mention of underpants and bottoms frequently reduces young listeners to fits of giggles and I suspect this one will do just that. The whole scenario is totally crazy: beetles demolishing his wooden underpants overnight for instance; and what was wrong with using an animal skin, there are certainly wild beasts evident in some of the scenes; but this madcap romp requires total suspension of disbelief so, why worry. It’s assuredly something youngsters will raise anyhow and they’ll also more than likely ask about the material used for that football too, and perhaps question why Pod didn’t just try making leafy underpants But all this could lead very nicely into some investigative work on materials if you happen to work with young children. Alternatively you might just enjoy the ridiculous story as told by the aptly named Rebecca Lisle, and have a good giggle over the equally crazy pictorial rendition of same from Richard Wilson.

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The Great Sock Secret
Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
My alternative uses for socks have been restricted to a resource for making puppets in the classroom; and when teaching yoga, as props for those needing a little bit of help in certain stretches.
In Sarah’s house though, the socks are put to all manner of imaginative uses by the fairies who share her home. When Sarah’s mum initiates a hunt for the socks that have mysteriously gone missing from the laundry basket,

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the little girl has to stay one jump ahead as they search all over the house. She knows who the culprits are; but can she manage to stop her mum from discovering those borrowers?
This foray into the fanciful is most likely to appeal to imaginative listeners around the age of the young protagonist.

What Could It Be?

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What Could It Be?
Sally Fawcett
EK Books
I love books that invite children to be creative and this one certainly does just that and more. Subtitled Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes we do so courtesy of a boy (observant readers will discover his name further into the book) and his rhyming narrative which, on the opening spread says, ‘This is a CIRCLE./What else could it be?’ and goes on to demonstrate over the page …

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Thus, readers are immediately drawn into a playful exploration of basic 2D shapes and how they can be transformed into all manner of exciting objects.
Next comes the square followed by the triangle …

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(there’s artistic license here but the ‘can you find?’ questions all relate to 2D shapes). Next comes the rectangle and a bedroom scene wherein we see all seven of the shapes included in the game.

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Another basic shape known to most pre-schoolers, the hexagon calls for the donning of a superhero cape by our narrator as he climbs to rescue his football, while his younger sister plays in her sandpit (a hexagonal enclosure, of course) close by.
Ovals come next and I particularly like the way these are transformed into a teapot ready for afternoon tea…

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and the final encounter is with the octagon and we have a seaside scene. Having explored the basics so to speak, the narrator then suggests readers start creating by making their own templates and letting their ideas flow …
There’s even a suggestion to upload personal artwork onto the publisher’s website if further incentive is needed.
Now that your thinking is out of the square,/pull out a pencil and pull up a chair.’ And that’s where children’s thinking needs to go … away from things that can be tested, measured and compared: if only all teachers might find the courage to keep offering the spaces for this to happen. Just do it!

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Mood Musings

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Smile Cry
Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft
EK Books
This ‘Beginner’s book of feelings’ is really two books in one. We share reasons to smile courtesy of three pals – a cat, a piglet and a rabbit who have many things that bring on an upbeat, break into a smile feeling. There’s that ‘cosy under blanket smile’ – we all know that kind; the rather embarrassed ‘what to do now smile?’ – adults will be very familiar with this one; and the totally satisfied ‘ate all the pies smile

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I think my favourites though are the ‘walking in the forest smile’

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and the ‘quiet with the nightlight smile’

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Turn the page and you’ll find the final ‘wrapped in a cuddle smile’ … and that’s the time to flip the book

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and share some tear-jerking moments with our friends.
Who doesn’t feel a bit tearful at the ‘ice-cream plopping down

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and we all empathise with rabbit’s ‘Perhaps it’s lost cry’ and that ‘Goodbye cry”; and what about this one …

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It probably all depends, (though the gorgeous illustration almost brings tears to the eyes.) Jess Racklyeft has done a brilliant job imagining and illustrating Tania McCartney’s situations. Every single page brought a big smile to the face of this reviewer but then who could resist smiling over the tickle treatment or that totally satisfied, just stuffed my face smile of the three pals (not forgetting monkey).
Perfect for sharing with young children at home or in an early years setting. It’s certain to generate a great deal of discussion and is bound to bring on a whole lot of smiles; not too many tears though, I hope.

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The Very Grumpy Day
Alison Edgson and Stella J Jones
Little Tiger Press
What begins as a ‘perfect day’ for Mouse at least, soon becomes anything but as the kind-hearted creature goes off to deliver a yummy looking cake to his pal Bear. Bear meanwhile has grumped off in a foul temper upsetting every animal unfortunate enough to cross his path as he stomps on his way creating a chain of havoc in his wake.

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Eventually everyone in the clearing is in a mood as bad as Bear’s and to make things worse, the rain starts to fall.

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Thank goodness then, for Mouse’s offering, which Bear discovers on his return home; it sets off a second chain of action and reaction. This time though, everyone ends up with a big smile

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and the day concludes happily with sunshine and a story …
A gently humorous tale that demonstrates how easy it is to infect others with your bad mood and how much better to spread happiness instead; it’s just a matter of looking on the bright side. Alison Edgson captures those changing moods beautifully in scenes large and small.

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Peas in a Pod

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Peas in a Pod
Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling
EK Books
Let me introduce these quintuplets  …

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Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg: aren’t they poppets? Right from birth, they’ve done everything the same, eaten the same meals, slept and even sat in the same way; as the title says, veritable Peas in a Pod.
Then things begin to change, the youngsters start to assert their own individuality – each and every one of them. That way lies chaos – for their parents at least who like things just so.

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But as we know and the Seuss poster in the entrance of one of the schools I visit reminds us, “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive, who is you-er than you!’ And surely any adult who really thought about things would want children to develop in their own special unique way, …with their own individual personalities, pursuing their own interests and nurturing and developing their own talents and skills: their identity no less.
That is exactly what these five girls do wholeheartedly when they seize the reins…

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Hooray for the five in this story who, thus far are managing to eschew peer pressure to dress the same as everyone else, have the same as others, even sadly, think the same as others, …

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Long live independent thinking and individualism, say I. Perhaps these girls haven’t quite got it cracked yet though…

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Fantastic fun and who can resist the charms of the fabulous five with their frizzy hair and fanciful ideas.
Not a word is wasted in Tania McCartney’s punchy text, and it’s perfectly complemented by Tina Snerling’s adorable artistry: it’s bold, bright and an absolute delight.
I could go on at length about the possibilities this book offers for creative work, particulary using printing techniques but for now, just share it and let the story (and discussion) do its work.

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Don’t Think About Purple Elephants

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Don’t Think About Purple Elephants
Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
Meet young Sophie, she’s something of a worrier; not during the daytime however when she’s having fun at school,

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nor at home afterwards playing with her sister and brother. Not even at weekends when she can read, bake cakes, help in the garden, ride her bike or simply cloud watch. NO! The worries manifest themselves at bedtime. Without other things to occupy her mind, Sophie would allow those worries to come creeping in.

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Needless to say those bothersome worries interfered with her sleep, making her rather fractious in the mornings. Helpful suggestions from her family don’t work, they only add more worries …

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not until that is her Mum says this: “Go to bed, close your eyes and DON’T think about purple elephants. … No purple elephants at all.”
We all know what happens when somebody tells you not to think about something: that very thought pops right into your head (unless you’re a meditator but even then sometimes in they crowd).
It’s no surprise then that into sceptical Sophie’s mind comes not one, but a veritable herd of elephants engaging in all manner of un-elephant-like activities.

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And next morning, joy of joys, Sophie wakes up full of energy and you can guess what the theme of her artistic endeavours is at school that day.
Sophie is a wholly credible character. Indeed in my experience, many young, particularly creative, highly intelligent, emotionally sensitive children are very similar to the young protagonist. Seemingly, being of a creative bent can have its drawbacks too.
However, among the coping mechanisms adults can offer is children’s literature and in particular, picture books such as this delightful one. From the safe place of a story world youngsters can explore ideas and find solutions: the inherent humour of Susan Whelan’s narrative and Gwynneth Jones’ detailed, slightly whimsical illustrations offer one such. Jones portrays how those worries of Sophie’s take hold: as the worries come, the colours drain away, the scenes becoming almost black and white, with just the particular worry colourfully highlighted. Watch that mischievous moggie too.

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All in all, a super book for home, early years settings and primary schools.

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The Snowman and the Sun/Dandelions

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The Snowman and the Sun
Susan Tahdis and Ali Mafakheri
Tiny Owl Publishing
Even very young children know that when the sun shines on a snowman it melts. Some know that means he becomes water but most will not know what happens thereafter. Now, thanks to this gorgeous picture book told from the snowman’s viewpoint, they can become aware of the whole water cycle through a charming story. In this way they are more likely to remember the facts – if that’s all you want.

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However, the publishers’ blurb tells us that it’s a ‘modern-day fable about how our attachments to people and things live on, though they change and sometimes disappear; this demonstrates how a good book can be read, interpreted and appreciated in many ways at different levels. The telling is gently humorous and in places, poetic: ‘The snowman ran as water over the ground. The ground tickled him. “What warm ground!” said the watery snowman.’
With both a science background and latterly a spiritual (though not religious) one I’d put the latter (fable) interpretation first but would happily share it with early years children after a snowy day when it could also lead to a science discussion.
Throughout the circular whole runs a delightfully playful visual subtext involving a cat, some fish, an ice-cream,

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a bee on a bike (that one is a hoot)

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and the boy builder of the snowman – love those odd shoes.

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Love too, the graph paper background, in fact pretty much everything about this unassuming book.

Also showing the circular nature of things is:

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Dandelions
Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan
EK Books
What is a weed? A flower growing in the wrong place, perhaps. That would certainly seem to be the case in this uplifting, understated debut picture book. At least it’s the view of the little girl narrator’s father who as the story opens has just mowed the grass, cutting down the dandelion puffballs she was wanting to blow. His daughter however loves the dandelions – the fuzziness of their petals, the delicate frailty of those parachute seeds. And she knows that although her favourite flowers have been mown down, they will come back. “I just have to wait now!” she says to her Dad. Yes that may be so but first there is a wonderful surprise awaiting her …

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Immediately forgiving, the girl disperses the seeds blowing with her Dad, sending them drifting and spinning far out of reach …

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chased for a while by father and child. Then the two of them lie down and imagine those parachutes (here the narrator’s voice loses some of its direct child-like simplicity) ‘swirling in the wind’ past the roses in the yard, the poppies lining the street, over the sunflowers in the park

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and on, whirling round the weeping willows beside the river, beneath the oaks and out of town, twirling above the countryside eventually to be ‘collected by the sun.’ Here that child voice simplicity has returned.’ “Where do they really go, Dad?” I ask.’ And Dad himself completes the dandelion life cycle explaining how once dispersed, new plants will grow from the seeds, flower again and …

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Magic? To a young child who hasn’t lost that innocence, yes perhaps. Certainly children retain their capacity to find beauty in, and treasure, simple things in the natural world, so long as we adults allow them time so slow down and be in the moment.

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The warmth of the bond between father and daughter is beautifully portrayed in Kirrilli Lonergan’s soft, watercolour scenes, that have just a touch of whimsy to their summeriness.

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