Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express / Ariana and Whisper / Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Fabio, flamingo detective and resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee, returns to solve his second case and it involves a stolen necklace.

Fabio and his trusty associate Gilbert giraffe are about to depart on the Ostrich Express for a much-needed holiday at Coconut Palm Resort when something, or rather someone, catches Fabio’s eye.

Once on the train, a desert fox who introduces herself as Zazie – appears in the dining car sporting a fur stole and enormous ruby pendant – the legendary, -very valuable so she tells Fabio and Gilbert – Lalooze Ruby.

As the train speeds across the desert, unexpected happenings take place, the first being that Gilbert is knocked unconscious when he hits his head against the window as the train is suddenly brought to a full-stop. Leaving his friend in the care of Zazie, Fabio leaves the train and discovers a baby elephant lying beneath the stars tied to the tracks. Fabio unties him and learns that a gang of bandits – hyenas and a leopard – had tied him down.

That though is only the beginning. Soon a scream pierces the dark followed by hyena’s laugh and as Fabio climbs back aboard the train he spots a leopard silhouette and learns that the ruby has vanished from around Zazie’s neck – pulled off by a thief so she says.

Never fear, Fabio is hot on the case; he merely needs to enlist the aid of the train crew to help power his refurbished handcar,

let loose the tied-together table cloths , … cavort across a few train carriages, execute a deft flick of Gilbert’s cane and … and … that would be telling way too much of this exciting, fast-paced, perfect for just flying solo readers tale.

And with Emily Fox’s dayglo bright, pink and orange powered illustrations and occasional text backgrounds, plus Fabio-patterned chapter breaks, what more can any young reader want?

Ariana and Whisper
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Unicorn Academy is ‘where magic happens’ and now in story number 8, arachnid-fearing  Ariana is finding it hard to make friends. She does however love her special unicorn Whisper and enjoys spending time in the stables bonding with him and helping him discover his magic power.

Things improve somewhat when she starts to bond with untidy Matilda and then Ms Nettles announces that the day’s lessons are to be replaced by a field trip to the edges of the woods to find out which animals are leaving and why. An adventure is set to begin: something is very wrong in the woods and Ariana can feel it.

Not long after, Whisper discovers his special power: perhaps with its help, together with the courage of Ariana, her unicorn and the other students, the mystery of what has been happening with the animals can be solved.

Fans of the sparkling series will lap this up with its short, bite-size chapters and Lucy Truman’s enchanting black and white drawings.

Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

Princess Bea is an animal lover but her father King George tells her time and again that Ruby Palace is ‘no place for a pet’. However, the nine-year-old princess isn’t one to be deterred by royal rules when it comes to taking care of animals needing help.

While she’s at the kite festival with her teacher Mr Wells, Bea climbs up a tree to free her kite and there comes upon a ginger kitten; and of course, she just has to rescue it.

Determined to keep it safe until they can find its owner she manages to sneak it in to the palace but discovers that Tiger as she calls it, is rather excitable. Moreover when her father discovers the creature, he’s far from pleased and gives Bea just 24 hours to get rid of it.

At night the kitten decides to go exploring and Bea needs to summon up all her courage to hunt around the palace in the pitch dark, especially when she hears a noise that doesn’t sound like Tiger …

Young animal lovers just flying solo as readers will enjoy this addition to the series illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller.

Distinctly Different Chapter Books – Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo & Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Fabio: The Case of the Missing Hippo
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives Fabio the world’s greatest flamingo detective: slender, pink and extremely clever.

When Fabio and his associate Gilbert the giraffe stop at the Hotel Royale for a cool glass of pink lemonade,

he allows himself to be persuaded to head judge the hotel’s talent competition, a competition intended to boost its business.

Disaster strikes however when Julia, the jazz-singing hippo and most promising of the contestants, takes to the stage and as she does so, the lights go out and Julia goes missing.

The police are called but it’s time for Fabio to put that thinking cap of his back on, hone his questioning skills and set about solving the mystery and one or two more that crop up along the way.

Delicious comic humour that will delight young readers and listeners, day-glo greens and pinks to dazzle in Emily Fox’s delicious illustrations and a layout that’s just right for newly confident readers, this comedy cum mystery looks – just like Julia – set fair to captivate its audience.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief
Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin
Flying Eye Books

This bumper graphic novel style edition contains 21 episodes featuring Akissi, a little girl who lives in a town on the Ivory Coast. This spirited miss is supremely self- confident and frequently finds herself getting into trouble for misdemeanours often involving her brother Fofana or her friends.

Her far from exemplary behaviour finds her engaging in such activities as ‘borrowing’ a neighbour’s baby for a game of “mums”; adopting as a pet a mouse that causes all manner of problems; barging her way into the boys’ football games and generally getting into fights and scraps.

During the course of all these mischievous scenarios and more, readers learn not only about the main protagonist, but also about her family and her life – in one story she gets tapeworm; another describes her being responsible for her nan getting knocked out by a falling coconut; there’s also a ‘head-lice’ episode and toilet humour too.

And if your stomach is feeling up to it, there are a couple of bonus recipes courtesy of Akissi, as well as instructions for hair braiding African style.

A comic book hero who could surely give Dennis the Menace a run for his money – memorable and for many I suspect, irresistible.

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Monkey’s Sandwich

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Monkey’s Sandwich
Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox
Harper Collins Children’s Books
What is your favourite kind of sandwich? I think mine would have to be roast vegetables and hummus, or maybe goat’s cheese and tomato; it all depends in part on how I’m feeling. I certainly wouldn’t relish the crisps, Nutella, bhuja and banana variety one of my teenage friends loves to make for breakfast when home on holiday from her boarding school. Nor would I bother with butter, which is the first thing Monkey helps himself to when he visits still-sleeping Yak’s abode in search of something to fill his rumbling tum very early one morning before the shops are open.
Almost inevitably though, he deems plain old bread and butter boring so off he goes again, helping himself this time to a wedge of slumbering Mouse’s cheese – he does have the courtesy to leave him a “Thank You” note though.

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Monkey cannot quite stop himself from adding cucumber, custard and a whole lot of other tasty items to his stack

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Jellybeans, chocolate spread and mustard from Flamingo …

until his sandwich is positively towering but even then he just doesn’t seem satisfied. Who actually eats this monstrous repast though? That is the all-important question …

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Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox have assuredly concocted an offering to be relished with their toothsome tale of monkey’s mischievous marauding. Michelle’s text is a treat to get your tongue around and Emily’s comical scenes of the cheeky creature helping himself to all those tidbits are to be sure, saporous.
I suspect, like me, you’ll have your audience calling for second and third helpings after a sharing of this one.

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Potties and Pyjamas

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Skip to the Loo, My Darling!
Sally Lloyd-Jones and Anita Jeram
Walker Books
If you’re looking for a ‘potty’ book then look no further; this one’s a cracker.
I have to admit though, I thought the agitated-looking bunny pressing his paws down hard on the balloon on that first spread was attempting to change its shape so he could wee into it. But how wrong was I; he just picks up the string and leads the line of small – and not so small – animals skipping to the loo.

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Close behind come drumming pup, bouncy Kangaroo (he’s hitching a lift in mum’s pouch), a dodo – yes really, a friendly frog,

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piglets, an elephant, and a whole host of others …
And seemingly the whole lot of them are in urgent need by the time they reach the venue

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but it looks like they’ve all made it – just in time, PHEW! Now there’s just one guest missing at that potty party …

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An inset mirror invites readers – the toddler variety I hasten to add – to participate and do as the text suggests, ‘Come on, /come, my darling!/ You come, too!
Anita Jeram’s delectably exuberant watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the upbeat mood of the rhyming text making the whole potty experience something everyone wants a part of.

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Elephant’s Pyjamas
Michelle Robinson and Emily Fox
Harper Collins Children’s Books
When Elephant receives an email inviting him to a pyjama party he’s delighted but then he discovers that his pals all have seemingly perfect pjs,

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whereas his night attire looks decidedly past its best. Taking Llama’s “Just go shopping!” advice, Elephant heads into town but no matter how hard he tries, it seems nothing is quite right for such a large animal.
There’s only one thing for it, our pachyderm must turn down the invitation after all – and, he does.
His friends however, won’t take no for an answer and straightaway operation pyjamas is put into action and come Saturday night when Elephant sits sadly at home,

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there’s a ring on his doorbell …
With Elephant and his friends communicating on line via ZOOGLE, this amusing book is definitely a 21st century story. I love the way Elephant becomes a divergent thinker when he ‘shops around’ for suitable party wear.

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That spread in particular appealed to this reviewer and the audience I shared it with.

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