The House on the Edge / A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch

These are two smashing books recently published by Nosy Crow – thanks for sending them for review

The House on the Edge
Alex Cotter

Faith’s dad has disappeared. What has happened to him and why has he left the family – mum (who’s now staying in bed all day), Faith the narrator, and her younger brother Noah – in an old house (the Lookout) perched atop a crumbling cliff?

When a crack appears on the cliffside Faith watches it growing larger day by day. She’s also trying her utmost to hold things together and that entails looking after her mum and staying out of trouble at school. Then, when Noah’s teacher asks to speak to their mother as she’s concerned about the boy, Faith fears things are about to come unravelled. She’s increasingly worried too about the boy’s talk of a sea ghost in the cellar searching for lost treasure; and to make things worse her Uncle keeps nosing around in the house.

Worse still is when Noah disappears causing Faith to have second thoughts about the possibility of ghosts. Is there any chance at all she can find her brother and bring her father back before all she cares about crashes into the sea down below.

Wonderfully written, with Faith’s gripping first person narrative encompassing feelings of exasperation and love, ordinary commonplace things, alarm and panic, with some humour too, this is a smashing book about families and what binds them together as well as an exciting mystery. Altogether a cracking debut for author Alex Cotter.

A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham

Giggles guaranteed in this latest deliciously daft adventure from team Butchart and Flintham.

Now Izzy, her classmates and teachers are off on an activities school trip to Big Lake. The to-do list includes a nature walk, raft-building, a ropes course and a tug of war, but Gary Petrie is much more excited about the fact that the lodges they’re staying in have slippers and robes.

The lake itself is deep, dark and a tad scary, not least because Ranger Tam starts talking about the presence of a hundred year old monster therein – and he’s not joking!

Investigations are the order of the day among the children – or maybe that should be the order of the night. By all accounts said monster is hungry and on the lookout for food, food like their packed lunches – sandwiches and crisps in particular. Perhaps it even eats teachers?

Full of splendidly silly scenarios vividly imagined by Pamela Butchart with her brilliant knack of presenting things from the child’s perspective and their propensity to get carried away, along with a wealth of appropriately wacky illustrations by Thomas Flintham, this is perfect for solo readers who like a longish, highly illustrated story with plenty of melodrama.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners
Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
Harper Collins

There’s a pleasing circularity about Joanna Ho’s lyrical tale of self awareness, family love and tradition that is narrated by an un-named schoolgirl.

At the start, having described the eyes of some of her schoolmates – ‘ like sapphire lagoons / with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns’ she says, ‘I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea. / My eyes are just like Mama’s.’
She then goes on to tell us that the other women in her family have similar eyes. Her Amah has eyes filled with stories; her younger sister Mei-Mei uses her eyes to watch at the window for the return of big sister from school when they can be together again.

We then share in the delights her own eyes discover. With Amah beside her she sees ‘Guanyin with the Money King / sitting on a lotus, serene, // baubles of lychee on trees, / and mountains that reach for the sea.’ … ‘I see kingdoms in  the clouds. ‘

Throughout, the vibrant digital illustrations of Dung Ho with their swirling patterns and beautiful flora, are strongly evocative of Chinese culture and stories; and there are some unmentioned additions such as the jade bangle worn by Amah.

(my mother had a similar one she bought in Hong Kong) and the upside-down Fu (happiness arriving) symbol on the front door.

A lovely celebration of being who and what you are, with an uplifting final statement ‘My eyes … are a revolution … They are me. And they are beautiful.’

Foundation stage classes often explore ‘myself’ and ‘family’ as part of the curriculum: this is a book to share as part of either topic.

All’s Happy that Ends Happy

All’s Happy that Ends Happy
Rose Lagercranz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

I suspect that a great many young readers will be sad to learn that this, the 7th book, concludes the My Happy Life series featuring Dani, her family and friends, in particular, her bestie Ella.

The story opens at the start of the Easter holiday without Dani. She’s been off school for seven weeks. But where is she?

Certainly not at home, as visiting classmates discover; nor has she as others assume, gone to stay with Ella. Even she doesn’t know where Dani is, though she’s determined to find out. To that end, Ella writes a letter which she puts in a bottle and despite having been left in charge of little sister Miranda, runs to the cliff to toss her message into the sea. Having done so she goes back to the house but there’s no Miranda.

Frightened of the consequences when her mother returns, Ella goes into hiding too.

Dani herself eventually appears in the seventh chapter; she’s in hospital still recovering from the pheumonia that was a result of her failed attempt to visit Ella in the previous book.

In the eighth chapter there’s a lovely proposal attempt from Danis’ dad to Sadie, leading into much ado about a wedding in Dani’s head.

The real thing does happen though not quite in the same way as she’d imagined but still in Rome; it’s only to be a small affair and without Ella as a guest.

Meanwhile the Italian side of Dani’s family are eager to introduce her to the sights of the city

Once the wedding celebrations are over, there’s more exciting news. But will Dani ever get to see Ella; that always seems to be uppermost in her mind, no matter what.

There are more surprises in store before the end, but as readers know, Dani is determined, resilient and has a firm belief in happiness.

This book is longer than any of the previous ones but Rose Lagercrantz’s terrific, gently humorous text is conveniently broken up into seven parts, each comprising short chapters with plenty of Eva Eriksson’s utterly charming, splendidly expressive black-and-white illustrations throughout.

A smashing solo read, but also a lovely read aloud.

Jane Foster’s Summertime / Whose Boat? / Who?

Jane Foster’s Summertime
Jane Foster
Templar Publishing

What things spring to mind when someone says the word summertime?
Delicious, lip-smacking ice cream? Sunglasses and a floppy hat? Cool juice and some fruit? Flip-flops? Swimming? Sunflowers?

All of those sprang into mine before I opened this delicious slice of the summer season from designer/illustrator Jane Foster. And lo and behold, there they all were plus several others each one being stylishly presented in the artist’s pattern rich style, one per spread,

while the final opening reveals all eleven of the summery icons together.

Her chosen, uplifting colour palette absolutely sings out the joys of the summer season in this cracker of a board book that will delight adult sharers as much as toddlers.

Whose Boat?
Toni Buzzeo and Tom Froese
Abrams Appleseed

This board book is essentially a boat-centric guessing game featuring half a dozen workers and their respective craft.

There’s a patrol boat controlled by the harbourmaster, a tugboat with its pilot,

a car ferry and captain, a fishing boat with a ‘lobsterperson’ (that wording is a little clumsy, I think), a lifeboat and coxswain, a fire boat and firefighter.

An image of each boat with clear labels of parts, is placed on the outside of a gatefold which opens to show the answer to the question, ‘Whose boat is that? Do you know?’’

There’s a fair bit of detail, perhaps more than one might expect for the usual board book audience, but for the vehicle curious young child that’s a plus; for those not ready for all those labels, Tom Froese’s bright, stylised nautical scenes are a good starting point from which little ones can absorb whatever they’re ready for.

A good bet for either home or an early years setting.

For even younger infants is:

Who?
Robie Harris and Natascha Rosenberg
Abrams Appleseed
Diversity is key in this engaging look at babies – ten in all – and the relationships they form.

Babies themselves will enjoy the rhythm of Harris’ playful, repetitive question and answer text, and slightly older infants can participate in the guessing game, joining in with, and responding to, the ‘Who? / Who’s that? ‘ as they become familiar with the various relations – Dada, Mama, Gramma,

and Grampa, as well as the animals and inanimate item.

Natascha Rosennberg’s endearing, but not sickly sweet, portrayals of the loving twos should captivate infants while pleasing adult sharers.

A playful board book that is  likely to be used over and over.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.

One House for All

One House for All
Inese Zandere and Juris Petraškevičs
Book Island

A parcel from Book Island publishers is always exciting; their books exude quality and originality. It’s certainly so in this unusual take on the extended family.

Three good friends, Raven, Crayfish and Horse meet together and hold a discussion. Each wants to get married and have a family, but their friendship is so strong that a way must be found to preserve it. What can they do to remain close?

The friends decide to build a wonderful new home where they can live together; but a home that encompasses all their needs is no easy matter.

Three sketches are drawn up in turn with the three animals each clearly outlining his perfect family home.

It will come as no surprise when I say that the three homes are totally different.

Surely this isn’t to be the end of a beautiful friendship or a calling off of the marriages …

The power of the story lies in the simplicity of its telling: that, and the absolutely superb, vibrant illustrations make for a strikingly beautiful book.

Let difference, respect and friendship thrive, no matter how, no matter what.
Here’s a book that could help all three flourish.

The Boy From Mars

The Boy From Mars
Simon James
Walker Books

When Stanley’s mum has to go away overnight for work, Stanley too decides to leave the family home. From the back garden he blasts off in his spaceship – destination Mars.
Not long after, the spaceship returns and out crawls a smallish martian …

come to explore “your sibilization” he tells Stanley’s brother, Will.
Their “leader” plays along with the martian thing and there follows a wonderful boundaries testing evening. Martians seemingly don’t wash their hands before meals, are unimpressed with earth food (other than ice cream) and definitely don’t have bedtimes. They don’t brush their teeth or wash before sleeping either and they always sleep in their helmets.

If there’s one thing that gets a martian’s temper flaring it’s being challenged about its identity and Stanley’s best pal, Josh is on the receiving end of a martian’s shove. This results in a morning spent sitting outside the head’s office contemplating his behaviour, something Dad learns of when he collects his offspring from school that afternoon.

When Mum returns in the evening, eager to hear how things have gone, a certain little martian decides there’s only one way to deal with the “Have you been a good little martian?” question … a return to base – of sorts.

Simon James never fails to delight and this book is a cracker. The matter of fact, down-to-earth telling is pitch perfect when read aloud – the dialogue is simply superb. The illustrations reveal a space-obsessed little human with an inventive imagination and much else to contemplate and revel in.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Children Who Loved Books

The Children Who Loved Books
Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing

The title alone made my heart sing: a story about book-loving children. What more can a book-mad reviewer of children’s books ask? Perhaps just that the book is as good as one hopes, and this one definitely lives up to my expectations.
It features a family of book lovers that have replaced almost everything else with books. There’s no car, no television, and they live in a caravan: no matter: everything they really need can be supplied by books.

There comes a day however, that their home just can’t accommodate any more books: it’s time to take things in hand …

Needless to say, things are NOT the same thereafter: the table is a tad unbalanced; Angus can’t see out of the window and the family, with so much space between them, begin to grow apart.
One day Lucy brings home a library book in her school bag and the magical experience of reading, with its power to enrich and unite, is rekindled, and with it comes a realisation that although it is wonderful to own books – lots of them – libraries have much to offer too.

The undisguised message at the heart of this is two-fold: the first concerns the powerful effects books and reading can have on a family; the second – one we adults need to keep reminding ourselves – is that a lot of material things are unnecessary for happiness.
With visual touches of Bob Graham, and a nod to Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room …

Peter Carnavas has created a wonderful celebration of the power of sharing books and of libraries with plenty to think about and discuss with both children and adults.
I’m delighted to see New Frontier Publishing making his enchanting picture books available in the UK.

I’ve signed the charter  

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story

His Royal Tinyness: A Terrible True Story
Sally Lloyd-Jones and David Roberts
Walker Books

I think I’ve just found my favourite ever picture book take on a new sibling. This one had me spluttering at every turn of the page; both words and pictures are utterly priceless.
Let’s meet the Happy Family: there’s a mum, a dad and a little princess: ‘the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long flowing wondrous hair’ is how the young miss describes herself. (“That’s her tights,” one of my listeners was quick to point out.) Oh! and there’s a gerbil too.
All is peace and harmony in the kingdom aka The Land until one fateful day, a new ruler is born: His Royal Highness, King Baby. Let right royal disaster commence for, from that day forth for a whole year thereafter, the increasingly chubby babe rules The Land, not to mention the household. A certain young Princess’s nose is well and truly out of joint, but come infant’s first birthday, things get even worse.
Relations gather from far and wide to celebrate, fawning and fussing over the infant, and totally ignoring big sis. Seemingly the prince has cast a spell over The Whole Land.
Time for some drastic action: our innocent Princess knows just what to do – a disguise and a cunning plan are called for.

Before she’s barely even begun however, the sight of birthday cake and the sound of singing …

spark off horrendous screams, drooling dribbles and a tremendous tantrum from young King Billy.

Can anyone console the poor little chap?
Surprisingly, yes. But to find out exactly who and how, you’ll need to read the story for yourself …
Let’s just say that peace and harmony are finally restored and from a most unexpected quarter.
David Roberts must surely be king when it comes to pen and watercolour illustrations. Herein his distinctive illustrative style is retro 1970s (mum with frizzy permed hair and dad wearing bell-bottoms) ; but running in tandem with that are crayoned images showing the Princess’s version of events taken from Princess Marigold’s Drawing Book– a brilliant comic counterpoint if ever there was one. All this, alongside Sally Lloyd-Jones’ terrific fairytale pastiche and the result? A new dream team is launched.

Here’s one little princess totally loving the story.

Pink Lion

Pink Lion
Jane Porter
Walker Books

Arnold has a dilemma: does he belong down at the waterhole with the flamingos – he’s the same colour and they’ve always made him feel like one of the family; or should be go with the lion pride? He certainly resembles the other lions albeit with a different colour fur, and they insist he should join them in their activities.

He decides to throw in his lot with the lions but quickly discovers that hunting, roaring and other leonine predilections really aren’t his thing. “I’m not a proper lion,” he tells them, “I think I’ll go back to my own family now.
But, a nasty surprise awaits him back home at the waterhole. A crocodile has taken up residence and it doesn’t want to share. That’s when Arnold suddenly summons up his inner roar.

Such is its might that the other lions are soon on the scene and in no time, their combined roars have seen off the intruder once and for all.
Let peachy life resume; in fact it’s even better than ever with some new cousins to share in the fun.

With themes of belonging, family, identity, being yourself and finding your voice, this zappy tale with its superbly expressive, predominantly candyfloss pink and yellow animal images standing out starkly against a white background, offers plenty to enjoy, to ponder upon and to discuss.

I’ve signed the charter  

I am Actually a Penguin

I am Actually a Penguin
Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek
Templar Publishing

I once had a little girl in one of my reception classes who insisted for the first week that she was a dog, crawling around the place, drinking her milk on all fours, clutching the carton in her ‘paws’ and barking at her classmates. We all played along and soon the novelty wore off.
The small girl narrator of this book is equally cute and equally determined; but having received a penguin suit from her Uncle Pat in Patagonia, she goes into full on, ‘actually a penguin’ mode right away.
This involves all sorts of crazy activities such as festooning the living room with loo paper to create snow in which to keep cool.

Such behaviour definitely doesn’t go down well with a certain older brother although he does approve of the additional penguin at a family wedding …

and is willing to play along at meal times, especially when fish fingers are involved.

All good things do have to come to an end however. Apart from anything else there’s the question of school, not to mention as Dad rightly says, “Your penguin suit needs a wash.
Time for a change perhaps …
Sean Taylor’s zany sense of humour shines through in this narrative providing Kasia Matyjaszek with a hilarious sequence of events to wield her illustrative magic on and she does it brilliantly making every spread a small piece of theatre.

I’ve signed the charter  

Edie

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Edie
Sophy Henn
Puffin Books
Who could wish for a more utterly enchanting helper than Edie, the young narrator of Sophy Henn’s wonderful new book?
She’s an inveterate helper of pretty much anybody and everybody, from the moment she gets up. Having woken her parents – now wouldn’t you like a nice rousing guitar solo first thing in the morning? – she dresses herself …

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In between there’s breakfast to prepare followed by a walk to the supermarket where she’s amazingly helpful – really truly – finding SO many things for the shopping trolley; and in the park on the way home she finds lots of pals to help.
Helping is an exhausting occupation though; so once home a short rest is called for but then with energy restored, there’s Mum’s office in need of a spot of organisation; dad needs help tidying up and little brother has lessons he just has to be helped with. As for her grandparents, during their naps when they come to visit is the best time to provide them with ever so helpful makeovers …

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and Dad’s shoes will never look quite the same again after the addition of some snazzy adornments, helpful? Errrm?

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Ditto the walls; whereon her wonderful artistic mural just might be a step too far … ‘Sometimes I have to remember NOT to be quite so helpful,’ she tells us.
She’s soon back to her normal ‘best’ helpful self once more …

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After all, this adorably little character does have a special skill that’s pretty much indispensable, and she’ll undoubtedly make all who encounter her laugh in delight. Sophy Henn’s neo retro illustrations, executed in delectable hues, are just SO perfect for the story. It’s not just Edie though who is so special; Sophy makes every one of the characters somebody you’d love to meet. Don your pompom hat and go help somebody and let’s have more of Edie, PLEASE …

Home in the Rain & Home and Dry

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Home in the Rain
Bob Graham
Walker Books
How does pouring rain make you feel? I must admit it doesn’t fill me with feelings of joy, far from it, but when I read John Updike’s quote below the dedication in this wonderfully warm story, I felt I was being chided somewhat. Here it is and it’s key to the story I feel: ‘Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
A drive home from Grandma’s in pouring rain is the backdrop for Bob Graham’s warm-hearted story. In the little red car are Francie, her mum, and ‘her baby sister’ making her presence very much felt in Mum’s tum. The drive is long and the rain ceaseless; the car makes its way in the stream of traffic and as it does so we see the minutiae of life unfolding around: the baby rabbit diving for cover, the tiny mouse narrowly escaping becoming a kestrel’s next meal …

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the fishermen hunched in a line

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and the duck family just being, we even see a tiny snail and down below two men out of their cars arguing over a shunt.
The little car pulls off the road: Francie writes on the misted windows to help pass the time; she writes family names and then pauses; her little sister is yet to be named. They eat their picnic lunch and Francie snuggles. On they go and stop again to fill up with petrol: small events unfold: Francie sploshes in rainbow puddles,

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an old man feeds his dog, a small girl loses her sweets and suddenly Francie’s Mum has a name for the new sister. The journey continues, the world moves on; the sun appears.
Bob Graham provides plenty to pore over and to discuss in his tender depictions of everyday life. It’s a lovely book to share, especially in those families where a new baby is imminent.
Also with a rainy backdrop is:

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Home and Dry
Sarah L.Smith
Child’s Play
I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of living where the Paddling family does – on a small island underneath a large black cloud. A large black cloud from which for much of the year, heavy rain falls. This lifestyle seems to suit the Paddlings – Dad, Albert, a swimming teacher, Mum, Sally, who spends her time fishing, and their young son.

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Come summer though, the rain ceases, the water dries up and the family home is now atop a hill. Life changes for the Paddlings who no longer receive their regular ferry delivery of food and mail. Off in search of a place to picnic, they’re unaware that another Paddling – Mr B. Paddling has set out to visit his nephew.
Uncle B. as he’s known, duly arrives to find an empty house so he decides to go back to the station. Down comes the rain, up comes the water …
It takes a rescue to bring Mr Paddling A. and Mr Paddling B. together at last and a celebratory fish supper is served by Albert.
There are echoes of both Sarah Garland and Mairi Hedderwick in Sarah L.Smith’s illustrations in this unusual family story. Much is shown in the watery paintings that isn’t told: most notably that the Paddling family grows from three to four during the story, and that’s before Uncle B. arrives on the scene.

Owl Bat Bat Owl

Owl Bat Bat Owl
Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
Walker Books
I’m a big fan of wordless picture books and this one is a cracker. It features two families one of owls, one of bats.
As the story opens, the owls are happily settled on their roomy branch enjoying some shut-eye when all of a sudden along comes a family of bats. They too decide to make their home on that self same branch so we then have …

Unsurprisingly the two families are circumspect: after all owls and bats don’t really make the best of friends.
After a fair bit of positional adjustment, the families both prepare to sleep but baby animals, like humans are inquisitive and so you can probably guess what happens after this …

Now we know that human children are much more ready to accept newcomers than are most adults. The same is true of owls …

though mother owl soon has her youngest offspring back where she wants, beside her and all is peace and quiet. But when the chips are down and disaster strikes in the shape of a storm,

differences don’t seem to matter – co-operation is now the name of the game.
This book works on so many levels and is open to a multitude of interpretations. We often talk about the power of words: here, picture power rules.
What a wonderful demonstration that reading is about so much more than getting words off the page.

The Road Home / Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!

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The Road Home
Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What a beauty this is: Katie Cotton’s gentle cadences combine with picture book artist Sarah Jacoby’s atmospherically beautiful illustrations to create a memorable evocation of the approach of winter.
Fly with me to far away, / where sun still warms the ground. / For winter’s in the dying light/ and in that windswept sound.’ the mother bird says to her young one as they prepare to leave the safety of their nest and undertake a long, arduous flight together.

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It’s a flight that will take them and readers on a meditative journey as a mouse builds a nest for her little one and rabbits flee from wolves hunting their prey.

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Yes, nature is hard, brutal at times, and this is no cosy picture woven here from words and pictures; rather it’s a powerfully gripping contemplation of the contrasting harshness and stark beauty of life in the wild ‘This road is hard, this road is long.’ we’re told over and over, but at the same time it’s a reassuring one: ‘ … we are not alone. / For you are here, and I’m with you … / and so this road is home.
The impact of this book is slow-burning: it’s an impact that grows with each re-reading, with the words and landscapes lingering in the mind long after the covers have been closed.

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Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Susan Gal
Abrams Appleseed
The same partnership that brought us the lovely Abracadabra It’s Spring! has moved the focus to the autumn, as it’s called in the UK. It’s the time when the long summer days are already getting shorter, the temperature starts to drop, the leaves are just beginning to get those tinges of orange and gold and school opens once more. Everywhere are signs of change: seed pods burst scattering an abundance of feathery ‘clouds’…

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birds get ready to fly to warmer climes and the trees are glowing in a multitude of glorious colours.
In a short time, ‘Chilly gusts/ toss leaves around. / Shazam!‘ And a carpet of leaves covers the ground just waiting for children to frolic and kick them skywards. What joy!

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This is the season for squirrels to start laying away food for their winter store, there’s an abundance of delicious fruit to be picked and cooked …

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or hollowed and made into pumpkin faces. Some animals curl up in their burrows for a long sleep and we humans dig out our warmer clothes and delight in all the season brings…
All of this is celebrated in pictures verbal and visual. Eleven gate-folds open up to reveal Gal’s glorious extended scenes to delight the eye and complement O’Brien’s exciting rhyming text.

Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble / Pugly Solves a Crime

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Mango & Bambang Tiny Tapir Trouble
Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy
Walker Books
The tiny tapir referred to in the title of this, the third delicious Mango And Bambang collaboration between Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy doesn’t crash onto the scene until the third story and when he does, my goodness he certainly makes his presence felt.
Before that though, Bambang and Mango visit the seaside to spend a special carefree, fun-filled day together before Mango’s new school term starts. At least that’s the plan, but it turns out to be a day packed with unexpected incidents culminating in the rescue of a toddler swept out to sea and an exciting parachute flight.
In the second story Bambang is feeling off-colour, his snout is blocked and he takes to his bed. Doctor Blossom the tapir specialist is at a loss to know how to make him better …

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so it’s left to Mango, ably assisted by their pal George, to find a cure.
Even after his recovery, Bambang hasn’t regained his full bounce and so he and Mango do quiet things at home. But then a large parcel is delivered addressed to Bambang and any chance of peace and quiet immediately go out the window, for what should be inside but his small cousin Gunter – a cousin he didn’t even know existed. Small he might be, but he’s a force to be reckoned with and pretty soon, it becomes evident that two tapirs in one apartment is one too many. The trouble is Gunter has announced his intention to stay put and Mango appears to be enjoying his company rather too much. So much so that Bambang starts to think that perhaps he should be the one to go …
The final story sees Mango participating in the City Chess Tournament and one of the other competitors is the boy who’s been champ for the past three years. Seemingly though – at least to Bambang – something strange is afoot.

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By the end of the book, Bambang has come to a very important understanding about family – it’s not about who you look like or where you started; true family are those you belong with – those who make you feel most completely yourself, no matter what.
Full of warmth and humour, these stories are perfect for those readers just starting to go solo.
Another favourite character returns in a brand new adventure:

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Pugly Solves a Crime
Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow
When Pugly learns that Big Sal the guinea pig has been ‘GUINEA PIG-NAPPED he dons his detective hat and turns PUG-DETECTIVE. But who’s responsible for this dastardly crime? Perhaps it’s Glitterball the Poodle who has come to live next door – Pugly doesn’t trust poodles. Or could it be someone else? Time to enlist the help of super smart cat, Clem. Off go the two of them in search of clues …
With plenty of wonderful illustrations from Gemma Correll …

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this crazy tale is sure to bring plenty of smiles to the faces of young readers; in fact, there’s not a spread that didn’t make me giggle to myself.

There is a Tribe of Kids

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There is a Tribe of Kids
Lane Smith
Two Hoots
Connectedness is a longing that we all feel and it’s this need to belong that starts Lane Smith’s child protagonist off on a journey exploring the natural world through a day and a night, as he searches for that vital connectness. He begins on a craggy mountainside where we see him in the swirling snow, almost completely concealed among the TRIBE of KIDS. The kids leave him one after the other and our protagonist moves on and soon finds himself face to face with a penguin. This penguin takes him to a COLONY of PENGUINS that lead the lad in a merry dance and more

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until he finds himself plunging beneath the ocean where he mirrors the movements of a SMACK of JELLYFISH before being rescued by a POD of WHALES, seized by an UNKINDNESS of RAVENS and left alone on a FORMATION of ROCKS. Rocks from which he tumbles into a rubbish pile and thence, by some acrobatic manoeuvring, into a jungly GROWTH of PLANTS. There he has encounters with a whole array of marchers and musicians large and small …

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until a sudden torrential downpour halts him temporarily and he comes nose to nose with a caterpillar,

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and then …

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His wanting to connect however, drives him further until at nightfall we see him standing on a moonlit shore and thereon he sleeps till morning, discovers a trail of shells that lead him at last, to the where place he knows he should stay.

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A Place where he can be and belong: and there, let the wild dance begin …
Here, in this celebration of playfulness, acceptance, belonging and sharing is Lane Smith at his creative best and the whole thing is ingeniously built around collective nouns.
I urge you to get hold of a copy of this wonderful book and look, look and look again and then keep on looking. With its puns – visual and verbal – this is most definitely one to savour.

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