Stories on My Street / Eric and the Green-Eyed God

It’s great to see the return of some old favourites given new looks.

Stories on My Street
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

This brings together four stories featuring the children and their families, who are all residents of Trotter Street. The tales were originally published with Shirley’s coloured illustrations, herein replaced with black and white ones.

In the first, New Wheels for Carlos, friends Billy and Carlos love to race their old bikes down the hill in the park but both of them are outgrowing their old slow machines. With birthdays fast approaching each would truly love a new bike; will it be a ‘Happy Birthday’ for both boys? …

A heart-warming tale of friendship, longings and surprise.

The Patterson family are the focus of The Big Concrete Lorry. It’s a tight fit with four humans and a dog at number 26, their little home. So, after a family conference it’s decided that they should have an extension. The cost won’t be excessive as Dad, (with help from willing neighbours) will build it himself.

All goes to plan until CRRURK! CRRUCK! CRRUCK! the arrival of a lorry bearing the name JIFFY READY-MIX CONCRETE CO on the side and it’s a day early …

Thereafter a massive effort on the part of the community is called for.

This smashing story with its wonderful illustrations put me in mind of the time years back, when my partner and I were installing an Amtico floor that had to be put on top of a self-levelling screed in our kitchen and the antics that ensued to prevent it setting too quickly.

In Angel Mae and the New Baby, Mae’s mother is expecting a baby, something about which Mae has mixed feelings especially as she is to play the role of the Angel ‘Gave-You’ in her class nativity play very soon. But when Mae wakes up on the day of the play, there’s no sign of either her mum or dad; instead Grandma is in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

The tension mounts as the show proceeds with Mae hoping against hope that at least one of her parents will arrive to see her debut performance …

Warmth and humour as only Shirley can do it, abound in this third tale.

The Snow Lady is what Sam and her friend Barney create one chilly day. It bears a close resemblance to their grumpy neighbour, Mrs Dean, Barney decides, and makes a pebble name ‘Mrs Mean’ at her feet.

Mrs Dean is away to spend Christmas with her son, but she arrives back unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve. Conscience-struck, Sam is concerned that come the morning Mrs Dean will see what she and Barney have done and feel hurt.

Of course, like the others, this gently humorous story has a happy ending and is equally deftly illustrated in Shirley’s exquisite style.

Eric and the Green-Eyed God
Barbara Mitchelhill, illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Eric’s mum is soon to marry but there’s a snag; she’s marrying his teacher known as ‘the Bodge’. That in itself is pretty awful but even worse is that his globetrotting Auntie Rose has sent a wedding present sparkling with emeralds and it’s said to be imbued with magical properties that might result in more than one new addition to his family.

Eric and his friend Wez don’t know the meaning of the words his aunt has used in relation to the gift but their pain in the neck classmate Annie certainly does and she insists such objects work.

Eric and Wez simply have to locate this present among all the others and stow it away somewhere where it can’t work before Mum has a chance to open it on her big day.

Locating it is relatively easy but hiding it away is another matter especially since Eric and his fellow pupils are engaged in the ‘Loving the Earth’ project the mayor has set up. Moreover Eric has failed to clear up the mess made when he and Wez were opening all the presents and now his mum thinks there’s been a break in and the police are involved.

Things just keeping on getting worse: how can Eric get himself out of this increasingly troublesome situation?

Barbara Mitchelhill’s mix of zany humour, magic and emotions will result in giggles aplenty from young readers of this episode in the series especially since the inimitable Tony Ross has supplied plenty of wacky new illustrations.

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling!
Daisy Hurst
Walker Books

The cast from Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do and I Do Not Like Books Any More! are back in another smashing story.

Natalie, Alphonse and family reside in a flat, on the seventh floor. The child monsters love driving their double-decker bed, playing around their large green chair, tending their sunflowers and performing somersaults down the hall and generally junglifying their surroundings until Natalie cries out “OW, ALPHONSE, you’re STANDING ON ME… and there’s MUD on the CEILING!

At this point Dad intervenes pointing out that their shenanigans are unsuitable indoor play. Natalie (who has an answer for everything) counters this with complaints about their lack of a wild jungle garden with a tent for sleeping in.

Eventually Natalie decides the park is where she want to be – alone.

Off she goes and there her explorations lead her to a bush with a hole wherein she finds …

Then, guess who arrives on the scene. A truce is called and a deal struck involving sausages and blackberries, and at Natalie’s insistence, a bundle of sticks.

Turns out there’s more than one place where you can be wild in the jungle, camping and tucking in to tea. Perhaps even sleeping too.

Another acutely observed, vibrantly illustrated tale from Daisy Hurst; these stories go from strength to strength. Everything about this book is quite simply brilliant.

I suspect adult sharers will adore it as much as the youngsters they read it with; this reviewer surely did.

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

Shirley Hughes has set her latest picture book in 1945 London, shortly after the end of World War 11.

Ruby and her mother have come through the Blitz safely and now in the aftermath of the bombing there’s a lot of clearing up to be done and changes to embrace.

Young Ruby has become used to sharing a bed with her Mum but now her long absent Dad is just home from the war and making his very large presence felt in their home.

Ruby has a lot of accommodating to do and spends a fair bit of time out with her friends playing, despite warnings, on the bomb sites near their homes.

One day Ruby, playing rather dare devilishly among the ruins, takes a tumble and needs adult help.

What happens thereafter provides the ideal opportunity for the warm loving relationship between Ruby and her Dad to be renewed.

A thoroughly heartwarming, unsentimental story of post-war family love, illustrated in the author’s inimitable signature style; it will be enjoyed by all ages both at home and in school.

Cat In A Box

Cat in a Box
Jo Williamson
Scholastic

The joys of being a family cat are chronicled through the eyes and voice of one particular black and white moggy.
She starts by waking the household – a gentle walk over the twins, a more vigorous pushing and miaowing for the grownups.
As the family day unfolds, our narrator pretty much pleases herself despite assertions that she’s indispensible.
Jo Williamson shows her sitting about, chasing a ball of wool, clawing the curtains,

fishing with her pals, climbing and hunting outside …

and in.
She has to be in on the action no matter what or where; and all, or almost all, in the name of necessity. Who’s kidding whom?
There are one or two activities that don’t offer such delights even if they are self-induced …

but that’s the penalty for wanting to be a part of everything, no matter what!
Who wouldn’t fall under the charms of such a creature: even this cat-phobic reviewer was totally beguiled; but then Jo Williamson’s portrayal of this particular feline’s antics are so delectably insouciant and the feline narration so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.

I’ve signed the charter  

Alfie and Dad

Alfie and Dad
Shirley Hughes
The Bodley Head
This book comprises three short stories wherein Alfie’s dad, Simon, so we’re told on the introductory page, plays a significant part.
In the first, a disturbed night, on account of relatively new friend Neal’s mention of a possible visit from the “Flying Loobies”, when he visits for a sleepover, calls for reassurance from Dad …

before Alfie can finally settle down for some shut-eye.
This is followed by the temporary loss of Alfie’s beloved soft toy, Flumbo when he, Mum and Annie Rose take a shopping trip by bus. Here again, Alfie’s Dad sorts out the problem. He takes Alfie, the following morning, to the main Lost Property Office

where they retrieve Flumbo

and end up taking home some other ‘unclaimed’ toys to add to Alfie’s collection.
Loss is the theme of the third story too: it’s a in the form of a little marmalade cat that despite misgivings from Dad, not to mention their own cat, Chessie, takes up temporary residence in Alfie’s home.

Dilys, as they call her, doesn’t overstay her welcome though; and after a few days, she disappears again. Not long after, while out walking with Dad, Alfie spies Dilys outside another house and discovers that she, or more accurately Tibbles, has, like many cats, a habit of going missing temporarily from her true place of residence.
As always, Shirley Hughes’ portrayal of Alfie and his family and friends is wonderfully affecting. The temporary setbacks and problems that beset young children, lead to outcomes that are, thanks here to Dad’s timely words of wisdom, satisfyingly resolved.
Alfie will always have a very special place in the affections of those who grew up with his early stories; but thanks to Shirley’s artistic genius with both words and pictures, he will continue to captivate new generations of readers and listeners, who will also take him into their homes and their hearts.

I’ve signed the charter  

We Are Family

                              I’m excited to be part of Caterpillar Books blog tour for We Are Family.

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We Are Family
Patricia Hegarty and Ryan Wheatcroft
Caterpillar Books
This all-inclusive rhyming celebration of family life really does offer each and every child the possibility of seeing him or herself in a picture book: Ryan Wheacroft’s multitude of vignettes ensure that.
Whoever we are and whatever we do, / Our families hold us together like glue.
These opening words of Patricia’s text caused me to reflect on my concept of family and I concluded that it means many things and includes many more people than those I’m related to by blood.
Our family comes / From round the world: / Our hair is straight / Our hair is curled, / Our eyes are brown, / Our eyes are blue, / Our skins are different/
Colours too.

So begins a poem by Mary Anne Hoberman that I included in my compilation, Family Album published some 20 years ago and it resonates with my own view of family. At that time, I’d been given a six-month sabbatical from my job as deputy head of an outer London Primary School. I was to look at primary education in India in order to try and understand why the parental expectations of the majority of families from the Indian subcontinent whose children were attending the school I worked in, and others in the borough, were so very different from those of our teachers.
I stayed in Udaipur, Rajasthan in a small hotel – owned and run by a Rajput Indian family I very soon felt I had become a part of. At the time there were two brothers – one managing the hotel, the other a tour guide, both residing in the haveli (large family home) with their parents and downstairs, grandparents as well as various other people employed to help with the latter.
From the outset, the grandmother would send to my room at suppertime, dishes she thought I’d enjoy. Soon though, I was invited to share evening meals in the haveli: “You’re family now” I was told.

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During those months I went to Navratri celebratory Garba Dandiya dances with female members of the family and shared in the family celebrations of Diwali.
That was the start of a family bond that has deepened, although altered (the grandparents and father are dead now) over the subsequent 24 years. Both brothers, (one of whom, Ajay, now truly is like my blood brother), have children of their own, two apiece. I hesitate to say they have their own families as, like many Indian families, they tend to grow into a larger extended family, rather that separate ones. And that’s due in part the to the fact that they still live in the same complex.
I also feel very close to Anu. Ajay’s wife and in particular, their two daughters, whom I’ve watched grow up. I saw both of them as tiny babies and one is now at university and the other at school and training, she hopes, to become part of the Indian shooting team for the next Olympics.

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We visit them at least once a year, usually during the Christmas holidays; it’s more tricky during the summer now as even the two girls’ holidays don’t coincide, let alone Indian school holidays and English ones. They have stayed with us in the UK several times too.
During that same period of time I became involved with another Indian family too, more by chance this time. It started with a visit to an art gallery run by one member of an artist family, also in Udaipur. This family too took me into their home and hearts and the bond is still very strong. I visit the galleries of both brothers frequently when staying in the city as well as sharing meals and much more. For instance, I tie a raki around the wrist of the brothers at the festival of Raksha Bandhan (a festival of brothers and sisters), as well as being a source of books for both Shariq and Shahid’s children.
Sometimes we go on holidays or happy fun days out,
Doing things together is what families are about.

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Both brothers have stayed at our home in the UK several times for recreation and more. One visit that sticks in my mind is when Shahid, (who was to have some of his paintings exhibited in the UK) his wife and young son came one Christmas time and we had frost and a scattering of snow. Their little boy was around 4 (he’s now 17) and had never experienced such cold. Stepping outside he said, “Papa, I’m smoking” as the freezing breath came from his mouth.
In addition to being an artist, Shariq, who while visiting us in UK, did some art workshops in my own school and several others I was connected with, is also a musician and has invented and crafted, an amazing instrument

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and his two young sons are pretty awesome tabla players.
One thing that struck me almost immediately is the great respect accorded to older generations of a family in the Indian culture. Both Ajay’s and Shahid’s families found it strange that our parents did not live with us though my partner’s mother had her own house just ten minutes drive away. She invited them to tea and she shared meals with them at our home. On subsequent visits it was always obligatory for them to meet Marjorie to pay their respects. When, in her 80s, she accepted an invitation to Udaipur, she was treated like royalty with a party in her honour at Ajay’s hotel and requests to go for lunch, dinner and, in order to fit them all in, even breakfast at the homes of members of a cricket team Ajay had previously brought to play in the UK. All this very much echoes Patricia Hegarty’s final words of We Are Family:

Each family is different, it may be large or small.
We may look like each other – or not alike at all.
Money doesn’t matter, nor colour, creed, nor name –
In each and every family, the love we feel’s the same.

Me and Mister P

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Me and Mister P
Maria Farrer illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford UniversityPress
Arthur is less than happy with his lot: he longs for a normal family wherein he can have his fair share of parental attention. Instead he has to contend with a brother on the autism spectrum towards whom much of his parents’ attention is directed.
Now, sent to his room instead of being able to watch the much anticipated football match on TV, Arthur – with lucky crystal in one pocket and survival tin in t’other – decides to leave home,, for good! But what, or whom should he encounter on the doorstep but an enormous polar bear, Mister P. The bear doesn’t speak but Arthur gleans this from the name on his old brown suitcase, which has a distinct fishy aroma about it and has a label with Arthur’s family address on. Could it be that the creature intends to stay?
He does; and Arthur’s life starts to get a whole lot better– not to mention that of brother Liam and the rest of their family.
Full of warmth and humour, this story is a delight to read, either aloud to a class, or as an individual. Listeners will revel in such scenarios as that when Mister P. endeavours to fit his huge bulk into Mum’s car (hilariously illustrated by Daniel Rieley) …

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or that of Mr Craddock’s class endeavouring to discover interesting facts about polar bears while Mister P. reclines on beanbags in a corner of their classroom.

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There’s another character who needs a mention too, and that’s Rosie. She doesn’t put in an appearance until about half way through the book but she’s certainly pretty persuasive: “Anyway, our scores are going to improve because now Mister P is going to be our lucky mascot, isn’t he? “ ‘She put her hands together in the praying position.’ “PLEASE.“; and contributes some extremely apposite insights and comments: “See … Mister P knows how to get things sorted.
And a sorter of things is most definitely what Mister P. is – in more ways than one – shades of Nurse Matilda aka Nanny McPhee here.
I’ll say no more other than to urge you to get hold of Maria Farrer’s superbly empathetic book, made all the more so by Daniel Rieley’s wonderfully droll illustrations.

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