Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar

Sophie Johnson Sports Superstar
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Young Sophie Johnson appears to have an ever-increasing number of strings to her bow – Unicorn Expert, Detective Genius and now Sports Superstar. Is there no limit to her talents, one wonders.

As the story opens, Sophie is engaged in her training regime and while so doing she tells readers about all her preparations for a ‘Big Race’ . She eschews assistance from her mum as she goes about her work-out. (Since when was raiding the sweet jar good for training miss Sophie?)

The girl has what she calls an ‘Excellent Plan’. This appears to involve consuming vast quantities of fast food and doing the occasional exhausting workout.

Come the big day she’s raring to go

but it would appear that in her enthusiasm there’s one very important skill she’s omitted to hone …

As always, spending time with young Sophie is sheer delight. Team Morag and Ella together have created another funny episode in the life of Sophie Johnson and once again it’s the clever way the quirky pictures and the dead pan words tell rather different stories that make the book such fun.

I love the fact that in this athletic endeavour Sophie is still sporting her tutu throughout and every spread has deliciously diverting details to chuckle over.

The splendidly spirited Sophie’s a winner in my book no matter what she does.

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.

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius

Sophie Johnson: Detective Genius
Morag Hood and Ella Okstad
Simon & Schuster

Unicorn expert Sophie Johnson now extends her skills to detecting; she’s a self-confessed expert, ably assisted though she won’t admit it, by fussy eater, anti-outdoors pooch, Bella.

Sophie knows of a ‘terrible crime’ that needs solving and fuelled by the thought of the reward, she’s on the case, determined to discover the perpetrator.

Suspects are arrested and finger-printed while Bella constantly tries in vain to draw something to Sophie’s attention; but so absorbed in her own detecting is Sophie that she’s unable to see what’s right under her nose.

Detecting is tough work but some are more adept at it than others – it’s just a matter of deciding who …

I won’t be a story-spoiler; however observant readers and listeners will likely be making their own predictions well before the final denouement of Morag’s clever, dead pan telling.

Ella’s hilarious scenes of Sophie and her assistant on the case provide the perfect foil for the droll text; and do look carefully at the back cover whereon Sophie’s library is shown.

What will Sophie turn her attention to next? No matter what, bring it on. Meanwhile, for sure, the adorable Sophie will win a lot of new fans with this latest book.

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.

Tiny Tantrum

Tiny Tantrum
Caroline Crowe and Ella Okstad
Little Tiger Press

Temper tantrums are part and parcel of being a toddler and the little girl in this story is no exception.

Indeed she seems to have got the whole tantrum thing down to a fine art causing windows to wobble, jelly to shake and birds to fall from trees and all because mum has requested that she put on her coat.
Enter one purple hairy monster with talk of a freezing bottom and hence no fun and before you can say ‘chilly bum’, the little miss has donned her coat and is meekly following her mum.
All is fun and cuddles until back home at lunchtime. Then comes tantrum number two: it’s broccoli induced. Fortunately there just happens to be an apron- wearing monster to advise on improving the taste of veggies too; and it works like magic.

Those are not the only tantrums Tiny throws during the course of her busy day, but each time it happens there’s a monster on hand with timely advice.
Come bedtime though, Tiny has four very lively monsters to put to bed. Can she gain the upper hand and get them to take one final bounce, right into bed and stay there?

She’s certainly had some good training.
Ella Okstad’s portrayal of the capricious infant shows her ticklish temperament to great effect in an offbeat colour palette, and Caroline Crow’s rhyming narrative is just right for sharing with tinies especially those of a tantrum-prone nature.

I’ve signed the charter  

For Your Fiction Shelf

The Cherry Pie Princess
Vivian French (illustrated by Marta Kissi)
Walker Books
Vivian French is a cracking storyteller. Oliver’s Fruit Salad and Oliver’s Vegetables have been perennial favourites with many, many infant classes I’ve taught; ditto Yucky Worms. Here though she is writing for a slightly older audience and immediately I was drawn into her story – partly because when it begins, the setting is a library. Grating Public Library to be more precise, and the staff (Miss Denzil at least) are eagerly anticipating a visit from seven princesses. Much more circumspect though is the chief librarian, a rather crusty old dwarf by the name of Lionel Longbeard.

When the party duly arrives, it turns out that only one princess has any interest in books and she is Princess Peony. The book she takes, or rather later, sends a pageboy for, is A Thousand Simple Recipes for Pies, Puddings and Pastries and, she holds on to it for a very long time. The king though, has the librarian arrested for breaking the rules, on account of his kindness in speaking to the princess, and locked up in his dungeons. The princess meanwhile, takes to baking until her overbearing father puts a stop to it.
Years pass, a new royal baby is born …

and a christening party duly announced and invitations sent out – with one notable omission.
Now that sounds like there could be trouble on the horizon. What happens thereafter involves a whole lot of rule breaking, a rescue and a host of exciting twists and turns, The story moves along at a fast pace and is made all the more enjoyable by Marta Kissi’s pen and ink illustrations, which are liberally scattered throughout the book adding to the slightly zany tone of the whole thing.

Spy Toys
Mark Powers (illustrated by Tim Wesson)
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Imagine a totally weird bunch of superheroes and you’d probably never quite come up with such an unlikely crew as those in Mark Powers’ book. So let’s meet Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear, Dan, made by accident 1000 times stronger than was intended;

rag doll, Arabella, a far-from friendly character; a soldier with an eyesight issue (which can sometimes be a hinderance) … and a foot where his head ought to be; and Flax the rabbit, a policebot on the run and more.
All have computerised brains and are recruited by the Department of Secret Affairs for a mission to protect the prime minister’s son from one Rusty Flumptrunk – a half-human, half-elephant breakfast cereal promotion gone wrong. What follows is a cracking, crazy, fast-moving, action-packed yarn full of slapstick and witticisms: lots of fun and made all the more so by Tim Wesson’s zany illustrations.

Louie in a Spin
Rachel Hamilton (illustrated by Oscar Armelles)
Oxford University Press
Louie is enjoying life in New York at the School for Performing Arts and is determined to remain upbeat despite the efforts of Arnie and grumpy dance teacher, Madame Swirler. Here though, it looks as if he might be losing the battle: in error, he’s been signed up to represent his dance school in the ballet category at a national dance competition. With the school’s reputation at stake, can Louie, with an enormous amount of self-belief to make up for what he lacks in skill, save the day?
It’s all beautifully funny and one cannot but admire Louie’s inexhaustible supply of inner strength and positivism. Long live Louie who is made all the more adorable through Oscar Armelles funky line drawings

Nelly and the Flight of the Sky Lantern
Roland Chambers (illustrated by Ella Okstad)
Oxford University Press
If you’ve enjoyed Pippi Longstocking – or even if you haven’t, you really should meet Nelly Peabody in her second splendid story. Here, on returning from her first adventure, Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody, the fearless explorer discovers that her mother has mysteriously vanished and nothing will stop the young redhead from tracking her down. This entails a flight in a laundry basket, high above the clouds, not to mention a deep-sea dive courtesy of a tin can contraption. As ever, of course she’s accompanied by her best friend, Columbus the turtle.
It’s quirky, full of deliciously off-beat characters and most important, superbly written, with wonderful illustrations by Ella Okstad in black and white with touches of red.

I’ve signed