Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals
Emma Chichester Clark
Walker Books

Absolutely full of charm, this is the debut novel of wonderful picture books creator Emma Chichester Clark and it stars Polly Pecorino, a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl but with a difference: Polly is an inveterate animal rescuer.

Notably, she is able to talk to animals and understand them though she doesn’t know from where this ability came, nor does she make it known outside her own family. They live (along with Crow, a wild creature Polly had rescued) in the small town of Abbeville overlooking Silent Water Lake beyond which in Wild Bear Woods lived actual wild bears.

These are feared by everyone living nearby including Polly. All of this gives something of a fairytale feeling. Danger lurks close by only kept at bay by a high protective wall surrounding the town. A story has it that an entire family got lost and were gobbled up by the bears, one by one.

Within the town walls on the opposite side to Wild Bear Woods is the somewhat neglected Happy Days Zoo and Polly spends much of her time there after school and during holidays helping her Uncle Stan care for the animals and doing what she can to keep them fed and happy.

In contrast the zoo’s unscrupulous owners, the Snells, care nothing for the animals but will do anything, anything at all, to make money and the more of it the better … They’ll even resort to stealing a tiny bear cub from the woods – that will surely make them a nice packet with a huge surge in ticket sales.

No matter their action will put the entire town in danger from the other bears in the form of the cub’s wild family that will come for him.

Polly realises that if she doesn’t act that is exactly what will happen. Yes, she’s brave but is she brave enough to go against the Snells, follow her heart and take little Booboo back to Wild Bear Woods?

Surely there has to be a way and if anyone can do it, that person is Polly with her ability to see things from the perspective of the animals.

Matters become increasingly tense as the dramatic events build … BooBoo simply must be returned to his parents …

Emma’s storytelling is brilliant – you really feel you’re scrambling through the tangles of creepers and brambles with Polly, damp air penetrating your skin, . Equally brilliant is her characterisation, especially of the girl; together, they give this book a real classic feel, helping to make it utterly grippingly unputdownable. In your haste to find out what happens though, make sure you slow down to enjoy the plethora of fantastic black and white illustrations.

The Misadventures of Frederick

The Misadventures of Frederick
Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark
Two Hoots

Frederick lives in a large mansion surrounded by beautiful countryside and seemingly lacks for nothing, except the one thing he truly wants – freedom.

Emily in contrast is free to roam but lacks a friend and playmate.
One day she notices Frederick and realising he is bored, she sends him a note inviting him to join her outside for ice-cream.

Much of the ensuing story takes place through Emma Chichester Clark’s exquisite illustrations that are alternately dark and gloomy (when the focus is on Frederick), or bright and full of light and colour when showing Emily’s actions in the great outdoors.

The text in contrast is almost exclusively in the form of the written communication between the two characters; Emily’s being short, sharp notes;

Frederick’s are penned in a rather flowery, poetic style characteristic of a child who lives his life in his head.

Gradually Emily’s messages grow briefer until there comes a cry,

a cry that finally lures Frederick into taking a risk and tasting what it’s like to be free.

His freedom however comes at a small price as the final page shows; but readers are left knowing that one small setback isn’t going to deter the boy in future.

I absolutely loved this book: the combination of the clever narrative and the story extending illustrations makes for a highly unusual picture book with a strong message for risk averse adults as well as listeners whether or not they’re unlucky enough to be in situations similar to Frederick’s.

Baby on Board

Baby on Board
Allan Ahlberg and Emma Chichester Clark
Puffin Books

Storyteller extraordinaire, Allan Ahlberg, has teamed up with some wonderful illustrators over the years and here he is partnered by another; Emma Chichester Clark, who provided the pictures for his Mrs Vole the Vet, one of the Happy Families series.

This is a story – an epic adventure – that has its origins in the author’s infancy when two girls used to call at his home in the Black Country, asking to take baby Allan out for a walk in his pram.
It begins thus:
‘Once, many years ago,
there was a baby,
in his pram,
with his sisters
and their sandwiches and lemonade
and toys,
and their friends
and a kite,
and a dog or two … ‘

From there it takes off into a lilting tale wherein baby and minders are separated on account of a kite, and the infant in its pram sails off, along with a trio of toys, into the open seas.
Fortunately the toys are able to make the babe warm and comfy; but coping with the sudden storm that blows up is much more of a challenge, though it’s one the three are up to.

Unexpectedly however, three becomes two thanks to an inquisitive puffin, the arrival of which precipitates a fall overboard by panda. Happily the other two are able to perform a timely rescue and the pram sails on into the setting sun, with its complete crew and a somewhat whiffy baby.

Eventually the baby carriage drifts to shore once more with its four passengers safe and sound, albeit pretty exhausted; and all ends happily thanks to terrific toy teamwork.

Stunning artwork by Emma Chichester Clark – love the 1930s pram and children’s attire –  transforms Allan Ahlberg’s super story into a super, super story. It’s perfect as a bedtime book, or equally as a shared read at any time of the day.

Forever Friends and Families

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When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo
Emma Chichester Clark
Harper Collins Children’s Books
This is a new edition of I think, the 8th in the Blue Kangaroo series and here Lily, who has recently become a big sister to baby Jack, tells her beloved kangaroo friend how they’d both come into her life. First baby Jack to whom Lily, difficult at the outset though it proved, did her very best to be a good big sis. and then, courtesy of Grandma, Blue Kangaroo himself.

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Full of love, with its inherent themes of families, change and friendship. this book positively glows with colour and overflows with tenderness. If, like me you missed this gorgeous book the first time around, then do get a copy now; no family bookshelf is complete without it (and the other titles in the series). Also reissued along with this one are Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? and Happy Birthday, Blue Kangaroo!

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Talking of kangaroos, new in paperback is

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Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?
Eric Carle
Harper Collins Children’s Books
In response to the narrator’s initial question, Carle replies, ‘Yes, a kangaroo has a mother./ Just like me and you.’ And so begins a chain of questions and answers, identical except for the name of the animal be it lion, giraffe, penguin, swan, bear, elephant or monkey, The repeat patterned, slightly singsong narrative makes this appealing to the very young and it might also serve as a book for beginning readers to try for themselves. Both will enjoy the characteristic Carle collage illustrations with their bright colours and distinctively textured animal images.

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A final question breaks out of the repeat patterned mould asking, ‘And do animal mothers love their babies?’ To which a satisfying albeit predictable ‘Yes! Yes! Of course they do. Animal mothers love their babies,/ just as yours loves you.’ response follows.
The final page offers a list of the specific names of the animal babies featured as well as the collective noun(s) for each animal group.

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Fairy Tales Old, Fairy Tales New

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The Orchard Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Savoiur Pirotta and Emma Chichester Clark
Orchard Books
Readers and listeners enter a world full of enchantments, mystery and a scattering of frights when they open the covers of this re-incarnation of ‘The Sleeping Princess” first published in the early 2000s. The magic still holds good though as each of the ten stories is visited or revisited through Pirotta’s appropriately direct retellings of favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Snow White and Rose Red.

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Emma Chichester Clark’s wonderful jewel-like illustrations – large and small – bring an extra glow, an occasional frisson of fear;

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and in many cases, a degree of gentle humour …

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to the verbal renditions.

Equally full of enchantment, occasional scares and sadness, and plenty of Celtic humour is:

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edited by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers’ this collection of stories has many of the same ingredients: princesses, (one features in a tale by John Boyne), frogs – ‘the other’ one gloriously named Hildegard. I love this story with its princess who wears a red cloak and happens upon a wolf as she walks in the forest;

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it comes from the pen of Ireland’s first laureate for children’s literature, Siobhán Parkinson.
Then there’s an ogre – gruesomely green although he, Finbar the Furious, is capable of no wrongdoing.

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Every one of the seven stories reads aloud beautifully and Olwyn Whelan’s gorgeous watercolours delight at every turn of the page. Here’s one from Darragh Martin’s ‘The Sky-Snake and the Pot of Gold’

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This wickedly funny story had my audience in fits of giggles, especially over the stripe-stretching Síle transforming himself into what young Nora refers to ‘GIANT’S STICKY SNOT’
A book to treasure alongside other fairytale collections.

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Aspects of Love

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Evermore Dragon
Barbara Joosse and Randy Cecil
Walker Books
The friendship forged in Lovabye Dragon between Girl and Dragon grows deeper here as the two decide upon the game for the day. Hide-and-Seek it will be and off goes Dragon to hide – supposedly.

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Like the good friend that she is though, Girl plays along searching diligently high and low although she can surely see that Drag-enormo self until …

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Then it’s Girl’s turn to hide and off she runs and runs … to a faraway hidey-hole where she waits … and waits and yawns and …
Dragon meanwhile continues to search but where oh where can Girl be?

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Girl awakes in the ‘Deep, deep, dark night.’ Dragonless and entirely alone and,
she cried silver tears/ worry worry tears/ and her heart thumped a sound/ a trem-below sound/ that only Dragon friends,/ very very special friends, can hear.’
And Dragon hears the summoning cry and, lighting up the sky with his dragon breath he flies to her rescue, enveloping her in his wings.

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I am here,” to which she responds “You’re a dear,”.
With its sprinklings of innovative language, and just the right frisson of fear, the beautifully constructed lyrical text combined with the dream-like scenes in muted greens, greys and blues into which are dropped Girl and her glowing yellow gown, is perfect for story time sharing, especially at the end of the day, be it at home or school. It certainly went down a treat with my audience of fives and sixes.

An altogether different celebration of love comes in:

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Big Book of Love
Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Orchard Books
Bursting with joie de vivre is this small child’s rhyming recitation of everything he (I think, but could equally be, she) loves. There’s the playful pup that leads child and reader across fields to meet friends, frolic in the waves, run in the rain, ride on a train to the colourful bustling city

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full of all manner of people and places of visit not least the library…

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And that can, in turn lead to exciting adventures with animals large and small and sometimes even a bit scary. But then there’s always the safety of home and a house full of love to come back to. …

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If only every child could be so lucky …
There’s so much to explore in Catherine’s child-centric scenes: every spread is brimming over with things to talk about, count or simply enjoy.

A look at love from a canine viewpoint in
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Love is My Favourite Thing
Emma Chichester Clark
Jonathan Cape
This book is based on the author’s own dog, a character that became the star of Plumdog Blog. Here, Plum is that narrator of her own story, a story wherein readers learn just how much love there is in her life. She loves among other things, wind, snow, sun, treats and sticks; she loves the children next door and of course, her ‘mummy and daddy’ aka Emma and Rupert and the things they do together. Equally they love her too.
Occasionally though, Plum’s zest for life and love gets her into trouble and once she’s got into a little bit of trouble …

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things seem to escalate till she’s in a whole lot of trouble …

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Even that’s not the worst part of the whole sorry chain of events – there’s the ice-cream episode too, after which poor Plum is banished to bed. Has love finally run out where this particular dog is concerned? Of course not but she definitely does need to rein in some of that canine enthusiasm especially where ice-cream and water are concerned.
A charming celebration of unconditional love, pooch style. I’m no lover of dogs but Plum as portrayed by Emma Chichester Clark, certainly won my heart.

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Bears Don’t Read!

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Gracie found the perfect place to read this super-duper story

Bears Don’t Read!
Emma Chichester Clark
Harper Collins Children’s Books
George, an immediately endearing bear, is bored. Something of a philosopher, he’s convinced there must be more to life than fishing, chatting and going over the same old stories. The question is, what? One day he chances upon a book lying under a tree: a book that just happens to feature a bear. This bear however is living life to the full and that fires an ambition in George: he must learn to read.
Despite discouragement from his siblings, George (a bear after my own heart) goes to town, full of determination to discover new stories and find someone to teach him to read. Imagine the response of the townspeople to see a huge grizzly bear among them: panic ensues and before long George is surrounded by police.

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Thank goodness then for plucky young Clementine who recognizes her very own book, thus saving the day for our ursine friend. A learner reader herself, Clementine invites George to become a co-learner and fortunately for both, her mother a sensible type, agrees to the plan and thus it is that the new friends continue on their reading journey together. George becomes a resident in Clementine’s family summerhouse and every day after she returns from school, Clementine teaches George what’s she’s learned. Finally after a lot of hard work, joy of joys, George is able to read from cover to cover his very own book.

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Apart from being a wonderfully satisfying story, this book has so many positive messages about reading, the most pertinent, the vital importance of reading aloud to learners is demonstrated by the chief of police who comes to read poetry to George.

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Then there is the fact that George doesn’t find reading comes easily to him but with the help and support of an understanding, patient teacher, he eventually succeeds; that, and of course, his own determination to learn. And, what better parting message than this final line, ‘And for George – that was just the beginning.’ I also love the bookplate at the start, which hints at that final denouement.
Beautifully illustrated, richly detailed and executed in a range of shades ranging from bold and bright to slightly more gentle in the outdoor sunny scenes and there’s a gorgeous glowing moonlit scene. Emma Chichester Clark has made clever use of collage in this book – for the trees and other flora, butterflies, clothes and the frames

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for some of the smaller single page scenes, to mention just some.

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