Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found / Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

With four separate, interconnected stories amusingly illustrated by Emily Hughes, this is the fifth book in a series featuring two young siblings, that is just right for children just moving into chapter books.
In the first story it’s Mouse’s blanket that is lost and he’s feeling sad about it. Charlie offers to help him look in ‘all the somewhere’s” -all day if necessary. They search the house but Blanket isn’t there, nor is it in the garden, nor the playground. Blanket is nowhere, Mouse concludes but then Charlie from ‘Somewhere’ produces the lost object – hurrah!
While engaged in doing Errands with mum, the brothers discovery of a lost something they’ve always wanted, makes their day – and many more to come …

Story three sees the something recently found being called Silly and said Silly has now become a much loved part of their family although possibly not by their moggy, Kittenhead. A walk will give the feline some welcome respite but the outcome of the walk is less welcome when the children return home to discover they need to bid farewell to Silly.

In the final story, Boop, the siblings still sad at the departure of Silly, agree with their Dad that she was “a lot of dog” but the prospect of ice cream cheers them up somewhat. Then while consuming same, the boys see something considerably smaller that might just work as a replacement for Silly.

Silly but sweet, playful family tales, these are as delightful as ever.

Also huge fun for new solo readers, though with a rather more spooky feel is

Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet Books

The story starts with Auntie Departed, resident of Crumbling Manor, receiving a phone call from her sister Auntie Witch inviting her and Ghoulia et al from their abode, to spend their summer holiday at Fancy Manor where she resides with Cousin Dilbert on the shore of Lake Mystery. With mounting excitement, bags are packed and three days later driven by albino greyhound Tragedy, off they go.
They settle in well on arrival;

however they then discover a problem: on account of the run-down state of the Fancy Manor, the town council, thinking the property uninhabited, plan to auction it off, unless that is a living heir comes forward. Panic immediately breaks out but Dilbert comes up with a plan in the form of a Back-to-Life potion.
Then it’s down to Ghoulia and Dilbert to collect the required ingredients and once they have, to brew the potion, making it sufficiently powerful to ensure it lasts long enough for Auntie Witch to convince the town planner, not only of her identity but also that her house is fit for human habitation.

No pressure then!

Mock-scary comedic fun, appropriately weirdly populated, this 4th Ghoulia tale works both as a read aloud and a solo read that will delight monster-loving youngsters. Don’t miss the final ‘extra-special fun’ pages.

Rocket Boy / You’re a Star, Lolo / Charlie & Mouse Even Better

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

Young Callum has a dislike of broccoli, a fertile imagination, and is passionate about space, Mars especially.

One Saturday he decides it’s time he learned a bit more about his favourite topic, above all, what it would be like to witness a Martian sunset.

Having stocked up on some vital supplies and donned his space boots and helmet he’s ready to board Epic. Then, final checks carried out, comes the countdown …

Out in space he is surprised to discover he has a stowaway, his cat Oscar, and the creature now has the power of speech. In fact Oscar proves to be a valuable crew member when things get tricky on account of a meteor storm and again once they’ve safely landed on Mars, where Callum does finally set eyes on that which he has come to view.

However, as he heads back to the landing module a very strange sight meets his eyes. “What on Mars is that…?” he asks.

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

Flying a flag for the power of the imagination, Katie Jennings’ story with Joe Lillington’s detailed full colour illustrations on every spread,

should go down well with young, just flying solo readers, particularly space enthusiasts like its main character.

You’re a Star, Lolo
NIki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third in the series about the adorable, Lolo who lives with her Mama and Granny Gogo contains four episodes for new solo readers to relish.

In the first, Lolo adds a secret ingredient to the soup she makes especially to warm up her Mama when she comes home on a chilly, rainy day.

Next we find Lolo kept awake by a scary sound convincing herself the ‘Ghorra-Ghorra! Hoooaaah! Bwoooooo!s’ she hears are those of a monster, till she and Mama discover what’s really creating such a terrible noise.

The third story starts in school when Lolo’s favourite teacher gives each pupil some seeds to plant. Lolo has tomato seeds from which she learns a lot. So too do the other members of her family; but when it comes to bringing in the results of their labours to show to their classmates, Lolo surprises everyone …

In the final episode Lolo is super-excited when she discovers that she and Gogo are to spend a week of the summer holiday in a seaside town near Cape Town.

The holiday is great but the journey home is more than a little eventful and Lolo wonders if she’ll make it back in time to start school again.

Like the previous books, with its combination of gentle humour and warm family relationships, and of course, Niki Daly’s own  black and white illustrations at every turn of the page, this one is sheer delight.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

If you’ve yet to meet the rather mischievous brothers, Charlie and Mouse, now’s your chance in their four latest seemingly ordinary activities.

First of all it’s Pancake Day and Mum receives some rather unlikely requests for pancakes from the boys – baby pancakes, a pancake turtle and even a pancake dragon.

It’s as well that Mum knows just how to curtail all this pancake bingeing before the table is totally full, not to mention two little tummies.

Shopping sees Charlie and Mouse off with Dad on a secret expedition to buy a birthday present for Mum. She’s fond of sparkly things; but what will the boys eventually choose – something more practical perhaps?

In Helping, Dad is busy baking a cake so the boys decide to make some decorations. You are going to love Mouse’s final remark on their endeavours.

Eventually it’s birthday time. Before the celebration actually happens though, Dad and the boys need to do some hasty de-smoking of the house. Then once she comes home it’s down to Mouse to do some clever Mum distracting – four minutes worth to be precise – before the presentation of that special Surprise offering.

In these four short chapters, Lauren Snyder demonstrates the astuteness of her observations of very young children, and of course how parents respond. Equally well-observed are Emily Hughes’ illustrations of the family.

With its gentle humour, both verbal and visual, this delightful book is just right for emergent readers.

A Brave Bear

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A Brave Bear
Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes
Walker Books
From the instant I set eyes on the cover of this one I knew I was going to love it: those two bears are adorable; and then to see that Sean Taylor has dedicated the book to Tove Jansson (writer of the Moomins stories) was indicative of a possible influence. So I came to this with high hopes and I was beyond enchanted.
I think a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world,” says dad bear as father and son are attempting to shade themselves beneath a tree on a scorcher of a day. The cub (who acts as narrator) suggests going to the river for a splashy cool down; Dad agrees and off they go. The journey is quite a long one and little bear, determined to impress his Dad, goes for being “the jumpiest thing in all the world!” as they cross the rocks, ignoring the paternal advice to “Be careful. Just do small jumps.” Inevitably, this is what happens …

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but Dad is there to attend to the hurt knee, the wounded pride and the reluctance to complete the journey, even offering to carry the cub.

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Anxious to prove himself, Little Bear however is having none of it – “… I decided to go on my own.” he informs readers and resolutely, he does, all the way there …

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The concise narration concludes thus: ‘On the way home, the sun was glowing. The air was glowing … Even tomorrow was glowing.’ I’m pretty certain both father and cub were glowing too – glowing with pride: the narrator at his achievements, and Dad bear at his offspring for overcoming his trepidations and seeing things through to the end and one suspects, learning from his own mistakes.
This is one of those books that leaves you with a warm inner glow. The parent-child relation (attentive adult allowing the offspring to be a risk-taker) is beautifully portrayed both verbally and in Emily Hughes glowing, superbly textured scenes into which she places the shaggy-coated characters.

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A truly felicitous author/illustrator partnership if ever there was one and a picture book to be read over and over and …



The Little Gardener


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

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

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

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

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

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Rosa shares the story with a snake.

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

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

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