George the Brave

George the Brave
Eva Papoušková and Galina Miklínová
Graffeg

It’s off to Australia for this tale of a little wombat called George. I learned something about wombats like George before reading the story book for there’s an information page at the start. Did you know that in addition to being protected by law on account of their rareness, wombats are able to protect themselves by thrusting their rear ends at an enemy.

Let’s meet our protagonist George, and his friends. Fred the Kangaroo, Annie the Goose and Lizzie the Mouse invite George to join them in some games one day. Having got permission from his parents and a warning to be on the lookout for possible dangers in the form of hungry predators, he demonstrates his life-saving moves and off he goes to the dark woods to meet his pals. Their first game is hide and seek and when it’s George’s turn to be the seeker, he hides his eyes and starts singing a little song. However upon uncovering them he finds himself face to face with Wilma the Fox. Eek!

Now Wilma is a sly creature with her mind on her next tasty meal. To that end she invites George to show her his home and when he wants to know why, she’s gets angry. After all an entire wombat family is much more satisfying that one little one.

George is suspicious and sensing danger, flees as fast as he can. The trouble is, Wilma too has fast paws and is hot on his trail. Now is the time for George to be truly brave and use that strong, bony bottom of his.

Is it enough to do the necessary? Let’s say that Wilma loses more than just a tasty meal on account of his bum-thrusting stance. 

And George? He’s learned an important life lesson about facing one’s fears – kind of!

Young children will relish George’s new story with its embedded wombat fact. With that big surprise, superb cross-hatched illustrations and dryly humorous text, it’s both lots of fun and informative. It also offers a good starting point for a circle time discussion about standing up for yourself.

I am NOT an Octopus

I Am Not an Octopus
Eoin McLaughlin and Marc Boutavant
Walker Books

As he pushes a shopping trolley loaded up with tins of tuna, eight-limbed Terry states firmly, ‘I am NOT an octopus.’ and continues to do so as he leaves the supermarket and walks to the park. Seeking to justify his pronouncement he continues that he’d be in the sea if that were the case, ‘Unless I were afraid of water (which I’m absolutely not).’

So why the panic when he finds himself showered by the sprinklers he passes?

Terry carries on talking about the potential difficulties fear of water would pose for an octopus: no meeting octopus friends and family, no outings to Super Octopus Fantasea Adventure World either. Perhaps Terry should try learning to swim: he asks readers for some advice were he to pay a visit to the swimming pool including to pee or not to pee, and he decides to take the plunge.

Then with a newly acquired skill under his trunks, there comes Terry’s big reveal. However what’s said will come as no surprise to readers.

Delectably daft, Eoin McLaughlin’s tale of facing and overcoming your fears, octopus style, is one that children will relate to while relishing its silliness: silliness made all the more engaging by Marc Boutavant’s zany scenes of the protagonist narrator and his antics.

Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire


Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire
Beatrice Blue
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (First Editions)

In essence this fabulous follow-up to Beatrice’s Once Upon A Unicorn Horn is a neo-pourquoi tale telling how those mythical dragons came to breathe fire, or rather, one very particular dragon.

Now we all know that dragons with their snaggly teeth and huge wings, are truly terrifying creatures. Well maybe not actually; but that’s what comes of listening to hearsay and making up one’s mind before even setting eyes on such things.


And so it was in the village where reside young book-loving Freya and Sylas. All the other villagers lived in fear of their lives on account of the kitten-eating, storm-blowing creature responsible for the constant chill around; but these two are far from scared. In fact, they simply love to read dragon tales to one another; it’s their most favourite thing to do.


Now while the other villagers cower in their homes in the icy cold, the brave pair set out to find said ‘bad dragon’ and terminate its reign of terror once and for all.

What they discover having clambered up the wind-swept mountain though, is something entirely unexpected. No deafening roar, nor sharp teeth, just a sad, lonely-looking creature.

These two children however, know exactly the right remedy for the dragon’s blues …

This wonderfully heart-warming tale celebrates the power of love and kindness as well as the power of story; it’s about misconceptions, facing your fears, searching for truth and much more; I suspect new meanings will reveal themselves on subsequent readings. Beatrice’s illustrations wield their own breath-takingly powerful magic; little by little, they reveal the truth about the dragon, as she dramatically changes the hues of her colour palette with that special gatefold reveal and what follows.


Children and adults alike will relish this book.

Supercats v Maximus Fang / Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of ZOMBIES

It’s great to see these two popular fiction series going from strength to strength:

Supercats v Maximus Fang
Gwyneth Rees, illustrated by Becka Moor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the second of Gwyneth Rees’ Supercats series that will delight animal lovers, especially those who enjoy tales with a bit of a zesty bite. They’ll certainly get that with Tagg, a recent recruit to a team of crime-fighting supercats. (think feline MI6). Tagg’s personal superpower is camouflage, a tremendously useful skill for any secret agent.

In this story Tagg and another member of the team, Sugarfoot have their first mission. They need to infiltrate the dastardly Killer Cats crew that includes just back in town, Gory Gus, and thwart his plans to break his partner in crime Maximus Fang out of prison.

The prison break has to be stopped but are the newbie supercats up to the task?

Assuredly they’ll need to employ both their superpowers and all their feline wits or else they’ll end being fish-sliced in the paws of the Hit Cats. Moreover, Gory’s superpower is telekinesis and Maximus’s power is weather control. ‘Think tsunamis! Think tornadoes and hurricanes!’ Hmm!

Can Tagg and Sugarfoot succeed in their mission? Perhaps with the help of ‘the Weapon’ …

There’s plenty of tension, especially when having persuaded the Killer Cats to let them join their crew, Tagg and Sugarfoot discover what that entails …

Add plenty of fun to the mix, with additional lashings thanks to Becka Moor’s illustrations, and what you have is a highly satisfying moggy adventure.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of ZOMBIES
Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Egmont

Sam Wu is still trying to prove he’s not afraid of anything in this his fifth fear conquering challenge. He’s already succeeded in becoming unafraid where ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders are concerned – well almost!

So what about zombies? Surely such thoughts won’t send frissons of fear running through the lad will they? Err, maybe not, except … supposing his arch nemesis Ralph Zinkerman the Third, lets it be known that there are zombie werewolves living in his basement.

Is this really something Sam wants to tackle, especially when Ralph has just told tales on him in class? But, Sam has loyalties to Ralph’s sister Regina so maybe he should summon up all his courage, accept the invitation to visit the Zinkerman residence and (along with some friends) see what is going on in that basement of theirs, despite strict orders from Mr and Mrs Z that said basement with its locked door was ‘strictly off limits’.

Could this perhaps be Sam’s scariest fear-confrontation yet?

Splendidly funny through and through with a great finale, and terrific Nathan Reed illustrations scattered throughout that highlight the hilarious situations, this series just keeps on getting better.

Rabbit and the Motorbike

Rabbit and the Motorbike
Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacoby
Chronicle Books

Rabbit lives in a field and dreams of leaving his safe haven one day, but this home-lover gets his adventures vicariously thanks to his friend Dog, an erstwhile motorcycle enthusiast who has spent much of his life riding his cycle all over the countryside.

One day though, Dog is gone and with it Rabbit’s daily adventure.

Dog has bequeathed his vehicle to his friend and it lies for many days abandoned in the field.

Then one night Rabbit decides to bring the bike inside and in the absence of a story, they listen to the sounds of the highway.

Summer comes bringing with it not only new blooms but also for rabbit, a newfound courage that allows him to admit to his fears and to suggest to the bike, “Just down the road.” But as we know, and Rabbit discovers, roads have a way of going on and on and …

It’s an independent, greatly enriched Rabbit that eventually returns to his field, with his head full of memories and stories, ready for new friends and with a feel for the pull of the open road.

Lyrically told by Kate Hoefler and gorgeously illustrated in pastels and watercolour by Sarah Jacoby, whose delicate scenes bring out Rabbit’s changing emotions while also capturing the power of the profound silences surrounding his loss, and the contrasting roar of the bike when he finally takes to the road.

An exhilarating tale of friendship, loss and finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone.

Pink! / Alfred and the Blue Whale

It’s always good to discover new publishers so Red Reading Hub was excited to come across Wacky Bee Books to whom thanks for sending these for review.

Pink!
Lynne Rickards and Margaret Chamberlain
Wacky Bee

Patrick is a penguin, a pretty ordinary young penguin until one morning, shock horror; he wakes up and discovers he’s turned pink overnight.

Dr Black is no help suggesting that he tries getting used to his new hue. “But I’m a BOY! And BOYS CAN’T BE PINK!’ is his response.

At school, his fellow penguins tease Patrick until he’s had enough. Deciding he wants to fit in, he packs his rucksack and sets off to find the African flamingos his Dad had showed him in a bird book.

It’s a seven-day, seven-night swim but Patrick is a powerful swimmer and on day eight he reaches his destination.
The flamingos are friendly, inviting the newcomer to join them for lunch; but the visitor’s beak is all wrong, so things go very badly.

The same is true when Patrick tries out other things flamingo, like standing on one leg.

Patrick realises he doesn’t fit in here either.

Back home he swims. His parents welcome him; and then to his surprise, so too do his schoolmates. Indeed they’re mightily impressed by what their pink pal has to tell them about his travels; now being pink is cool.

Acceptance rules: not only Patrick but also his classmates have realised that real friends love you no matter how different you might appear on the outside.

With Margaret Chamberlain’s characterful illustrations, Lynne Rickards’ story of Patrick’s learning journey will help little ones both at home and in early years settings understand that diversity is something to be celebrated, as well as help challenge gender stereotypes.

Alfred and the Blue Whale
Mina Lystad, (trans. Sian Mackie) illustrated by Ashild Irgens
Wacky Bee

This is one of the publisher’s Buzzy Reads titles for those readers just starting to fly solo and has been translated from the author’s original Norwegian.

Young Alfred is scared of lots of things, but his worst nightmare is speaking in front of the class. Imagine how he feels then when he learns that everyone must take their turn to talk to the others about the animal named on the paper his teacher gives them.

Alfred’s animal is the Blue Whale and all he wants to do at the thought of the following Friday is to hide away.

Little by little though, he starts collecting information about the creature and the more he discovers, the more interested he becomes, so much so that he forgets about his nerves …

until Friday morning.

But then those scared feelings come flooding back. Can he summon up the courage to share all that Blue Whale information he has in his head with his classmates?

The author seamlessly includes a number of easily digested Blue Whale facts in her very readable story about facing your fears and self belief. (There’s also a final double spread fact file.)

Ashild Irgens’ plentiful illustrations convey so well Alfred’s fluctuating emotions over the five days from Monday till Friday.

Brave Molly

Brave Molly
Brooke Boynton-Hughes
Chronicle Books

This virtually wordless picture book follows young Molly from her window seat where she sits reading and observing three young passers by, out from her house and down the street. But what is constantly lurking close by, sometimes waiting, sometimes following, sometimes stopping to watch?

It’s the monster that bears a strong resemblance to her own drawing tossed into the rubbish bin before she left home. Said monster, so we assume, is a representation of Molly’s own fear of interacting with others.

The three children leave behind a book on the seat they’d stopped on; Molly puts it in her backpack and sets off after them, with the monster not far behind.

Her shyness escalates and with it the number of monsters as she runs, crawls through a tunnel

and climbs trees until she feels almost completely overwhelmed. Somehow though, she summons up the courage to confront the terrors and seemingly they vanish, or almost.

One returns as she attempts to overcome her shyness and return the book: can she manage to get the better of it?

Could a simple word perhaps be all that’s required?

Make sure to check out the endpapers – this moving, empowering story starts and concludes thereon. It’s a great book to open up discussions with youngsters, about overcoming shyness or other fears.

Wordless books leave room for readers’ own interpretations – to ask and answer their own questions, and perhaps draw their own conclusions. Brooke Boynton-Hughes’ softly coloured pencil, ink and watercolour illustrations leave plenty of space for them to do just that, not least just how much inner courage Molly had to summon up to step outside and make that journey into the anxiety-inducing world beyond the safety of her home.

After The Fall

After The Fall
Dan Santat
Andersen Press

Most young children and adults are familiar with the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty and now author/illustrator Dan Santat has created a story telling what happened after that great fall of Humpty’s.

No he didn’t remain a splatted mess unable to be repaired.
Instead, in this self-narrated tale, the famous egg relates how he undergoes a long process of healing and recovery that begins once those king’s men have done their best with glue and bandages.

Physical recovery is one thing, but Humpty is suffering from acute vertigo, so much so that he now sleeps on the floor beside his bunk bed and his favourite breakfast cereals stored on the top shelf of the supermarket are out of reach.

Worst of all though is that Humpty is an avid ornithologist and absolutely loved that erstwhile seat of his atop the wall from where he used to watch his feathered friends.

Eventually however he settles for a ground-level view and it’s while looking upwards one day that he spies in the sky something that gives him an idea.

After considerable trials and tribulations,

Humpty eventually fashions the perfect flier of a paper plane; not quite the same as being up in the sky with the birds but ‘close enough’ he tells us. But then the plane lands up on top of a wall. ‘Accidents happen. They always do.’ says our narrator.

Absolutely terrified but full of determination, slowly but surely Humpty climbs the wall.

As someone who is terrified of heights, I really felt for him as he faced his fear, finally making it to the very top of that ladder. Once there he says triumphantly ‘I was no longer afraid.

That though is not quite how the story ends for then comes a final twist. Now the narrator has undergone an inner change that enables him to release himself once and for all; after all’s said and done, an egg doesn’t remain trapped in a shell for ever more: a right of passage must occur for something even better awaits …
This is so much more than just a ‘what comes next’ episode of a Mother Goose favourite.
Santal presents themes of fearfulness, anxiety, determination and ultimately, transcendence and transformation through the combination of his spare first person narrative and his powerful scenes, made so affecting through the changing perspectives and use of shadow.

Eric Makes a Splash

Eric Makes a Splash
Emily Mackenzie
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When it comes to trying new things, Eric is a real worrier. His best friend Flora on the other hand is virtually fearless and loves to help Eric to feel as brave as she does.
She helps him with his fear of getting his wellies dirty; with his worries about trying a new sandwich filling, and comes to his assistance on the tall climbing frame.

When Eric receives an invitation to a swimming party his mind is a whirl of worries: supposing his fur got wet or water went in his eyes; but even worse, what if he sank to the bottom of the pool?

Flora thinks the purchase of new swimming togs might allay his fears but even with his new attire, Eric worries.

Eventually though he’s suitably prepared and off they go to ‘Soggy Towel Swimming Pool’.

Soon all Eric’s friends are having a wonderful time splashing around but Eric is reluctant even to get his toes wet.

Thank goodness Flora is soon by his side offering some timely words of encouragement and finally one very proud panda is in the water…

That isn’t quite the end of the story though. A mishap on the diving board precipitates a disastrous chain of events:

Eric is left without any support other than that supplied by the water itself, and is about to make some very surprising discoveries …
As always, Emily Mackenzie’s illustrations are full of fun and feelings. Her two main characters are totally endearing and complement each other perfectly. We could all do with a Flora in our lives when we’re about to make a somewhat scary leap into the unknown.