Once Upon a Wild Wood

Once Upon a Wild Wood
Chris Riddell
Macmillan Children’s Books

Former Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell has woven a wonderful fairy tale extravaganza if ever there was one.

Its main protagonist is Little Green Rain Cape whom we meet as she sets off through the woods heading for Tall Tower wherein Rapunzel is throwing a birthday party.

En route, Green meets and rejects the assistance of several well known fairytale characters including a wolf, a ‘kindly’ old lady, a ‘friendly’ troll, the Beast sans Beauty who has gone missing; a talking harp whose aid she comes to and in so doing happens upon the Three Bears.

All this walking however is hard on the feet so it’s fortunate that another encounter is with Thumbelina who gives her some ointment to salve their soreness; and eventually along with a host of others including a prince,

pigs and dwarves, she reaches the venue where they all gain admittance.

A great night is had by everyone

particularly Beauty and the Beast who are reunited at last; and the following morning Green continues on her way through the Wild Wood.

Most assuredly this is a book for everyone, although with his dramatic irony and witty lines – ‘ ”Princesses!” he exclaimed. “Did someone say princesses? Exhausting! Either falling asleep for a hundred years, losing their shoes or going out every night dancing. …” ‘, – Riddell does assume some prior knowledge on the readers part. Perhaps it’s a case of the more you know the more you’ll get from it.

Fairy Tale Pets

Fairy Tale Pets
Tracey Corderoy and Jorge Martin
Little Tiger Press

Bob and his dog Rex live a happy life in their neat abode but Bob needs a job. Being an animal lover he decides pet-sitting is just the ticket and advertises his services all over town.
The following day business is booming but not with the cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters Bob had been anticipating. Oh dear no!
First comes a golden-haired young miss with a baby bear that needs minding while she’s on her hols.

Next to call is Jack (who insists on paying with beans) and his goose Gabby. Not the comparatively easy task Bob anticipated and before long eggs are flying around all over his once tidy home. That however is actually after the arrival of client number three with her billy goats, and you certainly don’t say no to someone looking like that.

Just when it looks as though matters can’t get any worse, along come three little pigs with their oh so ‘friendly’ um, ‘puppy’. Who are they fooling?
Certainly not young listeners, who by now will be positively squealing with delight.
It’s not difficult to guess what that so called puppy does, which leaves an exasperated Bob without a home or job: he quits pet-sitting and who can blame him; it’s far too hazardous.

That just leaves those beans …
Talk about fairy tale frenzy; Tracey Corderoy’s text is a treat for both listeners (who will enjoy spotting all their favourite characters) and readers aloud.
Laughs aplenty are assured in Jorge Martin’s zesty, slapstick depictions of the mayhem caused by the stream of outlandish animal arrivals at Bob’s residence.
Full of potential following a classroom sharing; but most important, a thoroughly fun-filled picture book.

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There Is No Dragon In This Story

There Is No Dragon In This Story
Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

There’s nothing better than a good dragon story, but what about one whose narrator insists it doesn’t have one when it’s patently obvious it does. The would-be (anti) hero of this particular story is fed up with the dragon stereotype: cave dwelling, fire breathing, princess devouring monster waiting to be vanquished by a brave knight. He yearns to be a real hero and has plenty of ideas of how he could help out in fairy tales for instance: save the Gingerbread Man from the fox or the Three Little Pigs from the big bad wolf, Goldilocks might appreciate a helping paw, or Hansel and Gretel directions. His approaches though are met with the same response, “There is NO DRAGON in this story.
Red Riding Hood …

and Jack are similarly dismissive: not so the giant atop the beanstalk though …

and this leads to unexpected consequences …

and a total blackout in fairy tale land.
Can Dragon have accidentally stumbled into the opportunity he’s been waiting for? Could our hero in waiting rescue the situation despite his crisis of confidence?
Lou Carter’s tongue-in-cheek metafictive romp has much to tickle the fancy of listeners who will delight in the craziness of the storyline, empathise with the anti-hero, and enjoy encountering some of their favourite nursery characters, especially when they’re misbehaving in Deborah Allwright’s hilarious spreads of giant-induced darkness. In fact every spread is worth lingering over, not least for the antics of that dragon, a captivating creature.

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Fum / Beauty and the Very Bad Beast

Karl Newson and Lucy Fleming
Maverick Arts Publishing
Despite their name, the Crumbs are a very large family: there’s Pa, Ma, Grandpa Plum, Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum. Or rather there should be; Fum, the smallest Crumb was gone missing. The search is on: first stop, the houses of the three little pigs …

No sign of him there. “He could be hiding … / In the woods with Little Red Riding.” That’s the suggestion from one of the pigs. Off they go again with everyone joining the hunt, but Grandma and her crew cannot help. Or rather, the Big Bad Wolf gets a whiff of his socks and thinks it’s worth locating Golidlocks. Guess whose bridge they cross to get to the house of the bears. The three are eager to assist and take to the air . Further locations are visited, all to no avail, until suddenly a small voice is heard. Now who might that be up the tree – or rather beanstalk? (I just wanted to be in line with the story’s rhyme.)

Lo and behold, the little chap wasn’t lost after all – just small! And in true fairy tale style, ‘The woods filled up with songs and laughter, / and all lived happily ever after.
Satisfying stuff, delivered through Newson’s exuberant rhyming text, full of repeat refrains, KNOCK! KNOCK!’s and “No” s to join in with; and Lucy Flemming’s funny pictorial rendition of the search with its unusual perspectives and spilt page scenes.

Beauty and the Very Bad Beast
Mark Sperring and Barbara Bongini
I love a story that mucks around with fairy tales, or as here, a fairy tale.
Let’s meet Beauty’s sisters, Grace,a golf-loving lass, and May, who likes to tong her hair. Both ask their doting father to bring them appropriate gifts on his return from a shopping trip in town. Beauty – well we know what her request is; her Popsey however decides to steal it from someone’s garden …

and that’s when the trouble begins. The Beastly Beast appears, makes an accusation and demands his price. Inevitably, it’s Beauty who greets him on his return and thus she duly departs to reside with the Beast.
Beauty asks him to let her go, the creature agrees to consider it and he does – over a long period that stretches into seasons during which time he falls head over heels with his captive; he even proposes.

What happens thereafter includes further considerations, a return, a whole lot of forgetting, the death of a rose, a frantic dash and a kiss …

l’ll leave you to imagine the final event: assuredly it’s rather splendid and made all the more so by Barbara Bongini’s hilarious, action packed scene of same.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Last Book Before Bedtime

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The Last Book Before Bedtime
Nicola O’Byrne
Nosy Crow
I’m a huge fan of books that play around with fairy tales and loved the author’s previous Open Very Carefully and Use Your Imagination so couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one. It more than lives up to expectation.
The stars are three porcine siblings – a soccer enthusiast, a bibliophile and er, a cake lover and of course, where there are three little pigs, there absolutely HAS to be a BIG BAD WOLF.
Right! Intros over, it’s time to get on with the bedtime story – the most important story of the whole day no less. There go the little pigs on their house-building sortie and as we all know, Number One Pig is going to construct with straw – or maybe not for, before that “… out of straw!” utterance has left his lips he’s interrupted by a certain young miss demanding inclusion in the storybook; moreover she’s already setting her sights on a movie and associated merchandise. And with such comments as “No one’s going to want to watch a film with you pork chops in it.” miss Cinderella is something of an insult hurler too.
Despite all this, and some reluctance on the pigs’ part, the narrator seems ready to include young Cinderella and cast the three of them into HER story. At least one little pig is happy to go with the flow though.

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Oh oh! Now who’s this demanding to be part of the plot? And she’s got a BBW in tow. Time for a quick cast reshuffle.

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Here we go again … “Once upon a time there was a little girl whose cloak had a beautiful red hood … beware of the BIG BAD WOLF!” (Thought it was too good to last; but we have got to page fifteen before he puts in an appearance and even then it seems he’s about to get the brush off.) “… Cinderella, you can be Little Red’s mother, pig number two, you’re the granny. And wolf, you’re not in this bit.” (There you are.) Seemingly even those who DO have parts are not satisfied …
So, off skips LRRH and whom should she meet …

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More dissent, followed by a narratorial ticking off of the cast and can you believe it – yet more dissent; those characters really do need taking to task before something truly terrible happens.
WHAT? I cannot believe my eyes …

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With the book in tiny pieces, is that the end before the whole thing’s even really begun? Or can that motley crew possibly co-construct a plot to please them all? Perhaps, but only if it’s got romance, humour, danger – no prizes for guessing who asks for that, excitement and one more vital ingredient – cake!
On with the show … let’s hope that no matter what, it has a suitably soporific outcome …
A riotous metafictional romp if ever there was one; and a real gift to those who, like this reviewer, enjoy throwing themselves heart and soul into reading aloud.
All my audiences of 5 to 8s have demanded immediate rereads.

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The cast of characters from one group

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Fairytales for Mr Barker

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Fairytales for Mr Barker
Jessica Ahlberg
Walker Books
I’m a real sucker for books that play around with fairy tales and Jessica Ahlberg has done it superbly here in her new book. From the die-cut hole through which peeps a  lovable-looking pup to the woeful looking troll creeping across the back cover, this book is an absolute delight.
It begins with young Lucy attempting to maintain the interest of her playful canine companion, Mr Barker, in the troll story she’s reading to him, to no avail however. Mr B. leaps through the window and off to …

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Lucy is hot on his tail and quickly realises into whose house they’ve barged but rather than accepting her host’s invitation to partake of some breakfast, she invites said golden haired girl to join them on their adventure, the next stop being another place Lucy recognizes once they are within.
There’s to be no hanging around there for sure, not for the residents nor their visitors. So it’s off again and you can see where they land up next …

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With another character joining them, it’s on to a castle wherein slumbers a small princess. But having woken said sleeper, Lucy and the others hear a resounding CRASH! And what, or rather, who they see in hot pursuit makes them flee for their lives out into a darkening forest …

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There’s no time to stop though, not until everyone is safely back in familiar and safe surroundings without giants, wolves, angry bears or even fairies. But there might just be the odd troll lurking within a story book somewhere around …

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An immediate repeat reading was demanded by my young audience who absolutely loved spotting the fairy tale characters in each of the places visited and spent ages looking at all the wonderful details in each spread. “Can you bring it again tomorrow,” really says it all.
A sure fire winner if ever there was one.

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Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition Piccadilly Waterstones 23rd to 29th October – don’t miss it!